Hunger

Jun. 18th, 2006 02:07 pm
[identity profile] ninamazing.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] uselessflattery
Title: Hunger
Author: [livejournal.com profile] ninamazing, or Nina
Word Count: 777.
Progress: 1/50 for [livejournal.com profile] 50_darkfics. Table here.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for disturbing images.
Pairings/Characters: Mal/River. The OTP of Hot.
Spoilers: Kind of big, for Serenity the movie.
Author's Note: Don't worry. I'm heading for happiness.


River Tam could never sleep.

When she first came aboard Serenity, and her brother tucked her in at night, she always waited, listening to the sound of him as he changed and got under the covers next door. Once or twice she even stole into his thoughts, hoping he was dreaming of flying, or falling, something that would make her stumble into rest. It didn't quite work that way. Every night all she did was lie down, staring at the ceiling she couldn't see, terrified by the death she knew she always faced.

She tried to tell Simon, one day. He insisted that she had something to read, took caffeine pills so he could stay up with her, watch her while she lay in bed. None of it helped, but she let her eyes lazily close and pretended to drift off anyway, to make him feel better. Afterwards she told him it wasn't as bad, that she was getting better, but she lied.

Soon she developed a schedule for herself. She slept on alternating nights, only when she was so tired her body failed from exhaustion, and dragged her mind on behind -- the nightmares of the day continued as she slept, but it was better than no respite at all. On the nights she wasn't fatigued enough, she read; and when she was no longer afraid of the ship's crew, she explored.

She'd never gone out when anyone else could see her -- when Wash and Zoe were spending the night in the pilot's seat, or when Jayne was drinking in the kitchen, River stayed in bed, tapping into their mental activities to distract her from her own.

She was always afraid that someday it wouldn't be enough, that she'd have to get out of her bed, to touch something real, even if there was a person outside who would question her, who would wake Simon up. And tonight the dreams were too bad, too real, for her to stand -- blood bodies crying nothing unborn children dead mothers men with their brains blown out, the world before River had existed and the world as it would be afterwards, with nary a mark.

She needed Serenity.

Her body floated out of bed with ease; she pressed her cheek to the doorframe, big eyes solemn, toes pointed toward the stairs. Mal was on the bridge. He watched the stars -- and River, too, needed to see stars, so she went.

He whirled around at her step; River wondered how he sensed her.

"River," he said simply; should have known you wandered 'round my boat at night, said his eyes. So tonight would be an awkward one, then; since Miranda Mal's mood had changed as often as Zoe's didn't. Sometimes he treated River as his second, making quips at her right before a firefight, trusting her opinion. And the rest of the time it was as if he wanted to shunt her to the side again, call her "little one" and pat her on the head -- but before the tiny endearment left his lips he remembered what she was, and stopped.

"Captain," she replied, and stepped into the copilot's seat. That was her right; that was where she felt comfortable, when Serenity yielded easily under her hands, and did what she asked out of love.

He stared at her for a moment, and then she felt his face turn back to the stars. They both gazed into eternal night-time, pretending to ignore each other.

"Couldn't sleep?" he said at last, clumsy, as she'd never seen him.

"No," she answered, and wanting, irrationally, for him to understand: "There's something outside that they want me to see, but I won't look."

A pause. "Huh," he replied, an echo of the day they met -- I don't have to understand you; Simon will do it.

"Too much death," she explained, but she couldn't put it any more clearly than that, and Mal was silent still, impenetrable, even with his thoughts out in the open.

Tomorrow, River knew, she would grip this chair again, take them somewhere else; she and the crew would laugh over meals, forgetting the doom that smiled at them all. But it wasn't enough: she'd try to sleep again, and wouldn't, and soon even the stars would become routine, not enough of a comfort. How do you keep them away, she wanted to ask him, wanted the captain who knew everything, who had saved her, to fold her into his arms and whisper that he didn't fear a single thing she thought or did.

But this far into the black, that wasn't possible. All anyone knew was hunger.

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