I really love writing these characters, it really helps when one is in a 'why is there no more Firefly' sad place. Thanks for all the reviews and support so far, you guys are great!
This chapter sees Aden make some progress in her issue of physical touch, plus it may or may not contain Inara giving her a sex talk. Enjoy! :P
p.s. there is now a River/Aden fanmix on 8tracks:
When Kaylee pops back into the infirmary to see how it is all going, she sees River sitting on the ledge to the right, knees pulled up to her chest and her eyes fixed on the unmoving figure on the operating table. Simon is still bent over the injured girl, but Kaylee can see tight bandages and thinks she can see Aden's chest moving up and down slightly.
Only an hour since they were shot at, and Simon seems to have healed their passenger, or at least saved her life.
"How's it going in here?" Kaylee asks all the same, eyes lingering more on the younger Tam sibling. River doesn't even blink.
"She's not going to die," The brunette says simply, "Not in any shape to go anywhere though."
"That's okay, River, we ain't gonna kick her out til she can hold her own," Kaylee assures her quickly, coming to sit by her and put an arm around the girl's shoulders, "We wouldn't put an injured girl out into the world on her own."
"She understands a lot but knows nothing," River breathes quietly, again looking at the unconscious girl as if she were an open book, "I don't comprehend. It's the same, only different."
Kaylee smiles and gives her a nudge. "That ain't the same at all. She doesn't know anything and you know about almost all there is to know."
"But she's lost...and wandering…"
"River, sweetie, you ain't lost, you're right at home here on Serenity."
"Home on Serenity." River looks at one of her hands, holding it out and flexing it experimentally. "Two by two…two by two...two by two...not five thousand but just three. Now two, but one day it could be three again. A different third, though."
"Why're you so worried about Aden, sweetie?" Kaylee asks curiously.
"There's no one else."
"To worry about?"
"To worry for her. Never has been."
"River…" Simon warns from the infirmary table, "What did we decide about telling stranger's secrets to others?"
River snorts and looks at him as if he is an idiot. "Secrets. They're printed on her forehead as easy to read as Yī Èr Sān."
Kaylee and Simon share a lost look before the former speaks. "Meimei, it's only like that for you."
"Doesn't make it incorrect," River says stubbornly, rolling her eyes.
When the world shifts from nothing to black to blur, Aden blinks to try and clear the image in her eyes. The tinkling hum in the back of her mind makes it difficult but manages to give her a firmer grip on consciousness all the same.
A minute later, her eyes are open and she's looking at River, who's sitting on the bench to her left. What she had thought was a tinkling hum is actually River's faint and airy singing.
"My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea…"
It isn't a song she knows, but then she only knows a few hymns that would be sung back home, so it's not saying much. What is a 'bonnie'?
That's when Simon comes back into the infirmary and looks surprised but pleased to see her awake.
"Aden, how are you feeling?" He asks.
"My belly feels kinda funny, but I feel okay, Doctor Tam."
Simon's face takes on an expression that is a mix of relief and old exasperation. "Just Simon, remember?"
"Now, I know that you don't like being touched, but I need to check your wound and put on clean bandages, and there's no way to do that without touching you," He says slowly, "So…"
River jolts back to attention from wherever her mind had been and she gets up to stand on the opposite of the table to Simon. Her hand stretches out towards Aden's limp arm, moving an inch at a time.
"What are you doing?" Simon and Aden ask in perfect unison. The same confusion and nervousness clouds their voices.
"I'm going slowly so you can stop me if you want," River says seriously, "But you need someone to hold your hand and then you won't notice Simon. It'll be nicer like that."
Aden opens and shuts her mouth a few times, not entirely sure what to say. It's a kind offer but she's just not sure that she wants anyone touching her just yet. But is there any choice? She'll have to start dabbling in physical contact sooner or later.
"Alright," Aden says quietly, eyes coming up to meet River's dark, dark ones. Her hand lifts up until there's only an inch between it and River's. "Just...softly, please?"
River just smiles and moves her hand the tiny distance needed. Her fingertips slide across Aden's forearm with the softness of rain and the static of night air before thunderstorms. Involuntarily, Aden takes in a sharp breath. Her eyes are fixed on the slow, feather light trail that ends with River's hand slipping into the curve of her's and just holding it.
"Um," Aden says, rather blankly, "...thanks."
The words make River laugh lightly and Aden joins her, just for a few moments.
"You okay?" Simon asks her, and she nods. "Are you alright for me to start changing the bandages?" She nods again. What seemed like a daunting thing a few minutes before no longer seems so bad.
Sure enough, the light pressure of Simon's professional touch is alien but inconsequential in comparison to the feel of River's hand in hers. River's hand is silky and small and warm and quite unlike any inanimate thing she's ever touched. Probably because she's physically attached to another living, breathing, thinking being and just the thought of it is strange.
It's not long before Simon is done and Aden is smiling and thanking him profusely. Kaylee and Inara come back in not long after and congratulate Simon on a good job as well as expressing that they're happy that Aden is okay. Kaylee after that practically drags Simon from the room, leaving the two teenagers with the ex-Companion.
Inara is looking at their joined hands with an expression that makes it look like she's noticed something, but Aden doesn't think she would understand the significance, with only Mal and the two Tams knowing about her lack of history with physical touch. All the same, Inara smiles at them as if they've just told her a secret.
"River, we're still holding hands," Aden tells the brunette as she realises, and River just giggles under her breath and leans down to half whisper in her ear.
"I know," She says as if it's a conspiracy in itself. "We forgot to stop. Do you want to?"
Aden doesn't actually even know if she does want to stop, but thinks it might be best to not have too much of what is apparently a good thing. Especially a good thing she hasn't had for as long as she can remember. Hesitantly and somewhat reluctantly, their hands detach and River's falls limply back down to her side.
"If you two are fine, then I might leave you to it," Inara says to them after silently watching the whole exchange. She turns to leave and begins to walk out the door.
"Um, Inara," Aden calls after her, making her stop and turn back around, "Simon said you could probably explain to me what a Companion is, because you used to be one. He said it was like a whore, but a different kind, but I don't know what that is either. Is it a bad thing? Because I feel like I might have heard it mentioned once, but in a bad way."
Inara's face becomes almost clouded and even more difficult to read. River meanwhile slowly drifts towards the infirmary door.
"I should get back to the bridge," the prodigy murmurs, and slips out without so much as a farewell or a 'see you later'. After watching her leave, Inara sits on the bench to Aden's left with an amused look on her face.
"So Simon pointed you my way?"
"Yes. He seemed embarrassed when I asked him to explain."
Inara laughs, and the action only serves to make her even more beautiful than she already was. Again, Aden has to try not to blush. "Well, there isn't too much to explain. A whore is somebody who exchanges sex for money. They are professionals who get paid to have sex with people who would rather buy the experience. Companions are similar to whores, except we would be expertly trained in all manner of disciplines, and we require a license to practice."
That doesn't clear much up for Aden. "What's sex?" The look of bewilderment on Inara's face is rather funny to Aden, especially how her mouth even drops open half an inch before she manages to look dignified once again.
"Oh sweetie," Inara finally says, her voice sounding like that of an adult talking to a child. It's a tone Aden is familiar with, but hadn't experienced much on Serenity. "You know, I think you and I need to have a proper talk. But maybe once you're better. You can come to my shuttle and I can try to explain. But didn't they teach you anything where you came from? About what people who love each other do? About what married people do and where babies come from?"
Aden dumbly shakes her head. "They didn't say much about any of that. Said we didn't need to know about what bein' married meant until we were married. Said that they didn't want us getting ideas. Except I think they wanted me to like boys and men and I never have, not in the way they seemed to talk about, even if I still don't know what that way is exactly."
"You just like girls?"
"I like boys just fine, but there's somethin' different about girls, because girls are so...I dunno, sometimes they would make my stomach feel all funny. And then there's girls like you."
Inara lifts an eyebrow. "Like me how?"
"Like their faces were painted by angels or somethin'," Aden blurts out before covering her mouth with her hands, "Sorry. You're so pretty I forget what I'm saying sometimes. But you don't make my stomach feel funny, I just think you're beautiful."
"Well, thank you," Inara says gracefully, smiling and not seeming to be worried by the comment, "But can I guess that River makes you get butterflies in your stomach?"
Aden frowns to think about it like that. "I suppose it is a bit like butterflies, yeah. And it does seem to happen around River. At first I thought I wasn't sure about whether I liked being around her or not, her being a reader and all, but now I know I do. There's just...something about her."
"But you don't know what any of it means, do you?" Inara guesses, and Aden shakes her head hopelessly.
"No, and it seems like I should."
"When you're up and about again, I'll do my best to explain it."
"Thanks, Inara," Aden says as the ex-Companion gets up to leave, "Really. But...but you won't tell anyone about River and the butterflies, will you? I just...I just feel like I don't anyone to know, since I don't even really know what it means yet."
"Of course," Inara assures her, smiling gently back at her, "Your secret is safe with me. But if it makes you feel any better, I think she feels the same way about you." She smiles wryly. "It's no secret that she's somewhat fascinated by you."
As Inara leaves, Aden settles herself back on her pillow and smiles to herself.
A few uneventful days later, Aden is back on her feet and just having to tread gently. It's strangely nice to be able to take her meals with the crew again.
"S' probably best if we don't head back to Persephone for a little while," Mal says, half to Aden and half to everyone else, "Don't think we're entirely welcome there with some folk. Sorry that it happened before we could get you on your way."
Aden just shrugs. "It's okay, Captain. I think every hour I spend on this ship, more I learn that I need to know about the 'verse and life in it. You all know so much about so many things."
"For a lot of us, it is or was our job to know those things," Inara says, and Kaylee and Simon nod in agreement.
"Well, I think it's nice you're sticking around," Kaylee says warmly as she smiles at Aden, "Especially now that you're less afraid of talkin'."
"Maybe that bullet knocked some courage into me," Aden replies, making a few of them laugh. Not River. River, a few seats down, frowns deeply and starts shaking her head, muttering under her breath all the while. It isn't until Simon warily places a hand on her arm that she settles and smiles at him.
"Everything okay down there?" Mal asks, and the two Tam siblings nod. "Good."
Dinner finishes without anything eventful happening. Kaylee approaches Aden and goes to touch her on the shoulder, only for Aden to flinch away despite everything that had happened in the infirmary a few days before.
"Sorry," Aden blurts, "I just...I'm sorry. Especially since you were so nice lending me some of your clothes."
Kaylee's brief confusion and rejection immediately gives way into her usual cheeriness. "Well, I don't get much reason to wear some of these dresses, so until we can stop and either drop you off or get some stuff just for you, these suit you just fine."
The blue dress reaches just above Aden's knees and has some lovely patterns on it, but it doesn't look fancy and Aden actually likes it like that. She also likes how it ties up behind her neck and leaves her arms bare like the shirts she would wear at home. She likes being able to feel her hair on her shoulders. She's not so sure that her old clompy boots from back home entirely go with it, but they're all she has.
"Thanks again for this," Aden says, and Kaylee just nods, smiles, and links arms with Simon as the two of them head out. River is nowhere to be seen and Aden is about to head back to her room when she finds Inara standing nearby.
"Did you want to have that talk now?" Inara asks, and Aden realises that she definitely wants to, because she hates not knowing things and there's so much she doesn't know.
"Yes please," She says quickly. Inara gestures for her to follow and they walk down the corridor and along the walkways until they come into her shuttle. It's decorated in red and silks, with a lingering but very faint smell of incense.
Inara gestures to the lounge seat. "Have a seat. Make yourself at home." She looks around. Her flowy shirt and pants don't quite match up with the luxury of their surroundings. "I don't know why I spend some of my last pay on making this place look like this again. It just seemed like a good idea. I can't even pay the rent for this anymore, but Mal just…" She laughs a little. "I don't know. Pretends like nothing has changed."
"Why did you stop being a Companion?"
"I...I needed a change. And stopping meant I never had to leave Serenity." The two of them sit, close but with enough room that Aden isn't uncomfortable. Inara notices how the girl's eyes fix on the space between them. "Aden, do you have a problem with touching other people?"
Aden frowns. "Not a problem, exactly...I'm just not used to it. At all. What you saw, me and River a few days back, that was the first time I'd touched someone for as long as I can remember, 'cept when the Captain did it by accident. But he realised right away and let go. He's good like that. Looks after people."
Inara smiles. "Yes. He does." She gets up and starts making tea, which seems like an odd thing to do, but then what would Aden know? "Now, Aden, what you have to realise is that for a girl your age to not know what sex is, is very unusual. Most people hear of it, if not from parents or guardians then by vulgar word of mouth from people around them. But you've clearly lived a very sheltered life so it almost makes sense, given how many others things you've never heard of before. But sex is a fundamental part of human existence, so it's important that you know about it. And it's possibly best that you learn this from me, because it's my area of expertise. Kaylee said you're from a religious community, which means that they would have probably given you a very narrow and unhealthy portrayal of it."
"Okay," Aden says, unsure what else to say just yet.
"Also, something just occurred to me. You've been told so little...do you even know what men have between their legs?" Seeing Aden's lack of comprehension, Inara laughs as she pours the tea. "Well, I imagine you know what you have between your legs. Almost all women have the same. But almost all men have something different. Of course, you're interested in women so I suppose I don't really need to go into that. Just know they're different. And a lot of the time, romance will happen between a man and a woman. But not all the time, sometimes two women or two men will fall in love, and that's just as normal, just a little less common."
"Alright, makes sense so far."
"Pairings between men and women are more common because when they have sex, their different bodies can make babies."
"Oh." Aden felt her eyes widen a little. "That makes a lot of sense, actually. But what does having sex actually...you know...mean? I get that it's what you would do, and you got paid for it, but..."
"Well," Inara says, passing Aden a tiny cup of tea, "The mechanics of it are pretty simple, but different depending on who is involved. When it's men and women…" She launches into a brief and concise explanation that has Aden choking just a little bit on her tea and making an incredulous face.
"Really? That sounds just plain weird," She says honestly, and something about the complete innocent sincerity in her tone makes Inara laugh, so hard she has to cover her mouth. Aden can't help but eventually join in until the two of them are in complete hysterics just in time for Mal to come in and stare at them like they're aliens.
Unfortunately, given their topic of discussion and just how much Aden had learnt about men in the ten minutes previous, his appearance only makes the whole thing worse. Aden's laugh turns into helpless squeaking, which changes the curiosity in Mal's face into complete bewilderment.
"What the hell is this?" He asks, but Inara just keeps laughing. About twenty seconds later, Aden can compose herself long enough to form a reply.
"Sorry, Captain, Inara and I were just...talkin' and you came in at a real bad time," She admits, chewing on her nail sheepishly, "We didn't mean nothin' by it." When he doesn't look like he believes her, she insists, "Promise."
Inara just nods several times, still trying to get her giggles under control. "We're fine, Mal."
"Well," He says hesitantly, "Alright then. I was just...checkin'."
"You can go now, Mal," Inara says pointedly, as if she still owns the shuttle, "This is a private discussion."
Aden tries to hide her shocked expression at Inara's lack of care for Mal's authority. But all it takes is another look at Inara before they are giggling as he stalks out, shaking his head and muttering about 'gorram crazy women and mutiny on his boat'.
"So, Inara, if most girls like men, but some girls like girls...what do you like?" Aden thinks she likes Mal, and River seems to think so too, but Aden knows very little about all this and River's...well...half crazy for want of a better word.
"I like both," Inara says simply. "In the end, for me it's really about the person, and not what's between their legs."
Aden nods. "That makes sense. But if men and woman...fit together...then how does it work with two men or two women?"
"Do you really want or need to know how it works with men?" Inara asks with another lifted eyebrow, and Aden reconsiders, shaking her head and blushing.
"Actually, no, not really. But with girls...um...yes."
So Inara launches into another explanation about something similar but mechanically different, something that certainly sounds less utterly bizarre but still strange and blush-worthy.
"And the other part of all this that you need to understand that there are many different meanings to it. Some people only have sex within marriage, others only when they're in love. But some people do it just because it's enjoyable and they'll do it with a stranger," Inara tells her.
Aden just blinks. "People do that with strangers?" She asks flatly.
"Sometimes. Jayne, for example, never does it with anyone but strangers, to my knowledge," Inara says, making a face that strongly suggests she'd rather think about anything but Jayne doing such things.
"Well, I don't think I'd ever want to do it unless it was with someone I really…" Aden shrugs. "And if I knew they felt the same about me."
"And you have a crush on River."
"A crush?" Aden twists her hair in her fingers and pulls a thoughtful face. "Is that what it's called?"
"When you like somebody in the way that turns your stomach inside out?" Inara laughs. "Yes. It's not love, because love is deeper and vastly more complicated." The face she pulls makes Aden wonder if perhaps she and River are right about her and Mal. Her words seem just a little bit too knowledgeable and her relationship with Mal seems like it could fit her description. "A crush comes before that. Sometimes it just fizzles out and nothing happens, and sometimes it turns into more."
"Well, I think I might have a real little crush on River," Aden says anxiously, laughing slightly, "But no one except for you needs to know that, and that's only because you knew before I did."
"No one else needs to know, don't worry, I won't be saying anything."
"Besides, there's always the chance that I'll only be here for a little while longer," The youngster points out, "So like you said, could just be nothin'."
"It could just be a passing fancy for a pretty girl who shows an interest, that's true, and you're right, you'll probably be gone soon," Inara agrees, "But I feel like I should say that in the case of the tiny possibility of anything happening between you and River, a sexual relationship like that which I described might not be possible."
Aden has to think about it, just for a second. "Because of the way she is."
Inara nods, her eyes soft and solemn. "In many ways, she's a child. Even physically she's only just surpassed that. But mentally? She's unstable, vulnerable, and in many ways incredibly young. Which makes sex a delicate issue."
"But it doesn't have to be, not with me," Aden immediately says, her voice earnest, "No matter who it was, I'd want to wait til I was sure I wanted it, or wait until I knew if I wanted it at all, cos I'm not so sure I even do. River being the way she is wouldn't matter to me at all, I'd just be what she needed."
"You know," Inara replies with a warm smile, "Anyone else and they would think this conversation was strange, seeing as you and River barely know each other and even the speculation of this should be absurd. But I was trained in this, and I pay attention. You two watch each other without realising, and River mentions you frequently when you're not in the room, just for a moment. And when I saw you two in the infirmary...well let's just say that I felt like I was intruding on something incredibly...private. I can tell just by the way you look at her that you think highly of her."
"It's just the way she moves, and talks...it's like nothing I've seen before, and I don't think I'll ever meet someone like her again. But that's a thing to think about some other day. Thanks, Inara, but I should get some sleep." Aden gets up and so does Inara. The latter lifts a hand, as if to offer some friendly touch before remembering to think the better of it. "Maybe if I…" Aden lifts her own hand, and very consciously places it on the corner of Inara's shoulder, just for a moment. "See? I'm learning."
She and Inara share smiles before Aden thanks her again and leaves the shuttle. She half expects River to be circling outside like an owl, but when she creeps back to the area where she and the Tams have their quarters, she can see River sleeping deeply away through a crack in the door.
Perhaps tomorrow, the two of them can play some sort of game together. That might be fun, and it would be worth it just to see River laugh, just once.
Hope you guys like it! Feedback is wonderful. Thanks for reading!