Disclaimer: The wonderful characters and the good ship Serenity all belong to Joss Whedon, or Mutant Enemy, or Fox, or whoever actually owns them, and that person or entity is definitely not me. Written for amusement purposes only. No copyright infringement intended or implied.

Rating: T, with rough language warning. May go up for later chapters.

Summary: Eight months after Miranda, the crew of Serenity still struggles to adapt to the "new normal." Constructing, and deconstructing, elements of her life, River attempts to understand and assimilate her new and complex feelings for Jayne. - - Rayne, but will touch on canon pairings. Post-BDM, of course.

Piece By Piece

Chapter 1: Prologue

Fourteen-year-old River Tam sat on the steps of the Kurulev Osirian School of Classical Ballet, her nose buried in a book about terraforming projects on the Rim, waiting for her car. She couldn't help overhearing two of her classmates going on and on "about losing their hearts" to various boys. River thought that expression was completely idiotic. A heart was a four-chambered, muscular organ comprised of ventricles and atria, topped by the aorta and fed through the vena cava. Not something that you could just misplace, not something that you could lose.

Apparently the local school had just finished a unit on wars on Earth-That-Was, because all the girls were atwitter about the American Civil War section, always a thematic favorite with the Alliance Ministry of Education. The lesson must have included a unit on culture, because the bulk of the girls were newly-hatched, passionate aficionados of the ancient vid Gone with the Wind. The current teenspeak for the female population, always searching for the newest trend, was suddenly rife with "la"s, "fiddle-dee-dee"s, "I do declare"s and "I've plumb lost my heart to"s.

"I do declare I have lost my heart to Collingsworth Sook!" Oriana Ventali gushed. "Did you see him at the charity benefit last night? La! His suit was from Etienne's, I heard."

River rolled her eyes and couldn't help her audible snort of disdain. The Osirian premier's son was a blithering idiot, and the most expensive suit in the solar system wasn't going to rectify that.

The two girls looked over at her with dislike. Not only was River Tam generally acknowledged as being some sort of genius, she was also Kurulev's star pupil, always showing everybody up.

"Well, I think I've lost my heart to that gorgeous Simon Tam," Semley Duncan added maliciously, knowing that River wouldn't take kindly to the thought of anyone fancying the precious Simon. "My mama says he's going to be Head Surgeon at the Medacad some day."

River didn't respond, just glowered over the edge of her book. Third rate dancers, third rate minds, she didn't need to waste energy on a reply. Simon wouldn't look twice at either of them.

"Great balls of fire!" Oriana sang out mockingly. "What would you think of that, River Tam? Wouldn't you love to have one of us as your sao zi?"

"I think that either one of us could easily lose our hearts to your big brother," Semley giggled.

River closed her book, picked up her zippered bag and stood, seeing one of the silvery cars of the Tam house come gliding around the corner.

"I hope you both do," she said sweetly as she began to skip down the steps. "If you lost your hearts to my brother then your other organs, including your brains, would soon cease to be oxygenated sufficiently to function. Not that anyone would notice. But the optimal outcome, of course, is that you'd both be dead." She gave a tinkly wave of her fingers as she slipped into the open door of the vehicle, which closed behind her with a mechanical shush.

River looked out the smoky glass at the girls' twin expressions of annoyance and embarrassment, and laughed.

"Home." She instructed out loud, and watched as the directions flashed briefly across the navigational screen. The car moved forward smoothly. Soon, she thought, she wouldn't have to deal with irritating people like that. The Academy only accepted the best and the brightest. She would have Theoretical Physics. She would have Ancient Languages. She would have Music and Philosophy and she would finally have the time and resources to devote to her pet project, a biography of the tragic mathematician Yutaka Taniyama. She would have a private dance instructor, the famous Madame Tyng. She wouldn't have to put up with any more "fiddle-dee-dee"s and "varmint"s and stupid expressions about the heart.

River leaned her head back against the cushioned seat and let her thoughts wander. All these girls were so preoccupied with the opposite sex. She didn't quite understand the attraction. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize the handsomest boy she knew, other than Simon. Probably Yun Lu Petersen. He was really good at tennis, but he had an aggravating, nasal laugh, and had screamed like a girl last year when a spider landed on his hand. She couldn't imagine ever having any romantic feelings for him.

River shook her head, and reopened her book. Losing your heart… ridiculous.


Chinese: sao zi – older brother's wife/sister-in-law

A/N: FYI: My first two stories were pretty much complete before I posted…this one is definitely a WIP. I've got some sketchy future chapters, but I'm still writing. We'll have to see where this one goes together. Please let me know if you like the first couple of chapters. Thanks for reading!