Disclaimer: not mine, not for profit

Notes: For Whedonland fic photo prompt, b/w rose

Summary: Mal's been fighting his whole life against conformity; until recently, River's family embraced it


White roses and white lilies surround the graves, all bearing tear shaped drops from the recent rain shower.

Mal, cursing under his breath, at last finds River sitting by a gravestone that looks like every other.

"Where'd you get to, little one?"

"Here."

Ah, literalness. Mal bites back a sigh. "Why?"

"Sadness here." River looks up, eyes brimming with tears. There are days she's still overwhelmed by emotions not her own.

"It is a cemetery," he feels compelled to point out.

She shakes her head, long dark tresses falling forward past her shoulders. "Too many regulations. All must look the same. Only these flowers. Nothing else. No ornaments. No sunflowers. No distinctiveness. Even in death their individuality taken. The living have every facet of their lives controlled, not able to mourn nor commemorate how they choose."

Mal glances around, making sure they aren't attracting unwanted attention. He crouches beside the cross-legged River.

"That's what authorities do," he says. "They take away your choices. They start with stopping you killing people over something they said that you didn't like, but they wind up telling you how to wear your hair and what food to eat."

River nods fervently. "That's why you fought in the war," she says. "The Independents. Fighting for independent thought, individual action. Non-conformists. Wanting to wear brown coats and tattoos. Liking the mind-altering substances better than the enforced mind-altering pharmaceuticals the doctors prescribe."

Mal frowns. "Your brother was likely one of those doctors."

"Yes. He was part of the problem. Then he realised the government breaks people. He only ever wanted to help and they told him this is how you live and this is how you help. Ingrained. Hard habit to break but he's trying." She blinks hard. "Our parents never could break it. Society more important than family, appearances more important than reality."

The Tams rarely talk of their parents and Mal feels a surge of anger toward them. They turned their backs on their children when Simon's only shame was to try and save his sister, and she was just an innocent caught in the Academy's machinations.

He had better never run into Mr and Mrs Tam, Mal swears, or he will be the last person they ever see.

River touches his knee. "They're our parents, our vengeance. We'll never go back. Simon knows he couldn't restrain himself. So we don't go back."

Mal knows what that's like, being unable to ever go home.

"Serenity is our home now," she reminds him, as if saying that ice is cold. She returns her gaze to the white roses, the same exact arrangement on the graves either side of this one.

"You lost the battle," River says distantly, "but you'll never lose the war. Can't stop the signal. Can't stop people being people. Keep trying. Keep flying."

Mal gets to his feet, tries to stop himself from tearing up. "That's what we do," he says.

River lets him help her up and they return home.