Author's Notes: A little Firefly genfic about Simon and River, and what events may have conspired in their past to bring them where they are. I wrote this because we didn't even get a whole season, and now if I want to know more I have to either make it up or wait until September. Since I'm not patient, I chose to make stuff up.
Simon was moonlighting as a criminal mastermind. Funny, the way things like that came to be. Used to be the worst thing he'd ever done was a climb a statue naked, and sing something he couldn't quite recall. Now he'd planned and carried out a robbery of a hospital, assisted in a siege on a spaceport and watched pieces of himself fall away, bit by bit, wondering how long until he ended up just like River and they both had nothing left.
It was melodramatic to think like that, of course, and he had better things to be thinking about. Like the bounty from the last heist he'd planned, the one he'd done without giving Mal any details. The one where he'd enlisted Book's aid and his handy ident card, and walked straight through the front doors of the academy that had tortured his sister. What he stole wasn't worth anything, not in terms of currency, but it meant enough to him to steal his voice until night—he was plenty vocal then, and it was no longer only River's voice haunting the passenger's quarters with screams.
His parents had sold her.
He had only gone there to find out once and for all exactly what had been done to her, what the end result was meant to be, how to fix it. He copied everything relating to her, and with the useful information came things he'd rather not have known. His parents hadn't paid the Academy to teach River, they'd been the ones paid. 200,000 credits straight to their account. They hadn't even tried to hide it, but Simon supposed that was because no one would have thought to look.
It made sense, really, if he thought about it. They had always been a few steps ahead of him when he had mentioned his fear for River—worrying about his future already when all he had mentioned was her letters holding a hidden code.
He hadn't been able to bring himself to tell River, but she had known anyway. He had thought it was just her intuition until he found her in the second shuttle, watching the information scroll across the console through a screen of tears. He didn't know how she had found where he had hidden it, or how many nights she had let pass staring it at, and he didn't want to.
He wanted to make it disappear, but even for doctors there were some things that couldn't be fixed. River seemed intent on recovering on her own now, anyways. They had finally found a steady medication to keep her lucid, keep the chaos at bay, and she had taken to dosing herself. She was becoming more and more self-sufficient, but she seemed edgier in his absence than even before.
She was the one that came up with their next heist, he helped her plan it when she asked, and with both of them together it was probably nothing short of flawless. Mal hadn't wanted to agree to this one either, but the promise of the pay-off was hard to resist and he seemed to realize this was something they needed to do. He didn't know why it was something they needed to do, they hadn't told him—no one had asked.
Perhaps they should have, for surely they wouldn't have gone along with it then, and Simon wasn't entirely convinced they should be doing any of this. He was a doctor, and his one purpose in life was to help people. He craved being useful, putting people together, but even though his sister smiled more often her fate seemed fixed. He'd found her broken.
She was more sane now than not, but it didn't mean she was all one piece.
They'd kept Jubal Early's ship. Dangerous, to be sure, but they planned to ditch it after this final time. It had come in useful while it had lasted. River somehow knew all the controls, and she flew it like she'd been taking lessons from Wash.
"We're here," she said when they landed. He tried not to notice the weapon she slid into her holster. He tried not to notice the way she had taken to carrying a holster at all.
No touching guns, they had told her once. She carried them now. She was a better shot than them all.
His job was fairly easy, really. Break into the safe and steal the money. He had been breaking into that safe since he was eight years old; just to see if he could. River had done it at six and was probably the better choice, but she had other things to see to. It should be him, he knew, but he dreaded it so fully River had almost drowned in his regret, and she insisted she needed to be the one.
You'll be behind me, she had said. And I'll have a gun.
It wasn't comforting as she had meant it, considering who the gun was likely to be pointed at, but he figured she had the right. With Jayne it had been enough to promise he would always be safe in his infirmary, enough for River to make a vague uncommon threat and walk away to leave him uncertain. With Jayne, however, betrayal was to be expected and hadn't really hurt.
River disappeared into the shadows. She was wearing the color black and her hair had been cut to just above her shoulders. She said it was too heavy and she didn't need it anymore, and Kaylee had clipped it away with tears in her eyes. River's eyes were colder now than he remembered; colder because they were sane and she could understand, fully, what had been done to her.
Warmer, though, back on Serenity, because there at least she knew who she was. This wasn't Serenity. This was Osiris, and they knew every curving street just as well, but they wouldn't lead now where they thought. Simon almost laughed as he slipped in the back door, but he was a criminal mastermind now, better to keep silent during a heist. So what if he was beginning to think he was bleeding River's madness free by pulling it into himself? What did it matter now if his thoughts made no sense?
He heard the locks click—click, click, click—a familiar sound. Every night for safety, his father had always told him. River had unlocked them from outside with a few deft taps on a hacking device they had stolen off Saffron, and locked them again the moment they were through the door. He knelt in front of the safe while River crept past him and he entered his birthday into the keypad in streaming, meaningless numbers. He froze when the safe slipped open, because he'd only hit that code on a whim.
They'd never bothered to change it, and he didn't know whether or not to be grateful. He filled the bag up, slowly, methodically. Their plan was flawless, and there was no need to rush. They would pull it off, but he knew there would still be a fall-out and a price.
He was closing the bag when he heard the voice.
"What are you doing here?" The question was not directed at him. He heard a gun cock and got quickly to his feet. He hovered in the doorway a moment, caught by the spectacle of his sister standing, feet three feet apart, her gun in two hands and held aimed steadily at their father. It's just an object, she had said once, but she held it now like it was more.
"River?" His father's voice changed in an instant, no longer sounding like he remembered it. It was desperate now, disbelieving. River didn't speak, and he knew she needed him behind her, so he slipped the bag over his shoulder and stepped out into the room. The lamplight only reached up to his knees, but his father would know without seeing who he was. "Simon," he said, sounding strangely heart-broken now.
He was a doctor and he healed people, he told himself. River didn't touch guns.
"What…how did you get here?" Gabriel asked, and smiled desperately, trying to look pleased. He didn't need River's intuition to know he was terrified.
"We were in the solar system," River said, her hands were steady but Simon could feel his shaking. A surgeon's hands shouldn't shake. "Thought we'd drop in, didn't we, Simon?"
He didn't know what his part was to play, but he nodded his assent. In the dark, he doubted his father could see him do it.
"We learned something interesting the other day," River continued, sounding nothing like the child Simon still liked to see her as—the girl that would dance on his bed at five in the morning, and ask him why he was still asleep. It must have been twice as unsettling to the father that had last seen her at fourteen. "You sold me."
Gabriel's eyes widened in disbelief. Simon wondered if his mother was still asleep.
River's cool evaporated suddenly and Simon was almost glad. He wanted her to have control, to escape the chaos, but he still needed for her to feel or it was all for nothing. She was crying as she adjusted her grip on the gun. "You sold me to them, and you knew all along what they planned."
Simon decided it was the low-level light playing tricks when it appeared his father was crying, too. "That's not what happened," he said, trying to remain calm, achieving nothing more than pitiful semblance. "We didn't have a choice."
"You made a choice," River shouted. "You gave me away."
"You know nothing about any of this," Gabriel said, shaking his head. "Simon," he said, turning, pleading. "Let me explain…"
"We're not here for explanations," Simon interrupted, stepping up beside his sister. His voice had never sounded that flat before, even when he was operating there was something of an inflection to be heard. "We came here to steal your money."
His father hadn't been expecting that. He froze for a moment. "You're what?"
"200,000," Simon said, surprised his voice was still so calm. If the dead could talk, they'd sound like him. "That's how much River is worth to you, right? I guess the money belongs to her."
Gabriel shook his head, glaring at Simon. He pointed at him, and River adjusted her grip to line up the muzzle with his heart. "I did this all for you, Simon, and you threw it all away!"
Simon can't breathe for a moment, the accusation is so ridiculous. River is shaking her head and he can see her mouthing the words 'two by two'. She hadn't done that for months, but he supposed there were things, after all, that no medicine could fix. "I threw away a life as a respected member of the Alliance," Simon said, barely even whispering. "You threw away a daughter."
"You don't understand—they wanted you, Simon, they wanted you first." His father looked broken now. He remembered him always as being so tall, but he seemed to have shrunk some with the years.
River just looked frozen, like some kind of porcelain statue shrouded in shadows. He wanted to forget all this, wanted to demand they leave, but he got the feeling River was skipping ahead through their father's arguments already, drawing lines through his mind to find the truth.
The money in his hands seemed to have twice the weight it should. He could feel it slipping down his fingers, burning the skin. "What are you talking about?" he snapped. "River is far more gifted than me, always has been."
"Don't you get it?" he snapped, looking from River's eyes back to his. "She wasn't born yet, she was the deal. It was never about the money, Simon, it was about you. We made a bargain."
"Give us a child, genetically modified to our specifications, and you can keep yours," River whispered. Her knuckles around the handle of the gun were white. "She couldn't handle it. She took her life."
Gabriel turned to her with surprise, looking more than a little unsettled. "You were a prototype," he said. "I only got through it by pretending you weren't real."
"I'm not real," River said, and she sounded dead now, too. "You're right about that. I never was."
"A prototype," Simon said. His arm brushed River's but she didn't seem to notice. "What are you talking about? River?"
"They wanted you for their program," River said. "You were only four years old but you had the mark of a genius. Gabriel made a bargain. Genetic tampering, a new baby, another gifted one, and they would leave you alone. They made me to save you."
"I never meant to," Gabriel started, and it wasn't light making tears now. "Simon was all we had at the time. We didn't understand the deal we were making. River, I…"
River, conversely, had stopped crying, but there were tear stains still down her cheeks. "River was chosen deliberately as a name, the reasons, though, are unclear. Our mother killed herself with a vial of poison."
The bag slipped from Simon's hand, and he fell with it. When their father took a step forward River raised the gun higher, not needing to speak to make the threat. "She…killed herself," Simon said, looking to River for an answer, not to him. "I didn't…"
"It was only a few months ago," Gabriel said, staring at the floor, at his hands, anything but his children's eyes. "On your birthday, Simon. You have to know, we love you, we loved you both."
"You don't love what isn't real," River said coolly. "And you gave up Simon in the end, anyway, for yourself. For all of your bargains you lost everything but your reputation. Hollow now, like everything else."
Simon had known coming here would only give him more things to try and forget. He couldn't even convince himself he had come for the money. He didn't care about it, it wasn't enough to hurt his father; no amount was enough to erase what had happened to River. He'd come for answers, simple as that, but he and River had known all along they wouldn't like them.
"Simon," River said. "Get the money. We should leave."
"You can't leave," Gabriel said, glancing up to look at them. "Please, you don't understand…"
"I always understand," River said, staring at him, unblinkingly. "Can't not. It's you to thank for that, but I won't, if it's all the same to you. Simon, the money."
He did. It was the only thing he could do. He wrapped his hand around the thin black strap and pushed himself to his feet. The room spun a little, but River was still, right in the center of the room. "Back through the hall, out the door," River told him. "Gabriel won't tell. Not from conscience but from fear. They would come for him same as us, and leave him dead."
"River," Simon said. The word caught in his throat, made no sound at all, but she turned to look at him just the same, black threads of hair slipping down over her eyes. He didn't feel like his father, the one he hadn't seen since he'd been arrested and disowned, was standing a few feet away. But he didn't feel like his sister was standing close enough to touch, either.
"There's nothing here for us, Simon," River said. "Nothing worth taking but the money."
He didn't move until she gave him a slight push. He didn't go farther, though, than the momentum carried him. "I didn't…" he started. He turned blank eyes in his father's direction.
He thought maybe he finally understood River's chaos, looking at his father, standing there, looking like he was caught in the middle of a storm. He could hear his mother screaming, even though he was sure whatever poison she had used had done nothing but help her to sleep. This time when River gave him push, he let it carry him out the door, and the last thing he heard before stepping outside was River telling their father, sweetly, that if he needed it, there was another vial of poison in mother's top drawer.