River knocked on the door nervously. She knew she had the right room, and something told her Simon would be home. But she still didn't know quite how he would react to find she had not only run away from home, but come to him.
In her head, she saw two scenarios. In one, he was completely shocked, gave her one of his boring lectures and immediately sent her back home. In the other, he was overjoyed to see her and let her stay as long as she liked. She heard footsteps on the other side of the door and awaited Simon's reaction. As fate would have it, her brother's reaction was a combination of the two scenarios River had thought of.
The door opened and she smiled wide as it revealed her brother. He had been sipping from a glass of water and was so shocked he let it fall right on to the carpet. "Simon!" She said cheerfully.
He let out a shocked bark of laughter and blinked as if to make sure that she was there. 4.543 seconds went by before he beamed at her and hugged her for all he was worth.
"Mei-mei! Oh my goodness! How in the world did you get here?" His arms felt tight around her, as if they couldn't find a way to let her go. River didn't mind. She had missed her brother very much while she had been at the Academy. "I was going to come to the house at the end of the week to spend Christmas morning, why are you…" he trailed off, not able to finish his thoughts. Instead he settled for one he could finish. "I've missed you so much. Father's always said you were lost without me but I'm beginning to think it's the other way around."
Tears welled up in River's eyes. Just the sound of Simon's voice was a huge comfort. "Simon, I… I got back for winter vacation yesterday and you… you weren't home. I've missed you so much. I borrowed one of the cars." Simon pulled back to look at her, still keeping her in the circle of his arms. He tilted his head and considered her. She had run away from home to see him and taken one of his father's collection of cars.
He raised a hand to pet the top of her head and the side of her face. "Life's been so boring without you." He said with a small chuckle. His darling baby sister beamed up at him.
"I read in the Osiris Globe that you reattached a girl's leg last week."
"And yet, still mundane compared to life with my brilliant, bratty mei-mei."
River stuck her tongue out at him. "Well, are you going to invite me in?" She asked teasingly. Simon looked around and realized they were still in his doorway. He blushed.
"Of course, River. Come in." He said, moving away and making room for her to get through. She bent down and picked up a suit case she had with her and strolled into the hallway that led to the rest of his apartment.
"Staying for a while?" He asked while shutting the door, though he knew the answer.
"Yes." She said, smiling at him. Simon rolled his eyes. Naturally, he didn't mind River staying with him. Although it was typically bratty of her to not even ask. He didn't really have any romantic life to speak of so she wouldn't really disrupt anything. He only hoped she wouldn't be bored when he worked all day.
"So, how long are you staying? A couple of days, the rest of the week?"
"In this apartment? Maybe a year. In the building, possibly longer."
Simon tripped over the glass he'd dropped earlier and hit the floor along with his jaw. "What? River you have school! And why do you want to stay with me anyway?" he said, slowly picking himself back up off the floor. River set her luggage down where she stood and sighed as she walked over to help him up. He didn't take her offered hand though, preferring instead to sit on the floor and look at her expectantly. She leaned down to squat beside him.
"I don't like the Academy. I'm not going back."
"Our parents LET you—"
"They don't know yet. I will tell them when we go to see them on Christmas morning."
"River, I don't think that—"
He paused in his tirade, she looked so serious. "Yes?"
"They were hurting me."
Again, he couldn't believe his ears. "Mei-mei… what? How? What did they do to you?"
"Well… they didn't hurt me yet, but I know! Simon I know they will. They've been taking students one by one. I've faked lower scores so they wouldn't take me until after winter vacation."
Simon gave her his confused eyes. "Take? Take where?"
"Away. My friend Anna went first. She went for a meeting with Dr. Mathias and never came back to the class." Her brother sighed and pinched his nose in frustration.
"Mei-mei, she could have just advanced to another—"
River put her finger to his lips and shushed him. "Let me tell my story. I was planning to tell you over dinner but since you insist on having this conversation on the floor in the hallway, I guess this is how it will happen."
Simon sighed. "Just tell me what's going on."
River settled herself Indian style on the floor and began her story.
"First of all, Anna could not have advanced, we were the advanced. The six of us, in my class, were the top six at the Academy." Simon settled back against the wall and let River continue. "She had been upset with me, wasn't used to being second. Like me, she had always been the best. You know what trouble I have finding friends and… I didn't want her to be angry with me. So I let her surpass me in a physical examination, I tripped and she got the higher score. But she saw right through it anyway, they still took her to Dr. Mathias instead of me. She never came back."
Simon was horrified. "What are you saying? That they harmed her?"
River looked tearful. "I don't know what they did to her! But I can feel… something bad. She's not happy… not healthy! I know it. And I don't want it to happen to me! Simon, please! I'll be quiet, I won't trouble you, just let me stay. When Mother and Father ask if it's a burden, lie and say it isn't." Her tears had spilled over and she was almost sobbing. "I can feel it. You know my feelings and I've never been wrong! They plan on hurting me and I don't want to fade away!" She nearly screamed. River was shaking and crying hard. It tore at her brother's heartstrings fiercely. He would do anything in the 'verse to protect his mei-mei.
He drew her into a hug and stroked her hair, waiting for her tears to subside. When she had calmed down he looked her in the eye, both hands braced on either side of her face. "River, if you don't want to go, I will personally keep you from them. Don't worry. I'll talk it over with father and have you removed. You can stay here with me. The hospital's around the corner and the ballet center is even closer."
"For when River visits." She said, sniffling.
Simon looked at his sister curiously. He spoke and his voice was barely a whisper. "Yes, that's what I thought when I bought this place. I saw the ballet center just across the road and thought 'for when River visits'! How… how did you know that? How do you always know things like that?"
She gave him one of her smiles. He always thought Father was right when used to tell her they were made of starlight.
"Maybe one day I'll tell you, Simon."