A Love That Makes Life Sweeter

For the Sweet Drabblethon prompt: Firefly - Mal/River - they're in love, and it is sweet

It's not like any other relationship Mal has had – it's better. set post-"Serenity"

When he slept alongside her, he never dreamed of Serenity Valley. It was as if her mere presence kept his mind as soothed as surely as his body was by the press of her skin against his. Maybe it was the truth, psychic that she was.

When he confided this to her one day, she smiled, soft brown eyes widening, giving a smile that split her serious demeanour in two.

"When I sleep alongside you, I never dream of the Academy, either," she said softly. "You make me feel safe."

Mal swallowed hard, blinking back tears. He wasn't given to displays of emotion – well, anger, of course, but that was different. Yet there was something here that made him want to weep, overwhelmed by it as he was. It was the sweetest music he'd ever heard, it was the caress of sunlight on bare skin, it was the pounding of his heart in unison with hers. Whatever it was between them, it made him come over all poetical, and it was so unlike anything he'd felt before and yet –

"I won't leave you," River said quickly, sensing his fear. She leant in, pressed her lips to his, and he felt the touch of her mind behind the physical contact, like a murmur against his ear while he slept. "You're afraid of losing me. I won't leave."

"Could be taken from me," he replied hoarsely, letting his hands rest on her lithe body. He thought of those he'd lost and had to concentrate on keeping his fingers relaxed and not dig them into her flesh in a desperate effort to keep her close.

"Trust me," River said. "Love me like I love you."

"I do. I do trust you." Mal hesitated. "I do love you."

The smile she gave him was worth the effort it took to finally speak the words aloud. For her to know he loved her by his actions and her reading of his thoughts was one thing; for him to admit it openly was another.

That night, with his arms wrapped protectively around the slumbering River, Mal wondered what he'd done to earn such happiness. This wasn't a relationship built on deceit, like his brief "marriage" to Saffron, nor on lust, like with Nandi – even if she'd lived, their relationship wouldn't have lasted, not for long. With Inara it had been a constant battle, a hot and cold struggle that infuriated him as much as it intoxicated him.

With River, it was different. Their love had been built up slowly, their broken pieces carefully matched and brought to support each other, then new pieces had been fashioned for just this purpose. Their love had steel within it, but there were no hard edges, no jagged shards to draw blood upon. It was warm to the touch, surprisingly soft on the surface.

Simon had been outraged by the relationship at first, but Kaylee had insisted, "They're in love," knowing the truth of it before Mal could acknowledge the depth of his feelings. "It's sweet."

Sweeter than the juiciest strawberry, Mal thought. A love that made life, no matter how bitter it was at times, taste sweeter. When he kissed River, his heart soared, and the years and the anguish they'd brought him fell away. In her embrace he was young and vital and hopeful; and in his, she was safe and trusted and loved.