Disclaimer: I don't own it. Everything you recognise belongs to Joss. No infringement is
intended and I'm certainly not making any money from this story.
Summary: River can't go back.
Author's note: Feedback is appreciated.

Never Go Back

by Hereswith

She steals her first kiss from a dark-haired boy, on one of the border planets. She wants to know
what it's like, for herself, she needs it to be real, and not inside her head, so when he pulls her away
from the dance she follows him, beneath the vaulting sky, behind the shed. Her feet are bare and she
stretches on tiptoe to capture his lips.

Though it surprises him, he's quick to recover, running his blunt, work-weary hands over her hair and
down her back. As they curl around her hips, she gasps, and she's light like thistledown, then, and
heavy like the earth, and she feels like an ordinary girl.

But she opens her eyes to his, and her defences have crumbled, she reads him almost inadvertently,
and he's so young that it hurts her, though barely older than she is. And he reminds her, suddenly,
only of what she has lost. Thousands of memories have aged her, thousands of screams weigh her
down, and she hasn't been a child since they cut her open.

She could kill him, with a flick of her wrist.

In that moment, all she can see is red, and all she can hear is the roar of her heart, pounding in her
ears. She evades his questions and his touch, walking a tightrope back to the ship, afraid that she
will fall, that she will burst, the way some stars do when they die, and she sneaks through Serenity's
bowels like a ghost, trailing her fingers and her thoughts along the walls.

The bridge is empty and dimly lit, but she doesn't mind, she slides into the pilot's seat, drawing her
legs up and wrapping her arms tight around them, and the dinosaurs stare at her, unblinking, while
her breathing slowly eases.

"Your brother's been looking for you. Should've figured you'd be here."

She is well aware of who it is, long before the words take shape, but she doesn't wish to be found,
and buries her face against her knees with a grimace, willing him to leave.

"Point taken," he chuckles, and it sounds like he's turning round. "I'll let him know you're safe."

"Am I?" she mumbles against the fabric of her dress, the green flower dress Kaylee gave her for her
birthday, and she isn't sure she means for him to catch the words, but he does, and hesitates.

"What's that, darlin'?"

She sucks her lower lip between her teeth and bites down. The memory is wholly hers, and so is
the pain. "The roads are barred. The doors are locked. I can't go back."

"No," he replies, as if he understands, and she thinks that he might; the past haunts him too, with its
rattles and chains. "But you can go forward, and I reckon that's about all any of us can do. Serenity
trusts you," he continues, "and I trust you to keep us flying. Ain't given me reason not to, little albatross."

She shivers, soaking it up through her skin. Trust . "I won't."


He isn't there when she finally uncoils from her huddled posture, his footsteps have already echoed
and faded, and it isn't peace that settles over her, in the silent dark, but it is a sense of calm. The
dinosaurs still don't blink, and she tells them not to worry so. She will not go supernova, tonight.