"all this senseless beauty"
by Jennifer-Oksana

Serenity has refined my life into the very basics, burning away the excess like so much slag. This is my life: blue hands, confined spaces, practical jokes, and so much open nothing that I can't bear to look into it.

River stares into the night-black of space as if she's seen the answer to all of her own encoded questions, childish delight lighting her up as though we were young again, and chasing insects on a sunny afternoon.

She doesn't understand. Not yet, possibly not ever. What I did to get her away from the Academy might have been selfless, but it might have been futile. We can never live without fear, without the Alliance always somewhere in the shadows of my mind. Does she know that we're nothing but space trash, clinging to the underside of the galaxy, hoping against hope that we won't be noticed?

I never wanted to be a hero. Not really. I had no wish to be the kind of hero who has to do truly dangerous things, like cling to spaceships while the Alliance searches for us and endangers our very fragile place on the ship even more. I never held to any of this independence nonsense, but I'm a brother first, a doctor second, and not at all, apparently, a politician.

My sister is so beautiful. More importantly, River is--was--ordinary. No reason why the Academy should have wanted her, no reason to torture her. We were good citizens, loyal, my family. I was loyal, a rising man with a rising career. No reason she deserved that. We didn't do anything wrong.

It's so cold out here. So ruttin' empty, as my good friend Jayne might say. There's no reason why anyone should want to spend their lives out here, not when there are worlds without end to settle. Though perhaps enemies of the Alliance would disagree. I don't know. I'm not interested in politics.

I'm interested in River. River is all that matters. I would, I have sacrificed my life for River, who is smiling at the void. It probably smiles back at her.

Not at me.

All I can see is the cold and dark.

I can't bear to look. All I see is nothing, and that is my life now if I dare to look. When I look at River, my life is River, holding her at night, soothing away the nightmares, trying to make sense of her non-sense, piecing together what happened to her at the Academy.

If my life is not River, my life is nothing. Without her, I am space trash, clinging to the only piece of metal between me and the emptiness that can mess you up so bad.

She can see the beauty in the cold, black, eternal night of space. Me, I'm trapped, trapped between claustrophobia and agoraphobia, looking for a human scale of things.

There is human scale in River's smile. I can appreciate that. I love her so much that I can even appreciate how it might be beautiful. Where I see nothing, she sees a tapestry of endless possibility, numberless stars waiting to be named.

I cling to the hull of the ship, staring at the metal panels and remembering that we love each other, she and I, and that love transcends. Love turns sacrifice into something worthwhile. Love turns the frontier into a place where perhaps we can stop hiding.

I close my eyes, hold to Serenity, and wait hopefully.


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