I am like a security camera. Always catching, always glancing, but no one pays any attention until they're in trouble and I'm the evidence on the courtroom floor, splayed and stripped bare for all to examine as they please and draw their own conclusions.

Not this time. I keep my own secrets.

So now you think you can just waltz in here and take over my intestines? Twisting them up like a grasshopper's song and folding them all over each other until they're thisclose to spitting me out all over my own feet? Well… you win this round, because apparently you can.

How do we get there from here? You can't take a shuttle to get where I'm going.

She wasn't even skulking this time. River was just standing calmly in the kitchen, opening another silver mystery can. Getting ready to dump whatever-its-contents-were into a bowl and eat them. It wasn't that she was hungry. But Simon made her eat once he saw her blood sugar.

A doctor for a brother. Just her luck.

She couldn't find the can opener so she was going at it with a knife. It was working too. But so focused was she that she didn't even notice the chiffon gliding into the room. She had probably heard it somewhere in the back of her mind, coming from the bridge and inching closer, slowly. But she paid it no mind until it stopped.

River glanced up. And froze. It was her. The reason she got dressed in the morning was standing right in front of her, full of air and light and wearing a layered gown of Persian red. It rippled when she walked, making her conspicuous even though her slippers made no noise. It was the stuff of dreams, that dress and Inara in it. River wondered self-consciously whether she should brush her hair out of her eyes, or if the increased exposure would outweigh the increased attractiveness. In any case, she didn't react fast enough, so the strands stayed put.

A soft chuckle escaped the most beautiful lips River had ever seen. "I was just coming to return the can opener. I guess you found a way around it." Her voice was kind, but River wasn't listening. She was watching those lustrous curls catch the light as the Companion's updo moved with her delicately curving jaw. Those curls, dark and slippery and thick. Those curls reeked of sex. And of delicate sighs and caresses and sheets—all the things River would never know about, except through the minds of other people.

"Yes, I suppose so…" she replied vaguely, aware that Inara was expecting a response. Couldn't have her thinking she was being crazy today. Not when today was such a good day for her. No screams, no starts, no violence. No fainting. Just a mind that would rather travel down satin flesh than through space.

River wasn't sure whether she wanted to fuck her or be her. She was so starkly aware of her own inferiority. She yearned to release that thick hair from its pin, to flutter kisses onto those stunning cheekbones—for that's what she was: stunning—but also to emulate such elegance, and to charm the pants off anyone she chose with half the ease Inara seemed to. For Inara, people used verbs like float. glide. sway. flutter. For her, it was skulk. creep. slither. At best, dance. What looked sensual on Inara was stealthy on River.

But she wanted to be a real girl. Like Inara. Those dark painted lips and teasing tendrils would intrigue anyone, but especially a scrawny runt with as much curiosity as River had. She wanted to touch Inara all over, to feel what silk feels like, to know intimately what it means to be made of grace.

Inara was saying something. Those perfect lips were forming her name, laced with concern. River jolted her head back, shook it a little. She must have been silent for a long time. She felt her cheeks heat. She managed, "I'm here." It came out as a croak, as if she had been mute for years, but that little sound seemed to reassure Inara.

Inara smiled. And somewhere deep within herself, a secret place in River melted. A place so long hidden that she pretended she didn't have it. But since the hazy red streams still came every month, she couldn't forget. Her cheeks burned hotter. She could have fainted.

The goddess-figure was coming closer. Hand outstretched, offering the can opener. Like a peace token, an apology for the strain she must have known she was causing. As she handed it to River, for the slightest of moments, their fingers brushed against each other. Those smooth tan hands that made River think of swallows twisting in flight. The fleeting touch made River come close to whimpering. Anything to keep her here. But she didn't. They locked eyes instead. River's blank stare met the warmest shade of brown, and she tried in vain to keep her face neutral. It would be so easy to just fall headlong into her gaze: Inara's eyes could surely see directly into her soul. The delicate arch in her brow said it all. There was no hiding. Only running.

River looked down. She felt herself trembling on the inside. Her train of thought halted and she concentrated on making no sudden movements. Inhale. Exhale. Don't faint. She said nothing.

When she looked up again, only a moment later, it was at the Companion's back as she glided out of the room as softly as she had come. Her chiffon trailed behind her, almost willing to set its own course, but Inara's pull was too strong. So her drapery went with her. Back to her shuttle, or something. Back to work, perhaps, or back to dreaming of the Captain. That idiot who loved her back but was too proud to admit it. There were some things River would never understand.

And there was an emptiness where Inara had been. A noticeable lack of a body in the space that had just been occupied. River felt a pang. She drew a shaky breath and sagged into the counter. Closing her eyes, she allowed her mind to match her pulse, repeating the scene again and again. The phantom image was almost sweet, but when she reached out her mind's arm, she grasped at nothing. She felt more alone than she had been before, and yet she was full of longing. How did people handle wanting? Her frustration mounted like something stretching within her that must eventually snap. Finally, enough was enough. The tension inside her was so thin she could barely handle it. She'd have to be more careful. Feelings, and all that.

Leaving the splayed can all over the cutting-board, she skulked out of the kitchen, across the bridge, and into the bowels of the ship. Pushing away her own heart in favor of Serenity's, into a place where no touch, and no yearning could bother her.