Title: Always Sunshine

Rating: T

Summary: He wishes he could give her a world where there was always sunshine. RiverMal.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

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Some nights she woke herself up talking; she was saying things that made no sense, but they made little slashes in her belly all the same; the words held magic and memory, and they hurt. She would wrap her thin arms around herself and rock and rock, curled into the fetal position because she wished to regress ultimately, fold herself back up into an embryo, because then she could be held and carried and supported and safe.

And she is adrift sometimes in a sea of memories; memories that she is not even sure belong to her, but she feels them. And time means less to her than it does to anyone else out here, and she is confused by her internal clock which can barely tell the difference between being awake or asleep. She has a constant state of alertness in her brain, it feels like there is a gnawing and a burning along the inside of her skull. Pieces of her mind are always shifting and moving and making noise. They are crackling and shooting off little sparks. There is no rest, always this biting, chewing sense of fear along her spine that tells her nothing is safe.

She wants to say things that make sense for once. She feels like screaming and pounding on the floors and the walls, she feels like throwing herself violently against the sides of this ship, crashing against metal and hearing bones break. There is a screaming that's never quiet...

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''What now?'' Mal was irritable, having woken up with a miserable headache. His crew, so far, were doing nothing to improve his mood.

''She's just...having a bad few minutes, is all'', Simon explained flatly. He was getting tired and weary of River's constant fits, they drained him as well. He hated seeing her like that, eyes wide in terror, body rigid, open-mouthed and yelling, trying to make herself small and unseen by her invisible demons as they tore at her. He hated being a doctor and not being able to fix her, help end her pain. And more than that, he hated being a brother and not being able to do the same. The latter hurt worse, though.

Mal looked through the windows of the infirmary where River lay on a cot, blankly staring now in a kind of gray, in-between place. She looked like a broken bird in a cage. Her eyelids fluttered miserably, and the fingers of her hand twitched. He hated seeing anything suffer so, it was painful for him.

''All right''. He said, with a voice like a sigh, like a rushing of wind through trees.

Simon glanced down the corridor, and then his pale face turned back to Mal. He looked like he needed a few moments to collect his thoughts, and so the captain said, ''Hey now. Why don't you take a few minutes, take a walk around, clear your head.''

Simon twitched slightly, his eyes looked back over where his sister lay, and then he returned them to the captain and said, ''I really shouldn't leave her''. His voice was sad, like ashes. His sharp yet handsome features looked even more drawn and severe, the planes of his face more angular from lack of food. The skin beneath his eyes was dark from exhaustion.

''I'll look after her for a few minutes,'' Mal offered.

Another sigh escaped Simon's lips, and he cast three glances; one at River, one down at his own pale hands, and one down the corridor. He nodded then, and walked away, footsteps echoing in a hopeless chorus.

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Mal slipped inside the infirmary, and forced himself to look at the poor creature lying on the cot; this sad thin girl with huge and haunted eyes that had seen far more horror than most would see in a hundred lifetimes. She had a thing like desperation carved into her exotic features; it gave her the strange appearance of being half-child, half old woman.

Her foot twitched slightly, as did her fingers, almost like she was acknowledging his prescence.

''Hey there,'' he said. She blinked.

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She loved his voice because it sounded steady. It sounded like sunshine, like sunshine warming earth. Like a warm beam of light that was full of calm and peace and gentleness. Other people here had ghosts in their heads and on their shoulders, they had hooks in their hearts that held on, they had little doubting insects that whispered in their ears, even Kaylee, who sometimes looked at her with fear.

This one never did. He flooded her senses, moving in and out of her vision and her dreams; there was war on his body, but strength in his soul; he would not be torn or beaten, and he didn't look at her like she was a horrible thing.

His voice was only full of compassion and genuine goodness, he wanted to make her feel better, wanted to fix everyone, do what was right, even if that sometimes meant doing what was wrong.

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''I hate seeing you like this.'' There was a kind of confession in his statement, but Mal didn't really know what he was confessing, or admitting to. ''I wish there was something I could do. You have a life that nobody should have been given. It ain't fit for any living creature, human or otherwise, but it especially ain't fit for a little girl.'' He looked at her, took a step foreward.

He laid a hand briefly on River's thin arm, feeling her skin, icy and clammy. ''You're freezing''. He moved around the room looking for a blanket. Finding one, he covered her with it. Her eyes blinked blankly, as if in gratitude.

''Look'', he said, running a hand through his hair, ''I am sorry that this is your life. And I am in no position to be giving anyone lectures here, but it looks to me like you're fighting a war inside that head of yours. You got that look I used to see in some of the men, the hopeless look. I used to tell them stupid things, to keep them with me, keep them from falling off of some cliff in their minds...I used to ask them questions, to get them to focus, like what was their favorite color, or somethin' like that. And if that didn't work, I'd drag them along...I can't abandon anything, it ain't in my nature. Folks around here seem to be giving up on you. I'm sure you feel that. You know that brother of yours never will, though. He would walk to the edges of the 'verse and back for you, you know that, right? And me, I'll never leave you. That's a promise. But please, if you're in there, listening and thinking and feeling and fighting...try to hang on. It's all you can do. I know it hurts every day, but just...try. We need you here.''

Mal felt foolish and stupid after his little speech, and his head still ached. He sighed again, and then suddenly River's thin, cold, fingers clamped themselves around his arm. Mal looked down at her, surprised and startled. Her grip was like icy electricity, white-blue and freezing.

''Talk some more, please, talk some more. Don't you know, you're like sunshine, you're like everything warm and nothing cold. I'm so cold, and there is fire and summer living in your soul. Please, please, lend me some. Talk to me some more, so I don't have to live and die inside this cold, cold cage.''

She sounded like she was half-singing some kind of macabre nursery rhyme, there was a rythmn to her words that was somehow the saddest thing Mal had ever heard.

He put both of his hands around one of hers. ''I wish'', he said, ''I wish I could give you a planet where there was always sunshine. Where you could be everything you were meant to be, where your eyes smiled always instead of cried. Where you could be a girl, and run around and play games and sing and dance and laugh and never, ever have to be so afraid again. I wish I could chase away all the mean things that live inside your head and make you cry and scream and hurt yourself. I wish there was no more war, I wish you could heal your wings and fly. I wish...''

He sounded so stupid, he sounded so useless and hollow. Wishes meant nothing; wishing never really made anything so. His fingers were holding her hand, trying to push some warmth into her body, will her into safety and warmth and out of the dark cold shadows where she lived.

''Someday, someday,'' she was talking again. ''Someday I'll dance where it's warm and always summer. I know, someday it will be quiet inside me. Someday maybe, after there is no more 'verse...someday after I don't have to live inside this shell. Someday I'll dance in space that's wider than wishes could dream for me. Someday''.

Her voice was so very small, it was barely a whisper. Her eyes were somewhere between sleep and tears, her skin was as pale as a moon. Mal felt choked by this, by the sudden sickening feeling of cold sadness that rose up within him like a wave. She looked so very far away.

''My poor, poor thing'', he whispered, ''I'm sorry...'' There was nothing else to say.

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His hand was warm, and steady dreams flooded from his fingers and into her soul. She saw lights and felt a kind of hope that words could not convey alone, and it was enough to melt some of the ice that lived in her skin. It was not all-the-way better, it never would be. Someone had twisted round wires in her brain, bent things and mangled them so they never worked right. And she hated those people, but that didn't matter. She breathed now, she breathed in this cold room with it's harsh and buzzing lights, and the needles that bit her skin like the venemous fangs of a steel snake. And she felt this soul that was beside her, saw hundreds of wishes and promises and glances up at a sunny sky.

Her arms outstretched, she fell into sleep, knowing that someone was beside her, holding her hand. And even if he could not save her from the whispering machines inside her skull, at least he wished he could, and that was enough for her.