Disclaimer: I don't own it. Everything you recognise belongs to Joss. No infringement
is intended and I'm certainly not making any money from this story.
Summary: A final resolution.
Author's note: Since this is the very end, thank you to all who have been reading, it's been
a long journey, but I really hope you've enjoyed it.


by Hereswith

River is about to quit the galley, when the captain comes in. He has his hand hidden from her view
and she refrains from peeking, either around or inside, and says, "Is it for me?"

"Yes." With a sheepish expression, he holds out a small bunch of flowers, which he must have
picked in the woods south of where Serenity is set aground, star-shaped blue, with pale green,
trifoliate leaves. "Happened to spot them," he says, elaborating, "and I figured—"

She kisses him, quick, but full on the mouth. "Thank you. For the flowers. And for the thought."

There's a faint hint of colour high on his cheekbones. "Should find something to put them in, 'fore
they wilt."

"I'll do it," she says, and takes the flowers, going to the kitchen area while he pulls out a chair and
sits. She uses a mug without handles as a vase and carries it, flowers arranged and watered, back
to the table, places the mug on the tabletop and hugs him from behind, burying her face against his
neck and breathing him in. "Simon said," she whispers, "that you were healed."

"Seems so," he replies, and, with unmistakable humour, "I'm fit enough, if that's what you're asking."

"Wouldn't be rushing," she continues. "I want to."

"I know." He touches her arm. "I'm aiming to do this right, băo bèi. Court you proper."

"It'd be right, no matter how you do it," she says, squeezing him to her, then straightens and perches
on the nearby chair. "And you've considered it, or you wouldn't have seen to protection."

He casts her a keen glance. "Caught on to that, did you?"

"Couldn't miss it," she explains. "It was very loud."

He harrumphs, but his lips twitch upward. "Went to a town doctor. Your brother would've had
my head."

"Maybe not," she says. "He's making an effort. But it would've been awkward."

"That's putting it mild."

She reaches out and brushes over the centre of a flower, dusting her fingertip yellow. "Doesn't
mean I don't like the courting. I do." She gazes askance at him. "Was hoping I could have both."

His smile widens. "You're makin' it awful hard for me to argue against it."

"Then don't," she replies. "No reason to."

He regards her, silent a moment, then says, "Well, I suppose we could—"

She brightens. "When?"

He laughs unrestrained, at that. "Not now, anyways. I have to speak to Zoe, and you should be
getting us fixed for take-off."

"Wasn't implying it had to be now, though I wouldn't have objected," River says, on a teasing note.
She lifts the mug, intending to bring it with her to the bridge. "Soon?"

He nods, and longing stirs sudden in her, at the look in his eyes. "Soon."


One evening, that same week, when Simon and Kaylee have retired, River goes in search of Mal
and locates him on the bridge, in the pilot's seat, staring into the black with a pensive expression.

"Don't go wandering too far." She walks up to the console and proceeds to turn the dinosaurs
around, so their heads are pointing toward the stars. "Might get lost."

He swivels the seat. "Got a light in the window to guide me, ain't I?" he replies, in reference to their
conversation in Inara's shuttle, and indicates the dinosaurs. "What's that for?"

She doesn't answer him directly. Instead, she straddles his lap and, as he grasps around her waist,
cups his cheeks in her palms, her thumbs smoothing his brows and the fine lines around his eyes,
and she tells him, "Nĭ hăo mĕi."

"Don't usually call a man beautiful," he replies, sounding flustered.

"Fèi huà," she states. "You are."

And he might have questioned it, but she prevents that, seeking his lips. He quiets, and sighs, and
she darts her tongue out to collide with his, tasting coffee and heat and Mal, and they settle into
a languid, lingering give and take, his hands stroking her sides and hips through the layers of clothing.
Pausing for air, she rests her forehead against his, not delving, but she skims the crests of his desire
for her, like a sea bird might its wings on the waves.

The beep from the console is jarring, and River gains focus before he does, changing her position
on his lap so that she has her back to him, his arm supporting her as she stretches to check. It's
a prompt from the navigational system, and Mal, restive, pushes her hair aside while she's making
the necessary corrections, exposing her neck to his fingers, and, when she's finished and leans
against him, his mouth, and she lets her head drop on his shoulder, mumbling approval.


"Didn't expect that," she says, much later, encircled in his arms, when she's capable of formulating
a sentence with some coherence. "Glad I turned the dinosaurs."

He chuckles, but it's strained, and River, realising his predicament, twists sideways. She never gets
the chance to act, though, for someone's approaching, entering the passage that leads to the bridge,
and River scrambles to her feet, blurting out, "Zoe," and Mal's oath is gritted, but he doesn't
hinder her.

When Zoe arrives, River is standing, somewhat weak-kneed, by the pilot's seat, while Mal is still
sitting, and Zoe halts inside the doorway.

Mal clears his throat. "There a problem?"

Zoe looks from Mal, to River, to the star-watching dinosaurs. "Not really, sir," she says, her face
straight, but her eyes are brimming with laughter. "Nothing that can't wait till morning, when you've
less—pressing matters on your mind."

After Zoe has bid them goodnight and taken her leave, Mal mutters a chagrined, "Gorram it," and
scowls, and River clamps her lips together to keep from grinning, but fails.

He glares at her, but she's unfazed and unrepentant, and in the end he shakes his head, with
a reluctant smile. "Jayne'll be next," he says, wryly. "It'd be a mite more private-like in my bunk,
if you're inclined?"

She extends her hand to him. "Yes."


"Don't worry," she says, as he sheds his boots and socks, as he slips the suspenders down, because
he does, she can recognise it by the tautness of his jaw, without resorting to a reader's skills.

He glances at her. "Should be me saying that, shouldn't it? Seeing's I'm the one who's done it before."

She tilts her head. "With someone who hasn't?"

"No," he admits, tugging his shirt out of his trousers.

She steps up him, to do the unbuttoning. "Then it's a first for both of us."

"In a manner of speaking," Mal agrees, but tips her chin to meet his gaze. "What about you?"

"A little," she replies. "But I'm mostly curious."

"That ain't a surprise," he says, his arm sinking to his side. "Anything have you spooked, you tell me.
Hăo ma?"

"I promise."

She unfastens the final button, shoving his shirt off his shoulders, and the sleeves are rolled up, so
she doesn't have to bother with the cuffs. He shrugs out of it, giving a laugh at her enthusiasm, but
it fades as she roams her hands over his torso, experimenting. He's silken, apart from the scars: his
past, the distant and the recent, etched into his flesh, and it's too enticing to resist, she swoops in,
nips with her teeth, and licks, but then his fingers are in her hair, his mouth urgent on hers, and he
backs her toward the bed.

He's careful about it, trying to ease things for her, but it's new and strange, and though there's
minimal pain, she isn't swept to any heights of pleasure. It's rather the intimacy of it that staggers
her, and the knowledge, oh, the awareness of how she affects him, makes her giddy.

Afterwards, she ponders the experience, propped on her elbow beside him. She's a bit sore,
which she assumes is natural, under the circumstances, and it gives her delicious satisfaction that
it's done, that she's finally shared this with him, but it isn't like she's been magically transformed,
becoming something she wasn't.

"I don't feel different," she comments, nudging him out of shallow slumber. "Should I?" She
studies him. "Did you?"

"First time?" he replies, taking the question in stride, and lazily scratches his chin. "Not as such.
But I was pretty smug 'bout it, truth to tell."

"I'm smug," she confides. "I've had you."

He grins, but it's fleeting. "Wasn't what it can be. What it will be, when you're accustomed to it,"
he says, his tone apologetic. "You ain't disappointed?"

"No," she says, with firm emphasis. "Didn't hurt that much, and the rest made up for it. Honest."
It chases the concern from his features, and she sneaks her hand over his ribs, adding, "Can I be
on top, next time?"

His eyes glint with amusement. "Ticking off a list, are you?"

She blushes. Not all of her fantasies about him have been innocent, and his guess isn't completely
wrong. "It isn't exactly a list. I'm merely—"

"Curious." He trails the backs of his fingers over her cheek. "We can do whatever you've fancy
for, but I ain't able to keep at it tireless. You might have to wait for me to catch up."

She shifts, until she's snug and comfortable, and as close to him as she can be. "Worth waiting for."

It encompasses more than the obvious, the physical, and it doesn't escape him, his arm goes
around her, and the words he utters are gruff and infinitely fond.

Her lips curve, against his chest. "Not so little," she replies. "But I'll always be your albatross."