|Too Old To Play With Dolls
Author: WiliQueen PM
Kaylee has unexpected help getting ready for the shindig on Persephone. Written for InfiniteViking in the LiveJournal fandom stocking exchange.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Friendship - Kaylee & River - Words: 1,365 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-08-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4779729
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It wasn't quite the way the he bellowed her name when Serenity was hurting, but it wasn't far off. And just like those times, she was already working on it.
"Almost ready, Captain," she called, nerves putting a flutter in her voice that she hoped he wouldn't hear up there. The wide ruffled skirt twisted around her, catching on her bunk and tilting at a wacky angle in a brave but doomed attempt to swing free like it was made to. The Captain's comment about sheep and hind legs, forgiven and forgotten in the bubbling rush of excitement when the shop girl had poured the big pink cloud down over her head, came back like he'd just said it.
Somehow she got untethered from the corner of the bunk and squeezed herself next to her little sink and mirror, the glittering bell springing up behind her with a mind of its own as she pushed close enough to the mirror to see what she was doing. A few seconds' determined scrubbing chased away a particularly stubborn smudge on her cheek, leaving behind an angry red spot and no idea what to do next.
Inara made it look so easy, like she just rolled out of bed like that. Or glided, more like. "It's not magic," she had said once, with that little laugh that was too sweet to make anybody feel foolish. "It's merely work you don't see. Just as I don't see you in the engine room, but we all see the results."
The notion of Inara and her pretty clothes anywhere near the engine room was enough to give you nightmares, if you even started to reckon how much money the Companion had tied up in her wardrobe. Now, staring at the mirror, Kaylee was getting a notion it wasn't just the clothes, even before you got to all that mysterious stuff about talking and moving and listening.
She didn't have time to give much thought to what was missing, because right about then something dark and quick jumped out from under her skirts like a jack-in-the-box. Her shriek gave an extra boost of propulsion to shoot her back into her bunk, where she blinked up from a nest of pink-and-gold ruffles at River.
The other girl stood stock-still, her eyes and mouth all perfectly round like a cartoon, both hands laden with fancy-looking little bottles and such. "Is it gone?" she whispered.
"Is what gone?"
"Monster." River still hadn't twitched even the tiniest muscle except for her mouth, hardly even moved enough breath for Kaylee to make out what she was saying. "Made you scream."
"You made me scream!" She tried to get up, but the hoops kept going the opposite way from what she thought they should, and she flopped back into a graceless sit. "I 'bout near jumped out of this dress, and it weren't no picnic getting into it in the first place! What are you doing sneaking up like that?"
All the whites still showed around River's eyes, and she held out the stuff in her hands for Kaylee's inspection. "Dancing doll. Ruffles and ribbons and paint."
Kaylee felt her own eyes going just as wide as she figured it out. "Did you take those from Inara's shuttle? River!"
Just like somebody threw a switch, River went calm and serious and methodical. She held up a tall blue spray bottle that looked like glass. "Second shelf, 11.3 centimeters from the front edge, 9.6 centimeters from the right side."
Kaylee just blinked at her while she did the same with a little gold tube and a comb with a fancy carved handle, and finally interrupted, "Okay, I get it, but you still shouldn't --"
"Ship-shape, spit-spot, spic and span." Sometimes she reckoned River put words together just because she liked the sound, and really, where was the harm in that? "Not a speck of dust. Mother will never notice."
"I guess not." And if Inara had been here, she'd have helped anyway, right?
"The Captain is too old to play with dolls," River declared solemnly. "Doesn't understand how." Setting the rest of the items on a shelf, she brandished the little gold tube, leaned across the pile of ruffles, and took hold of Kaylee's chin. "Look up."
She sounded so sure of herself, it was a minute or so before Kaylee started wondering if letting River fiddle with long brushes around her eyes was the smartest thing in the 'verse. By then she'd moved on, pulling another little wand out of another little gold tube, the tiny sponge loaded with shimmery pink stuff that looked just like the dress.
"I guess you used to do this kind of thing all the time," Kaylee ventured, after obediently rubbing her lips together on the sticky-slick gloss.
"We have a responsibility to maintain a certain level of appearance." It was an answer, kind of, but it sounded more like parroting back somebody else's words, with an emphasis and a rhythm that didn't sound quite like her. Not that she was what you might call consistent. "We cannot set an example until we have people's favorable attention."
Then River was silent with concentration again, doing something with Kaylee's hair she couldn't see. Winding a piece of it around somehow, spraying it with the blue bottle, waiting a few seconds, then moving on to another piece, four or five times until she had worked her way around to Kaylee's other side. The whole process had taken maybe ten minutes from the opening of the first gold tube.
River grinned and clapped her hands like an excited little kid. "Now you can be a dancing doll, and the toy soldier can be respectable."
She offered a hand up from the bunk and Kaylee took it gratefully, giggling when River curtseyed to her, low and graceful and totally serious.
"KAYLEE!" The Captain's bellow was directly above, right at her door. "I need to meet this fella at this year's shindig!"
"Coming, Captain!" she called up, River's hands in her hair again. When she looked in the mirror, there was a shiny bow in it, holding part of it back, with twirly curls at the sides of her face.
There really was a doll looking back at her from the mirror, one of those expensive ones she'd looked longingly at pictures of when she was a little girl. How many had River had, she wondered, before somebody decided she didn't get to be a little girl anymore at all?
When she turned around, River was grinning again, holding out the gloves and little purse the girl at the shop had insisted she needed, though the Captain couldn't for the life of him reckon why. He'd grumbled about the extra expense all the way back to Serenity, while Kaylee just smiled and ran the soft smooth material of the gloves between her fingers.
There was something wistful and lost behind the other girl's smile, and impulsively Kaylee reached out and hugged her. "Thank you. I feel like a princess."
"Princesses get locked in towers and turned into swans and things." River's nonsense warning was deadly serious, but she hugged back, just like any regular friend. "Stay away from spindles. And apples."
"I'll tell you all about it, soon's we get back," she promised, pulling back from the hug and turning her attention to the problem of getting up the ladder and out into the world.
Swans and things got turned back into princesses, all the stories said so. Nobody knew exactly what they had turned River into, but the princess always got turned back.
In the meantime, just for tonight, she had a doll to dance for her.
At the top of the ladder, the Captain just stared for a second, then pretended he hadn't, grumbling, "'Bout time. Let's get this foolishness over with."