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|Title: Growing Up
Author: Eleanor K.
Posted: 14 August, 2003
Disclaimer: Non nobis, Joss, non nobis; sed nomini tuo da gloriam.
Notes: For the Hug Simon challenge. Much thanks to Skripka and Rebecca
for coming up with the challenge, and to Rebecca for her fantastic
Warnings: Beware the Crazy Space Incest!
River stumbles out of her dream, mind tripping over the lack of pain,
the lack of fear. She thrashes her legs free of the bonds of sweaty
sheets and oppressive blanket. For once the freedom from restraint
does not call up dream/memory images of metal fastened at wrists and
ankles flashing in the supernova of a surgical light.
She wakes from dreams-- No, from nightmares. There is a different
word for bad dreams, implying that not all dreams are bad. She wakes
from nightmares with her body screaming at her, muscles locked, and
her blood pounding like a jackhammer, working to break through that
shallow spot in her neck and drown her.
Not this time.
She is warm. Even hot. But not as she has been, not roasting in her
own skin and wishing she could peel it off. Her face feels flushed
with blood against her hands--or her hands are strangely cool against
her face. Her pulse is a living thing, nudging and nuzzling at her
throat over and over, persistent and unyielding in its demands for
River lies still and watches the shadows shift on her ceiling. The
shadows are cast by the nightlight Simon installed after she woke
up screaming in the dark one too many times. The light helps, but
she can't understand why the shadows move when nothing in the room
is moving. Shadows aren't supposed to have an independent existence.
Sometimes the shadows in her dreams do, but she reminds herself that
dreams aren't real. Sometimes that helps.
This dream...wasn't real. But it lingers in her body. Heat and weight
and knowing touch compose an ache in her that she cannot not classify
as pain. She slips a hand over the thin T-shirt she sleeps in, skimming
her body, cataloging the sensations the touch draws from it. She is
used to pain. She isn't used to this.
Her body. This is her body. It belongs to her. She touches the tips
of her breasts, feeling the skin crinkle and harden into corrugated
Down and down. The hair between her legs is rough, even through her
underwear. The cotton is damp, sliding, sticky. She moves her hand
away and presses her legs together with a shiver.
Unlike pain, this ache demands more. She remembers--something. Some
fragment of long ago that has lodged in her brain, at last siphoned
up from the water table of her subconscious. Memory of her fourteenth
birthday party, of boys looking at her with new eyes; of a pink-and-gold
paperback book and the bare-chested man on its cover, spine broken
and pages falling like autumn leaves, of the maid she had borrowed
it from, barely older than River herself. Younger than River is now.
Memory of kisses pressed between its pages.
She shuts her eyes, but that only makes it worse. Images move of their
own volition, like the shadows. Confusion spirals through her body
and tangles itself in her mind.
There is only one thing she can do now. She resists, wanting to let
Simon sleep, wanting to leave him in peace for once, but this new
feeling is too much for her. She swings her feet down the floor and
stands. Simon will help her. He always knows what to do.
Simon wakes with the first touch of cool hands on his arm. The bed
dips under a new weight, and he shifts toward the wall to make room.
"River? Are you all right?"
Of course, she is not all right, but he has gotten over wincing when
he says these words.
She lifts the covers and climbs into his bed. Her arms go around his
"What is it, mei mei? Can you tell me?"
She shakes her head, hair brushing his face.
"Did you have a dream?"
"Yes," is the whispered reply. "Hurts. Need."
"What do you need?" Besides an end to what they did to you, besides
a cure, besides a normal life.
The kiss is so light that he mistakes it, at first, for the silk of
her hair across his lips. The second kiss is unmistakable.
"River-- Wait-- No--"
His sister's tongue in his mouth, and he is aware of small breasts
pressed tight against his body. The shock steals his control from
him, and his hands merely sit on her shoulders, his mouth slack.
She takes his hand in hers and guides it down into burning heat. Her
thighs close around his hand, her own hand a claw on his wrist, holding
him still as her body moves against him.
He holds her shoulder more tightly than he should and looks at the
darkened room, at the open door. A dream. A nightmare. This cannot
be anything else. He would pinch himself, but he can't move.
River gives a sharp, low cry that could as easily be from his crushing
grip on her shoulder as from--anything else. Her body goes limp and
heavy in his arms, and she smiles at him. Cranes her neck for another
kiss. He turns his head just in time. She seems just as happy to kiss
He waits until her breathing tells him she is asleep to get up and
wash his hands. Hand.
He holds it under the faucet, and it takes him far too long to notice
how hot the water is. Steaming hot. He adjusts the temperature, fiddling
with the taps. Concentrating on the slickness of the soap to wipe
another recently-touched slickness from his mind. After long minutes,
he stops. Dries his hands. Brings them up to his face and, to his
relief, smells only soap.
He steps out into the hall, lost, still hoping this is something he
can wake up from. He should have pushed her away. He knows that. But--push
her away when he knows she has nowhere else to go? When he is all
Whatever else she has become, she is still a seventeen-year-old girl.
Her sex drive is normal. Even if her mode of expressing it...leaves
something to be desired.
Simon shivers and walks quickly around the corner and up the stairs.
He stops at the top.
She'll wake up in the morning, still unaware she's done anything wrong.
She doesn't know any better. He'll have to explain it to her--the
stigma, the abnormality, the... He almost wants to say 'sin,' though
his family was not particularly religious.
It felt like a sin.
He will have to make her understand, and that is the part he dreads,
more almost than the possibility of it happening again. She already
feels like a freak. This will make it worse. He doesn't know if he
can bear to make things worse for her.
Inara watches the steam rise from the kettle. She is in a sort of
haze, made up of lack of sleep and two clients, one right after the
other. Shouldn't have scheduled herself so tightly, but she gets little
enough chance to work these days.
Having the Tams on board has made it all the more difficult to get
Mal near any decently civilized planet. She doesn't resent their presence,
but she has to admit that her life would be easier without them.
There is a sound from the door and she turns, expecting it to be Mal.
He is the only one routinely up this late.
But she can see it's not, even before he steps into the light.
"Simon, are you... Forgive my bluntness, but are you all right? Is
there something wrong with River?"
Simon laughs shortly. It's an ugly sound. "You know, I'm beginning
to think there is."
He shakes his head quickly. "No, I didn't mean that. I just... This...hasn't
been a good night. For either of us."
She turns away, giving him time to compose himself. "Would you like
He sighs. "Yes. Thank you. That would be nice."
She waits at the counter while the tea brews. She hardly needs her
training to tell that he doesn't want to talk right now. She won't
try to force him, even if she does think it might do him some good.
She thinks sometimes that her training has not suited her to be a
very good friend. She can always give a man what he wants, but seldom
what he needs.
It feels a little dishonest to her, the way she treats the men of
Serenity. A little manipulative. It never used to feel that way. She
remembers one of her instructors speaking on that subject. Companions
never manipulate. It isn't dishonest to wish your client to be happy.
She'd believed it at the time.
And yet, everyone on Serenity is so...real. Even Simon, with his ingrained
politeness and unintentional arrogance, is always himself. None of
these people know how to be anyone other than themselves.
She takes the tea pot and sets it on a tray with two cups. She crosses
to the table and sits down next to Simon. Her training tells her that
it would be more appropriate to sit across the table, more conducive
to his mental comfort. But Simon is her friend, and she is worried.
And maybe she is a little tired of her training dictating every aspect
of her life.
She pours tea for Simon and pushes it over to him.
"Thank you," he murmurs into the steam that drifts up around his face.
"I can't. I'm sorry. I just...can't talk about it."
The duties of friendship converge with her training. If she can't
comfort with words, she can always comfort with touch. She places
a hand on his shoulder, rubbing in light circles.
It takes her longer than it should to realize he is crying. Silent
and so still, but his tears drop one by one into his tea cup.
The words prompt a ragged breath, almost a sob, and then he is quiet
She pulls him close, and for a moment he resists. Then he is in her
arms, nearly falling out of his own chair. Their position is twisted
and strained. She can feel the stress in her arm where it is pinned
against the chair back, in her neck where it is bent to rest her cheek
Again, that breath of a sob. He slides off his chair and kneels beside
her, a penitent at confession. His arms go around her waist, and she
strokes his hair. She wonders, as she has before, if it is merely
coincidence that the mother of Christ and the whore Mary Magdalene
shared a name.
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