Inara put an outfit aside while she went through a trunk in her old shuttle.
There was a knock at the door. She didn't bother turning towards it since she was busy with her wardrobe situation.
A long moment passed and nothing happened.
"I said come-" she turned towards the entrance and leapt back in surprise.
River was standing not two feet away. It was freaky how she could do that.
"River, you startled me."
She had seen her throw a fit before, but she had never seen her look angry. Until now.
"What's wrong?" she asked softly.
"You heard me," the younger woman spat.
"What do you want me to stop? I didn't mean to do anything-"
"Yes you did."
"What is this about, mei-mei?"
"I'm not your sister."
This was so unlike her. She crossed her arms with a glare. That gaze was burning right through her.
"Playing?" Inara asked. Maybe she should go find Simon and-
"No. Simon isn't a part of this."
She opened her mouth and shut it quickly. "Alright. I won't get Simon."
"This isn't one of my fits. I'm better."
"I know you are."
"Stop talking down. River is not a child."
"I know you're not. If you could simply explain why you're here and why you're upset-"
"You're playing! You're dancing around in the rain, but you have an umbrella and the drops aren't hitting you! You're safe and dry and the water is cold! It's seeping into our skin!"
She put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she quickly pulled away.
"Stop it! Hypothermia will set in!"
"I'm sorry, River. I don't understand."
"You're hurting us."
"Who am I hurting?"
"Him? Who is he?"
"Mal? Is that who this is about?"
"Stop hurting him."
"I'm not…am I?"
"You are! Dancing around and around. In between staying and going, loving and hating. He's hurting because of it! You have an umbrella. We don't. You can play in the rain as long as you want. We can't. It's too cold. Too wet."
"I didn't mean to-"
"Doesn't matter! You did! River isn't happy because he isn't. He shouldn't hurt. Pick. Stay or go. Like a bandage. Take it off and it'll sting, but the stinging goes away. You're lemon juice."
"Lemon juice on the wound. Making it sting worse. He stings and River breaks. You're breaking River."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize this was affecting you."
"He's her heart. It breaks, she breaks. You fog things up. For him. For me. It makes River hazy when her captain isn't clear. You aren't choosing! Pendulum. Back, forth. Back, forth. He's caught in your crossfire! Can't go ahead, can't go back. He's stuck. He wants to go forward, but you're blocking him!"
"With life! He can't not knowing if you're in it or not."
"Does he want me in it?"
"He can't pick until you do. You want him to chase you. He won't stop you. He won't come for you. Not unless there's trouble again."
The words hit her like a ton of bricks. "How can you be so sure?"
"He's tired of the rain. Unless you want to share your umbrella, he's going inside. And I'm going with him."
"It isn't as simple as staying or leaving. There are other people to consider in this," Inara tried to explain.
"It's alright if you go."
"You want me to leave?" Inara gaped. She thought that they were friends, family even.
"I'm not in the decision. I'm just a messenger looking out for him."
"Is it better if I go home? Is that what you're saying?"
"He'll be okay if you do."
"If I don't?"
"He'll still be okay. I won't let him get caught in the rain ever again, but he can't be okay until he gets out of it for good. Don't keep stalling. Bandage stings less when it's pulled off quickly. Don't worry about him. His albatross will take care of him."
"He knows that when he's in pain, River cries. And when River laughs, he smiles. They don't dance unless there's music playing. River fought enough. River hurt enough. She won't fight. She won't hurt him. He makes River better. River makes him better. He knows it. Can't go forward until the pendulum stops."
She headed for the door, but paused just before leaving.
"I'm his.He knows it. River knows it. Time you did too. His River sticks up for him. If you keep hurting him, I can kill you with my brain. Don't think I won't."
With that, she walked out.
Inara watched her go knowing that River Tam didn't give idle threats.
It was time for her to make up her mind.
The pendulum needed to stop.