Nine Voices, and the Search for a Tenth
The noise of so many people, after years of dealing with the same few minds in isolation, is enough to make River ill. When they are planetside, she often sits in her room, or in Simon's, and covers her ears with her hands, but that doesn't keep out the voices.
It's easier when they're flying -- a billion voices fading to white noise, drowned out by the hum of Serenity and the song of the stars, and the nine voices she comes to know even better than her own.
Simon is comforting, familiar, like a mirror slightly warped. She lets the jumble of his thoughts wash over her like water in the bath. His hope and love wrap around her like a blanket, warm and safe and smelling of home, tinged with the acrid scent of fear that he can't help her, can't protect her, and the salt-bitter taste of regret at losing his old life. She, who knows more than any one person could or should, whose mind can plumb the wildest, deepest secrets of the universe, finds herself incapable of imagining life without him. He is her anchor, her rock, the firm foundation on which what passes for her life now will stand, and she knows he'll never falter.
Zoe is easiest to bear. The inside of her head is as disciplined and orderly as the outside. She is a good soldier, devoted to her husband and her captain, strong and sure of their love, at peace with who she is. It’s only when she sleeps that her control slips. Her dreams are full of sex and death and blood and desire, and River has trouble filtering her out.
Jayne is almost as easy, because he doesn't think of much beyond himself -- next meal, next job, next girl to grapple with. He’d like to grapple with Kaylee, truth to say, but he knows making himself a pest to her is the quickest way to get spaced. If the Captain and Zoe didn't do it, Inara would. So he keeps his peace, but watches over her in his way. Even when he’s planning to betray them, his thoughts like blaring sirens of guilt and greed, River finds him easy to deal with, all big bold emotions and primary colors, like a naughty child painting on the walls.
Surprisingly enough, Inara is harder to filter out. She is serene on the outside and so much deep emotion roiling within, like the placid blue surface of a deep lake -- darkness lies beneath, and only a lucky, daring few will ever see it. River is glad of the privilege, though she wishes sometimes Inara would allow herself a break, allow herself to have what she wants, but she won't even admit she has the desire, let alone act to fulfill it. River thinks it’s sad that Inara is so skilled at satisfying desire in others and so unable to satisfy her own.
Wash, on the other hand, is generally content. He is happy, open, loose. He’s also anxious, scared, conflicted. Mostly, he is in love. He rarely hides his thoughts or his emotions, and River basks in them sometimes -- his love for his wife, for the stars, for flying; his fears; his jealousy. Wash is so very human, and so good at it -- he makes them all better than they think they are, just by his presence. From him she’s relearning how to be a person, actual and whole, instead of the random rapid-fire of synapses, a loose conglomeration of thoughts and emotions that aren’t even hers, bound in a cage of flesh and bone.
The Shepherd is human, too, and trying so hard to be good. He is not what he appears to be, or he is now, but wasn’t before, and he can’t ever shake the shadow of his past. She thinks she should be scared of him -- he was once the type of man who’d be hunting her, not hiding her, but something happened, something big. She can’t quite grasp what it was, because he doesn’t like to think on it, has locked it deep inside where no one can find it, but he knows the stain will never go away. Everything he does now is in some way his atonement, but she can feel his belief that anything they do matters waver sometimes, in the long hours they spend in the black. Then he prays to his god, so wrapped up in symbols and syllogisms, and clutches forlorn hope to his heart. She hopes he keeps it, shares it with the others, because sometimes hope is the only thing carrying them through.
And it is Kaylee who provides most of that hope. She is bright and pure and easy to love. She shines in the darkness like a supernova. Her light is a beacon, and River follows her home when she gets lost in the tangle of foreign voices clamoring for attention in her head.
Kaylee is linked inextricably to Serenity, who doesn’t really have thoughts in the same sense as everyone else, but she’s still a forceful presence in River’s life, a steady symphonic whirr and pulse like the rush of air in River’s lungs and the thump thump beat of River’s heart. River lies on her floors and crawls in her spaces and listens, feels, knows.
Serenity sings to River, talks to Kaylee, responds to Wash, but she loves the Captain. Mal is exactly what he seems -- bitter, desperate and hard, a man trying to be as bad as his name -- but he also carries a bright blue spark of hope inside he tries to keep buried, and the love he doesn’t like to show. But his heart is in his hands when he touches them -- Kaylee, Zoe, Inara, Serenity. He hides behind the slow burn of lust and jealousy whenever Inara’s around, so lost in his own darkness he can barely see the light he shines, but he still carries that tiny spark of hope, made manifest in Serenity, and it will carry them all safely home if he lets it.
Home is Serenity now, for all of them, and River has grown used to living with the thoughts and emotions of her crew. River has her own small, secret hope -- that they will help her find her own voice.
Feedback would be wonderful.