AN: Hi all, this is my first time writing for Firefly. When I was writing this it started out as a Vala piece for SG1 but then I thought it would be much better suited to River, would be so very happy if you would tell me what you think about it, like I said, it's my first crack of this fandom. Thanks go to my brilliant Beta who might be writing a second chapter for this at some point.
No one likes breaking a promise, because it's breaking trust, letting someone else down. There they will be in front of you afterwards, when they realise you weren't there for them. They might be accusatory, disappointed and maybe even heart-broken.
Sometimes it's the fact they don't come back at all that makes it hurt.
Gabriel Tam never thought twice before sending his daughter off to the Academy, but he thought about it a lot after the fact. Four long years of contemplation wherein he found excuses, rationalisations, for sending her away. He'd gone over plenty of reasons in his head for why it had been a good thing to do, compiling a list of everything he'd gained because of it.
He's sometimes tried to compose apology speeches for River, if he where ever to see her again, although time after time they drift into rationales instead of anything heartfelt or regretful.
To be truthful he'd never been good at expressing emotion towards his children, he was better at facts than feelings. But he misses her in waves, the sensation coming and going depending on apparent nostalgia triggers; a small girl with ribbons in her hair, a trip to the ballet with his wife. However, against the importance of his work, any sadness is muted, lesser than his obvious devotion to the Alliance.
Over time, he seemed to lose what it was that made him feel guilty for knowingly abandoning her to that hell. Leaving simple facts, because facts are easier to hold onto than fading feelings and memories he doesn't trust as a true representation of their time together.
He'd never been ashamed to call River his daughter. Now he's ashamed to call himself her father.
The promises you make yourself can hurt as much, possibly more so. They hurt deep down, because they can stick in your mind, every waking moment a reminder that may or may not fade. There are the lingering thoughts of that temptation you can't stave off, the person you meant to keep at arm's length, the person you want to save.
Mal never made any promises to River.
He never promised that she could stay, that he would look after her, or even that he would let her run wild around his ship. Thinking about itnow, he does a lot of things for River he'd never promised, wasn't obliged to do, and didn't think she would ask for either. Things that crept into his everyday routine and stuck, much like she had, in his life in general.
No, there were no promises to River, only ones he made about her - resolutions really. Made in his head instead of written down; not to get too comfortable having her around, not to let her get too involved in his life, not to care what was done to her.
Maybe it would have been better to write them down at the start.
Of course, back at the start of all this he had thought he had made himself clear. The problem was he'd forgotten to make sure he knew where he stood just as well as she did. Over time, he obviously slipped down that slope into friendship.
Then, a bit further in quasi-parenthood.
He'd never promised that he'd hold her when the nightmares were too much and her brother couldn't calm her down, but he does. Hands held tight around her tiny torso, pressing her back against his body, almost as desperate as she is for the terror to pass. In those moments it's hard to suppress his anger at her violation, she's only a child after all. She clings to him as she tries to summon some control, no doubt wishing for the life denied to her.
She clings to him and he almost wants to smile.
If it were not for the grief-stricken sobs that accompany these episodes, he might be able to delude himself that he truly is her Pa and that she clings to him out of love rather than panic.
But River doesn't cry anymore, she doesn't fight him or Simon when they come to inject her before bed, she simply lies on her bed and looks at them with sorrowful eyes and a broken smile.
It's like she's given in to his unspoken resolutions even though he can't keep them anymore.
Even when you can keep the promises, it can still hurt too, more than the words you want to say and the reasons you have for doing so. A promise is a promise, but it's no less difficult when there's a person you know you have to walk away from. It doesn't matter if they never know, because you know, right then and there what it costs.
A personal sacrifice that won't ever be heralded.
From the minute he heard about what happened to the girl he wanted to wipe the knowledge from his memory. Jayne didn't like knowing about how she had been interfered with and so he resolved to think about it as little as possible.
And it was easy.
Until the Alliance came looking for her and the Reavers followed after. Until they were all lying in a dark corridor with walls exploding around them and the young girl in front of them dripping with blood.
It was then he had seen it in her eyes, with reality crashing back down around her and awareness creeping in, an admission of defeat in the face of this newest tragedy, that after such horror it was unfair to be sane again. She blinked and it was gone, but he had seen it.
At first he thought he had imagined it, he thought she would get better and they could all move on, that she would find some kind of peace, or happiness, or whatever it was crazy-killer girls were naturally like.
Only… she didn't get any better.
The wounds of the Alliance healed as much as he thought they ever would, but as her sanity returned he felt her eyes now lacked something, that they had been permanently dulled by all she had been through now she knew of it. Realising what she had become and what she would never get back had drowned that last little spark she'd had left.
None of the others was able to do what was necessary; they had left their will to fix River behind on the moon where they had buried Wash and Book. But, Jayne could.
He resolved to break his old promise to himself as defunct and getting in the way. He had a new resolution - fix River. Fix River and maybe just fix himself a little in the process. It wasn't a good plan and it had a few holes in it but it was the right thing to do and no one else was willing to try.
For either of them.