Title: The Tulip That Slept
Character: River Tam
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Even before the scrub-up, the scalpel, they bleed a little.
Notes: Mostly pre-series, with spoilers through Serenity.
River grew up speaking four languages. English and Mandarin, of course, and Vietnamese, because that was the language Anh-Nga used to scold her whenever she broke Papa's rules. At bedtime, Mama sang to her in French, nonsense songs about chickens and ballads of worlds long lost. River twirled, mouthing along, until Anh-Nga took her by the shoulders and sat her down, and they all counted to one hundred as Anh-Nga brushed her hair.
Papa stopped by every once in a while to listen to their evening chatter. He quizzed River about school, shifting from one language to another, and patted her head when she de-anglicized hyperdrive theory.
When she began secondary school, she picked up Latin, as well. It tasted like dust and jellybeans, and it drove Simon crazy when she translated his anatomy textbooks for him.
The Academy was all fun at first, acres of green lawn in a 'verse that still struggled with terraforming. River kicked off her shoes after supper, climbed the dying oak tree beside her dormitory window. She read her tablet by moonlight, and didn't even feel the cold.
River tried to put the sessions from her mind, but they always crept back in. Everything crept back into her mind, like whispers and gravel stuck in the toe of her shoe. During lessons, the teacher watched her, watched her, thinking, and River shook her head, twisted a finger in her ear, because she needed out, out, out.
She sent her parents a wave, but Simon wasn't home, Simon was never home when she tried. "I don't like it here," she told them anyway.
"Wait," they said. "We'll visit."
She cried the last time she saw them on the vidscreen, but they told her she needed to be brave. She promised she would try, and they told her they were proud of her.
Another session came, and she told herself, Try. She looked into the camera's lens, and she tried so very, very hard.
On Serenity, River always woke gasping, rocketing through that camera lens and tasting pennies against her tongue. Simon hovered over her, finally there after so long, and he had a syringe in his hand, and a glass of water sloshing on his palm.
River took her medicine without complaint and Simon's question echoed in her head.
"They knew," she answered, dread reflecting between them like memory. "They knew it all."
Simon touched her shoulder, but she shook her head. She was trying to be brave.
A/N: Title and summary adapted from Maxine Kumin's In the Root Cellar. Link courtesy of breathe_poetry.
Linked on halfamoon.