blood, like apples, like fire
by not jenny

And when he falls from the sky like a star or like fire, River is the only one who knows what that means. When a star-man twinkles down like snow, she understands. He tastes like apples, like apples with cores, and she won't ask the questions she doesn't want answered.

Sometimes, the whole world tastes of apples. Sometimes like rain.

He falls from the sky like a bird, like a plane (she remembers this from before, before the cold and), like a man who falls from clouds. (Like an angel. Tomorrow, he will fly away.)

"Hello," he says, deep like Book, and "my name's Ben Sisko." His smile too wide, too real, he smiles and crouches and, "what's your name?"

River doesn't say, "River." She doesn't answer like that. Instead she smiles, too wide and then wider still and says, "My name's Ben Sisko" in her deepest Book-voice. And "ni jiao shinme?" before Simon runs over, huffing and puffing, and blows her house down.

"I'm sorry about my sister," he says, sticking out his hand, "I'm Simon, and this is River. Welcome to Serenity."

And the star-man laughs. (Man-star)


He is a bird, but so is she, and he holds her like a baby learning to fly. (She chirps)

This is later, or yesterday, and River walks backward through the cargo hold to realign time. Up the down stairs, and around and around until the floor is the ceiling and she's upside down. (Down the up stairs until the world is right again) And the star-man is sitting cross-legged in the corner, not flying.

"You think you know," she says. "What you are. What's to come. You haven't even begun."

He looks up at her, looks up and frowns. When he tries to walk away, the air wraps around him, around and around, and he trips and falls and his blood is apple-red. Fire-red. River counts to ten. She didn't think his blood would be red, like a real live person who bleeds, but it is.

"I am Benjamin Sisko," he says, stopping after each word. "I am-"

She watches the blood run through the grating, through the holes. And she skips off to find Simon.

The star-man doesn't say another word.


The needle goes in and out, out and in, and his skin twists and pulls like stockings and socks.

"What, no dermal regenerator?" the Sisko-bird asks, and River can tell he thinks he's joking. So she laughs. No one else does, though, and she stops like she started, sudden and sharp.

Simon glares at her and says, "No, no dermal regenerators here." He says it like he's talking to a child, to someone who's read too many science fiction novels, and Sisko grimaces and bites his lip.

The needles keep going out and in, and his skin pulls and twists like his face. Like the Captain, walking in and stalking out, and River says, "It's the iron, you know, that makes blood a magnet."

"Fa feng, mei mei" Simon whispers. "And how wo ai ni."

So she sits, and she listens, and they talk around her like they talk around air.


Sisko and Book discuss theology over supper. River understands, understands it too gorram well, the need to focus on anything but the protein mush. So they argue about prophets and gods, and River chews, chews, chews before swallowing. The captain isn't there, and Zoe and Walsh look at each other like bumblebees at flowers.

River chews, chews, chews, and the protein goes down like paste.

She thinks that Sisko comes from a world completely unlike this. One with apples everyday, even, and bananas. Cake. She thinks that maybe, just maybe, she's finally found someone more lost than she is.

"Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey," she says, and everyone looks up. Sisko smiles, and River watches his eyes for specks of happy.

"Bizui, feng le woman," Jayne mutters, stabbing his food.

"The early bird catches the worm," Sisko says. "And early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise."

"Two by two, hands of blue," River adds.

"Who, the Andorians?"

"Two by two, hands of blue," she repeats, "dong ma?" But she can tell he doesn't understand. Doesn't want to understand. Refuses to understand.

The spell is broken. They eat.


River lies still as a board, as a girl made of wood, under Sisko's bunk. She waits.

She wants to teach him, to make him understand. To explain. But he's snoring like a tian xiaode, no doubt dreaming of shiny things, and River is wide awake on the floor. She wants to make him know.

(Her. She wants to make him know her.)

Serenity is happy, cooing, and River can hear her song. She thought Sisko could, too, thought that all star-men could, after falling from the sky. After dancing down like snow, like shooting stars, like rain.

He tastes like magnets. Also feathers. Tomorrow, she thinks, he will fly away.

His bunk is a cocoon, a nest, and she oh so quietly creeps inside. His skin is hot. She turns to glass beside him, sharp and jagged and zhi si, and she leans over to cut his cheek. His lips. Her lips on his mouth, all pointy and tearing, she tells him, "This is who I am" without words.

Without sound.

She speaks, and it all comes out wrong. So she acts. He burns and she cuts and she slices him open to pour herself inside. To make him understand. To make him see. And when his eyes are open, popping like popcorn in her father's house and wet, she whispers all her secrets.

His head shaking, shaking like no, like please, like wo de tian a, she slips under his skin until he shatters.

His blood is still red, still made of apples and fire, and she lies beneath it like a blanket.


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