River-now can remember River-then's fear and it is delicious. River-now can close her eyes and remember hot sweet blood pump, oh-so-fast, oh-so-loud, try to hide. But when River-now opens her eyes, just the echoes linger.
River-now can remember River-then hiding. River-then hoped and despaired. Hide, can't hide she's here can't see can't hear can't run HERE.
River-now loses the story for while and when she finds it again, River-then is gone and River-now is alone.
Except she isn't.
Mama promises that River-now will never be alone again.
Mama teaches River-now how to hear the stars, all speaking in the language that Mama and River-now (and River-then) speak alone, and they dance to the music that the stars sing for them.
As a reward River-now is given that which sent River-then running in terror, and River-now tells River-then about Simon's screams and tears and about the beautiful noise his fine surgeon's fingers made as she broke them one by one. His blood is just as good Mama promised it would be. River-now doesn't tell River-then in case River-then get jealous.
Mama tells River-now how sweet and pretty River-then's blood tasted. River-now wishes she could have tasted it for herself.
Jayne is hot and salty but unsatisfying and before River-now knows it, Mal is finished too. River-now petulantly kicks Mal's body - after all Mama said she could have some fun, and even River-then sometimes thought Mal looked like fun.
Walsh-then was too easy, Walsh-now is too, but in a good way he tells River-now. River-now giggles because he works hard teaching her the fun that Mal wouldn't. Zoe watches, and still pleads with them. River-now can feel the pleasure in Wash-now when he sees the hope in Zoe's eyes that this time they will finish her. River-now licks the blood that runs down Zoe's collarbone and Walsh-now tells River-now how to have fun with Zoe.
Mama tells them both that Zoe will stop pleading soon, and that River-now must let Walsh-now finish her himself. River-now doesn't mind, River-now had Simon, Jayne and Mal and Mama says it's naughty to be greedy.
River-now didn't have Shepherd Book. Shepherd Book knew what River-now was, and the pain on his face as he looked at River-now, River-then, River-now made River-now hunger. But River-now was burned by the cross and Kaylee and Inara begging him not to leave them couldn't stop him turning his back and leaving Serenity.
Mama claimed Inara and Kaylee, and such naughty dollies must be taught how to behave. Her lessons were about proper etiquette at tea parties, and how dolls that cried would have their eyes scratched out, and that skin that was dirty must be scrubbed off. She was desolate when they stopped moving, and was not in the least mollified when Walsh-now said they might have lasted longer had Mama had served real food and drink at the tea party.
River-now wants River-then to see the broken pretty things, understand the joy in Mama blood coloured kisses, and how Walsh-now makes her burn inside. But all this would really be wasted on River-then, and River-now is glad she is River-now and not River-then.