TITLE: Or Freeze Response
DISCLAIMER: Not mine.
A/N: So I couple of people liked the idea of sequel to Flight or Fight. I would recommend reading that first. Big thanks to my lovely reviewers from the first fic :D This takes place directly after the Fight or Flight, because don't you wonder how River reacted?
He'd expected the yelling. The bright lights had been flipped on by Simon who looked shocked for a moment before he was joined by an irate looking Mal. Zoe had been the next to enter, immediately drawing her Mare's Leg and aiming it between his eyes. Kaylee and Inara had come to see what the commotion was about, and had stood silently, eyes wide.
It honestly took him about five minutes to realize that Mal's eyes were dancing with laughter as he shouted ridiculous threat after ridiculous threat. Simon couldn't keep a straight face any longer, and also joined his Captain. Inara and Kaylee had smiled, the latter giggling, whilst Zoe had quirked her lip momentarily.
They'd known. His evil houze de pi gu of a Captain had just seen an opportunity too good to pass up, and Jayne couldn't decide if he was angry or amused. Probably a little of both.
He expected Kaylee's giggles, her hushed tones with Inara. He'd expected Simon to warn him about the consequences of breaking his sisters' heart, expected the Captain to back him in those warnings. The fact that they were done with amused smirks softened them a little, but the warnings were official none the same.
What he hadn't expected was what River did. After the crew had left he'd turned to her, leaning in to kiss her, when she'd turned her head away from him. She rose gracefully, the large t-shirt she used as pyjamas swamping her slim frame. She held herself straight and tall as her eyes finally met his.
They were the coldest, most distant eyes he'd ever seen.
"She knows what he did. He wanted to leave." Her voice was hollow and emotionless. No accusation, no recrimination, just statement of fact. He blinked once, shocked by her reaction. He'd expected happiness at being discovered, expected her to be overjoyed at finding him in her bed. He'd never felt like a more arrogant hun dan than he did at that moment.
"Came back didn't I? Decided I couldn't leave you." To his own ears the words sounded stupid, sounded like a pathetic excuse for his actions. She raised one eyebrow imperiously, looking for all the world like a bored queen examining a bug.
"She doesn't want to be a second thought; she doesn't want to feel grateful he came back. She doesn't want someone who would leave in the night, not a word, not a whisper, each silent step shouting betrayal."
He couldn't form words. He felt cold, the room felt cold, his core felt cold. He couldn't look away from her frozen eyes, couldn't look away from the expressionless mask of her face, couldn't look away from that regal posture and dignified rejection.
Her eyes narrowed momentarily, and he shivered. The tiny slip of a girl standing in the centre of the room looked as though ice would begin pouring from her fingertips if she willed it. She gestured gracefully towards the door, the movement looking out of place, as if she were a statue briefly brought to life.
"He can leave now. He's good at that."
It took him a moment to gather his thoughts, to attempt to form words. It took every ounce of strength he had to move his limbs from their frozen lock, to stand and look down into those eyes. She was more than a head shorter than him, but he felt about a foot tall when she held him in that icy gaze. Her eyes narrowed again at his slow movements.
"Baby-girl, I came back, I didn't wan-"
She never raised her voice, never spoke above that cool, impersonal tone. But the underlying steel of her words was enough to silence his protests, and he retreated to the only reaction he'd known. He glared angrily at her, but she didn't flinch, didn't move.
He stomped out of the room, moving quickly down the hall, elbowing Simon out of the way as the doctor headed to see his sister. The younger mans' confused look just fuelled his anger, and he quickly retreated to his bunk.
Simon stepped into his sister's room, pausing briefly as he swore he felt a thin layer of ice coating the walls. She turned to him, her eyes still holding that frozen look, before her face crumpled.
"He tried to leave, couldn't, psychological response was too ingrained. She had a gift for him, had a present. But he wanted to leave the party. Why should she be joyful at a return, why should she be grateful that he reassessed? What was now may be again."
Simon looked at his sister as a solitary tear slipped down her cheek. He moved towards her, extending his arms, letting her come to him rather than forcing the contact on her. She did, clutching at him like a lifeline, her quiet sobs breaking his heart again and again. He moved them to the bed, sitting down and pulling her into his lap like he used to when they were children. She curled her legs up to her chest, tucking her head into the crook of his neck, pouring out her pain into the only source of constant love she'd ever known.
"Mei mei, please don't be mad at me for saying this, but maybe you've overacted a little? He changed his mind, didn't he? The changing hormones can make you feel more emotional. Have you even told him?"
He expected her to fly into a rage at that, expected her to react like most women would when faced with a stupid male opinion. But she merely raised her head, looking at him with red rimmed eyes that still held more water than they should.
"He wanted to leave when he thought it was just her. Just the girl. On her own she was enough to push him into wanting to leave. What would knowing the truth force him to do? She will not use life as a bargaining chip; will not be made to feel retention of love through obligation."
Simon understood what his sister was saying, a feat her was more than a little proud of, but couldn't help wondering if perhaps her usually razor sharp reading was a little off. He'd known for a while now that something was going on, had been able to see that there was more to their relationship than that of crewmates.
Jayne wasn't as secretive as he liked to believe. A fool could see the way the big man's eyes trailed over the ships' Reader, could see the way his hands would linger on her when they came into contact. His attempts to throw off any watchers were difficult to witness, his harsh tone of voice making Rivers head droop and eyes become downcast. Simon wondered if perhaps the physical changes his sister was going through were throwing off her abilities to Read, or perhaps this was just too personal for her.
Whatever the reason, he knew he couldn't do anything more than what he was doing now. Holding her, comforting her, looking after her. He knew at least that he could do that.
He always had.
The entire crew had entered into some kind of silent pact not to comment on the interactions of the mercenary and the girl. They saw him try again and again to talk to her, only to be met with stony silence, cold eyes, distant looks. They watched him try to get back into her good graces, watched as she ignored him entirely. Every attempt at contact or conversation was frozen out, and the atmosphere on the ship was painful.
But they held their tongues, knowing that Simon was right, that only the two of them could work out whatever was happening between them. So if on some mornings River would run from the breakfast table to the nearest bathroom, if ever one of them noticed a thin pale hand drifting over her still flat stomach, if ever Jayne's temper became a little too much to bare, no one said a thing.
Inara and Kaylee wondered how he didn't know, how he couldn't have noticed, but agreed that he was probably distracted by the constant coating of ice he was receiving. Mal had been about to say something more than once, only to find Zoe shaking her head, eyes projecting the need for silence.
Jayne himself was experiencing physical pain at the ongoing separation from River, and wondered more than once how he had expected to be able to cope without her. Seeing her every day and knowing he didn't even warrant a hateful glance, and angrily shouted word, only this ongoing distance was enough to drive him mad.
She wouldn't react, wouldn't indicate that he was anything more than a speck of dirt on her radar, wouldn't allow him to come within five feet of her. He missed her something fierce, would lay awake in his bunk at night remembering her touch, her laugh, the way her eyes used to light up warmly when he'd enter a room.
All this self-reflection was damaging his calm something fierce. Largely because he couldn't just remember the good things. He also remembered the way her face would close down when he publicly rebuked her, remembered the bruised look in her eyes when he told her to leave his bunk, her hands scratching at her arms as if trying to remove some of the dirt he'd left on her. Remembered the way she'd stare at him, confused, when he'd go from laughing with her to calling her names in front of other people. Always making sure she knew that she was just a piece of trim, always making sure to project his lack of emotion and commitment towards her.
Whilst it may not have been what he was feeling internally, which would explain the confused look she'd get when he treated her cruelly, it was enough to hurt her something fierce. He thought about the night he'd gone to leave, how convinced he'd been that she'd be happy to welcome his touch and his heart when he changed his mind, how arrogant his assumption of gratefulness had been. In her sleep she'd snuggled into his neck, holding him tightly. But the next morning the ice had been enough to make his blood run sluggishly. She'd held herself so rigid, as if she was embarrassed by her reaction to him while she slept.
The ice layered over and over. It had been a month since that fateful night, a month since he'd made that stupid almost mistake that had cost him so much. The ice had overwhelmed him, and his body and mind, desperate to protect his shattered psyche, reacted the only way they knew how.
He was exhausted, unable to sleep, feeling that ice slip through his veins and in towards his core. He stopped bothering her, stopped trying to make contact with her. He stopped most things apart from working out and doing his chores. He forgot to eat regularly, his large frame losing some of its bulk, his face looking gaunt and his eyes growing flat.
He would respond to requests, would carry out orders, but there was no laughter, no smirking, no snide comments or games of hoop ball. There was no one living in that hollow shell.
A/N: A lot more angsty than I'm usually capable of, but fear not kiddies, y'all know me :)