Title: Stability
Author: Ana Sedai
Rating: PG

Character(s): BDC (Big Damn Crew) (again)
Prompt: 020 - Still
Word Count: 967

A/N: 19/100 for Mal/River Joss100.

Summary: Everything else swirls around her, but Mal remains still.

Another day, another ill-advised caper. They were on Beaumonde, scheduled to pick up some slightly less-than-legal contraband from Badger's contact, a factory owner who didn't hold a very high opinion of the local economic laws. Serenity was in her usual pre-job state of controlled bedlam.

"Hey, has anyone seen my auto-adjuster?" Kaylee was making last-minute modifications to the Mule, since this cargo was supposed to be a tad bigger than most. Her tools normally were quite well-organized. But, she had been a mite distracted lately…

"Where in the 'verse is my autoclave?" was Simon's frustrated yell as he marched into the bay. He was trying to take stock of the infirmary supplies, on the not-so-off chance that something would go wrong that required a stitch or twenty.

"I ain't tryin' to be difficult. But no way am I goin' out again with no grenades!"

"It's a factory, Jayne. It's a factory filled with lots of things that go boom. One grenade of yours gets loose, and we're gonna be among those things."

Zoe and Jayne were having a rather heated discussion about his tendency to enlist slightly more firepower than was strictly needed for the job at hand. This was assuming that job wasn't the takeover and subjugation of a small moon, of course.

Mal stood in the middle of the cargo bay, arms folded, a simultaneously affectionate and amused expression on his face as he watched the antics.

And River watched Mal.

She had perched herself on the catwalk above the bay, enjoying the swirl of color and movement as everyone went about their business. Or is that 'busyness'? she thought, and smiled. She watched the patterns of movement and voices, saw how, completely unconsciously, Mal pulled everyone into orbit around him.

Usually, Mal was right in there with everyone else, blustering and hovering over them. Not today, though. Today he seemed content to just observe. He stood straight and tall, a solid reference point in a mini-sea of chaos.

He had always been that, for her. Everything else swirled around her, but Mal remained still. From the very first, he had been her anchor, when her mind had twisted upside down and inside out and there had been no way to pull back from the brink. Kaylee had given her peace, but Mal had given her stability, and that was something that she had craved above all else.

Her mind was quieter now, but the craving was still there, a craving for something more. She wanted more than just stability, more than just sanity. She wanted, needed to be there for him, as he had been for her. Sometimes it felt like that need was gnawing inside her, sometimes it felt more like a vague yearning. It was always there, though.

She was well aware of how pathetic that need might seem to others. Depending on someone else so entirely, wanting them to depend on you, was not something that was considered desirable, or even healthy. But River had not had the luxury of self-deception for many years. She was what she was, and she knew what she knew.

She could never be whole again, not by herself. This, she had accepted without bitterness. Simon had not accepted it, not yet. Perhaps he never would. He always wanted to fix people, make them better. His coming to terms with the idea that his own sister couldn't be completely healed would require time and patience, which they fortunately had in spades. As for her, it was simply the way things were, and railing against it would change nothing. Instead, she counted herself blessed that there was someone who could make her whole in spirit. Mal had proved it the other night.

He'd since done his best to pretend it had never happened. She heard the new turmoil in his thoughts, and while she regretted being somewhat responsible for his unrest, she was glad that he was beginning to see. Reluctantly, slowly, and only in pieces, but it was another beginning, another step.

He caught sight of her legs swinging above his line of sight, and craned his neck to see her. "You okay up there, little one? Gotta be ready to move in a few. Your brother about blew a gasket last time, and I'd prefer to be gone 'fore he gets it into his head to change his mind again."

"Changeability is unstable, doesn't allow roots to take hold. Makes things hard to understand."

"Exactly, which is why I'd appreciate you gettin' some shoes so we can, as previously mentioned, get gone. Don't fancy those little feet of yours bein' stomped on."

She smiled at him, despite his semi-irritated tone, and tripped down to her room to retrieve her boots. Little feet? It gave her a warm feeling to know that he found some part of her attractive. She blew out a sigh at his selective obtuseness, though. Mal was her stability, but his feelings themselves were not stable, not yet. He drew closer, she reached out, he retreated. It was very frustrating. She knew the outcome, but the path before her was always shifting.

She walked back into the bay just in time to leave. She climbed into the Mule, Simon's usual warnings of caution in her ears, and she caught Mal's eye just before he focused his attention back to the controls.

For an instant, she'd seen affection and pride in that gaze. She'd felt it, too, very strongly. The warm feeling came back, and a tiny grin worked at the corners of her mouth as she took her seat.

One day, Mal. One day your feelings will become still, and you will accept. We can balance each other, and you will see what I can give, as you have given. One day…