Wash. Wash. Wasssh. River likes the name Wash. It's short and it fits and it goes sssh like oceans or great ships passing overhead or the cool breeze of a long time ago in a place that River can't quite remember. She knows that Wash is not Wash's real name; Wash's real name is much longer and more jumbly and less fun to say, so River doesn't say it. Instead she spins gracefully round a corner on her tiptoes and trots primly onto the bridge. Her skirt goes twirling after her and it's pretty and makes her floaty and Simon shouldn't dress her up like a gorram doll but River thinks she likes it, anyway.
When River is on the bridge and she doesn't bother to close the door behind her and she stares out at the sapphire and diamonds with her mouth open and her eyes wide, Wash coughs loudly. River spins. River keeps spinning until she's spun three-hundred and sixty degrees because River likes that kind of spin, it's balanced and even and perfect. Then she looks at Wash. Wash looks back and he looks stern only Wash's face isn't suited to sternness, it's suited to fun. River can never take Wash seriously when he tries to be stern but when Wash is being funny it's a different story. Wash has a lot of funny inside him. River isn't sure she herself has got any, but she'd like to have some, so when Wash is being Wash which is Wash being funny and being bright and smiley and everyone laughing, River pays attention.
Wash isn't being Wash now. Wash is being pretend Wash who pretends to be stern, and River looks back up at the diamonds instead.
"River," says Wash. "River?" River likes when people say her name like that, Rvr, quick with no vowels stuck in between and familiar and friendly. Wash is familiar and friendly with River even though River is not familiar and friendly with Wash because River isn't familiar or friendly with anyone really except Simon, and even then River worries that she's familiar but missing the friendly part. River watches Wash being familiar and friendly. Wash knows how to do it better than anybody River knows, and River wants to learn because she's good at learning and she worries about Simon. Simon found her broken. River worries.
"River?" says Wash again, louder this time, leans forward in his chair to catch her attention. He's still pretending to be stern but now Wash has concern too, so River tears her eyes from the diamonds and her thoughts from Simon and focuses her attention on Wash.
"Wash?" says River. She mimicks his tone, questioning, questing, testing to see if River is all right. Now River is testing to see if Wash is all right, but River already knows the answer because Wash is always all right as long as he has Serenity and Zoe and Serenity and Zoe are both all right. Especially Zoe. River tilts her head.
Wash gives her the look River always gets, from people who aren't quite sure what to make of her and don't really want to deal with her right now. It's not Wash's fault he gives her this look; everyone gives River this look, after a while, even Simon and when Simon gives it that breaks River a little bit, but Tams fix things so Simon fixes the broken part of River and River is all right again.
Wash is speaking. River watches. Wash has wide eyes and they're honest eyes, and River likes honest eyes because there were no honest eyes when she went away. Honest eyes are something River missed. River missed a lot of things. River watches and now she listens, too.
"Listen, River, honey, I'm not sure you should be up here." Wash looks at her. He's wondering how River will react and River is wondering that, too. She doesn't feel angry that he wants her to leave. She doesn't feel annoyed. She feels something but River can't put a name to it or an action, and that's been happening a lot since she's come back. Wash is still speaking. Wash does a lot of speaking. River listens. "Does your brother know you're here? You know how that kid worries about you."
Wash's voice is kind. He gives River a kind smile. River keeps watching and listening in case Wash is going to speak again because Wash does a lot of speaking, but he doesn't this time. So River glances out at the diamonds again, and every time she sees them they're just as beautiful. River knows that what they are up close is brutal and white-hot and burning gases and it's not a beautiful process at all. But River is not up close, so she can look at them and see them as diamonds instead, and think them beautiful.
"Hands of blue," River whispers, all of a sudden. She doesn't know why she's saying it, especially in front of Wash instead of someone like Kaylee or Mal or Simon, but River is saying it nonetheless. Wash's eyebrows don't know what to do so they creep upward, and the rest of Wash goes with them but Wash doesn't creep because Wash never creeps.
Wash stands, and Wash walks over to River but not too close before he stops and stands still and River looks down at his shoes and sees that he's standing eleven point two inches from River and she doesn't want to know this, really, but she can't stop the thoughts. She doesn't look at Wash. "Hands of blue," she repeats. River's voice is a whisper like the rustling of paper like the rustling of stationery and she wrote to them and oh, she asked them for help but they didn't know they didn't come they didn't help and River was stuck in that place and they did things to her and she doesn't want to know. River can't stop the thoughts, even when they're bad. No one can stop River's thoughts. River whimpers quietly and tangles her hands in the cloth of her sweater and looks at her hands and her feet and Wash's feet and doesn't look at Wash's face because River doesn't want to and she doesn't know why.
Wash doesn't know why, either. "River, what's wrong?" Wash asks her, stepping forward and looking at her as she doesn't look at him. "River." Wash is still looking and River can feel it and she wants him to go away and the thoughts are coming back and Wash can't help her he can't fix her because Wash is a Washburne and not a Tam and Tams fix things -- but River gasps because she knows, she remembers and she couldn't before and she probably won't again until the next time this happens, but she remembers still: Tams don't fix things. Not Tams. There were two Tams that could have fixed River if they weren't so scared of breaking themselves, and only Simon came and only Simon tried to fix River and he still tries and River knows no one can fix her but Simon still tries --
River looks up into Wash's face at last, because River forgot that she didn't want to. Her eyes are wide as Wash's now, wide and deep but it's not the same somehow, River and Wash are so different and even their eyes are that different. River wants friendly. River wants familiar and friendly and sees Wash and his wide eyes and he has them and he has River reflected there because River is familiar to him, and even if she's not friendly a lot, River tries when she can.
River is crying. She holds out her hands palm-up to Wash and he looks from the hands to River and doesn't understand and doesn't understand why she's crying. River doesn't understand why she's crying, either, so it's all right. Something to do with hands. Wash wasn't there, River doesn't think so. "Two by...two..." she whispers, glancing down at her hands and then closing them into loose fists and letting them swing down to her sides. Wash is watching her now, and listening. Wash pays attention to River, and River suddenly glows because people pay attention to Wash and he is familiar and friendly and now Wash is paying attention to River.
She reaches out a hand. River's fingers touch Wash's cheek and she looks at him sidelong and his eyes are wide and she smiles at him. "Wasssh," she tells him. "That's you. Sssh. Like a great ship. Like this one."
Wash stares and his brow knits and he doesn't understand, but that's all right. River spins and twirls around and is floaty all the way off the bridge, and for now she can't remember the things so clearly so she doesn't think about them but River will have to think about them again because she can't stop the thoughts. She can only hold them at bay, and they always get through and she screams and cries and Simon is there every time. But for now it's all right. It's all all right. Not always. But for now.