There used to be a picture, back home, in a frame. Not a professional portrait, or very big, or even very well taken. Just a little girl, dancing. Her long hair whipping around her head, a smile on her face. River could remember that moment, but she couldn’t remember her mother taking the photograph… For the first time, all the movements and the music were coming together, easy as breathing, and so beautiful. Who could care about anything else? Who would even notice anything else?
When the Alliance named us fugitives, Mother took down all the photographs, put them away, locked them up tight. Sometimes, very rarely, I see her pull that one out. She cries over it, remembering her baby girl, and wonders how it all went so wrong.
Before River left for The Academy, she gave a last dance recital. “Last and best”, her teacher had said, sad at the loss of her star pupil. She’d hugged River before she left, wished her luck in her new school, and asked her to promise to keep dancing. River had promised happily; she couldn’t imagine not doing so.
Father kept a recording of that recital, secret and hidden. He’d been so proud, smiling throughout the whole thing, from the first note to my final bow, when Simon – just become a surgeon - came up to hand me a bouquet. He kept it in the hope that one day he’d be able to be proud of his children again. Soon, he’ll watch it once more. The signal is spreading. Soon, he’ll begin to wonder.
There was no dancing class at The Academy. Not really. There was something that pretended to be one, in the beginning, when it still pretended to River to be a school. Even then, she could feel that there was something wrong about it… and before too long, it had changed into something else entirely.
Not dancing. Not really. Except maybe it is, just another type of dancing. One without music. You don’t avoid hitting the others, that’s the point of the dance. I don’t want to think of it as dancing. I do want to. If it’s a dance then I’m not hurting anyone. If it’s a dance then I’m not being hurt. The kicks and the jumps and the blows are just strange steps in a strange dance. Strange. Odd. Peculiar. Weird. Broken. A broken dance for a broken girl.
Simon hesitated, worried, as River stepped up onto the stage. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he ought to go to her, take her away from the crowd before something went wrong, but trying to make her leave might make things go wrong. And she wasn’t doing anything bad, just watching… then, to his astonishment, she joined in the dancing. He didn’t think he’d seen her so happy since – well, since before. He stayed back, and watched her as she spun, a smile on her face.
Dancing… it’s been a long time since I’ve seen dancing like this, just for the sheer fun of it. I wonder if I can remember how to… it’s so strange… Yes, I can see the patterns, the way they weave among each other, their boots striking the floor to the cheerful music… No time to think, no need to think as I’m swept into the dance. As natural as water flowing, how could I ever forget? And, for a little while, I’m happy.
River leaned against the corridor wall. She could hear the contented hum of Serenity’s engine, running well once more. She could feel it, too, through the wall, through the floors. And more – she could feel the crew, their emotions blending together to make another hum, one as much a part of Serenity as that of the engine. It was almost like music – no, it was music.
I dance to the sound of Serenity, barefoot, my skin on hers. I dance love, and grief, and life gone, and life to come. I dance lightly, a secret now revealed no longer pressing me down. I dance what Serenity was, and what she is, and what I see she will be. I dance.
I sit in the pilot’s chair, my feet curled under me, and plan out the course. It’s not difficult – just a little math and physics. But Mal’s right that it’s not enough; you need love, too. Serenity knows how to fly, loves it like a bird, like the little albatross Mal calls me. A ship’s good luck. But I’m a dancer. My fingers glide across the buttons in an intricate choreography; and together, Serenity and I join the dance of the skies.