Secret, PG-13, Firefly (post BDM), Mal/River. Written as gift fic for Castleland.

Robbins counted the coins. He looked up now and then to gaze at River. Mal, Zoë and Jayne were all in strategically placed positions to react if something untoward occurred, but it was River who paced around, glancing everywhere and nowhere, that Robbins was drawn to.

"Seems to be all here," he said at last, reaching for a cashbox. "People think it's odd, paying money to buy other money, but these are real collectables you know."

"I'd rather have something I can spend," Mal said.

Robbins nodded and reached into the box, eyes once again on River.

"I'll thank you to keep your eyes on the transaction," Mal said, stepping forward and putting himself in Robbins's eyeline. Robbins's bodyguard stirred, but Robbins held out a hand.

"Forgive me. I only look, never touch. I'm married, you know. It's just that your daughter's a fine looking woman, Captain. A credit to you."

"Daughter?" the blood drained from Mal's face. Robbins didn't notice, now hurrying to complete the exchange before it got violent.

"There we are. A pleasure doing business with you." Robbins stood, rubbed his hands together, a fixed grin on his face. Everything in his manner said, "Go away," but it took River touching Mal's shoulder for him to recover his senses, gather up the payment, and leave.

"Thought she was his daughter," Jayne explained to Simon, waving a fork around as he did so. There was much hilarity at this, except from River and Mal.

Mal stood.

"Wait, there's dessert," Kaylee said. "Just give me a moment to clear the plates away."

"Not hungry." Mal left the dining area.

"What's got into him?" Jayne asked, quickly moving on to the more pressing concern of, "Can I have his dessert, too?"

River tipped her head. "Do not dare, Jayne. He'll want it later. Mine can wait also, Kaylee. I need some air."

River headed off and climbed down the ladder into Mal's cabin.

"You shouldn't follow me," he said.

"But I came to comfort you."

He sat on the bed. "No point saying I don't need comforting, is there?"

"No. I can tell you're upset." River sat next to him. "Robbins made a mistake, that's all. Your protectiveness made him wary."

"He's right, though. I'm old enough to be your father." He sighed. "I wish it wasn't so."

River nested into him, head on his shoulder, and he put one arm around her. "It's all right. I don't mind."

"I do. It makes me feel dirty, which hurts, because I love you, River. I wish I didn't, because that would make things easier." He kissed her hair. "That's why we haven't told the others. They can't know."

"We're not doing anything illegal. Two consenting adults in a healthy relationship." River leaned up to kiss him. "They're starting to suspect, you know. Zoë, especially. And you shouldn't tease Simon and Kaylee about their engagement while you're sneaking around behind their backs."

"What if they think it's wrong? I couldn't bear to have them all look at me like – well, like I look at Jayne, sometimes, to be honest…I don't know." Mal sighed. "Tell me it's going to be okay, little one. Look into the future and tell me it all works out."

"I can't see that far," she reminded him. "But we'll make it the best future we can."