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Since the Miranda incident, River had become saner. She had also stopped talking. Not completely, but markedly so. Simon and Kaylee were the first to notice the radical change, as was Wash surprisingly. Since being being injured during the Reaver attack at Mr. Universe's compound, River had taken over his piloting duties until he was fully recovered and then began to keep him company on the bridge thereafter. At first, Wash believed she was just in a foul mood, as most of the crew was because of the events that had so recently occurred, but as time wore on Wash realized she was just not talking, something highly peculiar. Then the entire crew became aware of River's uncharacteristic self-induced silence. Still, she seemed content to spend the majority of her time sitting in companionable silence with Wash, watching him enact outrageous monologues with his dinosaurs and ramble on about random past occurrences that held no real weight with the goings on of the Serenity crew. Slowly, River began to respond, offering an amused smile, and then a laugh, and after a time, she joined Wash in his dinosaur role playing. When not dino role playing with Wash, River occupied herself with searching the cortex-for what Wash wasn't sure of. Then one day he heard something. It was an unfamiliar song.
"What exactly are you listening to, River?" Wash winced at what he assumed to be a very angry young man screaming about how he wished to kill his wife. River did not look up. "Music from Earth-That-Was. While you were recuperating I began to compile media artifacts from Earth-That-Was."
She frowned. "She does not like this man...this Eminem. He's so angry."
"People listened to that? Willingly?" he asked incredulously. "Why?"
River shrugged. "She is not sure. She has been listening to several different genres of music, songs by different musicians and they are all different, though many are just as vulgar if not more so."
"Lovely," Wash came to look over her shoulder, "what else is there?"
"She is partial to some country, rock and what is called indie music. Though, she does like several songs from each genre."
"Country," Wash mused, "play some of that."
River obliged him and a slow, sad song piped in through the cortex. Both sat quietly, nodding along to the music until Wash spoke suddenly. "Well, that's depressing. I won't be drinking strawberry wine anytime soon."
He looked over to River to see if she had laughed only to find her staring ahead in quiet contemplation, her brow furrowed as if in deep thought as she listened intently to the song. "I wish were normal."
"What? River, you are normal," Wash said, sitting up. River shook her head. "No, no I will never experience anything that any of these songs talk about. I will always be alone like Jayne. Except unlike Jayne, I do not wish to be. Jayne has people who understand him and Jayne has the ability to find someone who may fully understand who he is, but I do not. I will always be crazy little River, the girl who will never grow up. No one understands me."
Before Wash could respond, River suddenly stood, head bowed, and left the bridge quickly, passing Jayne, who's mouth was full of food, on the way.
"River," Wash called after her, but she refused to turn around. Jayne looked at Wash and then back at River and then to Wash again. "She cryin'?" he asked between chews. Wash opened his mouth to say something and then shut it. Jayne nodded in amusement. "Nice," he said before disappearing toward his bunk presumeably.
Then Zoe and Mal were heading towards the bridge and Wash knew for certain that River had indeed begun to cry. He threw up his hand defensively. "I swear, I didn't do anything! We were just sitting here and then all of the sudden..." he backed up all the way into his chair and sat down.
"Well, then why is she crying?" Mal asked. Then he heard the music and looked around in confusion. "An' what the hell are you listenin' to?"
"Earth-That-Was country music and that's not what made her cry-"
"Then it had to a' been you, Wash, an' since when do you go about makin' little girls cry an' run off?"
"What's wrong with makin' girls cry?"
The three of them turned to find Jayne standing in the doorway with half a loaf of bread hanging out of his mouth. When they continued to stare at him he frowned. "What? It's not like she's some delicate little flower. Are you forgettin' she done took outta room full o' Reavers or was I the only one completely lucid at the time since ya'll was busy playin' invalid?"
"I wasn't there and-did you just say lucid?" Wash asked, staring at Jayne in surprise much like Zoe and Mal were.
"An' since when do you know what invalid means?" Mal added. Jayne's glare deepened. "Gee, nice to know y'all think so highly of my vocabulary. I did manage ta get some schoolin' in 'fore I left home, ya know. An' ain't we supposed to be talkin' 'bout how the little man here made ya'll's dear, sweet little crazy, stab-happy Moonbrain cry?"
"That is Jayne's job, husband," Zoe said, turning back to Wash, who again held up his hands. "Look all I know is, one minute we're listening to this old timey music and I tell her I don't plan on drinking any strawberry wine any time soon..." When their expressions became confused, Wash huffed. "It had to do with the song-something about strawberry wine and being seventeen. Really depressing. Anyway, so I'm thinking she'll laugh you know, because she's been laughing a little lately-"
"You got 'er ta laugh?" Mal's eyebrows raised in surprise. Angry that he had been cut off again, Wash snapped, "Yes, would you let me finish?! So, she doesn't. She just sits there all gloomy like and then launches into this whole speech about how she'll never be normal-"
"Ya got that right," Jayne snorted biting off another chunk of bread. Wash shot him a glare, annoyed at being cut off once more, but continued, "and no one understands her and no one wants to and no one ever will. Then she just ran out."
"So, ya did make her cry?" Jayne asked and when Wash shrugged, unsure of whether or not he had, Jayne began to chuckle. "As I said before. Nice."
"Jayne, you're not helping," Mal hissed. He turned back towards Wash. "So this is all 'bout her not being normal?"
Wash opened and closed his mouth for a second before finally stuttering out, "I-I guess, I mean I understand River about as well as anyone on this boat. Maybe it was the song..."
"Did the song make you all weepy an' sissified?" Jayne asked. Wash glared at him indignantly. "No."
"Then it wasn't the song, genius. Feng le girl prolly got all moody like she does is all. Girls do do that, Wash," Jayne said mockingly, "you should know this-you're married ta one."
"Since when do you know about girls?" Wash snapped. "when was the last time you were with a girl you didn't pay to spend time with you?"
"Hey," Jayen shot back through his mouthful, pointing the loaf of bread at him, "I been with plenty o' girls an' the ones you're talkin' 'bout ain't girls, they're women. Even them workin' gals is nutty ev'ry now an' then. Bet a time or two one of em' has gone all crazy on a man or two after a haul. That's why you don't kiss em' on the mouth an' you don't sit around havin' tea time with em' an' talkin' about their feelings."
"Wow, Jayne, I wish you had been here when I was courting Zoe. I'm sure your great expertise on the fairer sex would have cut the courtin' time in half at the least," Wash said sarcastically. Jayne opened his mouth to retaliate, but Mal cut him off. "Alright, knock it off you two."
Mal shot a glare at Zoe, who had begun to laugh half way through Jayne's speech. Though Zoe tried her best, she couldn't wipe the grin from her face.
The sound of running caused the four of them to turn suddenly. River was racing toward the bridge, a book in hand and a determined look on her face. She pushed past Jayne, Zoe, and Mal and stopped short in front of Wash, breathing heavily. Wash pushed back in his chair, expecting River to attack when she held the book out to him. "I believe I have found a literary work that you will enjoy."
Wash continued to stare at her apprehensively as he took the book from her hands. "What's it about?"
"Jayne and his bird!" she exclaimed. Wash blinked up at her. "Jayne and his bird?"
She nodded. "If you enjoy it, I will look for an old film of it from Earth-That-Was later on the cortex. It is a very beautiful yet sad story. If only Jayne hadn't forgotten about his bird."
"Hey, Lil' Albatross," Mal said, causing her to turn to him. "D'you cry cause of what Wash said about...the uh, wine?"
She shook her head. "She made herself sad. Thought of things that should not bother her, things that cannot be changed. The bats all woke up and startled her. Brushed away the cobb webs and dust."
"Okay..." Mal said slowly, trying to proccess what River had just said. River frowned at him and sighed heavily.
"Huh," Wash muttered as he thumbed through the novel River had handed him. "This really is about Jayne!"
"Lemme see it," Jayne said, reaching towards the book. Wash jerked it away from his grasp possessively, "I'd tell you to wait you're turn, but it's River's book and if she says you can read it, then you can. However, I don't believe you're old enough."
They all stared at him, dumbstruck, until someone suddenly burst into laughter, full, warm, genuine laughter. All eyes turned to River, who was again crying, this time from amusement. River's laughter shocked Jayne for merely a moment as he tried to process how different it was. It was so...womanly. He huffed and felt his anger rise as he identified the path his thoughts had begun to turn down and glared heatedly at Wash. "If River's old 'nough ta read that piece o' go se, then I sure as hell am," he snapped, making another grab for the book. Wash rolled his eyes. "I'll let you read it when you find your bird. Go play with your guns and stuff your face some more."
River began to laugh even harder. "Oh my. Oh, dear."
Wash cracked a grin at her. "You know, you're not such a moonbrain after all, kid."
Later that night, after dinner, Wash and River sat up on the bridge, Wash rambling on as usual it seemed. However, if any of the other crew members other than Zoe had stopped to listen they would have realized that Wash was not rambling. He was reading aloud from the book River had given him. He was even going so far as to use different voices for each character that spoke, eliciting tiny giggles from River as she listened. Zoe had to smile. It was as if she was watching an older brother read a bedtime story to his little sister.
"Wash?" River asked suddenly. "Am I a bird?"
Wash paused in his reading to considered. "You know, I think you are. I think you would make someone a lovely bird."
"Do you think Jayne will find his bird?"
Wash raised his eyebrow. Though Zoe did not understand the underlying message, she understood this conversation was very private and very important by the way both parties were considering their answers and questions intently.
"What makes you think he has a bird?"
"Well, you have a bird, Mal has a bird, and Simon has a bird. It just seems that everyone has a bird, so logically Jayne should have a bird."
Wash seemed to consider this carefully. "That is true, though I don't see what the hell kind of bird Jayne would have..."
River snorted at this. "I agree."
Wash chuckled. "Maybe it's still in it's egg? Maybe his bird hasn't hatched yet."
River froze at this, her eyes widening. Wash stared at her questioningly for a few moments before it seemed to dawn on him. "Huh."
"Huh," River repeated, in disbelief, "your response is 'huh'? But-but-"
"You know, I have been known to be wrong about things, River. Often. The wife points it out to me everyday. Often. It happens all the time."
River nodded slowly, "Yes everyone makes mistakes and we have been reduced to mere theories. There are no real facts to go on in the matter."
Wash nodded then added tentatively, "But just so we're clear, this whole bird thing-"
"No," River answered immediately and Wash laughed out loud. "Okay, Kid. I'll finish this chapter and then it's off to bed."
Zoe smiled. Wash would make a wonderful father some day, hopefully some day in the near future. She tip-toed to their bunk, Wash's voice echoing faintly behind her.
please review so i know whether or not this is total suckage.