A/N: This chapter is at the request of one of my reviewers, so I hope you like it! I tried my best!

P is for Parents

Parents: A father or mother; a protector or guardian.

River used to have a family. She had a mother, and a father, and a brother. They had lived in the same house, eaten the same meals, gone to the same places and knew the same people. They had been rich, and privileged, and she had everything she could have ever wanted. Her life was perfect. And fake.

She knows that now. Knows that her perfect little life was all just a lie, like a Styrofoam apple that you think is real until you sink your teeth into it.

Her parents never really loved her, except maybe in those first few months where she still acted like a normal baby, before she started speaking in full sentences and reading grown up books and correcting her brother's spelling.

She didn't fit into their life, their pattern. They had a son who was going to be a brilliant surgeon and who did whatever they told him. Simon was smart, and followed the rules, and everyone loved him. For her, it was different. They had expected their daughter to charm their friends and be a perfect hostess, following her mother into the upper class social world.

What they had gotten was someone very different. River didn't like dresses or fashion, she liked theoretical physics and foreign languages and logic puzzles. She didn't listen politely, she asked questions. River didn't follow the rules if they got in her way, just ignored them and went ahead with her own adventures. At dinner parties instead of making polite conversation with the guests she would calculate how many people would fit in the room if she removed the furniture and wrote equations with her food to find how many butterflies landed on a leaf in a minute.

All she wanted was freedom to sing, to dance, to write and learn and read to her heart's content. And freedom was the one thing her parents couldn't give her.

They had all been relieved when the letter from the Academy came, but for different reasons. River wanted a place without rules where she could learn; her parents wanted a place to send their troublesome daughter where no one would ask questions.

Simon had been the only family that was ever truly there for her, and he was her mother and father and brother all rolled into one. He read her stories and brushed her hair and held her after a nightmare.

But now, on the little ship they call home, she finds that Simon isn't the only one there for her. He is just her brother now, an older, overprotective brother. She has new parents now, better ones. Ones that actually appreciate her, ones that give her freedom.

Mal is like her father, all roughness and warmth. He doesn't ignore her when she says something, even if it does come out all jumbled up. He takes the time to sort through the words and actually listens to them. He pats her on the back or smiles at her when she does something to help them, like telling him someone is coming or getting a better deal from a client.

He treats her like a person, not a little doll that can't make decisions for herself. When she cries because the words are coming out wrong or memories threaten to overwhelm her he sits next to her and holds her or rubs her back until she calms down again. He makes sure she's safe every time they're out, and if that means breaking a client's nose for looking at her funny or trying to get her to come with him then by god he will do it.

She's his little Albatross, and he takes care of his own. And one time, when she wanders away from the ship and he finds her almost asleep in the forest, all white and scratched, he picks her up and carries her back home. And, when she tells an almost hysterical Simon that she was fine, that daddy came and got her, he feels like he might just burst with pride. And burst into tears. And hug her until she can't breathe. Not necessarily in that order.

She's found a mother too. Inara's always there for her, ready to give her a hug or a shoulder to cry on. She makes them tea and sits on her comfortable bed right next to River holding her hand and listening and smiling as River tells her how she once spent an entire afternoon drawing up an series of formulas that would prove the existence of a new subatomic particle, even though she can't understand a word she's saying.

She takes River planetside and lets her pick out whatever she likes in the stores even if everything clashes and nothing is even remotely resembling the current fashions. Then they go for ice cream and, when River decides to go swimming in the middle of a large duck pond, Inara, instead of scolding her, laughs and wades in after her.

Inara never tried to correct her manners or make excuses for her. She never told her that something was improper, or that she was doing it wrong. She just said it was her way of doing it and as long as she liked it, she could do it.

One time, when River accidentally knocked over a vase of hers and broke it she had laughed and told the sobbing girl that she had never liked it anyway. River had given her a watery smile and watched as she tossed the shards of porcelain into the trash bin without a second glance.

On Mother's Day, when she found a small bouquet of violets and a note saying 'Love, River' on her bed she had walked straight out of her shuttle to give the girl a hug before going back and putting the flowers on prominent display in the center of her shuttle. And, three days later, when a client asked her why she had a bunch of ugly drooping flowers in the middle of her room she had thrown him out without a second thought.