Aria A Cappella

Part 1

Disclaimer: I wish I could lay claim to this. I would like to tell you that I am genius in human form (aka Joss). But I am not. I am merely a lowly drudge playing with the little characters.

Jayne is a girl's name.

She hadn't meant to make him angry. That was never her intent. It always seemed to work out that way though. She wanted him to know that she understood. He was different than Simon. Not like her smart, but simple brother. It would have shocked everyone how simple Simon really was. He was easy to figure out, he said what he meant, and he was almost always confused, because he didn't watch closely enough, didn't study hard enough. Jayne wasn't like that. He was complicated, conflicted man, just like the captain. He shared other things with the captain too. She wanted to tell him how she wondered about it. If his name belonged to a girl, did that lessen his masculinity? Was the captain bad, because his name said it was so? And herself too. River. Was she a body of water, flowing through space? She wondered about that a lot. If she wasn't just fluid, taking the shape of a girl, stealing the form of a sister, friend, daughter. She wanted him to know all those things. But lately, her mouth didn't work right. It said so little, when she thought so much. So everyone was confused, no one understood. Not even poor, simple Simon.

Simple Simon met a pieman. She intoned silently. River smiled. The rhymes of Earth That Was always amused her. She memorized a whole book of them when she was very young. Sometimes, she wished her life was like those poems. Sweet, and easy, rhyming with a steady beat. Her own life was so violent and mismatched, not like the little poems that always taught you a lovely moral, or an interesting lesson. Her mother wouldn't let her sing them though.

"A proper young lady does not call undue attention to herself. You are showing off, River," she mimicked Mrs. Tam perfectly, as only she could. According to mother, River showed off a lot when she was a child. But she couldn't help it. Everything she did was amazing. Something that seemed routine and uninteresting to her was a work of genius to the rest of the world. River rose from Simon's bed and danced a little jig, just to spite the looming image of Mrs. Tam glaring in her subconscious. She had been barred from dance lessons after only a few sessions, when she began to do dances that hadn't been created yet. She had been better than all the instructors anyway.

By now, she was tired of the inside of her head. It was a scary place lately. So she pirouetted out into the corridor and sashayed toward the dining room. She stopped just outside the door, frozen in the air, listening. Jayne was shouting about something.

"It's not a gorram joke, Jayne." Mal sounded annoyed. Apparently this discussion had been going on for quite some time. The sound of Jayne's hands slamming onto the table in frustration shook River's insides.

"C'mon, Mal! We finally get a job and you expect me to sit around and rutting baby-sit?"

"I must admit," Simon piped up, "I'm not entirely comfortable with this plan either. It's not that I don't trust you with my sister," he assured Jayne, then paused and considered this statement. "But I don't."

Baby? River thought. They were talking about her after all. She thought back to the time when she was a baby. She knew that few people could think back that far, but she was, after all, a prodigy of prodigies. She had considered thinking back to before her birth, but decided that there wouldn't be much to see. When she was a baby, she already thought so much, and was perennially frustrated when she couldn't share her ideas with anyone. So she started talking. It was that simple for her. But it wasn't like that now. She felt like a normal baby, resorting to wordless wails to call attention. Mindless babble spilling from her mouth, uncontrollable. All she could do was hope Simon would understand.

Sometimes she wondered if Simon knew how smart he really was. He knew he was gifted, but River felt he was beyond that. Probably a prodigy himself. But no one noticed because his little sister was so much more than just a prodigy. He had always been able to understand her meanings which, she decided without even a touch of egotism, qualified him for genius level. But he always searched for the proper, polite thing to say, and that made her very sad. She was unable to speak her mind, and she wished he would use that wonderful power for her. But he had been taught well to uphold the Tam family name. They had tried to teach her, but she was given much more freedom than him. She was more intelligent than her parents, her teachers, anyone she had ever known could imagine. Except Simon. Maybe that meant he was her mental equal. Maybe it was just a brother thing.

"It makes perfect sense," Zoƫ was saying when River drifted back. "Kaylee and Wash need to keep Serenity running. Mal, Simon and I will need to convince Orion that we're legit. You and River would only draw unwanted attention."

"I don't draw attention!" Jayne shouted, his wooly pink hat (another gift from his mother) slipping down over his left ear.

"Not the matter, not a problem, can't solve the math without the variable," River murmured. Everyone jumped and turned to look at her in shock. Oops. Maybe if she stood very still and pretended she didn't exist, they wouldn't see her anymore. They never talked about anything around her. Like she didn't know, wherever she was, when they were talking about her.

"River, are you all right?" Simon was on her in a second. Rats. "I thought you were sleeping, do you feel okay? Is the medicine causing a reaction? Do you feel nauseous?"

Yes! River's head shouted. Because you're such a mother hen! Can't you leave me alone for a minute? People wake up by themselves sometimes!

"Fine," her mouth whispered.

"Anyway," Mal brought all the attention back to him and 'The Plan'. Whatever it was. "Inara has a friend who has graciously agreed to host you while you're on Maat."

"Maat! A gorram central planet? It'll be crawling with rutting Alli-" Jayne stopped as the first part of Mal's statement registered. He smiled. "Inara's friend? Well that'll be-"

"She's not a Companion," Inara cut in, giving him an icy look. "She was my music teacher while I was at the Guild's Academy."

"Aw." Jayne looked disappointed. He brightened up slightly. "Well, maybe she don't got fancy training but-"

"She's almost sixty," Inara interrupted him again. This time he slumped and did not brighten again. Wash snickered behind a hand and Zoe just rolled her eyes. River, however, brightened. Music. She missed music so much. In the Academy, everything was darkness and silence. Silence, except for her own screams. None of the music from the parties at the Tam's, that she could hear drifting under her closed bedroom door when all the lights were out. And other kinds of music too. The methodical sound of Simon doing his homework. The chaotic sound of Father's friends playing darts. All blending together in a beautiful symphony. The Tams in C, she smiled at the thought.

"Inara, I don't mean to be rude but, is your friend trustworthy? There is quite a bit of money on River's head. Can we be absolutely certain-"

"Madame Rosseau was in favor of the Independence from the beginning, and she is very sympathetic to the perils of the Alliance's inner workings," Inara assured him. "She would never betray any of us. In addition, she gets a rather healthy pension from the Guild. So the money wouldn't even matter to her."

Simon nodded, still looking a little worried, but placated.

"Field trip!" River sang out, doing a complicated spinning jump that made Simon fall backwards a little, as though he was afraid of being hit with one of her properly pointed toes.

"I gotta spend a whole gorram week with the crazy girl?" Jayne grunted with a scowl. River ended her maneuver facing him, bending down to peer up into his face.

"Lots of fun, no blood no death no cows' brains. Music of the mind, soul, heart," she told him earnestly, wishing with all her soul that what was really in her head could come out of her mouth just one time. Jayne looked at her in disbelief for a moment, then pulled a knife out of his boot and began to sharpen it.

"Yup. This'll be the funnest trip ever."