River stood with her face pressed against the glass, staring out at the black. Most nights, she couldn't sleep until she climbed the steps to this little hidey-hole, and shut the door behind her, and stood at this window for a little while, letting the cool vacuum of space pull all the screaming bumping grinding hot painful things out of her, scattering them to the void.
More than anything, she wanted to take a space walk one more time. They'd had to, her and Simon, that one time when the Alliance ship had come. He'd hated it. Poor Simon. He hated nothingness. He needed light and warmth and people, human contact. She didn't. He didn't seem to understand that sometimes it was the worst possible thing for her.
She'd tried to tell him that once. "Simon, I need nothing--"
"Honey, mei mei, yes you do, you need your meds--"
"No!" she'd wailed. "I don't not need anything, I need nothing!"
She should have known better. He'd doped her so hard she'd slept for a day and a half. That wasn't the nothingness she wanted. She wasn't awake to enjoy it. It didn't take anything away, it just locked it up for a little while.
She needed the void.
"Wanna take a walk, little girl?"
She spun, hair flaring out around her. She'd needed the void so bad tonight that she'd forgotten to close the door behind her, and Jayne stood hipshot, sneering, shirtless in the doorway.
He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Airlock's that way, " he said. "Hike on out if you've a mind to."
She stood staring at him. Then she smiled, slowly. "All right."
He stepped back, fetching up against the wall with a slight thunk.
"But you'll have to be my anchor," she said. "Someone's got to be on the other end of the umbilical cord."
"Hold on," he said. "Hold on."
"Simon gives me drugs, but I don't need drugs. I need that." She pointed out the viewport. "I need the black. You're the only one who'll do it for me, aren't you?"
"You think your brother's maybe still up?"
"It's all endothermic, it needs to be exothermic or the subject of experimentation will overheat and shatter--"
He started toward the comm on the wall, and quicker than a snake, she darted around in front of him. "Put me in a suit. Tie me to the ship. Let me go dancing in the void."
His breathing steadied. "Oh," he said. "Izzat what you meant?"
She gave him a scornful look. "I like my eyeballs where they are."
"Yeah, well, I like my balls where they are. If the captain didn't kick 'em out the top of my head, that precious brother of your'n would slice 'em straight off."
She blinked at him.
He clarified, "Answer's no, little girl."
She leaned closer to him, and he leaned back, putting a hand up between them.
"Nobody would have to know," she whispered. "It'd be a secret." She extended a pinky and hooked it around his. "Pinky swear. Neither of us'd tell a living soul. Ever."
He stared at her for a moment, then pulled his hand out of hers, pushed her to one side, and clattered down the stairs. "Forget it."
She stood at the top of the steps and called after him, "You want to!"
"What makes you think I'd do anything for you?" he said over his shoulder.
"You don't want to do it for me--"
"You want to do it for you."
He turned, staring up at her. "What?"
She grinned down at him. "You want to fool my brother, and the captain, and the preacher, and everyone who thinks they know what's best. You want to pull the wool over their eyes so hard they don't even know they're being had."
She ran lightly down the steps, stopping just two up from his. Their eyes were on level. "Do it," she whispered. "Go on. Since when have you ever done the smart thing?"
After a long, long moment, he said, "Go get suited up." He turned on his heel and strode toward the door. Bubbling with triumph and anticipation, she darted after him.
The tether snaked back toward the ship, looking impossibly tiny next to Serenity, which in her turn looked like a toy against the void.
She spread her arms and legs out, waving them in the nothing and feeling the way it held her up. A laugh bubbled out to the inside of her helmet. Jayne's voice sounded in her ear. "What you so gorram happy about?"
"Nothing!" she said.
"Then what're you laughin' about?"
"Nothing. Shut up!"
He muttered in Chinese.
"I'll turn the comm off," she threatened.
"You do, little girl, and I'll haul your ass back here so fast you'll get a friction burn on the airlock floor," he threatened back.
She stuck her tongue out at him, unable to be really mad. She was out here in all this emptiness, finally all by herself. She wished she could turn the comm off. But Jayne stayed quiet, and she could at least pretend it was off.
The stars shone at her, tiny pinpricks of light that were really balls of gas millions of miles across, trillions of miles away, with nothing between her and them but . . . nothing.
The nothing she needed, the nothing she craved, the nothing that didn't ask anything of her, but let her dump everything horrible and terrifying inside her head out into it, because nothing could ever fill up nothing.
She laughed again, and this time Jayne didn't even bother asking what was funny. She twitched a hand and rotated slowly. No air friction to slow her down. Her rotation brought the ship into view. She could see inside.
Jayne slouched at the controls, grumpily monitering her air, her vitals, the time. Anchor, she thought. In olden days, on the ancient sea, anchors were iron, ugly, heavy and hard, crusted all over with barnacles, dripping with seaweed and the muck of the ocean floor . . . but they were important. They kept the boats in port from drifting away out into the cruel, wild, open sea where they wanted to be. Too dangerous, all alone out in the open sea.
Boats didn't need an anchor nowadays. Most boats. Most boats didn't want to go out into the open sea. Most boats knew better.
She kicked out and spun herself around to face the void. By her calculations, she had close to an hour of air left. She wasn't going to waste the time she had, alone with all the universe.
She floated in the void, secure and joyful as a child in the womb.