Disclaimer: The only thing I own is the plot... the rest isn't mine. If you've read up to this chapter, then you know that much already. Shiny!

Welcome to the last chapter - I can't believe it's here already - Enjoy!

Today was a good day. I got a new dress, from Kaylee and Zoë. Inara sent her love, and a comb for my hair, but I haven't seen her in a long time.

Inara left, returning to do her training. Kaylee had been sad to see her leave, we all had, even the Captain, but Inara insisted. She was needed elsewhere.

A year is a long time. So many things change… Simon, for example. My mind began to heal faster than anyone thought was possible. I will always be a moonbrain, as Jayne says, for the secret of Miranda combined with what the Alliance had already done to me had cause irreversible damage, but I'm much better than I have been in years. Simon seems to have accepted this fact. He gave me a riddle box. I love riddles… I understand them…

He also asked Kaylee to marry him. He fainted after doing so, but he still asked her. They haven't decided when, but I think Kaylee wants to go home and visit her folks before they do. Maybe even marry him there. Hmm.

Jayne… well, some things don't change much. Even in a year. Jayne's still stubborn and obsessed with weapons and women… He gave me a knife set. I like it… I think Kaylee is terrified that I'll use it… or perhaps that I won't…

Oh, I like the sound of that. Weapons and women… I'll have to say that to Mal sometime…

Zoë is softer than ever. Part of my heart still aches for her, even now. She's still strong, our best still, and every bit second in command. Yet… she's still lonely. Were Jayne not so obsessed with guns and whores, I'd try to pair them… but in all truth, I wouldn't wish him on anyone. And Zoë would kill him, for sure, after little more than a month.

And… sometimes, I feel like there's something else in store for Jayne, in the future. Maybe something, or someone to make him grow up. I don't know… I try to ignore the future, until it becomes the present or the past. I live in the present and learn from the past. That's the way it should be.

And the Alliance... Parliament has lost much power in the last year. They tried to chase us down, but… the news of Miranda wasn't the only news to spread around the Alliance. News of River Tam seems to have spread, too. It makes me smile. We had a bad fight, about six months ago… Mal was against it, but in the end I went when he wasn't looking… took out several commanders and captains, leaving the lower men to fuss about what to do without anyone to give orders.

After that, Parliament feared me, and ceased trying to find us.

Yet, thereis now unrest all throughout the 'Verse. People suddenly wondering what their governments are doing… and we have more jobs. That's why I got presents this year for my birthday – we could actually afford it. Kaylee took me aside and told me that it was because of me, all of it, that we had the jobs… I just smiled.

So, while last year my birthday went by nearly unnoticed except for a cake Kaylee had put together for me, this year I received… things. What to do with them? I've never really had my own things…

Wait… I was saying something else about Simon, wasn't I? What was it again? Hmm…

I haven't thought this clearly in years. Truthfully, even I am amazed… I can't remember when I was last able to think so… coherently. But, even so, I'm still not all here at times. There are often things I do forget…

Now I remember what I was going to say. I told Simon the truth. Well, most of it – about Mal. Simon was examining me one day, and it was just the two of us together… we were talking, and I asked him what he would think if I were to… fall for someone on Serenity.

At first, he dropped his instrument – whatever it's called… I don't know, or care – and asked, in that too-careful voice, if I fancied Jayne. I don't know how he could think that… I laughed at him.

Well, then if it wasn't Jayne, Simon realized that there was only one other person it would be. Oh, he disapproved so much… See? This was why I needed the time. He told me everything I knew… and he forbid it completely… or tried to. I explained that I was of age, and I was being nice in asking him what he thought, but I wasn't asking for his permission – I didn't need it.

He wouldn't speak to me for a very long time. It was only in my next examination that he began to come around to the idea. Oh, he disapproved, but he guessed that I could do a lot worse. I know he still doesn't like my idea of who I care about, in general, but…

How could I love anyone else? In a year, I've met several men. Mal really encouraged me to get to know them… I knew it hurt him to do so, but I also see why he did. I tried, for his sake, I really did, but… none of them understood me. I was too odd for all of them, and I usually ended up crying over how they treated me.

And then there is Mal. Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Yes, things between ushas only gottenbetter in a year. He encouraged me to see other men, but I knew he wanted to shoot them all. When they said I was a freak, and left me, I cried on Mal's shoulder. After four bad incidents, I've stopped trying with others. Every day, Mal and I fly together on the bridge, eat in the kitchen, talk at night. It's a wonder we don't dream together.

Things I do, that make other men fear and run from me, makes Mal smile or laugh. Even how I sit. He just… understands me. He didn't, long ago when we first met, but in the last year, he's become… my closest friend.

And I love him more for it.

Love. Love is still new to me. But, I promised him a year. I buried all those feelings deep in me, and haven't thought much of them since, until recently. Now, they call me when I least expect them to. I have been very patient, but now…

I'm sitting, waiting. Mal didn't give me a present today. But… he also hasn't said more than two words to me, either, so I know he's thinking about it…

So, I'm waiting, staring at the entrance from the chair I'm sitting in, wearing my new dress. He'll be securing the bridge for the evening, before Zoë or Simon comes to watch the controls, and then… we'll talk.

I'm twenty today, he hasn't given me a present, and I am tired of waiting.

It's been a long day.

River is now twenty. We had a party for her… this was the first year we could actually offer her presents. I would give anything to spare the lives we lost over a year ago in the events that happened, but I can't deny that things have improved for us, financially.

We have more jobs now, which means more money. Having never done it before, Kaylee had to ask about giving River the dress… didn't know if it was proper… how could I say no? Not that I would have, but still…

I've never seen her have such a happy time with the rest of the crew. I'm supposin' that everything was good timing… her mind has cleared so much in a year, and we actually had the time and some money to celebrate… it was nice. I slipped out as soon as I could, without being rude. I was glad to see her so happy.

But it's not far from my mind that she's twenty. It's been almost a year. I don't know what she's thinkin', now, after all this time. I haven't forgotten the promise she made to me – hell, I even encouraged her to go after others, in case her decision was just a crush coming out. But… I know there's never been another. She seemed distressed that I pressed her to go for other men – I confess, I didn't like a one of them, but it did ease the part of my conscious that stored all the talks and sermons I'd gotten from Sheppard Book.She went with them, anyway. It never worked… and then I was the shoulder she cried on.

I could barely look at her today. She's twenty, and if it's possible, she's grown more… maybe not, you know, taller, but… she's grown up more. I couldn't watch her… I would have stared, and someone would have noticed. When she had told me she cared for me – askin' me to teach her to love me – and then made good on her promise of time… she really wasn't awkward at all with me, as I was expectin'. Things really did go back to how they'd been. Strange, really, how she could do that so easily.

It's been a long year… not even a full year yet. She's twenty, now…

I came up to the bridge, knowing that she wouldn't follow me – tonight at least. I just needed to think… I feel more confused than ever.

After setting the controls so I can leave the bridge for abit (I think Zoë will be coming in soon to take over, and they can hold for a bit on their own) I head back to my bunk. Yes, it's been a long day.

I hit the latch, and take the ladder down into my quarters, thinking only of what I'm going to do in the morning. Maybe nothing. It hasn't been a year, yet. Not quite yet. There's still some time. As impatient as I've become, I can still wait… perhaps using the time to observe and see if she's still, you know, thinkin' of me that way…

Though, I've no clue why she would in the first place. I'm too old and… well, it's no secret that I don't deserve River. She needs someone young. 'Course, if she wanted me… I mean, she'd be crazy, but all the same…

"Never too old," says a soft voice behind me as my boots touch the floor, and I suddenly realize I've been muttering to myself, aloud. "And I'm not crazy, Mal."

I whirl around, part of me startled and part of me laughing at the startled part, as I really should have known she'd be there.

She smiles at me from the chair across the room, sitting barefoot and cross-legged in the seat. Not really knowing what to say to her, I just stand there, watching her face. Her eyes are watching me intently, gauging my reaction to her being there – so expressive… It's almost as though I can hear them speaking to me…

I've had time, they say to me, and I've waited. I've done as we agreed, but everything has only reaffirmed what I knew less than a year ago. I'm twenty, and I'm tired of waiting. I tried to love others, but I still love you.

She stands, slowly to show me her new dress – a violet, curvy thing with short bell-like sleeves and a skirt that barely reaches below her knees. She motions to it, as if I had been the one to give it to her. I can't find my voice. Her smile vanishes in the silence between us. Tentatively, she looks up at me, and I meet her eyes.

Okay, if one of us doesn't speak, I'm going to lose my mind.

"H-happy birthday, River,"

She smiles, faintly, "My best friend forgot to give me a present,"

I frown, a little, "I thought Simon gave you the box of riddles,"

Her smile fades, "I said my best friend, not my brother."

Oh… I see. I… musta read her wrong… I can feel my chest tighten, and I know I'm pressing my lips thin, but I hope she doesn't notice.

There's a pause before I can get my voice to work, and regardless, I know I can't stop it from shaking, "So… is that what you want, then? Just to be-"

"My present, Mal, yes," she says quickly, "That's what I want."

I… her present? She knew what I was going to say, I know she did… and she didn't want me to finish it.

I'd forgotten her present… Oh, I had it, but… I didn't know if she'd want it… At our last stop, when Kaylee had asked permission to get River a present, I decided to get her one, too. Slipping away from the others for awhile, I wasn't all that sure what to get her. Thinking back to when she'd kissed me, and what she'd said, and a strange thought had occurred to me…

"'s on the small table, behind you," I say, feeling large and clumsy. I don't think I can do this.

But… if anyone deserves this, she does. I will make myself swallow my embarrassment, and giveher this…

He actually got me a present? Oh… wow. I hadn't thought he had – and I'd been expecting… well, something else. I like that he surprised me with this… and part of me is thrilled that he didn't bring it to the party.

The box is small, tied with a blue ribbon. It looks like a kind of wood box, but I can't really tell. It's beautiful, even though it's small. I give him a bright smile before I turn my back to him and focus on the present.

I don't lift it up, but instead pull the ribbon off – I feel Mal come up behind me as I do – and set it off to the side. I run my fingers over the simple but delicate carvings around the edge of the box, which is not much bigger than my palm.

Still watching the box, I can also see Mal's hand reach out and collect the ribbon, and feel his other hand on my back, in my hair. I shiver a little at his touch. Carefully, he takes the ribbon and ties my hair back with it, pulling it into a bow – or as best as he can manage. I'm still staring at the box.

"Well?" he asks, softly, "Ain't you gonna open it, darlin'?"

I feel a small laugh escape my lips, "Didn't realize it opened…" I take my fingers under the ridge on the top and lift the top. Two things meet me: one, a small flower is sitting inside the box, slightly scrunched, as the box is just a bit too small for it. It looks like a rose of a kind… Second, the moment the lid opened, a soft tinkling waltz filled his cabin. "Music…" I say, beyond thrilled, "You got me a music box…" I close my eyes, smiling, and just listen to the music and let it sway me.

"Do… you like it?"

I feel tears well beneath my closed eyelids, "Oh, yes… so very much… I never had one, ever…" He's given me music. I love him so much…

I open my eyes to the feeling of his hand on my wrist. I look and I see he's retrieved the flower from the box and is tying it to my wrist with a small ribbon that was hidden underneath it.


He smiles, turning me around and taking my arms, "You never had this, either," he says, "Just one more thing the Alliance denied you. Some young man should have, some time, given you a flower for your wrist, and… danced with you. I'm not young-"

I snort a little, "I wish you'd stop saying that,"

"-I ain't fancy by any means, and I can't give you a grand ball, but," a smile plays at his mouth, "I can give you some music, and a dance. That is, if you don't mind it being with a grubby ol' space captain,"

I can feel my eyes burning with the tears I'm trying not to shed. I don't want to cry right now, not even happy tears… I can't even speak, but instead I smile and let him take my hands, and lead me around his room.

I've never danced, so I check his thoughts on how we move. It's nice. Just him and I, together, dancing… I feel… I close my eyes, and I think of the childhood fairy-tales that Kaylee tells me from time to time. I'm in a beautiful dress, my hair beautiful done, and I am being waltzed around a grand ballroom by my handsome prince…

A few tears escape my eyes. I don't think I have ever been this happy. Sheer joy.

I open my eyes and see Mal, watching me closely, a funny lopsided smile playing on his lips. It's not a smile I recognize, and then I realize he's… embarrassed? I think so. He's never danced with me before now…

The tinkling music slows down and stops all together. I watch him, but suddenly he can't seem to meet my gaze. There's a heavy weight on my heart, and I know that if I don't say something, I'll burst inside. It doesn't help that I'm crying in earnest now.

"You… you gave me music," is all I can find to say, before my mouth feels bombarded by a bout of gibberish, "The forest of… such a noble knight… returning the lost and stolen…"

He smiles at me, "You've been listening to Kaylee too much," he says softly, dropping his arms and resting them at my sides, almost afraid to touch me,

I laugh a little, "I know," I sniff and wipe away my tears. My fingers finish and then find their way to Mal's shirt, latching onto his buttons. There's silence between us again.

Forcing my eyes up to his, and I find more words bubbling out of my mouth before I can stop them. I try to stop them, but… I love him so much, and he's been so kind to me, I can't hold them in a moment longer.

"Mal… gorram the 'Verse and all who would stop me, I won't wait for the year, I won't wait another minute – I love you…"

"…I love you… and if you turn me away, Mal, I swear I'll die…" her eyes are deep and intense as she says the words that startle me so much.

Her eyes… doesn't it always come down to her eyes? Staring into them, I feel like a fool. How could I have doubted that she ever didn't love me? All this time, all my worries and fears, all for nothing. How could I have ever thought that bounds of her mind or her age would stop her from falling in love with someone? Sheppard spoke to me of hell… but he also spoke to me of believing and of faith. I may still have my doubts about higher powers, but right now, before me, stands a woman – yes, woman – who has placed her faith in me and found love for it. As I stare into her eyes, I know that regardless of what I do or don't believe in, spiritually, I believe in her… in how much she loves me… and in how much I really, truly, do love her.

Perhaps time was what we needed… to erase all our doubts.

My heart is racing wildly, and I can clearly see that we both are breathless from her proclamation. My hands are shaking like a mad man, but I pull them up and hold her face, threatening to lose myself in those beautiful eyes of hers.

"Gorramit, River," I say, my voice sounding rough and deeper than I'm accustomed to, "Spare my soul, hang the 'Verse, and hang anyone else who thinks otherwise, I-" my voice cracks slightly, mere inches from her face, "I love you so much, I can't stand it anymore!"

I've paid my dues, and so I answer the echoing screams my mouth had from the last time our lips met, pressing her lips to mine. Shiny... fiery...I won't hold back this time – I couldn't, even if I did want to.

I now completely feel the spell that River Tam puts upon me, making my limbs move without my permission – she's always made them do that. One hand moves down to the small of her back, pulling her closer to me. The other runs up behind her neck, tangling itself in her hair and grants me better access to her lips.

And River herself, she doesn't waste a minute, either. She's got bother her arms wrapped under my own, curling up and over my shoulders, pressing our hearts together… I can feel hers beating against mine…

No, with mine.

Her heartbeat steadies me, keeps me from going beyond what either of us is ready for – we both know this isn't lust – though I do want her – and this isn't a flare of passion, bright but eventually fading. This, this thing between her and I, is… well, love. I love River Tam – I know that for sure, now. This is forever… it should be forever, but… this is as new to me as it is to her. Neither of us wants to mess things up now. We want it done right, made to last.

The flare that we have now… well, that's almost a year's worth of frustration from ignoring a truth that ought not to have been ignored. This will steady soon…

But just because we're going to – and how do I even know this about her? I ain't even asked her… I just know… somehow – take things slow, doesn't mean I won't take every opportunity I possibly can to draw her close and feel her heart beating…

Or kiss her brains out…

Oh River… my River… go on, read my thoughts… I am completely in love with you…

I'm flying!

His hands hold me, his lips touch me… more, deeper… I know how Serenity feels… Mal's love is so complete, no wonder Serenity flies… Love keeps her up, he told me, so long ago, and now I know he meant it. Love makes you fly.

The only thing keeping me from going over the edge, from completely shattering the fragile connections that have mended my abused mind over the last year and a half is feeling his heartbeat against my chest. I have to grasp his shoulders tightly, or else I can't feel it… without it to let me know that this is veryreal, not an imagined figment my brain has concocted, I would surely go mad all over again…

Neither of us is ready for more than this, just now… I can feel it in him. He desires me, terribly so – heavens, he wants me! – but he's felt desire before, all to shattered and broken hearts. No… this time, we'll tread carefully, making sure each knot is secure before moving onward to the next one. First we needed time. Now, we need strength… strength to survive, to grow, to last… and we will. I know it.

Oh River… my River… go on, read my thoughts… I am completely in love with you…

I would smile or laugh, but… hmm, there's more important things than that, right now. I tighten my grip on him, kissing him deeper…

I love him so much… it seems illogical that I could love anyone as much as this. I know its love… because he loves me, too.

Oh, and I intend to be selfish. He's all mine.

He's mine… my love, my life, my strength…

My Mal.


A/N: Oh, I hope you all enjoyed this fic... I sure did love writing it, and I love you're beautiful reviews even more! Thank you so much for all the wonderful support! Once again, I ask you to review - you're reviews inspire me!

Now, I expect that many of you will request what so many others have requested on the last chapter of my fics, that I please write more. Well, I can't on this particular fic... it started with River, and it has ended with River. However, I must confess, I do enjoy writing Firefly fics, so if I do more (An idea for a new one struck me while finishing this one... perhaps you all picked up on it, too... I did give a few little hints) then they will happen after this one, meaning Mal and River will be together. I don't know what they'll be about yet, maybe a few one shots, or maybe dealing with some of the others... we'll see. But, I don't often regress in fics - so anything will be from here on out. Just FYI.

Thank you all again! Do please review!

Lots of love,