DISCLAIMER: Firefly & Serenity are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Universal.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Originally written for sangerin for the 2006 'Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines' femslash_today ficathon on Livejournal.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

This, The Limit of Our Sky
By tremblingmoon


Somewhere between the smooth planes of Simon's shoulders and the daze of her euphoria, Kaylee saw her. Or thought she saw her. Because no sooner had Kaylee blinked—seen the deep brown of River's eyes set in the deceptively cherubic lines of her cheekbones, staring at her from the ceiling (the ceiling?)—and blinked again, she was gone. The pierce of her eyes lingered, though, and Kaylee wondered at that, idly, as she turned her head into the pillow: moaned, sighed, and reminded herself that, for a change, she was getting everything she'd always wanted.

In the morning, Simon was sweet, generous even: kissing her temple, fetching her breakfast, telling her she was beautiful. But something in Kaylee let her hear the dry rustle of his words, the staleness of his vocabulary; there was something in her that recognized the crispness of the language, as if from a book, as if from a lesson in the proper grammar of the morning after. Involuntarily, a shudder passed through her as she tried to shake the thought, her doubt stinging with ingratitude because a fairly large part of her had thought she was in love.

"Cold?" Simon asked, predictably attentive in a way that bordered on irritating.

Kaylee began to shake her head but Simon already had his back turned, coming around with an extra blanket. The material was soft around her bare shoulders, the texture of fluttering leaves. Kaylee reached up for the edge to pull the blanket around herself, to burrow into its caress, glad for the extra warmth she hadn't known she wanted. But Simon had let go too soon—the fabric sliding down her back and out of her grasp, softness pooling quietly around her waist. Kaylee shivered.

The relationship ended almost as soon as it began. As soon as Kaylee realized she'd been holding on to what she thought she wanted far past the time she'd grown out of wanting it. Simon was only just put out, not upset really, but a bit piqued—like he'd expected it to end but hadn't expected that she'd be the one walking away.

His reaction only made her decision easier. She'd never been one to linger over these things anyway.

On nights like these, strolling the empty corridors, energy pulsing through her veins in lieu of blood, River could still feel the power curled inside her, waiting. She could feel it in every stride: body stiffening, heart confident, mind ceaseless. And every once in a while she could feel a click—almost audible, almost real—and a delicious violence would engulf her, swirl up inside her, make her fingers tingle and her toes ache and her eyelids flutter with the rhythm of her own pulse.

The hardest thing now was that she could no longer hide behind the chaos and confusion of a mind seeing everything at once. Now she saw the blood beneath her eyelids for what it was, the curse of clarity. Now she could feel the vicious swiftness of her reflexes. Could almost hear the bulkheads yield in her wake, the floor tremble with the burden of supporting her.

Was she dangerous? Certainly. She'd been taught that much, her potential verified by the stunned expressions of the rest of the crew (was it weeks, months ago?)—blood dripping down her arms and their eyes reflecting red in their awe. Was she evil? At once, her mind responded, with a certainty that seemed so manufactured it made her doubt, that there was no such thing, only an end for each set of means. But now she sounded like the Operative, knew the language of validation in her mind was learned not innate, and she remembered—distantly, in way we know that we were once born even though we have no recollection of birth—that as a girl she'd been taught that fury and wrath and violence (and these were the only things she could call her own now) were malevolent, not pure or just or righteous or beautiful. But she still couldn't decide what that meant for her or if she could separate the power from the darkness of its origin.

River had asked Mal a few weeks before, startled him in the mess, could vividly recall his bemused frown.

"Not like you to have a crisis of morals," he'd responded.

"I'm not."



"Oh. You, evil? No…No more so than the rest of us anyhow." His left eye twitched once before he placed a hand on her shoulder, in what River supposed he thought was a comforting gesture, before he turned, muttering under his breath something like "still crazy" and "recovery" and "sedation" (but she knew he didn't mean it); even though his face was turned, River could almost see his eyes roll as he walked away.

Later that night, Simon had, of course, answered "no" quite vehemently, the indignity of her question flashing in his eyes. But, he loved her too much for his answer to matter, so she had turned on her heal and gone to find Kaylee instead.

River had found her humming to Serenity, greasy and smudged from head to toe, a spanner in one hand, brushing her hair back with the other. She hadn't waited for Kaylee to notice her before she asked, her voice thoughtful and small. Kaylee had whirled, eyes wide.

"River! You almost scared the life out of me."

She didn't apologize, just asked again: "Am I evil?"

The question was absurd, River knew that. Particularly absurd because she knew the word was arbitrary, was perceived, was something that most of her didn't believe in anyway. But a part of her wanted to know—why, she wasn't so sure, but when had not knowing why she was doing something ever stopped her before?—and so she waited, cocking her head as Kaylee hesitated, contemplated the question with a sincerity that surprised even River, and took a step towards her.

"No," Kaylee's voice was soft, but the answer sounded more certain that Simon's brash insistence. "You…well, you can be a little scary though, sometimes, if you know what I mean. But it's a good kind of scary. Necessary. Can even be a little exciting." Kaylee smiled, her voice lilting, and then she grew serious, "And I know you'd never hurt us."

And River smiled because Kaylee was being honest in a way only Kaylee could. Tell you you were terrifying and make that sound like the shiniest thing in the world.

River reached out slowly and touched the bare, dirty skin of Kaylee's shoulder.

"No," River answered, "I'd never hurt you."

As she was wont to do, River had been wandering while thinking—those conversations fresh in her mind even though they had taken place weeks ago; she was still trying to shift through their meaning, uncover their significance—and had finally ended up leaning against the thrumming metal railing of the catwalk, breathing with the ship and staring down through the waffled grating, watching the skin of her toes press into the pattern and come away crisscrossed white on red. She looked up to see Kaylee—as if conjured up from memory—emerge from Inara's shuttle, watched her profile as she smiled in farewell, waving with a laugh and good night, and then turning towards her.

Kaylee's smile changed when she saw River—not a falter or a slip, just a subtle slide from jovial and girlish to earnest and open, tinged with a fondness that River couldn't place but found alluring all the same—and it wasn't the first time that she found herself thinking that Simon was a fool for not loving Kaylee more.

Kaylee was speaking to her, asking her something about sleep or being tired, but River wasn't listening. She was watching Kaylee talk without hearing, instead watching her lips move, her eyes sparkle, her teeth part with each word. She watched Kaylee raise her eyebrows, frown a little (but still smiling somehow, too) and felt her take her hand, let Kaylee lead her back to her room, not because she wasn't capable of finding her own way, or because she was in some sort of trance as Kaylee must have thought, but because Kaylee's hand was so soft and so warm, and River's heart was thumping so hard, that she didn't want to—no, didn't dare—let go.

After that, it was all so surprisingly easy. The next night, furious with Simon—a viciousness she didn't like starting to overtake her so she knew she had to get out quickly because she feared losing herself again—River had stormed out and gone to Kaylee's room, which was empty, had curled under the blankets and gone to sleep. Simon didn't look for her, but he must have spoken to Kaylee, must have told her something, because she didn't startle when she returned from her shower, just leaned low over River's back, hand against her hair, murmured "scoot," and slid in behind her, hair still wet and smelling like flowers and water and spring.

After that, Kaylee found River asleep in her bed at least once a week. Sometimes in the middle of the day or only for the first few hours of the morning. Sometimes, after going to bed alone, Kaylee woke up with the weight of River's thigh across her stomach, her nose pressed to Kaylee's neck, and she would lie very still, her body tingling, her stomach tightening, until River woke up (sometimes hours later) and pulled away.

On these mornings, River always woke up smiling. If she had known it would be this simple, she'd have stumbled into Kaylee's bed a long time ago.

With Simon, Kaylee had laughed a lot. Because that was something she did well—not like wielding a scalpel, not like saving lives, but it was something. She had liked Simon, loved him even, but with Simon she was constantly trying to impress, and eventually she had gotten tired of working so hard. Loving River was easy. So easy, in fact, that it happened before Kaylee had any say in the matter, just happened without her knowledge or consent or awareness. At least at first.

They were playing jacks again, and Kaylee was just wondering why she bothered, an amused, indulgent smile rising at the corner of her lips—she never won anymore, River's precision skewing the odds ridiculously in her favor—when suddenly River faltered, distracted, looking intently into Kaylee's face. She let the ball fall from her palm; it bounced twice and rolled its way under a tower of crates.

"What?" Kaylee asked, bewildered, trying to tamp down on the fear she could feel creeping into her voice.

"You were smiling again," River answered, voice holding no inflection but strangely quiet.

Kaylee didn't know how to respond to that. So she smiled once more, laughing this time to ease her confusion. And that's when River kissed her.

River's eyes were so dark and serious, just before their lips met and her lids slid closed, and Kaylee found herself wondering at that—wondering why, when she had imagined kissing River (not something she'd done often, but she'd be lying if she said she'd never had), she had always envisioned girlish pecks and giggles rather than sincere seduction. Wondered how she could have been so naïve to think River was still a girl. Kaylee leaned into the kiss, shocked only by the fact that she wasn't—not at all. Her palms pressed into the floor between them, thumb trailing over River's forefinger.

The kiss was long, soft, and effortless. Like blue sky planetside, Kaylee thought. Or just as lovely. When they separated, River's eyes were all pupil and her words crinkled with a pleased kind of smugness when she spoke.

"That's what happens when you smile so much." Like it was sage wisdom. Like gospel.

And then River jumped up and scooted between the crates. When she returned, ball balanced between two fingers, Kaylee was still smiling and so River kissed her again.

The one thing River hadn't accounted for was that Kaylee would be so unguarded. Would let her see everything—fear, pain, distress, joy, bewilderment, love—without even the pretense of boundaries. But that was Kaylee. And, like River, she was not as innocent, not as young, as she seemed.

Moreover, Kaylee took everything in stride. Their first time in Kaylee's bunk since the kiss, they awoke entangled, still clothed but River's arousal evident against Kaylee's thigh. Kaylee didn't get up or move away, didn't wait to see what River would do; instead, she turned into River's body, kissing her hard, pressing her hands against River's ribcage.

And when River felt the inevitable bedlam of her senses threatening to overtake her, she sighed into Kaylee's mouth and slipped into a sort of heated calm: her rage, her impulses, tempered but not diminished by Kaylee's easy acceptance of her breath. In Kaylee's arms—and now she was whimpering softly as River's lips brushed the flesh of her throat, then collarbone, then sternum, and back up again—River felt more powerful than ever before. Powerful, but not dangerous. Powerful and quiet and pure and beautiful. Like Kaylee was the sky and River was Serenity flying through it.

The End

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