Word Count: 2,790
This is for the 50_baby_fics Prompt #5-Shock
River felt like one of the princesses in the fairy tales her mother read to her when she was little. Until she'd gotten old enough to realize they weren't real. Personally, she felt like Sleeping Beauty more than Cinderella or Snow White. Today, though, she was just River Tam, now Reynolds, dressed in an off-white dress she, Kaylee and Zoe had found in one of the moon's stores. This princess' prince charming was just a common man. And he really wasn't her prince charming. He was just temporarily borrowed. Only, no one knew that. Except the preacher who'd married them.
There was irony there, or at least she thought so. She wasn't sure if that was just her, though, so she'd refrained from making the comment to him over the course of the past week they'd planned their wedding. Unlike his marriage to Saffron, this one would be by the book legal, recorded, and binding. She'd read him enough to know those thoughts were heavy on his mind, too.
["Don't have to do this." They were in her bunk together last evening before they went their separate ways with the crew.
He placed his hand over hers when she went to lift her suitcase, stopping her. "No lifting, remember? Your brother, the doctor, gave that order."
"It's just a suitcase."
"Yeah, well, he's already mad at me as it is, don't need him thinking I'm letting you carry your own suitcases. And I know we don't have to do this. Have you changed your mind about the baby?"
"Then I see no other way. Not that will be convincing. And, no offense, but I don't want the Alliance busting my hump anymore than necessary."
"You could let me off at your next stop."
"No, I can't do that, River. You're mine. Your mind's getting clearer every day, and I have the belief you'll come in handy on jobs sooner rather than later."
She smiled. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now, no more talk of cold feet. It'll be over and done with soon enough and we'll go on about our lives as normal as possible."]
He'd left then, it was the last she'd seen him before they met in the cargo bay earlier for Book's ceremony.
She scanned the others seated at the table. Mal's crew, his friends. And then there was her brother. She had no friends, though Kaylee and even Zoe tried. She didn't fool herself into believing any of them understood it, but they were doing their best to be supportive. She had been surprised when Kaylee and Zoe had not just taken her shopping for the dress but had given her a small shower on Serenity last night while Jayne, Wash and Book took Mal out for a bachelor party. Inara had come, too, and while animated and personable, River knew she hadn't wanted to be there.
Of course, the things they'd given her for the shower would go unused. She had no use for the more traditional wedding gifts to outfit a home, so they had gone the more personal route. A nightie from Zoe and Kaylee that made her blush when she took it out of the box. River had held it to her chest fondly, knowing that Zoe's intentions were good. She wanted her captain off kilter for a while, like she was with Wash, even if his first mate didn't get to see it happen. She wondered if Mal understood how deeply Zoe's feelings for him ran. He was difficult to read when it came to Zoe.
The blue, lacy garter Inara had given her was currently on her leg, waiting she supposed for Mal to remove it. She didn't believe much in traditions, considering there was nothing about her life that fit into that stereotype. The efforts the others went through to see to it she was a bride outfitted with the necessary items for good luck really affected her.
A bar was an unusual place for a wedding celebration, but it wasn't like they had friends or family outside of Serenity. She imagined there was more than just Inara who would be curious - and none too happy - to see who finally got the good Captain Reynolds to settle down.
What they lacked for in numbers, the crew made up for in celebratory accolades. They'd had to do something if they were going to pull off the act that they were both excited at the prospect of being not just a married couple but soon-to-be parents. So, after the brief ceremony aboard Serenity, they'd brought everyone here at Mal's insistence. All had accepted, it wasn't every day their captain covered their bar tabs for an entire night.
The crew had chipped in and paid for a room at a nice hotel on the moon where they were spending the next couple of days. It was hard to say no to that without seeming suspicious. River had to admit, she would give anything for a hot bubble bath.
Inara was the only hold out from verbally congratulating them. River wished she could tell the other woman the truth. She felt the other woman's feelings on the subject tenfold. She wasn't sure she'd ever seen - or heard the thoughts - of a person more surprised and shocked than Inara Serra when the crew as a whole was told about River's condition being Mal's doing and the impending nuptials as a result.
[The crew was gathered in the dining area for dinner as they usually were. Simon knew that Mal was claiming to be the father. Book knew of their plan. That left the rest of the crew to be told. River was glad Mal would do the talking. She sat pretty still during the announcement, head lowered, hand at her belly. She figured that was a nice touch, a reminder she was carrying a baby.
"Well, now, we were all present when the good doctor here ran the tests on River." Mal placed a hand on her shoulder. She imagined it was supposed to be comforting, but for her it was unsettling in a way. People just didn't touch her, so she wasn't used to it.
He took some hair between his fingers. She read his thoughts, knew what he was doing, implying intimate gestures to make the act more believable.
"I admit the thought hadn't occurred to me. We'd always been mighty careful, but obviously not careful enough. Otherwise I would have spared Simon running unnecessary tests. So," he paused, the information he was providing sinking in slowly, like someone stuck in quicksand. It took the crew a while to understand just what he had said.
"Now, I've talked to Shepherd here, and River and I will be getting hitched as soon as we've made our way to a proper place we can celebrate with you all away from Serenity for a bit."
"You dog, I didn't know you had it in you."]
That had been Jayne's response. Mal had warned her to expect him to say something crude, so she'd been surprised it had been so tame.
Inara had stayed long enough to be polite, but had returned to her shuttle as soon as she could. River hadn't missed it. The thing that confused River was that the companion didn't seem to know why she was shocked or surprised. River didn't sense love between them, though there was something there underlying. She imagined it was attraction, but what did that mean?
One good thing about being a reader, Mal would be a fool to risk being unfaithful. She'd laughed when they'd finally come together in the cargo bay for the ceremony. His thoughts were very animated, trying to assure her he'd done nothing the night before despite Jayne's best efforts at trying to get him to enjoy one last bit of trim.
An act or not, she liked that he wasn't going to be that way. He could. She had no idea how long they would actually stay married. If the Alliance was suspicious of her despite going by a different name and being married on paper at the time of conception, they'd have to continue the act. It could be some time before he was able to do that again. Not that she'd begrudge him the ability, so long as he was discreet and no one on Serenity found out.
That was all she needed. It wasn't bad enough everyone felt sorry for the crazy girl who didn't know any better than to get pregnant. She could do without the rest of the stereotype that came with this type of marriage.
He draped an arm over the back of her chair and leaned in. It was as if he'd known she was thinking about him. He pocketed the credit good for the hotel stay. "When we get to the hotel I'll see if I can't find us a room with two beds."
She scanned the table and then out further to the crowd. She was in control tonight, one only needed to look at her eyes to see how aware she was to know. She leaned into him, hinting at a private conversation.
"Your crew paid for a bridal suite, Mal. I saw the wave Zoe and Kaylee sent the other day. I don’t think there's a way we can trade away from that without arousing suspicions."
"Damn," he muttered under his breath, taking a sip of his drink. She wasn't drinking.
"You guys didn't have to do this."
"Sir, you can't have your wedding night on board Serenity. It wouldn't be right."
River laughed then, his eyes met hers and he winked.
"Well, I suppose the little missus and I could find something to keep us occupied away from the ship. But, you're in charge Zoe, and it had better be in one piece when we get back the morning after next."
"Morning, sir? I'm expecting you closer to dinner time. I imagine River'd feel the same way."
I'm sorry for the way this conversation's going, little one.
"I'll do my best not to disappoint you, Zoe."
"It's not me you need to worry about disappointing, sir."
The companion was sitting with them, pretending to participate in the celebration. She was doing something more akin to drowning her sorrows. River felt like she was drowning in them, too, as a result. It would have been suspect if she was missing from the festivities. After all, who wasn't happy about a wedding and a new baby? A woman who had feelings for the groom and father-to-be in question was who.
He laced his fingers through hers and brought her hand to his mouth, kissing the back of it. She fought to keep her eyes neutral, to hide her surprise. Unlike him, she hadn't experienced these things so she had to remind herself it was just for show. Until now, other than the kiss he'd given her at the end of the ceremony he hadn't done more than touch her.
"Well, now we've already got evidence that ain't the case."
"Anyone can wind up pregnant, sir. With all due respect. Baby making doesn't mean disappointment didn't ensue."
"Doubly so if they weren't banking on getting…"
"That's more than enough now, Jayne."
"What? Zoe can say it, but I can't?"
"Zoe wasn't saying anything crude. Shall I ask my wife here what you were thinking just now?"
River blushed then, bowing her head to glance at their intertwined hands now resting against his knee. It didn't help that Inara was at the moment painting some very vivid pictures in her mind of just how a man went about ensuring a woman wasn't disappointed. Was she doing that on purpose?
"Would you like to dance then, bao bay?" Her eyes shot up to meet his then. For once, he was acting the part of the reader and offering to take her out of a situation she was uncomfortable in. If she had the knowledge to go with the conversation, she might not feel that way.
He accepted her simple nod as acceptance and stood, their hands still joined.
"I ain't much of a dancer, but least I can do is give my wife a spin or two on the dance floor. We'll be back."
"For someone already in the family way, she sure does act like she doesn't know what we were talking about," Jayne said as she and Mal left the table.
"Just let it go, little one."
"Don't be. My crew can be crude. I know that, you know that. We will have to live with it for a short spell. Once this is no longer a novelty, they'll move on to something else to talk and tease about."
"I hope so," she said softly as he took her into his arms for the dance.
She snuggled closer. A wife would do that. Right? And he felt good as much as she tried to ignore that. Strong, capable, protective. It was nice to know there was someone besides Simon looking out for her. Not many would attach themselves to someone not quite right in her head as Mal had.
"You're not much of a dancer." Really, he wasn't that bad, which made her wonder where he'd learned.
"Well, now, not even married but a few hours and already you're hurling insults."
She could tell by the glimmer in his eyes that her observation amused rather than upset him. She smiled then.
"You know, I could take this credit," he said, tapping the pocket he'd placed it in, "and use it for myself, leave you to your own devices for the night."
"You could," she said with a wide smile. "You wouldn't, though. Because then not telling the others the truth about marrying me would have been for nothing."
"You're too smart for your own good."
"So I've been told."
He let his head rest against the top of hers. "Quite frequently I wager. You put me to shame just by opening your mouth most times."
"I do not," she whispered. He wasn't dumb, not even close.
"So, how long do we stay?"
"Well, I reckon we need to leave at some point. They'll expect us to."
She had packed up the few meager belongings she'd collected to this point, but had stayed in her bunk for the week. Despite what the others thought, she wasn't anxious to start living with a man any sooner than she had to. So, tonight would be the first night she spent with him. On the floor or in shifts he'd said. She suspected the floor would be the only option tonight.
"We can stay as long as you want. They're your friends. They're here to celebrate with you. So, celebrate. It's not every day you get married."
"No, you got that right. Never saw it happening, truth be told. Even with Saffron I knew once I could get a handle on taking care of it I would."
She knew that. It wasn't an aversion to the institution that held him back so much as he believed the wandering life he led was not going to attract the type of woman he'd want to marry. And yet, he'd bound himself to her, temporarily or not.
The song ended and before he could step away, break the quiet spell around them, she kissed him lightly. "Thank you," she whispered.
He looked a little confused and bewildered, taken aback. There was fear there and she had to fight the urge to invade his thoughts as to why she scared him. She hadn't once had to worry about saying something crazy or turning off her mind from reading thoughts while they'd danced.
"Not sure what you're thanking me for, bao bay, but a blanket you're welcome should work."
"All right then, let's get back to the crew before they get three sheets to the wind and I have to go back to the ship instead of the fancy digs that have been arranged for us."
"I call the tub," she said, glancing at their hands when his found hers and took it.
"Believe me, little one, when I say it's all yours."
"You don't take baths?"
"Real men don't take baths."
"I believe I will have to research that. There has to be someone."
"You find one, let me know, then we'll talk. Until then, talk of my taking a bath in front of anyone is off limits. I think we've shocked them enough for now."
She stifled her laugh, tucked some hair behind her ear, and let him lead her back to their table.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com