Title: Empty Hands (Remembrance Remix)
Author: Vesper (Regina)
Keywords: Simon Tam, River Tam
Spoilers: Serenity (episode), Serenity (film), The Train Job, Safe.
Summary: She's slipping out of his hands, and he doesn't know what to do. 1,576 words.
Disclaimer: These characters are not my own. Only the story is.
Archival: If you wish to archive, please link to my website or my Livejournal post. Please keep all my headers intact.
Notes: Many, many thanks to my beta, Blueliath. You're awesome, even when you don't know the canon. Written for We Invented the Remix...Redux 6. This is a remix of "By Their Hands" by maidenjedi.
On the outside.
He stands on the outside and remembers how she used to be.
Incandescent. Shining. Beautiful and beyond intelligent.
He never felt over-shadowed. Never felt as if she had stolen something from him.
They were bound. Bound by love, by blood, by understanding.
She spoke a language only he seemed to understand.
Until it all changed.
"By their hands ye shall know them," she says, holding his hand, stroking along a vein on the back.
He tries to understand, tries to make the connections River follows. He can't follow; although she's handed him the clue of red thread, he's already lost in the maze.
She drops his hand, turns away.
"Two by two," she says, "hands of blue. Two by two, hands of blue."
Over and over again.
He knows what it is, what to call it--perseverative speech. Knows what medications to use, what would help, even just a little. It's only a symptom, though, a product of what they've done to her.
He moves closer, tries to touch her, his hand hovering over her hair.
She covers her ears, hides her face away, curls in on herself. Shrinks away from him.
He pulls his hand back and swallows hard against the clench of tears in his throat.
It's worthless. All that knowledge. She's slipping out of his hands, and he doesn't know what to do.
He says, "I'm sorry, mèimei. I don't understand." He looks over his shoulder and then back to her. "Listen, I can't...the captain--I'm needed."
She doesn't answer. He wonders if she even heard.
He tries once more, "River..."
No response. He doesn't want to leave her, but he has no choice.
He goes to tend to Captain Reynolds.
The captain asks how she is.
Simon lies. Not about everything, but Reynolds won't know that, either.
It's safer that way. River knows it, too. He heard what she was saying. Heard her say, "Mal, bad. In the Latin." He understood.
He's not to be trusted, Simon.
She speaks in riddles.
There's no one else who can be trusted to decipher. No one.
"Bǎobèi, what's wrong?"
Regan rocks River, back and forth, with desperate rapidity. She holds River against her shoulder, a careful hand on the back of River's head. River whimpers.
"Tell Māma, River. I've tried everything. I've changed you, fed you--"
She stands, moving around. It doesn't help.
Regan turns to see Simon standing at the door to River's room.
"She's bored, Mā." He steps into the room and holds up his hands. "Can I hold her?"
Regan sighs and gives River over to Simon, making sure he has her before letting go.
She still cries, but Simon smiles at her and says, "Want to look out the window, River?"
She hiccups, her cries ceasing, and stares at him.
Simon moves to the window, his steps slow and deliberate. He turns River around to look. "See, River," he says, "See the sky? Maybe Mā will let us go outside today. There's more out there than you can even imagine."
She touches his face as if it's unfamiliar, as if she has to relearn the shape of it.
"I didn't think you'd come for me."
What else could he have done?
He pushes the alternatives away. If he hadn't--
The fear is ever-present, a twisting in his stomach that makes him sick. He can't--won't--think that way.
Instead, he does what a good brother should.
"Well, you're a dummy."
A glimmer of her former self.
Her hand soothes like a benediction and drifts away like a fading memory.
He's bored. Taken away from his school, all his homework done. Even the pictures in the waiting room and the reading material scattered throughout, on low and tiny tables, have lost his interest.
He's contemplating asking if he can go get a snack when he hears, "Say hello to your little sister, son."
Simon jumps up from his seat, looking up at his father. Gabriel Tam smiles down, lips curved in gentle encouragement, one hand busy tucking the blanket closer around the bundle cradled in the crook of his arm.
"We told you, Simon. It wouldn't take long."
"Yes. I remember. I just--" He stops, feeling his grandmother's hand come to rest on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.
Xiang Tam says, "He knows, Gabriel. It's an enormous change, becoming a brother. You're never quite prepared."
Simon has, not quite discreetly, been standing on his tiptoes to peek at the face of his sister. Gabriel says, "Come closer, Simon, and I'll let you hold her."
"Yes, really. Now, hold your arms out."
"Bà," Simon chides, "I'm ten years old."
Gabriel chuckles. "Of course."
He settles the baby into Simon's arms and for the first time, Simon sees the face of his sister. Her eyes are closed. Simon holds his breath, afraid he'll wake her.
Above his head, Simon hears Xiang ask, "And what have you chosen to name her?"
His sister's eyes open and look straight at him.
Her gaze drifts from Simon's. Simon follows it, sees she's looking at his father.
"A good name," Xiang responds. "What do you think, Simon?"
"I think...I think she likes it."
"Oh?" Gabriel looks down.
Xiang says, "What makes you say that?"
"Watch," Simon says. He waits until he's satisfied they're watching and then says, "River."
Her eyes track back to his face and she works a hand free from her blanket, reaching up to trace along Simon's nose.
Xiang laughs, but it's an uneasy sound. Simon, puzzled, looks up.
Gabriel says, "She's just responding to your voice, Simon, she's a baby. There's no possible way..."
Simon stops listening, as River's hand taps, insistent, at his neck. He holds her closer and looks before he sits down in his chair.
He says, "River. Mèimei."
River stares at him, eyes wide, unblinking.
The Shepherd tells him to keep her safe.
Simon doesn't need the reminding.
It's been his duty since she was born.
Simon gasps when he opens the door to the library.
"River! What are you doing!"
She startles, her head turning to look at him. She's clinging to the third shelf up of the built-in bookcase, with her two feet precariously balanced on the shelf below. Simon hurries across the room and grabs her around the middle, lifting her down to the floor.
She protests, "I wasn't going to fall."
He shakes his head. "You're two and a half. Tiān forbid Mā had caught you doing that. What were you doing, anyway?"
She says, "Looking at a spider."
"On the third shelf. It's in between The Golden Bough and Xīyóujì. It's lost."
He finds it. A common brown jumping spider, perched on the spine of the first book, rubbing its pedipalps together with a lazy grace.
"And apparently has a taste for studies on mythology. Just don't tell me you tried to touch it."
"I'm not a moron, Simon."
"No, no, you're not."
"It should be outside. We should take it outside before Mā finds it."
He sighs. "All right. I see your point. You stay here; I'll go find something to put it in. Don't climb up again."
He glares at her with annoyance. "You're a danger to yourself."
She looks down, bites her bottom lip.
He heads to the door, but stops when she says, "You keep me safe."
He says, "And it's a full-time job, brat," before opening the door and slipping through.
"I'm not a brat!" she calls after him.
He used to understand her, before she became this...this broken mirror of herself, pieces recognizable, but her image fragmented.
He knew her.
They took that away--no--they severed, hacked, slashed the cord of understanding, of coherency.
He tells the captain that she's like a child.
There's no way that Malcolm Reynolds can understand what that means.
Simon tries to make it clear.
"I want you to understand my full meaning."
The captain doesn't. Not yet.
Reynolds can't understand that River's been ripped apart and put back together wrong.
Simon has no faith that he ever will.
"Tā mā de!"
Simon slams his fists down on the desk, hears it creak under the force, feels the pain spark along the nerves in his flesh and radiate through his bones. He opens his hands, clenches them again. Closes his eyes, whispers, "Tā mā de."
He opens his eyes; opens his hands, lays them flat on the desk. The paper under them crinkles and shifts.
The letters mock him.
He should understand. She wants him to understand.
He lowers his head, closing his eyes again. He breathes in until it hurts and then back out, controlling it in a slow release.
Why can't he--
"I don't understand, River. Help me understand."
On the outside.
He stands on the outside and remembers how she used to be.
You will write to me, won't you, Simon? Don't forget me off in your big hospital.
Things were simpler once.
Forget my little sister? Never.
Her tiny face.
Her alert eyes.
I promise. I should worry about you forgetting me.
Her hand holding his finger in such a fierce grip he thought he'd never get it loose.
Tam? Simon Tam? Who is that?
This is what he remembers.
Brat. Come here.
This is what he'll never forget.