**Part Nine**

Word Count: 4,166
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #29-Jealousy

She woke a few times during the night and always he was there, beside her. She tried not to feel like a giddy schoolgirl at the idea of it. But she was sleeping next to Mal. And what was wrong with feeling a little giddy about that?

The first time she'd woken up he'd been wide awake, sitting up in bed. Reading no less. He'd looked at her and she couldn't recall seeing a clearer image of relief reflected back to her in someone's eyes. He'd been frightened.

["A little too much, bao bay?"]

She'd nodded simply, though she wasn't sure if that was the reason. She just knew she was humiliated. Here she'd outright invited him to come to bed with her. Inara could probably claim that had never happened to her. Humiliating didn't even cover it.

Only he hadn't acted mad and he hadn't even poked fun at her. She wouldn't have blamed him for doing so. He'd have every right. Instead, he'd closed his book, slid further into the bed and resumed somewhat where they'd left off. Just without the extra touching that had seemed to be too much for her. Kissing. Lots of kissing. Lots of variations on kissing. Mouths open, mouths closed. Tongues. Teeth. Mouths straying from the other's mouth, just never below the neck.

They'd fall asleep, wake up a little while later and repeat the process. It had left River a bundle of nerves, which caused her to sit up in bed like a shot at an unfamiliar sound in the other room.

"Simon," she called out, instinctively calling for her brother in her sleep until she realized where she was. Whom she was with. She was safe. Mal would keep her safe. She snuggled against him instinctively, his arm went around her possessively allowing her to drift back to sleep. She forgot about the sound that had caused her to wake so suddenly in the first place.

"They're still in bed," Wash called out. River opened her eyes, Mal's weren't too far behind. She smiled at him.

Good morning, bao bay.

"Good morning," she mouthed. She liked when he did that, talked to her that way. It was so intimate. And it showed he wasn't afraid of her, what she could do. There were so many who turned high tail and ran from her upon finding she was a reader.

"Please tell me they have clothes on," Jayne said from somewhere out of sight.

"Well," Wash said. "Mal has his pants on. Can't tell much about River, but what I see, ain't much there to be called clothes."

Mal drew the blanket around her, shifting himself to shield her from view as best he could in the process. She laughed a little.

"There had better be a damned good reason why you're walking into my bunk uninvited."

"Remind me to ask you where you got that later, in case I ever need one for Zoe," Wash said with a wink in River's direction. "And, Mal, are those hickeys?"

"Wash," Mal said, the warning clear in his tone.

"Sorry for the interruption, love bunnies, but there's a wave for you, Mal. Badger, says it's important."

"At this hour of the morning?"

"I hate to break it to you crazy kids, but you've slept through breakfast. Judging by the looks of you, I'm not sure you got much sleeping done though."

"That's enough, Wash."

"What? It's not every day I find you in a compromising position."

"And it'll be the last one if you keep it up. I can find another pilot."

"Oh come on, Mal. You can't take a little ribbing?"

River touched his lips with her fingertips. "It's okay," she whispered, knowing it was for her benefit he was putting up such a fight about this.

"All right, I got your message. I'll get it in a minute."

"Did I mention it's Badger, by the way," Wash said and remained standing there. He didn't much look like he was going to go anywhere either.

"Yes, Wash, you mentioned that. I do need to get up in order to answer the wave you so rudely barged into my bunk about."

"Well, yeah, we weren't sure if you were dead in here or something."

"And if it had been the or something I'd be a might mad at being interrupted over a wave don't you think?"

"That was my fault, Mal," Simon said, peeking into the room. "I knew you'd gone to your bunk late and," his face turned about three shades of red as he spoke, "well, I realized you might have overslept."

Mal's lips lifted into a smile. "All right. Out. Please. It doesn't take two of you." He noticed Jayne joining Simon in peeking into the room. "Three? Good Lord. You've seen me sleeping before."

"Not with her," Jayne said simply.

"Now you have. Get out of my room now. River's bound to be hungry if we slept through breakfast. Simon, maybe you can help her out with that."

"Sure, happy to. I'll meet you there, mei mei."

"Thank you," he said with a nod as the three men proceeded to leave. Wash was the only one who dared look over his shoulder.

"You think I don't mean it, that I won't fire you."

"I'd still be here on Serenity, so it wouldn't make any difference. Unless you're going to fire Zoe, too."

Mal grimaced. Hadn't thought of that. Remind me to come up with a better threat to use against him.

"Okay," she said simply, getting out of bed as soon as she heard the outer door close. "I'm sorry if I kept you up too late."

"River, honey, I can't remember the last time I did that. It was, dare I say it and not sound like the biggest bleeding hearted romantic in this verse, nice."

"Yeah, it was." She dipped her head, glancing at her feet. "You're not mad?"

"Mad at what?"

"That I, well, you know."

He chuckled then, sat up in bed and came up behind her, seating himself like that so his legs were next to hers off the bed. "bao bay, it was too much too soon. I get that. And with how much you feel going by what your brother says."

"We can try again?"

"That's entirely up to you."

She glanced at him over her shoulder, running a hand along his thigh. "Not entirely."

"Yes entirely."

"If you didn't want to."

"Did it seem like I didn't want to last night?"


"Okay, don't answer that. You took me by surprise. First the kiss in town, and then showing up in the bridge all, well, appealing like."

"You think I'm appealing?"

"Hell, yes."

"Even though?"

"Even though," he said, resting a hand against her belly. "Especially though. It takes a brave woman to do what you're doing. It takes a brave woman to take me up on my offer when it means shackling yourself to the type of man I'm sure would normally be furthest from your mind."

"That's not true."

"Yes, I'm sure if you brought me home to your parents they'd welcome me with open arms, offer me tea and crumpets or some such nonsense they do in homes like the one you grew up in."

"Well, no, but I'm not my parents."

She kissed his cheek and stood. He let a hand slide down her spine, cupping the curve of her hip for a minute.

"You are very appealing, River Tam, don't think otherwise."



"River Reynolds."

"What did I say?"


"Right, an accidental slip. Oh hey, before you go off to breakfast and I get down to business. There is something I've got for you. I'm not sure it's as enjoyable as your gift was, but I think it's appropriate."

"What?" She couldn't help but get excited at the thought. She shouldn't, he'd done so much already so she had no business expecting more from him, too.

"Well," he walked to his dresser.

She noticed now that his pants were unfastened, hanging a little low on his hips and she swallowed hard, taking him in. She saw the scar on his back, but that wasn't what captured her attention. It was his form, how his pants rode snuggly on his hips. No threat of falling any lower, just hovering there, teasing.

"You said last night you wanted a husband. You also know as well as I do realistically our arrangement really won't end anytime soon. Your baby comes, it's going to need protection and its father there even more. I wasn't entirely thinking it through when I had the idea, but I'm all right with that. I gave you my word, and I won't back out of it. And you made me think yesterday that I mightn't want to."

"All right," she said, trying to remain calm and not sound like what he'd just said excited to her no end. Really, she was just glad he'd figured out on his own that his idea was going to extend past the next few months.

"I figured it was about time you had something symbolizing the whole thing. So, the others don't wonder why you're not worthy and all. And since it seems I'm going to be at the very least sleeping in the same bed as you. I am, right?"

"Yes. Unless you don't want to."

He scoffed. "Hardly a lack of wanting on my part. Had you stayed conscious last night you would have discovered that for yourself I reckon," he winked. That was good, that meant he wasn't mad at her, though she knew enough that it couldn't have been very comfortable for him to just stop like that.


"So, things have kind of shifted a little, haven't they? Kinda gone beyond the original deal?"

She nodded simply. "Yes."

"Anyway, this was my mother's. She told me something once about it being my grandmother's by way of my father. Now, I have no way of knowing if that's true, but I know it looks pretty old. It's about the only thing I have of that life. My life before the war, before this life. No matter how bad off I was, never entered my mind to part with it. I probably would have chosen a little something different, that's all I'm saying. Something not quite so plain. My father was a rancher. He did all right I reckon, though I wager you and I might see differently on what all right means. At least the old you," he said, opening his palm to reveal a ring. A wedding ring. It was plain, but in River's eyes, it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.

"It's beautiful."

"Now, don't go pulling my leg. It's nothing special, but I reckon a month is long enough for you to go without one before the others start to get suspicious. And I can't have it on my conscious sleeping with you and having you think it's something illicit or untoward. You decide at some point, whatever point, this ain't what you want, this ain't the life you signed up for, I'm okay with that. I'll grant you the annulment, but you said you wanted a husband. So, there it is. Anyone asks I was working on cleaning it. It's old and been banging about in boxes and what not for years so it needed a little more than a spit polish."

She took it and slid it on her finger. It was a little tight, probably from swelling. "Mal."

"Now, I'll tell you up front I won't wear one. Nothing against you or anything, jewelry just isn't my thing. Besides, some jobs it's best they think I'm just Mal Reynolds. If they think I have a wife or a kid, they might pass me over on something dangerous. Not to mention, someone could use you and the little one against me. You know the type of people we deal with, not all of them, most of them, aren't nice. They wouldn't be very nice to you either if they thought it would get my attention. Understand?"

River nodded.

He ran a fingertip over the ring on her finger. "And that also means if I don't run around introducing you as my wife or anything but one of my crew, that's the reason. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm not going to endanger you, the baby, or the rest of my crew. I don't take that sort of thing lightly. You okay with that?"


"All right, go on, get dressed while I see to that wave. Crew probably thinks we took this time for a little morning tryst. 'specially if Wash passes on the details on what you're wearing and the darned hickeys."

"Do they bother you?"

He laughed lightly. "No, unlike the rest of the marks on me, they'll go away in a day or two. I should ask you the same question. You want to look at me day after day? I'm scarred up pretty bad. Those won't go away. Likely I'll get more."

"No, it's who you are. I wouldn't change a thing, not one of them. Except maybe this one," she said, touching the most recent one at his side. His eyes met hers and she saw that he understood why she'd choose that over all the others. She didn't have to go into specifics, or explain herself. She liked that.

"I should mention there are a few others you ain't seen yet. But, all right then. We're good here."

She blushed then, wondering just where the other scars were. She walked to the small bathroom area to wash her face and stuff with that thought in mind. Now he'd gone and made her curious. She wanted to find out.

"You know, if you were of the mind, you don't need to go putting that away anytime soon. That is to say, I wouldn't mind seeing you in it again. Maybe we can work on the passing out on me part."

She laughed softly, ducking her head though. "All right."

She watched as he walked to the outer room, slipping on and buttoning his shirt as he went. He hadn't put his boots on. There was something somewhat sexy about him walking around barefoot, which was a ridiculous thought.

She dressed, taking more time than necessary because she'd stop every so often to look at the ring. He'd given her a ring. It was just a gold band with some etching on it. It looked like something she'd seen in text books done by the Celts many, many years ago. Somehow that was fitting of Mal, giving her something that represented an ancient warrior race. Because he was a modern day warrior. Her warrior. She liked it. She'd cherish it. She'd wear it, even if their arrangement ended in them going their separate ways eventually.

She made her way to the dining hall, judging by the voices Simon wasn't the only one in there.

"You made it. I was beginning to think you were going to stay in bed all day," Simon said. Book, Kaylee and Inara were in the room, too. Her eyes fell on Book who gave her a puzzled look. His thoughts were very easy to read. He was trying to figure out if Mal needed another warning issued.

"So, I take it you liked my little gift? Or, rather Mal liked it."

River blushed. "Yes."

"No need to get flustered. That's why I bought it for you. I saw it at the store and just couldn’t resist. Those dresses make you look like you ain't never contemplated the sexing to have a baby." Book cleared his throat, River met his gaze. "So, I figured a little something more daring would be nice. Besides, you're still newlyweds, nothing like a little surprise to spice things up. Not that they need spicing. I mean, I have no reason to believe they need spicing."

"Thank you. I think Mal said something about a raise, but he might have been joking."

Kaylee beamed with one of the widest smiles River'd ever seen. "Aww, shucks, just hearing that is payment enough. I think it's sweet you two. And we're going to have a baby on Serenity. Now all's we need is a dog and we'd be like a regular family."

"A dog wouldn't be very practical," Inara said, turning to look at Kaylee. Her eyes rested on River. She was helping Simon get some food together for River. She always felt like the companion appraised her as if she was competition.

She knew the instant Inara spotted the ring. It was one of those times the companion didn't screen her thoughts well at all. Perhaps it was intentional, though River didn't think so. She was still a little baffled by the relationship of those two. She knew whatever it was they'd never been together. She'd searched for any such memories in both of them, neither had anything remotely like that.

"Here you go, River. I have some things to do in my shuttle. Excuse me."

River ate her food, Kaylee and Simon left to tend to their respective areas on Serenity. That left her alone with Shepherd.

"Are you all right, River?"


"If there's something you need to talk about..."

"No, I don't. And please don't lecture him, or me, about anything being inappropriate. I'm going to have a baby, I think I can make other decisions about my life's path."

"You're right, of course. And if your feelings for one another have gone that way, while I won't deny I'm not entirely in favor of it I cannot say anything. You are, after all, married."

"Yes, you saw to that. You had to know."

"I suspected, of course. One thing I did know is that he wouldn't take advantage. I would never have agreed if I thought otherwise. And it's natural two people who live together as you do to change."

"He's been fine."

"All right," he said, placing a hand over hers. "If you need to talk."

"Thank you." She cleared her place, having finished and grabbed one of her apples. "I'm going to go for a walk."

"All right, River."

She loved walking around Serenity. There was so much to explore. She wished it could talk to her as it did Kaylee. She'd love to hear the memories it had, the stories it could tell. She paused when she heard voices, recognizing not just Inara's but Mal's, too. They didn't stop their conversation so they hadn't heard her. She was stealthy that way.

"I can't believe how wrong I was about you."

"Wrong about me how, 'nara?"

"You're taking advantage of that girl. You've gone and given her a ring as if that somehow means you're actually committed to her."

"I'm doing no such thing. Everything that's happened between us has been completely consensual." River smiled at that, it wasn't a lie. "And I am committed. Can't get more committed than saying I do in front a preacher whose God I lost the need for long ago."

"You're going to break her heart. You and I both know this is just a phase, an act to prevent her brother from killing you."

"I don't know any such thing. You think I'd marry someone I intended to hurt, Inara. All the years I've lived alone, you think I'd enter into something like this as a way to avoid conflict? Come on, you know me better than that. And I'll have you know, the ring was my mother's I wouldn't dole it out to someone who was just a phase cuz I reckon my mother would frown on something of hers being used toward that end."

"I don't know what I know about you anymore."

"What's that mean?"

"Oh come on. You're experienced enough to prevent pregnancy."

"So, I forgot a time or two. It happens. Get caught up in the moment. I don't suppose you've ever had a chance to experience that considering everything you do is plotted and planned down to the type of tea you serve."

"You don't know a thing about my job. What I do. So I will ask you to refrain from commenting on it."

"And I'll ask you to do the same when it comes to my marriage. Will that be all then? As you apparently know I missed breakfast, so I'm a little hungry."

River watched as he took a step to pass her, but her arm shot out and grabbed his, preventing him from going any further. She could tell from this far away that he didn't like that at all. He could get away if he wanted to, but he wouldn't risk harming her.

"What is it, Inara?"

"Why her?"

"Why her what?"

"You've had female passengers before. You've never gotten involved with one of them until now. I've never known you to not be able to wait until the next stop."

Mal shrugged. "I don't reckon I know the answer to that, perhaps one of your books on the teachings of the heart could explain it to you. It just is what it is, Inara. I'm sorry if that bothers you. Hurts you somehow. I won't deny I've always felt an attraction to you, but you and I both know nothing could come of that. Not that was healthy or that wouldn't end badly."

River's eyes widened.

"And you think this won't end badly? You're fooling yourself if you think so."

"Then I guess I'm a fool. She's good people. I take responsibility for my actions. You of all people should not just know that but respect it. What kind of man would I be if I didn't do right by her? What am I supposed to do? Let her and her brother off at the next stop and wish her well?"

"No," Inara said. "I just wished you'd told me."

"I didn't think I owed you any more than the rest of the crew. We're friends, despite my digs at your occupation, I consider you that. You're part of my crew in a roundabout way. You all heard the news at the same time. I don't show preferential treatment for any of my crew."

"Except River."

"Except River. And I suppose Zoe, but that goes without saying since I've been able to count on her longer than anyone else I know. Now, will you let go of my arm so I can go get myself some grub. I've got some studying to do about a potential job. Badger got word we're hovering around Persephone, staying close."

"Why is that? No one seems to understand, except Simon but he's not saying anything. You've even got him coming around to you."

"In case there are complications. Serenity isn't equipped for baby delivering. Simon's assured me what he has here will do for a basic delivery and even a C-section were it to come to that. But if it's anything complicated not so much."

"You really do care for her. For this baby."

"I guess an old dog can learn new tricks after all. They're mine, so of course I do. Now, if you'll excuse me. I'm sure you've got planning to do, too."

She released his arm then. River saw Mal's gaze flicker up to her hiding spot. Had she moved that he saw her now? He nodded simply and continued on the direction she'd just come from. Judging by his thoughts and the look of surprise on his face, he hadn't known she was there until that moment.

Inara, on the other hand, had no clue River had been privy to the conversation between them. River searched the companion's mind and grew confused by her thoughts. She did a lot of the time. They seemed so contradictory. Loving someone went against everything she had been trained to do. And, yet, unless River was seriously mistaken with the path Inara's thoughts took, she loved Mal.

And that sort of put a whole new spin on things as far as River was concerned. Just how long would Mal put up with her passing out on him? Especially when there was a more experienced woman on the ship who didn't do those types of things. She knew from Inara's thoughts that she'd take him if he came to her. It wasn't out of spite toward River, more a resolve that it'd be the only way she'd get him.

River cleared her head, shaking off the intrusive thoughts. It wasn't going to happen. Mal had woken up to her this morning. She wasn't going to push him away now. She took a bite of the apple, purposely loud about it. Inara looked up, and River gave her a smile, knowing the companion realized that while River might not have heard the entire conversation she knew full well what Inara had just been thinking.

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