Title:: A Simple Twist of Fate, chapter six
Date Posted: 21 June 2007
Author: srichard and van
Rating: This chapter: PG-13
Characters: River, Wash
Word count: 5,802
Warnings: Begins pre-TV series, completely AU, will invovle underage romance.
Summary: Blue Sun's Academy brings two unlikely people together.
Notes: River's "last doll" bit is an allusion to Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes.
Disclaimer: Co-written. We are not affliated with Mutant Enemy, Joss, Firefly/Serenity, Unversal, Fox or anyone. If we were, we'd be making money off this. We mean no harm. Title from the Bob Dylan song. Crossposted to ff_fanfic.
Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
At her next lesson, River's face was as rigid and unyielding as before, but there was awareness in her eyes, and something of eagerness, for only him to see.
Wash smiled tightly at her. He was much better composed today than he had been at the end of their last lesson, but he still had to struggle to remember how to act. “How are you doing today, River?”
“Stable, sir,” River said coolly, letting her hand rest on the plane. “Are we going up today?”
Wash eyed the plane lovingly. “If you’re up for it.” He directed his gaze to River. “Unless you feel we need more classroom instruction.” He let the statement hang. The lesson was really hers.
River shook her head a little. She did want more time, just with him, but... "Up. You can intersperse further instruction as needed, if that's acceptable, sir."
“That’s acceptable.” He nodded to her. “There are several new techniques I can best teach you when we’re already in flight.” He nodded his head to the plane. There would be a different sort of privacy in the plane, but at least they’d still be alone together.
River climbed into the pilot's seat, strapping herself in eagerly, letting him see just a little smile. She wondered if he'd remembered about plighting his troth.
Climbing into the Cobra behind her, Wash settled down into the co-pilot seat comfortably. It was always weird whenever he took the co-pilot seat to his students, even though he’d done it many, many times by now. He harnessed in and settled back. “I trust you can show me a perfect start up and take off?”
"Yes, sir," River said automatically, fingers flying as she began warming up the big plane and setting up the comm. link, checking the console.
Wash checked the console out of habit, seeing that she was operating at perfect levels. He knew he didn’t need to watch her work; she had the reputation of being the best student at the academy for a reason, but he watched anyway. Her grace was magnetic. “Very good.”
River waited for further instructions, her head twisting back to look at him. "Now?"
He nodded, giving her a smile when she turned to see him. “Take her up, River. Let’s touch the sky.”
She moved down the runway at the prescribed speed, but when they were cleared for take off, she lifted the ship up in a sharp, steep trajectory, her face blissful as they rose.
Wash’s hands clutched hard on the yoke, but didn’t pull her into a more gradual incline. “Ease up a bit, River. You’re ten degrees too sharp.” He sounded somewhat anxious.
River gave a little sigh, but was obedient, evening out their slope. "Just wanted to be...up." She pulled the comm. link off her ear and dropped it. "Can we talk?" she whispered.
“Switching to instructional mode,” he said quickly, then changed the channel of their link. “We’re all right, now. At least for awhile.”
"I missed you," she whispered, her eyes still straightforward on the sky, keeping them steady.
“And I you.” He reached forward until his fingers could brush against her shoulder. It wasn’t much, but at least it was some contact. “Are you all right?”
River nodded. "Well enough. For now. They leave me alone for a while after the room. Have to." She leaned into his touch.
Wash smiled at the back of her head, leaning forward until his harness strained to keep him situated, but he could give her shoulder a little squeeze that way. “I’m glad, for that. I um, brought you something. It’s maybe not what you were wanting.” He unzipped the pocket on the arm of his flight suit and pulled out a little baggie with an oatmeal cookie in it. He took his hand off her arm, to hand it to her.
River took it and smiled a little, then laid it in her lap. "Can't eat in the cockpit," she reminded him. "Crumbs." She twisted her head again briefly. "Thank you."
“I didn’t think of that.” He leaned back a bit, but kept his fingertips on her shoulder. “But, you’re welcome.” He gave her a smile, when he could. They shortly reached the proper altitude, and the plane leveled out. Beneath them, Capital City spread out like a carpet of metal and lights.
"What now?" River said softly, her face tilted up, fixed on the horizon.
There were rules and lessons he was supposed to be teaching her. Most of them dealt with the finer points of cabin pressure, and how to properly level out a plane and coast. River was doing all of those things without being told. “I could tell you the lesson, which you probably already know.”
"Don't bother." She continued steadily. "When do I do things like evasive maneuvers? Is that Advanced?"
“Yeah, that’s Advanced work. You’ll actually be moved to another location for that, and the first half will be practiced on simulators.” He checked their flight coordinates again. “Hey, look to your right.” He shifted and used his other hand to point. “See that patch of green next to the hospital? That’s the Capital City zoo.” He grinned, thoughtfully. “Have you ever been there?”
River nodded. "Once. S--my father showed me the otters." She thought about that. "You need to start being nice to the Admiral."
Wash lifted his eyes off the patch of green, studying what bit of River’s face he could see over the seat back. “Admiral?”
"Admiral," she sighed. "I'll be as stupid as I can, but you have to be ready. To come with me. Need you."
Wash understood all at once. “You really think they’ll let me? I . . . it was a stretch for them to allow me to step up to Intermediate flight.” He gave a wry smile. “I’m not sure just being nice will cut it.”
"Well, you could try," River said fretfully. "Otherwise..." She wouldn't tell him the otherwise. They were careful, to keep it from happening, but not always careful enough. River could find a way. "Won't go without you," she whispered.
“I’ll do everything I can to stay with you,” Wash quickly stated. “Even if I have to fail you, to keep you here, I’ll do it.” He lifted his eyes to the sky. “Advanced flight.” He laughed, softly. “I was twenty-one when I had my first Advanced flight lesson.”
She shrugged. "You were different. Happy. Free."
“You’re also brilliant. More so than me.” He wasn’t resentful, just thoughtful. “I can teach it though. If they’ll let me, I know I can teach it to you.”
"I hope," River whispered, closing her eyes for just a moment. "I hope."
April hummed around them and Wash closed his eyes too, and hoped. “What else do they teach you here? I know you have other lessons . . .” He wasn’t supposed to ask, and he wasn’t supposed to know, but he wanted to.
River's face went a little white at that. "To make me unstoppable. Killer. For that." She kept her eyes on the console.
That was hardly the explanation he had been looking for. “What?”
"Bad purposes," she whispered. "No good purpose requires so much."
Wash had to think for several moments about what she’d just said. It made sense, but it left him feeling cold. “The academy is supposed to help people.” He sounded like he was reciting.
"Who runs the Academy?" she shot back at him.
Who did? The military? He wasn’t even sure. “I don’t know?” Why didn’t he know that?
"Hands of blue," River said coldly. "You don't see them. I saw, though. I know. In your...everything. This," she said, holding up the cookie.
Wash didn’t understand. He wanted to though, and he wished they were in the classroom again, or his dorm room, somewhere safe. He wanted to put his hands on her, and look into her eyes, and understand. “Hands of blue?”
"Yes." River pointed out of the cockpit, to where the sun blazed distant and cold. "Them."
Wash lifted his eyes to look at the sun, then pulled away from it. “The Alliance.” He closed his eyes. “Blue Sun.”
River nodded. "It was...At first, I thought it was punishment. For being so stupid, so very stupid..." She was silent for a moment. "Now I just wonder if they stole, or if they bought."
Wash flexed his hands, feeling helpless and useless behind her. There were things he didn’t like about the Alliance, feelings he had squashed when he’d accepted this job. Those memories were surfacing now, and confusing him. “You think they bought you?”
"Don't know. Don't know what coin...there is no coin for sons. Maybe for daughters," River said thoughtfully.
Wash closed his eyes. He shouldn’t because he had a student in the cockpit, but he trusted her. He didn’t trust the people he was working for. “Maybe they didn’t know? It’s possible they didn’t know . . .”
"Possible," she acknowledged. "But at some point...sometime," she said quietly, "they learned."
Wash’s mouth went a little dry. “They would have done something,” he weakly protested.
"I don't know," River said, shaking her head. "Don't want to know."
Wash wanted to know. He wanted to find them, ask them if they knew, and if they did, he wanted to hurt them for not caring. He opened his eyes at last. He quickly flipped the commlink and said, “Student is on target. Assignment is progressing as scheduled.” He flipped it off again, taking a deep breath. “They can’t keep you here forever.”
"No. But they won't let me go ‘til I'm not me." She thought for a while. "Will you sell me?"
He shook his head, said, “No. No, I won’t sell you. I’ll buy you, if I have to, though. You’ve got to leave here before they finish.”
"Can't," River said, growing upset. "Have to stop saying that..."
Wash gritted his teeth. “Why? Because they won’t let me, or because you don’t want me to?”
"Stop it," River said, her voice rising just a little as her emotions began taking over.
He pressed his lips closed to keep himself from saying anything else, though he very much wanted to. He needed explanations. He had made promises to her, which he intended to keep. “I’m sorry,” he finally whispered. “I just feel so helpless.”
"You're not," she promised. "You do what you can. Where you are. Here, now. Today. You help. Take care of me."
Wash nodded sadly. “But is that all I can ever do? Will I just have to one day accept that you’re not going to come back?”
"Probably," she whispered. "Can't look forward. Makes you weak."
Wash was silent. He couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t upset her, but he wasn’t willing to accept that for an answer. He made promises to her, but he wasn’t going to let her be destroyed. “You’re brilliant,” he whispered. “You could escape, if you wanted.”
She shook her head. "Tried. Didn't work. And they'd hunt me. Hunt me through nowhere, with nowhere to go...no one to help." She thought of Simon, longingly. "No one."
“Hey. There’s me,” he said, pointedly. “There’s always me.”
"I know, but...no resources. Nowhere to go. We'd be caught. Immediately." She spoke brutally, trying to force sense into him.
“Well, if we left right now, of course we would. I’m not the smart one here, though. You tell me what we need to go, and we could. I could get us a ship. We could fly away, change ships somewhere; go to some rim moon. I don’t know. If we plan things, though, there must be someway . . .”
"Just stop," she begged. "Stop."
He did. He closed his eyes once more, and sank into silence.
River was silent for a long time, then said softly, hesitantly. "Do you still...?"
“I’m not a mind reader,” he said, almost bitterly. “You’ll have to say it, if you want an answer.”
"Nothing," River whispered, and bowed her head, beginning to take the plane down. It had been too much to expect. Of course. She'd known.
Wash blinked hard at the back of her chair, trying to understand her, and to figure out how and why such a little girl could affect him so much. He wished he could divorce his feelings from her. He didn’t want to watch her allow herself to be destroyed. Yet he couldn’t stop caring about her, either.
The plane flounced as it hit an air pocket, but it steadied moments later. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, barely audibly over the whistle of the descending plane.
River was crying silently as she took the plane down. "Wanted," she said finally. "Thought you might. My fault. Mankind can bear very little reality."
He was quiet for a period of time, but as the altitude dropped, he knew his time for candid speech was growing short. “Sometimes I’m afraid to say anything, for fear that I’ll say something wrong again.” He couldn’t touch her now, not when they were descending, but he wanted to. “Please don’t cry, River.”
"J-just say if you still. Or if you don't...I can stop. Go away. Not be...anymore," she wept.
“If you want to know if I still love you, then yes,” he replied pointedly. “You can’t have really expected that to change, can you?”
"How can I know?" she demanded. "I thought it never changed. I thought. But I was wrong, wasn't I?"
“I’ll let you know if I ever change my mind, all right?” He tried to sound kindly. “I’m not going to sell you out. I’m never going to change how I feel.” Wash felt a strange surge in him as he said the words, and he knew he meant them.
"I love you too," she whispered. "I'm sorry. Sorry I make you hurt."
“I’m sorry that . . . that you have to live in this place that makes you hurt.” He clenched his teeth after that, fearing that he might again start on a path of discussion that would upset her.
"I know." He shouldn't have seen...she should have protected him. It was her job. The plane touched down smoothly, and River gradually slowed them to a halt, then sat still. "It's all right, though. Today."
“It’s not,” he said. “It will never be all right. But, today it’s acceptable.”
"Enough." River unharnessed herself. "R. Tam. Signing off." She popped the hatch and began climbing out of the plane.
Wiping at his face with the back of his hand, he unharnessed and climbed out after her. He again felt like the pupil, and she the teacher, although he was less disoriented today. “Don’t forget your cookie.”
She nodded, and sat dispiritedly on the runner, eating it. "I'm sorry," she said, morosely.
He stood in front of her, mostly so that people wouldn’t see her eating. “I know.”
She looked up at him hopefully. "Maybe...maybe I'll be better next time."
He smiled at her. He was good at smiling; it was something his mouth had been made for. “Maybe. But, you were fine today, too. I said too much.”
"When it's your heart, it's never too much." River finished her cookie, then handed him the empty bag. "Thank you."
He took the baggie and smiled at her. She was just a little girl, but his desire to kiss her then was surprising. She was sweet, and he wanted to remember her like that. “Do you believe that we’ll be happy someday?”
She looked at him, eyes suddenly dead. "No." She turned away to leave him.
He let her go. He had expected her to say yes. He would have believed her, if she’d said it. Turning, he watched her. Realization dawned on him, and he knew, in his heart, she was lying. It didn’t make him feel any more confident.
On a whim, Wash had taken time out of his day to pay Admiral Shui a visit. He was going to be nice to him, like River had asked. He hadn’t expected to accomplish anything of it, but he wasn’t the type to give up without trying.
It took only four minutes for the Admiral to discover that they had both graduated from the Orion Flight Academy. It meant they had the same Alma Mater, and endeared Wash to the Admiral immediately. Wash was shortly invited out to drink with Shui, and they became something of friends. So when River came up for graduation from Intermediate Flight, Wash just had to ask to be assigned to follow her through to Advanced Flight, and Shui said it would be done.
Even with the Admiral’s word, Wash had hardly dared to believe it would be that easy. Within the week, he was presented with the new rank of major, and told to report to the command deck that evening to be pinned on.
Two weeks later, Major Washburn was given his official orders: teaching Advanced Flight to subject R. Tam. The hours were longer, and the maneuvers far more difficult. As a result, he was given a little more access to the girl.
Carrying the orders that confirmed him as her continued Flight Instructor (a first in the academy), he hurried along down the corridors to the recreational rooms. He’d been informed River was currently having free time, and he was too excited to wait until their next lesson to inform her about his orders. It wasn’t hard to find the room she was in, as all subjects were kept track of at all times. He gave his clearance code at the door, and then was admitted.
River's long hair was twisted up into a tight, hard little knot on the top of her head, and her face was intent with concentration. The music being piped in was Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and its choreography had been lost and reconstructed and lost again for centuries now. River had seen archival footage of old attempts, and she lost herself as she recreated, then bettered those, trying fiercely to imagine herself there, on the Paris stage, feeling the pound of the beat in the floorboard to guide her over the roar of the furious crowd as the music was heard, the dancers seen, for the very first time...
A single guard stood watch over River, and Wash waved him off when he entered. The man departed, leaving River in the care of the higher ranking official. Wash stood at the back of the room and watched the girl. He was not trained to understand dance, and at first he hadn’t paid much mind to her movements; he wanted the song to be over so she’d notice him and he could tell her his news.
But as he watched her dance, he began to see the beauty in the movements. The music and her body merged into one, and he was swept away by the passion and intimacy of the piece. Wash had never quite been affected by a piece of music the way this was affecting him, though he’d also never watched someone as graceful as River dancing before, either.
River was soon immersed in the final scene, the sacrificial dance, the death song, as she had been time after time, but every time was new as the primal rhythms of the music overcame her until her final collapse was less artistry and more a simple reaction. The music willed it. She had no choice.
As the music turned softer, the body being removed, River opened her eyes, but didn't yet sit up. "You were watching," she said calmly.
Wash took a step forward, surprised at his hesitancy. For once, he was on her turf, and he felt a little like he was intruding. “It was amazing.”
"It's still not right," she said, frowning. "He choreographed it. Nijinsky. No one has more than notes. But he made them riot. They said it was the music, but I don't believe it. It was him. And he stood backstage, pounding on the floor with a staff, so the dancers could feel the beat because people were shouting over the music." She sat up and tucked her legs up under her.
Uncertainly, Wash approached more. He was in uniform for once, as opposed to his flight suit, and found he felt a little strange at the difference. This meeting was personal in many ways. He tucked his data pad under his arm as he came to stand beside her, smiling down. “I didn’t even know you could dance.”
River came out of her haze at that, and laughed a little, though not without bitterness, lifting up her hand to him. "You'll see someday, maybe."
Wash nodded, offering his hand down to her. “I’m sure I will. Hope I’m not disturbing you too much, barging in on your free time like this.”
River shook her head, rising gracefully. "Good news never intrudes." They were both being oddly formal. Perhaps it was his uniform.
Wash’s grin brightened and he pulled the data pad out from under his arm, handing it to her. In some regard, he bet she already knew, but he let her read it anyway. “Your advice paid off real nice like.”
She read it to humor him, then smiled. "Sometimes. I'm happy." She moved to the small bench in the corner of the large room and began unlacing her toe shoes, wiggling her cramped feet once nothing but tights covered them. She lifted her face to look at him. "Are you?"
“You bet.” He followed her, standing beside the bench as he watched her unlace her shoes. She seemed somehow subdued, and he wondered if now that he had delivered the information he ought to depart. “I never expected Admiral Shui to be so . . . willing.”
"You're persuasive," she said lightly. She leaned forward and frowned. "What did the music make you feel?"
Wash leaned against the wall, directing his eyes out to the floor where she’d been dancing. “Confused, a little,” he said, quietly. The whole affair had been rather erotic, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to admit that to her.
She nodded vigorously. "Yes. Only the death makes sense. The rest is..." She chewed on her lip, trying to explain. "I feel it, but I can't know it."
“I’m not sure that’s really death,” he began, but trailed off. “Well, you’re still young.”
"She dances herself to death," River said, a little patronizingly. "Do you mean the sex?"
“Um.” Wash glanced at her quickly, then looked away. He suddenly felt very small. The confusion level was increasing in him, too. “I’m a bit more left-brained, I think. I’ve never been one to get art and dancing and music.” He glanced sheepishly back down at her. “So, I thought it was amazing, but don’t ask me to write an essay on it.”
"Wasn't," she said intently. "Asked what you felt." Her eyes burned into him.
Wash looked away; her gaze was too intense. “I felt a sense of longing.”
"For what?" She leaned forward, almost serpentine, predatory.
Were she a woman in a bar, he would be leaning right back into her, drinking up her attention, and edging the sexual innuendo on. It was River though, and she’d already tried to kiss him once. The last thing he really wanted was to admit to her that, on the rare occasion, she did something he found sexually arousing. “Well,” he began, nervously, “longing, you know. For . . . for, well, like you said, sex. And things of that nature.” He kept his eyes steady off of her.
"For me," she said, and it wasn't a question.
Wash shifted his weight. “For lots of people.”
"You tell lies sometimes." River rose and danced back out to the center of the floor, executing a light-hearted tour jeté. "Do you think I'd be scared, or are you?"
Wash didn’t move away from the wall. “I think you’re as confused as I am about all of this, only I actually admit that I am.”
She shrugged. "I said too. Feel, don't know. Nijinsky masturbated into a nymph's scarf during L'apres midi." She danced towards him again.
Wash eyed her approach cautiously. “There you go with the big words again.” He smiled, though despite his nervousness, it was genuine. “And the dancing.” He tried not to let himself appreciate the way she moved so easily too much.
She smiled back at him, then dimmed. "Largely academic. I am the last doll, given to age," she quoted loosely. "And you wouldn't let me kiss you."
“Instructors aren’t supposed to let their students kiss them,” he replied pointedly.
River's eyes narrowed then. "Was a gray suit all you wanted?" She picked up her shoes and turned to leave the room.
Wash blinked, confused, then looked down at his dark slacks. Sighing, he pushed off the wall, after her. “You know it isn’t like that.”
"Do I, sir?" Her movements became evasive.
Wash drew to a halt, following her only with his eyes. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done to help you. You know I’d give it all up if it meant I could free you.”
"Would you?" River glanced back at him over her shoulder. "But she danced herself to death." She hurried away before he could stop her.
Exasperated, Wash threw his hands up. “You know, I can’t always say or do the right thing. I’m not perfect. You’d better learn that, or else I’m going to disappoint you a lot throughout your life.”
She shrugged, her face going hard. "Short life. Less disappointment." She watched him still. "What do you want?"
“I’m not okay with your life being short.” He studied her carefully. “Maybe that’s what I want.”
"Instructors," she mimicked, "aren't supposed to invest themselves like that."
He didn’t physically move back, but it was quite as though she’d slapped him. Wash blinked a few times, clearing his thoughts. “Well, what do you want?”
"You." There was something powerfully hungry in her gaze, and yet it didn't even begin to touch the yearning inside of her, for him, to make him hers, only hers, even for a little while.
Her words, and her intent stare, sent chills up Wash’s body in a not-too-unpleasant way. He wanted to explain things to her: that he was too old, and she was too young, that he was her teacher, and that people would see, would be watching, would punish them both. He knew, deep down, that she already knew these things. “It isn’t safe, not while you’re trapped here.”
"There are ways. I know them. Would you have me die a doll?" she asked, still watching him, not backing down in the least.
Wash couldn’t believe he was entertaining the idea. He expected every moment for her to let it be known that she was talking about something innocent and he was the perverted old man, twisting her words to his nefarious thoughts. “I am scared,” he admitted. “Though, that’s not entirely a bad thing. I sort of like that quality in a woman.” And, she was a woman, at least in the most basic of senses.
River smiled then, moving closer, movements predatory again. "Mine?"
Wash wasn’t pressed up against the wall anymore, but he felt like he very well could have been. “…you’re sure about this?”
She paused, tilting her head to the side, then laughed, soft and musical. "I'm not asking to kill Cock Robin. Just hold. Kiss. Love. Truly."
Wash raised his hand, to touch her cheek, but he didn’t. “I want to,” he admitted in a very soft voice. He hoped that the room wasn’t being monitored. “I just don’t know that I ought to.” He was at least going to be honest with her. “Everything I’ve ever learned tells me to go against it.”
She smiled and shook her head. "Cameras, no sound. You should take me for a walk. Love with feet."
The whole moment felt a little surreal. He nodded, slipping his data pad into his uniform pocket. “You lead.”
River began moving slowly down the hallway, extending her senses. Hallways were half-monitored. All entrances and exits from the building, and long stretches, but there were blind spots. River continued until she felt herself fill out, become real, and she knew she was invisible, and in a swift, elusive movement, she opened a small side door and disappeared inside it.
Wash watched her disappear and hesitated only a moment before he ducked into the storage room after her. “This is insane,” he whispered into the darkness as he shut the door behind him. He groped through the darkness for her, trying to figure out the dimensions of the room as he did.
River found him before he reached her, and strong, slim arms, knowing in the darkness, wrapped around his neck as she pulled him down to her, lips soft and sly and waiting.
An electric bolt coursed through him at the action. He didn’t stiffen up like he thought he would. Instead, he seemed to melt into her. His hands instinctively rose to rest on her hips as he tilted his head to kiss her back.
River's kiss, after such aggression, was surprisingly soft and shy and sweet, and little puffs of breath escaped her as she focused on him, his mouth, his hands, and the way he molded to her, she to him.
Wash’s kiss was light too, almost nervous. He wasn’t a gentle lover by nature, but things were different with River. This was uncharted territory. Wash pulled back from her, just enough to break the soft kiss, but remained close enough to her that he could keep his hands on her hips and kiss her again if she desired. “I’m going to burn in hell for this,” he whispered with a smile in his voice.
River nuzzled at him tenderly. "I love you," she whispered, arms still clasping him tightly to her.
Wash sighed, drawing his arms up so they covered her back. He let his fingers stroke the ends of her hair, and rested his chin on the top of her head. “I love you too,” he replied, and, he still meant it, maybe even in the same way she did.
"We both want the impossible," she whispered, letting her head rest on his chest. "You want freedom, and I want you. Promise that if the impossible happens, if you gain, I won't lose."
“River,” he murmured softly, stroking her hair even more intently. “It isn’t going to be freedom if we’re not free together.”
"Properly together?" she demanded. "You'd kill the last doll and take her in your arms, make her yours?"
“Yes,” he whispered, bowing his head so they were forehead to forehead in the darkness. “When we’re free, if you still want me to, I will.”
"I will," she promised softly. "If it ends, no more china and glass pumped in, then I'll be. Be yours." She kissed him again.
Wash returned the kiss, then followed it with another, and another. They were little, light kisses but he loved them; they made him comfortable with her. His hands shifted in the darkness, cupping her face on either side. “I’ll make it come true.”
River, who was learning about love, chose not to crush his dreams this time. Instead, she twisted her head a little, kissing one of his hands almost worshipfully.
He let out a little puff of air because he hadn’t expected that, and it was nice. It had been far too long since he’d had the real affections of someone. One-night stands were never like this. “River,” he whispered, for no reason other than to say her name.
She leaned forward into his arms again. Her head against his chest, she mused on how tall he was. "I'm not going to grow anymore," she informed him. She pulled his hands down to her waist, letting him feel the fragile span of it. "Learn me."
At first, his hands were frozen there. She was tiny, smaller than anyone he’d ever been with, at least in his adult life. After a few moments, the slow rise and fall of her breathing helped relax him. He let his hands move, then, allowing them to press gently into the softness of her skin as they encircled her waist.
"Small so you can hold me," she whispered. "Inside you." She kissed his chest, hardly even registering that she was kissing the hated Alliance uniform.
Wash smiled, not sure it worked like that, but he didn’t comment on it. He just let his fingers trail up her back, feeling the breadth of it. “I wouldn’t mind at all if you were bigger though. The outside isn’t the important part, not really.”
"Won't be, though," she said, practical. "So you'd best love this. Pick me up," she ordered.
He smiled at her words, then did as he was told, bending in the darkness to scoop her up with one hand behind her knees, the other at her back. “Hope you don’t ask me to carry you anywhere. There’s a whole lot of not seeing going on here.”
River gasped at being held like that and nestled against him, turning her face into his shoulder. "If this were a real school...I'd take off my clothes. Make you touch. Don't worry, though. I know it's not."
Wash was glad it was dark and she was pressed against his stomach now instead of along his body; his Alliance uniform didn’t conceal him as well as his Cobra flightsuit did. He just smiled in the darkness. “Oh, that I could be a teenager again,” he teased gently.
She was quiet for a little, kissing his neck, then sighed. "Down now. Classes. If I'm good and present, they don't look over their shoulders."
He didn’t want to put her down. He wanted to waltz out of the academy with her, and to try and make this work. It was absurd, of course, but he wanted it. Instead, he kissed her lightly, missing in the darkness and shifting a little until his lips found hers again. Then he set her back down.
She hesitated. "Promise you'll always love me like this. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow."
Wash found her hair and stroked it from her face, running his thumb along the side of her cheek as he did. “I promise.”
She kissed his hand once more and then her hand, subtle in the darkness, found the doorknob. She was gone before either could say more.
Wash stayed in the storage room for several minutes after she left, mostly just recomposing himself. When he finally let, it was with a new determination in his step.