Title: "Wait my Dissolution"
Author: Sullen Siren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com)
Pairing/Characters: River, Simon
Summary: Simon receives a copy of the surveillance videos made during River's counseling sessions at the Academy. (The Session 416 tapes)
Disclaimer: I own nothing and no one from the Firefly 'verse, and am deeply bitter about that. I'm not making any money from this, either.
Feedback: Would be shiny!
Note: Title from Henry King's "The Exequy". This was a bunny planted by aliaspiral ages ago. She already did one on this concept that is far better, but I wanted to finish this anyway. Spoilers for the River Tam Sessions, but none for the movie. Set pre-movie, post-series. Thanks to oraclejenn for an initial read-through to see if it was coherent. Unbetaed beyond that. I apologize for any mistakes.
"Innocence, once lost, can never be regained."
-- Neil Gaiman, Season of Mists
"Somethin' you care to explain, doctor? Like how come you're gettin' mail addressed to me when you're supposed to not exist?" Mal's voice was clipped and angry and Simon didn't care. He stared at the box Mal had opened instead, a smaller parcel with his own name written hastily on the envelope. "Doctor." Simon jerked his head up to meet Mal's gaze, recognizing the command in his voice.
He scratched at the back of his neck, a nervous habit he'd never quite overcome. "I – it was only for emergencies. I found them highly trustworthy. They did get River out of-"
Mal stood abruptly, pacing a few steps away and back. "You telling me you gave gorram smugglers my name? Son, are you stupid? Just soft in the head? They'll sell you out so fast your head'll spin and-"
"They haven't yet." Simon met Mal's gaze, keeping his own resolute. "They've known how to contact me for months, Captain. If they were going to sell me down the river, I expect they would have done so already."
"You just keep on thinkin' that." Mal snapped. He threw the package at Simon carelessly, watching as Simon scrambled to catch it before it fell. "What is it then? Medicine?"
Simon shook his head and tore open the package, pulling a small silver disc out and turning it reverently in his hands. "No. A roadmap."
He turned and walked away, not giving any notice to Mal's befuddled look. In his hands he held the lines that would lead him to where River had gone.
"You shouldn't see before it's done." Simon spun to see River standing there, peering around the edge of Inara's shuttle door, bare toes peeking out from a too-long skirt. He did wish she would wear shoes. The ship was so often cold, he was certain she'd take a chill sometime.
He didn't want her to see this. "River-"
She walked in, looking around in her slow, careful way, as if drinking in things she saw with more than just her eyes. "Inara's shuttle. Standard size. Imported lace from the border planets. Handmade. Expensive. They weave until their eyes go blind and their fingers shrivel and can't move anymore. Daughters do the same. One after another, blind and claw-handed and old on front porches. 50 credits a spool, 500 a yard on the core planets." She turned her head suddenly and smiled, impish and youthful. "Captain's not ever allowed in here. She likes you."
"She was kind enough to let me . . . there's some things I have to do, maybe you could go and visit Kaylee-"
"I'm not stupid," she snapped. "You speak to me like a child. Underfoot and loud and sticky-handed. Into your things, touching, breaking-"
"You ARE a child," he snaps, and it's half the irritation of an older brother fed up with his younger sister, and it's that she responds to.
"Am not!" She stops and cants her head and smiles. "Big brother takes care of me. I'm sorry." She looked at the discs where he'd left them next to Inara's view screen. "Premature. It's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding, train down the aisle and little girls with roses. You'll see her in her underthings, before they make her up and the wedding will be spoilt. All you'll see is the lace beneath. Lace is full of holes. Spun together. Imperfect." She ran a hand over her chest, a vague outline of lacy, expensive underthings she no longer would have a chance to ever own, and then touched her head absently. "Handmade. Hands made. Two by two . . ."
He stared at her, feeling the familiar surge of frustration that came with understanding just enough to know he didn't understand anything. "River I-" He stopped and measured his words carefully, doling them out like the drugs he infused her with – equally dangerous, equally unpredictable – both could send her into fits of fury or melancholy. He never knew, and he hated that. Hated that he couldn't find the formula that would make her well. "I have to see, mei mei. To make you well."
She watched him a moment. "Can't put back what's gone. Can't restore the painting. Original art lost through trauma, improper storage. Repaint. Re-envision. New shapes from the old when the old doesn't fit together properly."
He winced. "I don't believe that. I believe there's a way."
She smiled, the expression wry and cold and too old for her young face. "Happily ever after." That he understood. She thought he was chasing fairy tales. Once upon a time, so had she. "It will make you sad," she told him suddenly, eyes clear and focused, the plain speech unnerving, as it always was after her raving. "But you're already sad anyway."
He hesitated and then nodded once and she gave him a dazzling smile, picking up a piece of the lace Inara had draped over her lounge and setting it on her hair like a veil. He didn't bother to reprimand her as she padded over, leaned up to kiss his cheek, lingering just a little too long to be comfortable, and then vanished back out the door.
He stared at the empty doorframe for a moment and then pushed it shut and went to watch his sister dissolve.
We got one more out after your sister, before the channels dried up. This will be the last you hear from any of us. They've got profiles on most of us now, we're scattering. They got one of us last month, but we got him back. He didn't have information on how to contact you. You weren't exposed.
All they asked him about was you and your sister. They didn't give a gorram hell about the other two we got out.
I know you offered more credits for these, but I don't want to risk leaving information on where to send them. And you probably don't have anything left anymore than the rest of us. It's a bad copy. Best we could do. You don't owe me anything. I just thought you needed to see.
Ain't right, what they did to her, Doctor, but you watch your back with her around too. They ain't turning them into anything wholesome, there. You run far and fast – only reason they're after us is to get her, and my boys are good sorts, but they like to live. There's no guarantees.
He reread the letter twice, knowing he was stalling. River's solemn, strange face lingered in the back of his mind and he realized that this River – the broken, mad, frightening River – had become more real to him than the child in his memory. The child was a softly remembered ideal he pulled out when the real River – changeable as weather, sweet summer rains and primal hurricane winds wrapped in one – blew too fierce for him to handle.
He was afraid to watch the change from child to storm.
She smiled and it broke his heart. "Will I still be allowed to dance?"
Simon couldn't understand how someone could look at that – could look at his beautiful, amazing miracle of a sister and see a thing. Something to cut into and alter to their liking.
He couldn't see the doctor's face, but he recognized the voice, the tone of the questions. Dr. Robert Enias. One of the leading experts on neurological and psychological disorders and behavioral conditioning, a doctorate in three fields. His papers on the brain had been controversial but brilliant.
He used to come to the cocktail parties his mother threw. He remembered how the man had clapped when River was eleven and her mother had made her dance her solo for their guests. When he was a freshman, Simon had gone to a lecture Enias gave. He'd signed the program, "To Simon, good luck in medical school."
A scant few years later, he'd helped slice his sister's brain apart.
They cut the camera before Enias answered. River had packed her ballet slippers, though. He knew they'd lied to her. He'd helped them lie without realizing it. "You'll be able to learn, River. You'll love it. I'll write all the time."
On some level, he'd been glad she was going, because he loved his sister, but she made things complicated, saw too much, understood too much. Turned up at the hospital and answered questions on rounds without realizing she was doing it while the attending laughed. He felt guilty, now, but repressed it because guilt didn't help anyone. It didn't heal his sister; it didn't take back what they'd done. It didn't take back the fact that for those few weeks before the letters began, he'd been relieved she was gone.
She didn't dance much, anymore. Not enough. Not like she was meant to.
"Yes. Yes, I'm sure."
He could see in the droop of her head, the slant of her eyes, the way her fingers stopped moving – she had begun to believe that.
He had been busy. It had taken him so long to understand. To look away from the sterile white world of the hospital and see that River's world was painted in shades of grey and blood.
He'd never been able to tell her no. Not really. He'd say the words but she'd smile, and she'd wheedle, and she'd talk around him and in the end he'd give in. He always gave in. He gave River everything she wanted of him, and sometimes he'd resented that, but most of the time it was hard to be bitter when River was happy. She carried a light inside her. Something joyous and bright that sparkled and danced.
When River was happy, the world shone brighter. The colors were sharper. Even when he'd wanted to strangle her – and she was his sister, so there had been many of those times – he'd wanted her to be happy, too.
He'd never had that light, that exuberance. He'd always been caught up in the rules of things, the proper order, the way things were meant to be. River, who was born to see things differently, had never obeyed lines the way that he had. River was like the water she was named for – she ran where she willed. He'd never been that free. He'd always been a creature of lines.
Simon was used to the grey – to the ordinary. He was extraordinary in his way, but River eclipsed him, and always had. Watching this. Watching her beg to see him and knowing she hadn't gotten to.
It was like watching a star go out. A faraway sun just losing its light, word by word, moment by moment, all the worlds around it – the people she might have become – dying with it.
He was watching River drip away.
"You cut it out! You cut it out!"
It had taken months to learn that. She screamed and raged and it was too familiar because he knew this River. The mad, angry, screaming River with ghosts in her eyes and fury in every taut line of her body.
Months of drifting in the black, of blind tests with the meager drugs he'd brought with him. Months of screaming and shaking and throwing up and fits of violent madness and despair. Months before he knew that something had been cut out of her. Removed with the cold precision of a surgeon. The precision of a creature of lines.
And she'd known. She'd always known. Somewhere beneath the madness and the psychosis and the mercurial changeability, River had always known that she was missing something. That something was gone she would never regain. That she wasn't whole anymore.
He wondered what else she knew. Whether she could tell him the names of all those who did this to her. Whether she could say exactly what they had wanted her to be. Whether she could recite every pain and every hurt that had been inflicted on her, if only he could find a way to let her. To calm the currents of her brain enough to let it emerge.
He wondered if she could say whether or not she ever forgave him for not coming in time to stop them.
He wondered how long it would be before she knew that he couldn't help but be angry at her for not finding a way to tell him what they'd cut away sooner.
"Can't. Tell. I'll have to write it down."
He couldn't breathe and he could bring himself to play further. He knew what was coming. He *knew*. He could see it in the line of her shoulders, hear it in her voice. It wasn't his sister. She was something else, there. She was that dangerous thing that made Kaylee walk softly around her; that made Mal watch her a little too hard.
Hide and seek, she'd called it. Hidden deep down beneath the surface. Where he almost hadn't found her.
Where she'd believed he would never find her.
She'd told him, when she first woke up, that she hadn't thought he would come for her. He hadn't understood what that meant. He hadn't known it meant that she'd given up. That she'd stopped holding on to what she was.
They gave her a mission, and she took it, and he knew it meant that she'd let the last bit of light she'd held on to go out. Because the sister he'd known couldn't do what he knew she was about to do.
He pressed play on the vid screen again.
"I can see you."
The voice came from two places at once, and the vid-screen went blank as he turned to face her.
River peeked around the doorway, leaning against it, small hands wrapped around the doorway. The veil she'd taken was draped across her shoulders now. She didn't speak and he could feel the space between them. It was wider than it seemed. "River . . ."
"They gave me a mission," She interrupted, her voice flat.
"You killed him."
She smiled faintly, but the expression lacked any real humor. "He started it."
Simon understood that. He'd started it. She meant he killed her first. "You're not dead, mei mei. You're just-"
"Broken," She interrupted again. "Altered. Damaged. Changed. Understand, Simon. I *know*."
"You didn't think I would come."
She stepped inside with a sway of skirts and the lace fluttered to the floor. She left it there. He could see her try to focus, her arms crossing over her chest as if to hold herself in.
She tried too hard to be normal. Before she was broken, she hadn't cared that she stood out. It was just what she was.
"They . . . take away. Pick away. Bits and pieces. Pulling it away. Until there's nothing left. Take away your life. Nothing there. Empty." She stopped, finding the words that would make him understand. Something that would make sense outside of her own head. "Take away everything, all they give you back is a mission. Who you are. Easier than empty. Purpose."
"Your purpose was to kill someone. You're not a killer, River."
She laughed, high and thin and desperate. "Don't know what I am. Thing. Assembled parts. Bride all cut to ribbons and the wedding cake has rats nibbling the icing. She does what she was told because it was all she had, and big brother cries for one when he took away many. Math doesn't add up." She was fierce suddenly, angry. "He was not a good man. Dancing skeletons in his closet. Crying women."
"That doesn't make it right," he told her softly. He understood. Of course he understood. He'd done things since he landed on this ship. Since River was taken. Things he'd never thought he was capable of. He knew it must be worse for her, who hadn't had just had her world taken away, but her sanity. "It's not your fault."
"You don't understand. Can't. Doctor. Mend and heal. Put things to right. What's broken is fixed. Can't understand things that can't be fixed. Can't comprehend things that are meant to be broken. To rend other things." She focused her startlingly lucid eyes on him. "You put together, and I take apart. Divide. The space between."
He shook his head. "No-"
"Yes." There is no give in her voice but after a moment she smiles. "Get better, maybe. Less different. Less division. More River and less other. But not the same. Can't go back. Principles of time travel are undefined."
"And the theories on it are dubious at best," he finished. When they were children, it had been a game of theirs. To choose a time and a life other than that one and play at what they would have been. "If I could be anywhen, I would be before they took you, and I wouldn't let them."
"If I could be anywhen, I would be a River they didn't want to take. I would be *just*," she answered.
"You could never be *just* anything, River. You're meant to be special."
"Special means they find you. Different. Apart." She looked at the now-empty screen. "I'm sorry that you saw."
"But not that it happened?" he asked quietly.
"Not today. Tomorrow maybe. Yesterday maybe. Inconsistent emotional attachment to past events. Change day by day. Today I'm only sorry that you know."
She turned and left and he picked up the discs, one by one, putting them methodically back in their case. Take comfort in the propriety of it. Everything in its place.
He picked up the dropped veil and set it right, leaving Inara's shuttle as it had been before he got there. Everything in its place.
Down the hall River drifted, and she was out of place in her own body, her own mind.
He didn't know if that would ever change.