Yup, new fandom. First multi-part addition to new fandom. Will by Mal/ River eventually. But might sneak some Jayne/River moments in cuz they are just so darned cute!
A slow slide
Part 1- Zoë knows.
It was Zoë who noticed it first. She hadn't exactly been herself since Wash died, but that didn't mean that her perception had dwindled any, and definitely not when it came to Mal. He was the only family that she had now and she was taking that seriously.
After Miranda and the events on that ee da tuo da bien planet she'd tried to keep her eye to her captain more often, knowing that he would be feeling the harsh realities of what he'd seen and what he'd done.
So it was she who noticed first that, whenever he walked into a room, his eyes searched for little River.
Once they'd found her, it was like he relaxed—not enough so that anyone else would notice, maybe he didn't even notice himself, but for someone who had dragged his bloody, sweaty ass for miles, she was far more intimately acquainted with his body than she wanted to be.
And it seemed that the captain was becoming more aware of River than he wanted to be and Zoë found that all kinds of funny.
The captain had always held onto his emotions and covered his feelings far better than anyone ever had a right to and still be standing when the dust settled. Some had suggested that he didn't have emotions like regular people but that was wrong.
Zoë knew what it was like to stand with him and watch him openly grieve for the thousands under his command who would never make it home. She had watched tears fall, unchecked and unbidden from his eyes as he looked on the corpse of a child he had once ordered into battle and she had watched him lose a faith so strong it had kept him standing when long since he shoulda fallen.
Sure enough the captain had feelings and they were bleeding through for the girl who could read minds and hear voices.
Zoë was actually surprised that the little reader hadn't noticed it yet; hadn't noticed that the captain watched over her in a less than captainy way. But maybe the girl—woman was still coming to terms with her part on Miranda and wasn't focusing on the way that Mal looked to her like she was his salvation. Of course, neither had her overprotective brother who had threatened Mal more than once over his sister's safety. It wouldn't be her safety he'd be looking to if the captain got what he wanted.
Which he usually did. Once he'd realised that he wanted it.
It would surely make for some interesting times.