Disclaimer: I own nothing. Joss Whedon rules the universe.
AN: Second Firefly fic. Think I'm starting to get the hang of it.
Left foot and right foot, one following the other, both bare and strong. Toes touch the cold floor, then heels, and walking itself almost becomes a dance.
River's skirt swirls around her legs, the garment not quite fitting. None of River's clothes feel like they fit; she thinks it must be like trying to dress the wind. They can wrap her up in fabric, but it isn't right, isn't natural. She might be a girl now, now that Miranda's a spoken, seen secret, but she's still a weapon, and weapons gleam best when polished and bare.
But she wears the dress because the others would protest if she didn't, and she cares what they think of her. Well, most of them. She tries not to listen in on Jayne's thoughts.
"Someone," she'd told Simon one morning a week before, "should geld him. Snip snip and the nasty thoughts all gone."
Simon told Kaylee, who told Inara, and by dinnertime everyone but Jayne knew he ought to be a eunuch. River's the only one not terribly amused by the thought.
Well, River and Zoë. Zoë isn't amused by much, these days. She's stormy and cut up inside, and all the love she needs to keep flying is buried down deep with Wash's shell.
River can feel her pain screaming all the time, and no one else sees a gorram thing. Zoë is strong, they think, Zoë will pull through just fine, but River knows she needs love to keep flying.
And River intends to give her wings.
It's why she's walking down this hall, to WashandZoë's room, plastic tyrannosaur clutched in her hands. It's why she knocks on WashandZoë's door and keeps knocking until the woman opens it, face haggard and eyes darker than the emptiness of space.
Zoë's brow furrows, and River can feel her confusion, then swift, hard bolts of hurt when she sights the dinosaur. Her hand tightens on the door, and River feels Zoë's desire to slam it shut.
"He'll shrink," River says quickly, holding the tyrannosaur up and shoving it into Zoë's hands. "Shed his skin and sprout feathers and grow wings, and he'll take to the sky, dressed in a different skin but deep down the same creature as before. He'll rise up and he'll shine and he'll love everything and everyone he loved before, and he'll always be remembered for what he was and revered for what he's become. Beast to bird, man to spirit."
Zoë's lips part a little, her eyes wide and overbright but her cheeks dry, and River feels the maelstrom hidden inside – knowledgepainhurtunderstandingsorrowgrieffearloneliness, emotions swirling and raging, and not a sign of them on the woman's face but a sudden reversal of expression, a tightening of her lips and a narrowing of her eyes, naked vulnerability abruptly clothed.
Zoë grips the tyrannosaur almost desperately, like she can reach through its plastic hide and grasp the lost half of her heart. "River," she starts, her voice a warning, "I don't - "
"All I have is words," River cuts her off, staring at the door, carefully not looking at the remaining half of WashandZoë. "I only have words."
Zoë's quiet for a real long time, and River can't quite make out her emotions, they're too mixed up and raw. But she glances up and sees the forbidding glare softening, the brow smoothing, and then the woman says, "They're good words. The right words."
River dares to meet Zoë's gaze, and for the first time in weeks the dark eyes are calm – sad but restful. "Wound's still open," River murmurs, "but now it's disinfected." She starts to turn, to leave the widow to her weeping, but a stronghand on her shoulder holds her back.
"You say this thing grows wings?" Zoë asks, hefting the dinosaur in her free hand.
"Sprouts and grows," River affirms. She can feel a decision being made in Zoë's head, but she doesn't know what – isn't sure she wants to know. Walls are there for a purpose; windows are cheating.
A passable attempt at a smile curls Zoë's lips ever-so-slightly upwards, but her eyes are very serious. "Keep it for me," she orders, pressing the toy back into River's hands. "Pilots need wings. Steer us right, dong ma? Keep us flying."
"I will," River agrees, and Zoë's smile becomes a little more real.