Touch (300 words, River/Simon)
The thing about being on a boat like Serenity is that there really is no such thing as privacy.
If Simon goes late to breakfast, Jayne is there, boots on the table, messing with knives, with guns. Early and it's Inara, sipping at coffee, all pretty dark curls and soft smile and not River. On time and its Zoe and Wash, using him as the straight man to their flirting banter; its dour Mal, and bright, sincere Kaylee trying to jolly them up. If he doesn't go at all, Book inevitably brings some food to the infirmary and stays and chats and is all parental and concerned and interested in River, like Book has a claim to her somehow, like any of them do.
There's always someone, to help or hinder or just hang around. Jayne pumping weights in the bay. Mal wandering the decks, bothering Inara. Kaylee fiddling with wires and metal, sliding in and out of the bowels of the ship. Wash or Zoe or Wash and Zoe in the cockpit. Book looking whenever they pass, his door invitingly open. Always someone. Watching him. Watching them.
And if River crawls into his lap in the infirmary, if River slides her fingers through his hair at the table, if River rubs up against him as she passes in the corridor, if River slides into his bed at night and wraps her self around him, all thin and shaking and hot and close and River, if River does this, no one bats an eyelid because she's the crazy little girl and that's just what she does. If she reaches, if she touches, if she kisses, bites, licks, if she, if she-- River can have him whenever she wants. He can't touch her at all.
She smiles. He clenches his fists.
Testosterone (214 words, Simon/Jayne)
He clenches his fist. Stares at the pretty doctor man and wonders what itr17;d be like to make him scream. Lose that control. Always so gorram calm, unless itr17;s about that crazy bitch sister of his.
r0;And what are you looking at, Jayne?r1; Blinks repeatedly before realizing that Simonr17;s noticed his menacing stare. And it is menacing. Vera would approve.
r0;Canr17;t figure you out,r1; he says in reply, which isnr17;t really an answer, but it works anyway. Moves into the infirmary from the doorway, ignoring River, whor17;s happily muttering to herself in the corner. r0;Ir17;d as soon kill you as...kill you,r1; ignores the raised eyebrow that gets him, r0;but you just. Treat me. And you donr17;t. Do. Anything!r1;
r0;What would you prefer I do?r1; So reasonable and calm and so gorram pretty like a girl.
Snarls, r0;This,r1; and grabs the doctor, pulling him close. Feels Simon tense and notices how his hand reaches out towards the medical tray, reaching for a weapon, before Jayne leans in and kisses him. Harsh and wet and angry, biting. Finishes, then backs away, staring at the smaller man.
From the corner, thoughtfully, r0;Ir17;ll share.r1;
Jayne grins as Simon touches his lips with one hand and says, dazedly, r0;So...this is what going mad feels like.r1;
Trigger (260 words, Jayne/Kaylee)
This is what going mad feels like. You spend days on the job, which is a piece of fei-oo anyway, and when you finally, finally get to your bunk for some quality alone time, just when you've gotten nicely settled in, that gorram bouncy mechanic sticks her head in the doorway and says "Hey, Jayne," like you haven't got your hand down your pants or nothing. And then, while you're spluttering and before you get to yellin', the damn fool girl is up on your bunk like she owns the place, running her hands on your rack. Gun rack, that is.
"Oh my," says Kaylee.
She takes Vera down and it's all you can do to stop grabbing the gun, and then when Kaylee field-strips her and puts her back together with sure, smooth and easy movements, it's all you can do to stop grabbing yourself.
"That ain't right," you say.
"Callahan full bore autolock."
"Touching a man's weapon like that."
"Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough-gauge." She smiles at you, bright and wide. "Cap'n told me how you watched me."
"I ain't watched a gorram--"
"While the doc was fixing me up real good."
You splutter something that could be a denial but gets kinda lost on account of how she's got her legs over you and Kaylee's a sweet girl sure, but she's a sweet girl ain't got no panties on.
"Would you look at that?" she says, hand on your gun. "Double magnum. Got the heft and the length."
...Hell, going mad ain't so bad.
"Shiny!" says Kaylee.
Unexpected (250 words, Inara/Kaylee)
r0;Did you just say shiny?r1; she laughs, turning around to look at me, and I have to nod. Itr17;s not something you expect to hear from registered companion, I know, but still...
r0;Yes.r1; Bend over. Kiss the back of her neck and smile to myself as I pull back and see her face. r0;You are. Very.r1; Lean in and kiss her lips this time, just the right pressurer11;not like kissing a man at all, different lips, rounder, softer, even considering how much she chews that spot on the bottom leftr11;and rest my forehead against hers. r0;You and your lovely, shiny hair.r1; Soft skin. Not a hint of stubble, and itr17;s been too long since I took a woman client. Much too long.
r0;Ir11;I canr17;t pay you.r1;
That stings. r0;Companions donr17;t attempt to seduce and then discuss payment.r1; I have to laugh quietly as she realizes thatr17;s just what Ir17;m doing. Little Kaylee doesnr17;t understand that sher17;s desirable yet. I wouldnr17;t mind teaching her otherwise. r0;Sometimes,r1; gently push her hair back, r0;I just,r1; away from her neck, rubbing at the tight tendons and feeling them relax under my touch, r0;feel lonely. Sometimes I want.r1; Want enough to break a few rules, or work around them. But I donr17;t want to get into that. Itr17;s much nicer to trace the shape of her breasts with my hand. r0;Do you understand?r1;
r0;Um.r1; And then she shudders, because I am, without arrogance, very good, and slumps against me. r0;Oh. Yeah.r1;
Go (360 words, Inara/Mal)
"Good," she says, and he leaves.
Except he doesn't, of course, because this is Mal, and in some ways Mal is very predictable indeed. Mal does not leave his crew behind. He keeps them together.
"Whore," he says, and she leaves.
Except she doesn't, of course, because this too is Mal and in some ways he is the perfect gentleman with proper ideas about honour and women. Archaic ideas, perhaps, but proper. He's not a man of law, or a man or morals, but he is a man of principles and integrity. He holds himself to that thin line in the black. She wonders, if she explained that she does not choose her companions based on some specific formula, on addition and division of looks and wealth and position and need, would he understand; they both want people who will want them back.
"I'm leaving," she says. She does not look to see how much she hurts him. She can feel his pain, a sharp reflection of her own. He thinks he understands and perhaps he does, in part, but she alone knows it all, and that makes it so much worse. The reason for leaving Sihnon -- she will not speak it, she will not think it -- is the same reason she can't stay; like Mal, she is tangled in her past, and where his pulls him out into the black, hers pulls her down into the core. She has tried and tried but she can not fly.
"It's who I am," Nandi tells him. "And it's my home. I'm not going anywhere. I doubt you'd do different, in my position."
"Well, lady I must say -- you're my kinda stupid." Mal lets loose an admiring twist of a smile.
Inara isn't their kind of stupid, but she is her own, and she may learn lessons hard, but she learns them in the end. Her strengths are not theirs, but they are hers and she thinks maybe she said "I'm leaving" but what she meant was, this time what she really, truly meant was, "I'll be coming back."
"You're all paid up," he tells her.
"Good," she says. They both stay.
Endtime (Mal/Serenity/Wash, 200 words)
They both stay.
Because, really, the captain has to go down with his boat. And the pilot, well.
There isnr17;t a good reason for him to stay, maybe. He has, as Mal pointed out, a wife he should be with right now, on the shuttle. And Wash agrees. Because he should be there. Zoe needs him.
Or at least, thatr17;s what he tells himself. The truth is, he laughs, or maybe chokes, leaning against Mal as they sit together on the floor, that Zoe doesnr17;t need anyone.
Mal pauses, then agrees. Because, well.
They nod together. That pretty much sums it all up.
But Serenity...well, Serenity needs him. And he needs Serenity.
As much as he needs Zoe? Wash pauses at the question before answering. His wifer17;ll kill him for this answer, but. Yeah. Maybe more.
Mal nods. Mutters something like, r0;I understand.r1; Maybe. Itr17;s a little hard to think right now. Maybe Wash just wants someone else to understand and imagines it.
Maybe her17;s imagining it all. Maybe theyr17;re already dead. So he takes Malr17;s hand and squeezes it. Hard. Makes sure itr17;s real.
Long, long pause. And then Mal squeezes back.
Thatr17;s, somehow, enough.
One And One Is One (250 words, Wash/Zoe)
It's, somehow, enough; him for her, her for him.
Sometimes, it doesn't feel enough. Sometimes he misses not having been there for her the way Malcolm was, Commander and friend and brother in arms, is jealous for Mal being able to share that with her. Sometimes, she thinks about children, about a little baby of their own, to have and to hold. Sometimes they both retreat to opposite ends of the ship, him to his pilot's chair, her to the hold to check the cargo, and wish the ship were bigger still. Sometimes.
And sometimes she cries in her sleep, in the dream blurred echoes of gunshots, and he's there to hold her tight and brush her hair from her face and whisper sweet nothings in her ear. Sometimes he loses it, fear and frenzy and manic rush, and she smooths the sailing with a warm smile and caustic wit. Sometimes they touch and the whole gorram 'verse just goes away, taking all its problems with it.
He's light to her darkness, she's the ground to his flight. He shaved his moustache off for her. She gave him a ring, right under the Captain's nose. He lets her play with guns. She lets him play with dinosaurs. It's a partnership, it's a friendship, and it's love. They complete each other; not Wash, or Zoe, but Wash and Zoe, and not even death will them part, wedding vows be damned.
"Plus," Wash likes to say, "the sex is really, really hot."
Some Heart (61 words, Mal/Zoe)
The sex is really, really hot.
That's about all she can say about their thing that may or may not be a relationship and is, in all honesty, pretty much just fucking.
He's warm and her commander and the sex is great and it's better than being alone in the cold.
He's a great distraction.
She just wishes he were more.
Hers (300 words, Mal/Kaylee)
She wishes he were more...
It's not that Kaylee doesn't love her grumpy Captain -- she does, because he gave her Serenity and the stars and a place that feels like home, that feels like family should feel, warm and safe and cozy. Even Jayne's like a big, bratty, brother. And because he has a strength to him, dark and bitter maybe, but a strength, and a code he holds to. But--
But. She wishes he were more... Something. More open, maybe, because Mal is forthright in his own special way but he's not by any means a sharing kind of fellow. More Mal, perhaps, and less the Captain. Or more like Serenity whom Kaylee could look at and see what was wrong and most times find a way to fix it or at least patch long enough to hobble to port. More something, anyway. Just... More.
Maybe then she'd know why she could work right by him all day and fix cables and controls and fiddly little things with ease, but if he touched her shoulder, passing behind her at the dinner table, she'd near drop her fork. Know what it means when she looks up from talking to Simon or Inara and find his eyes on her, dark and still. Maybe she'd get why they lingered in their respective doorways after sharing a goodnight, once, twice, three times already. Maybe she'd understand how he could tear her to shreds one minute and the next she'd wake from a exhausted nap in the engine room to find his coat wrapped around her, warm and rough and smelling of him. Maybe.
She pulls the coat tighter and breaths him in and sleeps in the slow pulse of engine light. Serenity whispers sweet nothings all around her. Kaylee dreams of warm steel.
Mates (79 words, Kaylee/Serenity)
Kaylee dreams of warm steel and wakes to the sound of gears turning too quickly to see.
The day--or something like it--goes buy, and she repairs and performs minor miracles, crooning to her baby as she works.
Leans against the wall and feels the faint vibration run through her body. Run through the both of them, Serenity and herself, like a heartbeat.
Kaylee keeps Serenity going. Serenity gives Kaylee a reason to live.
Each protects the other.
Runs Through It (250 words, Serenity/River)
Each protects the other, the ship and the crew like yin and yang, wrapped in and around each other, both perfectly balanced. River balances (jumps) (pirouettes) (curtseys) on the pivot (on the line between) and pets and strokes the metal walls that keep her safe (secure) (cuddled up) (hugged tight), all smooth roughness and jagged curves. Bare feet on the cold grill. Holes there, and here, and doors, and open and closed and in and out and through. (The air's flowing.) There are such colours in her (I can sing a rainbow) and such sounds (sing a rainbow too), in River, in Serenity, history stored and echoing in bones and blood, in steel struts and copper pipes. She presses an ear to the ceiling and Serenity whispers stories, an endless rushing from start to start, (never ending, never,) stories (air) (crew) flowing (rivers). Here's bad in the Latin, bitter strength and curdled hope. Here's shining love and joy and laughter. Here's faith and sorrow and hard-won strength. Here's softness and supple sharpness and the steel inside. Here's shallow pools and glinting metal. Here's love and trust and family and still a touch of silly silly boy. Here's dark wit and bright humour, intimately intertwined. Like them. Like the crew and the ship. Like her and Serenity. Such love. In her. Of her. By her. She's there. River. (Serenity.) Alone together and flowing. She's there. In the heart of the ship. In the minds of the crew. (Serenity holds.) River dances.
Applause (159 words, River/Book)
River dances. Book watches, hands folded neatly in his lap. When she stops, sometimes in the middle of a turn, sometimes simply sitting down, he applauds quietly. Sometimes she laughs, and sometimes she blinks, and, once, on a good day, she solemnly bowed before walking off.
Book reads. River listens, head cocked to the side like a tiny golden dog he once knew, eyes glazed over. Sometimes she interrupts him and sometimes she tries to grab his book and sometimes she screams. He waits til she's done and continues. River listens.
He's the oldest and she's the youngest, and they bond over the difference between them. Sometimes she tries to cut his hair, and sometimes he scolds her for wrecking dinner, and, sometimes, when she's had a very bad day and doesn't want to tell Simon--he'd be so disappointed--he scoops her up in his arms and rocks her like a child.
In his arms, she feels safe.
Close (277 words, Inara/Book)
In his arms, she feels safe, though she can feel the Mal in the back of her head making remarks about the Preacher and the Whore and thinking he's oh so funny. They're not, of course. Not the Shepherd and the Companion. Once, maybe, this might have been about absolution, but now, really, it's just about Book and Inara. It's about warmth, and comfort, and safety.
There's a certain physicality to their relationship, of course; intellectual intimacy so easily becomes physical intimacy, makes the small gestures easy. Her hand on his arm. His hands taking hers across a table. Walking arm in arm in the street. Embraces when sadness or joy demands it. They stand often in each other's space without it being confrontational, neither bothered by it, and though they have not known each other in a biblical sense, still, they know each other.
Book, for all his talk of monasteries, is well traveled and well educated. His wisdom is aged, refined, tempered steel to Mal's battered iron. Book, she thinks once, is a stout, slow brewed, thick and full bodied; Mal is poteen, strong and quick and harshly made. Book is not without flaws, of course, but he is aware of them without flaunting them as Mal does, willing to change.
She knows she's comparing them, and that she shouldn't, but, really, it's not like that at all; she's not playing one against the other. Mal is constant, and in his own way, her strength; but Book... Book is like a deep pool, like a warm blanket, like family. He is her comfort. He is home. He makes Inara happy, and that's why they work.
Pristine (192 words, Simon/Inara)
He makes Inara happy, and that's why they work.
When they are together, they can speak of places they've both been, the inner planets where Mal hates to spend time. If he mentions a family friend, she might laugh and tell him of a summer she spent on the lake they live by. If she mentions a play she saw the last time she was on Persephone, he might quote the first few lines for her before asking if she'd seen the original cast or the second wave.
He stays so clean, with his doctor's hands, that she almost envies him. How he does it--she's certain that he doesn't take nearly as many baths as she does--she can't quite figure out, but it's a nice change from the oil and dust and dirt that surrounds everyone else so often.
And she likes that. She likes how he's different and pressed and neat and white, compared to Mal's grey. And she knows that sooner or later, he'll become stained too. The 'verse does that to people.
So she enjoys him and the taste of his clean, soft skin, while she can.
Peach (241 words, Kaylee/Simon)
Kaylee enjoys the taste of clean, soft skin while she can. Peaches are rare these days, even when you're not darting around the rim, doing crime. Although if it wasn't for the crime, she wouldn't have the peaches, and now she's a little confused. Still, peaches. No icky stories about heads exploding. Just a small crate of fresh, sun-ripened peaches.
Some are being kept for Book to cook with, which is a good thing, because Book makes things which are edible, filling, and right tasty too, which is more than the rest of them manage. The others, well, most everything else she wanted was for Serenity and came out of the communal budget, leaving her enough left over to-- Kaylee resists the urge to squeal "Mine, mine" and cackle over the peaches, although she's clearly smiling again because Simon is giving her that cute, faintly crinkled frown of his.
And it's not like she's not sharing. She's eating the peach, and she's letting Simon watch her eat the peach. Lets Simon watch her tease the soft curve with her teeth before slowly, oh, so slowly, taking a slow bite of the delectable flesh beneath. Lets Simon watch her lick and bite and tongue and swallow. Lets Simon watch her lick the sweet, glistening juices from her lips. Lets Simon attempt to sneakily cover his lap while watching her suck at the peach stone and lick her fingers clean.
Kaylee loves peaches.
Cleansed (325 words, Kaylee/River)
Kaylee loves peaches. Not just the taste, though that's one of the best parts, sure. The smell's the other thing she loves. So even though Mal teases her when he finds out, she scrimps and saves and buys some of that fancy hair stuff Inara uses, peach-scented, 'stead of the regular junk they all use that makes your hair feel like it's been baked in the oven for too long.
So maybe it's not surprising that her first reaction to coming in to find River calmly emptying the bottle onto the floor is the desire to cry. Because, dammit, does the girl have to ruin everything, and even as she thinks the thought, she feels guilty. Cause it ain't River's fault. But still...
"Gone bad," River informs her. "Tastes like steal. Wouldn't be good for you. Standard issue soap is 86% more effective in eliminating dandruff, anyway."
Kaylee stares, then laughs, quietly. Shakes her head and takes the almost empty bottle from the smaller woman--girl? woman--in one hand, River's fist in the other. Leads her friend to the showers and turns the small head on.
River's very still, wary, as Kaylee first strips her, talking cheerfully the entire time, then wets her hair, then begins to work what's left of the shampoo in, rinsing it out so carefully. Wouldn't do to get soap in River's eyes, after all.
When Kaylee seems to be finished, "I have more hair than that." Which makes Kaylee blush and stutters and realize, gee, River ain't wearing any clothes--course not, Kaylee, you took 'em off of her--and manage to back out of the room, leaving the empty bottle behind.
River stands under the shower head for a long while, even after the water's running cold.
She smells like peaches.
Better, she smells like Kaylee.
River thinks--or maybe just knows, because thinking's painful and when it comes to Kaylee, nothing is--that it's a good smell.
Where We Came In (272 words, River)
It's a good smell, her smell, River decides. She smells good, tastes good against her tongue, here, in space, all cheap soap and stolen medicines, there, in the white room, all cold and antiseptic, here, in her bedroom, fruit and spicy between the scents of Mother and Father and Silly Big Brother, there, everywhere, all at once, forest smells and city smells and gunpowder and chocolate.
River likes the way she moves. She watches herself sometimes, moving through rooms, moving in rooms, stepping into rooms, stepping out. She likes the way she looks, the turn of an ankle, the placing of a hand. She likes her hair, there, at six, tied up, and her, now, spinning and flowing, and there, at twelve in ponytails and even there, in the white room, hairless and cut upon. She likes the way she moves even when she's still. Likes the way her body slips and slides and gasps and trembles beneath her fingers, the way she can feel her bones growing, feel straight lines turn into the curves of puberty.
When she breathes, she breathes River. River first and always, before all the other smells and sights and sounds, touches and tastes. River first and then the world. She sees herself everyone with perfect clarity. Understands. Comprehends. This River and that River and the other. They're there, with her, always. She's there, over and over. fixed and broken and slipping forever between the two, like a hurried adulterer. It doesn't matter. She's used to it. She understands. The thing about being on a boat like Serenity is that there really is no such thing as privacy.