Title: A Simple Twist of Fate, chapter three
Date Posted: 28 March 2006
Author: S. Richard and Van Donovan
Rating: This chapter: PG
Characters: River, Wash
Pairing: None now, eventual River/Wash
Word count: 5,787
Warnings: Begins pre-TV series, completely AU, will invovle some underage romance.
Summary: Blue Sun's Academy brings two unlikely people together.
Disclaimer: Co-written. We are not affliated with Mutant Enemy, Joss, Firefly/Serenity, Unversal, Fox or anyone. If we were, we'd be making money off this. We mean no harm. Title from the Bob Dylan song.


River found the bits of dinosaur-shaped paper the next day and tucked them in her sleeve. It would be hard to keep them hidden--hard to keep anything hidden, there. If they knew she liked them, they could be taken away. Carefully, River manufactured a thin paste from a portion of dinner one night and glued them to the pages of an already examined and approved book. She placed them on facing pages, so they could be together. It made her feel better.

It was another two weeks before River was allowed out on the flight field again. She was still timid and unhappy, so they simply steered her out toward the Cobra, and she was already weeping by the time Nelson approached her.

Nelson wore sunglasses, and carried himself heavier. He smelt slightly stale, with a heavier stench of whiskey on him. He didn’t take his sunglasses off as he addressed her. “Can’t believe they’re making me waste more of my time with you. You’re already crying, and we haven’t even started,” he spat.

"No starting," River said, breathing quickly. "No. Don't want to fly. Won't. Can't go in. Blood and death, it makes me want to die, kill, everything, everything that hurts, won't, can't, please . . ."

“Merciful Buddha, girl, what is wrong with you?” Nelson griped. “Are you going to get in this plane or not? You know if you don’t they’re just going to make you take more classroom courses again.”

"Can't, please . . . just tell them I'm bad. Can't fly. Not in the plane. Please." River's words tumbled over each other in her haste to get them out.

“They’re going to punish you if you don’t at least try,” Nelson growled. He was going to be made a fool of too. His pilot was bouncing between the classroom and the tarmac, never seeming to make much progress. Rumors were starting to spread that it was something he was doing to the girl to keep her tied down, as she was so very talented in other areas. “You’re going to get in that cockpit, or I will force you into it.”

River hugged herself tightly, still weeping. "Can't. Please, sir. Sorry. Sorry I'm bad. But they always punish, it doesn't matter, and I can't..." Her eyes begged hopelessly for some ounce of compassion or understanding, even though she knew she would receive none from this quarter.

Nelson ignored her pleas. He was good at that. Instead he looked over her head, across the tarmac, seeking assistance. He wasn’t strong enough to force her into the cockpit on his own, but he planned to make good on his word. “You there!” he shouted. “Captain Washburn!”

The blond pilot turned at the call, and Nelson waved him over. When he was nearer, Nelson stepped up on the runner. “I need your assistance to help Ms. Tam into her cockpit.”

River shot the younger man a look of betrayal, then immediately dropped to the tarmac, perfectly limp. Once they got her up to the cockpit, she'd go stiff, and they'd have trouble stuffing her in. Hard. She would make it as hard as possible, since she wasn't allowed to hit, would have to go back in the room if she hit . . .

Nelson looked expectantly at the young pilot. “Well, man, are you going to help me or not?” he demanded.

“I’m not sure we should force her, if she doesn’t want to,” he began, uncertainly. He looked from Nelson to River.

“We wouldn’t have to force her if she’d just obey commands,” Nelson bitterly retorted.

"I tried. You hurt me," River said flatly, not moving.

Nelson opened his mouth to snap at her, but the captain spoke first. “I’m not going to hurt you. You know that, right?”

"They all say that," River said calmly. "He doesn't hurt me with his hands; isn't allowed. He tells them. Likes to know I'm being punished. Makes him feel better. You'll tell too."

He took a deep breath. “He’s just trying to do his job.”

“I don’t have time for this,” Nelson protested. “Help me get her into the cockpit.” He reached forward and gripped River’s arm.

The pilot raised his hand. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not going to force her in.”

"He can get you in trouble," River said helpfully. "You should do what he says." Even though it would take longer if he refused, he ought to know what happened to people who didn't follow orders. Anyway, the colonel could just find someone else to do it.

“I’ll find someone else who will, then, Captain. You’re dismissed,” Nelson said. His grip on River’s arm tightened, attempting to drag her toward the Cobra.

The pilot hesitated, clearly torn between following his orders and following his own heart. The latter finally won out. “Colonel Nelson, sir,” he said. When he had Nelson’s attention, he continued. “I believe if I had a few moments alone with the subject, I could get her into the cockpit without force. Permission to try, sir?”

Nelson glared at him, then leveled the glare down on River.

River stared up at him blandly, not moving or speaking.

Nelson snarled, releasing her arm, flinging her toward the pilot. “Fine,” he hissed. “Let her disobedience be on your head, Captain.” He stalked away from the two, but turned back to them after about five paces. “You’ve got ten minutes.”

River's face was grave as she looked up from her position, still supine on the tarmac. "Shouldn't have done that. I won't get in. You'll be in trouble."

He shrugged. “I like trouble, remember?” he said brightly. His smile was crooked, and he was squinting due to the brightness of the sun. Turning his back on her, he walked to the Cobra and ran his hand lovingly over her hull. “You don’t like this ship?”

"No. Scared. Blood. I did it, but he made me. Makes me. Makes me sick, makes me hurt. Don't want to fly, not ever," River said, remembering the miserable feeling of finding herself flying, yet uninterested, uninvolved, uninspired.

He kept his back to her. “You shouldn’t fly if you don’t want to,” he agreed. His hand skimmed over the surface of the ship, before he let it rest on the cool undercarriage. “I won’t make you. But, come here. I want you to see something.” He looked over his shoulder at her.

"What?" River said suspiciously, not yet moving.

“The ship. The Cobra. You should see her before you climb inside. You should feel her, and touch her, and know her. Ask her permission before you ask her to take you up.” He kept his eyes on her. “They ever tell you that?”

She shook her head. "Just ignition sequences. Doesn't matter. I hate it. Won't get in. Not ever. Unless they stuff me."

“I’m not asking you to get in, I just want you to touch her.” He kept one hand on the ship, but extended the other to her. “Trust me.”

Slowly, looking very unhappy about what she was doing, River took his hand, rising up to stand, still hovering a safe distance away from the ship.

He grinned softly at her, covering her small hand with his warmer one. “Good,” he encouraged, closing his eyes. “Maybe you can feel it through me.” The hand he had on the ship moved in smooth circles over the alloy. “Ship like this can be scary, if you don’t trust her.” He didn’t pull her closer.

"It hurts me," River said in a little voice, staring down at their joined hands.

“You’ve got to fall a few times, before you find your wings.” He didn’t move to her, or away from her, or even open his eyes. He just tried to project a bit of what he felt when he flew toward her.

River closed her eyes for a moment, becoming lost in the passion he was exuding, then opened them again, forcing herself to ignore the feelings. "You don't understand. Went up, he took me up, after they'd hurt me enough, but I didn't feel. No lift, no rise, nothing. But we were in the air. I could see. Felt nothing, though."

His fingers tightened in hers, but just a little. “It can’t all be route memorization. You’ve got to feel her, and love her.” He opened his eyes, looking at her again. “I could show you.”

She shook her head anxiously. "Please, no . . . don't want to fly . . ." The lie kept coming and coming, her own barricade against Nelson, against him, against them all.

“Won’t make you fly.” He was smiling now. “Just want you to you watch, and see. I’ll fly. I can show you.”

"Fine," River said, sitting down stubbornly. "Go fly."

He laughed. “You’d have to fly with me, for it to work. I just want you to enjoy it.”

River shook her head frantically. "You don't listen. It'll all begin again. Can't let it. Can't. If I want, and I think, then it'll be good for a little, but then soon, so soon, it'll change, and I'll be bad, and they'll hurt, and then I'll be worse. Always. Always."

He sighed, but didn’t look away from her. Instead he moved to her, dropping down on his knees before her, so they were on equal leveling. “Maybe we’re doing this wrong.” He adjusted himself on the ground, before offering his hand. “My name’s Wash. What’s yours?”

"R. Tam," she said automatically, looking at his hand for a long moment before putting her hand in it, slowly. "I'm bad. Difficult to like. He says. You shouldn't try. It'll--" She broke off, having been on the verge of revealing too much information.

“R. Tam?” He chuckled softly. “Let’s not talk about Colonel Old Monkey Man, all right? What’s your first name? R must stand for something.” He grinned. “Rebecca?”

River made a face at that. It was more to disprove the Rebecca theory than out of trust that she said, "River."

Wash’s smile brightened. “River,” he repeated. “That’s nice. Watery.” He shook her hand before releasing it. “It’s nice to meet you, River.” He shifted, so he was sitting besides her, facing the Cobra. “Her name is April.”

River looked at him. "Not your plane. When did you name it?" she asked, suspicious.

“I didn’t name her.” He shrugged, pointing to her nose, where she was detailed with tiny paintwork that displayed her name. “Someone else named her.” He looked at River. “Maybe her parents.”

"Oh." River looked embarrassed. "And don't be stupid," she snapped. "It was built. Built to hurt and torment. I know, know why..."

Wash nodded, thoughtfully. “She’s a fighter jet, that’s true. But not everything has to do what it was built for. I know April’s never seen combat before.”

River paused at that, because that was like her. Built to fight, kill, spy, but unused, wasting potential. "She will, though," River said, under her breath, not realizing she'd dropped the "it."

Wash kept his eyes on the jet. “She’s your plane,” he said in a voice that was almost a whisper. “She’ll do what you tell her.”

"I'm theirs, though," River whispered. "Weapon. No choice or will. Like her." She hesitantly scooched a little closer to one of the wheels.

Wash drew his knees to his chest, watching her. He constantly heard that the students they taught didn’t want the training they were being given, despite knowing the students were there to learn, and it conflicted in him. “A weapon isn’t dangerous in of itself,” he said. “It’s only in the wrong hands that it becomes good, or bad.”

"No good hands," River whispered, moving a little closer still. She only wanted to feel. Just that. She still wasn't getting in. "Hands covered in blood. 'Men wash their hands in blood as best they can.'"

Wash didn’t smile at her quote, but he didn’t frown, either. She was at least questioning, and moving to touch. “You’re not a man,” he said softly, and wondered if she’d follow his meaning.

"They are. They own me, push the buttons." Face intent, River slowly lowered one hand to touch the wheel, her palm resting lightly on it. "They'd make me make her hurt. Cruel to both."

Wash watched her, cautiously. He knew his ten minutes were up. He could only hope that Nelson had forgotten about them, or could tell they were making progress, and that the old man wouldn’t come stalking over to them, and send him away. “Didn’t you want to come to the academy, to learn?” His voice was earnest, because he honestly didn’t know any better.

River paused at that, lowering her head. "Yes, sir," she confessed. It was the same line they used at every complaint. Wasn't this what she'd wanted?

He moved onto his knees and crept close to her, close enough that he could touch the ship if he wanted to. “So learn. Learn what they teach you, and what they don’t. Be smarter than them.”

"You don't understand," she whispered. "Too many of them. Not that smart. Tried. But they hurt, and hurt, and took away, and now I..." Tears sprang to her eyes.

“Hey,” he gently said. “Hey, don’t cry. I don’t understand,” Wash admitted. “But I want to. Can you help me understand?”

"You want me to talk to you," River said slowly, her eyes lifting to look at his face.

Wash managed to give her a smile, although he wasn’t feeling particularly happy at the moment, just confused. “If you want to.”

"Are you one of them?" she snapped suddenly, voice whiplash sharp. They hadn't sent one of them, not in a long time. She hated them worst of all: the kind nurse, the sympathetic young intern. They wanted to listen, wanted to help. Got her to talk, then handed her secrets over to... She'd hurt the last one, whom she'd spotted within five minutes. It had meant hours in the room, but it had been worth it. How had she not spotted him? Her face was hard with anger.

Wash’s face contorted in surprise, but he didn’t react badly. He’d almost expected her to accuse him of something like this. He’d heard it happened before, though he’d never seen it himself. “Do you think I am?” he asked hesitantly. “It won’t matter what I say to you, if you’ve already made up your mind.”

"I don't know," she said, voice low with tension. "It would be right. They know I hate him. They might be making him cruel. So I'd talk. To you." In the beginning, she'd talked, hadn't been wise or cagey then. She'd never told It, though, never. She never would, even now, over a year later, when she knew It would never work.

“Well, whatever you think I am, I’m not. You can either believe me, or not. I suppose it doesn’t matter.” Wash got to his feet, dusting himself of the gravel from the tarmac. Across the deck, he could see Colonel Nelson approaching. “I didn’t get you in the cockpit, like I said I would. So, I might not get to see you again. I’m sorry for that, River. I didn’t want to let you down.”

River looked up at him, face stricken, but...wouldn't that be a nice trick? To make her feel guilty enough to get in? "I'm sorry," she whispered, agonized. "Can't."

Wash smiled at her. “It’s okay, you know. I’ll . . . I’ll try to fix it.”

River nodded hesitantly, then coiled up, forehead against her knees, not wanting to face Nelson, not now, like this, raw.

Wash looked at her and was overcome with a wave of grief and sadness, and inherent wrongness. There were strange things that went on around him, and most of them he turned a blind eye to. This was beyond the pale, though. There was a girl here who hurt because she was forced to do things she didn’t want to. She loathed Nelson with a passion stronger than any one else ever could, and yet she defied him, because someone bigger than Nelson scared her.

But she was just a little girl.

Wash took a deep breath and stalked away from her, heading out to meet Nelson, to confront him before the old man could start berating River again. It wasn’t intentional shielding on his part, though it was shielding nonetheless. “Colonel Nelson,” he prefaced, “I don’t know how you expect me to make any leeway with your student in just ten minutes.”

Nelson shoved unceremoniously past Wash. “Gave you fifteen minutes, Captain. See that you haven’t even managed to get her on feet.”

River peeked up from the crook of her arm, wishing she knew what to say, because he had been kind, and she wanted him to stay, but if she said that, Nelson would say she wasn't here to be coddled and would send him away. "He makes me feel the sky," she said finally, helplessly, wondering if there was any particle of Nelson left that could still understand that.

Wash followed Nelson, hot on his heels, and came up short when the colonel stopped before River. “Don’t see how you can feel anything but dirt down there,” the colonel spat. He noticed her proximity to the ship had moved though. She was close enough to touch the wheels of the plane now, whereas she’d been quite a distance from it, before.

His eyes left River, focusing on Wash. “Don’t you have your own students to teach now, Captain?”

Wash straightened his shoulders. “M. Connolly had graduated basic flight, sir. They’ve moved him on to the Caprican Space Station. This current timeslot is free until I’m assigned a new pupil, sir.”

Nelson stared at Wash for several long moments before nodding. “Thank you very much, Captain. You’re dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir,” Wash replied and gave a snappy salute. His eyes drifted apologetically to River before he turned about and walked away.

Nelson watched Wash depart. He closed his eyes, turning back to River when he was gone. “What do you think, Ms. Tam? Will he teach you better than I do?”

River looked up at him suspiciously. "Is it a plot?" It seemed like a plot. All so convenient.

“It’s no secret I don’t like you, Ms. Tam.” He looked down at her darkly. “Also, it’s no secret you don’t like me. So if I could wash my hands of you, give you to that stupidly naive, bright-eyed pilot, then that’d be all the better for us both. They claim you’re their star pupil, so they gave you to me, but they’re wrong: you’re a hoax, and I’d rather see you destroy his career than mine.”

River looked down for awhile, trying to think how to speak in a language he would understand. "Think. If it's a plot, you shouldn't. If I fly with him, you're a fool. But I will never fly with you. If--" Her voice faltered. "If it's not a plot, then . . . let me go. Please. Sir."

Nelson dug his hands into his coat and pulled out a cigar. He lit it and smoked it without regard for her, or regulations concerning it. “I’m just as expendable to them as he is, girl. They want you to be their perfect little soldier, and I don’t think they much care how you get there, so long as you do. You fly with him, then that might reflect poorly on me, but if you don’t fly at all, that will reflect far worse. I’m a proud man, Ms. Tam, but not too proud to know that perhaps someone else will handle you better.”

River listened as best she could to everything that was going on in the man's head, before finally nodding. "Yes, sir," she said, clearly, giving him a look more confident, perhaps, than he'd ever seen from her before. It couldn't be worse, after all. Nothing could be worse. And she wouldn't tell Wash any secrets, not one, so if it was a plot, it was a waste.

Nelson flicked the ashes off his cigar, scanning over her head, looking at the Cobra. “Sure wouldn’t mind getting you out of my hair.” His eyes lowered to her. “C’mon then. If I’m filing an official transfer, then I’ve got a lot of paperwork to fill out. Might as well send you back to your handlers now.”

River sighed, not delighted with that, but she rose obediently, following him. It had to be better. Had to. As they passed Wash, performing one of his other duties, she sent him something that was almost a smile.

It was overcast the following week, but Wash was all smiles as he made his way out onto the flight deck. He crossed the tarmac briskly, heading right for River, and her Cobra. “Good morning, River,” he said as he approached.

"Good morning, sir." River's tone was respectful, her face clear and bright, if a little anxious. It worried her, how much she wanted this to go well, and how afraid she was that it wouldn't. She had pulled her hair back on her own initiative, and looked tidier and saner than usual. But the plane--she still wasn't sure she could get into that cockpit.

Wash smiled at her. “You look nice today,” he noted. His eyes scanned down to his data slip, checking over the itinerary he’d drawn up. He’d memorized it long ago, and it was a loose outline at best, anyway. “Where would you like to start, today?”

River blinked, having never once been asked such a question in all her time at the academy. "I-I'm sorry?"

Wash lifted his eyebrows, not certain what she was apologizing for. “Well, I know you’ve gone over a lot of this stuff with Colonel Nelson, and your charts indicate you’ve actually done a touch-and-go takeoff once, but since we’re new to working together, I figured it’d be best to ask you where you’re comfortable with starting from.”

"Maybe . . . maybe outside the plane?" River said hopefully. She wondered if he would understand that, that it wasn't just Nelson, that the plane still filled her with dread and fear.

He remembered she’d been afraid to touch just the wheel of the plane the previous week, so it made sense. Her reports also told him she’d put her hand through the controls on her touch-and-go, so he wasn’t too eager to take her up, at least not yet. “Sure, we can work outside the plane.” He studied her, then the plane. “You up for touching her yet?” He strode forward, pressing his palm to the cool metal.

"Could I . . . could you show me again, sir? The blue, the flying, show her to me?" River sounded very nervous, as she extended a hand towards him.

He smiled and took her hand, but didn’t draw her closer. “I can try, River, but you’ll have to try just as hard.”

River nodded. "Promise," she whispered, squeezing his fingers lightly.

Wash closed his eyes and envisioned himself in the plane, soaring effortlessly through the air, letting the clouds part before him. He tried to project how he could become one with the plane, to make her an extension of himself. Gently, he pulled River closer to the Cobra, beside him.

River docilely let herself be drawn, her free hand coming up to touch the cool metal, even as she trembled a bit at the sense of so much power coursing through him. "Feels . . ." she whispered, then broke off, unable to finish her sentence.

The hand Wash had on the ship curved, tracing the smooth contour of the hull. His fingers ghosted over the metal, like they might dance over living flesh. His hand rose, drifting over welted bolts and the lip trim that sealed the hatch to the body frame. His touch was light, and loving, and the ship was a living thing beneath his fingers. “She’s a part of you,” he whispered. “Make her a part of you.”

River gave a little, helpless moan as she let the ship in, feeling Wash's caresses as though they were on her own body, the passion, the affection. She slumped forward a little, letting her body melt against the ship, still gripping tightly to his hand. It was like a dream, made everything slide away, the too-hard ground beneath her feet, the constant buzzing in her head, everything.

Wash’s eyes opened as he felt River’s body pull just a bit, as she pressed into the ship. He smiled slightly, because she understood. Her grip was almost painfully hard, but it wasn’t unpleasant. “That’s it, River. You’re already flying with her.”

"With--" River whispered, then broke off, just resting her cheek against the ship. "Feels so good . . ." There was lingering fear in her voice, though, for so much power, in the wrong hands . . . and there were no right hands, not there, except his, moving across the hull with nothing but love.

Wash leaned forward, pressing his brow against the cool metal of the ship. He let his free hand trace whorls on her hull, fingering the imperfections in her metal fondly. The ship was cold, but River felt warm in his hand, and the whole sensation was almost too intense for him. He was feeling the ship through River, and it was something he’d never quite felt before. He ought to let go, to step back, but he couldn’t release her hand. “River…”

"Yes, sir?" she whispered breathlessly, lost in dreams of clouds and stars and everything more, more, more than before.

Wash didn’t know what to say. He wanted to ask what was going on, only that seemed inappropriate for a teacher to ask a student, so he just thought it. After another second, he opened his eyes and turned his face, so his cheek was on the cool metal, but he was looking at her. “Do you want to feel this way, for real?”

She hesitated, her dream broken. "What if . . . what if I can't?" She chewed on her lip a bit. "Before . . ."

Wash smiled. “I’m here, now.”

"For now," she whispered, then thought for a while before dropping down to her knees, beckoning him to join her on that level.

He did, following her onto his knees. He drew closer to her as well, so their hands weren’t stretched. “I could fly, and just let you feel.”

She shook her head. "Listen. You have to promise. Promise to understand that there are things you don't understand. And that I'll be good as long as I can, I'll try so hard," she swore.

Wash looked at her in the shadow of the plane, and swore. He wasn’t sure what he was swearing to, but that moment extended beyond them, and the academy. “I want to understand.”

She shook her head again, more vigorously. "Can't. Shouldn't." If he wasn't a plant, then he was a goldfinch in a cage, and he shouldn't know that, not so soon . . . he might pine and die. "Just have to remember that you don't."

Wash sighed, confused. He didn’t understand anything, and he felt he ought to. How could he help her if he didn’t even know what the problem was? “What do we do now?” He was all right if the entire lesson consisted of them just touching the plane, although every time he saw the Cobra, his heart skipped happily in the thought that it was getting to fly soon. He hated to deny himself that joy.

River could feel his impatience, and it hurt her, made her worry. If she made him impatient, he wouldn't want to teach her anymore. "Fly, sir. Please," she said, some of her anxiety creeping into her voice.

Remarkable that she could say that, even as his heart was pining for the very thing. “Not without you, River.”

Trembling a little, she nodded, tears in her eyes, and rose, moving blindly towards the cockpit--literally blindly, as she had her eyes closed.

He didn’t move to follow, not yet, and his hand was still in hers, so he tugged her, drawing her up short. “Not yet,” he said. “You’re not ready yet.”

"But you want," she said wretchedly. "And I have to. Said I'd be good. Have to be true."

“Hey,” he kindly said, looking up at her. “You are good. You’re doing everything I’m telling you. I always want to fly. I’m a pilot.” He gave her a friendly smile. “I can wait for you to be ready. I want you to enjoy it.”

Slowly, River knelt down beside him again. She tried to think then, of what she wanted, actually wanted. Finally, she said, slowly. "If I promise not to throw my shoes in the works, will you trust me?"

His smile was brilliant when he gave it to her, even though clouds obscured the sun. “I’ll trust you even if you do throw your shoes into the works.”

"Let me see the . . . the bits?" She blushed, then, realizing, as she usually never did, how that sounded. "The working bits." She paused again. "April's bits!" she almost shrieked.

Wash laughed, delighted. She was precious when she was flustered. “Her engine, you mean?” he questioned. “You want to see how she works?”

River nodded eagerly. "They never let me see. Because of the shoes." She looked down at her dress scornfully. "And it's dirty."

He looked to her feet, and didn’t understand. “It’s all right. You’ve just got to be careful.” Wash lifted himself to his feet, and stepped up onto the runner so he could reach into the cockpit to release the mechanism that would open the panel to the engine. “It’s good to know how a thing works.”

River followed, her face intent. "Tell me everything?" she said hopefully.

He did. “This lever is the release valve. It pops the boot on the engine housing, allowing you access.” His hand patted the lever, before he hopped down and walked around the plane. “See how the panel has popped out?” He grazed his fingertips over the uneven panels. “Try to slide your fingers inside. There should be a little catch mechanism that you can press, to release it the rest of the way. It doesn’t pop open entirely, because if it accidentally opened in flight, it’d be crash-and-kill-us bad.”

River did as he had said, slim fingers finding the catch easily, pushing the panel back. She stared inside with wonder. "Everything," she repeated firmly.

“All right, River. Be patient,” he replied. He opened the other panel beside her, and together, they crowded beneath it, so they could look up at the parts and he could point to each, and explain what it did, to the best of his knowledge.

His knowledge was vast, but not all encompassing. Eventually, he dropped his hands to his side, defeated. “If you want to know more than that, you’ll have to get a book on the subject. I’m a pilot, not an engineer.” He gave her a sheepish, boyish smile.

"Could you put in the request form for me to have a book?" she asked hopefully, after taking a moment to absorb everything he had said, categorizing and storing it in her mind. "I'm . . . not allowed, otherwise." She looked depressed.

Wash placed his hand on her arm and gave her a fond squeeze. “Of course. Of course I’ll put in the request. They’ll be happy you’re interested.” He wondered if she wasn’t going to end up being more suited for mechanics than flight. It made him happy to think she might have a useful niche after all, but it saddened him to think she might be transferred from him, down to engineering.

"No," River said quickly, distracted. "Have to fly, no choice. But I want to know everything." She was at her ease with him, too much to remember that answering people's thoughts tended to make them suspicious.

His eyes studied her carefully. He wasn’t suspicious, but curious and intrigued, by her accuracy in pegging him. “You’ll get your book, River. Don’t worry.”

River smiled at him. "Thank you, sir." She looked down at her sleeves, streaked in oil, before sniffing it. She liked the way it smelled. Far better than the usual whiff of antiseptic, anesthesia.

Wash carefully closed the paneling back up, securing it properly, before extracting himself from under the Cobra. “Well, I think that’s about all we have time for today.” He looked her over carefully. “I think we made good progress.” None of it had been on his charts, but he felt confident that he could convince her doctors that the information she was learning was important.

River nodded. "Do you want me to tell you how to say it so they'll be pleased?"

Wash pulled out his data slip from one of his flight suit pockets again, leaning back against April so he could study it. “Sure, if you think it’ll help.” He looked over to her.

River began speaking in a lofty, pompous tone. "As the subject displayed continued reluctance to enter the aircraft, I found it advisable to try and achieve holistic integration of her understanding of the aircraft, exposing her to the engine and assigning further study along these lines. This will support her sense of reality and, I believe, go far towards allaying her phobias."

Wash tried to write, as she spoke, but got caught up on the spellings of some of the words. “Wait, wait, hold up. How do you spell ‘allaying’?” When he finished, he stared at her with unveiled awe. “You really know your stuff.”

She shrugged. "Been here two years. I know." She gave him a sad little smile, then turned away. "See you next lesson?" she said, trying to keep the hope out of her voice, then realized how informal she was being. "I mean . . . may I please be dismissed, sir?" Her blush was charming.

Wash’s grin was disarming, and bright, and he had a hard time not offering his arm to escort her back to the building. “You’re dismissed, River. I’ll see you next lesson. You did great today. I’m very proud.”

River gave him a real smile then, and a whispered thanks, before bounding back to the hated building with a lighter heart than she had ever had, leaving that field. It wouldn't be too long, and she would have a new book. The day had been nothing but good.

.. A Simple Twist of Fate, chapter four

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