**Part Twenty-Three**

Word Count: 1,639
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #35-Smell

"Mal," Inara said softly from the doorway leading to the bridge.


"You need to get some sleep."


"You're not going to do her any good if you're exhausted to the point you can't think straight."

"I said I can't, Inara."

"Be reasonable."

"I think you're misunderstanding why I can't."

She took a seat in the one Wash normally occupied. "Tell me then."

He flicked his gaze in her direction and returned to staring out the window. "Not sure that's exactly appropriate."

"Well, I'm here, no one else is. Who's to know?"

"I'd know, and then she'd know by way of knowing her way around my head," he said, tapping his forehead.

"Oh, I see," she said, not sure what to say to that. She clasped her hands in her lap, feeling somewhat like a fish out of water. Of course she always did around Mal, and now more than ever.

"It smells like her," he said simply.


"My bunk, everywhere in there, but most of all the bed. Weird, too, cuz I never much noticed before. I tried, ya see. I guess that means I'm housebroken or something that I can't sleep in my own bed by myself any longer. But it's her scent that did me in."

"It's a powerful sense."

"Yeah, I get that, makes you think, remember things. None of which are conducive to sleeping or not going off half-cocked tonight to find her. Because I want her there, so I came up here."

She realized that was probably all she was going to get by way of explanation from him.

"I keep going over it in my head, if there's some way, some how, someone knew."

"It might have nothing to do with you at all."

"How could it not?"

"Contrary to what you may think, the world is not all about you."

"Thank you for that bit of information, wouldn't have known without you saying so."

"Can we not argue this once? I'm here as a friend."

"Is that what you are now? My friend?"

She bristled at that, worked at relaxing. "I thought we were."

"I guess so. Never did thank you for helping her with her problem."

"It was my pleasure. It was clear she wanted to make the effort. I'm just glad I knew someone who could help her."

"How's Simon holding up?"

"Frantic. I gave him something to help him sleep."

"You drugged him?" He chuckled at that, regarding her. "You going to try that on me, too?"

"No, there's a difference between the two of you. You can act out what you might think needs to be done. Simon cannot. Therefore, you need a clear head."

"But you thought about it?"

"Yes. I'll say it again, you won't do her any good this way."

"Evidently, didn't do her any good anyway."

"From what Kaylee said…"

"I'm not so sure bringing up Kaylee is the wisest topic of conversation right now."

"It was a mistake, Mal. We've all made them, including you."

"You don't think I know that."

He grew quiet then and she got up. "I'll be right back," she said, not that he'd even notice. His mind was on other things. His wife. She recalled the feelings she experienced when Saffron came onboard as his wife. That seemed like a lifetime ago. And it was different, because somehow she'd known that wasn't real. He said he couldn't sleep because the bunk smelled of her. She imagined when he did finally fall asleep he'd want that around him, so she grabbed a blanket trying her best not to look at all the evidence that they really were married. Beyond little Mal anyway.

Really, she knew that whatever they felt for one another, the attraction they shared, was bound to get them into trouble. Lead nowhere and in the end to their parting ways anything but amicably. It didn't mean that it hurt any less seeing him with someone. Seeing him happy. Seeing him bothered by the fact his bunk was empty and unable to sleep because of it. Seeing him love someone.

She wondered if he saw it, that shine in his eyes that didn't used to be there. He tried to maintain distance, to act indifferent in front of the crew but it was impossible to do so. Because Mal felt so much. The type of man that didn't know exactly how to express himself, his body found ways to betray his mind's desire for secrecy and betrayed him. Often.

She draped the blanket around his shoulders.

"I said, I don't want it."

"You will want it, Mal. Just take it."

He must have been too weak to fight, mentally not physically. She imagined if an army of Reavers came in just about now he'd be ready to take them down all by himself. Mentally, though, he was just not there.

"I want you to take little Mal and get out of here."

"What?" She hadn't just heard him say that.

"I don't know what this is about, but little Mal can't be caught. I need you to take him and go."

"Mal, I don't know anything about babies."

"Well, you've done just fine, I reckon, helping River out. Besides, he's more of a person now, rolling around and working at sitting up and stuff."

"And that has what to do with my knowing anything about babies?"

"You think I like asking this of you? You think River wouldn't have my head for entrusting you to his care."

"I'm not sure I understand what she fears."

"I don't either, but she's a woman and I quit trying to figure you all out long ago. I reckon she picks up on whatever untapped attraction there is between us and fears we'll give into it at some point. As smart as she is, she ain't worldly and when it comes to affairs of the heart she might be even more clueless than I am."

"Don't underestimate her, Mal."

"I don't. At all, which is why I'm concerned. So will you do it, Inara?"

"If you think it's necessary."

"You think I'd be asking if I thought otherwise?"

"You think they want him?"

"I don't know what they want. Don't even know if there is a they or who they might be. But River's gone. And I just can't help but come back to the fact that if she wanted to escape she would. You know? She's pretty deadly."

"I've seen you work with her. She does have training."

"Yeah, courtesy of the Alliance. Take a young girl, strip her of all her sanity and turn her into a killing machine." He gathered the blanket around him and Inara couldn't help but smile, as much as it hurt to see him cling to something that represented River.

"You want to say good bye?"

"Yeah, I'll get up in a minute." She could tell from where she sat his eyes were getting heavy, the adrenaline was wearing off, and he was growing tired.

"I'll bring him to you."

"All right," he murmured.

She didn't want to do it. It went against logic to remove a child from the home he knew, the people he was familiar with on a whim. Mal was either genuinely concerned they'd come after little Mal next or he was just overreacting. Either was possible. One thing she knew for certain, Mal had a sixth sense that had kept him out of trouble more than once. So, if taking little Mal away from Serenity made him feel better about the situation than that was what she had to do.

She found Mal had already packed a bag with everything little Mal would need. She brought the things set aside to her shuttle and then went back for the baby. Mal was right. He was changing every day, developing a personality. And he looked exactly like his mother. He'd been born with tufts of dark hair, but Simon had indicated it would probably fall out. It had, but what had grown back in its place was the same shade as River's.

Mal was already sleeping when she returned and she hated to wake him, but she did only because if it was her she'd want to say goodbye to her son.

"Mal," she whispered, giving a soft sound when he grabbed hold of her arm.

"Had a bad dream, bao bay," he murmured. She groaned to herself.

"Mal," she said, louder this time. "It's Inara. I have little Mal with me. Remember?"

He stirred then, eyes blinking rapidly as he took in his surroundings.

"I must have dozed off."

"I guess so. I'm sorry to wake you, but we're ready to go."

Mal took the baby and Inara turned her back to them, letting him say goodbye without her watching.

"I'll find your mother, nyen ching duh." Silence then and she heard Mal take a deep breath, followed by the familiar barely audible squeak in his chair. "Thank you, Inara. I hope I'm wrong and River's just run off somewhere. I'll be happy to be overreacting this time."

"It's all right. I'm happy to help. You know that."

Mal stroked little Mal's head one last time, kissing the top of it. "There's something wrong about feeling up for a spot of violence with a baby around."

"He'll be safe, Mal."

"We'll call you back as soon as it's safe. No contact, with anyone, until you hear from me. And someone comes after you that's not one of us, shoot first, questions later."

"I know how it works, Mal."

"Just making sure. River'd kill me if I let something happen to him."

"You're thinking of her."

"Not sure she'd see it that way."

"Get some rest, Mal. You'll need it to help her."

"I'll try."

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