Title: Acceptance

Series: She's Not Normal

Author: mik109

Rating: PG at most

Disclaimer: Not mine. Gorramit!

Spoilers: Serenity (both the pilot and BDM), Safe

A/N I started this as sort of a twist on how River and Jayne could get together, but it may be too OC to continue. As always it's unbeta'd, so the mistakes are sadly mine.

After the BDM, Simon and Mal decide it's time for River to date.

Acceptance

"Simon…" River's voice expressed both love for and annoyance at her brother.

"I'm just saying that nice man at the bookstore seemed quite interested in you. We are going to be town until tomorrow. You could have gone to dinner with him," encouraged Simon.

The rest of the Serenity crew had already taken their seats at the table, but turned to look at the Tam siblings as they entered the mess. While the arguing wasn't new, the topic was. Since when had Simon decided his sister was stable enough to date?

Mal's brows furrowed. This was an unexpected turn of events. He hated sudden changes of direction. He tended to get shot at such times.

Zoe, Inara, and Kaylee exchanged exasperated looks. Not too long ago, Simon would have thrown a conniption if a man had so much as glanced at River. Now, he was actively pushing men at his sister. Why was it all or nothing with males?

Jayne dropped some protein from the nearest bowl on his plate and began eating.

Simon saw River into a chair before seating himself between her and Kaylee.

"So, ya met a guy?" asked Kaylee.

"Yes." "No." Simon and River responded at the same time.

After everyone started eating, Simon explained, "An attractive store owner asked River if she was busy tonight."

Irritated, River said, "If he liked him so much, he should have gone to dinner with him himself."

Everyone laughed.

"You haven't had an episode in months. You've turned a corner in your treatment. I just think it would be good for you to broaden your horizons."

Mal's mind cleared. The doc was right. The li'l albatross was much better, otherwise he wouldn't let her pilot the ship sometimes. She was a young woman, maybe a bit of romance wouldn't be amiss. She'd had precious few chances to act like other girls her age.

"Simon, she does not have proper conversational topics for a date." River tried again to make Simon understand.

"That's not true, mei mei. You could talk about art, dance, music…"

River rolled her eyes and began a dialogue with an imaginary beau, a proper one like Simon would approve of.

She dropped her voice and threw her shoulders back in importance. She addressed Kaylee. "For my 15th birthday, a chef baked this huge chocolate cake made from real cocoa beans."

River cleared her face, leaned forward as if to share a secret, and spoke in her normal voice. "When she was fifteen, doctors sliced her brain up like it was birthday cake."

"River…"

River ignored Simon and continued her dialogue. She spoke to Inara. "As a joke, I sent a stripper to jump out of an enormous wrapped present at my brother's graduation party."

They all knew where she was going. That memory was hard to wipe away. Most of them winced. Jayne struggled to keep the feral grin off his face, so much pale skin.

River mock whispered. "She crawled naked from a cryo box into a room full of strangers while her brother was being slowly strangled by a mercenary."

Jayne smiled briefly at the memory of being allowed to choke Simon. He sighed. Cap'n wouldn't let him anymore.

Seeing Simon hadn't quite gleaned the reality yet, River played her last hand. Turning to Zoe, she inserted a whine into her uppercrust voice. "I know 23 different ways to tie my tie."

"She knows 23 different ways to kill you with her soup spoon," deadpanned River.

Jayne looked at his spoon.

River turned her gaze to Simon. "The girl doesn't think they'd make it to the next course."

"Mei mei…" He finally understood, but it broke his heart.

"She never expected to find romance, Simon. She danced and read and fought imaginary enemies. She corrected homework and scholarly works and frightened her parents and all the others." River leaned toward Simon and gently kissed his forehead. "He forgets he's the only one who ever thought she was a gift. She is fine. She has accepted her life. He should, too."

River stood and quietly exited the mess.

The silence stretched.

"She ain't wrong." Mal held up a hand to stop the doctor's indignant words for a second. "She's not normal. Some of that has been done to her, but some of it hasn't. According to you, she ain't never been normal. You can't expect her to have a normal life." He grinned lopsidedly. "Although I do hope she'd never be bored enough to have that discussion over dinner."

Everyone laughed at his final statement but it died quickly because the first statements were unfortunately true. And very sad. Even Jayne felt a momentary twinge.

"Mal's right, Simon. We all know she's a lovely caring girl." Inara ignored Jayne's snort. "However, her differences may keep her from ever experiencing things most of us take for granted. It's not wrong for her to be different. It's wrong for us to wish she wasn't."

Simon earnestly replied, "But I don't wish she was different. No matter what she's been through, she has demonstrated strength, resiliency and unbelievable courage. I am so proud of her." He sighed. "I guess I just want someone else to see it too." Simon's eyes dropped to his plate. "Maybe then she'll start to believe it herself."

The crew sightlessly contemplated their meals. River was a powerful and passionate person but she could not completely cover her loneliness.

Jayne returned to his eating but picked up his spoon with his off hand, staring at it intently.

"I haven't been trying to fix her to bring her back to the child who left for the academy. I want to help her move forward into the extraordinary woman I've always known she'd be." Simon smiled at the thought.

Simon laced his fingers with Kaylee's. "I've found such happiness. I want the same for her."

"Cuz ya fell guilty." Kaylee smiled at him without bitterness. She understood. She felt a little guilty too.

Simon gently squeezed her hand. "I know I shouldn't." He grinned at the crew. "River would be very angry."

They laughed. Boy, would she, and that would cause a whole lot of trouble.

Jayne turned his spoon over, pursing his lips in thought.

"Which is why you're gonna stop. We don't need your sweet li'l sis to start throwing temper tantrums. They were bad enough when she wasn't all there. I wouldn't want to see one now that she is." Mal shuddered exaggeratedly. "'Cause if that happens, I think the rest of us would feel compelled to do something really important alone in our locked bunks."

The laughter eased the tension briefly. Until Zoe spoke.

"No matter how much it hurts now. I wouldn't give up the time I did have with Wash for anything. If the right man comes along, River will find him. Even if she's not expecting him." Zoe laughed. "Probably especially if she's not expecting him. I would never have imagined a man like Wash in my life. But he was everything I didn't know I wanted or needed." She looked compassionately at Simon. "You'll have to let her be. When the time comes, she'll find someone strong enough for this life."

Inara added, "Someone who'll listen."

"Someone who'll make her laugh." Kaylee grinned.

Simon ruefully included, "Someone who isn't afraid of her."

Mal contributed, "Someone to back her up in a fight."

"Someone crazy enough to take her."

"Jayne!" Several wadded up napkins hit him in the head.

"Hey, ya'll had yer say," defended Jayne.

"Yes, however, we were being constructive." Mal reproved Jayne.

Jayne snorted. "Well, I git paid to be de-structive." His eyes dropped back down to the spoon. He turned it around and stared at the handle.

Kaylee shook her head at Simon. "Don't matter anyways. You and the Cap'n will never find anyone good 'nough."

"That's not true. That perfectly nice..," muttered Simon.

"Perfectly nice ain't gonna cut it out here in the black." Mal had his own ideas about what would constitute a good match for River. And Core-bred wasn't on the list. Someone like that wouldn't survive for long. Simon had barely managed it.

"I think we are both mature enough to let River choose for herself." Simon sighed. "However, Kaylee is right. Speculating on who would be acceptable doesn't matter. I can't force River to take a step when she doesn't feel she's ready for it."

Kaylee gently kissed Simon. "Ya're a great brother. But sometimes ya care too much." She smiled at him once more before heading back to the engine room.

Zoe and Inara stood up. Zoe reminded the men, "We cooked. You clean." As they left the mess, Inara tossed over her shoulder at Mal and Simon. "Try not to plot too hard. You're schemes rarely play out as anticipated."

Simon and Mal rolled their eyes. Sometimes women didn't get it. They were men; they had to plan. They began to clear the table.

Jayne hadn't moved.

"Jayne. Jayne. Jayne!" Mal finally yelled at the unresponsive merc.

Jayne jumped, looked wildly around the room. Where'd everyone go? He saw Mal glaring at him, he glared back. "What?"

"Meal's over. Go find something else to do."

Jayne shrugged and stood up.

"Ya think she'd tell me," asked Jayne, waving the spoon he still hadn't let go of.

"Who'd tell you what?" That man got more confusing by the day. Mal did not appreciate it at all. He preferred his hired muscle to be straightforwardly selfish and mean that's how he knew all was right with the 'verse.

"The moonbrain," responded Jayne in an exasperated tone. Did they not pay attention at all? Sheesh. How could they not wonder? Twas driving him nuts.

"Her name is River. I'm sure she'd appreciate being addressed by her own name, even by you." Simon continued clearing the table.

Jayne rolled his eyes and snorted. Like that was gonna happen.

Mal was still confused. "Tell you what?" He repeated the unanswered part of his question.

"The 23 ways to kill someone stupid 'nough to date the crazy girl with her spoon." His look clearly added "duh" to the end of that bizarrely convoluted sentence.

Mal and Simon couldn't believe Jayne had actually listened to River. When he wasn't ignoring her, Jayne tended to provoke River for his own deranged amusement. The man got paid to defend himself and others, but the girl had already proved more than once that she could take him down. Jayne just didn't seem to care. Of course, her comment had been about violence and Jayne loved his violence.

Mal and Simon tensed then suddenly stared at Jayne with slack jaws, seemingly unable to speak. An odd spark dawned in their eyes and it made Jayne twitchy.

Annoyed by the weird looks, Jayne glanced forlornly at his spoon before tossing it in the sink and exiting the mess.

The captain and the doctor watched his retreating form disappear. Then their gazes turned apprehensively towards the other. When their eyes met neither spoke for a minute.

Mal cleared his throat. "We'll both be goin' to the Special Hell."

"This is what going mad must really feel like," suggested Simon.

Their gazes turned back to the corridor Jayne had walked down. It seemed River's former insanity had found two new homes.