Summary: Mirror, mirror, on the wall. For wisdomeagle in the femslash_minis Lilah round.
Listen to me read this story!
The Fairest of Them All
They are watching her.
They, a third person pronoun of indeterminate number and gender, taking the place of shadows on the wall River cannot quite see. Amorphous, they are constantly changing, the only thing constant in the ‘verse being death, the wages of sin. Thanatos.
(Simon tells her not to be so morbid when she speaks likes this, so she remains quiet. That which cannot be observed ceases to exist.)
(Her father once spoke of taxes as equally constant, but Gabriel Tam was only a man and thus fallible, blinded by illusions; out here on the black where they pay no taxes, still there is death and still there is life. And there is freedom, and so here there can be love.)
They: an indexical, an act of deixis, of exophora. It takes its meaning from its opposite, an us, and the us is Serenity, traveling through space and providing a home to her crew. The truth is linguistic, skin-deep, and disappears before a gaze which can see down to the soul. The world is carved up into pieces small enough for the human mind to understand, then put back together again, and the result is like one’s face viewed through a broken mirror: the thing, and yet not the thing. The self, the thing in itself, the ding an sich, is forever lost. Never mind, they have no use for it. A world made up of illusions is easier to control.
They had come for her, two by two, hands of blue, and regardless of what anyone else thinks, they are still coming. They have sent those who were nameless and those whose names she does not dare utter. Governments have fallen like marionettes with severed strings and still they are there, searching for her, desiring her, watching her, a cerulean star shining through the black.
But she is not part of they. She serves a different master, the wolf, ram, and hart instead of the blue sun, and though her motives are no more pure than the rest of them still River smiles to think of the woman's eyes watching River now as she pulls off a skirt and a sweater which clashed horribly and in their place puts on a simple white nightgown, for even if she is no friend she is still the enemy of River’s enemy, and that counts for something.
They have eyes everywhere which watch but still they do not see, ears which listen but they do not hear. Argos had a hundred eyes, after all, but how many of them were ever awake at once? Sing the right song on the right lyre and they all close, as if by magic. She knows all the names, all the songs, but she cannot speak to utter them. Still she watches with a gaze that penetrates Serenity’s hull as easily as it does the dimensional barriers which separate this ‘verse from hers. From hell.
River sits on her bed, pulling her legs up with her, and closes her eyes. She can see the woman watching her, a tall woman with long dark hair, staring at a pane of glass with a fierce determination. Lilah, the woman’s name was, and she did not stop for death.
“Flames wouldn't be eternal if they actually consumed anything,” River whispers, and immediately she can feel Lilah’s anger, her fear, her blind panic. Yes, Lilah, River thinks, I can see you too. See parts of you that you cannot see yourself. Did you really think that you could hide from a Reader?
River watches Lilah watching her, and she opens her eyes. Looks at the bulkhead, but to Lilah she knows it looks like River is looking right at her. “Lilah Morgan,” she says without emotion. “Attorney-at-law. Former Vice President of Special Projects at Wolfram & Hart, Los Angeles branch. Daughter of John and Amanda Morgan. Awarded juris doctor by Mortenson University in 1994 Common Era. Murdered in February 2003 by Cordelia Chase, under the control of a—”
“Это курам на смех!” Lilah cries out in a blind panic, wanting it to stop, the merciless recounting of her life and death, but River just laughs. She has to hear it said, not just thought, for the safeword to take effect, and Lilah is safely in another dimension. Serenity is quiet, silent save for the gentle hum of her engines.
“I can’t hear you,” River sing-songs with a mischievous smile, placing her hands over her ears for show. She pauses a moment, then springs off the bed in a single motion, landing on the floor in front of her. She takes a step towards the bulkhead, and she knows that she is perfectly framed by Lilah’s mirror.
She sends Lilah a wink, then grabs the hem of her nightgown and pulls it over her head, slipping out of it and letting it drop to the ground. Her fingers go behind her back and in a few seconds her brassiere joins it, a few seconds more and her panties follow. She stands in front of Lilah’s mirror naked, and she can feel the lawyer’s desire swelling up.
One hand slips between her legs and the other hovers over her breast. River goes slow moving her hand inside her gently but firmly, thinking past her body’s pleasure and focusing on Lilah’s desire. The violence of her appetite threatens to consume the lawyer, and River knows what is to be not a girl but an empty dress waving in the wind. There is the need, and the want, and the impossibility of any satisfaction, but there is no girl anyway to be found, no one named River or Lilah, no assassin and no lawyer and no center to an ever-shifting universe.
Lilah knows what River feels every day, desire and anger and passion and fear overwhelming her like unclean spirits unable to exorcised, and she rebels against these demons which have taken control of her unliving body. Her breath quickens and her eyes are fixated on the enchanted glass which displays River, a porcelain doll in the midst of self-pleasure, and as much as Lilah wants to look away she cannot, frozen in place like the bird who looked in the eyes of Nagina the snake.
There is no wind in space, and yet a hurricane is beginning to form, awesome power emerging from thin air summoned by the flap of a butterfly’s wings. And then there is a stroke of lightning and the storm is over, the faint smell of electricity hanging in the air.
River turns, satisfied, and walks naked back towards her bed, leaving her nightgown and underwear lying on her floor behind her. She picks up her blanket but before she gets into bed, she turns back and looks at Lilah.
“It's actually kind of fun when you know the rules,” River says, echoing a memory deep within Lilah’s mind. “I mean, when you know that there aren't any. You screw with me, and you screw with me, and you screw with me. And now, I get to screw with you.” She smiles. She sits on the bed and pulls her legs up with her, slips under her covers, rests her head against her pillow, says a thousand prayers without words, glances at the bulkhead one last time. “See you in the morning, Lilah,” she says, then closes her eyes and soon, there is silence, and she is dreaming of a blood-red apple and a poisoned comb.
And Lilah? Lilah does not dream, for she is in hell, and every moment is a nightmare. A pair of red-hot iron shoes is brought into the room with tongs and set before her, and these she is forced to put on and to dance in them until she can dance no longer, and only then does she begin to understand River’s pain.