Everything was fine the way it was
Normal and ordinary
Then there was you, so randomly too
And now you're staring at me
No one can choose who they fall for
Or when they fall, or how they fall, or why
I, well I fell for you and I must wait
it's only a matter of time
I will wait for you my darling
and I will wait for you
I Will Wait For You - Us The Duo
Just how Aden finds herself in the dining room alone and having a conversation with Jayne, she can't be sure. One would think that she would be used to not understanding things since it's over half of her entire state of existence, but the longer she spends on Serenity the more it's starting to get annoying. She wants to not feel stupid, she wants to comprehend everything around her.
(At a later date it would be explained to her that no one ever comprehends everything and most people are confused by someone else for some reason or another.)
"So you were stuck out with some nutty religious folk?" Jayne asks her while gnawing on a strip of dry meat and leaning against one of the walls.
"That must've sucked royal ass."
What exactly that means, Aden has no idea, but his meaning is clear enough. "Yeah."
"And they didn't even tell ya what sex was, that's just plain sad," he says, shaking his head with some expression close to genuine sympathy.
Shock fills her. "What? How do you know about that?"
Jayne just shrugs. "Something 'Nara was saying."
"She...told you about that?"
"Nah, overheard her mentioning it to Mal. She'd never tell me anything like that. Too private."
Aden frowns but nods a little, rubbing her arm as she tries to decide how to feel about the new information but comes up blank. "Yeah, well," she eventually says, "She...cleared it all up."
When he grins, there's something about it that makes her a little uncomfortable. "Yeah, I bet. What I wouldn't give t'ave been a fly on the wall for that. But now you can get yourself a man, qíngrén!"
"Don't call her that, Jayne, it's all kinds of wrong," Mal interrupts as he comes through the door and down the small steps. "And Aden, don't you be letting him, you hear me?"
Aden blinks at the forceful finger he's pointing in her direction and nods to appease him as fast as she can. "Yes Captain."
Jayne groans. "Hell, Mal, I didn't mean nothing by it!"
"Should hope not," Mal says sharply, "She's eighteen, and while some find that to be an acceptable age to be doing whatever they like with whoever they like, I don't-"
"I like girls!" Aden cries at the top of her voice, surprising them both immensely.
After a moment, Jayne just grins again, in a similar way to before, as he says, "Nice." She crosses her arms at him but looks over her shoulder at the captain.
Mal just nods, a tiny twitch at the corner of his lips, "Well alright then."
"And I don't even want girls touching me in the way we were discussin', so if you think I'd-"
"I wasn't thinking much of anythin'," Mal assures her, "It ain't none of my business, but keepin' Jayne in line is. Had to be sure he weren't bothering you."
"...he wasn't bothering me," she says after a moment's deliberation on it, "He was just bein'...himself. I think."
Jayne doesn't seem entirely sure of whether she's complimenting him or not, but at least has sensed that she's defended him, so he nods in gratitude.
"Good," Mal says. "What I like to hear."
A scream from outside of the room has the trio looking at each other with alarm and hurrying into the main body of the ship to see River crouching on the floor of the cargo bay with her hands in her head. She's the source of the noise. Simon is at her side, trying to stroke her back but only being swatted away.
"What's wrong with her?" Aden asks Mal worriedly from where they are staring down from the runaways.
"She's still a sick girl," he replies, his eyes showing considerable more concern than his words, "Likely always will be. She has her bad days."
Jayne grunts. "She's a gorram fruitcake." When Aden and Mal turn accusing eyes on him, he hastily adds, "But...it ain't her fault. I guess."
When River lets out another scream and the sound fills the ship, Aden can't just stand above and watch. She races down the stairs and stops only when Simon spots her and holds a hand out in what is clearly a sign to halt.
"You should probably stay back," he tells her with a large frown, before his attention goes back to his beloved sister.
"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…"
Knowing that it's stupid but unable to shake the gut instinct that it's what she has to do, Aden runs to River and kneels in front of her, ignoring Simon's protests considering that he's only just successfully gotten an arm around her shoulders.
"River," she says, ducking her head to try and see River's face that is currently tilted to the floor, "River, what's wrong?"
"All the King's horses," River chokes as she lifts her head to look Aden in the eye. Her brown eyes are filled with tears and the girl's entire face is crumbling. It makes Aden want to cry herself. "And all the King's men…"
Aden reaches her hand out, just in case the other girl wants to take it, and River eyes it for a moment before gripping it so hard that Aden can't stop herself from flinching.
"Couldn't put Humpty together again." River's whisper is practically inaudible. That's when she looks down at their joined hands and frowns only to drop Aden's like a hot potato, probably due to realising that she'd been hurting her. "Too many pieces, sharp pieces that cut anything that gets too-"
"The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout," Aden begins to sing on a whim, in a voice that isn't confident or particularly pretty but can at least carry the weak tune, and River's entire body goes still at the same time that Simon looks at her with bemusement. "Down came the rain and washed the spider out…" Aden's hands reach out to brush River's hair behind her ears and as she sings the next line River slowly looks up. "Out came the sun-"
"And dried up all the rain," River sings, voice so soft and melodic that Aden falters and almost doesn't sing the final line with her. "And the itsy bitsy spider crawled up the spout again."
They sit in silence for a good ten seconds, Simon watching them watch each other, and River's expression seems torn between distress and diffusion.
"River, even when it's rainin' right on you and it won't stop no matter what, fact is the sun's gotta come out sometime," Aden tells her friend, who finally gives her the tiniest of smiles, just for a second. "I used to think the clouds weren't ever gonna clear, but when I was so busy runnin' from them that I ended up here, they did."
"Thank you, Aden, but I think I can take it from here," Simon interrupts, turning River to face him and making it clear that she is no longer needed or wanted. She doesn't think he means to be so blunt about it, and so tries to push down the rather new feeling of rejection that takes up home in her chest. After all, his sister is sick and he as the doctor obviously knows the most about that. He needs space to help her and not interferences from a near stranger with no medical knowledge whatsoever.
Aden slowly gets to her feet, and has to watch with a lump in her throat when River's face crumbles as she turns back to her brother.
"No, no," the brunette says, shaking her head helplessly. Her dark eyes are shining with new tears and Aden can't watch without feeling sick to the stomach, so she runs to the common area with the intention of sitting on one of the seats there, but finds herself bumping into Zoe and Inara instead.
"What's going on? We heard screaming," Inara asks Aden, and a shrill cry from the cargo bay only makes the girl cringe.
"River's - I don't know, I don't understand," Aden whispers. "Captain said she was having a bad day. Is this normal for her?"
The two dark haired women share a look, and Zoe shrugs. "As normal as anything with River is."
Inara reaches out to touch Aden on the shoulder when she sees the girl's upset expression. At the last second, she remembers to retract it. "Sweetie...I know it seems bad, but Simon knows how to look after her, as much as anyone ever will. She's in good hands." Inara's eyes hold compassion, as she's the only one who knows about the exact nature of Aden's concern. "In a few hours she'll probably be fine."
"River told me that the Alliance cut into her brain," Aden says bluntly. "It's why she's like this, isn't it? They hurt her."
"Yeah," Zoe replies, narrowing her eyes, "She told you that?"
"Yeah. And I ain't never had a reason to care two rats in any direction about the Alliance, but now..." Aden frowns, more to herself than them. "I think I'm angry. I don't know if I've ever really been angry before."
"Stick around on this ship long enough, Aden, and you'll find reasons aplenty to hate the Alliance. Captain would likely give most of them to you for free," Zoe says before continuing on to the cargo bay. Aden watches her go and sees that Simon has River on her feet. The dark haired girl locks eyes with Aden and holds her gaze as Simon brings her through the common area.
There's something so hopelessly lost in her eyes that has Aden watching her go past with a lump in her throat.
"You're getting it bad," Inara says, making Aden snap to look at her with confusion. "How are those butterflies?"
"Upset. I...I don't like seeing her hurtin'. It makes me feel like I'm gonna be sick," Aden whispers, wrapping her arms around herself, "Is this what it means to care about other people? I've never needed to before...I don't think I like it, Inara. It hurts."
"I know," Inara says empathetically. She again seems to have to restrain herself from giving any comforting touches. "Unfortunately, there's not much I can do to help. Not with something like that. It's out of anyone's control. Even mine."
A good while later, Aden is in her room with a book about high society etiquette that Inara has loaned to her, and she's just finishing off the first chapter when the door slides open. River slips through the small gap and shuts it behind her.
"River," Aden says, out of surprise more than anything else. "What are you doing in here?"
The other girl doesn't answer and instead just sits next to her on the bed. After spending a good half a minute in complete silence, Aden goes back to reading because it's simpler than trying to comprehend River or her actions. Two seconds after her first page turn, she can feel River tugging on her hair very lightly, like she's examining it.
"Hair grows half a millimeter a day," she murmurs, "A single strand has a lifespan of five years. Average person has 100,000 to 150,000 strands on their head. Fastest growing tissue in the human body except for bone marrow."
"Oh, okay," Aden says, looking up from her book with genuine surprise and interest, "I didn't know that. Any of that." Then she finds herself blushing. "Don't know why I sound so shocked. Don't know much of anything, course I don't know all that, I don't know anything-"
It isn't until River's hand covers her mouth that it occurs to Aden that she's repeating herself and starting to babble in a way that isn't entirely dissimilar to River.
"Doesn't matter," the brunette says intently, with a tiny frown that somehow makes Aden's heart warm a little, "Facts aren't knowledge. Not your fault that no one taught you."
"Facts, or knowledge?" Aden asks through her hand. The resulting sounds are muffled but not overly difficult to understand.
"Either. Anything," River replies, casting her eyes around the room, "But I can. I remember everything. I can teach you."
"I'd like that, if you would."
River doesn't answer.
"But, River, are you okay? I mean, earlier-" Aden finds her words disappearing when River's eyes return to meet hers. Something about them holds her completely, like they are a hypnotic force designed expressly to disable her in thought and action.
"I remember everything. Some of it isn't real, but it all hurts the same," River confesses quietly, "Like needles. With poison." Then, of all the outlandish things, she laughs a little. "But not even they can stay for long. Nothing stays."
"I wish I could," Aden whispers, with a knife twisting in her gut as she recalls that she'll be getting off Serenity the moment they land somewhere suitable. "I mean, since you seem to like having me here. But...you have Simon, and Kaylee, and-"
River's hand splays across her mouth and chin, her soft fingertips pressing into her lips with the lightest possible touch, silencing her. The other hand comes to brush against her cheek.
Aden can't help but lean into the other girl, like it's gravity itself and there's no way to fight it even if she had reason to. Their noses almost touch and suddenly they're grinning at each other, though Aden is unsure as to exactly why. Her heart pounds in her chest and she thinks that perhaps Inara described something of the sort as being indicative of this thing of romance, but she feels that it might also be anticipation and a small measure of fear. But for the first time, she can't be sure that fear is her enemy. As she heard Mal saying once, bravery can only come from fear, and Aden's never thought of herself as brave but after everything she's done with defying the elders and running away and finding Serenity...perhaps bravery is more in her blood than she's thought.
Simon's voice makes Aden jump, but River doesn't even blink from where her eyes are regarding Aden as if she's a new constellation of stars to study.
"River, get your hands off her face, you know she doesn't like that!" Simon reproaches, moving forward to guide River off the bed. Aden has to blink, because Simon seeing and addressing the moment he's interrupted as some form of assault as opposed to the truth, even if she's not sure what that truth is, stings.
"Simon, it's okay," Aden tells him quickly, reaching to touch River's arm as she is gently pulled away, "With her, I don't mind so much. Or at all, really."
Simon nods, a look of relief on his face that she thinks has something to do with his wanting others to appreciate his loved one. Aden, however, considers that he knows little to nothing of the depth or nature of her appreciation, and probably wouldn't be pleased if he did.
He loves his sister, more than Aden thinks she's seen anyone love another person, and she admires him for it more than she'll ever be able to say. But he does see River as a child, as someone he needs to protect from the dangers of the verse. The second part is true, but the first isn't. Aden would never say anything aloud to these strangers who are an odd family unit, not about one of their own, but River doesn't deserve to be babied. She's young, same as Aden, and admittedly juvenile in some ways but also older in others. She's not a child, she simply has a young spirit, and there is a significant difference in Aden's rather uneducated opinion.
"Goodnight, Aden," Simon says politely, and for a moment Aden hopes River might say something similar, but the girl just ducks out the door without so much as a word or a glance in her direction. "Thanks for keeping her company, even if it might not have been voluntary."
He nods awkwardly before following his sister's lead, shutting the door behind him.
Aden is left with a tingling on her lips and a terrifying truth.
I don't want to go. I don't want to leave this ship. I like it here, I like the people, and...and if I left I'd never see her again and I can't think of anything worse.
But how could she stay?
It's actually a real relief writing these two. Basically all the other ships I write are very angsty, at least currently, whereas despite their problems River and Aden are innocent and genuine and fluffy and it's so refreshing that I can't get enough of it (though I do have an angst addiction, so that's why I enjoy my other fics so much).
I promise quite a bit of Raden (Thanks to Mrs. 11th/Louise for the ship name suggestion, I love it, though if anyone else has any ideas I'm all ears) progress in the next chapter to make up for how long this update took.
Comments and feedback are really appreciated!
Anonymous Review Replies:
Zara - Thanks so much! I was surprised too when I realised I wanted River with a female OC, but given my love for making OCs, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. But I so wanted to explore River in a romance setting and had no canon characters that fit the bill, so I had to sit down and think about what kind of person could find themselves tangled up with River like that. I'm not sure I'd call Aden mysterious though! She's actually quite an open book. I hope this chapter was what you wanted and waited for!