River followed the laughter and the sound of voices to the cargo bay. She looked down from the catwalks to see the crew of Serenity playing a lively game of ball.
She leaned even farther over to take a closer look. Everyone, even her pompous boob of a brother, was playing. She could discern no rules or logic to the game, except for the fact that you must take the small, canvas ball and put it threw a loop that hung suspended from the ceiling.
Suddenly, Kaylee wrenched the ball away from Jayne and threw it to Simon, who promptly dropped it on his foot. River giggled as Simon hopped around on his uninjured foot, swearing fluently. Jayne was catching.
While Kaylee rushed over to see if he was okay, Mal scooped up the ball and lobbed it to Book, who threw it towards the hoop.
The ball just barely missed, flying only a centimeter to high, and landed in River's outstretched hands.
Immediately, the room fell silent. River felt terror emanating from several people, especially Jayne. Ever since the disastrous reunion with their parents, the crew had avoided her. Simon had told them all about River's cold-blooded murder of the guard, and the way she had calmly disabled her mother, father, and best friend. Only Simon was still the same, still protecting her and trying to make her better.
River gave them what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "What team am I on?" she asked jokingly. Mal and Zoe, the two team leaders, glared at each other. River could practically hear their conversation.
'You take her.' 'No, you.' 'You.' 'That was an order Zoe.'
Simon spoke up first. "You can be on my team mei-mei." He said cheerfully, studiously ignoring Zoe's death glare.
River clapped her hands, delighted to be on a team. She quickly scrambled up the railing of the catwalk until she stood balanced at the very top.
At once, screams filled the room as every one told her not to jump. Rolling her eyes, River quickly calculated how far away the hoop was, how fast she would have to jump, and the angle of her flight. Rocking back on her heels, River pushed off, dropping three feet in the first ten seconds as she propelled herself five feet over.
The result was exactly how she predicted it would be. River hung with two hands from the hoop, the ball having already been flung through. It was currently bouncing off the far west wall, and she felt a little disappointed that no one had caught it.
"Don't move mei-mei!" yelled Simon, who was fluttering helplessly twenty feet below her. In loud tones, Jayne and Mal were discussing their chances of getting a ladder before she lost her grip. Inara and Kaylee had both fainted.
"Did I make a point?" Asked River hopefully. She knew she had, but she was trying to reassure the crew she was fine.
Simon let out a shaky laugh. "Yes River, you did make the point. Now hold on, help's coming."
"I don't need help." Said River, projecting her voice so that Mal, who was halfway up the stairs on his way to get a ladder heard her.
"I'm a bird," River giggled, trying to make her brother understand. Simon could be so slow. They had played this game hundreds of times when they were kids.
She was gratified when understanding dawned on his face. Motioning Mal back, Simon backed up to where Kaylee and Inara lay recovering.
"Why in the 'verse aren't you doing something?" yelled Mal, his face a brilliant red. Simon gestured at him to keep calm.
"River knows what she's doing." He said. River's heart swelled with happiness. At least Simon trusted her.
She quickly began swinging her body back and forth, rotating so that she was facing the catwalks again. There was only a five-foot gap between the catwalks and the hoop. Most people could easily run and jump that. And River wasn't most people. She had always been a natural athlete, able to run the mile in under five minutes without much trouble, and her stay at the Academy, while terrible, had made the most of that.
There, River had been forced to put herself into all sorts of incredibly dangerous situations. This was incredibly easy compared to some of those.
When she judged her momentum to be enough, River released her grip and soared like a trapeze artist. She stumbled slightly upon landing, then regained her feet before running down the stairs and into her brother's arms, smiling proudly all the while.
A rough hand grabbed her away from her brother and spun her around. River felt a small jolt of terror as she faced an incredibly angry Mal Reynolds.
"River!" he yelled, his voice causing echoes in the loud room that made her wince, "Why in the gorram hell did you do that? I thought you were smart!" River felt tears well in her eyes. Mal spun to face Simon.
"That crazy sister of yours will be locked into her room for the next two days. She can only come out for meals."
Spinning around, he marched angrily out of the room. Inara picked herself up and murmured something to Kaylee before running out of the room after Mal. One by one everyone left the room until only River and Simon were left.
River turned to look at Simon. "Just wanted to play," she whispered miserably. Simon gave her a small smile, devoid of his usual kindness.
"You scared us today River." He said gently. "I have to agree with the captain on this one." With a heart-breaking sob, River rushed out of the cargo bay and back to her room. No matter what she did, everyone was still scared of her, and now Captain Daddy was angry.
It had been a horrible day.