In the Same Boat
By Mad Poetess
Buffyverse/Firefly; rated G
Joss made them, I just stare nervously at them and don't dare ask them to have sex.
Simon keeps wanting to touch him with (a scalpel) calm, curious hands (No, the knife was Jayne, brightflash blade and drip drip red like a snail down the white arm, so slow that River on the countertop watching, watching, could count each drop as it slid, and give it a name. One. Two. Three. She'd said the names out loud in the hated infirmary, three times over, a charm to drown the sound of Jayne's wrist cracking in the withered hand, knife clattering to the floor.) reaching to see if Spike's really real, walking and talking when his heart doesn't beat.
(Of course he isn't real.) Jayne had said, "That thing ain't right," as he cradled his hand and didn't howl the dog-howl in his head. River'd stuck her tongue out at him, because he never had learned a new trick, long as she'd known him. You don't bite what's not right, stupid dog. "Mal should'a left it where he found it, never touched that gorram box. There's a reason it was marked up like that. I told him."
Marked up with crosses (They burned into his skin, the ones inside the box, the ones on the lid, on the sides. Burned his face, his arms, his shoulders, dark red scars on whitepink flesh. Fading over days, as he drinks away their medstocks, grows from skeleton to man, but too slow, too slow because he stares at the marks when no one's watching him but her, like they should be gone by now.) everywhere, even scratched into the lock. A lock half the size of the box itself; Mal couldn't pry it off, couldn't kick it off, didn't really want to shoot it off in a pressurized hold. Almost left it in the corner where they found it - ship too old and empty to loot after all, except for one stupid, stubborn (coffin) box.
"How many came before us?" she asks Spike one day as he does chin-ups in Serenity's cargo bay. Jayne's bars, Jayne's weights and bench, but funny how Jayne never comes down here to growl at him when he uses them.
"How many--" Scarred arms flex, tuft of hair like sun on snow (Inara's hands on his head, soft, clipping, snipping, inches of matted mud-blond curls, and are you sure you want it bleached *that* much? It could burn... His cracked, dry voice: had worse. And of course he has; it's written on his skin.) above the bar, then down, hands resting on it high above his head. "--came where before who, love?"
He's patient as Simon (Kaylee) can be with her, but something's missing in his voice, something that doesn't suck at her with (want) love, asking her (get better, get better, be what you were, be what you could be, remember, for me? For him? For me?) for things she doesn't own to give. It makes her easy with him as she stands beneath the bar and looks up, not answering.
"Little high for you, isn't it?"
"I could jump."
He grins. (He sure smiles pretty, Kaylee said quiet as a mouse, slapjack in the galley with River and losing badly because she kept staring out the door at Spike leaning armcrossed on a bulkhead. Sure, Wash said, louder in Chinese because he said he doesn't speak it, but River's caught him laughing in the right places when Jayne cusses out the Captain behind his back. Sure, if by pretty you mean hungry, and by smiles you mean does that thing with his mouth where he pretends not to be thinking about which of us looks most like a nice roast duck with all the trimmings.) "Could do. Could give you a lift if you like, though."
He drops hands from the bar and reaches for her waist, and River doesn't look like a duck, so she steps forward into his hands and he raises her up. And up, and she's got fingers on the bar (Metal, cold, lashed to it, can't let go, sharp lance of fire in her head but she doesn't kick him away, because she's better now, she can see what's then and what's now and what's not. Mostly.) that's slick, just a little, with the sweat from his palms. She holds on tight to it, and he steps away, arms slipping from her body. Not sure she doesn't wish he hadn't done that - his hands there and she'd almost felt solid for a second, like she had weight and wouldn't blow away if he breathed on her. Not that he breathes.
She hangs there, and because he smiles, she smiles back at him. Not because he needs it (He does, she knows he does, needs smiles that he won't ask for and hands to take him gentle out of the box and smooth away what was, the touch of people on his skin that pressed crosses against it and burned (his head) his body and shut him away in the dark, but it doesn't have to be her, doesn't need River to smile at him to show she's all ok now, and so it's ok that it's her) or demands it or because he'll back away and find something else to do, quick-like, if she doesn't play like a good little human girl to make him easy. Just because she wants to.
"People before us. How many people came to that ship before us, and left you there?" She pulls, now, not just hanging, but reaching for the bar with her (brain) chin, knowing sooner or later they'll connect. Just. Not. And her arms burn. Sooner, she guesses. Closes her eyes and takes a deep breath and pulls again.
"Don't know, do I?" And his hands are on her waist again. He's close, and heavy (Skin and bones. Wo de ma, it's a corp--- moving, really fast, corpse with sharp teeth and funny eyes that's by the way got me by the throat so Mal, you could shoot this thing anytime now.... No life signs, there were no life signs... Simon pulled Wash free, not Mal. Tranq gun, with another on the counter, because River asked them to bring it aboard, to open it here in the light. Because she could feel the weight of Spike there in that box, skin and bones but heavy) against her, as she swings towards him, and he lifts her up again. Higher. "Couldn't see, after all. Anyway, I was mostly asleep."
(Liar) She doesn't call him (liar) on it, as he doesn't call her on the things that he sees when she stares too long at him, like how many years they've both been (trapped in a box) missing a smile they didn't have to return. He lifts her up until her lips brush the cold of the bar, and it slides smooth past her chin, and she looks down at him. And smiles. "You're not real."
He waits, and she drops back down to his arms. When she doesn't (Why? Why not? It's a place to be, like any other, leaning on soft cotton, damp with sweat.) pull away, he lets her rest there. Brushes her hair back from her (someone else's, someone gone, just as gone as the River she used to be, but he's looking in the now too and he sees her) face. "Suppose not," he agrees. "Don't feel very real, most of the time."
"It's ok. Neither am I. I just fake it better than you." She'll teach him, though.