she's not looking. she's only seeing.
mal/river friendship, g, 520 words, spoilers for entire fandom.
foreverythingshiny - prompt was "something adorable" - enjoy!
Mal leaned back in his chair.
The stars sparkled outside, some nearby and others burning billions of light years away.
River was spending time with Kaylee, leaving Mal to pilot the ship by himself. It was nights like this he loved most — just him and Serenity and the black. Most of the crew didn’t understand why he spent so much time by himself up here, and Mal didn’t care to make them understand. His reasons were his and his alone.
The door slid open behind him.
“I thought you was spendin’ time with Kaylee,” Mal said, knowing who it would be without needing to turn around.
“I like it up here,” River said simply. She moved silently over to what had become known as her chair and sat down, drawing her legs up.
Mal gave her a quick glance and then turned back to steering. “You and me both, Little Albatross,” he acknowledged.
They sat in silence for a while. “You feel better up here,” River finally said. “You don’t feel so trapped up here.”
Scowling, Mal snapped, “What have I said about lookin’ in people’s heads without their permission?”
“I’m not looking,” River replied calmly. “I’m seeing.”
“What the hell’s that’s supposed to mean?”
“I can see it plain as the rest of the crew can,” River said. “Serenity is your home because it makes you free.” She looked at the panels and controls near her and ran her hands over them gently, almost caressing them.
“Don’t need a mind reader to tell me that much,” Mal finally said. He watched her flick a switch on her side of the controls. If it had been anyone else, Mal would have been concerned, but for some reason, he trusted her to fly his ship. “And you? Why do you like it up here?”
River gave Mal the look that always made him feel like she thought he was incredibly stupid. “I told you your reason. You tell me my reason.”
“I ain’t a mind reader,” Mal retorted.
“You said yourself you didn’t need to be a mind reader to tell the truth,” River said.
Mal watched her, long dark hair flowing down her back, bare feet tucked under her, the smallest hint of a smile on her face. “You’ve been running most of your life,” he finally said. “Even back on Osiris, you never felt at home there.”
He paused. River continued playing with the controls, but Mal could tell she was listening. For some reason, he felt like his next words would cement…well, he wasn’t very sure what they had. It sure as hell wasn’t a conventional friendship. But it was some sort of understanding, the closest he’d really had in a long time. “But this ship here… Serenity feels like it could be home. It ain’t much of a stable life, but it’s home.”
River didn’t acknowledge his answer, but the way her smile grew made Mal feel like someone understood the freedom the black brought him. She was the same way.
And really, it wasn’t such a bad thing to have some company with someone who understood.