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Cut Time Adagio 1/1

by E.L.

In his sleep, Simon hears River singing. No words, or at least none that he understands, just a tone, a sound. If Simon had been home he believes he might have classified it as meaningless noise, but here, now, River is definitely singing. Sometimes the notes run up and down the octaves for hours, tumbling end over end in a flurry of major scales. Other times the note is alone and endless, like River never has to draw breath, and drowns out everything in him.

In the beginning, it was just a little hum, background music like the start up tune on the Cortex, but it grew. The sound became a symphony, a waltz, and then it twisted down the lower scales, wild and dark. Hammering flats and crashes of sharps like a thunderstorm in his head. A high shriek once and he woke up thinking his ears must be bleeding.

He had run to River's room, sure she was being mauled to death, and found her fast asleep, curled into a ball in the exact center of the mattress with her head tucked under her arm, lying in a swirl of blanket. She's like that each time Simon goes in to check on her. And every night she sings.

Simon never dreams anymore. He used to, quite vividly actually, and the sudden absence worries him. This is confusing, disorienting. He gets up in the morning and finds himself humming her tune, or trying to, but never quite managing. It's never the same song twice, never the same measure or scale pattern. Each day Simon gets dressed and makes them breakfast with the fading strains coating his thoughts. And in the kitchen, River smiles and then doesn't and scrubs her hands and looks nervous. He really wishes she'd stop looking nervous.

He doesn't like River's singing. Music appreciation was part of Simon's studies as a child, and River as well. But nothing in her song is like anything he ever learned. On the other hand, it doesn't appear he has much of a choice in the matter, something Simon is slowly getting used to. Running away means sacrifice and `choice' seems to be the first thing Simon let go. Life is relegated into things that must be done now and will be done next without concern for a grander scheme of what could be. River needs him to be strong here. To do the things she can't anymore and to be what he should have been in the first place. He didn't think it meant having her sing at him all night, but if that's what she needs then . . .

He doesn't believe River used to sing. Her teacher taught her dance instead. She never even hummed along with the music he bought her when they went down to the shops. She simply sat and listened quietly and thanked him. Then, she'd jump up and grab his hands and they'd waltz out into the hall until she thought of something else to do. Later, he'd see the disks placed carefully onto her desk shelves in alphabetical order with dust collecting along their tops. Words were extraneous to her, what she wanted were the rhythms, the beat.

He's pretty sure no one has music onboard Serenity, not even Inara. If they did, it probably wouldn't be appropriate for River to hear. He remembers Zoe remarking about the fiddle player she heard at the party where the captain got his `wife,' but nothing on the ship has ever reminded him in the least bit of music.

Why she's suddenly chosen to start singing now is, frankly, beyond him. There's no place for it on Serenity, there's no time. Everything is rough and dirty and dangerous and Simon spends much of his day vacillating between his hope that the crew's need for his skills is enough to protect them and his certainty that he is not the type of person to inspire loyalty in anyone. Sooner or later, they'll get tired of Simon's slowness and River's . . . condition and he'll have to start thinking of ways to get them out without getting hurt.

He carries these problems with him from his bed to his infirmary and places in between. There's nowhere to get any sort of quiet on Serenity. People are always stumbling over each other on their way to somewhere else. And he can only stay locked in his infirmary for so long before he has to go looking for River again. Days, months, on board taking care of River who sings in his head. He's beginning to consider whether or not River's condition might be contagious, but he's afraid of what might happen if he asks one of the others if they hear singing when they go to sleep. He can just picture Jayne's smirk.

At the end of the day, of every day it seems like, Simon guesses there's nothing to be done. Like so many things, River's singing is out of his control and he had better get used to it. At least it's only when he's asleep and not all the time. He doesn't think he could stand it if River started singing out loud. He's begun to wince every time she opens her mouth. The strange phrases--the starts, the stutters--at any moment, he firmly believes she's getting ready to break into song, to break him open, and who will take care of her then? His hands want to reach up and clap over her lips, smothering whatever it is that wants to come out, but they don't. He won't let them. Simon treats River with only the very gentlest of care. She is his little sister and she is in pain and she needs him to keep her safe. That he can't manage it alone is somewhat beside the point.

So Simon will go to sleep every night without any more fuss or prevarication than is necessary. He will lie down under the covers, close his eyes tightly, and slip away, feeling River's hum rising up from the base of his skull to sweep over his mind. The notes will swirl and shriek, drift and moan, and Simon will be lost in the minor key, cradled and caught in the major lift.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to E.L.

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