"River's been lookin' at us funny," Kaylee says, looking up from her work and scrunching her nose.
Simon, who's reclining with surprising ease in the hammock, looks perplexed. "I'm sure she's… noticed that… something's changed?" he offers.
"P'raps it's a l'il weird for her?" Kaylee agrees, nodding hesitantly. "Divided attention an' all?"
The part she's been playing with all fixed up, Kaylee comes over to join Simon, scooting between his legs and laying her head against his chest. Simon wraps his arms round her, giving a happy little "hi, you" as she settles in.
"I'm not sure that's it," Simon murmurs, laughing wryly. "She's told me plenty of times she's happy to share me with you."
"Well, I ain't your sister," Kaylee smirks. "Ain't really th'same sorta thing, now is it?"
"Decidedly not," Simon chuckles, kissing her on the cheek.
They snuggle for a moment, but Kaylee's face falls as soon as she really glances around. Simon follows her gaze to the object causing distress: there's a panel in the ceiling missing, and it leads to a space only one person on this ship could comfortably fit.
And it's right over where they…
"Tā mā de," Simon mutters.
That night, Simon and Kaylee are sitting (well, reclining, leaning against either arm of the couch with their legs tangled together) on the couch outside the infirmary, having a game of poker (that Kaylee keeps threatening to add a little dash of "strip" to) when River happens by. They set their cards down and exchange a pointed look.
"Mèimei, sit down?" Simon asks, his voice somewhere between I'm your big brother so listen to me and I'm your big brother you're embarrassing me.
River's trying not to roll her eyes as she settles on the chair catty-corner to their couch, folding one leg under her and tilting her head at them. "She's not scared of a sister-in-law."
Both Simon and Kaylee laugh nervously at that, blushing. Sure, they've both already thought such thoughts, but they wouldn't dare say anything of the kind to each other. "N-no, uhm," Simon sputters. "We did need to talk to you, though."
"Yeah," Kaylee jumps in. "Uhm, the thing is…"
"Uhm," Simon echoes. (Why were they having this discussion again? Why was it so painfully embarrassing for him?) "Well…"
"Found a panel gone from the ceiling in the engine room," Kaylee says hesitantly, not wanting to sound too accusatory even though it was sort of an accusation of sorts. "And it was…"
"Uhm, it was above… well," Simon blusters, touching his hair and his ear in one go in that nervous way of his.
"Three little letters, don't be afraid," River deadpans. Honestly, they're adults. This shouldn't be so hard for them.
"Were you. Uhm. Spying on us?" Simon finally asks awkwardly.
"No malicious intent," River pouts.
"That ain't exactly it," Kaylee hesitates.
River just shrugs. It doesn't really seem that big of a deal to her, sooner or later most everyone does that, it's no secret. And she'll say as much. "Nothing to be ashamed of."
"It's still – private, guaīguaī," Kaylee frowns.
"Remember Mother and Father used to have their private time?" Simon asks.
"All twice," River says dryly. Well, the Tam parents hadn't been particularly voracious, it was true, but though he may have brought it up thinking about it is making Simon blush. So Kaylee takes over, treading gentle so as to not overstep bounds or some such.
"Thing is, sometimes if folk're alone with each other it's 'cause they want it so," she says tentatively. She's never thought about having to have a talk like this with someone, it's – well, it's a little weird, she'll admit.
"Some people, people who are… together," Simon takes over. After a second he smiles at Kaylee, yes, he'll put a label on it. Considering this is really the first he's spoken of it to anyone or they've officially spoken of it to each other, that's likely wise, and reassuring to both. "They need time together."
River blinks at him innocently. "Didn't interrupt."
"But s'where that 'alone' bit comes in," Kaylee sighs.
"It's… not really appropriate for you to watch… that," Simon forces out, sounding more and more strangled. "No matter who it is, but especially your brother, all right?"
"Was just curious," River says with her petulant little sister frown.
"Our parents didn't really give us 'the talk' too clearly," Simon admits, misunderstanding River some and so clearly uncomfortable that it almost makes Kaylee giggle, almost.
"Not that," River rolls her eyes. Really gēgē? Really? "She knows that, places designed to fit together."
"Then… what?" He's almost afraid of the answer.
But she's direct as can be. There's no reason not to be honest. "Wanted to see how it felt."
Simon looks absolutely horrified, his mind jumping to conclusions, and Kaylee's starting to get that awkward face too.
"Different than Zoe and Wash felt," River continues, undeterred and unashamed. "Different than by yourselves, too."
It sounds innocuous enough, but they both know what she means. And it makes them even blushier. "River, you've got to – stop that," Simon chokes out.
Another roll of her eyes, then. "Not how that feels, just – in your heads, in your hearts, wanted to feel the happy ever after."
That's almost sweet, almost, so Kaylee softens as she murmurs, "Oh."
"Mèimei, you cannot spy on people doing… that anymore," Simon says firmly. She may be better enough, her intentions may have been good, but he's still her brother, he still has to guide her certain ways.
"Didn't always mean to."
"Clearly, you meant to at least once," Simon mutters, sounding mildly fed up by now and yet almost delighted by her little sister attitude, so refreshing after everything. If it wasn't also creeping him out a bit.
River just sighs, knowing there's only one solution. Even if she might break her resolution later (no ruling out possibilities). "Promise I'll stop."
"Really promise?" Kaylee asks.
"Wouldn't if she didn't intend," River says solemnly, extending her pinky to verify. Her expression turns mischievous then. "But Kaylee? Take me toy shopping when we dock?"