Not a Pretty Myth
Friday, April 7, 2006

Five things that never happened to River Tam.


Title: Not a Pretty Myth Author: Kari (meinterrupted AT livejournal DOT com) Rating: Adult, general Characters: River, Simon, Gabriel & Regan Tam, Mal Pairing: Hints of River/Simon, but nothing explicit Spoilers: None. This is all completely AU. Word Count: 2700; individual ficlets range from 450-600 words Warnings: Some indirect discussion of abuse and rape. Character death. Slight incestueous overtones. Dark like whoa. Disclaimer: So very not mine. Summary: Five things that never happened to River Tam. Author’s Notes: This is a series of AU ficlets based around the song Not a Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco. The full lyrics are posted at the end. Further explanations of the mythologies follow the story. Many thanks to michmak for the awesome beta.

Medea i am not a pretty girl that is not what i do i ain't no damsel in distress and i don't need to be rescued

River slipped silently through the all too familiar halls. Her footsteps made almost no sound, and she unconsciously avoided the creaky spots she and Simon had identified as children. She paused, pressing herself tightly against the wall. She listened with her ears and her mind, and when she was certain no one was awake, she continued on her quest.

She stopped at the door of her parents’ room, which was slightly ajar, as always. She eased it open, freezing at the squeak of the hinges. She silently cursed herself for not doing a more thorough investigation of house; she’d wrongly assumed memory would serve well enough. When, after several minutes, she didn’t hear anything more from the room, she slid in the cracked door.

Once inside, she padded to the window and closed the curtain, shrouding the room in near-complete darkness. She waited another moment until she was certain the couple still slept soundly and her eyes adjusted to the low light. She pulled a thin cord from her pocket and wrapped the ends around her gloved hands, pulling the center taut. Kneeling next to her mother, she caressed the woman’s face then wrapped the cord tightly around her neck, snapping her spine in one swift, silent movement.

She waited another few moments to ensure her father hadn’t woken. When she was convinced he was still asleep, she circled the bed and killed him in the same fashion. She draped the cord across her father’s shoulder, providing the police with a clue that would lead them nowhere.

River paused for a moment, staring down at the dead couple. In her mind, they had died years before, when they first noticed her bruises and said nothing. She shook her head, and left the room silently, leaving the door ajar.

She padded silently down the hall, fingering the second cord in her pocket. The third door on the left had been his room when they were children, but she knew he’d moved across the hall recently. The door was closed, but he never locked it. Slowly, she turned the knob and pushed the door open.

The room was dark except for the desk lamp. Simon was sleeping on his side, a medical text under his head. A good doctor, he’d explained to her once, never stops studying. Of course, he’d always been too involved in his books to even worry about her. “Silly man,” she whispered into the darkness.

He stirred slightly, murmuring something in his sleep. She snuck up to the bed, and stared down at her brother for a moment. She leaned down and kissed his forehead before breaking his neck with the cord.

She ran her fingers down the side of his face, then turned away. She pulled out a small comm device and clicked the button. “This is Medea. The threat to the program has been neutralized."


Branwen so put me down punk maybe you'd prefer a maiden fair isn't there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

Simon brushed the sweat from his forehead. The girl’s tumor was larger than anticipated, and he and his team had been working for hours. He severed the mass from the child’s brain, dropping it into a waiting pan. The rest of the operation, while tricky, was routine. Within the hour, the child was on her way to recovery, and Simon was on his way to the lounge for a nap.

“Dr. Tam?” A young nurse peeked her head around the lounge door, where Simon had collapsed onto a couch. “There’s a man who says he has something for you.”

“Thank you, Sara. Tell him I’ll be out in a few minutes,” he murmured groggily. Simon stretched, his joints stiff from standing for a full twelve hours. His body was on autopilot while his mind drifted into a state resembling sleep, a trick he’d picked up during the long hours of his residency. How long ago had it been since medical school? He shook his head, unable to come up with the year at that moment. Too long, apparently.

The man waiting for him at the front desk looked nervous. “You Doc Simon Tam?” At Simon’s nod, he continued. “I got a big package for you. It came with this note.” He handed Simon a long, plain envelope. In neat, block letters was his address at the hospital: ‘Dr. Simon Tam, c/o Department of Pediatric Neurosurgery, St Mary’s Hospital, Capital City, Osiris.’

He frowned, then slid his finger under the flap, carefully opening it as the man walked to his truck to retrieve the package. Inside was a single sheet of paper. It was a page torn from a tale of myths from Earth-that-Was:

“...And thus was the banquet carried on with joyousness; and when it was finished, Matholwch journeyed towards Ireland, and Branwen with him, and they went from Aber Menai with thirteen ships, and came to Ireland. In Ireland there was great joy because of their coming.

But in the second year, a tumult arose in Ireland. And the vengeance they took was to drive away Branwen from the same chamber with him, and to make her cook for the Court; and they caused the butcher after he had cut up the meat to come to her and give her every day a blow on the ear, and such they made her punishment.

Branwen reared a starling in the cover of the kneading trough, and she taught it to speak, and she taught the bird what manner of man her brother was. And she wrote a letter of her woes, and the spite with which she was treated, and she tied the letter to the root of the bird's wing, and sent it towards Britain.”

At the bottom, in messy, hurried cursive, read: “The starling lost its way and came too late. Bran never came and Branwen died in disgrace and exile.”

Simon started to shake so much he could barely grip the letter. The man set the cryo-chamber at his feet, and handed him the key. Unsteadily, Simon kneeled and unlocked the case, flipping the lid back. Inside lay the dead body of his little sister.


Cassandra and imagine you're a girl just trying to finally come clean knowing full well they'd prefer you were dirty and smiling

“Honey, we need to talk about River.”

Gabriel Tam looked up from his desk. His wife Regan stood just inside the room, her back to him as she closed the door. “What is it? Something serious? Did she get in trouble at school again?”

Regan shook her head. “No, nothing to do with school.” She sighed as she circled the desk, her hands resting on her husband’s shoulders. She nervously brushed imaginary dirt from his shirt. “Do you still have the brochure for that academy we were discussing?”

He frowned. “Yes, but I thought we decided against that one. River said it didn’t sound right; you know how she is about these things.” He swiveled his chair around to face his wife. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s making things up again, Gabe. She’s making up stories.” Regan looked exasperated. “And this time, they’re not about flying horses and dinosaurs. These are serious.”

Gabriel took his wife’s hands in his. “Calm down, honey. I’m sure it’s not as serious as you think it is. Please, tell me. We’ll work this out, as a family.”

She shook her head, fighting back tears. “It’s not that simple. This involves family.”

Frowning, he again asked, “Tell me.”

Regan took a breath, then spat out, “She’s saying that my brother is…hurting her. Molesting her. It’s her excuse for acting out at family functions, for her screaming fits, for everything. She’s making up excuses that can only hurt our family.”

Gabriel didn’t even know what to say. His jaw worked wordlessly as he desperately tried to think of something. He knew his daughter wouldn’t say something like that lightly, but Regan and Ajax were so close. She knew him better than anyone. “You think she’s making this up.” It wasn’t a question.

Regan slid to the ground, her shoulders level with her husband’s knees. He could see the effort she was making not to cry. “I don’t believe her. I don’t. She’s making things up so we’ll feel sorry for her, so we’ll give in to her. You know how she is.” She rested her head on his thigh, and he petted her hair.

“What do you propose to do about it?” Gabriel was so far out of his element here. He loved his children, but he never got to spend much time with them; his work always kept him too busy. His wife was the caretaker, the loving parent.

She looked up. “Send her to the Academy. It’s got good programs, and it’ll keep her from spreading lies about our family. And it’s a good education. The recruiter seemed like such a nice woman.”

Cupping her face in his hand, he nodded. “If you think it’s best."


Clytemnestra and i am a patriot i have been fighting the good fight

River flipped open her personal assistant and clicked a couple buttons. The profile of her target appeared on the screen, and she reread the information, making sure she’d committed it all to memory. She shut it and stowed it back in her pocket. She fidgeted with her hair; she missed the soft flow of her long waves, though she enjoyed the cotton pants and loose shirt. She schooled her face into a mask of patient serenity and waited, watching the crowd.

It took only a few moments for him to appear. Her eyes followed him from her seat on the bench as he wove through the mass of people and headed toward the tavern. She stood, smoothing her pants and avoiding the gaze of onlookers. She walked purposefully in the direction her mark had taken.

She spotted him as soon as she entered; he was seated in a dark back booth with a dark-skinned woman. She glanced away, taking a seat at the bar, and ordered a beer. If her intelligence was correct—and so far it had been—he would be coming to talk to her soon. She settled down with the bottle and waited.

The wait was shorted than she’d expected. After only an hour and two beers, the man took the stool next to her. “Ain’t seen you ‘round these parts, stranger. What’s a pretty girl like you doin’ in a place like this?”

River turned to him, gave him a quick once over, and returned her gaze to the screen above the bar. She had to sell this, and he wasn’t an amateur.

“Not a talker, are we?” She could feel his smirk as he motioned for a drink. “I’ll take a jack and coke, and another of what the lady’s havin’.”

“I ain’t a lady,” she spat, her voice rough and her accent uncultured.

The man beside her laughed. “That so? Drinkin’ beer, short hair and slacks,” he cocked his head to the side, eyes on her waist, “and old gun that was probably your daddy’s. You’re nothin’ but a spoilt little girl tryin’ to look tough.”

Even though she was only playing a part, his comment made her blood boil. She was used to being underestimated, but she didn’t like being called spoiled. “No I ain’t. I bet I could take you down.”

River mentally cursed herself, knowing that wasn’t in the script. But his laugh made her turn her head and eye him sharply. “Yeah, I bet you could. You got spirit. Ain’t many ‘round here that do anymore.” He said the last with such resignation that she almost felt sorry for him. He truly thought he was fighting for something good and noble.

Dropping her voice, she murmured, “I got spirit and brains. And I can shoot.”

He shook his head. “That you may be able to do, but we ain’t recruitin’ little girls. So you get on home to your ma and pa and sleep tight.”

He stood to leave, and River panicked. She knew this would be her only chance; the man had a fabled memory for faces. “Please… I’ll do anything. I just want to help.”

He looked her over once more. “Wish ya hadn’t cut your hair, but you’ll do as a carrier. Alliance won’t ever suspect a little girl like you working for the Independents.”

Three nights later, when she slid a knife in between Malcolm Reynold’s ribs, she remembered those words. “That’s the thing about me, Mal,” she whispered to the dying man. “No one ever suspects.”


Electra don't you think every kitten figures out how to get down whether or not you ever show up

“Dr. Tam?” The pretty nurse tapped Simon’s shoulder as she spoke.

He turned around, smiling at her. “Yes, Sara? Is there something you need from me?”

Sara shook her head, a slightly hurt, confused look on her face. “No, I was told to let you know you have a visitor. There’s a woman in your office.”

Simon frowned. “Are you certain? I’m not expecting anyone today.”

“Oh, I’m quite certain,” the nurse said. “She said to tell you that Artemis waits for Apollo. I don’t know what she’s talking about but—”

Simon started shaking, and brushing Sara out of the way, ran to his office. He paused at the door, his hand hovering centimeters above the handle. Could it really be her? Just as he was reaching for the handle, the door of his office flew open, and there she was.

For being gone nearly five years, Simon thought River hadn’t really changed much. Her hair was shorter, about chin length, and she’d filled out some. Physically, she was still his sister. It was her eyes that had changed. Simon swallowed a sob as he looked into those once-beautiful brown eyes, now flat and cold. They studied him even as he studied her.

“May I come in?” he asked, finally breaking the silence. River nodded and backed up, allowing him to enter. She shut the door behind him, standing still and straight as he turned back to her. “River…” His voice cracked, and he could barely say her name.

She silenced him with a raised palm. “Please, don’t.” He could almost see pain in her eyes, but it was gone in a flash. He thought perhaps he’d imagined it. “We have things to discuss.”

Simon frowned and opened his mouth to ask, but a glare from her stopped him. Confused, he sunk into one of the overstuffed chairs in his office. “I know you tried to rescue her, and I am grateful.” He sighed and slumped further into the chair, hiding his shame. River didn’t speak for a moment, and when he looked up, she was kneeling in front of him. “Simon, please..."

The plea in her voice made his heart stop. Maybe his sister was in there, somewhere. She reached for his face, and he watched the battle rage in her eyes. “River, I want to help you.”

She traced his jawline with her index finger, then pulled her hand back as if she’d been burned. “You couldn’t help her before, but you must help me now.”

“Anything,” came his breathless reply.

She lowered her eyes, as if searching the ground for an answer. “There are people who are responsible for the way I am, the way she died.” Her eyes flicked up to his face, capturing his gaze. “They must be made to pay for their crimes.” Her fingers stretched toward his face once more, but he caught her hand before she touched him.

He pulled her hand roughly against his cheek, leaning into her palm. “River, I will do whatever you ask of me.”

Her voice dropped to a barely-audible whisper. “Will you follow me to the ends of the ‘verse and back again? Help me exact revenge on the traitors and evil men who hurt her? No peace for the wicked. No rest for the damned.”

Simon shoved the chair back and slid to his knees, taking both of her hands in his. “River, you are my sister. Whoever has wronged you has wronged me. From now on, we’re in this together.”

She smiled at him, and for an instant he could imagine everything was going to be okay. “Electra and Orestes,” she murmured.


Medea was the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, and the granddaughter of Helios, the sun god. When Jason and the Argonauts came for the Golden Fleece, she used her sorcery to help them, in exchange for becoming Jason’s wife. During their escape, she killed her younger brother to slow down her father. They settled in Corinth, where Medea bore Jason two children. When Jason left her for a younger woman, she murdered his new bride, her father Creon, and her two children by Jason.

Branwen was one of the three mothers of Britain. She was married to an Irish king who mistreated her. She taught a starling to speak, and sent it to her brother Bran in Wales. He arrived with an army and freed her, though he died in the process. Branwen returned to Wales.

Cassandra was the daughter of Priam and Hecuba, the king and queen of Troy. The god Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy, but when she denied him sexually, he made it so no one would believe her. During the sack of Troy, Cassandra was raped by Ajax the lesser, and was then given as a war prize to Agamemnon, king of Sparta.

Clytemnestra was the daughter of Leda and Tyndareus and the half sister of Helen. She married Agamemnon, but had an affair with Aegisthus while her husband was fighting the Trojan war. She and her lover murdered her husband and Cassandra shortly after their arrival.

Electra was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and the sister of Orestes. After Agamemnon was murdered by Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthos, Electra and her brother plotted revenge. In some versions, Electra supported and encouraged Orestes but took no part in the actual murders, but in others, she was more directly involved; Euripides gave her an active (and bloody) role in the death of Clytemnestra. Orestes was tormented by the Furies for the rest of his life for the murder of his mother, while Electra largely escaped divine punishment.

All the mythology is taken from The story of Branwen has been edited, but the original text came from the British Mystery Tradition site.

i am not a pretty girl that is not what i do i ain't no damsel in distress and i don't need to be rescued so put me down punk maybe you'd prefer a maiden fair isn't there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

i am not an angry girl but it seems like i've got everyone fooled every time i say something they find hard to hear they chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear and imagine you're a girl just trying to finally come clean knowing full well they'd prefer you were dirty and smiling

and i am sorry i am not a maiden fair and i am not a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

and generally my generation wouldn't be caught dead working for the man and generally i agree with them trouble is you gotta have yourself an alternate plan and i have earned my disillusionment i have been working all of my life and i am a patriot i have been fighting the good fight and what if there are no damsels in distress what if i knew that and i called your bluff? don't you think every kitten figures out how to get down whether or not you ever show up

i am not a pretty girl i don't want to be a pretty girl no i want to be more than a pretty girl


Saturday, April 8, 2006 12:49 AM


The linking to the ancient myths is great and I love the stories.

How River might have been but for rescue, they made me shiver!

Saturday, April 8, 2006 2:51 AM


Yowza. Beautful, absolutely beautiful. And absolutely creepifying. I love it!

I'm a complete literary nerd, so homages like this make me very happy.

My, those Greeks certainly were an "up" bunch, weren't they? ;)

Saturday, April 8, 2006 7:16 AM


The Electra version could be a very interesting story to flesh out. I was a Dark Angel fan. Recently dishartened to learn that Dark Angel got axed to make room for Firefly, which died a crib death. If Firefly won't be allowed to soar, at least give us Max and co. Anyway... I've believed that society asks a great deal of its protectors. This creates a responsibility, a covenant. When that covenant is abrogated by society, things can get ugly. When the protectors are government trained/produced genius, telepathic super-soldiers with an grudge... Like I said, could get interesting.

Saturday, April 8, 2006 9:10 AM


Wow....these are some excellent ficlets, meinterrupted! All of them seem quite possible for alternative outcomes for River's life after entering the Academy.

Have to say though, I really enjoyed "Medea," "Clytemnestra" and "Electra" because a) they don't have River dying from the abuse the Academy did to her (better to gain revenge/justice than give in to the torture); and b) they look at probable missions to ensure that she (River) cannot be recognized accidentally and that the Independants are nipped in the bud a second time round.

Great stuff! Would really like to see more of this kind of fic from ya;)


Monday, June 12, 2006 3:38 AM


ooh, myths!! *willow-like excitement*



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"Twenty minutes later, she's dragged him to the alley behind the bar, kissing him fiercely." [Z/W, Z/OMC]

Weren't Right
Some blood can't be washed away. [River, Jayne]

"It's just a box." [River, Mal, M/S]

Her Hero
This year, Jayne gets to choose the costumes. [R/J, PWP]

Not a Pretty Myth
Five things that never happened to River Tam.

Color of Music
Red plus blue equals purple, but red, blue, and green make music. [R/S, R/J, S/R/J]

Moon Girl
River tells stories; Jayne listens. [R/J]