Disclaimer: Oh, what's that? Joss is Boss. Damn straight.

A/N: This story is all thanks to Zora Neale Hurston and Lirazel's A Dictionary of Misunderstood Words, so go read them and then come back to this story. Done? Alright, haven't written in a while so let me know how I'm fairing, River's PoV, Kaylee/Simon, Mal/Inara, Wash/Zoe implied, Pre-BDM, Post Series Read, enjoy, let know what you think.


One word cannot be a thousand.

One word is simply a word, singular in use and definition. It cannot be used in lieu of a hundred, should not.

But it happens.


Kaylee says 'shiny' when she wants to say different. She says shiny but there are a million words locked in behind it, words like Hope and Love and Maybe (and when she's around Simon they're softer and sharper and more sullen then they ever are around anyone else).

Sometimes Kaylee says shiny and means 'Let this work' and other times its 'Lord help us' and when Kaylee doesn't say anything at all she's saying 'pleasepleaseplease let everything get better' and other times it really isn't anything at all because its too much anger or pain or grief for words, big or small, hidden or not—and River knows of this silent language in abundance, has learned it fluently first hand.

But Kaylee is rarely silent so River studies her vocabulary and does not need to remember the old.


When the Captain and Inara talk they both use the same words under the words the world is allowed to hear.

Mal says whore with his hands thrust into the pockets of his brown coat and all River hears is 'stay' and 'go' and 'want me' and 'don't see me'.

And Inara's painted mouth curves into a perfect 'O' and her dark eyes become slits and she says thief and she's saying 'staying' and 'leaving' and 'love me' and 'hate me' and River doesn't understand how they don't hear each other in the cross fire.

And when they are not fighting, their mouths are still full of the same wine. Those words are richer and smoother and they make River warm, make her see fairy lights and stars where they reflect off the bulkhead. These are words like 'home' and 'family' and 'Serenity' with double meanings and triple word scores. These are the words they say again, repeat and rewind, the words they live by, without even knowing it.


Simon's dictionary is full of big words with little meanings.

He says things are Complicated and all he's really saying is Unsure. He hides behind words like Propriety and Etiquette but all he's really doing is stopping himself with things like Habit and Fear and Memory.

What Simon dreads is a lack of control, lost of the familiar, and here, on the back edge of the 'verse, River can understand why her brother shuts himself up in his fortress of bold letters. But it breaks her heart to know the words he locks away, to know he says Home and does not mean Serenity (not for a long time at first and still a long while after the second), to know he has abandoned words like Mother and Father and given everything instead to words like mei-mei and run and safety. It hurts her that he does not think of Love because it makes him think of strawberries and engine fuel—that he's decided those second meanings can't be as important as the first (as mei-mei, and safe and save, and fix and hide).

Yes those hurt River the most.


Zoë doesn't say much at all, but her silence speaks in place of words, which should not be allowed at all, because words are vocal compositions that can't reside simply in the throat or the mind (though River reconsiders this truth when the Whisperers start and it all rings in her head and no where else). She is short and curt and strong in form but her silences are loud, packed with emotions and ideas, charged to the point where they crackle along her skin. Her silences and her energy, her body, from the solid muscle to rough patched skin to sturdy bone to brown leather cord hanging around her smooth neck, all of it speaks for Zoë. A million words that River feels but cannot say, cannot describe beyond the brief and the real.

Responsibility, Loyalty, Duty, Precision, Protection, Love.

By comparison Wash talks too much. He is quick hands and loud shirts and booming laughter, he is rash and reckless and haphazard and angular and sharp in the places no one would expect him to be. He is too many rapidly emitted sounds that mean more than they ever let on, too quickly following the other, giving her no real time to analysis and understand. Wash is the only man she's ever met who can laugh wholeheartedly while scowling and the combination is enough to spin even her own addled head.

Together Zoë and Wash were confusing—overwhelming—because Zoë's silences are clean cut and seamed strong at the edges in all the places were Wash's babble runs ragged and comes apart (the places where his meaning and his bedlam overlap and show, and River gets a glimpse of whatever it is he is trying to say). And the only time the roles are reversed is when they make love, metaphorically and literally, because then Wash is silent and strong and all the things brown leather ought to be while Zoë's skin and mouth work together to scream words that make River's own flesh tighten and shiver. But the emotions are boundless then and River's body is drowning in the weight of their freedom and she has not yet mastered the ability to breathe underwater.

Together Zoë and Wash are too much even for a prodigy, and all River can do is stand back and continue her observations.


Jayne's collection of double words is the smallest because Jayne is the sort of man whose primary vocabulary is already enough for him to handle. Because he is the sort of man who does not understand the double reflections of meaning and restraint and says instead what he intends.

Hunger is hunger and weariness looks and sounds its part and lust and want are what they are meant to be.

Only ambition and duty and loyalty are more than they seem inside Jayne's world of words. All three ring with the after thought of something else. Sometimes it's coin. Other times it might be guilt.


The Shepard's words make River uneasy.

Not because of their content but because they are singular in antecedent. Because he says salvation and atonement and forgiveness and damnation and retribution and the words are hardly directed at his wayward flock of rebels.

The Preacher hordes all the words inside him instead, piles them up, high, high, high, tucks them into the labyrinths of his hair, clutches thin, skilled, practiced fingers around his holy tome as though it will pass its sacred words from its pages directly into his hands. Atonement, salvation, River thinks, and she can almost see the blood in the creases of his hands as clearly as she can see the blood on her own.


One word should not be a thousand.

One word is simply a word, singular in use and definition. A word should not be used in lieu of a hundred, but it happens and River listens and collects. She makes a new dictionary, with all the insides meanings that the old did not expect and will not accept.

And from this collection she decides she will make for herself a new language.


The End


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