Here With Me
a Firefly story
by dirty diana

spoilers for "Serenity" and "Safe".

for virtualinsomnia's Simon Ficathon. For the request of wickedprincess3 , who asked for Simon/River, angst, and wacky core planet hijinks. I swear that all of those things are in there, although some are a little harder to find than others. Thanks for the read-through and title help to sf fan.

The town has a rhythm, a steady predictable rhythm that sings, underneath River's skin. Back and forth, it goes, quiet and still. When spring comes, the town is restless, swaying to the hum of changing winds, the tune of the river rushing down off the mountain as the snow melts.

River watches the seasons change from the doorway of their tiny cottage, watches the waking and the sleeping. She isn't allowed to go into the village, not anymore. The children in the town call her names, hard names that skip and bounce off her skin like stones off water.

"Witch," they chant at her. "Witch, witch, witch."

"Witch," she rhymes at them, and the sounds jumble together without any meaning, inside her mouth. "Fire. Fire, fire. Fire, higher, liar. Liar, liar, liar."

"With," they chant, and throw pebbles out of tiny hands.

They have knocked her to the ground when Simon comes to look for her. Her face and arms are cut and bleeding.

"I told you not to go into the town by yourself, mei-mei," he tells her. Simon bandages her cuts, so that they don't hurt anymore.

She smiles at him. "I was looking for you."

Simon sighs. So worried, all the time, worry that stings and burns and River doesn't know how to bandage it away. "They could have hurt you," he says.

River shakes her head, and smiles again, because everything is okay now. Witch, witch, pitch and stitch, into the ditch. Simon covers her puffed and swollen bruises with ointment, and puts her to bed.

Simon takes care of her. River was still laughing when they cut away the rope that bound her hands. Rope that was too tight, her fingers pale from lack of blood. They left her up there for so long, while they talked among themselves. Chattering away, too loud, so loud that River ached all over. They didn't know what to do.

Didn't need a witch. But they needed a doctor.

Now Simon takes care of her, the same way he takes care of everyone. When he comes home in the evenings he is pale and tired, sitting down in the hard wooden chair with a heavy sigh.

"How's Mrs. McKenna?" she asks him.

"She's fine," he says. "She'll give birth in a few weeks."

River nods sagely. There are always new babies in this place, tiny bright-eyed babies, their faces swollen from crying. It's not their fault, River thinks. They don't know. "Mrs. McKenna's having a boy," she tells him. "A beautiful baby boy. They'll call him Angus."

Simon doesn't say anything. He watches her as she brings him a cup, filled with two mouthfuls of the whiskey that the Mulhollands brought when their children recovered from the chicken pox.

Simon sips the drink, and sits back in the chair, trying to relax. Music floats in through the open door. It's a party, two doors down at the town hall, to celebrate the end of the planting.

Mary Kilborn will bring him gifts from the party the next day, think slices of layer cake, wrapped up in a linen napkin. Mary is a good woman, with sweet blue eyes and dimples that show when she laughs. The doctor's a good man, she'll tell anyone that listens, and she don't rightly care if his sister is a witch.

Mary is a good woman, but Simon doesn't notice. Simon doesn't notice much, unless folks in the town are hurt or sick. He comes home tired and hungry, and they listen to the music drifting in on the sweet spring air.

They used to have parties at home. River remembers. Large parties with hundreds of people, with music and dancing and layer cakes in every flavour. River begged to be allowed to stay up late enough to watch the dancing, ladies in long dresses and pretty shoes swirling around and around on the floor.

River watched from the balcony, with wide eyes peeking between the railings. Too young for parties, her father said, too young to be up so late. Her nightgown covered cold bare feet, as she watched the ladies whirling around and around.

Simon would sneak up the stairs to sit beside her. "I came to keep you company," he would say.

She giggled at him, and tapped her finger on his hand, below the starched cuff of his shirt. In time to the music, da dum dum dee. "No," she said. "You're hiding from the Wan sisters." Tiny blonde sisters, Christina and Cynthia, that spoke in mean, loud whispers and couldn't decide between them which one liked Simon more.

He blushed, and then poked her rudely in the arm. "You shouldn't be up anyway," he said.

Simon never told on her. He danced with her until Mother came, her temper laced tight like her party dress, and told River to go to bed.

River worries sometimes that she has forgotten how to dance.

Simon tries to teach her how again, his hand on her waist, and they spin round and round until the music stops. Then he puts her to bed, sleeping even as she's standing, leaning against him, drifting on the edges of a worried, restive sleep.

Every night he gives her medicine, and every morning more medicines. Medicine for thinking, waking, breathing. Medicine to drag her out of herself, into the world.

She holds out her arm obediently, and Simon plunges the needle beneath her skin.

Then she sleeps.

She dreams sometimes that she is back in the place, her brain split open and casting pictures on the walls, like shadows from a lantern. She dreams of dancing. She dreams that she is tied once more to the pyre, and that fire touches her hands and feet. She dreams that flames lick her skin, gently to begin with, offering the quietest promise of mercy. She dreams that she climbs the ladder of sticks, into the blaze and towards the sky, wanting only to sleep.

She dreams that Simon follows her, and she looks back, to watch the fire swallowing his eyes and skin. It is then that she screams, with a hopeless, restless fear wanting nothing but to get out.

Simon is there when she awakes. She can feel him there beside her, skin and craving bone. But it doesn't stop the screaming.

"Shh, mei-mei."

"Fire," she cries, and the medicine doesn't help, won't dull the fear. Everything is gone now, she thinks, everything except for that. "Fire," she cries, as the world behind her eyes washes away into flames.

Simon's hands cover hers, his fingers seeking peace.

"Don't go," she whispers, her head pushing gently against his shoulder. "Simon. Don't go."

His mouth kisses her cheek, the edge of her mouth. She shivers as he touches her. His blue eyes are dark with worry, his hands hot on her skin, through the cotton of her nightdress.

"I won't leave you," he promises.

River still remembers the place that they took her from, the room where they cut her open, the hands that held the knife. She tells Simon that she doesn't remember, but she does. She remembers the ship that brought them here.

"He was fool enough to get himself took in broad daylight," the captain said. River heard. The captain was like just the rest of them, trying hard. Righteous, not so righteous, always thinking too loud.

They would have burned her. River remembers. She remembers floating through space with no anchor, with nothing to cling to but her brother's hand.

She remembers believing that Simon wouldn't come. But Simon came, and took her away, into the sky.

"I won't leave you," he promises. His whispers soak her skin, until she is still.