**Part Twenty-Eight**

Word Count: 659
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #40-Pudding

Mal walked into the galley certain he was seeing things. He wasn't sure which was the baby. His crew or his son. It was debatable at the moment as the crew was engaged in a food fight of sorts, imitating young Mal's tendency to toss his pudding around the table when he'd had enough. One day the boy would know how rare things like pudding are and would come to treasure it, until then it was disposable.

"What is this?"

"We're just having a little fun, Captain," Kaylee said.

"I didn't realize we were in a position to be tossing food around."

"Oh come on, the baby does it," Jayne said.

"Sure, and he's a baby, Jayne. What's your excuse? And Zoe, why didn't you stop them?"

"They weren't hurting anyone, Sir. And it's not like they were tossing around a day's worth of food."

Little Mal decided to laugh and bang his spoon on his tray as Mal was walking by, which led to him now being covered in baby food.

"Great. Just great. Anyone else teaching him bad habits I should know about? Jayne? You teaching him about guns? How to smoke cigars?"

"No," Jayne said defiantly, as if Mal was sincere in the question.

"At least the dinosaurs Wash has aren't wasteful."

"Captain, no one was hurt," Book said. "And your son was enjoying himself."

Until you came in and ruined it. That part went unspoken. Of course, Shepherd Book would never actually say those words.

"Come on now, you all are adults. I expect you to lead by example not follow the lead of a seven month old child," he said, taking a cloth to wipe the pudding off.

"But, Sirů"

"No, I ain't going to let you try and defend this, Zoe. I know ya'll like to have some fun, but try and do it without something essential to our survival."

He groaned in frustration. The cloth in question only served to smear it more since it was already covered in foodstuffs. And probably some baby spittle, too. Just to make his day complete.

"I give up," he said, tossing the cloth back onto the table where he'd found it. He strode to the door, pausing in the doorway when he realized River wasn't among the crew.

"Where's my wife?"

"Not sure, Sir, she said she had something to do and asked if I minded keeping an eye on little Mal. She's only been gone a little while and little Mal here hasn't seemed to mind all of his uncles and aunts babysitting."

"I reckon not with you all carrying on like someone about his age group. No more throwing food around. You got me?"

"We got you, Captain."

He left the room then to a group of mumbled apologies, which bubbled into laughter as he got further away. If the food wasn't prone to stinking to high heaven, he'd learned that the hard way by trying to wipe it off and go on his merry way, he'd go back and give them a piece of his mind.

Okay, maybe he was a little hard on them. Maybe they deserved to have fun once in a while. It just threw him seeing them - all of them - sitting there having fun with his son. It was just odd and, well, very unexpected. He'd noticed lately, too, now that he thought about it that it things were just different. Calmer. As if everyone now accepted this was the way things were. He liked it, just wasn't sure whether or not he should feel unsettled because in his experience nothing ever went like that. It seemed his crew was coming to terms with all of this. He supposed he should just bite his tongue and be thankful no one'd abandoned ship on him.

Now, if he could just get himself cleaned up so he could get back to work, he'd be a pretty happy man.

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