"I prithee send me back my heart, since I cannot have thine; for if from yours you will not part, why, then, shouldst thou have mine?" - John Suckling
The last time she falls in love is also the first time. She's at the age, her mother says, and it's spring on this world, a place filled with flowers and running streams, laughter of alien children, and soft green grass beneath her feet.
She sees Don one day and it's as if she's never looked at him before, as if he's suddenly appeared, a knight in shining armor, smile lighting up the sky, eyes as unsearchable as the heavens. She doesn't give the feeling a name at first but one day she thinks of him and knows what it is. Love, quietly growing within her all these months, love for the man her sister loves, the man who loves her sister. She watches them together and her heart aches.
It's her mother who sees the longing in her eyes and mentions it to her father. Only a crush, she says, all girls have them. No doubt its upon one of the alien men in the village. She'll grow out of it, fall in love again, move on to another once they leave the planet.
But there is no one else, not in miles and centuries of endless space, no human and not one like Don. She knows then that she's doomed, for she could never pass her love to someone else like a simple transfusion of blood, settle for someone else and try to forget.
There's only Don, for days and weeks, months and years, Don and no one else ever, and for the first time she hates the Jupiter 2, for it's made her a prisoner, trapped like Tantalus with all she wants just beyond her reach. She has nowhere to forget, no place to move on.
She can only stay here and watch her heart break.
The last time she hears those words spoken aloud they're from Judy, a wistful sigh as she laments the lack of material to make a wedding dress. She says it with great sorrow, as if not having a dress is the worst thing that can happen to them in space, and Penny clenches her fists because she knows that there are things much worse, and if she was marrying Don she wouldn't care if she had to wear her flight suit, as long as they were together.
She sympathizes with Judy later, and even helps her turn some old fabric into a dress. Her fingers brush the cloth, dropping away as if it burns her.
"Someday, we'll get back and you'll wear white, Penny." Judy says comfortingly, mistaking the action. Penny gives a faint nod.
She knows better. They'll never get back, and even if they do, she'll never wear white, or marry. How can she, when her heart is already taken?
The last time Don picks her up she's fallen down a slope and broken her leg. It's only the three of them - Don, Will, and her - with the others miles away from camp, and Will can't possibly carry her.
Don lifts her into his arms and she loops her hands behind his head as they walk over the sand back toward the spaceship. Beneath her head she can hear his heartbeat, steady, even, a melody soothing away the pain.
He carries her inside as if she weighs nothing, like a bride across a threshold, and her heart twists.
He sets her down on the bed, sets her leg, and wraps it up. His hands are gentle and she reaches out and catches hold of one, so large against her small one. His dark eyes lift and her fingers drop from his hand.
"Thank you, Don."
He smiles and gives her a wink, a big brother to a little sister. "Anytime, Penny."
But she doesn't break another leg, or even turn an ankle, so he never carries her again.
The last time she cries it's on a silent, moonlit world that overlooks a quiet sea. It's so blue and beautiful and she longs, deep inside, to share it, half afraid others will not see it's beauty.
She thinks she's all alone and then she looks down on the sand, at Don and Judy standing beside the water, arms around each other, kissing. They're there against her sea, and her moonlight, spoiling and ruining the scene she'd just loved.
She starts running, not even knowing where she's going, tears blinding her, streaming down her face, until she stumbles and falls, the sand scratching at her hands, tearing her clothes. She lays her cheek down on it, tears soaking into the sand and vanishing.
And somewhere in the distance she can hear Judy's laughter.
The last time he touches her it's cold and raining and she's forgotten her coat. He takes his off and wraps it around her with a warm smile and she looks up at him, heart aching until she thinks her chest will burst.
He taps her nose with his index finger, a brotherly gesture, a tease. "That better, Penny?"
She manages a nod and continues helping him gather up the canisters, not trusting her voice to speak a word. It was such a meaningless touch, none of the tender love in the way he touches Judy, and she knows, deep inside, that it's over before it started, that she'll never be anything but a little sister to him, yet she would give anything for him to hold her, just once, or to trust her voice to tell him how she cares.
She doesn't know then that it's the last time he'll ever touch her at all.
The last time she speaks his name she says it without thinking, a meaningless fragment of a day she'd ordinarily have never remembered if it hadn't been the last time.
She asks him to pass the bread, keeping her voice quiet and controlled as she always does around him, allowing no tenderness to creep in and give herself away. He passes it to her without looking at her, and she takes it by the edge, fingers inches from his.
She makes no move to close the gap.
The last time Don looks at her it's a quiet morning on a planet where it's always summer and she can't help thinking how cruel it is for this world to never know spring, the time when things come alive and love enters into emptiness. He looks at her only an instant and a smile crosses his face.
"I suppose so." She gathers the flowers and starts to walk away, leaving him tinkering on their fuel pump. She's all the way to the stand of rocks above the ship when she hears the explosion, when she turns, and she knows.
He's lying there, still and silent, and she comes, kneels beside him, and takes his head in her lap, gently stroking his hair. His eyes flicker open.
"Penn.." A rough cough cuts off the word as a trickle of blood escapes his mouth. She should call for help but there's no need. He's gone before he finishes her name and she leans forward and kisses him, his mouth unresponsive. There's no need to pretend, not anymore. She can hurt no one now except herself.
The last time she hears those words they're inside her own head for no one voices them, not now, not ever. Wishing can do nothing. It can't create love or bring back the dead.
Behind her she hears Judy weeping, bending over the grave that they'll soon leave, leave Don buried in another world, another place that they'll never see again. Judy, mourning for all she's lost.
Penny doesn't weep, doesn't shed a tear. She stands very still, an axed tree the moment before it falls.
She has no right to mourn.
He was never her's, after all.