"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO HER?" Mal bellowed, and River winced as she floated in the Black, why did her Captain have to be so incredibly noisy? It was nice here. Quiet. The thoughts didn't reach her so easily here.
Rose looked up at him, then back into the small puddle of blood she'd just coughed up. Simon stared, wide-eyed, and Jayne kept a tenuous grip on Vera. They'd come running at the sound of River's shrieks. She coughed again, splat, more blood. Her throat burned with bile.
"She'll be fine", she said between heaves, Simon's eyes fastened on the blood coming from her. Mal's gun pointed between her eyes. "She Read too much. It overwhelmed her. Give her a spell, she'll be fine."
Kaylee held onto River, murmuring softly, rocking her. River wanted to tell her to leave her be, she was fine, just tired in the brainpan.
Mal's gun didn't waver. "Care to tell me why my pilot is lyin' there on the floor, then, not movin'? Reading? Just what in the lao tse are you, Huai Lang?" He spat the words rapid fire, shaken to the core.
She coughed again, and looked up into his eyes, wiped the blood from her mouth. The TARDIS key slipped out of her shirt again, shining its odd shine, and Mal squinted in its glare. Her bloody hand held it out to him.
"She just saw over 500 years of thoughts. I don't know why but she was affected by the Key. It brought everything out." Her eyes glowed gold for a second and Mal hoped it was a trick of the light against the Key. "She got shorted out, yeah? Like an engine coil."
"She's a witch." Jayne muttered, training Vera on her. "A gorram witch."
"She's a human being." Mal growled, pressing the barrel of his gun into the soft skin between her eyes. Rose didn't blink.
"The Academy didn't think so", Rose said, thick grief in her voice. "It's my fault she's that way. It's my fault, all of this." She shut her eyes and spouted up more blood, body shuddering with effort. Mal's cheekbones tensed up angrily, pushing his gun more into that soft flesh, cutting her.
Simon pushed his way between Mal and Rose. "Even if she hurt River, she's gonna die too. She's lost a lot of blood." He said, trying to look stern but terrified out of his wits. Rose gently pushed him away.
"Not, actually. Not going to die. Can't." She took a deep breath in and blinked as if she were in a great deal of pain. Her eyes opened again and kept a solid wild gold glow, pulsing as the blood on the floor started to evaporate. Simon just stared, wide-eyed, as the cut on her forehead from Mal's gun and the bruise beneath it started to heal too. Within moments, it was as if nothing had happened. River was pulled out of her peaceful Black and she looked up, her eyes gold too.
"Jesus Christ." Jayne whispered, hands shaking, Kaylee letting out a sharp shriek as River sat up, hand to her head as if she were dizzy. But she wasn't looking at any of them, only Rose.
"Rose Red, so much loss", she whispered, both sets of eyes pulsing with the gold of the Vortex within Rose, fading from River easily. "Rose Red lost her bear and her Rose White in one shot. Lost it to the metal men and the things with blue eyes. To the Alliance, to everyone."
Mal held his temples wearily. "Okay, now would NOT be a good time for this..." He was starting at River but she stood up shakily, almost collapsing again. She looked at him, the last pulse of gold going in that instant.
"Mei-mei, don't..."Kaylee and Simon both said, but River ignored them.
"She's not dangerous. She's just sad. Like everyone. Lost so much." River's expression was curious but sad. "She saw the birth of the Reavers. She's why the Academy was made. She is Information." Mal looked at Rose sideways, still training his gun on her. Gritting his teeth in not-quite-disbelief.
Rose shook her head. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." She directed her speech at River, then looked at Mal. She shook a little, getting up. "But now I think you need to know everything." The TARDIS key glinted knowingly as Mal nodded, not quite letting up.
The blood was entirely gone, not even marks left on Serenity's floor. Rose sat on the bed, gestured that everyone else should too. Mal just stood uneasily there with his gun at his side, everyone else leaking in just as curiously, as wearily.
"Everything you see now, the Reavers, the Alliance. All of it was put in motion about 450 years ago. Something had fallen to Earth-That-Was when I was in Torchwood, something that wasn't human. My birthday had passed, and everyone knew something was wrong with me - I stopped aging after I turned 20..."