Boston here I come. Well New Jersey here I come, and then Boston. Tim, I'll blow the Boston streets a kiss for you and tell them you miss 'em.
In other news, packing sucks. So does laundry.
Yesterday there was a snake.
I cannot possibly explain to you the depths of my snake terrors. I hate snakes. Snakes fill me with deep and inexplicable fear. Rats, spiders, roaches, creepy crawlies, vampires, Frankenstein, George Bush - give me all the nasties in the world, but one snake and I scream and run for my daddy. Which would be cute if I was younger, but is pretty sad as it is.
Not that I care. Because ohmyfuckinggodtherewasafuckingsnake!!!
I have refused to go to the area where the snake was unless I absolutely have to, and even then I prefer an escort. I put the dogs on snake-watch alert, but since my dogs are collectively about as useful in the defensive sense as cottage cheese, they were impressively unhelpful. Our massive great dane was terrified of a watermelon - the odds of her bravely defending me from the anaconda in the back are dubious at best. (It COULD be an anaconda. You don' t know for sure. Shut up maleficently.)
I leave with fic, because I finished it so I might as well post it.
Boston. Wheee! No snakes in Boston, right? Can I move in?
E.T.A.: Chinese added in because Jolene is my goddess of translation. shieldkitten rocks! *Hugs Jolene*
E.A.T.A.: I shouldn't be allowed to post things without showing musesfool first. Thank you, Vic.
Title: Rivers Unran
Author: SullenSiren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com)
Characters: Rivercentric, Inara appearance
Summary: Five ways the waters could have run, but didn't.
Disclaimer: The Firefly 'verse, sadly, does not belong to me. I make no money from this, and own nothing worth suing over.
Feedback: Is shiny!
Author's Notes: One of several WiP's in the "Five Things" Format. This was very nearly a "Four things" and then it suddenly wanted to be a "Six Things", but in the end we discussed the matter and decided to stay with five.
"When I was a child
I ran until the creek became a river.
When it turned into the ocean
I wondered why He'd made it so deep ."
-- Ryan Adams "Mockingbird"
The sun sets on the wrong side here, and she always wakes to the warmth on her face that reminds her that this isn't really her home. She rolls over and for a moment the sun settles on the center of her face, and she imagines that maybe this isn't her life, either. But then he shifts on the bed beside her and the alarm shrills its daily warning and she opens her eyes and accepts what she has.
She is not unhappy. She lives in a house on a nice planet. She lacks for nothing. Her husband is good and kind, and if sometimes she looks at him and thinks that he will never understand the world the way she does, that doesn't necessarily mean she doesn't love him.
They met in the graduate program. (The second time she took it, picking up the classes she hadn't taken because her mother said it was the only place to meet a nice boy, and that it would be good for her, since she'd always liked school so.) He'd said that she had beautiful eyes, but his gaze had lingered on the bared hollow of her shoulder and River had wondered if he knew how transparent he was. But she'd long since stopped asking the questions no one wanted to hear a proper young lady ask, and she'd only said thank you.
They hadn't had children yet, and over the vidscreen that separated them, her mother would shake her elegantly graying head and softly remind River that she would like grandchildren, some day. River could almost smell the vodka through the screen and she knew that her mother never made clucking noises at Simon over his lack of children. Simon had time. River was younger, but her time was scheduled. Children had an appropriated position in that schedule. She was overdue.
Simon visited twice a year and she drank in his stories of hospitals and lives saved. He'd mention this girl or that girl, and when she asked for more he'd just laugh and shrug and say he was married to his job. River wanted to say that her marriage *was* a job, but she didn't think he would take it as a joke.
He always hugged her goodbye, and when he left he thought she didn't see how sad he was. The man she was married to thought he was sad to leave her and said that Simon must be very lonely in that hospital. River knew that he wasn't sad because of her, he was sad *for* her.
It wasn't a bad life. The back porch gathered sunlight and in the evenings as the sun dripped orange and soft down the sky – on the wrong side – she would dance alone, no one to watch but the cats she'd taken to feeding.
At night he watched old movies in the parlor while River read through a book she'd memorized the first time she'd read it. He laughed at jokes she'd seen coming and gasped at twists whose foreshadowing had been there since the first scene. She could smell his secretary's perfume on him when he kissed her goodnight. He was flawed, but River didn't mind. His flaw was the thighs of other women; hers was a mind that never let "good" be enough to make her content.
It wasn't a bad life. It was what she'd been raised to live. It was proper. It was expected. (Sometimes, he asked her what she was thinking and something sharp and fierce inside her wanted to tell him that he wasn't smart enough to understand, and he needn't bother asking.)
It was a good life. But in the night, before she drifted off to sleep, his weight heavy on the bed beside her, solid and both comforting and oppressive, she couldn't help but feel that it wasn't her life.
She'd been meant for more. Somehow, she had to have been meant for more than this.
It was an impractical pursuit and unsuited for her station, but she'd never cared about that. Her father said it was a waste of her mind, but then he'd never really quite approved of her mind anyway. He still wished she'd gone away to the government Academy, where her mind would be out of sight and thought, but he could still brag about her at the dinner parties her mother threw every three months like clockwork.
River's mind was made up of poetry and numbers and sometimes they looked the same to her. Numbers had the same beauty that words and paintings could have. The luminous glow of absolute truth that true Art sometimes manages to have.
But to River, nothing had ever been more beautiful than movement and music. The world colored in all its greys when she danced, and her whole body sang with life and purpose, and she understood that *this* was what it meant to live. Her always-active mind went still and quiet and just hummed with the simple pleasure of it. The factors and theories and assessments that were always processing somewhere in her brain faded away until all she was existed in that moment, in that dance.
Simon had never understood. He wasn't built for dancing and though he loved that she loved it, it was just movement to him. He'd never understood that people told all their secrets when they moved, if you knew how to look.
River didn't have secrets. Everything she was she put out there for them to see when she spun and leapt on stage. She was a featured dancer, already, and the jealous members of the corps muttered that it was because of her father and string pulling and payoffs.
River knew that it was because they hid things when they danced, and she didn't. All her flaws and strengths, her hurt and her joy were there, in the movement of her feet and the span of her arms and the look on her face.
On stage, River was a million different people. She was Juliet, beautiful and doomed. She was Rapunzel, locked in an Ivory tower awaiting her prince. She was Jezebel, tempting her lover into his ill fate. She was a million different women.
Sometimes, she forgot quite who River was, but her feet always remembered, in the end. Simon came to every opening night and her mother dragged her father, now and then. Sometimes, the other dancers spoke of things that bored her, and she was never enough like them to fit in. But most of the time she didn't mind. She had Simon, and she had the stage, and it was enough.
She was happy. She might not be important – like Simon was, like she knew she could have been, if she'd chosen another path – but she was happy, and something told her that was worth giving up being extraordinary for.
"This will be your room until your training is complete. Your en shi* is just down the hall. If you need anything, you can always ask." The woman was business-like and attentive, but there was a warmth to her eyes that made it all less cold.
River thought that might be part of the training she'd be given. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." The woman hesitated, pushing a lock of long blonde hair behind her ear. She was just old enough that you could see the lines beside her face and River wondered, in a detached sort of way, what happened to Companions too old to be beautiful. "I think you'll do well in House Madrassa , River. Our House Priestess is very complimentary."
"She is very kind." River smiled, soft and sweet, the same smile she'd been given since she came here. The blonde chuckled and left with a dulcet farewell and River began to methodically unpack. The room was small but elegant, warm colors decorating its walls and rich wood in its furnishings.
River thought that warmth somehow just hid the cold; but she was lonely here, away from Simon, away from her parents who hadn't approved of her choice. She thought she may just be finding a chill where there wasn't one.
She'd finished putting the last of her things away and sat on the soft bed, a teddy bear – a white medical coat wrapped around his furry body – in her arms when a soft knock sounded on the open door.
"You must be River."
The woman's smile was warm – its heat more genuine than the blonde who brought her, River judged. It was something in the eyes, and in the way she held her shoulders. River was a very good judge of people. "I must be," she answered with a return smile. "Come in."
The woman did, her red skirts floating around her as she moved. She was olive-skinned and dark haired with large, sincere eyes and the straight spine of someone who rarely gave anything away that they didn't intend to. "I'm Inara Serra – I'll be your en shi* here. I just wanted to see how you were settling in? The first day is always difficult."
River smiled again, trying to mimic the stretch of Inara's lips that kept secrets and told them at the same time. "I'm fine, Serra tai tai**, thank you."
"Please, call me Inara." She sank onto the bed beside River and gestured wordlessly toward the teddy bear, asking if she could see it. River relinquished it with a stab of regret and watched Inara turn it over in her hands, smiling. "He's very cute. A gift from someone special?"
From a boy? Inara was asking. Companions had few outside attachments, River knew. Inara was wondering how hard that would be for River, and whether she had a boy she'd have to give up, because boys never shared well. "My brother."
"Is he a doctor?"
"A trauma surgeon, in Capitol City."
"He must be very brilliant, like you." River turned slightly wary eyes back on her. All her life, River had known that she was just a little too smart. It made people uncomfortable. Only Simon hadn't minded. Inara smiled, no censure in the expression. "There's no shame in intelligence. People may envy you, but everyone has their own gifts. Yours, from everything I've heard, is an extraordinary mind."
River studied her and then smiled again. "Yours is diplomacy." She gave an impish sort of grin. "That's why they gave me to you, wasn't it? Because the House Priestess thinks I'm odd. I can always tell."
Inara's smile didn't falter, if anything it widened a little. "Maybe. But I think your skills will take you far. I'd very much like if we could be friends." She hesitated and then confessed. "It can be a little lonely, you'll find."
Inara was older, more elegant, more glamorous. River was sure she had friends of her own. The offer was for her benefit, not Inara's. But she was glad of it nonetheless. "I'd like that."
"Good." Inara rose with that same studied grace that River hadn't yet learned. Her own movements were different. She was not ungraceful – but it was natural, not the learned, lush movements the Companions used so easily. Inara looked back at her. "Please, come see me anytime you wish." She looked slowly around River's room. "These rooms are always a little . . . cold when you move in. If you like, we can find you some new furnishings to decorate it a little bit?" At River's nod the woman smiled, bid her farewell, and drifted out in a soft rustle of fabric and a lingering scent of jasmine.
River had watched the Companions, during the initial interviews, the testing, and the tour of the House. There was something uniform in them. The unkinder part of her thought of it as a hardness, but she tried not to see it that way. She tried to see it as just a mannerism.
River didn't know if she would ever have that. As Inara left, River realized that she didn't think Inara had it either. Inara was all the things a Companion should be, and she wore a mask just as most people did – but there was something missing.
She wondered if maybe it meant that you could still belong, even without that hardness, or if it meant that neither her nor Inara were really meant for this.
She laid the bear back on the bed and decided it didn't matter. She was here. This was her choice. Now she would live with it.
If she was lucky, maybe she would even be content with it.
He didn't come for her. For a time, when her disjointed mind couldn't entertain a single thought but flitted about like a broken-winged bird, flapping and aching and splintering but never lifting off from the ground – that was the single constant she could cling to, the silver lining in her cloud of grey. Simon would come. Simon would save her.
As months dribbled by and the needles drilled deeper and the knives cut in and secrets that weren't hers leaked into her brain to pool thick and ominous as blood, Simon began to drift away.
When a silent command echoed in her head and she slid a pen into a throat – middle, messy, not the tender spot for instant, painless death, undeserved – she knew Simon wasn't coming.
No one would save her.
And she flowed apart. River streaming away down the tributaries of her mind until all that was left was droplets and still puddles. They filled up the empty basin with their secrets and their lies and their orders, and the little bits of her that remained hated it, but there wasn't enough there to fight it, and there was no purpose. This was what she was now. There was no Home for her anymore.
The days boxed together and she didn't remember because she had nothing she wanted to remember. They gave her medicines to knit her mind together, but it didn't give her back herself. It just made her a functioning tool instead of a broken one.
They sent her into little rooms to listen with her ears and with her mind and then tell the secrets they didn't want known.
Sometimes they sent her other places, and she didn't hear, but she hurt and cut and bled and killed. Weapon. Killer - just words, now.
In the Blackout Zone where the troublemakers went they sent her to find someone. She had his face in her head but her orders were for him and any with him. He didn't see her before his throat parted to show its secret. The blood always turned red from blue when it bled. In space, where there was no air, it would have stayed blue. Bled blue blood.
The face with him was pale and familiar and the River puddles shivered and screamed, and the name "Simon" hung in her head. He stared at her and his mouth danced through words that had long since lost all meaning: "mei mei," "tried," "couldn't find you," "love you," "please".
River remnants tried to reach her feet and hands, but she was full up of conditioned responses, and channeled hate, and all the things the needles had sent into her brain.
He didn't even try to move as she cut him down, and she could hear his guilt as he died. His fault. His fault for leaving her. His fault for not trying hard enough.
And somewhere the last bits of River agreed, turned into air and evaporated, and there was nothing left beneath her skin but the things they'd put inside it.
They were all made up of rage and hate and it thundered inside her brain, beating wardrum tattoos against her skull. It raced along her nerves and tingled in her limbs, and she hated the way it felt inside her head. It wasn't hers. She shouldn't have to feel it. She couldn’t block it out. Too much - too close and she could see them fighting, straining, shooting, but the red haze covered over her eyes and all she could do was scream and shake and know that it would go away because Simon would take care of her.
But then she was moving, and the doors weren't shutting, and Simon-pain lanced through the red of her eyes as he fell with the heavy thud that dying flesh gives and living flesh never does. The hate-drums in her head grew louder and she mouthed words at him that he wouldn't hear because he was moving past hearing.
Outside they milled and raged, and inside they were dying and helpless and it was her fault. Her doing. She moved away from the Simon-remains (the Simon was gone already, she could feel it) and turned, feet thudding a tattoo in time with the one in her head. Wardrums. Running feet.
River threw the bag through the doors and shut them closed, and then River howled and went away.
She struck out - fists and stolen blades and feet - the rhythm in her head shifting to the beat of a primal dance. Simon had slipped away and River's fractured mind screamed and raged and began to beat the same wardrums.
She cut at flesh and then the flesh moved away. Stopped. Ceased.
She stared at them - misshapen and hideous, scarred and vicious. They hadn't laid down.
River wouldn’t have laid down.
Alliance ships winged their way to the surface and soldiers flowed through the holes in the walls, and as one, they turned on them, Reavers and River. River and Reavers. They fought beside her, and she growled and screamed and scraped and cut.
Reavers don't kill their own.
* - mentor
** - Mrs. Serra