Title: The Bear
Author: Erin
Rating: G
Spoilers: Post-BDM
Summary: River browses the general store.
Disclaimer: Firefly belongs to Joss. Serenity belongs to Joss. Mal belongs... yeah, it all belongs to Joss. I will give NO credit to FOX, because they are stupid and canceled the show. So there! The bear is mine - quite literally. I'll take a picture if you want to see him. Though, in reality, he has no name. Never has. :\

River Tam glanced at the items set on shelves: dinner plates next to garden shears; framed pictures next to socks. There was no pattern. No set order.

The stores Mother and Father had taken her to always had a pattern.

Shoes at the shoe store. Dresses at the dress store. Food at the grocery.

Perhaps this was the defining characteristic between civilized and uncivilized. No. There must be a pattern. She would find it. And, it would make sense.

As River continued to formulate, the older woman behind the counter smiled. River stopped looking at the shelves. Maybe the answer was on the walls.

Tools. Artwork. Birdcages.

Behind the woman at the register, bolts of fabric in every color. On the counter, jars of candies. River found herself counting the red ones, almost instinctively.

"27," the woman heard, but didn't understand what it was referring to. As River moved along the long counter, seeing bottles of every shape and size, her eye caught on a brown spot. Stopping, River took a step back and turned at the waist. Sitting on the third shelf, almost out of the older woman's reach, was a bear.

There was nothing remarkable about this bear. He was simple in design; white paws, white snout, black eyes and nose. River cocked her head to one side as she stared at it - almost as if she was listening to him speak. The woman stepped closer to River.

"Would you like to take a closer look, dear?" River shook her head, but the woman had already reached for the bear. Noting the look in River's eyes, she added,

"It's no trouble." Holding the stuffed animal out for River to take, the woman smiled, assuring River that she could take hold of it. River gingerly accepted the small bear, holding it in front of her and making eye contact.

"Waitin' for it t'do a trick, Albatross?" Malcolm Reynolds asked. River was so intent on the bear, she didn't even notice the Captain standing next to her.

Setting down the last of the supplies he'd collected, Mal pulled the bear from River's grasp and gave it a once-over, expertly checking the price tag in the process. Wrapped around the bear's left arm was a tag, stating the name of the woman who constructed it, her home planet (which happened to be the next one in this system), and the bear's given name. Mal smirked, nodded at the construction, then pushed the bear back to River.

As she took it, River noticed a small silver tab. Mal noticed it as well and placed a hand over hers, holding the bear still from beneath, lifted the tab and turned it.

A moment later, a rather ragged tune emerged from the ball of fluff. River closed her eyes, taking in the melody. Probably intended to calm young children, put them to sleep, make them forget the monster in the closet. River opened her eyes as the notes died and placed the bear gently on the counter.

"Thank you," she said quietly, then moved away from the counter, heading for the doorway, where Zoe was waving across the street to Kaylee, Simon and Inara.

Mal made a "Kids!" face and waited for the woman to finish totaling his purchase of food and sundries. She called for one of the delivery boys to load up the wagon with the larger items and directed the young man to follow Mal back to his ship. Mal thanked the woman, then headed for Zoe and River, who were currently being shown Kaylee's most recent shipyard find.

As Mal stepped outside, he nodded to Simon, who was ignoring the girls and taking in the landscape. Stopping next to River, he held the bear in front of her, almost nose-to-nose. Wide-eyed, River turned to Mal. When he nodded, she took the bear. Zoe, watching this scene, smiled, then turned back to Kaylee and Inara, who were oblivious to what had just happened.

As Mal brushed past River, he murmured,

"Won't be gettin' nothin' on your birthday." He held the serious face for a moment, then grinned and winked. Kaylee noticed him and shrieked.

"Cap'n! You won't believe what I found for Serenity!" As she began her story, for the third time, River turned the bear over, twisted the key as Mal had done, and then waited for the tune to play. Opening the tag still on his left arm, River smiled.