They are kissing. She can feel the heat and lust of them, so powerful it twists under the closed hatch and fills her, body and brain, with feelings not her own. Not entirely her own…. River bites her lip, crouches closer to the locked hatch of Kaylee’s room, and feels with her mind for Simon. His feelings are churning out from the room, his desire for Kaylee, sweet and hot—she crouches lower. Her breaths unsteady, hands shaking as she touches the hatch. Simon… His absence from her side gnaws at her. She’s long grown accustomed to his presence, to hearing his quiet wonderings and anxieties in her mind’s ears, to his caring hands and soothing voice. Even before the Academy she had known him better than any other, more than even their parents could hope to understand; now he is all she has. She is all he has too, though she isn’t sure he knows it yet. He thinks they have the rest of the crew too, thinks Kaylee could be his heart. Wrong. They can never know him the ways she does. She’s walked the mazes of his dreams while he slept, has felt his hands inside her via the medicine he gives. Time to wake up but he’s still dreaming. He doesn’t belong there, in that River-less room. He belongs with her. She’ll make him see.
Silently, barefoot and determined, she rises and pads to the dining room. The blue hands haunt her steps but she ignores them. Simon will make them go away, he always does. One of them smiles at her, unblinking cold, and she realizes that her hands are no longer empty. Paring knife. Take the skin off, reveal what’s underneath. She’d had a plan. She doesn’t know anymore. Where is he? Where where where--- she screams, pushing air hard out her lungs, knife in hand, she wails for her brother. Clunky footsteps, slamming metal, voices and confusion floating around her, and there he is!, his arms the only safety she knows. He’s pried the knife out her hand and slid it across the table. He speaks softly, his hands touching her face and arms gently, assessing damage. But she’s whole now, they both are, and she hugs him and presses her face into his shoulder. He smells wrong, like engine grease and strawberries, and she hates it. Still she presses closer, searching for the muscle and bone of him. Hand on her shoulder, he steers her away from the others. They trace familiar steps, first toward the infirmary then to her room when she insists she’s fine.
In the cubicle of space allotted to her they sit on the bed’s edge and she curls into him. She draws her knees up (her skirt shifts down her thighs, baring patellofemoral joint and smooth skin) and buries her nose in his neck. He stills, questioning and a shade uncomfortable, but she pushes with her mind. Others’ thoughts and emotions enter her mind but recently she’s learned she can push back. Door opens both ways. She’s been practicing a little, mostly on Jayne, who won’t suspect and who’s earned it anyway, the way he sneers at Simon. Just a small push and Jayne is a little irritated or a mite disoriented or has an odd thought, but he doesn’t know why. Can’t know it’s her, playing. Now, for the first time, she pushes into Simon. A nudge to relax him so he’ll accept her proximity. They’re used to closeness anyhow, hugging and dancing and cradling. What’s a hair closer, a breath nearer to him? He lets her nuzzle, his hand running comforting circles between her shoulders.
“Are you sure you’re okay, mei-mei?” His breath brushes past her lips.
She nods. “Whole again.” She thinks of desperate desire streaming from Kaylee’s room and frowns. “Don’t leave.”
“Of course I’m not going to leave you, River.” He thinks she means permanently. He can be so dumb but she loves him anyway. She sighs.
“Will you read to me?” The book they bought three days ago at Hallah rests on her nightstand. The plot is formulaic, the writing stilted. The protagonist makes no sense. She likes when he reads to her, though, with his careful doctor’s diction. Crisp consonants and level vowels, sibilant sounds hissing through his front teeth. It will make him stay a while longer.
He picks up the book carefully—he always acts with care, especially when handling their few possessions—and opens it to the red ribbon bookmark. She doesn’t let go of him. The voices and vestigial confusion fade away until all that’s left is his voice.
He’s dreaming. Eyes flicking, REM, muscles slack. She peers at his face in the dark, lips hovering over his. Osiris flickers in his head, bright suns, the blue dress Tian Xia had worn to the debutante ball the year he escorted her. Xia’s white-gloved hand delicate on his palm, graceful dancing, whirling from Xia to Inara and in another turn it’s Kaylee in pink. Her irritation spikes. She pushes Kaylee away, redirects him to his MedAcad days. Grazes her lips against his before ghosting out of the room.
It takes longer than she’d like because the days jumble together and the construct of time dances away as she disappears and reappears. When she is a girl she works efficiently and stealthily. She prods their minds unnoticeable amounts, but the ripples of her thrown pebbles travel far. Mal barks orders more tersely at Simon, Jayne snarls at him more, Kaylee feels founts of frustration that seem to bloom out of nowhere. When Kaylee and Simon are tangled together, River surreptitiously works their threads apart. She winds Simon back around her fingers, cat’s-cradle, leaving Kaylee wound tight by herself. The frail bridge between Simon and Kaylee falters, the chasm between them gaping wider, until one day Kaylee tells him she can’t share him with River. Not when Kaylee’s share is so small. Finding himself friendless, Simon slinks to his room and wonders what went wrong. River flows after him, eddying at his feet and resting her head on his knees. Guilt tugs at her hem but she reminds herself that it’s for his own good. No one—not even Kaylee—will ever be as good for Simon as River can be. She’s making him see.
He’s dreaming. Eyes flicking, REM, muscles slack. She peers at his face in the dark, lips hovering over his. His dreams are amorphous yet, sparks in an abyss, and she steps into that darkness. Pulls his dream-gaze to her, presses their not-bodies together. Lips both dream and real meet; River has never kissed anyone before. Not even at the academy, where everyone was too scared to touch her like that. Didn’t want to break the Ming vase. His lips are soft against hers, relaxed with sleep, but she leaves before he can wake.
He doesn’t look her in the eye sometimes, not since she started going into his dreams. Sometimes she doesn’t kiss and touch, sometimes she doesn’t let him dream. Guilt hangs heavy off them both but River adjusts her noose and strengthens her resolve. Simon may not love a wall but River is a good neighbor, and she dutifully stacks the stones that compose the wall that will keep them safe. Keep everyone else out, keep them together. (A wall not a cairn, she tells herself.) She untangles him from the others so that she will be the one he turns to, so he can see what she needs and give it to her. He’s never denied her before; she just needs to be sure he won’t start now.
He’s dreaming. Eyes flicking, REM, muscles slack. She peers at his face in the dark, lips hovering over his.
This time when she steps into his dream she crawls into his bed as well. Her blood is singing in her belly, her heart rate increasing as she leans over him. When she kisses him in the dream she kisses him on his bed, straddling his narrow hips. She’s so tired of waiting. She kisses forcefully, immerses herself in need but then he jerks awake with a cry and almost throws her off the bunk. They fumble amid the blanket. He sputters confusion and fear so she comforts him the way he comforts her, all gentle hands and quiet voice. Shh, it’s okay, it’s me.
She straightens out the disarray of him, smoothing him over with her own calm. “It’s okay, Simon.”
He’s leaning against the wall of his room, shirtless, only a thin blanket and pajama pants between them. She climbs back onto him, hands fluttering on his broad shoulders. “It’s okay.”
He stills, uncomprehending for a moment before he’s gripping her arms, twisting his head to shield from her approaching kiss. “River, stop--!”
She leans forward, touches her forehead to his temple, and repeats their mantra. “It’s okay.” Shifts her hips a little closer. “We both need this, Simon.”
“I know you dream about me.” He stills again, shame rolling red off him. He shakes his head but doesn’t try to voice an objection, knowing that it’s useless to lie to her. He’s drowning in self-blame, thinking that this is all his fault, he should have set boundaries. As if that would stop her. “Little fences,” she laughs softly then presses forward. “I want it too, Simon. I love you.”
He shakes his head again. She tilts her head so that their breaths mingle and she surges into a hard kiss. As she does she pushes, pushes his mind open and pours herself into him, fills him with her love and desire and need. She runs her hands through his hair and kisses again and again, breathing hard. She can’t see his eyes in the darkened room but knows the pupils are dilated with fear and lust.
“Let me take care of you,” she pants, and she can feel Simon give beneath her, his exhaustion and shame and loneliness finally wearing him down. She pushes in farther, harder, and they are no longer River and Simon, they’re merged together at hip and lip and mind. They are a lust-need-guilt-desire-crazysane-RiverSimon mass, all jumbled limbs and no-no-yes-pleasenoYES-pleasepleaseplease and what they are begging for they do not know. Their hands fumble under clothing, their throat emitting small sounds that are immediately swallowed again. They are tumbling clumsily together, each of them entering and entered, and no power in the ‘verse can separate them now. The thin mattress creaks under them; they press against the wall, quiet, so quiet, though this is a momentous thing, this is something they’ve never felt before. They are rough and gentle and monstrous, they are Osiris and Isis, Aganju and Yemaja, they are Gemini cast into the Black. It’s over too soon but even after their bodies are sundered their minds stay entwined. River cradles him, humming an old waltz until sleepiness overtakes her. She releases him gently, kisses his nose, and rests her head on pillow next to his. She doesn’t steal away this time, just waits, listening to his breath in the dark, wondering about the ruins of castle walls.