If Serenity were a woman, River thinks, they would be much the same. They are much the same now, a mass of parts in interplay, intestines and tubes, heart and engine, computer and brain, and they both have someone to repair them to ensure they remain functional: River has Simon, Serenity has Kaylee. None of them fears dirty hands or stains, but Kaylee tinkers with Serenity's core (it's the heart in the Latin), and Simon tinkers with River's brain like the Academy did before. A tiny voice says no to that. Enough of that. It wasn't there before. It's welcome.
River would like to be Serenity, sometimes, beyond Simon's needles and the nightmares that glare light and mirrors at her - enough of that. There's Kaylee with grease-stains up to her elbows that look like blood, and River's own melts black like oil as she lies open - differently - on the table, but this time it's fine. Kaylee laughs and puts a hand on her cheek and the light turns into the sun and her heart starts revolving. 03-K64. Standard Radion Accelerator core. No power in the 'verse can stop her as she races through the quiet space and the star-field.
It is the day River dreamt, it's when she melts, becomes the ship. She can feel the cold press against her outer hull, the prickle of particles on her skin, never imagined it like that. She can feel the intruder crawling inside like a gleaming piece of void, can feel her crew shaken up and beaten down, and can feel Kaylee tremble all through her. That's the worst. Enough of that. She can say that now. It's for Kaylee. It's for the dream of the lit-up heart, and she knows, even fading away, she'll never be gone. Gonna be ok.
They're all just objects in space now: Kaylee and Serenity and River. Floating. She has permission now. Float, be a girl, dance, whirl like the core. Enough of the other. Secrets are gone, dreams are gone, and it's love that makes a pilot. Love sits snug in the seat and tells the core to light up, feels the heart revolve, and hears Kaylee's laugh from the engine room. It's good as anything and better than most, except when Serenity's floating on her own and River can go rest with Kaylee. "Keeping me whole," she says and that's what Kaylee does.