Word Count: 4,380
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #22-Shopping
"Smell that," Mal said as they stepped off Serenity.
River regarded him for a moment. Was she supposed to smell something? She scanned the area. Was there something Mal was aware of she missed? She was still somewhat excited from the job they'd pulled off two days ago. A job she'd helped them with. Her first. Well, officially her first. She'd come along a time or two to help him read things. And people.
Granted, it was just staying out of the way, listening, and reading minds so that Mal knew who to talk to. And whether that person was to be trusted. He'd claimed he would ease her into the process, with the baby and all.
She actually had a few coins in her pocket as a result. Really, they were in Mal's pocket, but she had earned them. He'd showed her what she'd earned, expecting her to complain. She'd read his thoughts enough to know that. She hadn't complained. She'd never had money of her own before. To think she could ask him for the coin to buy a hairbrush or an orange or whatever she wanted.
"Are we smelling something, Sir?" Zoe said as she stopped next to Mal.
"Just the smell of opportunity. A moon with things to do and we have money to burn."
"Ah," Zoe said simply. "Wash and I."
"Go on, do your business. We're on R&R, no need to account to me for what you do with that time."
"Don't know why we have more R&R. We just had some not a month ago when you two got yourselves hitched," Jayne grumbled. The only one in the crew who would complain about R&R.
"We've earned it. Working our tails off so that in a couple of months when I need time off I can take it."
"The baby, Jayne," Kaylee said, taking a few steps away from Serenity. "He's planning on some time off for the baby."
"What's he want to go and do that for?"
"Men," Kaylee said, looping her arm through River's when River caught up with her. "They just don't understand."
River smiled, not sure what exactly Kaylee meant. She wasn't being literal. So, what did it mean exactly? River noticed Simon was missing from the crew disembarking Serenity. Where was he?
"So, what are you and the captain going to do?"
"I don't know. He just said I was coming with him."
"Oh, he's surprising you. Maybe it'll be something romantic. There are a few nice spots for a picnic, not that he strikes me as the picnic type. You could probably talk him into it though."
"Kaylee," Mal said from behind them.
"Sorry, Captain. Was just having some girl talk with River here."
"You can unhand my wife and let us go about our business while you go about yours."
"But I ain't got no real business, Captain. I know this moon real well. It's where I first came aboard Serenity. Remember? Can I tag along for a bit? Or is it something too personal for the likes of me to see?"
River watched as Mal regarded the mechanic thoughtfully. River wasn't quite sure what to make of Kaylee. She was like no woman she'd met before. Zoe wasn't either for that matter. She claimed machines spoke to her. River could understand that, much the way minds spoke to her. And yet, there was something womanly about Kaylee beneath the grime and the grit that shined through when she was cleaned up like this.
"Yeah, actually, you could be of some help, I reckon. I suspect River and I are clueless about a few things I've in mind for today. You might prove useful."
"That's me, happy to be useful. Bye guys," she said over her shoulder as she started walking toward town. She still had her arm looped through River's and Mal was quick to fall into step beside them. Kaylee didn't stop talking the entire way into town. River didn't understand half of it. She'd never lived the type of life Kaylee did. She was onboard Serenity to escape not to work.
Mal stopped in front of a store. River noticed but Kaylee didn't until River stopped, too.
"Do ya see something, Captain?"
"I reckon I do, Kaylee," Mal said, still focused on the store.
River looked, too, but she didn't get it. She tried reading his thoughts, but didn't get those either. He must have sensed what she was doing because he looked at her then slid an arm around her waist. He brushed a kiss over her cheek.
"I ain't no good at this stuff. You and Kaylee, do some shopping here. Buy whatever you need. I'll just tag along and hand over the money."
"Well, yeah, for the baby. This is the most outfitted moon around these parts and you're due, according to your brother, in a couple of months. I know there are still risks, but he says everything's progressing nicely. And I'd rather get the stuff now then not be able to get it later. Know what I mean?"
She looked at the store and back at him. "You want me to pick out things for the baby?"
"Well, yeah. Kaylee will be useful. She seems to know about things like this. No one else on Serenity does."
She stepped toward the store then, putting her hand on the door expecting him to say he was kidding. She even glanced at him over her shoulder.
"What's that look for?"
"Very. Come on, Kaylee. We can't go too overboard now. We only have so much room after all in the bunk slash nursery. We can always add more the next stop we come upon that has stuff like this."
"Mal," she said. This was too much. Way too much. It was one thing to marry her, to give her baby a name that wasn't Tam. This was spending his money. She didn't have to be right in the head to know that was taking advantage.
He nodded for Kaylee to go on ahead and stepped back from the store, River followed.
"What's a matter, River?"
"It's just." Her eyes darted to the store, Kaylee hadn't needed to be told twice to go on in. She was already busy looking around.
"What were you planning on doing? Putting him to bed in a shoebox? Come on, I signed up for this. No one's holding a gun to my head, then or now. I thought you'd be a little excited. Don't women generally get excited at the prospect of shopping, particularly for little people stuff?"
"I am. I didn't know what I was going to do. I have no money."
"You have some now after the job, but I ain't going to use that anyway. This is my treat."
Tears formed in her eyes. She wasn't used to someone being kind to her just for kindness' sake. Not her parents. Simon was as close as it came.
"I mean, you know, whatever happens, annulment or what have you, your baby still needs things."
"Yeah, Simon could. Simon ain't gone and married you. I did. It ain't going to break me. Other than Serenity, I haven't had much of anything to spend my money on. No ma to send stuff home to like Jayne. No friends to pass the time with gambling. Well, no one off the ship anyway. Serenity and you folks on it are all I got."
He rested his hand against her abdomen, stroking his thumb along her belly button. He'd been doing that more lately. She was feeling movements and he was curious about them. "This baby's going to have my name. I'll do right by it as best I can. I can't turn my back on someone in need, and that includes babies even if I have no experience with them."
"Thank you," she whispered, launching herself into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck. He was startled, but his arms went around her to support her. Even over seven months pregnant, he had no difficulty holding onto her.
She did something she'd never done before. She wasn't even sure what she was doing, but didn't take the time to think about it. She simply acted and kissed him. Until now, he'd kiss her cheek, forehead, head, or her hand, but that had been it. It was usually in front of people. She was just too overwhelmed by what he was offering her, her baby to not do what she'd wanted to for a while now.
Realizing it was probably going to be the only chance she'd get to kiss probably any man. Who would have her when it got down to it? So, she decided to make the most of it. If it was going to be the only one she had, she wanted it to be a good one.
Books and pictures didn't provide much help when applied. She realized that right away and so instead of trying to be logistical about it, she closed her eyes and just kissed him. Her arms slid from around his neck to his shoulders and back. He didn't respond at first. She didn't need experience to know that he was supposed to.
He wanted to, but had mixed feelings. Something about her age, her innocence bothered him. She saw Shepherd's image, too. She closed herself off to his thoughts then, not wanting them to interfere with or confuse the moment. It would be too easy to get caught up in the shoulds and shouldn'ts. Eventually, his resolve faded. She knew instantly when it happened, knew when he not just kissed her back but took charge.
She reached for his face with one hand, stroking his cheek with the pad of her thumb as she tasted him and he let her do just that. She sipped from his mouth as if he was the highest quality wine she could find. Once upon a time, she knew about things like fine wine and the food that went with it. Both she and Simon were bred for such a life. Those were but distant memories now. A life she knew existed but not for River Reynolds. She wasn't sure she'd considered herself River Tam long before she met Mal and knew she never would again. It was too dangerous. Not to mention it just wasn't who she was anymore.
Her eyes shot open when his tongue met hers. It was an accident and he seemed as surprised as she was, both managed a stifled groan at the contact. It brought her back to reality, though. They were still standing in the middle of town for anyone to see. He let her down as she drew away, seeming to sense the moment had come and gone.
"Well, now, what was that for?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him the lie she'd told herself when she started the kiss. To say thank you. That wasn't true, though. She knew it, suspected he did, too.
"A wife wants to kiss her husband and gets questioned about her motives?"
She turned then and walked toward the store on very unsteady feet. She hadn't been prepared for the physical feelings that kissing someone - not just someone, Mal - would give her. She felt giddy, drunk, and lethargic all at the same time. She'd analyze that later.
Seeing Simon talking animatedly with Kaylee over a crib in the store just about completed the knock her over with a feather process.
"Well," Mal said simply as he stopped behind her. She didn't need to look at him or his mind to know he got tense at seeing her brother in here. She wasn't sure what he was expecting. She'd also have to remind herself to ask him what Shepherd was doing in his head when she kissed him.
"He's here," she said simply. She couldn't fight the glimmer of hope she felt, that maybe he was finally ready to do this. Be her brother again. She wondered if he had any idea how much she missed him. The past month had been so busy, but always there was one thing missing. Her being able to share it with him. As her brother not her doctor. He'd never withhold that from her.
"Yeah, I see that."
His eyes met hers and he actually smiled. It was the first time since this whole thing had started that he'd smiled at her like her brother not her doctor. He was glad to see her, there was no disappointment or frustration there. She started crying then, realizing how much she'd missed it. Him.
Kaylee's smile was wide, too. Mal placed a comforting hand to her shoulder. "Let's go find out what he wants."
"I already know," she whispered through the tears.
"No," she said with a shake of her head. She closed the distance between them. "Hi," she said simply.
"Hi yourself. Kaylee was showing me this crib. She seems to think it's a nice one."
Her eyes fell on the crib and she reached out to touch it. "It is nice," she said simply. What was there to make one crib stand out over another? She had no idea.
"That's what you're here for, right? The stuff you'll need?"
"I'd like to help. That is my nephew in there, I want to be sure whatever you get is safe for him."
"Really?" The tears come back. Pregnancy really wasn't helping her ability to control her emotions. At all.
"Yes, mei-mei, really."
"I'd like that."
"Me, too. And Kaylee says she'll help. So, between the four of us."
"Three of you," Mal said. "I've got some things to see about and as long as you're here to rein the women in should they go too overboard, I'll take my leave and see to them."
"If you're leaving because of me," Simon said.
"Captain, Simon was already in here. So, we just started talking about this crib. That's all. What was I supposed to do?"
"No, Kaylee, I really do have other things to tend to. I was happy to do this with River when no one else could help, but she's got you two. Moreover, what I know about baby stuff. Well, I don't know anything about baby stuff. So, my opinion here would be quite useless. Besides, I reckon she'd like to spend some time with her brother. It's been a while."
River's eyes grew wide as she saw the amount of money Mal entrusted to Simon's care. "If you need more, have them set aside whatever you don't have enough for and I'll check back before heading to Serenity for the night."
"Captain, Mal, this is more than enough. I'll make sure you have receipts to go with everything."
"I'll take your word for it, Simon. If you say it's needed or a baby would want it. Well, then a baby must need or want it. You're the doctor after all."
Mal drew River aside, his hand going to the back of her neck as it so often did. He would stop what he was doing sometimes and just rub there. It was unconscious. She'd tried many times to figure out what brought it on, hoping she could replicate whatever it was. There wasn't anything. He just did it.
"You sure you'll be all right?"
"We'll be fine. He's here, offering to help, that means…"
"He's beginning to come to grips that his little sister is about to give birth in a couple of months. Yeah, I reckon he's managed to get his mind wrapped around that fact. I told you to give him his space. Men need that. Space and time to figure stuff out. We're used to being able to fix things, particularly your brother. Big brother and doctor, that has to be a heady combination of wanting to fix a problem. No doubt about it, you're the smartest person I've ever met, but there's still a thing or two I could teach you." His eyes darkened a little as he skimmed the tip of her nose with a fingertip. "About what happened outside…"
Her eyes widened. Here it comes. She'd gone too far, crossed some line he'd drawn she wasn't aware of. She'd spent a lot of time with him over the past couple of months. It was hard sometimes to remember it was an act, that this baby was some bizarre act of the Alliance. She'd had to, though, when he insisted that Simon just needed time to get used to the idea. Because her instinct, as it always was and probably would be, was to go to Simon.
And if she couldn't go to Simon then she needed to spend her time with the only person on Serenity she trusted. Zoe tolerated her. Wash let her sit in the bridge with him and play with his dinosaurs sometimes. He also let her watch how he did things with the ship, though no one was supposed to know that. She liked Kaylee, but River didn't get machines like she did. And they didn't have much else to talk about. Jayne, well, that went without saying. And then there was Inara. That also went without saying, though she'd noticed the companion becoming better the last couple of weeks. Maybe like Simon, she'd needed time to adjust.
Being a reader didn't do her much good if she didn't quite understand why people were they way they were and what made them that way. She could read their thoughts, but she didn't understand them a lot of the time. That just left her feeling confused and a little lost. That confusion and feeling of being lost led to some of her worst moments.
"Uh," she frowned.
What was he trying to find out? It would have been so easy to go into his mind and read his thoughts, but this was one of those times she thought it would be wrong. He'd given her permission to enter his mind freely if it helped keep the crazy moments at bay. This wasn't one of those times. His eyes fell to her mouth and she felt her throat constrict and her hands get a little clammy.
"Good, 'cuz I can't say as I minded."
"No?" Well, that wasn't what she'd expected him to say at all.
"No, not that I expect it to happen again, mind you. I realize your emotions are all over the place."
"Between what the Alliance did to you and being pregnant."
"Well, I guess that's just something more the Alliance did to you. Anyway, I reckon you must be having a smorgasbord of feelings and emotions that are just overwhelming to you."
That got his attention. She knew it would. She'd carefully picked through some of his memories of the war. It was like a minefield in there and she had to be careful. Some of the memories and the feelings they invoked in him were too vivid for her to handle.
"I'm sorry, were you trying to say something?"
She laughed then, realizing he had heard her all along. And maybe that was what he was trying to do, get her to laugh instead of cry.
"Good. Now, I'm off to take care of some of my things, the type that would have bored you to tears if you'd had to come along."
"I doubt that, but go ahead."
He didn't seem to understand that he didn't bore her no matter what he did. But if Simon was talking to her now. Well, she wouldn't need to rely on Mal to keep her occupied so much of the time. And he really had. She was sure there were things he gave up doing in favor of ensuring she took her vitamin, put the cream on, ate her meal, or went to sleep and stayed asleep.
"And even maybe find out about a job or two. I'd like to stay around this area so we're not too far from Persephone. Just in case."
His lips lifted into a smile then. "I just bet you do. All right then. Don't have too much fun spending my money. I worked awfully hard for it."
"I'll try not to," she said, tucking some hair behind her ear.
"Oh, and if you were of the mind to get a dress to go with your pregnancy. You know, one that actually looks like it was made for someone your size and all, just pregnant. Well, maybe your brother would like to have dinner with us. Here on Paquin."
"Really. I can be amicable if he can, too. And we have to eat, right? I'm sure you'd welcome a meal that might have something recognizable as real fruit and vegetables."
"Right. I'll ask him."
He slid a hand to the back of her head, drawing her to him and placing a kiss to her forehead. Only, she wasn't satisfied with that. She lifted her head so the forehead turned out to be more in-line with her mouth. He took what she offered, kissing her only briefly this time.
"I'll meet you back here, about two hours then, bao bay."
"Yes," she said.
She watched as Mal stopped to take a look at the crib in question. "It does look sturdy enough. Tag reads that it's already spoken for, though."
"I noticed that, too, Captain," Kaylee said. "Simon still insisted on getting my opinion on it."
"Do you like it, mei-mei?"
"Yes," she said simply. Like Mal she knew nothing about baby things. "It's nice."
"It's yours. Well, the baby's." She furrowed her brow in confusion. "The baby needs a crib, the rest can be gotten as you find it. I had no idea Mal was going to take you shopping."
"You bought it," she whispered.
"I'm your brother, the baby's uncle. I'm entitled to buy him a gift or two."
"That's nice of you, Simon, thank you," Mal said, giving River's shoulder a light pat before he left. It wasn't until after he left she realized he'd called her bao bay when no one could hear him. He never did that.
"You love him."
"What?" River said, knowing she'd heard Simon correctly. "No. I don't know."
Simon smiled then and Kaylee stepped away, looking at something else the baby would require.
"I can see it in your eyes, mei-mei. It's okay."
"I don't know what love is, Simon. Except for you."
He ran his fingers through her hair, tucking some of it behind her ear, as he knew she liked him to do.
"I know. Me, too. It won't be the same, River."
She stared at him. So many questions in her mind. Was that what was wrong with her? She'd gone and fallen in love with the man?
"You don't understand," she said softly, tears coming on again.
"Shhh, mei-mei," he drew her toward him, kissing the top of her head and smoothing her hair down. She nestled into his arms, surprised at how different being held by him felt. "Does he know?"
"I don't know. Maybe." She hadn't looked for that knowledge in him because she hadn't known what to look for.
"You don't need to worry about it now. He married you, is doing right by you despite knowing I'd object profusely. He'll come around."
She drew away, opened her mouth, tempted to tell him the truth. She saw in his eyes and in his mind, though, that he had finally come to terms with this. She couldn't ruin that now. If he knew that this baby hadn't come about in the usual way he'd want to run test after test. And he'd be more in danger because he'd want to take her further than Serenity to protect her. He stood a chance now of being able to get off at one of the moons along the rim and get a job. He'd seen for himself trying to get her things that doctors were in high demand at some of them.
"Thanks," she said softly. "Oh, he's invited you to dinner."
"Yes, he said if I could find a dress that looks like it was made for me," she glanced at the dress she wore currently. She didn't see what was wrong with it. As her pregnancy advanced the dresses Simon had gotten for her fit all right.
Simon laughed. "Well, he gave us enough money I think we can find you a dress, too. Can Kaylee come to dinner?"
"Kaylee?" River asked, glancing at the mechanic. "He didn't…I don't see why not. She's helping us after all."
"All right. Let's get the shopping done then."
"Sorry for what?"
She shrugged. "For disappointing you, upsetting you, and for making you think your hard work and the money you spent freeing me was a waste of your time and energy."
"I don't think that," he said, and stopped. "All right, a few weeks ago I thought that. I don’t anymore. If you're going to read my mind, the least you can do is stay current as my opinions evolve. I was worried about you, mei-mei. He's much older than you. He's a hard man. He's lived on his own, on this ship, still fighting a war of some kind for so long I was afraid he couldn't treat a woman like you the way you deserved. You're not like other women, and I'd say that even if I wasn't your brother."
"Can you think of me and not be my brother?"
"I'm trying, I'm learning. And I was wrong. I can admit that. I just wished when I asked if you loved him you would have said yes right away. And he back to you. That will come with time, I'm sure. Who couldn't love you? I sure do. Nothing will change that, mei-mei. Not this baby, not your marriage, not even if we eventually go our separate ways."
"I love you, too." Tears again. All this crying. She wiped them away, sniffling.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com