River's in a box, again. It's a nicer box than before, full of stone-earth-solid and not nearly as much desperation-fear-hide, but it's a box. She's waiting because she's a good girl because she's obedient because they're worried because because because -
It's a nice box (cave). Jayne's got that gleam, again, that slick money shine, and that didn't go right last time or this time or any time, except when sometimes it is actually a little bit helpful. Anyway, Simon gets upset, and River will stay in the box, for Simon, like she did last time and like she'll do next time. If there is a next time. The future is always in flux, except for when it's not.
Plus, besides, next to, this box has the apple princess in it. She's standing a few feet away, below River's rock. River can tell she's a princess, because she has one of those swoopy-sleeved princess dresses on. She definitely doesn't belong on the dusty little backwater planet (Simon) with nothing to offer (Inara) and no decent whorehouse (Jayne), even if she weren't only here because she's dreaming (River) River.
"You're a very weird phenomenon," River tells her. It's true - the apple princess is all twisty around. She's hard to see. Sometimes when River looks at her she's good and heals like Simon and has nine sisters and speaks French and rescues people like Mal does, or maybe like Zoe does because they're both so pretty. Then she shimmers a little and she's bad and angry and hurt and makes her son the same way, and she wants to hurt Guinevere and Arthur except she likes Gwen and Arthur even if he is a prat, except she doesn't have a son yet and sometimes there are only three sisters and sometimes there's an island then a castle then a lake but none of them are quite solid. They don't fit right, like apple bits or puzzle pieces from the wrong boxes or kindness on Jayne.
"You don't belong," River says, a little dizzy from all the information sensory input overload.
"No, I certainly don't," the apple princess agrees, her voice dry. She's not dressed for a cave, to be sure - that dress would be more gray and brown and less red and velvet, and it would need different shoes.
The apple princess is funny, when she's not giving River a migraine.
"I don't mean here," River explains. She risks another look back at the apple princess, trying to see Camelot Avalon Lady of the Lake Isle of Apples Britain Wales France okay, enough looking. She's dizzy again. "I mean anywhere." Physical placement is irrelevant - there are too many factors for a proper conclusion. They'll have to make do with the metaphorical spectrum for the time being.
The apple princess smiles a little, wry resigned humor in red lips pale skin black hair. "Whereas I suppose," she says, and climbs up River's rock to sit next to her (she's much more graceful than River expected, because Arthur taught her to fight because she knows how to dance because of the magic because princesses are like that) "You belong in wherever this is."
River takes a deep breath and tries to concentrate. Simon always wants her to concentrate. She can never find the right ways to tell him that that's the problem, she is concentrating, it's just that nobody else seems to concentrate along with her.
"I don't really belong anywhere." She struggles to find the words that will penetrate the twisty tangle of lives pasts futures presents that surrounds the apple princess, all shot through with golden sparks magic witchcraft science superstition, to explain what's going on and that it's all right. "The place where I'll be what I'm supposed to be, it doesn't exist yet. Not even in here," she taps her head and winds up looking too closely at the apple Morgan Morgane Morgana Morgaine princess again. Poor little lost girl, in between the woods-water-island-castle, with too many stories to choose from. Poor little lost girl, it isn't about belonging or finding, it's about surviving long enough to be. "But I let them believe the right things. I find slots to slide myself into so it doesn't show. You should try that." Maybe that's the twisty problem. River can't be sure, because she's dizzy again.
"Of course," the apple princess says. She doesn't understand. Her confusion muffles the twisty around her daughter of Igraine-Gorlois-Avallach mother of Ywain-Owain-Mordred-Oberon sister of Arthur-Elaine-Morgause sometimes yes sometimes no but River still can't see her way clear to explaining.
"I don't live in this cave," she says finally, abandoning explanations and going for conversation. Simon has practiced it with her, in the long cold lost hours on the boat-ship-valley. Ask them how they are - even if you know. Ask them what they're going to do today - even if you know. Share something - if you confide in someone they're more likely to answer back and if you can get them talking you won't have to talk yourself. "They left me here because Mal didn't trust Jayne not to sell me to the highest bidder, again. So they left me here for safekeeping while they run the job." The apple princess doesn't understand this. It's nowhere near the woods-lake-island-castle and there are no enchanted swords and no one wears swoopy-sleeved princess dresses - River's gotten her lost, again. "This isn't really a dream, you know."
"Right," the apple princess says, "Just another slice of reality." Her voice is soothing like Inara and her smile is sweet like Kaylee, and now of course River remembers that she doesn't have to be able to see past the layers of twisty, because the apple princess is just a girl under the layers of lost and story and destiny and past, and River kind of remembers being a girl. The rest is just window dressing, skin deep, details, unimportant.
Poor little special girl, seeing golden sparks of things no one else can see. River knows that, now and always. She knew it when she was a smart little girl, smarter than the rest, and she knows it now when she's a crazy little girl, seeing more than anyone else. "The 'verse is a big place. All kinds of things can happen. All kinds of things get created. They call it magic, but it's really not." The apple princess understands a little bit now, not the words ('verse is anachronistic) but the spaces between them - two little lost girls in a box, holding hands in a scary twisty world. "You have a gift. Those always come with a price." Poor little apple princess, all bits and seeds and cores now, too tired to be a real girl. Dreaming about girls in boxes.
"Close your eyes. Close your eyes. It's never as bad when you've got your eyes closed."
River sends her back to sleep.