**Part Four**

Word Count: 2,630
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #16-Stretch Marks

River paused at the door, not wanting to interrupt this conversation for anything. All conversation in the dining area had ceased so she wasn't the only one. Simon was so proud of himself. However little, he was doing something to help her.

"I'm sorry, Doc. You want me to do what now? And what's so urgent about it that you had to interrupt my dinner."

"Captain, I don't think you have any idea how difficult this was for me to find. The moons and planets we visit are so backward I'm surprised they know what prenatal care is. This stuff, well, it's antiquated as it is."

"I think Mal will suffice, we're brothers-in-law after all," he said. She heard the scraping of metal against the table and could visualize him pushing aside his plate and wiping his mouth with a napkin.

"You have to do this for her, Mal."

"You're her doctor."

"You're her husband! Doctors don't do this type of thing. If we weren't here onboard Serenity I wouldn't be here to do it."

"Well, yeah, okay, but what does that have to do with slathering her with this goop?"

"It's to help her with stretch marks."

Mal cleared his throat then. If anyone had moved since Simon barged into the room with his new find, she couldn't tell. It was that quiet in there. "I'm sorry. Stretch what?"

River bit on her hand, stifling the laugh that threatened to escape.

Oh Mal. Poor Inara, this couldn't be an easy conversation for her to be a part of.

"Surely you can't be this dense or my sister wouldn't have gotten involved with you."

"Maybe it was just good sex."

"Are you trying to get me to hit you again?"

"No, I'm hoping to distract you so that you'll forget about my putting this goop on her, um, well, you know the area where the baby is."

"Why is this a problem for you? Surely you've seen her abdomen."

"What makes you say that? You can make babies without removing but more than what's necessary, Doc. You of all people should know that."

"I don't want to hear about it. It's bad enough I think you took advantage of her."

"No advantage taking, Doc. I assure you, it was not just consensual but mutually gratifying."

He was going to have more than a bruise on his cheek if he kept antagonizing Simon.

"Mal," Simon said, drawing the one syllable name out so it sounded almost sinister. She knew how difficult it was for him to say it. "I have other things to take care of besides putting this on for her."

"Why can't she do it herself?"

"She may forget!"

"So, if I remind her and stay to make sure she does it, she can do it herself."

"Yes, I suppose so. I just know how she gets sometimes."

"Huh," Mal said. She couldn't resist tapping into his thoughts. He was reading the bottle. "And this will prevent them? Stretch marks I mean?"

"Nothing's foolproof. As much as medical science has progressed over the years, there isn't anything I can give her that won't harm the baby."

"No," Mal said adamantly and River smiled again. "We don't want that. All right. I'll do it. But only if she's not of the mind to do it herself."

"You're still making sure she's taking the vitamins?"

"Yes, Doc, I understand she and the baby both need the extra boost. Really, she's been good about it."

"And she's been all right since altering when she takes them?"

"Yes, just like you said, in the evening with a little food in her belly. She's been just fine."



She didn't have to look to see that neither was going to budge. She decided it was time to make her appearance for dinner. Her eyes went to the bottle Mal held in his hand.

You little minx. You were listening.

"Yes," she said simply with a smile.

"Yes what?" Simon asked.

"I was just answering Mal."

"He didn't say anything."

"Not to you." She pointed at her head.

"He does that?"

River shrugged. "All the time."

"I, well, oh." Simon seemed speechless. She wasn't sure she could remember a time that had happened recently. He'd been more than willing and able to tell her how unhappy he was with her. In her. He'd even gone so far as to use their parents and their potential disappointment in her against her.

He hadn't stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, Mal might be good for her. Giving her one mind to attach herself to helped sort out the others better. Helped ground her. And he'd given her permission to do it as she needed to without taking advantage. She was doing her best to do that.

"What is it you're supposed to do?" She asked Mal then, her eyes going to the bottle.

"This. On your, um, abdominal area there. To help prevent stretch marks."

"What if I don't care about stretch marks?"

"River, you're only eighteen, you have to care," Simon said. "Besides, your husband will probably care."

"I'm having a baby. Stretch marks come with babies."

"They don't have to. The cream will help and after you've had the baby."

Her eyes went from Simon to Mal. "Do you care?"

"Me?" He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with this whole conversation. Thoughts started swirling into her mind painfully fast, so she latched onto Mal's.

She got a visual of scars, quite a few of them, some from wounds that he'd never gotten looked at or tended to. She looked at him sympathetically and cried out. The memories she was tapping into were just too vivid, too real, too dark. They weren't helping her this time.

"Death. So much. All around you." She stepped to his side, hand going to the worst of the most recent scars. She did nothing more than rest her palm over the spot where he was injured by a sword, defending the companion's honor. "Should be dead," she whispered, wondering if he'd defend her honor so valiantly.

"What's she going on about? Not sure which of you I need to tell to make sure she's kept under control." Jayne said, patting the spot on his chest not too long ago she'd slashed open.

She lifted Mal's shirt just enough to look at the scar. Contrary to what everyone else in the room believed, she'd never seen him without a shirt on. Not even right out of the shower. He always came out dressed and ready for the day.

He didn't want her to have marks if she could avoid it. He had emotional ones, too. She chose to avoid delving into those. It was a dark and scary place there. Death, disappointment, war. She hugged him then, her hand finding the scar on his back, unable to fight back the tears. He'd been through and seen so much, and was still willing to do this for her. To be sure her baby had the chance at a normal life.

"I'll put the cream on, but nothing else. I get them, I get them," she said with a shrug, patting her stomach. She looked at Mal then, taking the bottle from him and brushing his cheek with a kiss. "Do you care if I get stretch marks?"

His eyes locked with hers. She didn't touch him often. Touch really had little to do with her reading abilities, but she found on some people touch made the things she sensed stronger. He was one of those people.

It was one of the moments they'd experienced over the past couple of days that made her heart jump. She didn't quite understand it. She'd read text books, but none described such a thing coming from someone looking at her. His lips quirked up into a smile and he winked, grazing her cheek with the pad of his thumb.

"Not at all, bao bay. Unlike mine, no one but me will see them anyway." He let his hand slide to her abdomen. "How is little Mal anyway?"

"That's enough," Simon shouted, going to the other side of the room. Not that there was far to go. River looked at him, stifling another laugh. They were being so mean to him. All of them really. It was kind of fun, but he'd probably tear all of his hair out by the end of her pregnancy. "Why do you two have to rub it in my nose every chance you get? Can I please have time to get used to the situation before I have to listen to baby talk?"

"You don't want me to be a proud papa, Simon? Perhaps you'd rather I shirk my responsibilities? Beat her maybe? Cast her aside like dirty laundry and let her fend for herself? Maybe that's what you want, so she'd have to rely on you still. That just eats at you, doesn't it? You gave up a career in medicine for her only to have her shackle herself to a no-good renegade like me. Why, that's got to feel like a slap in the face."

"That's not the point. Out now. You've got the cream. Make sure it's put on three times a day, whichever one of you do it."

"Three times?" Mal asked. "What am I supposed to do when I'm doing something? Like, oh I don't know, running my ship?"

"Should have thought of that before you got a girl who's mental capacity isn't all there pregnant."

"Now, don't go saying that about my wife, Simon. She's been doing much better. You said so yourself. I haven't had to remind her about the vitamins for a week now. Not once."

"All right."

"Now, can I finish my dinner and make sure my wife gets something to eat before I obey your command that, if I remember correctly, consisted of kicking me out of a part of my ship."

"He didn't mean it," she said, taking a seat in her chair next to his. She set the bottle on the table, six sets of eyes rested first on her, then on him, and finally on the bottle. A bubble of laughter erupted shortly after.

"What?" Mal asked. "I'd like to know what you find so damned funny about this."

"Nothing, Captain," Kaylee said. "I think it's real sweet that you're taking care of River like this. Just think how romantic it could be."

"Romantic what could be?"

"Well, you know? She's pregnant, you put that on her stomach there and well," she shrugged, glancing at the others who were staring at her as if she'd grown a second head. No one liked to picture Mal and River doing anything close to what it took to make a baby. River in truth wasn't entirely sure what the process entailed. She knew from a scientific, medical explanation, but that was it. She doubted the books she'd read did it justice, otherwise women like Inara wouldn't be in demand. "And I guess I'm the only one who sees why that would be romantic. River, sweetie, you work on that with him. He's not completely hopeless."

"I think you'd do well to stop envisioning what River and I do in our bunk."

"But, Captain, it's just some lotion. It's not like I was going to go into detail about the act or nothing. Just that a massage would feel nice. Pregnant women, they like that sort of thing."

"And you'd know this how? I don't see any little Kaylee's in tow."

"Doesn't mean I ain't been around a woman or two who's been in the family way. Their feet swell and their backs ache. Those babies start kicking in there, use their ribs as soccer balls. They get winded and they have to pee all the time. It ain't all fun, you know?"

"Huh," he said, taking a seat next to River. She felt his eyes on her. He wasn't really looking at her, though. More, really taking her in, realizing there was more to pregnancy than just having a baby. "Do your feet and back bother you, bao bay?"

"I think we should leave now," Zoe said. "We were about done anyway."

"No way, if they're going to have a fight I want ringside seats."


"Oh, come on. You can't deny that you've all been placing bets with yourselves on how long this would last. What sane man hitches himself to a crazy girl? She probably went and got pregnant on purpose. For all we know her brother's in on it."

"Jayne, that's enough. You take your leave from this table right now."

"Oh come on. Why am I the one to get in trouble for saying what's damn well been on every one else's mind for the last month. You don't love her. You don't get involved with crew members, and you sure as hell don't use one of 'em for trim. Remember what you told me?"

"Things change. And, Jayne, I ain't asking again."

"Little wifey here is entitled to the husband's property if something happens to him. Which means, Mal dies Serenity goes to the scrap heap. And you, Zoe, are out of a job, years of loyal service to your Sergeant or not. Just like the rest of us. I'm going," he said and pushed up from the table. "When a man chooses a crazy girl over someone who's proved loyal to him."

"Loyalty, Jayne? You don't really want to go there right now. Do you?"

The merc turned in the doorway to face Mal. He was none too happy. His eyes could have burned holes through River if he had that power. She felt the weight of his stare just the same and shrunk back, into Mal's arms.

"Now, no fight will be ensuing. It's just a question," he said when the others started to inch toward the door Jayne had just vacated through.

"Captain, with all due respect, it's the fact that you're asking a pregnant woman the question that makes me want to stand clear. As well as the others."

"And it'd be all right if I asked a non-pregnant woman the same question? No offense, Zoe, but if she weren't pregnant we wouldn't be having the conversation at all."

"Well, Sir, the hormones."

"Ah," he said with a nod. He turned his attention back to River, sliding a hand to the back of her neck. He rubbed there lightly, mostly with his thumb and she let out a soft groan. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Don't like to complain."

"I wager you have every right to complain, least for the next few months anyway. Now eat up, and I guess we can go work on round one of this goop."

"I can do it."

"Yeah, I know you can. We'll talk about that later. Eat up. You're eating for two you know."

"You remind me three times a day."

"'Cuz if I don't, you'd forget to eat. You have a week's worth of getting sick to make up for."

"I can't make up for it."

"You can eat and do as your husband says to please him, because it makes him feel abundantly better to know you're taking care of you and the little one."

"All right," she said, setting about eating her dinner. She couldn't help but smile, though. She liked when he was concerned about her. About the baby. She liked that he didn't seem to mind that she'd touched him. She found there were a lot of things about Mal Reynolds to like. She just wondered if working at preventing stretch marks Simon was so adamant she doing would give her more things to grow fond of him about.

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