Written For:: waywardrifter
Warnings: Mild angst
Spoilers: Vague (really vague) for "Out of Gas"
Word Count 1,105
Prompt: Simon gets tired of baby-sitting River
Author's Notes: The characters and universe belong to Joss Whedon and, alas, Fox. This is my first attempt at Firefly fic, so concrit is welcome as always. Huge thanks to sabaceanbabe and lyssie for the beta help.
“Simon, you’re making a serious mistake.”
Sometimes, he reflected, there was nothing in the ‘verse more irritating than the high-pitched treble of a six-year-old girl.
“Domus means house. Dominus is the word you want. That’s how you say ‘master.’”
“You haven’t had Latin yet.”
River giggled as if they were sharing a joke. And maybe they were, but Simon hated the feeling that their jokes were always at his expense.
“That’s irrelevant. I know Latin.”
It was true, he thought, with uncustomary bitterness. She knew it much better than he did, purely from glancing at his homework over his shoulder. It took some of the pride in being at the top of your 8th grade honors class away when a first-grader was constantly showing you up.
Most of the time Simon didn’t mind. In fact, he loved River’s quickness at math and science and poetry, and when Father wasn’t around, she was his best bet for a decent conversation about the history of the Alliance. It was easy to forgive her for excelling at those things, but Latin was different. It was the one subject Simon struggled with – not like math, where you could learn the rules and know how to do every problem. With Latin, even after you mastered the rules, you still had hours and hours of rote memorization ahead of you. Unless, of course, you happened to be River.
He was halfway through the sentence when she started wiggling around like she was about to wet herself. “Siiiimoooon! I wanna play!”
“I need to finish this.”
“Let me help.”
He knew she didn’t mean to insult him, that she was just desperate for his undivided attention. Most of the time, that would have been gratifying. But not right now.
“Suit yourself, smarty-pants,” was not the pithiest rejoinder Simon had ever devised, though he thought it sounded rather better in Mandarin. He couldn’t help but take a grim satisfaction in the way her eyes instantly filled with tears that were just as quickly blinked back. Certain that River could amuse herself, he stomped out of the room and didn’t look back until he was standing at Sylvester Chin’s front door.
When he returned hours later, River had polished off his Latin homework, his math homework, and was two paragraphs into his essay on the top five benefits of Unification. Simon stuffed what was finished into his knapsack, not bothering to check for mistakes. He honestly wondered what took her so long, until he noticed the way her two chubby fists were awkwardly gripping the pen all 8th-grade essays were required to be written in.
“I was bored,” was all she said, and though Simon knew he ought to feel guilty, he didn’t, really. He had had fun fishing and playing down by the river, and it wasn’t until Mrs. Chin sent a wave to his parents reminding him of the jacket he’d left there that remorse belatedly set in. “No matter how smart she gets, she’s still your little sister,” Father had told him with sad eyes. “She needs her big brother when we’re not around.”
Though he’d apologized, Simon knew Father was wrong about one thing. His sister might love having him to play with, but she didn’t need him. In a way, he wished she did. Then maybe he’d feel like a real elder brother.
Simon sprinted through Serenity’s halls, heart speeding up as he reached his quarters. He had asked Wash to ask the Shepherd to look after River while he was down on New Beijing with Mal and Jayne. He’d been having the time of his life, posing as a wealthy buyer with the Captain and Jayne as his two manservants. Jayne’s barely concealed outrage at this development was half the fun of it, and Simon wouldn’t be surprised to learn that was Mal’s main reason for the arrangement. The job had gone off exactly as planned and he was still grinning when he met Book strolling casually down the corridor, with no River in sight. He barely had to curse himself for trusting Wash when the man was obviously consumed with thoughts of his wife, still recovering from her recent injuries. He should have talked to the man himself; Book had never even known he was gone.
“River? Sweetheart?” She was sitting on the floor amidst a pile of clothes, his and hers strewn together. Her hands frantically folded pairs of socks, pulling them apart and then putting them together again. They were all out of order, white socks with colored, dark purple with red-and-black striped.
“River?” He approached cautiously and knelt down in front of her, eyes scanning instinctively for signs of injury.
“The patterns are repeating themselves, over and over and over,” she said desperately, hands still frantically pulling apart and putting back together. “You left me.”
“I’m sorry, Mei-Mei.” He reached out a hand halfway to still hers, but paused, wary. He didn’t want to spook her any further. Finally, she seemed to come out of it on her own, setting aside her task for a moment and raising her eyes to somewhere around his jaw line, at least.
“Patterns alter.” She sighed. “The white socks are a mistake.”
Relief washed over him, as it did whenever she said anything remotely connected to reality these days. “Yeah,” he laughed, “Kaylee says the same thing.”
He thought he imagined a half-smile cross her face, but it was gone in a flash. He wondered whether it was too soon to start picking up the clothes, and decided to wait until she was asleep. It shouldn’t be too long, after an episode.
Simon let guilt wash over him as the adrenaline slowly faded, wanting to feel it strongly so he would remember. He had given up his home, his family, his vocation, and even, he sometimes thought, his honor to preserve his sister’s well-being and what was left of her sanity. He was not about to risk either of those for an afternoon of fun tormenting Jayne, or even for the chance of an adult conversation with the Captain or anyone else. Not while River needed him, and that might be forever. Bitter pill to swallow, that his father had been right about that when he was so wrong about everything else. He would give everything he had left, little as that was, to have her run rings around him once again.