A River Runs Through Them

Author: Michmak

Spoilers for Serenity, so if you haven't seen it and are planning on it and don't want to be spoiled – DON'T READ THIS.

A/N: I've been trying desperately not to allow myself to get sucked into another series or 'ship, no matter how much I love the show, but I'm warn out. I can't fight the rabid Reaver bunnies currently eating me alive – especially not after see "Serenity" finally. I bow down to Joss Whedon. Also, I can't figure out how to put little asterixes into the text and get 'em to stick. When it goes from River to Zoe to Kaylee and on down the line, those should be there to denote the change. Imagine they are.

Disclaimers: the characters are not mine, and I won't make any Gorram money off them, so leave me alone. If you try to sue me, I'll take off into the black and you'll never see me again. That, or I'll shoot you. ;-)

Rivers bend and flow, sometimes meandering, sometimes with purpose. Sometimes they are gentle; sometimes the rush of water is so powerful that everything gets washed away…going, going, gone.

She wonders if her parents knew when they named her how very apropos River was.

It is nighttime, and all the stars are shining and bright. Of course, out in the black it is always night time – the others like to pretend that daytime hours exist, but she knows the truth. It is always dark.

Zoe likes to sit in Wash's seat when everyone else is asleep and pretend the leather she sinks into is really him. When the seat is warm from her body heat and the leather is supple, Zoe can smell Wash and fool herself into thinking – for just a few moments – that it isn't true. None of it is true.

Wash isn't dead. He can't be, because he's right here on the ship, and he is holding her and loving her and making her smile and filling up all her empty places with his very essence.

River can feel Zoe's longing and her sadness. Her heart beats differently now that it's been broken. River wishes she could help her, but it's too late.

Zoe's been washed away.

Kaylee's hands are rough, from working with the engines and various and sundry tools. The calluses never really bothered her all that much until the first time she got to really touch Simon.

Kaylee is afraid Simon will feel her rough hands and realize he is making a mistake - and she doesn't want to be a mistake – she wants to be a treasure. She wants Simon to look at her and see a woman better than any other he's ever known; better than the fancy, prissy, girls Momma and Daddy were always pushing at him. Better than the intelligent, articulate girls he met during his schooling and while he worked as a Doctor in his other life before Serenity. She knows she's different from any other girl he's ever met and it scares her. Simon doesn't have rough skin. His hands are softer than a baby's breath, flowing like silk over her body.

Kaylee doesn't see his heart. She doesn't know that every slide of her roughened hands across his skin smoothes the callus he's built around it. River wonders if – when his heart is healed and he's Simon again – if he'll ever let her be River.

The Captain and Jayne tease Simon about being too pretty; about having hands too soft for a man's work. It bothers Simon when they say things like that – makes him feel useless.

He's never understood the concept of friendly-fire. Captain certainly doesn't think he's useless – far from it. And Jayne…Jayne just doesn't think. Not always and not well. But both men have been glad to have Simon in times of hurt and in times of suffering. His soft surgeon's hands aren't so soft that they shake when he stitches them up, or removes bullets or any of the other pointy objects that somehow seem to become embedded in their flesh.

When he's wiping away the blood and smoothing on his unguents and ointments, they don't complain about his soft hands then.

Jayne likes soft things anyway, truth be told. That's why he sleeps with the hat his momma made for him under his pillow. At night time, when he's alone in his room, he likes to run his fingers over the wool and think about all the soft things he had when he was a little boy. He had dog, once upon a time, and he loved that dog something fierce although he'd never admit it. He loved the feel of her silky fur sliding through his fingertips when he'd stroke her, the way her soft pink tongue would lap at his face when she first saw him after a few days absence.

River smiles whenever she thinks of Jayne and his dog. He'd named her 'L'il Bitch' because he wanted everyone to think he was big and tough and mean; rough and tumble; with no care or thought for anyone but himself. And although she knows he would deny it if she ever asked, he cried like a baby when that dog died, and dug the hole he buried her in with his bare, callused hands.

River wants to tell him that just because you are callous doesn't mean you are a callus. But she'll let Jayne have his delusions. It's nice to know she isn't the only one on the ship with them.

Inarra is different, harder to see sometimes. She is always so controlled. In control. She tries to be emotionless; an empty chalice that's only purpose is to be filled by someone else's desires. River wonders how she does it. She used to think Inarra was a lake, calm and cool, depthless. But now she knows Inarra is a mirror made of the finest hand-blown sand, reflecting back only the façade she wants others to see. Underneath her stillness is a tempest, waiting to break free. One of these days the Captain will do something, or say something, and Inarra will shatter into a million little pieces of sand and slice him open and leave him to bleed.

It is inevitable - because Inarra, despite what she wants, will never stay. And the Captain, despite what he wants, will never make her. So she'll rage and storm when she leaves for good and tiny pieces of Inarra will be blown like the wind all over Serenity. The Captain will embed each and every piece he finds into his skin.

That's something Simon won't be able to fix, because he doesn't understand. He thinks the Captain is stone – solid and tough as granite; an immalleable object, like the Pyramids on Earth-That-Was, or the Great Wall of China. He forgets that stone can erode.

Too much weather can reshape and reform it, make it become something that it never was and never wants to be. Inarra will be gone and the Captain will be not-Captain anymore, just a man weathered down by the wind and the dirt.

River wonders if, after Inarra leaves, the Captain will finally see her. She is a River, after all, and if he will let her she will flow over him and under him, around him and through him. She can wash away all his pain; all his suffering. She can smooth down the scars Innara will leave. She will cleanse him.

In return, he can become her barrier – wrap his great stone arms around her – and teach her that some rivers can be caught. She won't mind it too much if she needs to stop meandering and rushing headlong into gullies, as long as she can call him Hoover.