Title: Air
Gen. Riverfic.
Rating: G
Summary: You hold yourself down there.

Notes: Written for the Iconography challenge on LiveJournal, based on this picture: http://www.livejournal.com/userpic/6469255/403455

Remember to breathe. Feel the oxygen flow in and out, feel the lungs contract and expand, feel the air rushing through you, giving you power. Giving you strength.

Inhale. Exhale.


But you know that even as you breathe, even as the air sustains you, gives you life, that it holds you down. You know that you are trapped in a thick layer of oxygen and nitrogen and other gases. On Earth-That-Was the ratio was 20:79:1. You're not sure where you learned this or how you remember it, only that you do.

One of thousands of individual pieces of data that weigh you down.

You don't want to be weighed down. Information rattles around in your head and you never quite remember where it comes from. Every piece is solid, even when it's not real. You can't tell the real from the unreal anymore, because to you it's all the same. You don't see what others do, you see less and more and you feel it all.

*"She feels everything. She can't not."*

Simon said that about you, or did he? You don't know. You know that Simon is your touchstone, that he is real and solid in ways you will never be. Simon fills you with precise chemicals and equations that anchor you--until they wear off and you are left with nothing more than a pile of data that makes no sense.

You want things to make sense, but you don't think they ever will. Too much contradictory information and you have no filter, no way to sort out the truth from the lies. *What is Truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.* You understand why he did not stay, now.

At night you lie in your bed, not sleeping. *To sleep, perchance to dream; Aye, there's the rub...* You don't need to sleep in order to dream; your dreams are all around you, waking or not. It's just an object. It doesn't mean what you think. But what do you think? What does it mean then? You don't know.

Remember to breathe.

You wish you didn't have to breathe. You wish you could be part of Serenity, flying through the beautiful empty darkness of space. Not held down, not trapped by a ratio of gases that weighs on you at 14 psi--just you and the void. Free.

You imagine yourself sometimes as the figurehead on an old ship, one that sailed water instead of vacuum. Carved wood and paint; something solid. Something tangible, capable of being touched. You don't like to be touched now, and aside from Simon you rarely touch people. It transmits too much data and it hurts.

Sometimes at night you touch yourself, running your hands over your breasts and your stomach. You've seen the way Simon and Kaylee look at each other; you've seen Wash and Zoe together, even though you didn't mean to. No one will ever touch you like that, you think. No one will ever see you like that.

You're not sure if you mind or not. You don't think you do, because you're not real and you'd have to be real in order to enjoy being touched like that. You're just a collection of data, kept together by a body.

Your body is what holds you down, what keeps you trapped inside Serenity, instead of outside. You wonder what would happen if you were to escape the confines of your body, if you could set it aside like an old shirt. Would you remain who you are? Or would you scatter to the winds like a handful of dust?

Would it be worth it?

You don't think so, oddly. Even if it's only because of Simon--he would not understand, and the possibility that you would be able to make him understand is slim. Too many variables inherent in the situation and you can't solve them beforehand. So you resign yourself to staying caged as you are, your mind constantly pushing at the limits of your physical form.

Things roll around in your brain, but when you try to catch them, to put them in order, they vanish. Sometimes they reappear unexpectedly; sometimes they're gone as if they never were to begin with, and you only know they were there by the sense of loss they leave behind. You think the ones that vanish belong to other people, which is why you can't hold on to them.

You think about the rest of the crew sometimes, how they all feel different to you. This helps you keep them apart, so you don't get them confused. Visual recognition is important but your eyes get mixed up and you can't always trust what you see. You're not sure you can trust what you feel either, but if you combine it with what you see you can recognize people.

Simon always feels familiar, because he is your brother, your touchstone. He's dark blue, like a lake you might have seen at night once. You're not sure of the lake, but you're always sure of Simon.

After him, it becomes a little harder. You almost always know Kaylee, because no one else on Serenity sparkles the way she does. You like Kaylee, even though you know you scare her sometimes. You don't mean to, and you think she knows that.

Zoe and Wash feel like each other, although she's shadowed and he's light. Not sparkly, like Kaylee, but bright like sunlight. You like the way his light shines through her shadow; it makes all sorts of beautiful patterns.

You wish Mal had someone light like Zoe does. He feels strong, and solid, but his shadows are darker than hers. You think Inara might be what he needs, but Inara has her own shadows. She's pretty, like stained glass, but there are sections of her that are dark and you don't know why.

You wonder if Mal and Inara would look different if they ever stopped dancing around each other. If together they could create light. But you won't ask.

Jayne is boring and you don't think about him much. You knew he sold you out, long before Simon did. He won't do it again--he's too scared of you. That makes you smile; fear is power.

You don't understand the shepherd at all, but you like him. You think. He knows things, like you do, but not like you do, because you don't know how he gets his information. You've tried to understand him, to know what he feels like, but you can't. It's all layered and hidden and you don't know if even he knows who he is.

Then again, you don't know if you know who you are either. You used to, you think, but like so much else it was taken from you by--no. No, you don't think about them, ever. It's one of the reasons you don't sleep much.

At night, sometimes, you wander the ship. It's quieter then and you like being able to climb on the catwalk and hang from the railings without anyone telling you not to. You won't lose your balance, but no one seems to realize that.

So you hang upside down from the railing, watching the cargo bay floor beneath you, and you let your mind drift. For brief moments, you don't feel trapped, weighed down. You close your eyes, willing yourself to let go.

Inhale. Exhale.

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