Last night you went to Mal's room, and cried. It upsets Mal to see you cry, and you know this, and that made you feel guilty, and that made you cry even harder.
Not knowing what else to do, he wrapped his arms around you, warm and solid and comforting. "What's the gorram doctor done?" he demanded to know. "You want me to go hit him? I can go hit him."
You laughed, through the tears that are staining his shirt. "He don't need hittin', cap'n. He ain't been nuthin..." you paused, remembering the feel of sure, strong hands underneath your clothes. "He ain't been nuthin' but a gentleman."
"Yeah? That why you're cryin', mei-mei?"
You don't answer, don't tell him any more, and so he doesn't ask, just tucks you into his bed and watches you cry until you fall asleep.
It wasn't meant to be this complicated. It started so simply. It started with a gentleman, cool mouth and well-pressed suit, asking you where the Serenity was headed.
"Any place you want. Long as it's the outer planets." You had smiled. "You in a hurry?"
It had started with a bang, and your head hitting the ground, and the doctor asking you to dance.
"Don't go workin' that crush too hard," Mal had said. But it was too late, and he knew it.
It started with the girl, lying on a bed in the infirmary. "She's beautiful," you'd said to Book.
And she was. So beautiful you were always scared to touch her, afraid that she might break. An illusion that held true when she opened her mouth, speaking only riddles. You understood her better than you should. And she understood you, like she'd taken your heart out of your chest and read the words printed on it. She understood everything.
Today you are hiding in the engine room, huddled in a corner beside the hulking comfort of the creaking engine. Serenity's heart, and the only thing left on this ship that isn't broken. You brush your hair out of your face, determined not to cry.
You passed River in the hallway this morning. She wouldn't talk to you. She wouldn't even look at you, and when you reached out an arm to get her attention, she recoiled as if she'd been struck. "Sorry sorry sorry sorry," that's the only word you could hear, as she scrambled away from you and down the hall.
Worse was Simon. Simon smiled. He smiled at you at breakfast, he politely passed the sugar, as if nothing was different. As if kissing you and not kissing you are the exact same thing.
And perhaps they are.
You lean your head against the wall of the room, listening to Serenity clank out her sympathy. You don't hear River enter.
She sits down, next to you, squeezing her small body into the limited space. She presses against you, and her warmth suffuses your body with heat. She is silent, breathing into you, for almost forever. You are glad of that. River's words are sometimes more than you can bear.
"I'm sorry," she whispers.
Your heart sinks, like a stone, into your aching belly. "Sorry for what, sweetie?"
"I broke it.'
"Ain't your fault. Simon l-loves you." You stumble slightly over the four-letter word, remembering. "An' he says..."
"Simon talks too much," she interrupts sharply. "He's always selling pies. At the fair. All sugar and no substance."
"No. He's shiny. He means well."
River nods. "He's my brother. But there's a lot he doesn't understand. He doesn't see the colours." Her hand reaches towards you. She pinches your arm, between her thumb and forefinger, and watches, as a spot of your peach skin turns red. "Or the shapes." Your bicep is rough-shaped muscle from lifting iron tools, and River's fingers are silk running across it. "There's a lot he doesn't understand," she says softly.
"I don't think that's true," you answer, defending him despite yourself. "Simon's a gentleman."
"There's more to life than being a gentleman."
You turn your head to face her. River's eyes are bright like stars, teasing you. "Like what?"
She leans forward and kisses you. This is a soft, slow kiss, her mouth searching yours, unafraid.
You know that there are reasons why you shouldn't, and your mind struggles to find them. But all you can say, when she pulls away, is her name. "River."
"He's still inside you," she says.
You want, so badly, to kiss her again. But the look in her eyes, dark and flat, stops you from trying.
"He's inside you," she says again. "I can taste him there. There's no room." She leans her face towards you, and presses a warm cheek against your own. "I wanted to get inside you, Kaylee," she whispers into your ear.
"I know," you whisper back.
"I wanted to crawl inside you, and count the beats of your heart. All your dreams would be made of me. But there's no room."
You can feel wetness, slick on your face. River has started to cry, as her body relaxes and folds into yours. You close your eyes, holding her, wishing that she wouldn't always leave you this way. With nothing left to say.