**Part Fifteen**

Word Count: 3,397
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #31-Labor

She didn't get any rest and she didn't get her baby shower either. She knew before her body physically told her that the time had come. She wasn't sure if it was her sensitivity psychically, but she'd known when she turned her back to Mal that the baby would come soon.

It seemed like hours had gone by when her body finally caught up with her mind and the contractions started coming. The first one was unexpected and she clutched the hand Mal had draped over her with all her might.

The pain she'd felt before now had been different, not physical. She suspected she was connecting with the baby who was telling her body he was finally ready. That was why she hadn't felt the contractions until now.

"Riv," he murmured in his sleep when she grabbed onto his hand for a second time. She hadn't thought to time them, but it didn't seem like much time had passed. Five minutes? Not much longer. "Everything all right?"

"It's time to meet little Mal," she whispered.

"M'kay," he said, clearly not registering what she'd said. He was still sleeping. Her third vice-like grip on his hand woke him up for real, sitting up in bed. "River?"

"I told you it's time to meet little Mal."

"Sorry," he murmured, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. "Guess I didn't hear you. Did you just say what I think you said?"

She nodded, biting her lower lip. In addition to the contractions she felt the baby struggle, unable to understand that what he was going through was normal. She tried to comfort him.

"Aww, don't go doing that, bao bay," he said, reaching for her lip with the pad of his thumb. She batted it away almost violently. She saw the surprise in his eyes, but didn't have time to apologize as another contraction began.

"You mean right now?"

She nodded simply, concentrating on trying to calm the baby. She didn't like that he was so stressed. Was that normal? She doubted there were too many studies on people like her having babies.

"All right. I'll, um," he raked his fingers through is hair, clearly not entirely awake yet. He'd been up late putting the crib together. She wondered briefly if he might not be a bit psychic himself that last night of all nights he'd finally done that.

"Get Simon."

"Right," he said, sliding from the bed. She bunched the bedding into her fists, riding out another one as he put on his pants. He walked to the comm. "Simon, need ya. Like now."

He turned to face her then and looked like he had no idea what to do. It must have registered that he hadn't told Simon where to go, so he walked back to the comm. "We'll meet ya in the delivery room, Doc."

He found one of her dresses and walked to the bed then, sliding it over her head.

"Don't need it," she said, trying to fight him but just not having the strength to fight him and comfort the baby at the same time.

"I ain't carrying you from here to the infirmary in your altogether, Riv. That's just for me to see."

"And Simon."

"Said like that, sounds kind of bad and might make a man wonder."

She smiled slightly at that.

"I always wondered why you two were so close."

She laughed lightly, but the baby didn't like that at all and she cried out. She heard him utter a curse word or two as he took her into his arms. She could have walked, but she was so tired from not sleeping all night that she let him.

"Everything all right, Sir?" Zoe asked in the hall.

"Yeah, looks like the baby's making an appearance. Could you check and see if I left anything behind she might want while in there? Like her brush. She likes it when I brush her hair."

"Yes, Sir."

"Thanks," he said, brushing past the rest of the crew. She'd never really stopped to consider how strong he was. Carrying her as if she weighed nothing. Normally, that'd be true but not right now. She'd never seen him in this type of situation, where he felt something of his was threatened. Determined. She could see this man with the clenched jaw and the look in his eye that said nothing was going to get in his way on the battlefield, Zoe by his side. He'd looked to her even tonight to make sure he'd gotten it right.

It bothered her that she knew what he felt when he did not. She'd had to search long and hard in his mind to find those thoughts. He kept them so hidden, even from himself. She'd known for months she loved him. Seduced him knowing she loved him and that he just might not be able to return those feelings. Not knowingly. He did so many things every day that told her. If only she could hear it, just once.

"River, it's going to be all right," he murmured, and she realized he'd been watching her. He thought she was scared. And she was, but that wasn't what she'd been thinking. Best to let him think that. As long as she stayed connected with the baby, she knew it would be all right.

"Doc, Simon," Mal said as way of greeting. Simon knew why he was there. Her eyes widened when she read that he hadn't been in his room when Mal's call came.

"Oh, Simon," she murmured, her eyes falling on Inara.

"It's okay, mei-mei. Remember what we talked about. Just breathe."

Focusing on the minds of others, including the baby's, seemed to help lessen the pain from the contractions. It was still there and when the contraction hit its peak, she found it hard to concentrate. And just who's mind did she want to concentrate on? Mal's always seemed to calm her for some reason. Simon's she probably had no business being in right now. She couldn't help it, though, and was relieved to discover that he'd merely fallen asleep in the shuttle, nothing more.

"He's scared," she said softly.

"Who's scared, mei-mei? Mal?"

"No, the baby."

"I'm sure he is. Can you reassure him?"

"I'm trying," she said softly, gripping Mal's forearm during another contraction once he'd set her on the bed. They were using her old room, the bed being more comfortable than the table in the infirmary. And the privacy. That way no one had to stay out either in the event something happened.

Simon hooked up the machine that would monitor both heartbeats until the baby came. Simon had explained all of it to them when he'd gotten the machine a couple of weeks ago. They'd unload it on one of the moons they'd visited where Simon noticed medical supplies were in demand.

"What are you doing here?" Mal asked Inara.

"I offered to come in case Simon needs help."

"Playing more chess?"

"Reading actually."

"How nice. So, you've birthed babies then?"

"No, but Simon might need help and you'll have your hands full with your wife. Would you rather I leave?"

"No, as long as River's all right with it."

"She can stay," River cried out through another contraction.

A little while later Shepherd came in.

"Mind if I have a word with the patient?"

"Is there something you all ain't telling me? If she's in need of a preacher I'd like to know that."

"Not at all, Mal. I just wish to speak with her for a moment alone. Spiritual counseling is not only helpful during times of loss. Some people find it refreshing to go into a new stage in life cleansed."

"I don't wager she needs much cleansing, but have at it. I'll just set out there for a bit while you have your chat."

"You could always stay."

"Nah, no need, but thanks."

"You know, Mal, maybe River would like you to stay."

"Listen, you married us. I was all right with that. River's been in my mind, something you can't claim to have done. I think she probably understands better than anyone else and I don't think will hold it against me if I take my leave while you offer her whatever guidance you think she needs."

"It's okay, Shepherd. Please let him go."

"Very well," he said, but River knew he wasn't happy.

"You won't change his mind."

"You don't think I can?"

"He is unwilling to change on this."

"Perhaps the birth of a child will help heal some of those wounds buried so deep inside of his soul."

She smiled slightly, her lips tight. The contractions while not getting any closer together that she could tell were getting more painful. And the baby had stopped fighting so much.


"How's everything going, Sir?" Zoe asked once Mal'd gotten to the common area outside the passenger bunk area.

"Just dandy."

"Sarcasm, Sir?"

"I don't know how to answer your question. I'm not the one having the contractions. Seems she gets calmed from the baby some."


"That's about what I said, but I'm not a reader so what do I know about that stuff."

"Brought you a protein bar, Sir. Figured it'd tide you over until you're able to eat."

"Thank you," he said, taking the bar. They were tasteless, but it would do for now.

"Did I see Inara in there?"

"Yeah, we won't even go there, but she's there to help."

"And River's okay with that?"

"Why wouldn't she be?"

Zoe just shook her head slightly and Mal wondered what he was missing.

"Did Simon say how she's coming along?"

"No, other than not very fast." His eyes rested on Wash, Jayne and then on Kaylee, not at all comfortable having this conversation in front of them. "Says being that it's her first child and all we could be here a while."

"I'll be here if you need me. Wash and I will take shifts."

"Me, too," Kaylee chimed in, elbowing Jayne who was seated next to her when he didn't speak up.

"What? What can I do for her? Besides, I helped him put the crib together last night." She elbowed him again, harder. "Uh, yeah, me too."

"Thanks, I'm sure she'll appreciate knowing you're all out sitting here listening in on the goings on."

"Sir," Zoe said simply. "We're not going to stay all of us. Just one at a time. We just wanted to see how she was."

"All right then. Go about your business. I reckon this boat won't stop needing things done for a baby."

"Yes, Sir."

"Thanks again for the bar, Zoe. I appreciate it."

"You're welcome, Captain. Let's go," she said, standing and gesturing to the others.

"You mean you dragged me out of my bunk just so I could leave again?"

"Mal doesn't want us all here, Jayne. Having a baby's kind of personal, River wouldn't like knowing we were all out here listening in on the whole process."

Leave it to Kaylee to explain it in such a fashion to Jayne. Mal finished the bar, letting his head fall back against the wall. He wondered just how long Shepherd planned on being in there with River. What'd they need to talk about anyway?

He didn't think he'd ever want to trade places with River, but hell if the waiting wasn't going to drive him mad. Just what was he supposed to do?

Thirty-six hours of waiting. Almost two days of contractions that seemed to go nowhere. Wash already had them hovering near Persephone. Mal knew Simon was getting close to making the call of transferring to the medical facility there. She looked exhausted. Beyond exhausted. He was tired, he couldn't even imagine what she was feeling.

"If this doesn't work," Simon said after breaking River's water. "I'll have to get her to a hospital. I have no choice. Forty-eight hours the baby has to be delivered after doing this. And I'll need to put her on antibiotics if it doesn't happen fast."

"So, this is serious what you just did?"

"Yes. The amniotic fluid protects the baby. It's gone now, so infection could set in. He can still be delivered normally at this point. There's no reason to be worried yet. It's just that her body got to eight centimeters and stopped."

"And that's bad."

"She needs to be to ten. He's a big baby, Mal. I'd say at least nine pounds, so I need her fully dilated."

"All right. Well, if a hospital is in order then that's what we'll do."

"Simon," River said softly. She was a little doped up at the moment so she sounded a little hazy. Simon'd given her something for the pain when the contractions kept coming but weren't bringing her any closer to the end of the road.

"Yes, mei-mei."

"Can I be alone with Mal for a little bit?"

"Of course. I'll go get something to eat." Mal realized Simon'd been here with River almost the entire time.

"Why don't you catch some sleep in your bunk?"

"I need to keep checking on her now that I've done that."

"All right," Mal said, realizing Simon wouldn't be sleeping anytime soon until he was sure his sister was going to be all right. At least they had that in common. Inara had stayed around, but once it was clear the baby wasn't coming right away had returned to her shuttle.

He pulled up a chair next to the bed, seeking out her hand, lacing his fingers through hers.

"What's on your mind, bao bay?"

"I want to name him Mal."

"You what?"

"I want to name him Mal."

"Why on earth would you want to do that?"

"Well, I was thinking about what you said."

"I've said a lot of things, you'll need to refresh my memory."

"About having others."

"Oh, that. Listen, that was just me talking. No pressure or anything. I certainly don't expect you to jump at the opportunity when you're over thirty hours into the process of having this one with no results.

She shook her head, lifting their joined hands to his mouth to touch his lips. "No, I'd want to name a boy after you. Rightfully so. I've never met a man, been in a man's mind who deserves such a thing more."

"Oh come on, River, I ain't nothing like what you're going on about. I'm just a man. Do the best I can do."

"That's what makes you so deserving. And if we have another one and it's a boy, this one will wonder why we named that one Mal and not this one."

"But," Mal frowned, trying to wrap his mind around this. "Are you telling me that laying here as you are in labor you're thinking about future babies?"

She laughed lightly, clutching his hand. He was prepared for it. She got a look on her face when a contraction was starting. The monitor was a good indicator, too, which he just happened to catch out of the corner of his eye.

"That was a good one," he said softly.

"Yeah," she whispered, releasing her grip on his hand.

"We name him whatever you want."

"That won't bother you?"

He shrugged. "I don't know why anyone would be bothered by that. I don't think I'm worthy or deserving of such a thing. Two Mal's."

"We can call him Malcolm."

"He'll love that as much as I did."

She laughed and groaned softly, resting their hands against her stomach.

"He okay?"

"Yeah, just moved a bit. He's stubborn."

"Great. Just what I need."

He sat with her much like that until Simon returned. Mal left them alone so Simon could check on her progress.

Things went pretty quickly after that. Well, that was relative Mal supposed. Ten more hours after over thirty-six probably seemed like an eternity to her. But he came and she did great. Mal would deny it until the day he died, but there was a spell there he thought he might just lose it or pass out. Baby delivering was not a very neat process. Lots of blood, which wasn't bad in and of itself. He'd been shot up, cut up, and sliced open more times than he could count. There was something about seeing such a tiny thing like River struggle to push something the size of a baby out of her. It just didn't seem possible.

He did manage to collect himself enough to watch the head come through, followed soon after by a shoulder. She was exhausted by then and needed some time to gather herself before she continued pushing.

"That's it, River. Just a couple of more and you'll be done."

"Liar," she hissed, pushing through another contraction. Out came the other shoulder. After that it was pretty slick.

"I can't," she said, her hands covering her eyes. She was frustrated and downright exhausted. He couldn't blame her.

"One more, River. Come on. You want to see him."

"Simon's right, bao bay. Curse him for all that kicking he did. Remember?"

He watched the monitor, saw it begin its ascent into a spike that indicated a contraction. "Here comes another one."

"You don't think I know…" she cried out, pushing and Mal didn't need to know she was doing everything she could to ensure that was the last one.

"There it is," Simon called out as he stood from his spot at the foot of the bed. The baby certainly made his presence known and let them all know he had a set of lungs that worked. And worked well.

"He is not ugly," River said softly.

"Get out of my head. I wasn't thinking ugly. Well, maybe just a little, come on. He's got gunk all over him. And he's all shriveled. Clearly takes after the Tam side of the family gene pool."

Simon grimaced, setting little Mal on a blanket he'd placed on River's chest so she could hold him. Her arms went around him protectively. Instinct. Mal realized he was witnessing first hand the most miraculous things there was to experience. He'd taken life. He'd watched men die, seen the life go out of a dying man's eyes. Some honorably, some not so much with the honor. He'd never seen this aspect of life. Renewal. Beginnings.

"Do you want to cut the cord?"

"Huh what? No, you do it. Go on ahead. You're the uncle and everything."

"You sure? You only get one first child, Mal."

"Oh, all right," he said, following Simon's instructions. It was Kaylee who was there to take little Mal from Simon, placing him in the warmer Simon had set up.

"Don't worry, Captain, Simon walked me through it. I'll take good care of him."

"I know you will, Kaylee."

"She ain't done? What is there two?" Mal asked when Simon returned to the end of the bed.

Simon chuckled softly. "No, she's done. Just the placenta and I'll have to give her some stitches. She's got some tearing, but not too bad considering. One more, River. One more and it's out."

The rest was over pretty quickly. Mal did his best to distract River from Simon stitching her up. That couldn't have been comfortable he wagered. He tried to imagine what she would have experienced giving birth if they'd never gotten to the point of sex.

"Is that why you did it?"

"No," she said simply. He believed her. She had no reason to lie, though he probably wouldn't have blamed her for setting about that end.

Simon must have realized they were having some sort of private conversation because he just shook his head once he'd finished with River and stood, going over to Kaylee's end of the room.

"Go look at him," she whispered.

"I think your sister wants me to check and make sure you're not poking him with hot needles or something over there."

"Just checking his vitals, which seem fine. He's fine, mei-mei. Kaylee and I will give him his bath in a minute. Then you can hold him again. Get some rest while you can because he'll be hungry."

Mal noticed she blushed at that, wondering what that was about. She'd just given birth, surely there wasn't anything left to be modest about.

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