Title: Unraveled
Author: m.jules
Fandom: Firefly
Pairing: Mal/River
Prompt: 47, "Heart"
Rating: PG
Word Count: 715
Disclaimer: Joss's. Love, not money.
Author's Notes: Angst. 'Shipping doesn't always mean happy endings. Kisses to mollita for beta. No Serenity spoilers, though it could be considered post-Serenity in timeline if you like. Definitely post-"Objects In Space."
"River ... River what are you doing?"

Simon's voice echoed through her, filtering in through all the zào yin in her brain. She looked up from the raveled edge of her skirt and flinched away from his look of concern, her hair falling in her face.

"Mei-mei," he chided gently, taking her hands away from the frayed edge of the fabric, noticing that she had undone the weaving on the fine silk all the way up past her knees. "Why...?"

"Can't unravel myself. Can't scrape off my skin and peel away muscle and tendon and flesh, crush bones to powder. You'd just put me back together. Have to take something apart -- inside, everything has beng kuì. Have to make the outsides match."

"What are you talking about, River? What happened?" He pulled her hands into his lap, massaging them, but she yanked them away petulantly, returning them to the delicate threads of the skirt, and resumed pulling them apart. When he looked as if he would try to stop her again, she gave him an evil glare and he settled back on his heels awkwardly.

"My heart broke yesterday while you weren't looking. Never look anymore - never watch me. Just like at the ballet when Daddy kept checking his waves, missed my pirouette, missed my pax de deus. Even stumbled once to hear him gasp but he didn't see that either." She frowned fiercely at him. "You're not looking at me anymore."

A pang of guilt flashed through Simon at her accusation and he blushed. He had been spending more time with Kaylee than River lately -- but he'd thought she was getting better, and she'd been spending so much time in Mal's company. He admitted he had thought something was happening between them, that Mal was taking to River in a way that would make Simon's constant brothering unwelcome.

"So did I," she spat, her lower lip trembling as tears welled up in her eyes. "Thought there was something. But even readers are tricked. Psychics are surprised when people lie to themselves." She jerked on one silk thread and a run several inches long streaked up the skirt, up to her hip. "Not always true."

Understanding suddenly flared in Simon's mind and he made a silent "oh" with his mouth. "Inara," he guessed, and the thread in River's hand snapped.

"She bought me this dress," River whispered. "So pretty. So delicate. Her goobye present to me. But she didn't stay gone, her goodbye was a lie. Dress is unraveled. She came back, stole away the possibilities."

She was silent for long moments, and Simon drew her into his arms, not knowing what else to say. He patted her back awkwardly, but the feel of warm girlflesh against him made him think of Kaylee -- everything did nowadays -- and shame washed over him afresh.

"Lies," River whispered. "Tangled web will come unwoven. Cradle falls. Shatters. Won't last. But damage is already done, can't undo things like that. Can't fix some things when they break."

Simon frowned, scrambling for words to say to help her. "Mei-mei," he ventured, but she cut him off.

"No, Simon," she sighed. "This is not my lì lái zuì di dian. I'm only tearing the dress."

He couldn't argue with that - his mind nearly exploded with the sudden aching vision of her tearing open her skin with her fingernails, writhing with emotional torment in another time and place, and he looked down at where her fingers were still worrying the decimated fabric, grateful that there were no bloodstains.

He kissed her on the forehead and she sighed, pushing him away gently. "Go on," she whispered. "I promise not to fall just to make you look."

He held her closer despite her hands against his chest, and she sighed, relenting and curling into him. "I promise to watch more closely," he said. "And àn bing bù dòng. Sometimes things change. People change. Hearts change."

She looked up at him then, her eyes red-rimmed with tears, and she bravely tried on a shaky smile. "Thank you," she murmured, and he pressed his lips to her hairline again.

"Anytime, mei-mei. Anytime."


zào yin - white noise, static
Mei-mei, - little sister
beng kuì - crumbled, fallen apart
lì lái zuì di dian. - lowest point of my life
àn bing bù dòng. - bide your time; literally, don't send all your soldiers into a battle.