Disclaimer: Firefly isn't mine. All hail Joss Whedon!
A/N: This is my first Firefly fic, so please let me know how I did. Writing Firefly – particularly with River as the main character– makes me unbelievably nervous.
River's first love is Simon, but he's her brother and siblings don't do that sort of thing together. Love has certain set steps and rules, just like a dance, and one of those rules is brothers don't touch sisters like that.
Love, River thinks, shouldn't have rules, should be wild and free and uncomplicated.
"There are different kinds of love, River," Simon tells her, and she understands but doesn't comprehend, because love is the same sort of madness in all its forms, whether it's parent-brother-friend-lover. It's the kind of madness that makes a person put someone else first, against every survival instinct ingrained in men since the dawn of their being.
Love is just another madness that afflicts River Tam.
She loves Serenity and she loves the crew and she loves complete strangers, too, because she can see in their heads and knows what makes them who they are. She loves the dead and speaks their secrets so everyone will know, everyone will mourn, because the dead shouldn't be forgotten, rewritten as nothings in falsified histories.
Sometimes she thinks she loves everyone in the 'verse and hates them all too, and the voices are a blessing as much as they're a curse.
River loves Serenity because the ship's voice is smooth and quiet and completely honest. And River loves every member of the crew, is in love with every member of the crew, because she knows them better than they know themselves, even if she doesn't always understand.
She's in love with Simon's devotion and Kaylee's optimism and Jayne's stubbornness and Zoë's strength and Inara's grace. Before they died, she was in love with Shepherd Book's faith and Wash's playfulness – still is, really, because neither of them is really gone, not when belief's taken root in the captain's mind and laughter's a seed in Zoë's belly, a new life growing to ease the passing of another. Book and Wash's ghosts yet linger and live, and River loves them for that, too.
She's in love with Captain Mal, with the shadows in his eyes that mirror the ones clouding his spirit, with the mysteries twining about each other in his mind – mysteries only River Tam knows completely.
Most of all, she's in love with the way he sees her, his albatross. He isn't scared, doesn't fear her abilities, doesn't shiver when he thinks about how she hears on all levels – sound and body and soul and mind. It's a powerful trust he grants her, putting Serenity into her hands, and it's a powerful need he has for each of his mysteries to be solved, so he can finally be not alone. He doesn't want to talk, won't bare himself or his shadows, but with River he doesn't have to. She sees him anyway.
There's no mystery River can't solve except herself, and no secrets she betrays but those of the dead. She tells the captain as much, and he half-smiles in a way that shows up clearer in his eyes than on his lips.
"Well now, darlin'," he says in that quiet, smooth way that puts River in mind of fireflies gliding through space, "as I'm not a ghost, I'd say that suits me just fine."