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Brush Up Your Shakespeare (The Wild and Whirling Words Remix) [Firefly; River, Wash; g]

title: Brush Up Your Shakespeare (The Wild and Whirling Words Remix)
author: victoria p. [musesfool]
summary: In which Simon is scandalized, River is curious, and Wash knows more than he's letting on.
fandom: Firefly
characters: River, Wash, ensemble
rating: g
warnings/spoilers: through the movie, so canon character death is mentioned.
notes: Thanks to laurificus for betaing this and making it a better story.
word count: 3,920 words
original story: Stories for the Edge of Space by 2ndary_author

~*~

Brush Up Your Shakespeare (The Wild and Whirling Words Remix)

Act I

But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And reaks not his own rede.


Simon tells her, "You can't just spoil other people's things," but he doesn't understand, won't listen when she tries to explain.

"It was broken," River says. "What good is a book full of false information?" The Shepherd claims he's bringing God's Truth to the verse, and she knows he means well, but the book is wrong, its truth is false.

She can feel Simon's temper fray as he snaps, "It wasn't!" River flinches at his tone, and hates both her reaction and his guilt for causing it. He sighs, brushing a hand through his hair, more like the brother she remembers than the polished Core doctor he's grown up into (Serenity is wearing the polish off, slowly but surely, and River doesn't mind the way he does). "Mèi mei," he says, kneeling down and ducking his head to make her meet his gaze, "just because people don't understand something doesn't mean it needs to be fixed."

"Don't mean it can be fixed," Jayne says, not even pretending he's not listening, though he does pretend it's not her he's talking about. She doesn't understand him sometimes, so simple on the surface, and usually simple beneath it, too, except for times like now. "Some things're just busted for good." Simon shoots him a dirty look. "What?" Jayne protests.

She and Simon ignore him and enter the shop. It's dark and dusty and packed with other people's things--memories and loss and broken hopes, the dim light full of ghosts dancing just out of eye-shot.

River can feel the questing, hungry gaze of the shop-owner on her skin, like he's trying to see her without her dress, see beneath her skin to the muscle and blood and bone. He grins, his crooked teeth stained brown in his thin-lipped mouth, and holds something out to her--an old silk fan that smells like lavender and tears.

She shrinks back, whirls away, doesn't want to hear him thinking about his long-dead daughter and how River reminds him of her. She gets tangled in a display of scarves, tatty lace and soft cotton and faded silk twisting around her like restraints, and she can't get free. She twists and twists, like a fly caught in a spider's web, each movement just binding her up tighter. Her hip bangs into a table and she can hear the crash of pottery, the shopkeeper's curses, and the heavy rasp of her own breathing, loud and scared.

"Simon, Simon, help me, please." Her voice is loud, sharp, reedy. She knows Simon is nearby but she's been spun around so completely she can't feel where he is.

"What's all the gorram ruckus?" Jayne asks, his bulk blocking out the light from the doorway. He's like a bull in a china shop, and River laughs at the image even through her panic, the sound high-pitched and freakish even to her own ears. She's on the verge of crying, can feel the tears sting behind her eyes, and doesn't bother to blink them back when they spill over, warm and salty on her cheeks, her lips, her tongue, thirsty scarves trying to drink them dry.

"Simon," she says again, and then he's there, his hands warm and sure as he untangles her. He unwraps her like a gift and pulls her along until they're outside in the hot sunlight again, and even though they're kicking up the gritty brown dust as they double-time it back to Serenity, she feels cleaner and clearer than she did all wrapped up in those second-hand scarves, those graveclothes for the living.

Simon is still carrying a book, and River takes it from him when they get back to the ship, twirls around like she's dancing, and then presents it to the Shepherd with a smile. "A book for Book," she says.

He glances down at the title and then up again, looking past her to Simon. "The Complete Works of Shakespeare," he says, and though he's not looking at her, she can see the twinkle in his eye. "That's right kind of you, doctor," he says. "I'll keep it next to my bible."

Simon's face is red and he can't seem to get the words out, so River says, "Simon's never read any Shakespeare, Shepherd. Back on Osiris, Father wouldn't even allow any of the man's books in the house. Said they were full of deceit and lust and scandal."

Wash, just coming down the stairs into the cargo hold, says, "Shakespeare? There something you'd like to share with us, Shepherd?" Zoe smacks the back of his head lightly and he continues, "Not that I know anything about such depraved writings. I'm sure my virtuous ears have never been tainted by such a thing."

"I was hoping to get you a new bible," Simon finally manages to spit out, still red with embarrassment. "To replace the one River defaced."

"It's the thought that counts," Book says kindly. "Thank you for the gift."

*

Act II

there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so.


River is curious as a cat, always into things she shouldn't be, and she creeps around the ship while everyone else is sleeping, gets into things they'd rather she didn't. She doesn't do it to be mean or nosy, she just wants to know. She wants to understand everything, wants to catalogue what she's learned and what she's lost and how to get it back again. She knows how the engines work, how gravity keeps them flying, how fuel cells are converted into energy by the spinning turbines. She knows the elements of the periodic table, that humans are mostly made of water, that stars convert hydrogen into helium.

She sits with Kaylee as she tries to figure out why the left thruster is only firing at seventy percent. When Kaylee finds the answer, her whole body lights with knowledge and excitement, and she rushes around the engine room with her tools, fixing the problem.

River remembers what that feels like and wants to feel it again. Wants to be able to fix as much as to be fixed.

She watches Jayne clean his weapons until he gets so freaked out by her steady scrutiny that he makes Mal send her to her room. She thinks about how all the pieces fit together, sleek and oiled and deadly, remembers the smudge of gun oil on her own fingers and spends an hour scrubbing her hands, until Simon comes and makes her stop. Inara gives her lotion scented with rosewater to rub on her skin and she uses it and tries to forget.

She peeks through the glass, watches while Simon takes inventory of the infirmary, the only place he's comfortable on Serenity, even as River makes the ship her cradle, her home. She sits at his elbow when he tells Zoe what they have and what they need. Zoe takes it all in stride, doesn't get unnerved by her the way Jayne and Mal do, or she hides it better, anyway, holds herself distant, though she's never unkind.

River feels what they feel, and some days, she hears what they think, but there's still so much she doesn't understand.

Why did Simon give up everything to come for her, while her parents didn't? What makes Mal adopt strays like an old spinster takes in cats, and why does Zoe follow him even now? What does she see in Wash that the rest of them don't, and how come Mal can't find it in Inara? What is Book hiding and how does Kaylee live without hiding anything at all?

River takes the book from Book's room when he's lifting weights with Jayne (discretion is the better part of valor, after all). She wants to see if this one is better--truer--than the other. If it will answer her questions. Wants to know why it makes Simon stammer and blush and even Inara won't talk about it.

The pages are the same as Book's bible, thin like onion skin, ink bleeding through like people's thoughts when everyone is awake; she thinks she's like a book sometimes, full of outdated information no one wants to read. She thinks about ink on her skin, spends the day painting words on the parchment of her arm, blank but watermarked by the pale blue-green of veins.

Inara has pots of paint and soft sable brushes on her vanity, and when she discovers River's interest in calligraphy, she lends them without question, a genuine smile on her beautiful face.

"Of course, mèi mei." Inara gives her a few sheets of blank cream-colored vellum to go with the brushes and ink pots.

Simon thanks her profusely. "River's always loved to draw," he says, and she can feel the relief in him, the recognition of the girl she was before. She can't explain that she's trying to get all the words out of her head, hoping that they'll make sense once they're on the outside of her skin.

She writes broken but rubs it out, can't let Simon see the truth of it--it makes him sad. Instead, she writes river, because it's her name, and stone for Simon, heart for Kaylee, and beauty for Inara. She's just finished the last stroke of serenity (for Zoe) when Simon comes in. She shakes her sleeve down over the marks, pushes the book under her pillow, and pretends to draw until it's time to go to sleep.

She doesn't sleep, though, not at night, not when Simon doesn't give her shots.

She reads, confused at first, and then engrossed, the rhythm of the poetry capturing her imagination, arcane language that reminds her of dancing. The wordplay makes her feel clever when she understands. The history is...sloppy at best; she remembers Mal saying that half of history is hiding the truth, but even with the fuzzy facts, these stories ring with truth and generosity, a voice from a thousand years ago speaking directly to her heart.

The words fill her head and warm her body like sunlight, and she whispers them to herself when she gets scared. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, she tells herself each time Simon thinks he's figured out how to fix her.

She doesn't tell him she doesn't think she can be fixed.

*

Act III

These are but wild and whirling words.

River takes the book out, dances barefoot up to the bridge--she's not allowed up there in the daytime (she ignores the fact that it is always nighttime in the black, that day and night are just constructs in space), but sometimes when no one else is around, she likes to sit up there and watch the stars; usually, she makes up new constellations (and stories to go with them) until she's drowsy enough to doze without nightmares, but tonight, she's going to read.

Iago has just told Cassio to speak with Desdemona when Wash comes into the cockpit.

"What, ho, Brabantio!" she says, sitting up straight in the copilot's chair and unfolding her legs, putting her feet flat on the cool metal floor and feels the ship's motion vibrate up through her.

"Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves!
Look to your house, your daughter and your bags!
Thieves! thieves!
" Wash answers automatically. Then he straightens up, eyes wide and startled, and says, "Not that I know anything about Shakespeare."

River looks at him impassively, then down at the book in her lap, and then back up at him again. In the dim light, she can't see the blush on his cheeks, but she knows it's there.

"Okay, so I participated in some amateur theatricals when I was a boy," he says, slipping into the pilot's seat. River just keeps looking at him. "And while I was studying to be a pilot. It was a thing we did, when we couldn't study drag co-efficients or principles of aerodynamics anymore." He waves his hands and knocks over his tyrannosaurus. He fumbles the toy upright and says, "Shakespeare gets a bad rap. Now stop looking at me like a crazy person! I can't stand up to your interrogation techniques."

She doesn't flinch when Wash calls her crazy--she knows he doesn't mean it as much as she knows there's truth in it. Instead, she smiles wide and puts the book on the console.

"Read with me," she says, and though he protests at first--"Your brother'd kill me, and then my wife would kill me again"--he falls in with her plan easily enough. She can feel the verses jangling in his head, aching to come out, to be shared.

She opens the book to the first act of Hamlet, and begins to read aloud. When she glances over at Wash, he's mumbling along, and he grins shyly and shrugs a shoulder when she catches him.

After that, he's not surprised to see her when he gets up for the dogwatch; sometimes he's there before her, playing with his dinosaurs and listening to music off the cortex.

She tells him the stories of the new constellations and he listens gravely, then tells a few stories of his own. Sometimes, he even lets her play with his dinosaurs. He's much better at the game than Simon is these days.

One night he says, "Here," and puts her hands on the stick, lets her steer Serenity while he tells a story about acting out Taming of the Shrew with shadow puppets. She can feel the engines' hum through her whole body, right down to her toes, and it's like poetry, like dancing, a way to be herself and outside of herself at the same time.

Wash trails off, hands dropping back into his lap, and watches her anxiously.

She gives him a huge smile. "I'm flying Serenity," she says breathlessly.

"Indeed you are. Try not to crash her into a moon, okay? Mal would kill me."

"I'm flying Serenity," she says again, and he grins.

She understands the principles of flight, knows the basics of it like she knows everything else, but he makes it all make sense; maybe it's because it's Serenity, and she already loves the ship more than she ever loved their house on Osiris, or maybe it's because everyone else is asleep, but she has no trouble following along.

Simon finds a new set of words painted on her arm a few days later, but they don't have enough water to take full showers, so he sponges at the ink until she flinches away, crying. She sees the sadness and fear on Simon's face, remembers everything he's done for her, and cries harder. She doesn't see herself as a thankless child, but she knows she's sharper than a serpent's tooth, the snake in the garden of her parents' ambitions, and she's brought Simon low with her.

She grabs the sponge from him and though her vision is still blurry with tears, she starts washing the words away. She doesn't rub hard, but the lines smear, ink dripping down her skin like blood, lost and useless.

Simon watches, sad-eyed, and says, "We're going to make this better, River. I promise."

She touches his cheek, leaves a wet smudge of ink on his fair skin. "Shouldn't make promises you can't keep."

He wipes his cheek with the back of his hand and turns away. Sometimes, River thinks he's as broken as she is, in ways nobody can see. She rests her chin on his shoulder and he presses his damp cheek against hers, accepting her apology.

It doesn't stop her, though. She starts over, holds her pale, blank arm out to Wash one night and says, "What should it say?"

He eyes her warily, though she doesn't think he's scared of her so much as he's afraid of doing something that will hurt her. "I don't know."

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." She offers him the book and he takes it.

"Am I the wise man or the fool?" He holds up a hand. "You know what? Don't answer that."

She laughs and spins around in the chair, making herself dizzy. Both, she thinks. We are all both.

*

Act IV

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world!


Book leaves them at Haven.

"Got work to do here," he tells the captain, who's sad to see him go but won't say so in so many words. Even Jayne will miss him, their friendship no less strong for being a little strange. "Our paths have run together for a while, but it's time for me to strike out on my own, follow my calling, and bring the good word to them as need it here."

"You do what you need to, Shepherd," Mal says, "but you give us a call if you decide this ain't your path after all."

Just before they head out (she refuses to think of it as leaving him behind), River offers him the book back, eyes cast down, hiding behind her hair because she knows he knows she's the one who took it, but she braces for a scolding anyway.

He just laughs. "You keep it, River. You'll get more use out of it than I would." He lowers his voice and says, "I won't tell Simon."

She laughs and hugs him, breathes in the scent of sandalwood soap and sweat, and as he holds her, she can hear the words before he speaks, "Peace be with you, River."

She accepts the blessing with a bowed head, and offers the same hope to him in return.

*

When they circle back around to Persephone, she goes with Kaylee to the shops, finds what she's looking for in a basket full of odds and ends, toys too worn or broken to be worth much.

"Why do they bother?" she asks Kaylee as she sorts through the basket.

Kaylee gives her a soft smile. "Sometimes it's all a body can afford."

River discards the yo-yo with a knotted string and the pinwheel with a bent petal. There's a tiny Alliance cruiser made of plastic with the decals all rubbed off, but River can't bring herself to touch it, doesn't think Mal would want it on Serenity, even if it is only a toy.

She digs deeper and comes up with a green lizard about as long as her index finger, two-thirds of it narrow, curving tail. It's made of hard green plastic and most of the scales have been worn off by small, sweaty fingers.

She adds it to Kaylee's small pile of items and whispers, "Thank you," when Kaylee pays for it without question.

Kaylee squeezes her hand gently. "Weren't nothing," she answers. "Like to buy you something pretty, but...." She doesn't have to finish the sentence; River understands.

That night, River puts it in her pocket next to the book and brings it up to the bridge. She sits in the co-pilot's chair and tucks her legs under her skirt. "I brought you a present."

Wash swivels towards her, surprised, and just a little bit wary. "What?"

She takes it out and sets it down on the console next to Wash's tyrannosaurus. "Sarcosuchus imperator," she says. "A dinosaur's worst nightmare."

He picks up the small lizard, which looks even tinier in his hands. "Xièxie nî, River."

"Sarcosuchus is a member of the family Pholidosauridae, only distantly related to twenty-first century crocodilians. It lived during the early Cretaceous period, so the triceratops is anachronistic, but I won't tell if you don't."

Wash looks at her, wide-eyed. "I won't."

"Kaylee bought it for me. I didn't tell her I was giving it to you."

"Okay." Wash still sounds bemused, but he puts the lizard down with the rest of his toys.

"I know a hawk from a handsaw," she says, trying to reassure him.

He laughs. "I believe you do, River. I believe you do."

This time when he lets her take control of the ship, he says, "Then there was a star danced."

"And under that was I born," she replies.

Wash squeezes her hand once and points to the still-blank skin of her inner arm. "That's what it should say."

She looks out the windscreen at the stars shining in the distance and smiles.

*

Act V

Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.


They lay Wash out in the infirmary after the battle is over and the Alliance doctor the Operative provided has helped Simon patch them all up.

Each of the crew comes by to pay their respects. Zoe sits ramrod straight on Simon's wheeled stool like a queen on a throne greeting her supplicants.

River slips in and out with each of them, listening to the grief in their thoughts, the halting sorrow of their words.

She feels the weight of their pain in her heart, on her skin, and she scribes words on her arms, legs, hands and feet, trying to find the right formula to relieve the ache.

When it's her turn, she tucks the Sarcosuchus into his curled fingers and whispers, "Good night, sweet prince." She kisses the cool skin of his forehead, and holds a hand out to Zoe, palm up so she can read the words painted there: Love sought is good, but given unsought is better. Her other palm reads, Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. The characters are clear and sharp as River could make them, dealing with the uneven surface bisected by the lines of her heart and her life.

"He was my friend," she says, voice breaking, when Zoe looks up. "I miss him already."

Zoe takes her hands, squeezes them tight (around the underside, careful not to smudge the ink), and River wonders for a moment if Zoe blames her, but Zoe says, "Thank you, River. That's right pretty."

"It's Shakespeare," River says. "Wash loved poetry."

Zoe's voice is full of tears she won't let anyone see. "I know."

Once they're back out in the black, the storm naught but a painful memory, some pretty lights and swirls in the atmosphere falling away behind them, they gather round the table in the kitchen. Jayne put four new legs on it and re-caned the chairs that were salvageable. Almost everything's been repaired or replaced, shiny, new things already getting scuffed with use so they don't stand out too much. River helped Inara and Kaylee repaint the border of flowers and vines that encircles the room, making it look like home, and they all pretend not to see the patches and missing pieces.

Jayne offers his good bottle of whiskey around and Inara pours it out into the painted porcelain cups that had come with her belongings from the Training House.

River puts the book on the table and ignores the way Simon flushes when he gets a look at it.

She opens to The Tempest and reads, "O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!


"This book isn't broken," she says, though she thinks the people who named Miranda didn't understand what Shakespeare meant. "Poetry is supposed to be like that."

The silence is startled, and for a long, tense moment, she wonders if she's made a mistake.

Mal clears his throat and says, "Inara, would you do us the honor of reading to us?"

Inara smiles softly. "Of course." River flips back to the beginning of the play and passes her the book. Inara's dulcet voice has been trained to read poetry and speak beauty, and it rings true in the air. "Act one, scene one. On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard."

*

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

end

***

citations:

1. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And reaks not his own rede.

Hamlet, I.iii.46-51

2. there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so.

Hamlet, II.ii.250-251

3. The better part of valor is discretion
Henry IV, Part One, V.iv.119

4. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Henry V, III.i.3

5. These are but wild and whirling words.
Hamlet, I.v.133

6. What, ho, Brabantio!
Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves!
Look to your house, your daughter and your bags!
Thieves! thieves!

Othello, I.i.82-85

7. The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
As You Like It, V.i.22

8. How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!

King Lear, I.iv.204-205

9. How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world!

Merchant of Venice, V.1.101-102

10. I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.
Hamlet, II.ii.272

11. Then there was a star danced and under that was I born.
Much Ado About Nothing, II.i.140

12. Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.

Macbeth, IV.iii.245-246

13. Good night, sweet prince.
Hamlet, V.ii.304

14. Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.
Twelfth Night, III.i.122

15. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, I.i.234

16. O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!

The Tempest, V.i.202-204

17. Act one, scene one. On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard.
The Tempest, I.i.1

18. We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
Hamlet, IV.v.43-44

~*~
Tags: character: hoban "wash" washburne, character: river tam, fandom: firefly, original author: 2ndary_author, rating: g, remix author: musesfool
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