Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Whedon's, not mine.
Summary: Firefly. River has, for as long as she can remember, been aware of her own uniqueness. 1250 words.
Spoilers: Set after "Objects in Space" but before the "Serenity" movie.
Notes: This came out of an attempt to understand River's point of view better for my longer story, Book's Legacy, but stands alone. Chinese translations are at the end.
"O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us"
--Robert Burns, "To a Louse" (1785)
River has, for as long as she can remember, been aware of her own uniqueness. Had her parents not rejoiced in it, she still would have known by the way the teachers and the other students behaved around her. She was singular, apart, honored, censured, praised, damned, other: and each of these was but a prefix to lonely. Only Simon's love for her seemed unaffected by her genius, and she had treasured him all the more for it. But she never had understood-- with her heart, not her mind-- exactly why they treated her so. What did people see when they looked at her? And would it help her to know?
She knows the answers to those questions now, more than half her life later. And she's not sure the knowledge was worth the price.
The doctors that had taken her amygdala, and with it her ability to filter self from other, had predicted her brain would find new ways to cope with her expanded perceptions. (Cope: a transitive verb in this context meaning "to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties.") She has always excelled at problem solving; they had expected this to be no different.
And it isn't. But it is.
Simon, at the Academy, had been bright and sharp to her mind's new eyes: a stooping hawk, an arrow of purpose mid-flight. She had seen in him the intent for her escape, the only way out to fall within her grasp in the months since the nightmares began, but she had not recognized him as brother until they were flying away. It wasn't until he'd shown her the cryo unit, explaining the dangers of traveling both awake and together, that the boy with berry juice on his clothes and smiles just for his meimei had been there with her, looking out through his eyes. In their shadowed depths, she had read both love and worry; for the first time in months, she had been content to rest.
That little boy hides more often behind the doctor, now. Always the scrubs, the needles, detached distance; he never understands when she shies from the medicine, but she cannot help her reaction. Patient River, test-subject River, thing River: she sees these Rivers in all doctors' eyes now, even-- perhaps especially-- her brother's. And none of those Rivers are anyone she wants to be.
Kaylee is easier: Kaylee with the ready smiles, who seems a clear babbling brook or bright ray of sunshine to River's perception. Kaylee, whose heart is the most important cog in the machine of Serenity, who finds great joy in being the Captain's meimei after a childhood spent taking care of her own brothers and sisters. Whose waters muddy and brightness clouds over every time Simon approaches her wrong foot first, and trembled like leaves in a storm for days after Jubal Early disrupted the rhythms of the ship. She went cold and wary once when River first proved dangerous, but has made up for it since with the warmth of her love.
Friend River, Kaylee's eyes say. Sister River, except in dangerous times, when she becomes Warrior River: a fighter molded of spun glass, fearsome in aspect but fragile in nature. River cherishes that image, giving it a prized place on her mental mantelpiece; she takes it out and turns it over in her thoughts whenever she begins to fear the things her hands know how to do.
Enough people fear her already without adding herself to that total. Jayne, of course, is one of them; in the twisty pathways of his instinct-driven, uneducated brain she is animal to him, she is object-- she is anything but girl. She is the barrel of an overheated weapon, too hot to touch; she is a crazed beast, too late rescued from a trap, liable to lash out blindly at anyone within reach; she is a caltrop, tossed under the feet of the crew; she is xiongmeng de kuangren and like as not will kill them all in their sleep.
River can't say he's wrong. There is a space in the depths of her mind where she cannot go; no threads to follow, no knots to unravel, just the Black, peering back at her from the spaces between feelings-thoughts-mine and feelings-thoughts-theirs. When the sun is out and the food stays down and the demarcation lines are clear, she tries to speak of this to Simon; he frowns and strokes her hair without answering, telling her not to worry, that she'll be safe.
He doesn't comprehend the irony of trying to reassure a Reader with lies. She doesn't think he's ever really believed that she's psychic; the words he'd spoken to Dr. Matthais an interrogation technique, deeply intuitive what his logical mind insists underneath. He'll understand it one day, though, when she least wants him to.
Old men covered in blood, never touched them but they're drowning in it-- their secret will come back to haunt her, more than it does already. She knows this with the certainty of someone whose worst fears have already come true; what more can they do to her? She doesn't want to know the details, doesn't want to remember, but does know they will try.
She tries not to think about the damage they'll do to the crew in the trying. Early was just the first bullet fired from that gun; more will come, and what they'll do to her, what they'll do to the others...
Zoë sees it. Caution in her, and warning, every time her eyes light on River, every time she's not caught up in closed loops with husband or Captain. And she's not the only one. River doesn't blame them, any more than she blames Jayne, but it's so hard to keep her balance around them sometimes: so many suspicious thoughts, all rolling like marbles under her feet. Medicine doesn't help, it only turns the volume down.
It's quieter at night. This is a secret River's own: when the stars are all alight, and the minds of the others are lost in cloud and shade, the possibilities ahead can be seen as they can't at any other time.
She knows the best thing for everyone concerned-- for everyone but the girl that still lives within River's skin-- would be for her to leave, to take a shuttle and go where none of them can find her. But this crew has a way of defying the odds... and there is one here who would protect her, with no tie or obligation, at any cost to himself.
Is it wrong, to want to cling to the only person she knows that thinks of her as person, actual and whole? Not broken. Not wrong. Just in need of careful handling.
It isn't only others' feelings that she can't block out. Her own run through the maelstrom like skeins of bright color always unfurling. She wants to be near him-- caring heart, sharp mind, strong hand-- as long as he'll allow her; she'd gladly give up her uniqueness to be his.
Of course, that's impossible; besides person she is too young, and the men with scalpels and blank hearts will come before that changes. She'll leave, and never look back; she will be weapon, or dead, and either way there won't be anything of River left to feel it.
Do you know your part in all this, little one?
She knows. And just this once, she wishes someone would prove her wrong.
meimei -- "little sister"
xiongmeng de kuangren -- "violent lunatic"