Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30

**Part One**

Word Count: 2,272
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #3-Test

She knew what they were thinking. She bit her lip to fight back the tears. Even if she wasn't a reader she'd know. It was written plainly on their faces. Except Mal. He was the only one who seemed to be thinking nothing. She focused on him, hoping it would ground her and stop her world from spinning out of control.

The only reason they were all there was they wanted to see the proof she wasn't carrying some contagion. They weren't going to take Simon's word for it. And none of them were going to trust anyone else to tell the truth. They were odd that way.

She knew that they all thought she was crazier than crazy. They didn't understand that her mind was here, capable of working. It was just a mess, a tangled web all jumbled together instead of woven neatly. Occasionally she'd sort the tangles into an organized mess and they'd see her as lucid and coherent. She was working at it, deciphering the maze so Simon wouldn't have to medicate her anymore. Her coherent times were starting to match her incoherent ones through her efforts not Simon's.

Inara was by far the most sympathetic to her situation when Simon announced the results of the battery of tests he'd run. River knew before he'd said. His eyes met hers and he'd recognized that she knew. She'd never forget the look of disappointment on his face. Disappointment in her. He didn't understand! He hadn't wanted to run the test. She knew that from his thoughts and told him to run it. No sense not running every possibility.

Except it shouldn't have been a possibility. Yet there it was. Two pink lines. If she had known that was what it was, she would have just peed on the stick thing and gotten it over with.

Jayne wasn't the only one who wondered just what Simon had rescued her from. Maybe she hadn't been experimented on after all. Maybe she'd been like Inara and the Tam's just didn't like having a whore in their family.

"Don't understand," she whispered, peering at them from under disheveled hair. Jayne was the only one who ever noticed that about her. The others seemed to understand that grooming wasn't a priority to her. Keeping herself from going completely crazy was.

[Thank God it's not me.]

River couldn't help but smile at the companion's thoughts. There were times Inara did not screen her thoughts very well and River was privy to scenarios she had no business having knowledge of. River never blushed, though. There wasn't anything left for her to be shocked about. Being a companion was a legal occupation after all, being an assassin as she was trained to be was questionable at best.

Simon was pacing the length of the infirmary floor, raking his fingers through his hair. He wanted to run the test again, never mind he'd already run it twice. Kaylee's eyes were darting between Simon and River. She wanted to help, but didn't know what to do. There was nothing to do. Simon would not believe her, not yet anyway. He was too upset and disappointed to listen and be reasonable.

"Well, now," Mal said. He was the first to actually speak, breaking the silence that was deafening to River. Jumbled thoughts gave her a headache. She was glad to have something to focus on. "Doesn't that beat all?"

"No one wants to ask the girl," she whispered.

"What was that?"

She said nothing in response. Mal scared her a little. Not that he'd hurt her, but he was the one on this ship with the power. And power was frightening to those who didn't have it. She was powerless. Night and day. Dark and light.

No one seemed to understand. She couldn't be pregnant. There was no way. Her body was still virginal. Contrary to her mind, it was untainted. The one thing she thought they'd been unable to take from her. A lone tear fell, cascading a path over her cheek, down her face, and dropping to the examining table she sat on. They'd even taken that from her it seemed.

She chose then to leave, wanting the privacy of her room. She could read Simon's thoughts. He always forgot at times like this she could. He wanted to drug her, to abort the baby. He wanted to get his hands on the man who'd gotten her in this position. He wondered, too, how it had happened. When it had happened.

She would not let him abort her baby. If the others were surprised at her sudden and hasty departure, no one said anything. Of course not, with her gone they'd be able to talk about her.

Once out of view of the infirmary, she ran. She was faster than the wind in that moment. Floating as her lithe legs carried her the distance to her bunk.

She was the only one in this area right now. It was so quiet, so empty. Like she was. Her hand went to her abdomen. Until now. She wasn't empty anymore.

A knock at the hatch leading to her bunk brought her out of her thoughts and back to reality. There were times she wasn't sure which was which, reality or the places her mind took her. Sometimes her mind's escapades were very appealing and difficult to pull herself away from.

She sat up on her bed, her eyes wide when she spotted the boots on the ladder. They belonged to Mal. He was here, in her bunk. She glanced around quickly to ensure nothing was too out of place. She'd accumulated a few belongings while here on Serenity, but not very many to make a mess.

"How are you feeling, little one?"

"Fine," she mumbled. He wasn't there to ask how she was. He was trying to be nice. Her eyes widened when she caught a glimpse of why he was there before closing herself off. She was getting better at doing that.

"Well, your brother seems to think you might just be the mother of the next Jesus Christ. If you believe in that sort of mythical creature. I told him that wasn't the case, which led to a bit of a scuffle." She saw it now. The bruise on Mal's face. Simon had gotten his hands on someone after all, even if it wasn't the man who'd done this to her. "That was part of my plan, though."

She smiled at that. Mal believed in religion more than he realized. His God had let him down in his time of need, but the values and beliefs instilled in him until that point still helped guide him. He was a gentleman, not the type that paid for Inara's company. Those men were trying to be gentlemen by dressing a part. Mal was the part without a costume. It worked to his advantage many times because people underestimated him.

"What do you believe?"

"Well, I'm guessing that part of your conversion over to a killing machine was a plan to produce more when needed. You'd get too old eventually, but like produces like much of the time. So, somehow this was planted in you, waiting to be activated. I don't get the where or why of it. I've quit trying to figure out why the Alliance does what it does."

She nodded, feeling another batch of tears starting to form in her eyes.

"Aww, now, don't go doing that," he said, sitting next to her on the bed. He used the pad of his thumb and brushed it over both eyes, taking the tears away.

"You agree?"

She nodded simply. "Yes. I have never. There is no other possibility."

"I get that, I do, and I believe you. Some women, maybe I wouldn't, but you I do. The only option here on the ship for you is Jayne and that just wouldn't happen."

She blushed at his frankness. She'd thought of the merc in that capacity. He was a viable specimen for sure. He still wasn't over the idea that she could kill him at any time, though. She noticed he hadn't included himself in her options.

"You don't think Simon rescued me from a life of sin?"

"No. No disrespect toward Inara and those in her chosen line of work, but you'd fit in there about as well as I would I reckon."

She smiled at that.

"So, it seems you've got a problem. You're going to have it, I assume."

She shrugged. "I think I have to."

"Well, now, you don't have to do anything, but I guessed that was going to be your decision. And since it is, I reckon there's only one thing to do in order to fly under the radar of the Alliance."

She ducked her head, mentally counting to one hundred to keep from invading his thoughts. Things still spilled through, though. She wasn't able to completely shut him out when he was thinking this hard, this fast.

"Your brother admits that he isn't equipped to deliver a baby if there are complications, which would suggest when your time is drawing near we'll have to make our way to Persephone or somewhere like that in the event you need more than what we have here on Serenity. We've never needed baby delivering equipment so it wasn't a priority when other more essential things were. They're probably taking that into account, that something like this would bring you out of hiding."


"I reckon, if there were complications, they wouldn't be looking for you to come in with a husband. I mean, what man's going to believe the ramblings of a crazy girl insisting she'd never been with a man but carries the evidence she has."

"A husband?"

"Now, I've talked to Shepherd in confidence, assured him my intentions are in the right place. I'm not out to deflower you, River. Once the baby comes and we know for certain you don't need the additional help of an Alliance hospital, we'll get an annulment, and it'll be like it never happened."

"Shepherd agreed to that?"

"He wants you safe, as we all do. He's even agreed to backdate the license. He has an in with the Alliance, not sure what that's all about and I hesitate to ask for fear I'll want him off the ship. And he's proven useful. So, there'd be no indication this baby has come about in any fashion but the regular one."

"But we wouldn't."

"No, of course not," he answered quickly. And he was actually blushing. "Only thing is, no one else on Serenity can know. As far as anyone else is concerned, I'm going to be a proud papa doing right by you. So that means you'll have a change of sleeping quarters for the time being. I'll take the floor or we'll sleep in shifts. We'll figure that out, but the thing is everyone has to think it's real. You're a reader, doubtless they have others at the ready. I don't know if they have any way of knowing the switch has been thrown, but if they do they'll be looking for you nine months from whenever it was activated. It'll be business as usual in every which way, just with a name change is all. Speaking of, Shepherd and I agreed it might be better if you use your middle name."

"Gabrielle," she supplied, reading his thoughts. "After my father."

"All right. Gabrielle Reynolds. It has a nice ring to it, I guess."

"Why are you doing this for me? You don't like us."

"It's not a matter of like or not, River. It's a matter of those people had no right to do these things to you. Using you as a guinea pig is one thing. Not that I approve of that either, but this," he gesturing to her abdominal area. "It's just insane. I've always known they'd stop at nothing to win and this just drives that point home."

"It's going to be a boy," she whispered, rubbing her to this point still flat abdomen.

"I mean, what kind of people are they to think that they can just do something like this and…" he paused, glancing at her. "A boy? You can tell that?"

"I can connect with him, yes."

"Then how is it you didn't know you were pregnant?"

"How is it you've never thought to look for a baby inside you, Mal?"

His lips quivered into the hint of a smile like they so often did. "Well, now that's entirely different. That'd be impossible," he snapped his mouth closed. He turned his eyes to her, amusement in them. "Point taken. Come on up now. Your brother wants to run an ultrasound to see how far along you are. I told him I wasn't sure. I implied, privately of course, that there had been more than one opportunity for a baby to take. At the moment, he's the only one that believes I'm the father. Well, the first one I laid the deceitful story on. Then I guess we'll have us a Serenity wedding. What with Zoe and Wash, well, it's not completely out of the realm of reality."

"We'll make them believe it."

He stood then, offering her his hand. She took it, not that she needed his help. She wasn't helpless, but he was being kind she could respond to that with some of her own.

"What if I'd said no?"

"You wouldn't want to jeopardize the child. I took that into account when I thought the plan up."

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**Part Two**

Word Count: 2,790
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #5-Shock

River felt like one of the princesses in the fairy tales her mother read to her when she was little. Until she'd gotten old enough to realize they weren't real. Personally, she felt like Sleeping Beauty more than Cinderella or Snow White. Today, though, she was just River Tam, now Reynolds, dressed in an off-white dress she, Kaylee and Zoe had found in one of the moon's stores. This princess' prince charming was just a common man. And he really wasn't her prince charming. He was just temporarily borrowed. Only, no one knew that. Except the preacher who'd married them.

There was irony there, or at least she thought so. She wasn't sure if that was just her, though, so she'd refrained from making the comment to him over the course of the past week they'd planned their wedding. Unlike his marriage to Saffron, this one would be by the book legal, recorded, and binding. She'd read him enough to know those thoughts were heavy on his mind, too.

["Don't have to do this." They were in her bunk together last evening before they went their separate ways with the crew.

He placed his hand over hers when she went to lift her suitcase, stopping her. "No lifting, remember? Your brother, the doctor, gave that order."

"It's just a suitcase."

"Yeah, well, he's already mad at me as it is, don't need him thinking I'm letting you carry your own suitcases. And I know we don't have to do this. Have you changed your mind about the baby?"


"Then I see no other way. Not that will be convincing. And, no offense, but I don't want the Alliance busting my hump anymore than necessary."

"You could let me off at your next stop."

"No, I can't do that, River. You're mine. Your mind's getting clearer every day, and I have the belief you'll come in handy on jobs sooner rather than later."

She smiled. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now, no more talk of cold feet. It'll be over and done with soon enough and we'll go on about our lives as normal as possible."]

He'd left then, it was the last she'd seen him before they met in the cargo bay earlier for Book's ceremony.

She scanned the others seated at the table. Mal's crew, his friends. And then there was her brother. She had no friends, though Kaylee and even Zoe tried. She didn't fool herself into believing any of them understood it, but they were doing their best to be supportive. She had been surprised when Kaylee and Zoe had not just taken her shopping for the dress but had given her a small shower on Serenity last night while Jayne, Wash and Book took Mal out for a bachelor party. Inara had come, too, and while animated and personable, River knew she hadn't wanted to be there.

Of course, the things they'd given her for the shower would go unused. She had no use for the more traditional wedding gifts to outfit a home, so they had gone the more personal route. A nightie from Zoe and Kaylee that made her blush when she took it out of the box. River had held it to her chest fondly, knowing that Zoe's intentions were good. She wanted her captain off kilter for a while, like she was with Wash, even if his first mate didn't get to see it happen. She wondered if Mal understood how deeply Zoe's feelings for him ran. He was difficult to read when it came to Zoe.

The blue, lacy garter Inara had given her was currently on her leg, waiting she supposed for Mal to remove it. She didn't believe much in traditions, considering there was nothing about her life that fit into that stereotype. The efforts the others went through to see to it she was a bride outfitted with the necessary items for good luck really affected her.

A bar was an unusual place for a wedding celebration, but it wasn't like they had friends or family outside of Serenity. She imagined there was more than just Inara who would be curious - and none too happy - to see who finally got the good Captain Reynolds to settle down.

What they lacked for in numbers, the crew made up for in celebratory accolades. They'd had to do something if they were going to pull off the act that they were both excited at the prospect of being not just a married couple but soon-to-be parents. So, after the brief ceremony aboard Serenity, they'd brought everyone here at Mal's insistence. All had accepted, it wasn't every day their captain covered their bar tabs for an entire night.

The crew had chipped in and paid for a room at a nice hotel on the moon where they were spending the next couple of days. It was hard to say no to that without seeming suspicious. River had to admit, she would give anything for a hot bubble bath.

Inara was the only hold out from verbally congratulating them. River wished she could tell the other woman the truth. She felt the other woman's feelings on the subject tenfold. She wasn't sure she'd ever seen - or heard the thoughts - of a person more surprised and shocked than Inara Serra when the crew as a whole was told about River's condition being Mal's doing and the impending nuptials as a result.

[The crew was gathered in the dining area for dinner as they usually were. Simon knew that Mal was claiming to be the father. Book knew of their plan. That left the rest of the crew to be told. River was glad Mal would do the talking. She sat pretty still during the announcement, head lowered, hand at her belly. She figured that was a nice touch, a reminder she was carrying a baby.

"Well, now, we were all present when the good doctor here ran the tests on River." Mal placed a hand on her shoulder. She imagined it was supposed to be comforting, but for her it was unsettling in a way. People just didn't touch her, so she wasn't used to it.

He took some hair between his fingers. She read his thoughts, knew what he was doing, implying intimate gestures to make the act more believable.

"I admit the thought hadn't occurred to me. We'd always been mighty careful, but obviously not careful enough. Otherwise I would have spared Simon running unnecessary tests. So," he paused, the information he was providing sinking in slowly, like someone stuck in quicksand. It took the crew a while to understand just what he had said.

"Now, I've talked to Shepherd here, and River and I will be getting hitched as soon as we've made our way to a proper place we can celebrate with you all away from Serenity for a bit."

"You dog, I didn't know you had it in you."]

That had been Jayne's response. Mal had warned her to expect him to say something crude, so she'd been surprised it had been so tame.

Inara had stayed long enough to be polite, but had returned to her shuttle as soon as she could. River hadn't missed it. The thing that confused River was that the companion didn't seem to know why she was shocked or surprised. River didn't sense love between them, though there was something there underlying. She imagined it was attraction, but what did that mean?

One good thing about being a reader, Mal would be a fool to risk being unfaithful. She'd laughed when they'd finally come together in the cargo bay for the ceremony. His thoughts were very animated, trying to assure her he'd done nothing the night before despite Jayne's best efforts at trying to get him to enjoy one last bit of trim.

An act or not, she liked that he wasn't going to be that way. He could. She had no idea how long they would actually stay married. If the Alliance was suspicious of her despite going by a different name and being married on paper at the time of conception, they'd have to continue the act. It could be some time before he was able to do that again. Not that she'd begrudge him the ability, so long as he was discreet and no one on Serenity found out.

That was all she needed. It wasn't bad enough everyone felt sorry for the crazy girl who didn't know any better than to get pregnant. She could do without the rest of the stereotype that came with this type of marriage.

He draped an arm over the back of her chair and leaned in. It was as if he'd known she was thinking about him. He pocketed the credit good for the hotel stay. "When we get to the hotel I'll see if I can't find us a room with two beds."

She scanned the table and then out further to the crowd. She was in control tonight, one only needed to look at her eyes to see how aware she was to know. She leaned into him, hinting at a private conversation.

"Your crew paid for a bridal suite, Mal. I saw the wave Zoe and Kaylee sent the other day. I don’t think there's a way we can trade away from that without arousing suspicions."

"Damn," he muttered under his breath, taking a sip of his drink. She wasn't drinking.

"You guys didn't have to do this."

"Sir, you can't have your wedding night on board Serenity. It wouldn't be right."

Why not?

River laughed then, his eyes met hers and he winked.

"Well, I suppose the little missus and I could find something to keep us occupied away from the ship. But, you're in charge Zoe, and it had better be in one piece when we get back the morning after next."

"Morning, sir? I'm expecting you closer to dinner time. I imagine River'd feel the same way."

I'm sorry for the way this conversation's going, little one.

"I'll do my best not to disappoint you, Zoe."

"It's not me you need to worry about disappointing, sir."

The companion was sitting with them, pretending to participate in the celebration. She was doing something more akin to drowning her sorrows. River felt like she was drowning in them, too, as a result. It would have been suspect if she was missing from the festivities. After all, who wasn't happy about a wedding and a new baby? A woman who had feelings for the groom and father-to-be in question was who.

He laced his fingers through hers and brought her hand to his mouth, kissing the back of it. She fought to keep her eyes neutral, to hide her surprise. Unlike him, she hadn't experienced these things so she had to remind herself it was just for show. Until now, other than the kiss he'd given her at the end of the ceremony he hadn't done more than touch her.

"Well, now we've already got evidence that ain't the case."

"Anyone can wind up pregnant, sir. With all due respect. Baby making doesn't mean disappointment didn't ensue."

"Doubly so if they weren't banking on getting…"

"That's more than enough now, Jayne."

"What? Zoe can say it, but I can't?"

"Zoe wasn't saying anything crude. Shall I ask my wife here what you were thinking just now?"

River blushed then, bowing her head to glance at their intertwined hands now resting against his knee. It didn't help that Inara was at the moment painting some very vivid pictures in her mind of just how a man went about ensuring a woman wasn't disappointed. Was she doing that on purpose?

"Would you like to dance then, bao bay?" Her eyes shot up to meet his then. For once, he was acting the part of the reader and offering to take her out of a situation she was uncomfortable in. If she had the knowledge to go with the conversation, she might not feel that way.

He accepted her simple nod as acceptance and stood, their hands still joined.

"I ain't much of a dancer, but least I can do is give my wife a spin or two on the dance floor. We'll be back."

"For someone already in the family way, she sure does act like she doesn't know what we were talking about," Jayne said as she and Mal left the table.

"Just let it go, little one."


"Don't be. My crew can be crude. I know that, you know that. We will have to live with it for a short spell. Once this is no longer a novelty, they'll move on to something else to talk and tease about."

"I hope so," she said softly as he took her into his arms for the dance.

She snuggled closer. A wife would do that. Right? And he felt good as much as she tried to ignore that. Strong, capable, protective. It was nice to know there was someone besides Simon looking out for her. Not many would attach themselves to someone not quite right in her head as Mal had.

"You're right."

"About what?"

"You're not much of a dancer." Really, he wasn't that bad, which made her wonder where he'd learned.

"Well, now, not even married but a few hours and already you're hurling insults."

She could tell by the glimmer in his eyes that her observation amused rather than upset him. She smiled then.


"You know, I could take this credit," he said, tapping the pocket he'd placed it in, "and use it for myself, leave you to your own devices for the night."

"You could," she said with a wide smile. "You wouldn't, though. Because then not telling the others the truth about marrying me would have been for nothing."

"You're too smart for your own good."

"So I've been told."

He let his head rest against the top of hers. "Quite frequently I wager. You put me to shame just by opening your mouth most times."

"I do not," she whispered. He wasn't dumb, not even close.

"So, how long do we stay?"


"Well, I reckon we need to leave at some point. They'll expect us to."

She had packed up the few meager belongings she'd collected to this point, but had stayed in her bunk for the week. Despite what the others thought, she wasn't anxious to start living with a man any sooner than she had to. So, tonight would be the first night she spent with him. On the floor or in shifts he'd said. She suspected the floor would be the only option tonight.

"We can stay as long as you want. They're your friends. They're here to celebrate with you. So, celebrate. It's not every day you get married."

"No, you got that right. Never saw it happening, truth be told. Even with Saffron I knew once I could get a handle on taking care of it I would."

She knew that. It wasn't an aversion to the institution that held him back so much as he believed the wandering life he led was not going to attract the type of woman he'd want to marry. And yet, he'd bound himself to her, temporarily or not.

The song ended and before he could step away, break the quiet spell around them, she kissed him lightly. "Thank you," she whispered.

He looked a little confused and bewildered, taken aback. There was fear there and she had to fight the urge to invade his thoughts as to why she scared him. She hadn't once had to worry about saying something crazy or turning off her mind from reading thoughts while they'd danced.

"Not sure what you're thanking me for, bao bay, but a blanket you're welcome should work."

"It does."

"All right then, let's get back to the crew before they get three sheets to the wind and I have to go back to the ship instead of the fancy digs that have been arranged for us."

"I call the tub," she said, glancing at their hands when his found hers and took it.

"Believe me, little one, when I say it's all yours."

"You don't take baths?"

"Real men don't take baths."

"I believe I will have to research that. There has to be someone."

"You find one, let me know, then we'll talk. Until then, talk of my taking a bath in front of anyone is off limits. I think we've shocked them enough for now."

She stifled her laugh, tucked some hair behind her ear, and let him lead her back to their table.

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**Part Three**

Word Count: 2,321
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #17-Vitamins

This wasn't the first time he'd found her like this, though she'd tried to hide it from him at first. Even if the residual evidence wasn't there in the commode, he could see in her face that she was not well. He'd put an end to that real quick, her trying to hide things from him. He was having none of that. If they were going to do this, pull off the façade of being married in front of his crew there could be no secrets between them.

Certainly, not when it pertained to the health of her and the baby. Their baby. Had to get that straight in his mind or he'd slip up at some point when it was important. He didn't marry her just to have her lose it. And where would he be if that happened? He couldn't very well annul the marriage right away. He'd look like an even bigger cad than his crew likely already saw him as. So, he'd be strapped with a wife he had no idea what to do with. Leastwise, when she was sick as she'd been most of the time recently he didn't desire her.

He had a new respect for men who were in the situation he found himself in. She was young and innocent. He had no business coveting her. No business being married to her and knowing that he had rights.

Yet, spending time with her in such close proximity, even if his suite was a might bigger than the others on Serenity. It was still pretty cramped quarters. Now that she took it upon herself to take care of herself, including letting him run a brush through her hair once in a while. She wasn't the least bit bad on the eyes.

Focus, Reynolds, the woman needs you to act not get caught up in thoughts all damned day.

"Tell me what to do," Mal said, knowing she wouldn't answer. Couldn't was more like it. She was too busy emptying the meager contents of her stomach in his latrine. She'd insisted it wasn't morning sickness, but it sure seemed in Mal's opinion to happen about the same time every day.

She was slouched on the floor, panting from the latest round. Her eyes full of not just tears but fear. He saw it there plain as day. He had seen fear written in the eyes of his soldiers repeatedly to know what it looked like. She was scared but too brave to admit that.

"Now who's the reader," she murmured.

He soaked a washcloth with cool water and sat down beside her. He draped an arm around her, bringing her to him so he could apply the cool, damp cloth to her forehead.

"This just started then?"

"A week."

"So, you reckon it's just a spell of morning sickness coming on late?"

It was a struggle for her to talk. She was cool and clammy to the touch. Her pulse and breathing were both slightly erratic and she looked as pale as a ghost. She was strong enough to shake her head, though.

"I'd best get your brother to make a house call then. This can't go on. You barely eat enough as it is to nourish you, let alone little one in there."

"No, he'll know."

"Know what?"

"That you sleep on the floor."

Mal chuckled then. "River, no one's going to figure it out. 'sides, people come into my bunk from time to time, so we need to get good at appearing all marital." He grazed the top of her head with a kiss. It was friendlier in nature than romantic. He felt bad for her hurling her guts out for the past week or so. And she'd married him, stayed at the bar until closing time not feeling well. And hadn't wagered one complaint the entire day.


"Yeah, let me get your brother. Here's the cloth if it helps."

"It does." She sounded so weak and helpless. It was different from her crazy episodes, which made it a little more heart wrenching. She reminded him of a stray cat he'd seen once. Hungry, disheveled, fur matted from exposure to the elements. He was a survivor though, much the way River was.

That was why he'd done it. Married her. No one, no one had the right to mess with someone the way the Alliance had messed with her. They were forming an army is what they were doing. People with abilities they'd use with some sort of delayed pregnancy program built in that they could activate once the subject was no longer useful.

He had taken it upon himself when he should have been sleeping to research how it could have been accomplished. So far he'd come up with nothing. Of course not. The Alliance wasn't going to post their dirty secrets for anyone to find easily.

He went to the living portion of his - their, had to get used to thinking of it as theirs not his for the next little while - suite and pressed the comm.

"Doc, need you in my bunk. Stat," he added with a smile. That was a doctorly thing to say. He returned to the latrine area, leaning against the wall.

"You well enough to let me help you into bed?"

She nodded simply, glancing at him. She looked sickly. Bile collected in his throat at the thought she might be just that. Sick. Could she die? There was a time a couple centuries ago that happened a lot. Centuries seemed like a long time until you were watching someone you cared about look like they were at death's door. And he did care, what that meant he wasn't sure.

It would have been easy enough to just let the cards fall, but he couldn't do that. She wanted the baby, which he'd known she would, the least he could do was see to it that she got what she wanted. If anyone deserved a break, River Tam-Reynolds did.

He closed the distance between them, wiping her face once more with the damp cloth before picking her up. Over halfway through her pregnancy and she was still light as a feather. At night she wore nightgowns that actually fit instead of the sacks that passed as dresses she wore during the day. He could see evidence of the pregnancy then. Once she was done with the pregnancy, he'd get her some new clothes. See to it she was outfitted properly. The baby, too. She could burn the sack-like dresses she'd taken to wearing to this point.

"You called me, Captain?"

"Yes, Doc, I did" he said, settling River comfortably on the bed. He brushed her hair out of the way, looking into her eyes. She was lucid at the moment. He let the cloth rest against her forehead. He fetched the cup from the small table bedside and let her get a drink of water. "She's been getting sick."

"That's not abnormal. She's pregnant."

"She says it wasn't happening before the past week or so. About the time you did those tests and found out this is what ailed her. Maybe you poked or prodded something wrong."

"It's not an ailment, Captain. She's pregnant. You of all people should know that since you are responsible for her being in this position."

"Just fix it, Doc."

Simon sighed heavily. "All right. Let me examine her."

Mal took that as his queue to leave. "I'll be up in the bridge. Page me when you're done or if you need me."

"He's just worried about me, Simon," River said softly. She felt so weak and tired. God, she could sleep for days.

"Tell me about your day, mei-mei. What have you been doing differently the past week or so?"

"Nothing! He won't let me do anything but sleep and eat, even though I don't want to do that sometimes."

"There must be something."

She shifted her head on the pillow, staring at the small table by the bunk. "Vitamins."


She smiled, realizing he probably thought she was losing coherence. "The vitamins you gave me. That's the only thing different."

"When are you taking them?"

"When I wake up."

He nodded, continuing his exam. He was thorough. Of course he would be. Not only was she his sister, she was carrying his nephew. The only one he'd get.

"All right. Before we do anything drastic, try taking them at night before you go to bed. And make sure you've eaten something before you take it so your stomach isn't empty."

"You think that will work?"

"I'm not an obstetrician, but I've been researching things as I can. One of the things I read is that the prenatal vitamins can cause these symptoms in some women."

"All right."

"So, try that, and let me know if you're better."

"Okay, Simon. Thank you."

"You're welcome, mei-mei. Get some rest. You need it. I'll go talk to the captain," he said, drawing the blanket around her.

"Okay," she whispered, feeling herself give into the comfort of being tucked in. It had been so long since someone had done that for her until recently.

Simon found Mal on the bridge with Wash, who quit playing with his dinosaurs as soon as Simon entered the room. He wasn't sure why it was acceptable for the captain to see Wash playing with children's toys and not him, but that wasn't his concern. He wasn't a psychiatrist.

"Is she all right, Doc?" Mal asked. It was kind of eerie, Simon hadn't realized he'd even known he was there.

"I think so. I suggested she take the vitamins at night, just before bed instead of in the morning. And with a bit of food. Not a huge meal, just something to coat her stomach."

"You think that's all it is?"

"I'll give her a couple of days to change the pattern and see if that helps. If not, I'll run some tests."

"All right, guess I need to adjust my schedule then."

"Your schedule?"

"I've been leaving them in her cup by the sink when I get up mornings so she won't forget to take it."

"Oh," Simon said simply, pushing the visual that came to mind of his baby sister in this man's bed. He'd had his doubts, but it seemed the captain was going to look out for his sister. It'd been hard the past ten days or so, letting someone else look after her. That'd been his job for months now, not to mention the time he'd spent trying to find her. Letting go of her wasn't easy, not under these circumstances.

"I'm sorry if I caused it, Doc. I didn't know."

Wash was busy trying not to stare at the two of them as if they were speaking a different language. Simon supposed this was a side of his captain Wash had never seen.

"No way to know. It's a reaction some women have to them, but she hadn't complained."

"She wouldn't."

"You hadn't complained."

"Yeah, well, no offense, I just thought it was normal pregnancy stuff. Never been around a pregnant woman before."

"I can't say as I have either other than my mother."

"I'll take care of her, Doc, don't you fret."

"Let me know in a day or two if she's not better."

"All right." Mal glanced from the control board to Simon. It was the first time he'd looked at him since he'd come to the bridge. "Is that all then?"

"Yeah, I guess it is," Simon said, not sure what he was expecting. He wasn't at all happy with the situation. He hadn't freed his sister from the situation she'd been in for this. She deserved so much better than this type of life.

"You're fugitives now, Doc. Best remember that before you go getting all high and mighty thinking I'm not good enough for your sister."

"How did you…"

"Don't need to have my wife's abilities to know what you think about all of this. I said I'll take care of her, you witnessed me taking vows saying pretty much just that. I may not believe in the God Shepherd does, but I gave my word to your sister with my crew and this ship as my witnesses. If you know anything about me, Doctor, you know that my word is gold. I don't go back on it. She's mine now and I don't take to that type of commitment lightly. You see how I take care of Serenity. Give me some credit."

"She's not a ship, Captain, that Kaylee can put some used parts in and keep afloat until the next, better used part can be found. She's a young woman in a delicate situation, made even more so with a pregnancy."

"I get that. As pleasurable as Serenity is to me, I do know the difference between a Firefly class ship and a woman and the pleasure each in turn gives me."

He left then. If he stayed he'd only argue with Mal, which he was almost positive the captain wanted him to do! At least he saw first hand that his sister's husband was going to take care of her. He wasn't afraid to call on his services if she needed them. He was a little afraid that Mal would keep River closed off. So he'd been mightily relieved to get the call today.

He still had plenty of her records to go through not to mention needing to read up as much as he could on labor and delivery. And pediatrics. She would not go to an Alliance hospital unless she absolutely had to. So he didn't lack for things to do. He had to believe if her condition didn't improve the captain would call him again. It was a difficult pill to swallow, someone else being in charge of her.

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**Part Four**

Word Count: 2,629
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #16-Stretch Marks

River paused at the door, not wanting to interrupt this conversation for anything. All conversation in the dining area had ceased so she wasn't the only one. Simon was so proud of himself. However little, he was doing something to help her.

"I'm sorry, Doc. You want me to do what now? And what's so urgent about it that you had to interrupt my dinner."

"Captain, I don't think you have any idea how difficult this was for me to find. The moons and planets we visit are so backward I'm surprised they know what prenatal care is. This stuff, well, it's antiquated as it is."

"I think Mal will suffice, we're brothers-in-law after all," he said. She heard the scraping of metal against the table and could visualize him pushing aside his plate and wiping his mouth with a napkin.

"You have to do this for her, Mal."

"You're her doctor."

"You're her husband! Doctors don't do this type of thing. If we weren't here onboard Serenity I wouldn't be here to do it."

"Well, yeah, okay, but what does that have to do with slathering her with this goop?"

"It's to help her with stretch marks."

Mal cleared his throat then. If anyone had moved since Simon barged into the room with his new find, she couldn't tell. It was that quiet in there. "I'm sorry. Stretch what?"

River bit on her hand, stifling the laugh that threatened to escape.

Oh Mal. Poor Inara, this couldn't be an easy conversation for her to be a part of.

"Surely you can't be this dense or my sister wouldn't have gotten involved with you."

"Maybe it was just good sex."

"Are you trying to get me to hit you again?"

"No, I'm hoping to distract you so that you'll forget about my putting this goop on her, um, well, you know the area where the baby is."

"Why is this a problem for you? Surely you've seen her abdomen."

"What makes you say that? You can make babies without removing but more than what's necessary, Doc. You of all people should know that."

"I don't want to hear about it. It's bad enough I think you took advantage of her."

"No advantage taking, Doc. I assure you, it was not just consensual but mutually gratifying."

He was going to have more than a bruise on his cheek if he kept antagonizing Simon.

"Mal," Simon said, drawing the one syllable name out so it sounded almost sinister. She knew how difficult it was for him to say it. "I have other things to take care of besides putting this on for her."

"Why can't she do it herself?"

"She may forget!"

"So, if I remind her and stay to make sure she does it, she can do it herself."

"Yes, I suppose so. I just know how she gets sometimes."

"Huh," Mal said. She couldn't resist tapping into his thoughts. He was reading the bottle. "And this will prevent them? Stretch marks I mean?"

"Nothing's foolproof. As much as medical science has progressed over the years, there isn't anything I can give her that won't harm the baby."

"No," Mal said adamantly and River smiled again. "We don't want that. All right. I'll do it. But only if she's not of the mind to do it herself."

"You're still making sure she's taking the vitamins?"

"Yes, Doc, I understand she and the baby both need the extra boost. Really, she's been good about it."

"And she's been all right since altering when she takes them?"

"Yes, just like you said, in the evening with a little food in her belly. She's been just fine."



She didn't have to look to see that neither was going to budge. She decided it was time to make her appearance for dinner. Her eyes went to the bottle Mal held in his hand.

You little minx. You were listening.

"Yes," she said simply with a smile.

"Yes what?" Simon asked.

"I was just answering Mal."

"He didn't say anything."

"Not to you." She pointed at her head.

"He does that?"

River shrugged. "All the time."

"I, well, oh." Simon seemed speechless. She wasn't sure she could remember a time that had happened recently. He'd been more than willing and able to tell her how unhappy he was with her. In her. He'd even gone so far as to use their parents and their potential disappointment in her against her.

He hadn't stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, Mal might be good for her. Giving her one mind to attach herself to helped sort out the others better. Helped ground her. And he'd given her permission to do it as she needed to without taking advantage. She was doing her best to do that.

"What is it you're supposed to do?" She asked Mal then, her eyes going to the bottle.

"This. On your, um, abdominal area there. To help prevent stretch marks."

"What if I don't care about stretch marks?"

"River, you're only eighteen, you have to care," Simon said. "Besides, your husband will probably care."

"I'm having a baby. Stretch marks come with babies."

"They don't have to. The cream will help and after you've had the baby."

Her eyes went from Simon to Mal. "Do you care?"

"Me?" He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with this whole conversation. Thoughts started swirling into her mind painfully fast, so she latched onto Mal's.

She got a visual of scars, quite a few of them, some from wounds that he'd never gotten looked at or tended to. She looked at him sympathetically and cried out. The memories she was tapping into were just too vivid, too real, too dark. They weren't helping her this time.

"Death. So much. All around you." She stepped to his side, hand going to the worst of the most recent scars. She did nothing more than rest her palm over the spot where he was injured by a sword, defending the companion's honor. "Should be dead," she whispered, wondering if he'd defend her honor so valiantly.

"What's she going on about? Not sure which of you I need to tell to make sure she's kept under control." Jayne said, patting the spot on his chest not too long ago she'd slashed open.

She lifted Mal's shirt just enough to look at the scar. Contrary to what everyone else in the room believed, she'd never seen him without a shirt on. Not even right out of the shower. He always came out dressed and ready for the day.

He didn't want her to have marks if she could avoid it. He had emotional ones, too. She chose to avoid delving into those. It was a dark and scary place there. Death, disappointment, war. She hugged him then, her hand finding the scar on his back, unable to fight back the tears. He'd been through and seen so much, and was still willing to do this for her. To be sure her baby had the chance at a normal life.

"I'll put the cream on, but nothing else. I get them, I get them," she said with a shrug, patting her stomach. She looked at Mal then, taking the bottle from him and brushing his cheek with a kiss. "Do you care if I get stretch marks?"

His eyes locked with hers. She didn't touch him often. Touch really had little to do with her reading abilities, but she found on some people touch made the things she sensed stronger. He was one of those people.

It was one of the moments they'd experienced over the past couple of days that made her heart jump. She didn't quite understand it. She'd read text books, but none described such a thing coming from someone looking at her. His lips quirked up into a smile and he winked, grazing her cheek with the pad of his thumb.

"Not at all, bao bay. Unlike mine, no one but me will see them anyway." He let his hand slide to her abdomen. "How is little Mal anyway?"

"That's enough," Simon shouted, going to the other side of the room. Not that there was far to go. River looked at him, stifling another laugh. They were being so mean to him. All of them really. It was kind of fun, but he'd probably tear all of his hair out by the end of her pregnancy. "Why do you two have to rub it in my nose every chance you get? Can I please have time to get used to the situation before I have to listen to baby talk?"

"You don't want me to be a proud papa, Simon? Perhaps you'd rather I shirk my responsibilities? Beat her maybe? Cast her aside like dirty laundry and let her fend for herself? Maybe that's what you want, so she'd have to rely on you still. That just eats at you, doesn't it? You gave up a career in medicine for her only to have her shackle herself to a no-good renegade like me. Why, that's got to feel like a slap in the face."

"That's not the point. Out now. You've got the cream. Make sure it's put on three times a day, whichever one of you do it."

"Three times?" Mal asked. "What am I supposed to do when I'm doing something? Like, oh I don't know, running my ship?"

"Should have thought of that before you got a girl who's mental capacity isn't all there pregnant."

"Now, don't go saying that about my wife, Simon. She's been doing much better. You said so yourself. I haven't had to remind her about the vitamins for a week now. Not once."

"All right."

"Now, can I finish my dinner and make sure my wife gets something to eat before I obey your command that, if I remember correctly, consisted of kicking me out of a part of my ship."

"He didn't mean it," she said, taking a seat in her chair next to his. She set the bottle on the table, six sets of eyes rested first on her, then on him, and finally on the bottle. A bubble of laughter erupted shortly after.

"What?" Mal asked. "I'd like to know what you find so damned funny about this."

"Nothing, Captain," Kaylee said. "I think it's real sweet that you're taking care of River like this. Just think how romantic it could be."

"Romantic what could be?"

"Well, you know? She's pregnant, you put that on her stomach there and well," she shrugged, glancing at the others who were staring at her as if she'd grown a second head. No one liked to picture Mal and River doing anything close to what it took to make a baby. River in truth wasn't entirely sure what the process entailed. She knew from a scientific, medical explanation, but that was it. She doubted the books she'd read did it justice, otherwise women like Inara wouldn't be in demand. "And I guess I'm the only one who sees why that would be romantic. River, sweetie, you work on that with him. He's not completely hopeless."

"I think you'd do well to stop envisioning what River and I do in our bunk."

"But, Captain, it's just some lotion. It's not like I was going to go into detail about the act or nothing. Just that a massage would feel nice. Pregnant women, they like that sort of thing."

"And you'd know this how? I don't see any little Kaylee's in tow."

"Doesn't mean I ain't been around a woman or two who's been in the family way. Their feet swell and their backs ache. Those babies start kicking in there, use their ribs as soccer balls. They get winded and they have to pee all the time. It ain't all fun, you know?"

"Huh," he said, taking a seat next to River. She felt his eyes on her. He wasn't really looking at her, though. More, really taking her in, realizing there was more to pregnancy than just having a baby. "Do your feet and back bother you, bao bay?"

"I think we should leave now," Zoe said. "We were about done anyway."

"No way, if they're going to have a fight I want ringside seats."


"Oh, come on. You can't deny that you've all been placing bets with yourselves on how long this would last. What sane man hitches himself to a crazy girl? She probably went and got pregnant on purpose. For all we know her brother's in on it."

"Jayne, that's enough. You take your leave from this table right now."

"Oh come on. Why am I the one to get in trouble for saying what's damn well been on every one else's mind for the last month. You don't love her. You don't get involved with crew members, and you sure as hell don't use one of 'em for trim. Remember what you told me?"

"Things change. And, Jayne, I ain't asking again."

"Little wifey here is entitled to the husband's property if something happens to him. Which means, Mal dies Serenity goes to the scrap heap. And you, Zoe, are out of a job, years of loyal service to your Sergeant or not. Just like the rest of us. I'm going," he said and pushed up from the table. "When a man chooses a crazy girl over someone who's proved loyal to him."

"Loyalty, Jayne? You don't really want to go there right now. Do you?"

The merc turned in the doorway to face Mal. He was none too happy. His eyes could have burned holes through River if he had that power. She felt the weight of his stare just the same and shrunk back, into Mal's arms.

"Now, no fight will be ensuing. It's just a question," he said when the others started to inch toward the door Jayne had just vacated through.

"Captain, with all due respect, it's the fact that you're asking a pregnant woman the question that makes me want to stand clear. As well as the others."

"And it'd be all right if I asked a non-pregnant woman the same question? No offense, Zoe, but if she weren't pregnant we wouldn't be having the conversation at all."

"Well, Sir, the hormones."

"Ah," he said with a nod. He turned his attention back to River, sliding a hand to the back of her neck. He rubbed there lightly, mostly with his thumb and she let out a soft groan. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Don't like to complain."

"I wager you have every right to complain, least for the next few months anyway. Now eat up, and I guess we can go work on round one of this goop."

"I can do it."

"Yeah, I know you can. We'll talk about that later. Eat up. You're eating for two you know."

"You remind me three times a day."

"'Cuz if I don't, you'd forget to eat. You have a week's worth of getting sick to make up for."

"I can't make up for it."

"You can eat and do as your husband says to please him, because it makes him feel abundantly better to know you're taking care of you and the little one."

"All right," she said, setting about eating her dinner. She couldn't help but smile, though. She liked when he was concerned about her. About the baby. She liked that he didn't seem to mind that she'd touched him. She found there were a lot of things about Mal Reynolds to like. She just wondered if working at preventing stretch marks Simon was so adamant she doing would give her more things to grow fond of him about.

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**Part Five**

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."

"Time off?"

"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?"

"You're serious?"

"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."

"'Simon could."

"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.

"Anything bad?"

"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."

"Okay, Captain."

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.


"You okay?"



"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.

"I'm fine?"

"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."

"Sergeant Reynolds?"

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.

"I'm fine."

"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."

"I know."

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."


"Yes, mei-mei."

"I'm sorry."

"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.

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**Part Six**

Word Count: 1,479
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #14-Maternity


They'd found a dress. More than one actually, but she was wearing one. Kaylee gushed over it. River wasn't sure she liked maternity clothes. At least the dresses she wore up until now were too big for her weren't supposed to fit her. She'd taken whatever she could after Simon had rescued her.

The saleswoman had indicated she would get even larger over the last couple of months and Simon had agreed. She hadn't thought that was possible. For as tiny as she was, and she knew that's what she was, she didn't expect to get so big. So, she'd caved and bought a couple of things.

"Going to pay him back," she said as Simon handed over more of Mal's money to the storekeeper.

"He doesn't want you to pay him back, mei-mei. If he didn't want you to have a new dress or two he wouldn't have suggested it."

She nibbled on her lower lip, glancing at the dress she now wore. It was, as much as she hated to admit it, a nice dress. It fit her nicely and it was flattering to her hair and complexion. Her first thought was that it flattered her, but that felt like a weird thing to think. She wasn't sure there was much that could flatter her figure right now. No one thought she looked hideous though. She checked the crew's thoughts occasionally to be sure.

She had gone over kissing Mal in the middle of town at least a dozen times since he'd gone his own way. He probably couldn't wait to get away from her. Telling her he wouldn't mind it happening again was a way for him to let her down easy without being insulting. He wouldn't mind, but it wasn't going to happen again is what he'd really been saying. Except, she wanted it to happen again.

"He said one dress, Simon."

"It's not like we bought a dozen, River. I don't think he'll say anything, mei-mei, especially if he keeps taking you out on," Simon cleared his throat gently, "the town." Jobs. "He'd want you to look your best, which reflects on him after all."


She got what he meant. And, yes, when he'd brought her along, it had been as his wife. Her being pregnant only served to endear Mal to them a little more. And no one suspected his pregnant wife was a reader. It worked well, but if she looked like a slob or like she and Mal couldn't afford clothes for her, people would hesitate to hire him. Them.

"I know."

"And, besides, if you have another then you won't have to worry about it."

She stared at him for a minute. Another what? She almost asked it out loud, was glad she didn't because she realized as soon as the question had passed through her mind what he meant. Another baby. Oh God, was he expecting her to have more? She supposed it was the natural course of things going under the assumption they were really married and all.

"I guess you're right."

"Don't forget about clothes for after the baby," the storekeeper added as she handed River the two additional dresses they'd bought in addition to the one she wore. This one was her favorite, which was why she'd kept it on.

"After the baby?" Did that mean she wouldn't get to wear normal clothes again? She had a lot of questions to ask Simon. She was glad he was talking to her again, it didn't make it so uncomfortable to admit she was clueless about this type of thing.

"Well, yes, if you're nursing you'll need clothing designed with that in mind."

"I, um, Simon?"

"This is her first baby," Simon seemed to say as way of explaining River's clueless behavior. "I don't think her doctor has gone over those options with her yet."

"Oh," the storekeeper said, seeming to get a little tightlipped then. "Well, keep it in mind. We have some things here and could always order more."

"Thank you," River said.

"That's very kind of you. We'll keep it in mind," Simon added, encouraging River out the door.

"I'll be right out guys," Kaylee said. "Go on, I'll meet you back at the other store."

"Are you sure?" Simon asked.

"I'll be only a minute or two. Positive."

"All right," Simon said, regarding the town once they were outside. "I'm not sure we can shop for or buy anymore stuff today, mei-mei. You bought just about everything I can think of that a baby's room would need. And then some."

"Was it too much?"

"No, of course not. I was just surprised they had so much honestly."

"You really have to get over that."

"Get over what?"

"The cultured attitude that nowhere but home has anything to offer. We don't live there anymore, you know?"

"I'm well aware of that, mei-mei."

"Just reminding you."

"And I appreciate it."

"Now, am I going to nurse?"

"I don't know. Not only is that a decision you have to make, and Mal I suppose. Some fathers don't like it I've heard, though I don't understand why. It's natural, the way God intended things to be. But you may not be able to either."

"What do you mean?"

They began walking in the direction of the store they'd first stopped at. "Well, this isn't my specialty, but I've been researching it a bit the past month or so. I'm not sure they understand why some women are unable. And, some women don't like it." He looked at her then and she saw he was blushing. She wondered what that was about. "You do know what nursing is, don't you?" Ah, she realized that was what the blush was for.

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Simon, I know what it is."

"Just making sure. So, you'll have to wait and see I guess. There's no sense buying the tops she was talking about until you know for sure."

"You don't think we bought too much. What if I don't get pregnant again? We spent that money for a month or so of use?"

"Well, you need clothes, mei-mei, and Mal said he wanted you to buy something. So, obviously he agrees. And, maybe we can figure out something to do with them if you don't get pregnant again. You're so young yet, River, you have plenty of years to have more though."

"Thanks," she said, mentally grimacing.

The grimace turned into a mental picture she didn't mind so much. A baby made the right way, with Mal, giving him a son that was really his. She pushed the thoughts aside. They'd never come true. She still wasn't sure what he planned on doing after the baby came. Was he going to tell the crew the truth then? They'd be pretty upset at being lied to the past couple of months.

And really, they'd still be a danger if they knew then. So, they couldn't know the truth. Ever. That meant if they ended the marriage, no one would know what really happened and they'd think he was a monster of some kind. That didn't sit well with her at all.

"What are you thinking?"

"Nothing. Just wondering what he looks like."

"Hopefully, he'll be as pretty as you, but not quite as smart."

"Not quite as smart, huh?"

"No, the world can only handle one River at a time I think."

"I guess you're right."

"Well, we're here. I guess all we can do now is wait for Kaylee and Mal. We left Kaylee in a store, I'm not sure who will show up first."

"I don't think I saw much in there she'd be interested in."

"Normally, I'd agree, but you never know with her."

River giggled a little. "Simon be nice."

"I am being nice."

"She's coming this way, too."

"Oh, she is," Simon said, turning around to look in the direction they'd come from. "Well, good, then we just wait for the captain."


"Mal. Sorry, I'm trying, mei-mei."

"I know."

"Hi! Sorry I just saw something I couldn't resist." Kaylee held out a smaller sack then the one River held containing her dresses. "Mind if I put this with your stuff, Riv?"

"No," she said with a shrug.

"Good, cuz it's kind of for you anyway."

"For me?"

"Yeah, call it a hunch. Or an early. Or late birthday present."

"Thank you, Kaylee."

"You ain't seen it yet, you may not thank me when you do, but you're welcome." Kaylee smiled widely then. It was difficult to resist the temptation to read her thoughts and find out what it was right away. She held out, though, deciding just once it might be fun to be surprised. "I hope the captain likes it, too," she whispered while sliding the smaller bag into River's wider one.

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**Part Seven**

Word Count: 1,588
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #23-Food Cravings


"Why haven't I heard before now you were wanting this stuff, River"

She shrugged. "I hadn't until we had dinner. Haven't had fresh fruit since I found out I was pregnant."

"I see, so it's my fault, is it?" He loaded the last of their purchases onto the mule, regarding it with a look of satisfaction. She'd bet it would take three trips because of the size of some of the baby items, but he'd gone for two. He won. She wasn't quite sure what he'd won. Or, rather, what she'd lost. She should have known better than to question him on the abilities of something on his ship.

"It would seem so."

"At least it ain't pickles and ice cream. I think I might have to put my foot down at giving into that request, but I can handle having to stock up on apples and bananas and the like between now and little Mal's arrival. I might even find it in me to eat a couple myself, help deplete the surplus."

"You need to stop calling him that."

"Why's that?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. She really had no response. So, she picked up one of the bananas she'd bought with her own money much to Mal's dismay and began to eat it. He'd spent so much, and she guessed he couldn't remember having his first coin to spend. She had to buy something for herself.

"Sounds funny."

He seemed to think about that for a minute. "Don't see what's so funny about it. I wouldn't really want to name him Mal. It's just better than calling him an it, and since you know it's a boy. You do still know that, right?"

"Yes," she said, patting her stomach.

"Now. Is there anything else you want before we head back for the night? Make no guarantees we'll come back to town before we head out again. So, speak up now or forever hold your peace." He chuckled lightly. "Didn't Shepherd say that a month or so ago? I expected Simon to pipe up, but I reckon he wanted your baby to have a father all nice and legal like. Even if I may not be his first choice. Or second. Or, well, any number really."

"He's coming around."

"I know."

When she'd cleaned the restaurant out of most of its fresh fruit and seemed to want more still, Mal had made sure more was available for them to take on board Serenity. She'd always been fond of fruit, but today she couldn't get enough of it. She'd started out eating some strawberries and her body just took on a mind of its own. Nothing she'd eaten the past couple of months since she found out she was pregnant had tasted so good as tonight.

The banana finished, she set the peel in her box. She sifted through it, just enjoying being able to touch things that were hers. All hers. Only hers. Of course, she'd share if she was asked to.

"Strawberries, too," she added. It had been that first strawberry that had gotten her. Little Mal, she really had no other name to call him by, seemed to like the fruit, too. He kicked and moved around more in a real short time than she could remember him doing.

"Yes, strawberries, already had some of those thrown in. Couldn't buy as many cuz they don't last as long. So I'm afraid you'll have to make do with a little at a time."


"Now that's an odd request that doesn't quite belong with the others."

"I like them."

"And you do what with them?"

"Eat them."

"Just plain like?"

"Yeah," she said with a shrug.

"Like an apple? Or do you cut them up and do something with them?"

"No, I just eat them. I guess like an apple." Was that unusual? She wasn't sure.

"All right then. I'll see if we can't make a trip tomorrow for some tomatoes. If not, the next stop. I promise."

"Thank you."

"No need. Happy to do it. It's nice to see you eat for a change. I worry about you - both of you - getting enough when I see you eat like a bird. And spread things around on the plate to make me think you've eaten more. Yes, I know that trick," he said when she looked at him. "So, if it's fruit he wants, then fruit he gets."

"And tomatoes."

"And tomatoes. I can go to sleep at night knowing your bellies are satisfied. I reckon I've gotten off pretty easy compared to some of the tales I've heard."

"Did you have something to do tonight?"


"Yes," she said with a frown. "Who else is there for me to ask?"

"Well, I guess the question was a might mystifying because what would I have to do?"

"Maybe you were going to come back here? You like to play cards and drink with other men."

"Well, sure I do, but I think I've had my fair share of socializing for the day. Don't need to drink and I spent enough money on this moon, certainly don't need to fill anyone else's pocket up with more. Besides, I've got two loads of stuff to find a place for. Why do you ask?"

"No reason. I'll help."

"All right. Ready then? I think it's as secure as it's going to get."


"The rest of the crew's probably wondering what happened to us."

"Does it bother you?"

"Does what bother me?"

"That they picture us?"

"Picture us?"

"Yeah, you know."

"They do?"

She laughed at that. "Yes!"

"Well, I guess that all depends. Do I treat you well in their minds?"

"I wouldn't know."

He regarded her then as he drove the mule out of town. "No, I reckon you wouldn't. Does it bother you? Is that why you're asking? I can't very well tell them not to think things, River. And I can't kick my crew off the ship because they think what they naturally should about us."

"No, it's okay I guess. I just wondered." She took an apple, wiped it off on the front of her dress. The baby chose then to kick so she slid her hand over his outline, following the curve of his butt.

"You okay?"


"He okay?"

"Yes, just moving."

"All right then."

She bit into the apple, savoring the tart yet sweet taste. The baby did, too. She smiled as his kicks turned a little more ferocious as they seemed to do when she ate something he particularly liked. Or maybe he didn't like them and was objecting. She guessed she'd never know for sure. If her body wanted it, though, he must like it. Right? She'd have to think on that one.

For now she didn't want to think about serious things. She just wanted to be for the short trip from town to Serenity. She loved riding in the mule. There was something about the wind in her air, rushing against her, through her. It made her feel so free. As if the past four years of her life could be forgotten, scattered like ashes however briefly and shoved to a portion of her brain they hadn't touched.

"Got one of those in there for me?"

"You want one? You had one earlier at the market."

"Yeah, I remember. Said it was my fill for a while, but I changed my mind. It's not just womenfolk that are entitled to a change of thinking."

"Are you craving it, too?"

"I ain't the pregnant one, don't see how that's possible."

His eyes met hers briefly and he winked as she polished an apple for him before handing it to him. She opened her mouth, tempted to ask him about what she and Simon had talked about earlier. Not the nursing part. She didn't see how Mal could tell her not to do that, assuming she was able. The loving him part. She was curious about so many things where it came to this man. Why was Shepherd on his mind? And were they really going to be able to get an annulment without his crew thinking the worst of him? She shook her head and looked away, taking a bite of her apple.

"I see your mind's hard at work. Looking away means you don’t want to talk about it. If you change your mind," he said, pulling the mule onto Serenity and into the cargo bay. Like clockwork, the airlock opened when they made their approach. "You know where to find me."

"Yeah, I reckon I do."

"You're starting to sound like me, not sure I like that. Now, I best get to work unloading our haul. You go on up and rest for a bit. You had a full day. You don't, your brother's going to try and take my head off again. And then, well," he held the apple up. "I wouldn't be able to eat this. It's not very often a pretty girl buys me an apple. I'd like to be able to enjoy it."

She smiled shyly as she got out of the mule, protecting her precious cargo. Precious to her. She was going to share some strawberries with Kaylee. River knew the mechanic liked them, and she'd been a help today picking out the dresses. As much as she wanted to sit down and eat them all right now the least River could do is share a strawberry or two.

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**Part Eight**

Word Count: 4,154
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #28-First Time

It was late. She had only been awake for a minute, maybe two, but she knew that it was late enough that Mal should have been in their room. She ran her fingers through her hair with a yawn. She sat up from the bed, bunching her toes against the floor. The swelling she'd noticed earlier was down. It came and went like that. Simon said it was to be expected.

Her eyes fell on the dresses she'd gotten earlier that day. She'd left them out, planning to show them to Mal. She thought he'd want to see what his money had bought.

She stood then, walking to the mirror he'd installed for her. She'd worn the other thing she'd gotten that day. That Kaylee had gotten for her. She'd blushed the shade of the tomatoes she mentioned wanting to Mal when she'd seen it. She'd looked at it over and over again, certain there was no way a pregnant woman could wear it.

Initially, she'd put it away with the one Kaylee and Zoe had given her before her wedding. Curiosity got the best of her, though. The first one had been pretty basic, nothing fancy. Just something to try and wow the man you were wearing it for.

This one though. She eyed herself in the mirror. It was the color of wheat, not quite yellow, not quite tan, and not quite white. It was fitted to account for her pregnancy, ending just above her knees. She imagined the bigger she got, the shorter it would get. And it was so sheer she may as well have been wearing nothing. She really hadn't taken the time before now to notice the changes her body was going through, beyond the obvious increase in her belly. Whoever made this, designed it, obviously saw pregnant women as being able to be sexy because it made her look and feel just that.

She didn't know why she'd left it on. She liked the way it felt against her skin. The fabric was something she'd never felt before, soft and yet it if you looked it was almost like it wasn't there. It made her curious. And she supposed she was hoping Mal would come in and see her.

She'd decided after kissing him and coming to the realization, whether he knew it or not, that they would probably be stuck married longer than just until the baby was born. Well, she wanted him to see her as River, a woman, his wife. Not just the crazy girl Simon rescued and brought aboard Serenity. She wasn't sure what was going to happen, but she had to at least try. It didn't help that the more she thought of what Simon had said to her earlier the more she realized he was right. She'd fallen in love with the man.

There was a part of her that wondered if Kaylee knew the truth of their relationship. Why else would she have bought this for River? Other than just to be kind. She supposed there was always that possibility. Kaylee liked girlie things despite her chosen occupation pointing to the opposite. So, maybe she just wanted to get River something to make her feel pretty instead of very pregnant.

She ran her hands over her abdomen, looking at her profile in the mirror. She pressed, feeling the outline of his butt, his torso, his head. His feet were under her ribs as they liked to be. Simon said this was good, that his head was lower in the uterus. River had read enough to know that was important, but beyond that was leaving Simon to do the doctoring for this event.

It was strange, though, to think that there was a baby in there. A little Mal. She smiled at that thought and walked over to his things. Finding one of his shirts, one that would be just long enough but not too long. She knew where he was, but there was no assuming he was alone. So, while she wanted him to see part of what she was wearing, she didn't want anyone else to see it.

She gave a soft laugh at her reflection in the mirror. She looked kind of silly in his shirt with the little bit of exposed nightie hanging lower. Clutching the shirt closed, it wouldn't button all the way anyway, she made her way to the bridge.

Sure enough, there he was. He was sitting in his chair, looking out the windows, murmuring something. Simon was seated in the other spot. It didn't appear she was interrupting a conversation of any kind, but it did make her curious why her brother was up here and not Wash.

"Mal," she said softly, not entirely sure she wasn't intruding. That was the problem with having been held captive for the past four years, she was sort of clueless when it came to this type of situation.

"Oh, hey, what are you doing out of bed?" He looked at her then, having at first just turned his head to glance at her. "And why are you wearing my shirt?"

She shrugged. "Wanted to, and couldn't sleep."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Have a seat if you want. Nothing going on, just pitch black night. The way I like it."

"Would you come to bed?"

"Well, I could I reckon. I just kind of got lost in thought up here, didn't realize it was so late. I'll be there in a minute, bao bay."

Her eyes downcast, realizing despite kissing him he still didn't really see her. Maybe kissing her hadn't been a big thing to him. She'd felt it, though, some of his thoughts had come to her despite her trying not to read them. He'd liked it. She knew he did. He didn't kiss her back to be nice or because he felt sorry for her.

Simon was surprisingly quiet. Was he sleeping? She couldn't help but wonder what they'd been talking about. His attention out the windows again she made a decision. If it failed, she'd blame it on Kaylee for making her think that maybe even pregnant he'd find her attractive. Attractive enough for what she wasn't sure yet. Her thoughts hadn't taken her much beyond kissing him again, only not in the middle of town this time. Privately, just them.

She took a step toward him, releasing the front of his shirt she'd been clutching tightly to her thus far, letting it fall low on her arms.

"I was hoping you'd come now."

"River," Simon called out when he took in what River was wearing. So, he was awake. She'd taken a chance he was sleeping, but it wasn't as if he hadn't seen her naked. They all had for that matter. "Where in the hell did you get that?"

She lifted her chin up defiantly. "A store," she said simply. He didn't need to know Kaylee had gotten it, or that River would never have thought to buy something like this. And then her eyes fell on Mal who was all kinds of noticing her now.

"bao bay," he said softly.

"You don't like it?"

"I didn't say that. Not at all. It's just," he cleared his throat. "Our bunk would probably be a better place for you to disrobe."

"But you're not in our bunk. You're here."

"So am I," Simon added unnecessarily. "Your brother. The man who doesn't really want to think of you like this."

"Like what?"

"Like, well," he said, shutting his mouth apparently realizing there was nothing he could say just now that wouldn't sound insulting.

She extended her hand to Mal and repeated. "Come to bed now."

Are you trying to give me a heart attack, little one?

She shook her head simply in answer to his question. "Please," she mouthed.

"Well, Simon, the little woman beckons. We'll continue our conversation later. I think I like what she has in mind better anyway."

"I should go, too," Simon said, following them out of the bridge. He headed the direction of his bunk, leaving Mal and River to theirs.

"This is just plain cruel, River."

"What is," she said, her back against the door. She hadn't expected this reaction out of him. She debated between pulling his shirt back on or not, deciding on leaving it off. She had nothing to be ashamed of or to hide.

"Getting yourself all nice looking and parading it in front of me."

"Why is it cruel?"

"Well, now, because you and me…"

"Are married."

"Well, yes, legally and all, but that doesn't mean…"

"You kissed me back."

"An attractive young woman launches themselves into my arms, attaches their lips to mine. I'm only human, despite rumors to the contrary."

"You said you wouldn't mind if it happened again."

"Well, sure, I wasn't planning on it or anything."

"So you were just saying it to be nice?"

"River. This may not be the best time to discuss this. You're emotional on top of the hormones."

"You're right," she said simply, closing the distance between them. She shook her head then, placing her hands against his chest. "I don't want to talk about it. I've already debated with myself enough for the two of us."

She lifted her eyes to meet his, using every ounce of willpower she possessed not to read his thoughts just now.

"Tell me something."

"Okay," she whispered.

"Did you really buy this?" Her eyes fell closed and she let out a muffled cry as he ran the back of his hand over her shoulder. He may as well have been touching her skin to skin for all the good the flimsy fabric did.

"Kaylee did."

"But you wore it."


"For me."


"Because you kissed me earlier."

"Yes." She shook her head then, realizing what that sounded like. "No. That isn't the reason."

"So, you don't think because we kissed I expect…"


She flicked a button on his shirt with her fingernail.

"Okay. Good. As long as we have that clear because I ain't meaning to take advantage…"

She reached up then, found his ear. "Stop talking and kiss me," she whispered. She didn't understand why her heart was pounding ferociously against her chest. Or why the baby was doing all kinds of acrobatics just then. Or why her palms suddenly felt incredibly warm pressed against the front of his shirt as they were. All this in reaction to her request.

If he didn't do this she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to face him again. She wasn't asking him for much. She knew it was a lot enough, though. She waited for what seemed an eternity. She did her best to stay out of his mind, partially for fear she'd read thoughts she didn't want to right now. Rejection. Pity. She'd had enough of that.

She started to draw away. It had taken him too long. She'd gone out on a limb and failed. She certainly wasn't going to throw herself at him.

"Sorry," she whispered, avoiding looking at him.

He set a finger under her chin and lifted it, making her meet his eyes. "Whatcha sorry for?"

"I shouldn't have…"

He smiled at that. "bao bay, I was just feeling little Mal kick like he's all kinds of excited."

"Oh." What did that mean? That he wanted to kiss her and just didn't?

"I've never felt him before like that. Usually, you just take my hand," he shrugged. He ran the pad of his thumb along her lower lip. "Now it seems to me you said something along the lines of shut up and kiss you. You sure about that, River?"

She nodded simply, feeling more than a little clueless just then. She did part her lips, acting on instinct she licked the tip of his thumb. It caused the pulse point in his temple to jump a little bit and she smiled as he replaced his thumb with one of his fingers, and another, and another until she'd tasted each one.

"I ask again, are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

"Nuh uh," she murmured, kissing the tip of the last finger. He drew his finger away and she missed it almost immediately, the contact between them. Until he replaced it with his mouth. She whimpered softly, taken by surprise even if she'd asked him to.

He didn't hold back this time and as she opened her mind to his there was no thought about her innocence or age. And there was no Shepherd Book either. There was just her. She moaned softly when she saw how he saw her. Even pregnant she was beautiful. Did she really look like that?

His hands found her face and he drew away for a moment. "If I start touching you…"

She looked at him wide-eyed. He was giving her an out. "I want you to. Touch me," she added.

"This is your dance, River. You let me know when the song is over cuz it's been a long time."

"Me, too."

He smiled at that, kissing her lower lip. "Yes, I reckon for you it's been a bit longer. I'm just not sure the music would stop were it up to me," he murmured as she worked the buttons on his shirt. "Remind me to not just thank Kaylee but offer her a raise or something."

"Kaylee didn't make me think to do this."


"You did."

"I did? What'd I do?"

"Just be you."

"Well now."

She kissed him then, not wanting to talk anymore. He didn't seem to know what stop talking and kiss her meant. Was he nervous? She giggled softly at the thought.

"What is so funny?"

"Do I make you nervous?"

"Damn straight you do."

"Why?" She kissed his jaw then, making a path to his ear.

"Cuz," he said, stifling a groan when she found his earlobe.

"Cuz why," she whispered.

"You ain't never."

"There's a lot of things I've never done."

"Very few things left for me fall under the I've never category. Making love to my wife, a woman I have the actual right to freely is one of them. Can't say a pregnant woman neither."

"So, there are still first times left for you."

"I guess when put like that."

"And that bothers you?" She found his neck now, the pulse point there and nipped it.


He cleared his throat, head falling back against the wall his back was against. "Uh, bother? No."

Somewhere in the back of his mind was the thought that he should put a stop to this before it went too far. Sad thing was, he wasn't sure what too far was. Was kissing her too far? He sure as hell desired her. Night after night seeing her asleep in his bunk, stretched out and having the blanket shift this way or that. He'd never paid pregnant women much notice, given them much thought. But damned if the growing mound at her belly wasn't attractive to him. The fact she wore it so proudly, wasn't embarrassed or ashamed of it. Or bothered by gaining some weight.

Not that she'd gained much. Simon had come to him earlier thanking Mal for buying the fruit, seeming grateful to see her so enthusiastic about eating something. He was afraid River wasn't gaining enough weight, that what she had gained thus far had really been baby not much else. And she needed a little extra.

Her hands were at his chest now. Skin to skin, the shirt having been unbuttoned for a while now. He realized, thinking about his shirt, that the one she'd had on over herself was still up on the bridge. He wasn't sure he'd look at that shirt the same way again, knowing she wore it with this underneath.

"You sure know what you're doing," he murmured, surprised a little that she was able to have this affect on him. Innocence had never been a turn on for him. Some men went for that sort of thing. They took a girl's innocence like a notch on their belt never looking back, which was why he stuck with paid companionship. It was easier that way, no muss, no fuss, certainly no mess.

No heart involved, but damn if he wasn't noticing for the first time as she latched onto one of his nipples with her mouth, that with no heart involved there wasn't much heat either. And he was awfully fond of heat about now. Cuz it was coursing through his body something fierce, making him certain he was burning up from a fever that only River had the cure for.

She drew away and he missed her instantly. It had to be her doing these things that made him react so, because it wasn't as if this was the first time someone had kissed him, touched him, and, he swallowed hard, licked a wicked trail from his chest ever lower. She repeated it, going the other direction, causing him to groan. He really, really wanted her to continue further south not away from it.

She circled a nipple with her tongue, kissed his skin there next to it and started sucking. Hard like. His body reacted with a sharp jolt, and he wondered if she knew what she was doing. Or if it was all guesswork. Had she learned somehow? It bothered him how much that thought unnerved him. The idea of someone else touching her, teaching her was just wrong. He didn't claim to understand her, but he thought he understood her better than most. He knew around him she got better, his mind helped keep hers calm. He didn't get the where's or why's of that, other than he just tried not to over think or stress over things he had no control over.

"Books," she murmured, moving to the other side to repeat the process, giving him matching marks.

"I guess I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the rewards of reading then," he whispered, gathering some of her hair into his hands.

"Why were you thinking of Shepherd Book?"

"Why was I what? Huh?" Had he been thinking of Book? No, not once had the preacher-man entered his thoughts tonight. "Why were you reading my thoughts?"

"I couldn't help it. And you heard me. Not now, earlier today."

Ah, now he remembered. "He had an even longer talk with me about you then he did when Saffron came aboard."

"What did he say?"

"Lots of things, most of which pertained to my earning a special place in hell if I were to take advantage of you somehow. Given this is more along the lines of a business deal we've entered into."

She seemed to smile at the image of Shepherd Book lecturing Mal on the evils of taking advantage of a woman like River. She extended a hand to him and he could see quite plainly that her ministrations to him had the desired effect on more then just him. Was that because she was in his mind, reacting to what he was? Or did she really get pleasure out of giving it? Simon'd explained what they'd done to her, that she was just a giant sponge taking in feelings from all around her, unable to process or filter.

He took her hand, wanting nothing more to find out which was the correct answer. Hoping to Shepherd's god it was the second, or perhaps a combination of both. Anything but her being unable to turn off her mind from getting flooding with his arousal. That'd be something akin to mind rape in his opinion and he wanted none of that.

"My baby gets a father and you get a son. And I hopefully stay under the Alliance's radar."


She sat on the bed then, still mussed and unmade from her earlier nap. One he'd insisted she take because she was getting under his skin spending most of the day in her company as he had. And now, here he was where he had avoided coming for fear he couldn't take to the floor tonight and that she'd think him some kind of monster for posing the request.

"What if I want a husband, too? You."


She knelt up then, cupping his face and kissed him. It was long, hard. He wasn't a reader, but darn it all in that moment he felt like through their mouths being connected, she'd connected their minds, too. He knew in that instant her arousal had nothing to do with his mind overflowing hers with his feelings of arousal. He cradled her head, placing one knee beside her on the bed.

She inched forward. The outfit, if one could call it that, made it feel as if he was right up close and personal with her when her chest met his. She was a tiny thing. Her breasts would be barely a handful, not an offensive thought. Just enough for a man to know they were there.

"Please," she murmured into his mouth and he realized his thoughts were spilling into hers. She told him sometimes he thought too loudly. He wasn't sure what that meant, but evidently this was one of those times.

He couldn't remember a time he'd reached for a woman with a shaky hand, but that's just what happened when he let go of her hair with one. Shepherd's warnings of a special hell reserved for him aside, he had never been a woman's first anything. It was one of those things that gave a man pause, particularly when the company he'd kept the majority of the time of late had been paid for. Were those women sincere in their pleasure or placating him so he'd go away satisfied two-fold? He'd never had reason to have doubt cast on their sincerity until now.

Whatever the material was the outfit Kaylee had bought her was made of, it did its job. It felt silky to the touch and yet it was sheer enough that the deceptive illusion was there that there was no fabric at all between his hand and her shoulder. He grazed a collarbone with his thumb and she whimpered softly into his kiss.

He grazed an already hardened peak with the back of his hand and she cried out, breaking the kiss to rest her cheek against his. Her breathing was haggard, uneven, and God but that was a turn-on. That so simple a touch could be her undoing. It made him want to undo all of her, from head to toe. And he set out to do just that.

With her kneeling on the bed as she was, it wasn't a difficult task. He touched her everywhere, able to tell the difference - however slight - between the sheer number she wore and her skin when he skimmed her legs from thigh to ankle.

He wondered if her feelings being on full-throttle all the time extended to her as well. Was she feeling everything doubly so because of what the Alliance monsters had done to her? That was both a heady thought and a little unnerving.

He skimmed her waist with his hand. Despite the pregnancy her waist was still tiny, womanly. He slid his hand up and over, grazing the swell of her breast with his thumb. She cried out again, increasing her grip on his shoulders.

He kissed her cheek, and she turned into the kiss, evidently ready for dual sensations. He was more than happy to oblige. He got a bit more bold, daring, cupping her breast entirely with his hand, stroking the peak with his thumb lightly.

She let out a squeak and stopped kissing him. And then proceeded to go limp in his arms.

"Huh," he whispered not sure what to do now. "Now, that for sure ain't never happened to me before." He drew his hand away, just wasn't right touching her if she wasn't with him to know he was doing it and enjoy it much as he was. His body revolted at the loss of contact with her warmth, the gentle curves of her femininity. "Oh yeah, I'm in a whole heap a trouble."

One thing he did know, he sure as hell wasn't taken the floor tonight. He could tell himself he wanted to stay with her, make sure she was all right. He knew what it really was, though. He just wanted to sleep with her beside him for once. Hopefully, it wouldn't be the last either.

He set her gently on the bed, gathering the blanket around her. He shed his shirt and his boots, leaving his pants on. No sense tempting the scales too severely. Chances were if she woke up after passing out, resuming where they'd left off wouldn't be first on her mind.

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**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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**Part Ten**

Word Count: 1,546
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #18-Anticipation

NOTE: If you're familiar with Evita, please pardon my twist on the Rainbow High dressers/chorus lyrics. I just couldn't resist.

River found Kaylee in her bunk. It was strange to think she didn't have to walk the entire length of the ship to get here anymore. Not that she minded the walking.

"Hey, River, whatcha need?"

"Would you help me?"

"Help you? With what? Is something wrong? Is it the baby? You need me to get Simon or Mal?"

"No, nothing's wrong, and I'll need you to get Mal for me later. After you've helped me."

"All right," Kaylee said, clearly confused. She followed River into her bunk, though without question.

"Now, I don't know how to go about doing this…" River explained, knowing if there was anyone on Serenity who River could get to help her with this and trust enough not to blab to the whole ship that River didn't have a clue as to how to go about seducing her own husband. Well, it was Kaylee. She spoke her mind, like earlier that morning about the nightie she'd bought and other things, but she knew how to keep a secret, too.

"You mean, you ain't never instigated nothing with him?"

River blushed. "No."

"Well, sweetie, that's the best part. Nothing like knocking a man used to all that control on their ass for a little while. And Mal, I mean the captain's, all about control."

"You can call him Mal, Kaylee, I'm not going to get upset."

"Okay, good. Now, first things first…"


It seemed like everywhere he turned he was bumping into River today. He expected some sort of a tongue-lashing or the cold shoulder because of the conversation she'd overheard with Inara. He hadn't known she was there until it was too late. He'd gone over the conversation in his mind, thought he'd answered in all the right ways. One never knew when dealing with a woman.

Instead of being mad, though, she seemed to be just the opposite. She'd stop and kiss him or brush a hand over his shoulder or back if he was in the midst of something he couldn't break from for a kiss. The kiss would have been preferable. She had the sweetest lips. He was crazy for thinking about that, about them. Lips. They were just lips.

He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd stayed up all night, okay most of the night they did break once in a while for brief cat naps. And all they'd done is kiss. A little touching, but he'd held back from crossing that line again. He wasn't so sure passing out was good for her or the baby. All he knew, she was lucky he was a patient and understanding man.

"Earth to Mal."

"I'm here, Wash. What is it?"

"I said I was sorry if I really pissed you off this morning."

"Nah, don't worry about it. She's just still kind of delicate and we're kind of a rough bunch."

"Well, it would appear she'd best get used to that."

"Yeah, you're right. She will. Doesn't mean she needs to worry about the menfolk barging into our bunk like they own the place. I don't go barging in on you and Zoe."

"No, you just page us."

Mal shrugged. "You'd rather the other?"

"No, no. So, Badger, huh?" Wash seemed to realize a change in subject was in order.


"You trust him?"

"As far as I can throw him, which ain't far. We need the job, and he's willing to pay and keep us where I want to be. Going near Osiris is too risky at this point. If something were to happen, someone might recognize her."

Wash's eyes widened, Mal realized like Inara Wash hadn't realized Mal's reasoning for staying in this general area. There were always jobs if someone looked hard enough.

"So, we head to Bernadette, pick up the crates in question and head to Persephone."

"That's too easy."

"I wager it won't be that easy. Nothing with Badger ever is. I just can't bring myself not to do business with him anymore."

"Why don't you sound happier about making money?"

"I think I'm going to have to include River in the plan."

"Ah," Wash said simply. "Need a reader?"

"And someone they won't suspect of being able to hit a target without looking."

"She's your girl then."

"Yeah, she is," Mal said, a note of pride in his voice. He'd been more than surprised to find out what River had done, check that - could do, and with such accuracy. He hadn't believed her at first, of course. Until he'd taken her out for target practice. She hadn't missed once, rarely straying from the dead-on point.

He hated using her, especially now, but didn't see that he had much choice. Jayne would be too obvious, and he really needed the reading aspect in conjunction with the weapon holder. Even a one second delay could prove too long. He'd been burned one too many times by Badger.

"Can I just say I'm glad I'm not the only married one onboard anymore?"

"Didn't realize it was such a hardship."

"It's not that. It's just you all never seemed to understand why it bothered me to see Zoe walking off that ramp. Now, finally, someone else will get it." Mal heard footsteps approaching the bridge. "Forget I said anything," Wash said, seeming to notice Kaylee's entrance into the bridge as Mal had.

"All right, easy enough." What Wash had said sat with Mal, though. He hadn't much thought about it, because he'd never before in his life had someone to care about. Nothing but this ship and his crew, but they were all capable of looking after themselves. River was, too, of course, but he had an emotional investment in her now that was different then the others. And, yeah, he hated every minute of her being on a job.

"Howdy, Captain. Wash."

"Kaylee. What brings you to our neck of the ship? Something wrong down there?" Mal asked, taking one last glance at the intel Badger had sent through.

"No, innards are running just fine."

"You smell nice, Kaylee," Wash said.

"I do? Well, thank you, Wash. I don't know why," she seemed to enjoy the compliment nonetheless. "Cap'n, came to tell you River was looking for you."

"She what? Is she all right?"

"Yeah, she's just fine."

"She's fine, but sent you to fetch me?"

Kaylee seemed to ponder that for a minute and then nodded. "Yep, that's exactly how it is."

"The baby's all right?"

"Baby's just fine, too, Cap'n."

"All right, Kaylee, thanks for telling me."

Kaylee's eyes darted from Mal to Wash and back to Mal. "You ain't gonna go see what she wants?"

"I was just looking over these things from Badger."

"Can't you do that from your quarters, Cap'n?"

"I suppose I can, but I'm almost done."

"You're not going to come to any decisions tonight, Mal, go," Wash said. Mal looked between Wash and Kaylee, wondering what in the blazes he was missing.

"Something you ain't telling me you two?"

"Me?" Wash asked. "I've been sitting here with you most of the evening. What would I know?"

"All right. Suppose you're both right. It'll all be here in the morning." He glanced at the clock, not realizing just how late it had gotten to be.

"Good night, Cap'n," Kaylee called after him, sounding entirely too proud of herself. He had to admit, returning to his bunk didn't sound nearly so bad. Particularly if River was looking for him and nothing bad was going on with her.


River normally had a good memory, but for the life of her, she was having trouble remembering everything Kaylee had told her.

Certainly by now Kaylee should have made it to the bridge and told Mal she was looking for him. And River didn't think the other woman would let him dismiss her and go back to whatever it was he was doing.

She knew that a job was heavy on his mind, a job that she caught glimpses of involving her. She'd done her best to stay away yet not completely out of the way today. She had things on her mind, things to try and figure out. She was sure he would have seen it in her eyes if she'd let him.

Why she hadn't thought of Kaylee sooner, she'd never know. The logical choice obviously would have been Inara, but that just wasn't going to happen. So, she'd gone to Kaylee who had experience with men. And maybe her experience was more inline with what River needed pointers from anyway.

She twisted the ring on her finger, glancing at her nails. They were now a bright red color as were her toes. She'd been able to do her fingernails herself, but Kaylee had insisted. The toenails were another matter altogether. She couldn't have done those herself right now no matter if she wanted to or not.

Eyes. Hair. Mouth. Dress. Hands. Feet. Glamour. Face. Excitement.

From head to toe she was dazzling. Or at least Kaylee had said so. Kaylee had helped her set the stage and now River was left alone to anticipate just what Mal's reaction was going to be to the setting and the direction she was hoping the action would take.

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**Part Eleven**

Word Count: 4,988
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #19-Sex (which means this part will be rated FRM)

She heard him open the door, putting an end to any second thoughts she might have had about this plan. For a brief moment she thought she might throw up.

"River? Kaylee said you were looking for me. You all right?"

His tone echoed the concern she read in his thoughts, which made the thought of changing her mind go away along with the feeling she was going to throw up. She could do this.

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She had taken great care to be sure she looked perfect. With Kaylee's help. She couldn't help but worry that her version of perfect and his might be different.

There'd been a time she admired her mother. Never a hair out of place, a nail chipped, a flaw in her makeup. She was perfect. As a little girl, River had tried to imitate her mother's efforts. Never achieving the same success. She was worried, despite Kaylee's assurances to the contrary, that she had gotten no better at it.

Kaylee had talked her into the nightgown she and Zoe had bought her before the wedding. If Kaylee knew it hadn't been worn, the woman didn't say anything. This one was nothing like the other one Kaylee had bought by herself. This was, well, worthy of a wedding night. White and long, cut low to draw attention to her breasts. She had giggled at her reflection, because she wasn't stupid enough to think she had much cleavage. Though that was changing, even if it was just a little bit. Better yet, it looked nice on her and still accounted for her pregnancy. How'd they found it, she'd never know.

"D'we have a power failure or," he stopped short when he actually came into the bed portion of their room. "Something." She saw him process the setting. Candles, all kinds of candles, everywhere. She'd have to remember to replace them or give Kaylee the money to replace them. Because if things went the way River planned, she wouldn't remember to blow them out anytime soon. Kaylee had helped her pick some music and once Kaylee had left she put not just the waves on Do Not Disturb but the comm, too. She wasn't going to let anything interfere with her plan tonight, not even herself.

"No," she said finally, doing her best to stay out of his mind. She couldn't resist taking a little peak, though, and blushed at the brief thought she was privy to.

"I guess not. Wow. I mean," his eyes finally rested on her and she felt like she was under a microscope he was looking so closely. "Kaylee help you?"

She fidgeted a little. "Yes."

"Figured as much."

She frowned, nibbling on the inside of her cheek lightly. "You don't like it?"

"River, honey, if you're in my head at all you know that ain't the case. Never had anyone go to so much trouble for me."

"I meant me," she said with a tilt of her head. That throwing up feeling was back. He didn't like it. She'd trusted Kaylee to tell her if she looked too different. She wanted to be River, just a prettier River. A River that her child would watch and admire, thinking she was the prettiest mom in the world. Same as she'd done.

"How can you even ask me that?"

"Because you're still standing over there like you're not sure you know who I am."

"I just ain't never seen you. Not like this. Where'd you get that now?"

"Zoe and Kaylee, before the wedding."

"My crew seems to have you seducing me on their minds."

"Funny," she whispered.

"What's that?"

"Their minds seem to be in agreement with mine."


She held her finger up to her lips, saw his eyes widen when he caught sight of her nails. It was one of those times that he thought too loudly and she couldn't stop from reading him. Seemed he liked red and envisioning what she might have in mind for the painted nails. She smiled at that, knowing she was blushing, too.

"Toes, too," he said, his voice catching a little as she closed the distance between them, toes peaking out from the end of the nightgown.

"Yeah," she whispered. One day maybe she'd be good at this, seduction. For now, though, she felt clumsy and as if her intelligence in all other matters let her down immensely. Not wanting to keep talking, because they could talk for hours if they got started, she kissed him.

His arms went around her and he kissed back. Last night had taken care of any last bouts of doubt or hesitation he had. Last night had been different, kissing for kissing's sake once she'd woken up after the first time. Tonight, he seemed to realize she meant to get past passing out on him.

He grabbed hold of a bit of her nightgown at her hip, twisting and tugging on it as she parted her lips and found his tongue with hers. She didn't wait for him to initiate. She wanted, she sought, she found, and groaned at her first taste of him for the night.

She turned them without breaking the kiss, backing him up against the bed. He sat, which was the plan. Her hands made deliberate movements, still learning as she worked the buttons on his shirt, parting it so she could touch him. Feel his heat, the curves of his chest, the tapering of his waist to his hips, the scars and blemishes he had expressed concern she'd grow tired of looking at. As if.

She broke the kiss, sliding kisses along his jaw and neck. She made her way lower, felt him tense a little as she found one scar and kissed it, licked it with her tongue before moving a little lower to the next, even lower to the one she'd said she'd choose to erase if she could.

Her heart was racing, she had to force herself to keep that under control. She knew that was part of the reason she'd passed out the night before. Sensory overexcitement. His soft groans of approval weren't helping her with that.

He placed his hand over hers when she reached for his belt. She looked up at him, tongue skimming along his belly.

"River, you don't. I mean, what you've done here is nice and all, but just last night…"

She lifted her head away from his abdomen, placing a finger over her lips again. He grinned a little, his eyes falling closed when she slid her hand out from under his and found the bulge through his pants. She cupped it, stroking it as best as she could. His mind was whirling with things and she had to struggle to stay out, though a couple images she'd like to try. Later when she had more confidence in what she was doing.

"All right. They do say never to argue with a pregnant woman," he said softly, undoing his belt himself. She nipped at the skin at his lower abdomen, working the fastening on his pants. She was moving awfully fast. She knew that and that realization was echoed in his thoughts. More out of concern for her, that she felt obligated somehow.

"Not obligated," she whispered, her tongue and mouth finding his hip as she worked his pants off. He helped, lifting his hips off the bed just enough. She noticed when she looked up that he'd slid his shirt the rest of the way off, too. He took her breath away, which ironically she caught him thinking about the same time - when she took him into her mouth.

He slid a hand to her hair, running his fingers through it and pushing it back. Kaylee had mentioned he might like to watch her do this. One thing she was grateful for, Kaylee didn't seem to think it was odd River hadn't done these things. She, like the others, just assumed that whatever resulted in the baby had just been the basics without all the trimmings. River knew this from their thoughts.

Well, River knew she wanted it all, not just the basics. And Mal thought the same thing as she worked at taking more and more of him into her mouth. A hand at the base, the other cupping him she worked at tasting him, getting adjusted to him, the feel of him.

"bao bay," he whispered through clenched teeth. "Not sure just where you wanted this to go tonight. If you were wanting more than this you best be stopping pretty soon. It's been a while since." He stopped to groan as she grazed the tip of him with her tongue. She gave a muffled giggle when his thoughts got jumbled in his head. That meant she was doing it right.

He used both hands to move her head, meeting her eyes. "I'm going to sound very old fashioned and perhaps a little primal here. So forgive me."

"All right," she whispered, licking her lips to enjoy the taste of him.

"Stop doing that. Can't think too clearly when your mouth looks so." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "And stay out of my thoughts right now." He chuckled, so he wasn't mad. She was tempted to do the opposite of his request, but he so seldom asked her to refrain.


"As much as I liked what you were doing just now, I want to merge with you right proper." She groaned as the visual came to her despite her best efforts to block his thoughts from intruding on her mind. "Yeah," he whispered. "Be deep inside you when I finish. I need that. Don't know why."

"It's okay," she said with a smile, standing to begin removing her nightgown.

"Nuh uh, allow me," he whispered, a devilish gleam in his eyes that made parts of her practically gush from excitement. He slid off the bed and she took a step back to accommodate him in the small space in front of her.

He was slow about it. "Too slow," she murmured as he took his time, peeling the nightgown up inch by torturous inch. His hands weren't soft like hers. They were rough, well used from years of hard work first on a ranch, then in the military and now on Serenity. He was a hands on kind of man, and as he skimmed her inner thighs with the pads of those rough thumbs she was forever grateful that he was that way.

"I'm sorry. Did you say something?"

"No," she whispered.

He knelt higher, the nightgown hovering around her waist now.

"Mrs. Reynolds, you didn't mention you weren't wearing anything underneath."

She blushed. "Is that bad?" She knew he was teasing.

"Mm, bad? No. Naughty? Yes, but that's okay."

If it was possible, she got even wetter. And he hadn't even really touched her yet. She had no idea what was normal for her and she'd read in one of Simon's books that could happen with pregnancy.

"I think you need to sit for this next part. You hadn't passed out on me yesterday I wouldn't suggest it, but well."

She blushed but managed a laugh. She imagined that was one of those things he'd never let her live down. Even if the next hundred times it never happened again. She sat on the bed and started to inch up, to lay on it.

"Can't do that."

"I what?"

It was his turn to blush and it was rather attractive on him. "I might have read somewhere that you aren't supposed to lay on your back for too long."


"And I ain't planning on being brief here. Unlike me, there's ain't no limit to how many times I can pleasure you. Well, not to say I can't more than once in a night."

She laughed then. "Yes, I can read your thoughts very clearly on that."

"Can ya now?" He gathered her legs around his arms. "You will know first hand by the morning."

She was about to say something back, but all possibility of talking let alone thinking left her when he slid his tongue along her opening, then up higher. She cried out, grabbing onto the blanket with both her hands as he hit a particularly sensitive spot. The spot.

"You okay, bao bay?"

She couldn't give him a coherent answer just then, her body was still quivering from just that little sampling. She merely nodded. She leaned back then on her elbows, wondering when he'd bothered to look up things she should and shouldn't be doing. Until he did that, "oh," she cried out, thing with his tongue again and pushed thoughts of anything but what he was doing aside.

Maybe last night had just been the shock of him actually touching her, wrapping her mind around the fact that he wanted to touch her. He was certainly doing more than touching her breast, especially right now as he slid a finger inside of her.

He was thorough, there was no doubting that. There was a spell where she thought she would pass out, just because she couldn't possibly have another. He proved her wrong though, again and again.

Propped up on her elbows she was able to watch, tapping into his thoughts only served to turn her on more and he had to know that. Feel what he did to her. She was ready for him and he seemed to be, too, as he kissed a path over her pregnant belly, lifting the nightgown the rest of the way up, over her head, and off.

She placed her hands at his shoulders as he lowered his mouth to a breast, taking the sensitive nipple between his lips. Her arms went around his neck, holding her to him. She didn't want to let him go, didn't want him to stop yet she wanted more. Her legs went around his waist, drawing him even closer to her.

He lifted his mouth from one breast to the other, stimulating the now abandoned one with his fingertips. He seemed awful proud of himself in his thoughts that she was still with him tonight. They ended up side by side on the bed somehow. She wasn't exactly sure how it happened, she was too lost in the sensations he was giving her.

And then his mouth was on hers, hand traveling along her waist, over her belly, between her legs and he continued where he left off with his mouth. She was ready, as ready as she was going to be anyway. She shifted, sitting up her eyes meeting his. She knew the logical way they'd join together wouldn't work right now. Her imagination had only taken her to the other more obvious way. She was sure if she asked or sought his thoughts she'd get a plethora of others, but for right now this would do.

He seemed to understand that, because without question he went from his side to his back so she could straddle him. He must have sensed she was more than a little self-conscious. Not so much about what they were about to do as the fact that he was seeing her without her clothes on for the first time. All of her. He slid a hand to her head, sliding her hair away from her face.

"Even all prettied up you can't keep it from hanging like a curtain, hiding your face."


"Makes you kind of mysterious."

"I guess."

He tilted her chin up a little so she had to look him straight in the eyes. "In case I forgot to mention it earlier due to my being enormously surprised by the setting you had here waiting for me. You're quite the sight to behold. The moment I walked in here." His hand slid to her belly. "And even more so now. I won't deny I've never looked twice at a pregnant woman before. Normally, well, they're off limits, them being pregnant is about the biggest tell-tale sign of such a thing. But, you carry it well and it becomes you."

She bit her lip, nodding. "Thank you."

"Welcome. I'm sorry I'm not very good with the poetic, flowery words, but you get my point I think. If not, I'll summarize. I think you're mighty pretty to look at, clothes on or off, pregnant or not, the lip paint and nail polish or not."

She nodded again, lifting her hips. He helped her without her having to ask for it, thank God, position his erection against her opening. His hand stayed there for a minute, the other rested against her hip, clutching it with his fingertips.

She took him inside of her slowly, after a moment he moved his hand from between their legs to her other hip. He helped guide her, letting her set the pace but encouraging her to move. Her eyes widened when she couldn't take him any further. He reached for her head then, bringing himself to a sitting position.

He kissed her then. Hard, deep and long as he pushed up and into her. She felt it then, cried out softly against his kiss. He took it, captured it with his mouth and she saw in his mind that he felt terrible for doing this to her.

It was over almost as soon as it began, the pain. And with that subsiding she was able to focus on him. What he felt like inside of her. What she felt like riding him. What his face looked like as she lifted herself almost completely off of him, only to take him deep in one thrust. She gasped, that one was a little too deep, too hard.

"Slow, bao bay. Slow. Not only is this your first time, but you're more sensitive there right now."

She nodded, but God now that she had him in her she didn't want slow. She wanted it all. Her hands gripped his shoulders for purchase as she slid herself up and down the length of him. The more she slid against him the wetter she got, the more she craved him. He talked of being primal earlier, that was what she felt right now. She had one need right now. Completion with him.

He moved a hand from her hip, around to the small of her back, lower to the curve of her bottom, sliding a finger in the crease there. That was her undoing. Her head fell back and she felt as if a hurricane had just torn through her body. He was right behind her. She liked hearing him lose control, listening as he called her name in the throes of ecstasy, emptying himself into her. She wished at that moment there was some way the baby she was carrying was really his. That by making love now they could make it be.

She rode him, slow and shallow thrusts for a little while after they finished. She liked how he felt, how he made her feel, and she was ready for it all over again. Not immediately, but in an hour or two if he woke her up she wouldn't say no. And then she smiled, wondering why she had to wait for him to wake her up.

"What's that evil looking smile on your face, River?"

"Nothing. Just wondering when we get to again."

"Again? Honey, you're liable to be a little sore."

"Providing I'm willing."

"Willing and able ain't necessarily the same thing."

She giggled softly, resting her head against his shoulder. "Just answer the question."

"Well, I need a little time to recoup myself. With you lying next to me naked, I wager it won't take too long."

"You want me to sleep next to you like this?"

"Hell yes. As pretty as those numbers are you wore, I prefer you just like this. Goes for the rest of what you did tonight. I like you the way you are, River. Don't go changing thinking you need to for me. You want to, now that's a whole other story."

"I didn't. I don't."

He rolled them so they were side by side again. She felt the loss of his being gone from inside of her immediately. She wondered why that was. Would it happen every time?

"I know you heard the conversation I had with Inara this morning."


"This isn't a competition."


He tapped her lips with a fingertip. "There is no but, certainly not after what transpired here tonight. What kind of man do you take me for anyway?"

"A decent one."

"A decent one, huh? So you think a decent man would take a woman's virginity and just move right along? Because why? I want someone with experience."

"Yes," she answered softly, her voice quivering slightly even with the one word answer. "Someone who doesn't pass out on you."

"Weren't no passing out tonight. I probably startled you is all. A little sensory overload that you weren't expecting so weren't ready for. We proved tonight that ain't going to happen again. And if it does, so be it. It's kind of cute. And I confess," he said, gathering her closer. "It's a little flattering. To think I can do that."

She laughed then. "Men."

"Yes, we're pretty easy to figure out." He ran a hand along the curve of her bottom, lower to the back of her thigh and up the, between her legs again. "One track mind most of us if there's a beautiful, willing woman in bed with us."

Her eyes widened as he slid a fingertip along her opening.

"Don't worry, not yet, I'm just playing a little."


"You heard me say it to her, so I won't lie to you now about being attracted to her. But I don't act on every woman I'm attracted to. She's one of them. We have a business deal."

"So do we."

"Yeah, well, the one I made with Inara didn't involve marriage and a baby, just use of my shuttle." He kissed her, deepening it to the point she let out a whimper and a soft sigh.

"Get some rest now, bao bay. There's always the morning. Until the others barge in at any rate."

She laughed, shaking her head, settling her head on her pillow. "Won't happen. Kaylee said she'd make sure we're left alone until we come out."

"I always knew I liked that woman."

"She helped me."

"How'd you get around the fact we ain't never?"

"I just told her we'd only been pretty basic until now and I'd always let you."

"Ah." He brushed a kiss along her chin. She turned onto her other side, preferring it to the other one when she slept for some reason. His arms went around her waist. "You can take the lead any ol' time you want."

"Thank you."

"Thank you, bao bay."

Her eyes grew heavy, his breathing started getting shallower so she knew they were both tired.

"Good night," she whispered.

"Night, River."


First thing Mal noticed when he woke a couple of hours later, he had positioned himself so that erect, like he was working on at the moment, he was between her legs. He tortured himself, thrusting against her but not willing to actually enter her when she was asleep. Not tonight. Another time maybe, once he'd established she wouldn't mind being awakened in such a fashion. He sure as hell wouldn't.

So his plan was to torture himself, teasing his ready body into thinking it'd get another sampling of the sweet nectar between her legs. Until he felt her leg shift, just enough that if he wanted to there'd be no teasing at all but genuine gratification.

"You awake?"

She murmured something he imagined was supposed to be a yes, but came out sounding more like a groan.

"That was a yes, right?"

She turned her head on the pillow, regarding him over her shoulder. "Yes. You seemed to like the idea I might be sleeping."

"Get out of my head, woman."

"Sorry. It's the first thing I do when I wake up."

"What is?"

"Find you that way. See if you're awake."

"Oh," he said, not sure how exactly he felt about that. Flattered in a way he supposed because that meant it wasn't Simon she sought out first thing. Funny he should feel any sort of jealousy of the doctor, but he did in a way at times. Their relationship was such a close one. "I want you awake this time, though."

"Can't rape the willing, Mal."

"Stop that."

She smiled with a laugh and then the vixen turned her head back the way it was on her pillow, pressing her backside against him.

"Don't need to stop that at all," he whispered, sliding a hand between her legs taking extra care to be sure she was ready. He found it a turn on how ready she got for him. This time and the first. As much as he got enjoyment out of her being on top, he liked this way too. It gave him the opportunity to touch more of her. And he wasn't so concerned about hurting her giving it wasn't quite as straight a shot or as deep as with her on top.

He was careful, giving slow thrusts once inside of her until he felt her start to return them. She certainly wasn't shy about taking what she wanted, being an active participant. He liked that. A lot.

The little sounds she made, the breathy groans, the whimpered pleas for more got to him. They had the first time, but he'd been so caught up in actually being inside of her he hadn't paid too much attention to the other goings on.

He found and cupped a breast, causing her to cry out when he grazed a nipple with his thumb. Her hand rested over his and he just about finished there and then when he realized she was mirroring what he was doing to herself. She'd follow his thumb with her own, stroking her own nipple so she was being doubly stimulated.

"No," she whispered to his unasked question as to whether Kaylee had told her that, too. "I'm glad you like it, though."

Like it? There was the understatement of the year. Hands joined he slid them over her belly between her legs.

"Want to help me do this, too," he whispered, kissing her ear and the side of her neck. Instead of helping him, she reached lower so her nails, those bright red nails that he was sure she could do all sorts of things with grazed his shaft as he slid in and out of her.

"Feel good," she whispered, shifting a little which caused him to go deeper. He watched, transfixed as she slid her hand along her body back up to her breast. Sidetracked by watching her and getting all kinds of aroused in the process he'd sort of forgotten about her neck, realizing as he drew away that he'd repaid her favor of the love bits from the other day.

"Don't be sorry," she quipped, again answering his thoughts before he'd even completely formed it.

"Stop that."

She laughed. "Can't help it. And you can do that any time you want."

"Any time?"

She reached behind her, extending one of her fingers to his mouth, which he gladly took and swirled with his tongue. She pulled it back after barely a minute and traced the now damp fingertip along the edge of her hardened nipple. She seemed to time it with her climax thanks to his fingers' ministrations between her legs. And that was it, his undoing. He certainly wasn't setting a very good example here with her tonight.

"You're doing fine."

"I am, huh? I'd like to hear more than fine, but I'll take it for now. Have plenty time to exceed fine."

He drew her to him again, not bothering to pull completely out of her. Not yet, he'd let that happen with the natural progression of things. Having her this way he could do that.

"I think Wash and Zoe might just have the right idea. Never much appreciated it before."

"What's that?"

"Now she chooses not to read my mind."

"I want to hear you say it."

"There's just something appealing about knowing you'll be here in the morning and the one after that. Never saw much appeal in that before beyond trouble and bothersome things."

"For sex?"

He laughed then. "No, not just for sex. Just being here. Not alone."

She turned in his arms to face him, tracing his lips with her fingertips. He nipped one and then another.

"I like the red, by the way."

"I could tell."

"Yeah, well, later with the lights on I'll watch you do that again."

"Do what again?"

"Touch yourself like that."

"You liked that?"

"More than you can imagine."

She smiled wickedly but said nothing.

"Little minx. I'm not sure my thoughts do it justice, so it might just be more than you can imagine."

She stuck her tongue out and he was quick to capture it with his mouth much the same way he'd just done with her fingertip. She started laughing then when he held it between his teeth, unwilling to let it go just yet.

"For the record," she said when he finally let her go. "I think they have the right idea, too."

"Finally, she's not contrary."

"I'm never contrary."

"Right," he said, kissing her, tucking her against him as best he could. She preferred to sleep on the other side so she'd end up turning over but now he could enjoy the feel of her breasts against his and the little one kicking away against his own belly.

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**Part Twelve**

Word Count: 1,714
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #45-Doctor

"Simon," Mal said once he'd found him playing chess with Inara. Now there was an interesting thought. He'd often wondered once Simon settled to the fact Serenity was not just a temporary home if perhaps the companion and the doctor might get along. They certainly had enough in common. He knew Kaylee was sweet on the Doctor, but it wasn't as if he thought that Inara and Simon would do anything beyond be friendly with one another. Like play chess and discuss the finer things in life, that no one else on Serenity seemed to know or care much about.


"Mind if I interrupt you for a minute?"

"No, it's Inara's turn anyway."

"Was hoping you could help me find some of those books you've been reading on River's condition."

"Her condition?"

"Yeah, well, you know, her being pregnant and all. Maybe one that I can understand."

"Is there something wrong?"

"Well, no, not exactly," he said, clearing his throat, hoping Simon would follow as Mal walked out of Inara's earshot.

"Then why do you need books?"

"I need to look something up is all."

"Why don't you just tell me and I can probably answer for you?"

"Well, can I ask you as a doctor and not her brother?"


"Can you set aside the fact this is your sister we're talking about and answer my question truthfully as a medical professional?"

"Mal, of course I'm not going to risk her health."

"No, she's fine, I assure you. It's just that."

Mal closed his mouth. Simon clearly didn't believe him. Damn this was all types of embarrassing. What man in his right mind complained about such a thing? Him was who. And he really wasn't complaining, more just double checking. Nary had a night had gone by the past month that a repeat of their first night together intimate-like hadn't been repeated. There were a few times during the day, too, more than a few now that he thought about it. And the morning. And when it wasn't being recreated he was discovering there were many ways to please a frisky woman. Even more ways for said woman to drop hints that such was her condition. She wasn't afraid to drop them neither. And she got off so easy most times that it hardly took him any time at all when all she wanted was a quick fix.

He was aware that perhaps they were at differing ends of their sexual peaks. He tried to take that into account and while he wasn't decrepit, his days of going round the clock were in the past. Or so he'd thought. At least she didn't seem to take it personal and seemed to enjoy his solutions those few times he'd just had to say enough.

"I really just want a book with some information about the appetites that come with pregnancy."

"I thought she was eating better now that we've been stocking up on fruit and vegetables. All of her tests come back fine and I was going to do an ultrasound in another week or so to see if she's still on track."

"Not those appetites," Mal hissed with a roll of his eyes. "Lord, for an educated man you sure need me to spell things out for you."

"Oh," Simon said, his eyes widening.

"There ya go," Mal said, realizing the good doctor slash his brother-in-law was catching on.

"A decreased libido is to be expected, especially this late in the pregnancy, Mal. She could give birth pretty safely any time now. A few more weeks would be ideal, but the baby would survive just fine now. Just think of it as preparation for the abstaining you'll have to do after the baby comes."

Well, now that he didn't know. He wondered if the little nympho of a woman who'd taken over River's body was aware of that.

"I'm sorry, did you say abstinence? As in a period we can't?"

"Yes, she'll need to heal. Perhaps this is just her subconscious way of getting you used to that fact."

"I'm sorry? What? Say that in regular people English speak please?"

He rolled his eyes.

"It's nothing personal, Mal. It's natural. She probably feels unattractive and clumsy. She's probably sore, breasts tender, positions are perhaps more limited now. Her body might be producing some colostrum already and she might think that will bother you."

He had no idea what Simon just said was. He'd have to look that up himself later. He already felt like a giant idiot talking to him about this to begin with. "No, no, you're misunderstanding." He raked his hand through his hair, shoving the hand in his pocket once he'd finished. "Look. Would you just find me a book? I mean, there's got to be a book out there with questions and answers about normal things not problems. I'll look it up myself."

"Well, now you have me curious."

"She'd all kinds of kill me if she thought I was talking to you about this."

"Mal, I'm a doctor, I can't help her or you if you can't tell me what's wrong."

"Oh good heavens," Inara said from behind them. Mal wondered if Simon, too, had forgotten she was there. "If you're going to try and keep me from being privy to the conversation at least have the courtesy to leave the room. I can hear you both. I'm right here and you stopped whispering almost right away. I believe, Simon, in addition to it being your move that is. That what Mal is implying is that his wife's sexual appetites have increased not decreased."

"Yeah," he nodded simply. Glad someone else had said it instead of him. "What she said."

"And this is a problem?"

"Well, no, of course it isn't. Just don't get much sleep some nights. Most nights. Every night. I just wondered if it was normal that's all. Healthy. I mean we won't hurt the baby none or anything right?"

"I'd say it's a little late to be worrying about hurting the baby if that was really your concern. I told you both right away that it wasn't a problem barring complications. And she's had none. She's healthy, her labs continue to come back good. She's had no Braxton Hicks contractions. So, you can remain active in that capacity until she delivers."

"Well now, that's a frightening thought, Doc."

"I meant goes into labor."

"So, it's normal?"

"It's not abnormal. This isn't my specialty, and I admit the books and articles I've been studying have been on the life and death issues I might have to contend with as her doctor. So, this is mostly by memory of what I learned in medical school and picking up information as I skimmed sections in my reading."

"Are you both that clueless?" Inara threw up her hands. "You're a doctor. And you," she said, pointing at Mal. "You're complaining about this? Men around the universe would kill to have your complaint. Why do you think companions stay in business? There will always be married men whose wives just don't see to their needs anymore. Besides, isn't it you who got yourself into this mess in the first place unable to keep parts in your pants where they belonged?"

"Hey, now, that's very uncalled for. I'm talking to Simon. And I don't think I said one word that's come out sounding like a complaint. It's just gotten worse, for lack of a better word, the past month or so is all." It's not like he kept tally on a calendar or anything, but their first night together would be a hard date to forget.

"As long as her tests keep coming back fine, you're all right," Simon said.

"Thank you. That's the answer I was looking for. You'd think it was a crime for me to be concerned about such a thing. And not a word to anyone about this, ya hear? She already feels quite freakish as it is. No need adding to it, and if Jayne got word of this he'd have a field day. I really don't feel like losing him at this point over something foolish."

"Have you asked her about it?"

"Well, no, of course not. What's a man supposed to say? Excuse me but you're sexin me too much is there a problem?"

"There's another aspect to this you haven't stopped to consider," Simon said.

"What's that?"

"You've never been married nor had a woman in your bed every night before. Maybe what you're experiencing is normal and you just don't know it."

"I, well," Mal closed his mouth. Simon might have scored a point there. Mal really had no idea how women worked on a regular basis. And it'd taken them a couple of months to get to the point of actually having the sex everyone thought they were having plenty of. "If that's the case, you'd best plan on lots of nieces and nephews." And he'd be needing a bigger ship.

"More than I needed to know," Simon called to Mal's already retreating back.

He had the answer he sought. There was no danger. He hadn't thought about the fact what she was going through was just who she was and not a result of pregnancy. That, he mused, as he worked his way to the bridge was something he'd have to think over. She was pretty agile even eight months pregnant. He could just imagine what she'd be like with no bump there to get in the way.

"Sir," Zoe said when Mal entered.


"Is there something wrong?"

That warmth he felt must have been a flush of his skin. There was Zoe leaning up against the very controls that a few mere hours ago he'd. Well, best not go there when she wasn't around. Where was she, he wondered? He hadn't seen her in a couple of hours now that he thought about. He placed a hand at the back of his neck, not liking the feeling of worry that washed over him just then. Because, these days, her going an hour without reminding him of the prize she was just wasn't at all normal.

"No, nothing. Tell me the news," he said, taking his seat.

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**Part Thirteen**

Word Count: 2,001
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #13-Sonogram

Mal watched rather transfixed. Simon had explained to him before the first one he'd done how the machine worked. He wanted Mal to understand the one he'd been able to come by while outdated would still work. Always with the letting Mal know there was something better out there. Like Mal twisted his arm to get him in the situation he was in currently.

He had rambled on with medical jargon that went over Mal's head. Essentially, what he'd gotten out of it is the purpose of the device was to measure the baby, measure River inside where the baby was currently housed and make sure that things were on track for the due date Simon had given River.

Hard to believe four months had gone by already and she was on the last leg of this ordeal. Simon had been right about one thing during their talk about River's sex drive. She was changing. She expressed discomfort with things now that just a month ago she got pleasure from. And the perky breasts he'd gotten much enjoyment off of the past month she was no longer keen on being touched, with his hands or his mouth. They adjusted, more because she still wanted him just in different ways.

He wasn't sure what all was actually sore or uncomfortable beyond her feet and back, which he did his best to tend to whenever he could. She wasn't a complainer. There'd been a time or two the last few days he'd seen unshed tears in his eyes. When asked about it she'd wave it off and say the baby was kicking particularly painful just then. He had no way of knowing if that was true or not.

He just hoped if she actually got to the point of needing something she'd speak up. Unlike her, he had no way of knowing if she didn't talk about it.

He tuned into Simon again who was pointing out legs and a butt as well as the evidence that it was a boy. He'd seen X-rays of course, but this was live like a wave. The baby was moving and turning.

"Look at that, he's sucking his thumb," Mal said. He'd never thought about what he might be doing in there. He supposed he had to pass the time doing something.

"Everything's looking good," Simon said, moving the wand-like thing along River's belly. "His head is down, he's low but not too low so I don't think you've dropped yet."


"It would be a sign she's ready to go into labor, the baby shifts, moves down to prepare for delivery."

"Ah," Mal said with a nod.

"And really, he could safely be born any time now. Another couple of weeks would be ideal, but from this point on, I'd feel comfortable not bringing him to a hospital for neo-natal care."

"Thanks, Simon."

"Don't thank me. I'm experiencing this all new myself. Any questions, mei-mei?"

"I don't feel him moving as much anymore."

"He's running out of room. He'll continue to grow, they gain about half of a pound a week from this point forward I read. The sonogram is weighing him in at not quite seven pounds. So, if you carry to term you'd be looking at about nine pounds."

"That seems like a lot for someone as slight as River."

"This can be off by a pound either way. So, she might be closer to six pounds."

"Or could be closing in on eight, which would bring him up to ten pounds going by the math you gave earlier."

"Yes. This isn't an exact science, Mal. Going back to River's question. It's normal for the movements to decrease in intensity, but you should still pretty frequent movements even if they're smaller. So, if you don't, you need to tell me. All right, mei-mei?"

"Yes, Simon, I heard you."

He smiled at that, gesturing for Mal to take the wand-like thing. "You want me to hold this?"

"Yeah. Just like that. Let's see if we can get you a picture."

"Like the last one?"

"Yes, compare the two and you'll be amazed at how much he's grown just in this time."

"I already am, don't need to see that first picture to remember."

Simon did whatever needed doing with the machine to get the picture on thermal paper out and handed it to Mal.

"I'll just step out now," he said so that Simon could get on with the rest of the exam. He knew he'd have to be there for the birth of the baby, but there was just something sort of uncomfortable about sitting there watching her brother poke and prod her.

She came out a little while later and looked a little sad.

"Nervous?" He watched as River fixed her dress. She gave herself away by fiddling with the sleeve.

She shot him a glance with a tilt of her head.

"Right. Why'd I ask? Ain't nothing to fret over. Simon said so. Just routine to make sure you're moving along and about where he thinks you are."

"What if it's not normal?"

"What do you think they'd do? Plant you with a Reaver egg? I don't see them doing that, much as I hate to say that I think even they have limits."

"I just wish we know how it happened."

"You want to tell Simon the truth?"

She grew quiet then, sliding on the soft shoes she'd taken to wearing. A step up from barefoot. She couldn't see her feet so well anymore so he insisted she wear something to protect them. He had no idea where all she visited on the ship, but there wasn't any place she couldn't get into and some could be dangerous.

"I'm not sure it would matter at this point."

"Well, he can be prepared in the event there is something wrong or different."

She shrugged ever so slightly and Mal walked up behind her, cupping her shoulders. He grazed the back of her head with a kiss.

"Wouldn't negate things between us or change anything."

"Because we share a bed now?"

"Well, in part, yeah. I've come to rely on you as a part of my life and I reckon you feel the same way. I feel you touching my mind now. Not sure what that's about, but it's like butterfly wings once in a while. And I know it's you. Used to find it invasive, but I like knowing you check on me."

She shrugged again and he sighed heavily.

"I'm not sure what you want me to say, River. I haven't spent the last month plus with you the way that we have with the thought to cast you aside."

"And if we hadn't spent it the way that we have?"

"Well, I already told you I realized a while ago this deal was going to keep us together for a while. Have I given you reason to believe I'm despondent about that somehow?"

"No," she said simply. There were times he wasn't sure if she was really upset or if it was the hormones. Or a little of both.

He slid an arm around her waist, spinning her to face him.

"Come on now. You have me, me of all people, looking at sonogram pictures and thinking this little guy might be kind of cute."

"Kind of?"

"Well, yeah, and if he's even an ounce as smart as you are. Well, look out world. And I reckon whatever sperm they planted you with belongs to someone equally as smart and gifted as you are. If not more so. He won't be the most handsome thing, cuz that'd be taking after me." He hoped she read him to know he was teasing. "That means we're set to have a pretty amazing son."


He nodded slightly in understanding. "Is that what this moping is about? You think I'm going to stick you with everything and go about my business? Come on now. I've been putting that lotion stuff on your belly. Even before we made with the intimacy I did that. I rub your feet whenever I can, same as your back. I see to it there's fruit and the tomatoes you're fond of onboard now. And if you told me other things you wanted or needed I'd do that, too."

She was still quiet and he wasn't sure if what he was saying was registering or what was going on with her. He leaned down and kissed her lightly, just a brushing of his lips over hers. "We will do this together, River. Can't say as I know what I'm doing, but I'll help. It'll prepare us for the next one maybe."

"The next one."

"If things go well with the rest of this one and you were of the mind. Yeah. Maybe get a girl who looks like her mother."

"I used to love watching my mother." River took hold of the picture then, peering at it with an intense scrutiny she normally reserved for difficult texts she perused. And memorized in two seconds. "He will be a handsome child because people will see what they want to see. You as the father and they will find him handsome."

"Is that your way of giving me a compliment, bao bay?"

"I think so."

"I accept," he said, latching onto her mouth with a greater intensity than the first one moments ago. "Let's go see about finding that last picture your brother gave us and see how much he's grown."

"I love him," she said, placing a hand over her pregnant belly.

"Of course you do."

"If something happens…"

He shushed her right quick with talk like that. "If something happens, I choose you, River. You hear me. And no doubt or question in my mind. We can make another baby. I cannot make another you."

"You could get another wife."

"I don't want another wife. I didn't want one to begin with, but I've grown used to the one I have and the fact she keeps me awake all night most times. My crew is starting to think I'm slacking off because I sleep so late mornings now. So, no, thank you, you hands down or none. I'm not raising some child planted in you by the Alliance on my own. That'd just be all kinds of twisted."


"Back to Inara again. I thought we'd settled this a while ago. If I'd wanted Inara in this way, don’t you think I would have done something about it? Come on. You can read my mind, River. Have you ever once read anything in there that said I'd prefer her?"

She held up the picture again. It wasn't the clearest thing, but the details were there in black and white. "You will love him?"

"As if he's my own, bao bay."

"If he is able to read…"

"Yeah, I know, I'll need to work at keeping thoughts of the Alliance out of my head. I make no promises."

She looked at him then. There was something she was looking for, wanting from him. If she'd just tell him he'd give it to her. Didn't she know that by now? She'd get around to it in her own time. She always did. Sometimes it was random statements that made no sense by themselves, but when put together became clear. He would wait for where the trail would lead him this time.

"A month."

"A month and you will hold him because you're going to be fine. Between Simon and me, we won't let anything happen to you."

"I can't wait to meet him."

"You know, a few months ago I wouldn't have said this, but I admit I can't either. Seeing him moving like that, though, doing something so human-like as thumb sucking."

"Nothing's going to happen to me."

"Damn straight," he said simply, though he wondered if she had a more direct line on that intel than he did.

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**Part Fourteen**

Word Count: 2,540
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #27-Acceptance

River was resting. Simon suggested she rest as much as possible for the remainder of her pregnancy because once the baby came she'd likely not get much. Mal wasn't sure if that was a slight at him, suggesting he was going to leave everything in River's lap. Or if that was just the way it went. So many things he'd learned during this process.

Things were quiet everywhere on the ship actually. So, he took himself to the bunk better known these days as the nursery. If someone had told him when he bought this boat that he'd have a nursery on here he'd a laughed them all the way back to whatever insane planet they'd come from. Yet, here it was. Blues and yellows and greens aplenty. No pink. River had been that sure from the beginning it was a boy and, as it turned out, she was right.

Kaylee, Zoe and Inara had been busy planning a shower for the next day. It was kind of spur of the moment, but they were finally some place that the womanfolk thought they could do something like that right.

He supposed there was something to be said for Hera being that some place. Coming full circle in his life. The man he'd become had taken shape here with Serenity Valley and here they were visiting it when River was due to deliver a baby any day really. As far as everyone onboard Serenity was concerned he was about to become a father.

And really he was. No one but River knew anything else might be true. The after birthing part was what made the father. Or he'd always thought so. Anyone could make a baby.

"You are still awake," Jayne's voice came from behind him.

"Yeah, just trying to put together this crib. Reckon we're closing in on the time we'll actually need it. I kept putting it off, but we're down to crunch time now."

"Oh," came Jayne's rather bland reply. The merc had been rather aloof and distant over the past couple of months. Mal wasn't sure why and he really didn't try too hard to figure out the puzzle that was Jayne Cobb. He supposed there might be some question in Jayne's mind as to whether he told River the truth about that day at the hospital. Mal hadn't. No sense in it. She might have picked it out of his brain, but she never commented on it.

"Looks all right in here," Jayne said simply after more than a few minutes of silence had passed between the two men.

Mal raked his fingers through his hair, regarding Jayne.

"Why I believe that might be the first nice thing you've said about all of this. Are you feeling well, Jayne?"

"Very funny, Mal. It seems you've always got something to do or are holed up in your bunk with…" he paused just long enough that Mal noticed, "…River."

"Yes, well, like I mentioned a while ago I'd like for us not to have to jump right into a job after the baby comes."

"What if the haul of a lifetime comes about?"

"Well then, I suppose I'd rethink my opinion on the subject. As for now, it ain't happened. And I'm planning on taking some time off for a bit. River's a tiny thing, no way of knowing just what's going to happen."

Quiet again. When did things get so uncomfortable between them? All because he'd married River?

"You know she's good people," he said finally.

"Ain't saying she's not. Just crazy a bit and, well, surprising is all. I always just assumed marriage wasn't your thing."

"People change, Jayne."

"Yeah, I get that."

More quiet.

"So, you need help or something?"

Mal gave the merc a curious glance. "You offering?"

"Yeah, Seems to me two sets a hands would get that thing together a lot faster than just one."

"Well, you surprise me, Jayne. You coming around to the fact this is really happening?"

He smiled slightly at that. "Yeah, but don't tell anyone. If that baby keeps me awake, though, I'm going to take crazy's, err River's, old bunk."

"Reckon I couldn't blame ya." Jayne looked a bit nervous at the moment and Mal couldn't figure out what that was about. "Something a matter, Jayne?"

"Nah, just wondering," he said, pulling a couple of cigars out of his pocket. "Too early to share these together?"

"No, I never heard of any steadfast rule about cigars and fathers, though I think it's supposed to be me giving it to you."

"Well, you don't smoke 'em, so I'd be waiting for years for that to happen."

"Good point," Mal said, taking the offered cigar. "You didn't poison it or anything?"

"Now why'd I go and do a thing like that?"

"Just making sure, you haven't been particularly amicable toward me of late."

"Not sure what that means, but I get it ain't good. I'm just staying out of your way. I may not be the smartest man, but I know newlyweds don't want to be bothered. And when it ain't your bed being warmed ya really don't want the reminder neither."

Huh, Mal mused to himself. Jayne Cobb could actually be considerate.

"I've even gone so far as to give Kaylee looks I ain't ever thought about giving her before."

"That's all we need. You stay away from my mechanic!"

"Hey, I ain't doing nothing. I was just making conversation. Thought we could do that. 'sides, I know she's sweet on the doc and all, but with Inara and Simon spending so much time together lately." He shrugged. "I'm not looking for entanglements and if anything I don't want the distraction of regular trim like you had, last thing I need is a little Cobb running around."

Mal couldn't help but laugh at that.

"And it's a good thing what you did."

"What's that?"

"Marrying her. I'm not too fond of her, no question there, but a man gets a girl in the family way he's got a responsibility. A girl like her anyway. Reckon they don't get much more innocent and I would have been disappointed if you'd done anything else. That's all I'm saying."

Mal hated to admit it, but Jayne made him feel like a cad just then. She had been innocent, married him to keep herself and her baby safe. And he'd gone and let things get entirely too personal. He didn't mind necessarily and she had been the initiator so evidently she didn't mind either. He shouldn't have mentioned earlier the idea of another baby. He had no business talking like that. For all he knew eventually she'd up and leave, baby and all, tired of life like this. Not that he'd blame her, which was why he'd told her the night he'd given her his mother's ring that he'd grant the annulment or whatever was needed if she ever decided this weren't the life for her. It was a tough life, even for him and he had a nomad's heart.

Realizing Jayne was quiet, probably waiting for some sort of a response from Mal to what he'd just said. "Thanks I think. We're okay then?"

"I admit I've been waiting to see if you were going to leave me off somewhere. I wouldn't blame ya, especially seeming as how she was already pregnant when," he shrugged. "Well, we both know what I done, no sense rehashing the details. Anyway, might not have let her have it if they'd gotten a hold of her, deprived you of a family. And you wouldn't have known about it neither. Would you have? It wasn't until after you found out she was preggers."

"Right, I think it was somewhere around there it happened." That was more accurate than Jayne would ever realize.

Mal hadn't thought about that. Was Jayne feeling guilty? There was an interesting thought. Both men clipped and lit the cigars.

"You're not saying I caused this?"

"You? How could you possibly? Unless you have some sort of invisibility powers I'm not aware of, wasn't no one there for what got me into this situation but me and the missus."

Jayne exhaled with a huff, waving the smoke from the cigar away in the process. "Never mind. It doesn't matter anyway. Does it? Can't undo it."

"No, I suppose not."

"Just don't expect me babysit or nothing."

"Speaking for both River and myself, Jayne, I think that's something you'll never need to fret about."

"Yeah, I expect I'm the last you'd call on for that."

"Just about."

"And with Inara, Kaylee, Simon and probably even Zoe on board, I suspect the baby won't lack for attention. Lots of aunts and uncles even if they ain't by blood."

"Ain't nothing wrong with the type of family you make for yourself, Jayne. We done all right for ourselves here, this ship and its crew are all the family I'd ever need. Adding River and little Mal, Simon too, into the mix is just another layer."

More quiet as the two men went to work on assembling the crib.

"You still gonna let her come out on jobs?"

"Plan on it. She's a might useful, wouldn't you say?"

Jayne snorted at that. "I guess you would see it that way."

"Right. Because not only is having someone who can read minds going into a situation a bad idea. Couple that ability with someone who can handle a gun better with her eyes closed than most can with their eyes open. That'd sure be a foolish path to follow, cutting her in on business."

"Don't know why you need to do that. You're married to her, she's your responsibility, and you can get her whatever she wants."

"And you'd want no access to money of your own? You 'd want to ask permission to, oh, say buy another weapon? Or," Mal said, gesturing to the cigars they were currently partaking in the enjoyment of. "Need to ask permission to get yourself a handful of these when the mood strikes you? Or how about the pastimes you enjoy engaging on when we're planet side?"

"Like you didn't either. Don't go getting high and mighty just cuz you've got someone to keep your bunk warm now."

"Ain't said I didn't. And that's not what we're talking about here. She was held captive for years, Jayne. She gets out here, her brother's given up everything to save her so the lifestyle they were used to is gone. Wouldn't you like the ability to be able to earn two coins to rub together that you could call your own?"

"I guess," Jayne mumbled.

The crib assembled, the cigars finished there wasn't much left to do.

"Doesn't look very big, does it?"

"No," Jayne said in agreement now that they both had a moment to step back and look at their handiwork. "How long will he sleep in there? And you're not really going to call him Mal Junior, are you?"

"I don't know the answer to the first question and no, unless River decides at the last minute that's what she wants. I just wanted something to call him. And it made Simon madder at hell toward the beginning there."

Both men chuckled at that.

"There are worse men he could be named after I suppose."

Mal couldn't deny the words touched him. For Jayne that was as close to pouring his heart out Mal was going to get.

"You're a good man, Jayne, thanks for the cigar and for letting me know you're coming around to the fact there's going to be a baby here shortly."

"Don't see how I've got much choice in the matter."

"Looked for other places to hang your hat?"

"I won't lie to you. You know me."

"Yes. Well, that time comes, let me know. Make no assurances I can meet or even beat the offer but I'd like the chance."

"Right. Night then."

"Night," Mal said. He wanted a few more minutes to take in the room. Soon it wouldn't look like this, sterile, unlived in. It was full of new things that had only been touched to be put in their places. He'd bought the majority of it, but Simon'd pitched in for the crib and he reckoned at the shower tomorrow what was missing from the essentials list would be present and accounted for.


"Yeah, Jayne," Mal turned, regarding the merc who looked like whatever was on his mind was a might painful.

Jayne shook his head. "Just realized I might have neglected to ever say congratulations."

"Thanks," Mal said, not sure if he was able to mask his surprise. He was proficient at keeping his face pretty stoical, always prepared for the unexpected. Except this time, Jayne'd blindsided him. And with that, Jayne was gone.

Mal didn't stay long after that. He joined River in bed, sleeping on the side she preferred.

"He'll love him, too," she whispered.


"Jayne Cobb. He has a heart, just doesn't want anyone to see it. They will, though."

"You shouldn't invade people's private conversations when you're not even present to make them think you might be listening in."

"I wasn't intentionally. You were both tense and I couldn't help it."

"Wasn't sure what he wanted when he first came in."

"He wasn't sure either. Doesn't like the way things are, but unsure how to fix them. The baby will help, when they see he's real."

"I reckon you're right," Mal said, sliding an arm around her waist, gathering her to him. "How is he tonight?"

"Good. Quiet, just a few kicks. My ribs have escaped additional bruising tonight."

He chuckled. "I can't even imagine, and I hate to say it but I'm glad."

"Zoe believes if men were the ones to have babies there wouldn't be any."

"She told you that?"

"No, she thinks it often when she sees I'm uncomfortable."

"I reckon she's probably right."

She turned then to face him, fingertips gliding over his face as if she was reading him as a blind person would their Braille. There was that look again, same as earlier. There was definitely something on her mind. She was probably reading him right now and knew he was mystified by it.

"I'm scared," she admitted softly. He knew it took a lot for her to say that.

"I wish I could assure you."

"It's going to hurt. Simon avoids answering my questions."

"I'm sure that it does, that it will. I don't recall ever hearing anyone claim it was an easy thing you're about to have to go through. It'll be worth it, though, when you see him and hold him."

"Curse him for kicking me so rough."

"There ya go."

"And you'll be there?"

"No where else to be. Arranging it so that's so."

"And a big payoff comes around?"

Mal chuckled, realizing she really had stayed lurking for a while then. "The others can do it without me."

She lowered her lashes then, taking a deep breath. Then without another word, she turned onto her preferred side once more. He kissed her neck and shoulder.

"Get some sleep, bao bay. You need the rest."

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**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 her 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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**Part Sixteen**

Word Count: 1,467
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #37-Tiny

Mal felt like the biggest ingrate there was, needing Kaylee to show him how to swaddle little Mal - he would talk to River about her choice in names when she was a little less loopy.

"Babies like to be confined a little, like they were in the womb, Cap'n."

He watched Kaylee, tried to replicate the tucking of the blanket to no avail. Simon was busy keeping an eye on River's vitals while she rested as well as the baby's. She'd pretty much passed out once the baby had come, waking briefly to feed him.

He was preparing to make another go at the whole swaddling thing, unable to resist taking another gander at little Mal's feet and hands. He'd never been around babies more than just to pass them by, barely giving them much notice. He'd never had reason to and what was there to notice really. Both of his feet fit in his hand and then some.

"So, you're the little guy that's been using your Ma as a punching bag these past few months. He can hear me, can't he?" Mal asked Simon.

"Yes. It'll take him a little while to open his eyes and even then he really won't see you for a few weeks, closer to two months. He can hear you, though, and likely recognizes your voice."

"Really now?"

"It's been studied quite extensively, and some say proven, that babies hear and are quite aware in the womb. River first and primarily, of course. River's heartbeat will be reassuring. That's part of the benefits of breastfeeding. There's that closeness to the mother. The scent, the sounds, the voice. But, he would have heard you. All of us, really."

"Huh. Listen to what your uncle's telling me. Learn something new every day."

He tried again with the blanket. He was getting better, not quite tight enough at the shoulders but it would do. He picked him up then, careful to support the head like Simon'd showed him. Who'd have thought there was all these rules and regulations to go with having a baby? Particularly for a man who didn't believe he had a gentle bone in his body. It just wasn't in him to be delicate, cater to those that needed extra care.

Not that he thought they came out of their mothers walking and talking. He knew they were helpless and totally reliant on the parents, which was one reason he'd shied away from becoming one. He really didn't want to be saddled with two more people relying on him. Most of the time he'd let the people down who'd had faith in him.

"He'll probably lose some weight over the next couple of days."

"Why's that?"

"Well, he's on his own now as far as nutrition."

"Oh right, no more umbilical cord."


"So, that's normal then? Nothing to worry about?"

"No. He's a good sized baby as it is. Much bigger, though, I'm not sure we wouldn't have had to do a C-section."

"Is that right?"

"She's just not built to put out ten or eleven pound babies. She could have done it I'm sure, but as tired as she was toward the end there."

"I got ya, Simon. You did all right. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Would you like to hold him?"

"I have."

"Sure ya have, as his doctor. Hold him as his uncle for a spell."

"You are…"

"I reckon there will be plenty of time for me to hold him."

Simon took the baby from Mal's arms. Mal watched as Simon made the transition almost flawlessly. When Mal had taken him from Kaylee it was almost a comedy of errors trying to get him settled right. He had so much to learn about the little guy.

"Are you planning on getting rid of me or something, Mal?"

Mal frowned. Where was that coming from? "No, what makes you think that?"

"Well, I'll have plenty of time, too."

"Oh, right. I just meant I doubt you're going to come up our way and sit up with him when he's crying or what not."

"I just might."

"It's hard for me to imagine seeing one smaller."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, you're talking about him as if he's above average, however slight. That means the average is smaller than this."

"Yes, I'd say nine and a half pounds is above average."

"So, they come smaller than this. That's all I'm saying. He seems small, helpless." Mal grazed a fingertip along the top of the baby's head, the edge of the soft spot there. He had a bunch of dark hair, taking after his mother Mal supposed. Hard to know considering they weren't sure who the other half of the sperm and egg unit was.

"I didn't work on babies often. It wasn't my specialty, and usually when someone was brought into a trauma unit they needed urgent care. So we tried to filter children to the pediatricians. There was one, though."

Mal noticed Simon hugged the little guy a might closer as he spoke. "What?"

"Someone had thrown her in a trash bin, umbilical cord still attached and everything."

"Could you save her?"

"No," Simon said softly. "She'd been exposed to the elements for too long."

"Who'd do such a thing? They'd have to be a monster." Mal needed another person to put under the blanket umbrella of his offered protection, but the little guy was here and already added. The idea that someone would cast something so small, tiny, and completely defenseless aside like rubbish made him itch to find the offender and pistol whip them til they were unconscious. Probably not the thoughts to have about a woman, and more than likely working with people was not Mal's strong suit.

"I don't know and I think you're right. Imagine tossing him aside."

"I can't fathom it," Mal said sincerely. He'd seen and done a lot of crazy things in his lifetime, but those who caused harm to children were lower than low in his book. A torturous death was too good for them.

"Funny, you and I seeing eye to eye on something after all."

"You just have a better pedigree than I do, Doc, I get that."

"I'd like your permission to get a letter to our parents."


"I'd drop it on a moon we don't frequent, where we're not known."

"Why would you want to do that?"

"They deserve to know they're grandparents, Mal."

"Oh, I reckon this is a matter that should be talked over with River. It's okay with me, long as you cover your tracks. Don't need Papa and Mama Tam coming after me. Leave your sister a widow and your nephew a bastard in one swoop."

"My parents aren't that bad."

"They left your sister in the Academy."

"They didn't believe me. It was my fault for not being more convincing, for taking so long to decode River's letters."

"Not your fault, Simon. She's told me as much."

"She has?"

"Yes. I'm always amazed how much talking two people can actually do if they're of the mind."

"And here I thought you were a lecherous man taking advantage of my sister."

"Well, I done that, too," Mal said with a low chuckle. "But we talk. Rather, she talks and I try to not just keep up but understand it all. I teach her things."

"Yes, I've seen what you've taught her. Weapons. How to be a thief."

"Now, I have never taught her how to be a thief."

"Just how to help you be one."

"Well, sure, she doesn't mind. She thinks it's fun."

"She won't think it's so fun when she gets shot, or worse."

"I'm teaching her about the ship, too. She's got a good mind, Simon, now that she's less confused and prone to her crazy fits as Jayne calls them."

"I know, you're not telling me anything I don't already know. I'm sincere when I tell you she's the most intelligent person I will probably ever meet."

"So, how'd she end up with a battered ex-soldier, running this heap? That's what your parents will think." He stood then, placing a hand on Simon's shoulder who was still holding little Mal, looking rather fascinated. "I'm going to get some grub. You think it's safe for River, me and the little one here to inform your parents. Then so be it. I'll throw you out the airlock if they find us and try to harm a hair on my wife or child. So, you'd best think long and hard before making the decision. Got that?"

"Yes, I got it. I just think they ought to know."

"Sometimes, Simon, it's better not to know if what you do with the information would harm or hurt others."

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**Part Seventeen**

Word Count: 1,730
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #10-Milk

She was going crazy again. She was certain of it. Either that or little Mal was. She knew Mal wasn't overly fond of the name. It had nothing to do with the fact the baby wasn't his, which she was relieved to discover from his thoughts. He just didn't understand why she'd want to do such a thing. She'd never be able to explain it to someone like him anyway. And that was why she'd wanted to.

Everything was going smoothly as far as feeding him until today. She'd tried everything she could to get him to latch on and he just wouldn't have anything to do with her breasts. Simon had shown her various ways she could hold him, which she'd tried all of. She'd even tried to come up with a variation or two of her own.

So, it was a very frustrated River and an even more frustrated little Mal that Mal stumbled upon. Little Mal because he was hungry despite his sudden lack of interest in the food she could supply him with. She was past the point of tears, on the verge of hiccups she'd been at it so hard for a while now.

"Hey now, what's going on in here," Mal said, unsure if he should approach or not. Her emotions had been a rollercoaster since going into labor and he had suffered the most because of that. She read that he understood it wasn't personal. She wondered if Simon had told him that. She also wondered when he'd stop understanding. He saw himself as the bad part of their relationship. At least he wasn't verging on insanity when they'd first met.

"I can't do it. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I've tried everything and it still doesn't work."

"Do what, Riv?" He apparently decided it was safe to approach because he took the final steps toward the bed where she sat with her legs crossed, little Mal nestled there where she could bounce him.

"Everything was going so easy. So why has that changed all of a sudden? It makes no sense. Mouth goes to nipple, suckling ensues, nourishment is achieved. Nourishment is not only desired but required and yet it goes untapped."

"I'm sure this all makes sense in your mind, but you need to give me something to go on here, bao bay. You're rambling and talking in words that I just don't get the gist of."

"He won't eat!"

"Oh," Mal said simply. "Have you consulted your brother? How long's it been?"

"No, I haven't wanted to bother Simon with it and it's been since this morning."

"River, that's hours ago now."

No wonder he's fussin', he's probably starving.

"You don't think I know that! Can read your mind, you know? If you're going to criticize me, perhaps you'd like to try it."

"No sense making with the sarcasm, Riv. And I would if I could, but that just won't work I'm afraid. Since that is a fact, I'm going to bother your brother with this."

"Fine," she said, resigning herself to the fact she was a failure as a mother if she could not even provide a newborn it's one basic need. Nourishment.

"I just saw him, I'll fetch him."

He left without waiting for her reply and the tears started again as she focused once more on the hungry face of little Mal. Who of course looked nothing like the older Mal she loved. Her mind touching his soothed him. He felt her there, much the same as Mal indicated he did now because he knew what to look for.


"You look like you haven't slept in a week."

"Thank you, Wash, for the keen observation."

"Wow, and you're in such a good mood, too. Apparently, fatherhood is everything they say it is and more."

"Very funny, Wash."

"Why are you here?"

"Hiding for the moment."

Wash chuckled. "At least you're honest, but you'd best be careful who you say that to."

"No, no," he said with a sigh, collapsing in his chair. He could rest his head against the back of it and doze of right here. That wouldn't be fair to River, though, who he knew wasn't getting more than a couple of hours of sleep at a time. "She's having problems, had to send Simon in to talk to her."

"Oh. Anything serious?"

"Don't rightly know. He's taken a mind to stop eating according to her."

"Maybe he's not hungry."

Mal glared at him. "You at all familiar with babies, Wash?"

"Not really, no, can't say I have much knowledge."

"Well, me neither until the past couple of days. That's all they do is eat, sleep, and mess diapers. Not being hungry isn't an option."

"So, Simon will fix it."

"One would hope so, being he's a doctor and it's his nephew." Mal stood again, realizing he'd best hear Simon out. River had been on an emotional roller coaster the past few days, he couldn't exactly count on her understanding or remembering all that Simon might have to say.

"Maybe you should, you know, show him how it's done. A little guidance or learn by example."


"You know. He's not eating so you can show him how it's done."

Mal just stared at him, certain he wasn't hearing his pilot right.

"Come on, you can't say you haven't noticed that her breasts have gotten quite…" Wash's eyes widened. "Not that I'm looking or anything. I mean, Zoe's are more than I'd ever need. But it's not a very subtle change. Certainly something there for the baby to be tempted by."

"I know I didn't just hear you say that, Wash."

"It was just a joke. You know, funny ha ha."

Mal had noticed that, of course. Considering he'd been intimate with every inch of her over the course of the past few months it was hard to miss. Simon had told him it was normal. They could eventually go back the way they were before the pregnancy, or they could stay this way, making this normal. He was sure glad doctors were paid so much money to give such succinct and helpful answers.

"So, just what was the joke again?"

Wash threw his hands up in the air. "Obviously, not a funny one. Either that or somebody's lost his sense of humor."

"Maybe so," Mal said, heading back toward his bunk.

He ran into Simon on the way, already leaving.

"That didn't take long."

"No," Simon said, gesturing for Mal to follow him into the nursery.

"It's yet another normal thing that happens sometimes. Her milk is coming in, which is different from the colostrums she's been producing. So, he just may take a few feedings to get used to it. I've suggested she express if she gets very uncomfortable, but if she wants to continue breastfeeding I wouldn't give him the bottle. I'll research further."

"And if he still don't eat?"

"Then she has a decision to make. I warned her a while ago some women can't, some don't even try. I'm glad she did."

"Why wouldn't she?"

Simon shrugged. "I don't know. Choice, a preference not to think of herself as nothing more than a food source."

"Well, that's ridiculous."

"I agree, but we're not women so it's not really our place to judge. She says she'll try keep trying. He will eat, it just might get painful for her. She can chafe and if he isn't latching on properly that can cause soreness, too."

"Never knew it was so complex."

"It can be, and it can be quite frustrating. I think she feels like she's failing."

"Well now, he's doing fine, ain't he?"


"So, what happens if he still don't want to eat?"

"She switches to bottles and formula I suppose."

"Would she still? I mean, that ain't like a faucet you just turn on and off."

"She'd continue producing milk for a while. How long I don't know. A few weeks, maybe longer. Then she would stop."

"All right."

"There is another option."

"What's that?"

"Well, like I've been telling you both for months. This isn't my specialty. I have a friend back on Osiris, obstetrics is her specialty. She could probably help River, determine if there's just a basic adjustment necessary."

"So, what do we do?"

"Just help her as best as you can. You help, I've seen you. I know the rest of the crew has, too. So, she's getting rest and she seems fine physically. It's just mentally I'm a little worried. It's very important you and I make sure she knows it's not her fault if this doesn't work."

"Of course it ain't. She's trying."

"You and I know that. She knows that, but she's going to have up and down moments. She told me she feels like she's back to just coming out of the Academy some times."

"That bad?"

"That's what she says."

"I'll keep an eye on her, Simon."

"And is going to Osiris an option?"

"She's got her mind set on breastfeeding and is having problems. Don't reckon there's much choice. This person. You trust them?"

Simon shrugged. "I think so. I don’t have to introduce her as my sister. I can just say she's a patient, part of the crew on the ship I'm working on."

"And you think the woman can help her? Fix this problem so that he does whatever he needs to be doing to get fed proper?"

"Yes. He was able to at first, so it's probably just a logistical thing. His mouth there, the nipple here. I just don't know. And quite frankly, doctor or not, she's still my sister."

"I gotcha, Doc."

Mal left the nursery without saying anything more to Simon and headed to the bridge.

"Sir," Wash said, dropping his dinosaurs. Mal chuckled lightly. It gave new meaning to the phrase 'caught with your pants down'.

"Turn us so we're headed toward Osiris."

"I'm sorry," he said, his eyes darting from Mal's, behind him to Simon. "Osiris? We get a line on a job?"

"No, we're going to see about getting my son fed."

"All right," Wash said, clearly confused.

"Don't ask questions, just point us in the right direction. Simon and I will figure out a plan in the meantime to get us in and out without detection."

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**Part Eighteen**

Word Count: 1,296
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #18-Disbelief

"No, Wash, stay on course to wherever we were headed."

"I'm sorry," Mal spun around, staring at her as if she'd grown a second hand. He wasn't mad as much as unable to comprehend she'd just come in here and said that. "Please tell me I did not just hear you tell one of my crew to go against my orders."

"You heard correctly, I did. I will not let you and Simon do this."

"This isn't the time or place for discussing this, River."

"I can't think of a better time than now when you're not thinking clearly."

"No, there are better times. Like in the privacy of our room for instance. Not in front of my crew. You disagree with me? Fine. You don't announce it to the ship."

"For heaven's sake, no one's going to think I'm in charge all of a sudden. It's your ship. We just don't need to go to Osiris. This is exactly what they want me to have to do. Get help. You of all people should know that. It's not safe. No one on Osiris is safe, no matter what Simon thinks."

She saw by the look on his face she'd scored a point. He wasn't thinking clearly, putting what he thought was the wellbeing of the child ahead of anyone else's. Her child would not do well in captivity or without a mother. As much fondness as she might have for Mal's crew there wasn't one here she'd entrust little Mal's care to on a permanent basis. He had gifts, too, and she wouldn't want someone raising him who did not understand those gifts as she did. They could be both a blessing and a curse.

And if something happened to her she knew that he'd move the planets themselves to find her. He was not aware of this, of how deep his feelings ran. He'd think of it as honor of someone besting him, but there was more to it than that. It hurt more, realizing that he did not understand these things, than not knowing at all.

"What do you suggest? You need some help that Simon's admitted he's out of his league about."

"I will continue trying and if all else fails I will resort to the less natural way of going about it. Osiris is the last place Simon or I should be setting foot. So, the baby gets bottles instead. He's not going to die from it. You are letting your feelings for the child interfere with the fact that there are people who want us caught. And they would stop at nothing to get their way."

"Mal?" Wash asked, clearly waiting for direction.

"She needs the help, I'm not going to overlook a way to help her because I might get caught."

"There's more at risk here then you can fathom, Simon," Mal said, his eyes never leaving River's. His thoughts were a jumbled mess. No calm would come from his mind right now. She knew, however, that Osiris was out as an option, perhaps more now to him than it was to her. The idea that the doctor Simon knew might very well be a trap set for them. For all they knew she wasn't meant to breastfeed at all.

"I'm not sure what that means," Simon admitted and River smiled. She knew how difficult it was for him to admit something like that.

"It means that we'd be risking you, River, my crew, and the baby. I won't do that." Mal reached for the back of his neck, rubbing the spot there she knew he so often did when his gut and his mind were in opposition. He knew as well as she did this was the last thing they needed to do. "You sure?" Mal asked.

"If you remember at all what got us here, you know how sure I am."

"I remember," he murmured. "I still don't like to think of you not getting some help."

"Perhaps I can help," Inara said from the doorway leading to the bridge.

"Come again? I'm not sure you even know what the problem is."

"Well, it doesn't take a genius to realize there's an issue with your baby. Simon's willing to risk returning to the one planet he should stay away from. And you were willing to deliver him right to the people looking for him. I do know people who might be willing to help."

"You don't say?" Mal said, River stifled a laugh because he wasn't believing the companion just now.

"Yes. I have a client or two who are mothers. Perhaps they could help."

"That's still giving away our location."

"Not if River and the baby come with me."

"I don't like it," Mal said with a shake of his head.

"She's sincere," River said softly.

"You sure about that, bao bay?"

"Yes." She searched deeply into the companion's mind, not ashamed to do so this time. She found it hard to believe the offer was as straightforward and sincere as it seemed outwardly, but it was what it appeared. An offer of assistance.

"Of course I'm sincere. I don't like the implication that I would somehow do something to harm an innocent child. Besides, it might not even be necessary for us to go somewhere. Let me talk with River and we'll see what we can come up with."

"He won't eat," River said simply. Everyone in the room but Inara already knew anyway.

"I see. Well, come with me then."

"Mal?" Wash repeated his question from earlier.

"Stay on course," River replied.

"You are not giving orders."

"I will give them until you start thinking with your head again. A bottle will not kill him if that is the end I have to resort to."

"You seemed so adamant about it, though."

"It makes sense to do it the way it's supposed to be done, but many don't, won't, or can't. He knows I love him regardless."

"Yeah, I reckon he does."

"So, we're not going to Osiris. Is that the verdict?"

"Yes, Wash, it is. Do as the wife says."

"You'll learn pretty quickly that's usually the best route to take. Saves arguments and hours of cold shoulder treatments."

"Thanks for the advice," Mal said as River turned to follow Inara.


"Now there's the last person I ever expected to help out in this situation," Wash said.

"How's that?"

"Well, I mean, Inara helping your wife feed your baby."

"And that's a problem?"

"No, no problem. Glad she could help, because I have to say I agree with River on this one. Going to Osiris would be a suicide mission. Maybe not resulting in deaths, but they'd probably wish it did if they got their hands on them."

"She's a good person," Simon offered. "Of course she offered to help. I didn't stop to think she might have clients who could help."

"Best not be telling Jayne that the ship's companion is assisting my wife with breastfeeding troubles."

Wash laughed.

"I think I was serious. Did I sound like I was telling a joke, Simon?"

Simon smirked but shook his head. "No."

"Oh, I know you were serious, Sir. Doesn't mean it wasn't funny. See, you do still have your sense of humor!"

"Very funny, Wash. Now, tell me there's a job out there for us. Something quick and easy so that the crew can get their minds back on work and their goal of achieving early fortunes. I'd much prefer it be there than on my personal life."

"But your personal life has become so much more exciting, Mal."

"Mm, no more than yours, Wash."

"I'd argue that, but you'd just threaten to fire me."

"Damn straight. Find us work, Wash."

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**Part Nineteen**

Word Count: 1,205
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #15-Lullaby

Mal stood back a ways, knowing River was aware of his presence. He didn't want to wake up little Mal who was finally down for the night. Or seemed to be thanks to the tune River sang to him. He didn't recognize it, but that wasn't saying much. And it did it's job, soothed him to sleep. She stopped singing after a few minutes of his being quiet, changing to a soft hum. A different tune this time.

Little Mal had taken a shine to his mother's voice. There were times nothing but her singing could soothe him. Mal couldn't blame him for feeling that way. He found her rather fetching himself, for different reasons of course.

Hard to believe little Mal was a month old today. He'd tried, unsuccessfully, to talk her into another name. She just smiled, rolled her eyes, and went on calling him Mal. He watched as she drew the blanket around her son once more now that he'd quieted down. He tried to remember what she'd been like when she first came aboard Serenity. Crazier than crazy was how he remembered it, but he wondered if that hadn't exactly been the case. She seemed fine now. She had moments, but who wouldn't after what she'd been through the past four years.

She'd told him stories, ones Simon knew nothing about. In the privacy of their room, the quiet hours of the night when all was quiet aboard Serenity she had opened up to him about things he really had no business knowing. Not because he didn't want to know them. He did, but it made him want to go slaughter each and every person responsible. Not just for what they'd done to her but anyone like her.

He didn't need to have her abilities to know the crew had doubts as to whether River could handle the responsibilities of being a mother. She had, though. Only a month had gone by, he realized that wasn't saying much. But, she'd taken her earlier problems in stride, which was more than he could say for him. He still couldn't believe he'd almost led her right where they'd probably wanted her.

There was a reason he kept himself emotionally closed off. It was difficult to make rational, real decisions if emotions were involved. She'd assured him she did not hold him letting his emotions rule in this case against him. How big of her, he'd mused to himself at the time.

She had a way about her now, though. Or maybe it was his imagination. She seemed older, the weight of responsibility on her shoulders. After all, what was more important than childrearing? Nothing Mal could think of.

You're good at that, bao bay. I wish I had your touch.

She said nothing, which he expected. He was sure the thought registered with her. He saw a subtle tilt of her head she did when he talked to her like that that even from behind he saw. It wasn't really talking, he supposed communicating was a better term for it. She turned her head, glancing at him somewhat coyly over her shoulder before returning her attention to the baby. He walked up behind her then, resting his hands at her shoulders.

"You gonna come sing me to sleep now?"

"Are you cranky and unable to fall asleep without?"

She turned to face him, his hands resting at her hips.

"Could be," he said, draping an arm around her to lead her outside. "If those are the parameters you set for singing pretty like. A man's liable to get jealous knowing another of his gender is privy to such things."

"Hmm. We wouldn't want that."

"Funny, I was thinking the exact same thing."

"It's too soon."

"For what?"

"I haven't been cleared…"

Mal shook his head. "Listen to you. I don’t recall one word coming out of my mouth that resembled a proposition for sexual favors."

She tapped his head with her fingertip. "Your mind says otherwise."

"Then you're misreading this time. After seeing what you went through, wouldn't blame you if my touching you was out of the question for some time."

"I want you to."

"Hmm, well, I'm sure we could come up with some sort of agreement that wouldn't upset your brother acting as doctor."

"You think so," she whispered.

"Oh most definitely," he said with a low chuckle, being sure to leave his mind open so that she had access to the ideas running through them. There were plenty that didn't including penetration whatsoever. He could tell by the concentrating look on her face she was analyzing each and every one.

"I like the last one best."

"Well, now, let's go see about acting it out then. Maybe you'll sleep soundly, too."

"A good orgasm and the afterglow that comes with will ensure I do, too."

"That's definitely an order I can fill, bao bay." He chuckled, drawing her to him for a kiss. You willing to see just how many times I can fulfill it? I'm certainly up for multiple fulfillments if you are. I've been storing them up for when you looked at me this way again. Or is once going to do it tonight?

Her eyes widened and she broke the kiss. He grazed her forehead with a kiss, opening the hatch to their bunk.

"What are you looking at me like that for?"

"No reason. I'm in agreement with the direction your thoughts are taking."

"Are you now? Are you also in agreement with my paying homage to a few parts on you that have changed dramatically since you've given birth? Seems when you're not using them for more pressing things you're sleeping. Understandable and I'm not complaining, but I can't have you thinking I'm being neglectful."

"If you feel you must."

"Uh huh," he said with a smirk. "And after all that do I get a lullaby, too?"


"A direct answer for once. My, Mrs. Reynolds, you are losing your touch for the obscure."

She brought her finger to her lips. "Don't tell anyone."

"I reckon I can keep a secret."

She hitched her legs around his waist, letting him lead her to the bed. When all was said and done, he went to sleep with the promise of a week's worth of them. And, if he could think it without sounding conceited as she nestled in against him, there was something gratifying about being able to bring her to that end again and again. Her singing turned to the soft hum she used with little Mal once he'd settled down.

"She is sated, husband. Go to sleep."

And for the first time he thought he was able to get a glimpse into her mind, disappointment and concern that she hadn't done for him what he'd done for her.

"He gets pleasure out of giving it, bao bay. Rest assured, pleasure was achieved with both parties."

"But you did not achieve the ultimate release."

He shrugged, bringing her closer against him. "Says who?"

She went back to humming then, but he swore as he drifted into that in between state that even through a hum he could hear the smile his words gave her.

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**Part Twenty**

Word Count: 1,312
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #09-Rocker

Mal ran his fingers through his hair sleepily, adjusting his suspenders as he staggered from his bunk. It was his turn to wake up with little Mal, bringing him to River in bed if he so requested a middle of the night meal. The fact it was going on nearly morning and he hadn't heard a peep out of his young namesake he was now a little concerned.

He'd been sleeping through the night for the past week or so, but there was usually still the occasional time he stirred wanting some sustenance. Mal couldn't blame him there. Little Mal's source of sustenance held a rather bewitching spell over Mal himself, so a child would be helpless to resist.

He frowned, rubbing his eyes to ensure he was seeing things right. He even went so far as to step out of the nursery and come back. Nope, still there. And he wasn't seeing things. The rocker was not moving by itself, occupied for the first time that he could recall by someone other than River or him. Maybe Simon.

River had never complained about not having one or anything, but he'd seen it and remembered his mama rocking him. This one wasn't as nice as the one from his childhood, or maybe he just had a warped view of it in his memory. In his mind it had been hand carved, elaborately so at that.

He remembered to this day the scuffmarks on the one arm caused by his mother's ring scraping against the wood during years of repeated use. She'd consoled him, soothed him, and read to him there, bedtime stories, tales of things he'd come to believe in and hold onto. A code, one he had to live by even if no one else understood it. And that had included marrying River, though he was sure anyone knowing the situation would have questioned why he'd felt the need to. Didn't matter, they weren't him and hadn't seen what River was like when she'd first been discovered on Serenity.

He hadn't thought the plan entirely through, certainly hadn't counted on their marriage becoming a legitimate and binding one as was the case now. He'd just assumed at some point after having the baby, she'd get tired of running and want to settle down somewhere with the baby. He'd grant the annulment and go on his merry way. Giving the woman and child a chance at a life free from Alliance interference.

She wanted the child, and Mal reckoned if there was someone who'd suffered enough and deserved something they wanted that could bring them happiness. It was River Tam. Reynolds. So, how could he do anything but what he'd done?

She might have gotten away with it, having the baby undetected. He doubted it, though, and claiming the baby was his and not marrying her wasn't an option. Not with her brother onboard the ship anyway. Not to mention Shepherd Book. He was finding though, strangely enough, that he didn't mind being married.

The benefits of having someone in his bunk every night aside, though that was certainly a perk. He liked knowing he could talk to one person. Come off an argument with Jayne about this or that, a disagreement with Zoe about something or other and she'd listen. Sometimes she'd offer input, but usually seemed to understand he just needed to unload. He'd never had that ability before. Ever. Not in the war, not captaining this ship. Unloading. And sometimes he could without having to say a word.

And certainly he'd found there were advantages to having the same woman time and time again. Instead of getting boring as he'd always believed it would, it was somewhat exciting to explore different ways of pleasing her. To learn her, to know the different sounds she made and what they meant. The past couple of months they'd done just that, leading up to this evening when she felt ready to be with him again.

He'd felt a little clumsy truthfully, afraid he would hurt her despite what Simon said about her being cleared for such things. She hadn't said anything, seemed pleased enough but it led to his not sleeping very well. And coming to check on little Mal. There were times he liked having the baby as an excuse. When things on the ship were running smoothly and there was nothing for him to keep busy with, there was always little Mal to check on. Or do something with. He was smiling a bit now, though Simon suggested it could be gas more often than not.

"Jayne," Mal said, eliciting more care so as to not wake little Mal than the sleeping merc. who held the baby.

"Huh?" Even being startled awake, Jayne seemed to understand the cargo he held in his arms was precious and Mal witnessed the big merc's efforts not to dislodge the baby from his arms. The last thing he'd ever have put money on is to find Jayne Cobb sleeping with little Mal in his arms. If he'd had the ability he'd have taken a picture, certain this phenomena would never occur again.

"Rocker comfy enough for you? Need a blanket? A pillow maybe?"

He grunted.

"Mind telling me what you're doing in here sleeping with my son?"

"He woke up."

Mal's lips twitched into a slight smile. Wasn’t this the man who claimed he wouldn't help in such a situation? "I see," he said carefully.

"Once he figured I wasn't his ma and had nothing to offer him he nodded off, just needed to be held I guess."

"And you nodding off, too, that part of the plan?"

"Well, no."

"Why didn't you get me or River?"

Was that a blush on his merc's cheeks?"

"Um, tried that, you sounded occupied. Would have if just rocking him like this hadn't worked. You complaining I left you uninterrupted? I know you ain't gotten any since before he was born."

"No, of course not," Mal said simply, understanding. "Well, thank you, Jayne, that was nice of ya. Wait. How would you know that?"

"I overheard River and Simon talking. It was an accident," Jayne added before Mal could go off on him about eavesdropping. "Didn't tell anyone. It's normal anyway. So, I figured I'd give it a try and apparently Uncle Jayne did the trick all right."

Jayne stood from the rocker then, looking a little odd holding the two-month old baby in his arms as he did so. There was just something very unsettling at seeing Jayne behave in such a manner. Caring. He just wasn't a man that brought such expectations with him.

"No problem. Go on back to bed, Mal. I'll get him settled. He's fine now I reckon. Probably just had a bad dream or the ship did a little lurch that left him unsettled."

"All right."

"Already changed him and everything."

"You change diapers, too?"

"Not another word or this will be the last time I leave you to your wife. Next time I could bang on your hatch or just come in."

Mal waited, watching as Jayne settled little Mal back in his crib, adjusting the blanket around him.

"You never cease to amaze me, Jayne."

"Yeah well, you make a big deal out of it and I'll just deny it ever happened. No one would believe you anyway."

"You're probably right," Mal said, climbing the ladder leading from the nursery. "Night then, Jayne."

"Quit staring at me like that. I'm a multi-faceted man."

Mal scoffed. "Coulda fooled me until tonight, but I reckon you know what you are better than I do. Babies seem to bring out the oddest things in people."

"They're defenseless, that's all. Can't fend for themselves," Jayne said, slipping into his bunk leaving Mal alone for a moment before he continued to his own bunk.

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**Part Twenty-One**

Word Count: 1,080
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #41-Mystified

Mal stared out from the cargo bay certain he was seeing things. For the briefest moment, he wished it was him out there, walking away from Serenity with River by his side. Funny, he pictured things like that now where once not too long ago he never, ever imagined someone walking alongside him.

If he didn't know better there was a bit of a romance blossoming between the ship's doctor and the companion. It was subtle, and they weren't obvious about it, but the signs were there. Even if they didn't see them.

"The husband is correct."

"He is, huh?"


And then he realized what she'd said and that she'd been talking about him. "Well, I knew that. What does little sis have to say about such a development?"

"What's there to say? Simon is a grown man. Inara a grown woman. I cannot control how they occupy their time. Nor can you."

"I never said I could."

"What does Mal think of this development?"

He shrugged. "It's a bit perplexing, wouldn't think Simon would go for the type."

"And it has nothing to do with who she is?"

"What?" He turned to face her then, giving her his undivided attention. "If you're asking me if it's because it's Inara and not just any ol' companion my answer is no."

"You're sure?"

"Here we go again," he muttered. "I've told you at least half a dozen times it's not like that between me and Inara."

"I believe you."

"You get this look on your face that says different."

Mal glanced out again, Simon and Inara were fading into the distance now. He had to admit they'd make a fetching couple. Not that he believed they were to that point. He imagined with River not just acting normal-like for the most part but married and with a baby that Simon realized he needed to do something with himself out here. And Inara really didn't have anyone else on Serenity to enjoy and discuss the finer things she knew and was accustomed to. Certainly, nothing Mal could keep up with for very long. He couldn't blame either of them, only knew that if it went further than it was currently his mechanic was going to get her heart broken.

"I do not," she said.

"You do, too. It wasn't like that between us and it couldn't be like that between us."

"And yet, you look at her at times…"

"She's an attractive woman, River, trained to be excessively so. I'm not blind."

"If we weren't married?"

"It'd still never happen. She was on this boat long before you came along. I don't know what else you want me to say or do."

She looked away then, which was usually a sign that she had an answer to his question. Not that he'd really asked a question there. In a way he had, though.

"I just don't understand it."

"What?" she asked.

"How things work. Shepherd would probably say it's fate or God's will. I don't believe in the latter, not so sure about the former. Throw people together I suppose and things will eventually happen. Friendships, relationships form."


"Those, too. Like personalities are going to gravitate toward one another I suppose," he said with a final glance in the direction of the couple in question.

He faced her then and she looked away. Again. What was behind that? There were times being this close to a reader made him wish for some of her abilities. Just once he'd like to know what was going in that pretty head of hers. She glanced at him sharply then, eyes wide. He saw something akin to expectation in her eyes. He cleared his throat. Damn if he'd ever understand women in general, this one in particular.

They were married, slept next to one another, were intimate, and yet he'd be damned if he understood her any better than he had months ago. She talked and he listened, but she had little to talk about that was pleasant to think of given her past few years were spent in captivity. So, that left essentially her childhood and there wasn't much to discern there. She was a prodigy, a genius, one of those children that scared everyone else because they were just that good at everything they did.

In some ways, he felt like he was the one shaping her, making her into the person she was going to be. It was bothersome in a way. He wasn't cut out for such a task. He'd signed up for it, though. And temporary though the intent was at first it'd gone beyond that.

"One of these days," he muttered. What exactly he meant to say, he wasn't sure. He'd bought Serenity the intention being to remain free, a modern day pirate if you will, the wind constantly taking his boat where it willed. And somewhere along the line he'd found himself accumulate friends, and now the beginnings of roots. A wife, a baby that while not his by blood he was growing attached to every day. He scratched his head, not really liking where his thoughts were taking him today. All because Simon and Inara took a walk into town together? It made no sense.

"The answer you seek will come to you one day, Mal."

"You think so?"

"I know so. It's already there, you have only to look for and find it if you so desire," she said, ascending the steps that would take her away from him.

"Why don't you just tell me then if you already know?"

She stopped her ascent and turned to regard him. Clearly, she had the answers. She saw it written plainly on her face. "I cannot tell you what you are not ready to accept or even understand."

"Right," he said, not at all certain that he had any idea what she was going on about. Were they even talking about the same thing? Or was he thinking one thing, but her mind was picking up on another line of thinking on his part. He was going to say something more, but she was already gone.

"Damn women," he muttered, setting about clearing the cargo bay of the items he was set to deliver on this moon.

A little physical labor would help clear his mind, get it back on where it should be. Getting paid and finding more work. If possible, he'd get both accomplished today.

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**Part Twenty-Two**

Word Count: 1,690
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #25-Fear

First thing Mal noticed when entering the bar, something didn't seem right. He knew fear, had seen it in action many times over the years. He wasn't immune to it himself, as much as he tried to pretend otherwise. He'd seen so much over the years that there was nothing left for him to fear, but he knew what it felt like when others were in the throes of it. Like passion it could be all consuming, get a chokehold on you and not let go until it'd done a number on you both physically and mentally.

He wished now he'd left River and Kaylee behind on Serenity with Wash, Simon and little Mal. Jayne and Zoe were both already here somewhere and in position. Make it seem less threatening if he came meandering in with these two women. River was more than capable. Once he'd become aware of what her talents were he, Jayne and Zoe worked to hone them. There wasn't a weapon onboard Serenity she couldn't handle, even the ones Jayne didn't like anyone but him to know about.

River must have sensed something, too, because all of the sudden she grabbed onto his arm for dear life. And for the briefest of moments, before she was able to collect herself, something she claimed he helped her do, she looked like the frightened thing he'd first seen on Serenity.

The place was lively enough and bursting at the seams. It was just wrong, off. If he didn't know better he'd think they were actors playing a part. But for who? Him? Someone else? Or was just their lot in life?

"It's all right, Riv," he murmured careful his lips didn't move too much. "I make the deal and we're gone. In and out."


Yeah, I sense that, too.

"Kaylee, keep an eye on River will ya? I'm not taking her to the back with me."

"But, Cap'n."

It was well known that Mal liked having River along to read the situation. He wasn't stupid and he wasn't going to walk her into a dangerous situation. Could be dangerous out here, sure, but in a closed room things got even more dicey.

"You heard me, Kaylee. This ain't the place for someone sensitive like her."

"All right."

She nodded her agreement, but still looked confused. He'd explain it to her later if need, hopefully there'd be nothing to explain.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention as he scanned the crowd, looking for anything or anyone that was cause for the thick feeling of fear and dread in here. He hadn't sensed it elsewhere, and Simon or Inara certainly hadn't come back from their jaunt with words of caution. Everyone looked normal, well as normal as can be for a place that served all walks of life from the Tam's of the moon down to the likes of him and Jayne, even lower. All classes were represented here.

Maybe that was it. This seemed to be the only place for people to go, perhaps things got tense with people having to rub elbows with people they normally wouldn't have cause to. He could imagine some wouldn't like that at all. Haves didn't like to be reminded that there were have-nots. And have-nots didn't like to see the haves flaunting that which made them such.

Something wasn't right, but life on moons could be brutal for those unaccustomed to a simpler life. So, he wasn't sure the not right was aimed at him.

As it turned out, the deal went down smoothly enough. Mal was cautiously optimistic that they might be able to pull a job off without risk of severe injury to his crew as he left the back room, instructions in his pocket. He gave a casual nod to both Zoe and Jayne when he came out from the back, letting them know it was a done deal and they could go on their way nice and leisurely like.

Chances were, they'd stay for a bit and toss a couple back. He might, too, now that he thought about it. He was a might parched from the feelings he encountered upon walking into the establishment and more than ready to wash them down with something. Now that the deal was done, there was nothing saying they couldn't be seen together as a group. It was just the beforehand he liked to keep his options open and the exact numbers in his backup a secret.

He spotted Kaylee at the bar, flirtatiously chatting with a fellow looked to be a little older then her. His eyes scanned the crowd near her, realizing right away what was missing. More aptly who. And he didn't like that one bit. He moved fast, closing the distance between them and grabbed Kaylee by the arm roughly, too rough. He couldn't help it, though. He'd expected to come out from making his deal and find her there, waiting for reassurance from him that everything was all right.

"Where is she?"


"Don't play coy with me, Kaylee? There's only one she I left you in charge of."

"Ow, Captain, you're hurting my arm." He promptly released his hold on her arm. Hurting her was not going to help matters. He just didn't like the casual way with which she was treating this. Maybe she hadn't picked up on River's ill at ease disposition when they'd entered.

"You can't have had that much to drink in so short a span to forget about River."

"She just went to the bathroom," Kaylee said, trying to go back to the conversation she was having with the man.

"Excuse me," he gave an impatient nod to the man and took hold of her arm again. "How long ago was that?" There was something going on here, River was sensitive to such things and if they were bad enough he felt them she had to, too. And Kaylee just let her wander off? He wouldn't put it past her to go exploring. Exploring where she probably shouldn't. He swallowed that train of thought, not liking it one bit.

"I'm not sure," she said. "Captain, it's just the bathroom. You didn't expect me to go with her?"

"When I tell you to keep an eye on something, Kaylee, I expect you to do just that."

"I'm sorry," she said, seeming to notice Mal's concern was genuine and not just a fleeting thing. "I'll go check on her."

"That would be mighty kind of you."

Zoe walked up to the bar casually. "What's up, Sir?"

"Kaylee's checking on River in the bathroom."

"Oh. You look worried."

"I just don't like the feel of things in here, Zoe. What's your take?"

"I'm not sure, but I feel the same as you. Jayne does, too, I could tell even if we didn't talk."

"The sooner Kaylee and River get back and we can return to the ship I'll be happy."

"The deal's done?"

"Yes, went smoothly enough. Not too smooth as to cause me to be suspicious. Finagling and haggling ensued."

"Finagling is a good thing."

"Yeah, proves no one's too anxious."

"Right, because anxiousness is a bad thing."

Mal chuckled lightly, eyes falling immediately on Kaylee as she approached them. Alone. Looking quite lost.

"She ain't in there, Captain."

"She's what?"

"She ain't in there. I checked, waited until I was the only one left in there."

"Lao tyen, boo," Zoe whispered.

"Wuo duh MA. What do you mean she ain't there? I give you one task while I'm getting us a job and your head spins around for the first shwai man that talks to you."

"Captain, that ain't fair. She said she was going to the bathroom."

"And I told you to watch her. Sensitive woman like she is in a place like this." He clenched his jaw, eyes taking in the bar. It was too crowded for him to see much beyond immediately in front of them. She could be anywhere. Could be anywhere that wasn't in this bar, too. "Tzao-gao!"

"Sir," Zoe said. "Perhaps we should save the mud slinging for later and worry about finding River."

"Yeah, let's split up. Do a once through, calm like. No need to cause undo attention to ourselves. Where the hell is Jayne?" He wasn't sure which one he wanted to look for most. Jayne could come in handy if it came to weapons getting drawn. River on the other hand was vulnerable and fragile, and prone to have a fit in this type of environment without him there. He'd stopped denying long ago that he helped her somehow, acted as some sort of anchor.

"I'll find him, Sir, he's probably sitting where he was not realizing anything's going on."

"Thanks, Zoe."

"No problem, Sir, we'll find her. She probably just wandered off, curious or something."

"Yeah, or something," he murmured.

Evidently, he'd jinxed himself with his thoughts earlier because he knew fear now, tasted it, smelled it, and felt it in his gut. He had been dead wrong when he walked in here and thought he'd nothing left to fear. He'd told her months ago that he wouldn't introduce her as his wife, not wanting to endanger her or his crew to the types of people he dealt with who might think she was worth a bargaining chip or two. There were some, like Adelei Niska, who wouldn't be kind to her at all while waiting for him to find her. They'd be especially brutal to someone that meant something to Mal because he'd thwarted them in the past. Can't find an Achilles heel on a man who didn't have one.

He readied his weapon without drawing it, just preparing himself for the worst because it always seemed to find him. He suddenly found it very important that whatever happened to her, people realized they were messing with something he considered his more than he had since Serenity. And Serenity didn't keep him up nights in the imaginative ways his wife did neither, so putting Serenity ahead of her might just be a lie.

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**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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**Part Twenty-Four**

Word Count: 2,205
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #21-Kidnapping

"Where is Inara?"

Mal was already somewhat awake, kind of in that in between state. Thankfully, otherwise he would have been startled out of his sleep by Simon.

"What do you mean?"

"She drugged me!"

"I reckon she had reason to do so, Simon."

"No, absolutely not. I need to find River."

"Sit down, Simon. And tell me what exactly you plan to do in your efforts to find River? You can't shoot a gun. And no offense, but you don't look very threatening."

"I can be threatening."

"Yes, I've seen your threatening."

"Where is she? Her shuttle's gone."

"I had her take the baby."

"You what?"

"I told her to take little Mal. Unsure of just what the situation is currently, I didn't want him in jeopardy. And I don't want to have to worry about him when I've got his mother on my brain."

"If they wanted him don't you think they would have taken him?"

"That's assuming they knew where he was."

"He's just a child, Mal."

Mal took a deep breath and regarded Simon. "There's more to it then what you know. He's special."


"It's not important."


"Someone needs to know that child needs protection, and no one else on this boat'll do it. Well, Zoe might, but sooner or later I expect she'll have young ones of her own to look after. Anyway, let's head on out. You're awake, I reckon most everyone else is, too. We should get started."

"What can I do?"

"For starters you have to trust that I do want to find her, Simon."

"Well, of course you do."

"You say that, but I'm not sure you really believe it. And I will find her."

"Captain," Zoe called as he and Simon made their way toward the galley.


"Wave's come in for you."

"All right," he said, heading back the direction he'd come from. Simon wasn't too far behind.

He more than likely looked a sight, and just hoped it wasn't who he'd met with yesterday. Not a very good impression to set, looking like he hadn't slept in a week and he was wearing the same clothes as when he'd last slept.

"Audio only," he said gruffly. "Mal here."

"Mr. Reynolds."

"Yes," he said cautiously, now somewhat regretting the audio only route. He liked to see who he was admitting who he was to.

"We hope you had a good night sleep."

"Not hardly. What's it to you?"

"Well, we have something that belongs to you."

"You don't say," he said, muting it and requesting the video only to find they were on audio only as well. "Great," he muttered. "Sound like a woman to you?" he asked Simon.

"A little. It could be distorted."

"So, what is it you want?"

"We expected more from you."

"More from me how?"

"The Malcolm Reynolds we've come to know wouldn't have gone to sleep when his wife was missing."

He winced at that. "That's assuming I slept and wasn't just regrouping, coming up with a plan."

"You have no plan, and even if you did you won't find her until we're ready to let you."

"Great. So, what is the purpose of this wave then? And just what is it you want in exchange for River?"

"You'll get an envelope later with the details."

"I need to speak with her."

"Isn't possible."

"I ain't going nowhere or fulfilling any details until I know you actually got her."

"Oh, we'll give you the proof you need we have her, Malcolm."

"My mother called me Malcolm, you ain't her so I reckon you can stop with that anytime now."

Laugher, Mal grimaced.

"Can't we just get this done with now? You've got me here, have my attention. Is it money you want? Something on board the ship?"

"Please, don't be insulting."

"All right, if not money. Then what? How about a trade? Since you're contacting me, me for her."

"You are of no use to us."

"Just a warning, if I find you first."

"Wait for the information, Malcolm." And then they were gone.

"Well, what the hell does that mean?"

"I'm not sure, but it worries me they wouldn't let you talk to her."

"Yeah, me too," he said, pressing the comm. button. "I assume ya'll were listening in, the galley now. Please," he added since this was getting into personal territory and not ship business.


There wasn't much to do but wait. Jayne and Zoe were back in town trying to find out if there was some place yesterday they'd missed or overlooked. Not likely. If there was one thing his crew knew how to be when necessary it was thorough.

Kaylee, Simon and Wash were avoiding him. Well, Kaylee and Simon were, Wash sat with him on the bridge.

"I've thought of this, you know."


"Something happening to Zoe."

"I guess you have. Probably more times than not."


"And you deal with it?"

"Don't have much choice when you love someone, you just have to accept who they are."

Mal opened his mouth to say something, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to say. A denial maybe. "I just wish I knew what they wanted and how they singled her out. It could have been Kaylee."

"Well, no offense, all anyone would have to do is see the way you look at Kaylee and then the way you look at River. It's pretty obvious."

"It is not."

"If you say so."

"This isn't getting us anywhere. I sure wish Jayne and Zoe would get back."

"If there's something we missed, they'll find it."

"It seems like their interest is in River, not me, so I admit I'm a little baffled. They're not Alliance."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because if they were, they wouldn't be contacting me or making it sound as if they might let her go. They'd take her and run."

"Good point. Unless they just want to mess with you."

"They have bigger things to deal with than me, especially if they'd managed to get their hands on her again."

"Probably true."

"Thanks for the ringing support, Wash."

"Glad to be of help."

"Someone's approaching," Wash said, tapping the screen.

"All right, time for business I guess."

Mal made his way down to the air lock. He'd stayed on the bridge on purpose, didn't want to appear to anxious about the impending visit from whoever.

"Malcolm Reynolds?"

"That's me," he said, gun at the ready in case this was some sort of ambush. "Just hand over what you have for me and be on your way."

"We'll be back to get you later."

"I told you over the wave, I won't go anywhere with anyone until I know she's alive and you actually have her."

"Look inside."

He took the envelope and peaked inside. "Could be anybody's hair."

"You know it's not."

He was right, Mal knew without a doubt it was River's. "Don't mean she's all right, though."

"Read the information, Mr. Reynolds, and then decide."

"I could just shoot you and be done with it."

"You could, but you won't get to see her then. We're being generous giving you this opportunity."

"Generous? How do you all know you aren't doing me a favor by taking her?"

"Be serious, Mr. Reynolds."

"I am."

"We'll return for you at the specified time. Again, we ask you do not have anyone follow us."

"You ask?"

"It sounds more polite than ordering you to follow our instructions."

"Yes, because when kidnapping a man's wife worrying about giving orders is of utmost concern."

Mal opened the envelope and began reading. There wasn't much to read, just basically reiterating what he'd already been told. They had her, she was safe, and that he should come alone when they return for him. At least they hadn't told him to leave his weapons behind, probably knew him better than that anyway.

He raked his fingers through his hair, heading in Simon's direction.

"Recognize the handwriting at all?"

"Why would I? You can't possibly think I'm behind this somehow?"

"Of course not, but if it's someone that knows her, knows what she can do you might know them, too."

Simon perused the letter rather intently, considering it wasn't very long.

"No, I can't say I've seen it before, but it looks like most other handwriting."

"Worth a shot." He read it again. "You know this all just seems very odd. It sounds like they're bringing me to see her, there's nothing said here about ransom or hoops to jump through."

"Maybe they'll hit you with the conditions then."

He grunted at that, Simon was probably right there. Bring him face to face with her and then hit him where it counted, asking him to do some crazy thing to free her. Sadly, he'd do it. If only because it made him sick to his stomach to think of someone holding her captive again.

"You know I'll bring her back."

"I know, Mal. Honestly, if there's one thing about you I do know, it's that much. Any word from Inara?"

"No, and there won't be until I tell her it's safe." He reckoned the fact that they'd come to Serenity and not done a search indicated they weren't interested in the baby, but he wasn't going to risk it yet. "Time to go find someway to put a tracer on me they won't detect."

"Wouldn't it just be more logical to bug their transport?"

"Of course, but if they search me and find one on me they might not think to search the transport. And vice versa."


"We've only got a couple hours, so we've got our work cut out for us. Maybe Zoe and Jayne will come back before then with information."

"You think they'll find something?"

"I had to have someone out there doing something while I sat here waiting for contact."

"It's all right to sit, you know. It doesn't mean you care or love her any less."

"Yeah, I get that. I'm just not used to being able to go in and get what I want out of a situation."

Mal turned at the sound of the mule's approach, his heart picking up a beat at the sight of Jayne and Zoe. If they were back this early that couldn't be a good sign. Either that or they lucked onto something right away.

"What'd ya find?"

"Nothing," Jayne said with a mutter.


"Absolutely. We searched and talked and even bribed. If there's someone holding River captive no one seems to know about it."

He handed the note to Zoe who read it.

"You're not really going with them alone, Sir?"

"I am."

"We could follow."

"They'll be looking for that."

"Sir, you can't be looking to go in alone."

"I don't see how I have much choice, Zoe. If I had even an inkling who or what this was about I'd say fine, but I don't. They haven't tipped their hand at all. And I'm not going to do something stupid that'll end in River being harmed."

"Told ya it wasn't a good idea to bring her along on jobs. You'd listened to me, this wouldn't be happening."

"Thank you for that commentary, Jayne."

"What? You bring her along and it's obvious to anyone with two eyes you favor her."


"Fine, I'll shut up, but this ought to tell you why Wash stays back. It just don't work."

"Wash stays back because we need someone to pilot this boat if'n we get in a situation requiring a quick getaway. Thus the job title pilot. Want me to run down the job description for you."

"No, I know what he does," Jayne said gruffly.

"And you do remember what my job is?"


"Any more questions then on whether I'm in a position to make the decision to go alone or not?"

"Can't help that I'm with Zoe on this one."

"Well, if I'm wrong you can tell me all about it when I don't come back. Now, I'm going to go see Wash about a transmitter."

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**Part Twenty-Five**

Word Count: 1,983
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #33-Escape

NOTES: I'm straying a bit into the FRAY 'verse Joss gave us in comics. To those unfamiliar, Fray is set about the year 2,250. Slayers hadn't been called for about 250 years because portals were closed and there were no magic users, vampires, etc. to require activation. The watchers still existed and had become kind of an out there group of fanatic extremists. They were prone to setting themselves on fire in an attempt to get their message out, stuff like that. It was a demon, not a watcher, that trained Fray and really they [watchers] were kind of dismissed as being useless. I'm glossing over it greatly, but really you just need to know that much. Lurks was Meleka Fray's term for vampires, and I thought it would be appropriately used here so that River isn't exactly clear on what it is she's "seeing". As a side note, if you haven't read them and are a Buffy fan, I'd highly recommend Fray!

She came to him then, as she'd done many a time when he sat alone on the bridge. He could tell by the glean in her eye she wasn't there for too much conversation and he was more than happy to oblige her needs in every which department he could. While he wasn't the best communicator with words when it came to her, he liked to think he expressed enough when they were like this. Alone. Intimate. The subtle hum of skin on skin, more of her sinking into him taking over the heart he'd long ago locked away. Who'd a thought this slip of a woman, fragile yet deadly, would bear the key.

She lifted her skirt then, straddling him. She fit perfectly, as if the chair was made for the two of them to be together like this in it. Kind of a spooky thought since he shuddered at the idea of Zoe doing this very same thing to Wash while they were alone up here.

He slid a finger inside of her. She was ready for him, but he wanted to anyway. He loved watching her face when he did things to her, for her. There was something heady about bringing a woman to the edge and having the control over whether she'd cross it or not. There'd been a time or two, just for fun, he'd held off letting her. He'd never heard a woman say his name in a begging manner before, but when River did it was all kinds of arousing. He never lasted very long inside her those times, ready to finish just from watching her.

He shifted then, making room for her, arms going around her waist to guide her onto him.

"River," he murmured when she didn't seem as willing to come to him as he'd thought.

"No, Sir, sorry, it's just me," Zoe said, hand against his forearm and his arm inexplicably encircling her waist. That was pity in her eyes, or something akin to it. Where they hell had that come from? And why? "It's time. They're due here any minute."

"Right. Sorry. Must have dozed off."

"I doubt you got much sleep last night, no one thinks worse of you for falling asleep for thirty minutes."

"Is that how long it was? Feels like I've been sleeping for days."

"You were dreaming, probably why."

"Yeah, I was."

"You should count yourself lucky it was me that came in here and found you and not Wash or Jayne. I'm sure they'd say something about you being too old for them types of dreams, Sir."

"And you just didn't?"

"No, Sir, was merely stating an opinion on what the others would say."


"Well, it's time to get this rescue underway then I guess."


She'd bided her time, gaining as much information as she could about those who held her. They weren't Alliance, they weren't after her son, and they weren't really after her either. They were after someone or something they thought she was. Only thing was, she wasn't was. She was just a woman, trained to do the things she did by the Alliance.

Reading their thoughts was easy. They must not have realized she was a psychic because they made no effort to screen whatsoever. They said little to one another but words like Watchers, Slayers, and Lurks were frequently in their thoughts. The fact that she was born to do the things she did another. Something she'd done had drawn their attention to her, she still wasn't sure what. They'd been tracking her for a while. Why they'd chosen now to take her she didn't know. She was just glad that both of her Mal's weren't who they were after.

They weren't very smart. Underestimated her, which they shouldn't have done even if she was who they thought she was. She'd caught glimpses in their mind, battles, hand to hand combat always a woman and a lurk. Whatever that was. Fights to the death, only the lurks didn't seem to die so much as disintegrate. The images in their mind told her a story of women, and there were many, strong and capable to stand up to most anyone. Certainly, the group of them.

She'd waited, letting them think she was complacent. She knew they were set to get Mal soon. She would be ready to greet him when they got here. She wasn’t sure why they were bringing Mal into it. No one's thoughts on that were very clear, which made her think that maybe someone else, not here, was calling the shots. She did read that it wasn't to give her back to him.

She acted the next time her captors opened the door. She faced the wall as they requested, hands clutched behind her so they could see them. What they weren't counting on, though, was despite not eating or drinking anything the entire time she'd been here - and she had no idea how long that had been - she was still quick. And as Mal liked to say, stealthy as hell. Underestimation.

It was fast, a hard jab with the palm of her hand to one's nose and an elbow to the Adam's apple of the other put them down so she could disengage them further.

The two guards were down that had come to check on her, she grabbed their weapons and disabled their radios so they couldn't inform anyone she had gotten free.

As they had actually not harmed her she did not want to kill, merely disable and leave them unable to follow. It was a difficult task setting her mind around the fact she couldn't take their lives. Somewhere the Alliance training in her was rebelling.

She checked the weapons to ensure they were in fact loaded and ready to go. One thing about having the crew of Serenity teach her about weapons, there was hardly one she wasn't at least familiar with. Mostly in part due to Jayne.

She knew the way out, having spent time concentrating on the guards' movements. She kept her eyes closed, taking one step at a time, slowly so as not to disrupt anything around her. She knew where each and every one was, she knew that two were missing. Gone to get Mal she assumed.

In moves as graceful as the dancing she enjoyed, she disabled the last two on this floor. She got to use a new toy she'd found on one in her cell, nun chucks. Jayne had some, but hadn't done more than gloss over how they worked, insisting she wouldn't want to be close enough to an opponent to need them. Courtesy of her getting up close and personal, neither would walk again for a long time. Again, radios disabled.

She made her way up a level, scanning with her mind to be sure nothing had changed during the scuffle with the two guards below.

The gun at the ready, she found the guard near the door. Hopefully, he'd be the last one she needed to contend with today.

"You're going to unlock the door now," she whispered. The engaging of the gun should have been enough to tell this man she was serious. If he stood in the way of her getting out, she would shoot first and worry about having killed someone later. Her freedom was at stake, her seeing her son again was at risk. She read enough to known they had no plans on releasing her back to the life she was currently leading.

"There's no place for you to go. Your head was covered, you have no idea which way to go."

"Let me worry about that." She tapped his head with the base of the gun, not enough to disable him just so he'd know she wasn't afraid. "I'm not asking again. Open the door." He hesitated, she moved the gun, pointing it at his foot. "You dare test me?" She couldn't take the risk of a warning shot, the others would hear it and come. She'd managed to get this far without killing anyone and wanted to keep it that way.

He did as she asked. For the first time since they'd put something over her head at the bar she was seeing daylight. It took her a minute to acclimate. The gun at his head never wavered, though, and he seemed to sense that.

"Give me your radio."


"You're going to go back inside and stand guard like you were before."

"You aren't going to get away."

"I will. They're almost here."

"How do you know?"

She smiled widely. "Because I can read his thoughts again." That meant they were close. Close enough for her to leave this one out here? No, because they'd see him and wonder why he was here.

"Radio. Back inside." Out here she could give a warning shot and did just that, missing his foot by a scant inch or two. "Now."

He was right, there wasn't anything out here, but there was a mule similar to the one on Serenity. Only not as nice, which was saying something. Whoever these people were, they weren't very well organized or funded, and they were pretty dumb. So, she was no longer worried about them as a threat to her. She'd just have to keep her mind tuned at all times now. She'd gotten lax at doing that, comfortable in knowing that Mal could take some of the noise away from her. She'd take the noise if it meant retaining her freedom.

Assuming the vehicle they were using was housed with the one remaining she stepped round the corner, back flush against it so that no one could get behind her. For the first time in a while, she felt her blood pumping, her body ready for the action it was made for. She heard the low hum grow louder as they made their approach. She risked a look around the corner, spotted the two she thought were with Mal and no others. She wasn't sure how many remained inside, three maybe including the one she'd sent back inside.

She didn't wait until they'd come to a full stop, merely slowed. Mal's eyes widened, not registering who she was at first. She tossed one of her weapons in his direction, unsure if they'd patted him down for his.

She shot the tires out of the spare mule, before pointing her weapon at the two men. She hadn't seen these two before. That she remembered.

"Out now," she said.

"Oh come on now, bao bay," he said, conking first one and then the other over the head with the butt of the weapon she'd tossed in his direction. "You can't expect me to not reek some damage on the folk who took you."

"Talk later," she muttered, jumping into the vehicle. "Go now. More inside. They'll come quickly."

"All right."

"You, too. You remember how to get back?"

"Engrained in my head." He paused just briefly, giving her a once over. "Glad to see you're all right. None the worse for wear, a little disheveled but that's not exactly a new look for you."

"Same could be said for you, husband."

"Damned good to see you, by the way."

He smiled with a wink and her stomach did that flip-floppy thing that it had no business doing right now. She turned to face away from him, watching their backs as he drove in the direction of home. Odd that she'd come to think of a ship, a constantly moving, non-stationary object as home.

Confident he'd handle any opposition they might come up against in that direction she remained facing away. She couldn't help but smile at his thoughts, glad he couldn't see her. He might get worried she was lapsing back into her crazy time.

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**Part Twenty-Six**

Word Count: 1,394
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #46-Loving

He stopped a ways out, got out and looked the transport over. The only device he found on it was theirs. He waved the contraption over every inch of it just to be safe in the event they hid something he wouldn't spot with his eyes. He doubted it, because they probably weren't counting on River getting away with him.

"Why have we stopped?"

He took his seat behind the wheel. "Because, woman, I haven't had a chance to look at you for myself to know you're in one piece and it's a ways yet back to the ship."

"It cannot wait?"

"No, it cannot wait."

She turned to look at him then, giving him that look. The one that was nearly always his undoing. More than one person had laid claim to the emotion of love pertaining to what he felt for her. He'd never denied it aloud, but he'd been fairly quick to dismiss such a thing as being based on fact. People saw what they wanted to see. Married people were, in theory anyway, supposed to be in love.

He took hold of her waist, causing her to shriek and then laugh so she knew he wasn't trying to hurt her.

"So, now, here we are, let me get a good look at you."

"It could wait until we get back to the ship."

"Could. But everyone's going to want to hear about your ordeal, 'cluding myself." He worked the hem of her dress up. "Christ, no underwear?"

"They would not let me change so I did without."

"I had a dream about you this morning."

"You did?" There was a smile not just on her face but in her eyes, too. Little minx already knew what he was thinking, but was going to make him say it anyway.

"Yes, one that made me feel like a dirty, bad man," he slid a finger inside of her just like he'd done in the dream. "Allow me to demonstrate," he murmured as her eyes clouded over as they always did when he touched her, loved her.

His other hand worked the fastenings of his pants while her body moved against his finger, now joined by a second one.

"I love watching you do that," he murmured, already harder than hell. She had a way of taking his fingers inside of her that made it look both erotic and graceful, two things he'd never put together until making love with her. "But I've got more important parts to slide inside of you."

"You do?" She braced herself on his shoulders and did exactly as he'd hoped.

"Yes," he hissed as she sheathed herself over him. She didn't waste no time either. Quick, hard, deep she took him in with the same urgency he seemed to feel. Hard to believe a mere nine months ago she had a hard time taking him in. "I'll make this up to you later, bao bay, but right now I need you like I haven't needed anything before."

His mouth found hers and he kissed her deeply, pulling away when he couldn't keep quiet anymore.

"I thought I'd lost you. You understand that? You understand how that made me feel?"

She stilled slightly, as if not sure he wanted to continue or not.

"No, no, bao bay, keep going. I need to be inside of you right now. That's my point. I need this, connecting with you, to know you're here, you're real." She bowed her back against his hands so he could lift the dress higher, exposing her breasts to him which he readily took advantage of. He groaned softly at the taste of her, spilling freely into his mouth. He hadn't even really sucked.

"It's been so long. They're full," she whispered, sounding apologetic.

"Am I complaining? Just wasn't expecting is all. I reckon fair's fair, you taste me. If it's good enough for little Mal who am I to thumb my nose at such an offering."

She cried out when he latched on this time, cupping her ass with his free hand so he could thrust harder inside of her. He felt her clench around him as he switched from one breast to the other.

"Could do that for hours and it wouldn't be enough right now."

"I'm sorry, bao bay," he murmured, drawing away. He grazed the swell of a breast with his cheek, mindful of the fact it'd been a while since he'd shaved. His other hand slid along her hip, between her legs to the sensitive spot he knew she was waiting for him to touch. He held off, refrained, needing to finish saying what was on his mind.

"River," he murmured overlapping her "Mal."

"You first," he whispered.

"No, no, go ahead."

"Ain't never told you this, anyone for that matter. And I don't reckon I knew exactly this was where my mind and heart had gone until this. Though everyone else seemed to know. And I ain't the type to say it at every turn neither, but Christ I love you."


Well, that wasn't what he'd expected.


"I know," she whispered, looking at him, and he saw tears in her eyes. Was that good? Was your girl supposed to cry when you said such a thing? "Yes, it's good. And, yes, those who've been waiting for an eternity for you to figure it out cry when it finally occurs to you that is how you feel."

He had no idea what to say to that. Had that been what the looks had been for? Like he knew anything about feelings and using his heart to control anything about his life.

She cradled his head in her hands and kissed him, dipping her tongue into her mouth so unlike him thrusting inside of her elsewhere it was her doing so with their mouths. She grazed his jaw with kisses then his neck and ear.

"I love you, too," she whispered.

"I definitely owe you a long tumble later," he murmured. "Your turn, you were going to say something."

She drew back a little. "I should tell you that my body is at the optimum point for fertilization to occur."

"Come again?"

"Egg has been released."

He was sure there was something there that was supposed to make sense to him. It just wasn't computing. That probably had something to do with being buried deep inside a woman he'd just come to realize meant an awful lot to him.

"There is a good chance I will get pregnant should we continue."

"Oh," he said simply. "You can tell that?"

"Yes, body's temperature rises and other variables."

"Huh." He thought on that a minute. "You're telling me this because you don't want to get pregnant?"

"I don't know if you want me to get pregnant."

"bao bay, we've been rather active the past few months. If I was worried about that I wouldn't have been burying myself in you every chance I got once I knew you were all right."

"Is that a yes?"

He shook his head with a low chuckle. Figuring he didn't need to answer her this time with words. His mouth found hers and he didn't move it again until they'd both reached their climax. He drew away, lowering his mouth to the underside of her breast, nipping the sensitive skin there.

"I suppose it's a little late now to ask if they hurt you?"

She laughed then, rolling her hips against him getting the last few thrusts out of him she could get. "No, they didn't do anything to me."

"We can wait until we get back to Serenity, more than likely the whole crew will want to hear. You can tell them, and then we can head back to our bunk and work on this…What'd you call it again?"

"Optimum point for fertilization."

"I think trying for a baby sounds a little better. Little less scientific. Already have one that was done from science."

She scrunched her nose and scooted off of him, not straying far from his side though. "Is the man sated enough to return home now?"

"For the time being."

She lifted her head, letting him see her smile. "Then we'd best head there."

"I reckon so, bao bay, I reckon so. Hopefully, Wash has those engines revved and ready to go."

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**Part Twenty-Seven**

Word Count: 1,504
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #11-Pain

"Mal," Jayne's voice came from the area leading to the bridge. The whole ship probably heard him for as loud as he was.

"Yes, Jayne."

"You've got to do something about River."

"Somehow I'm guessing you don't have her welfare in mind. So, tell me what's on your mind, Jayne. What'd she do? Steal one of your guns again for target practice?" Mal hadn't seen her in a little while, but she'd mentioned playing with Mal followed by a shower before bed so he hadn't thought anything of it.

"She's still in the shower. Did you not hear me hollering a bit ago? What little hot water we've got is likely to be gone. And unlike her I worked today and need to get clean."

"And you want me to do what? The woman feels the need for a shower…"

"She's been in there forever. She's yours, get her out. Unless you want me to do it, but I'll set her out the door in her all together. Mark my word. I could care less."

"I'll get her," Mal said with a roll of his eyes. "She ain't my property and I don't take well to you threatening her, Jayne."

"I wasn't threatening. I just want my damned shower! And I knew that telling you I'd remove her myself would get your attention."


She did this sometimes, got lost in there. He'd been busy most of the day working out the details of this job, so she'd been responsible for Mal on her own. He wasn't adverse to taking the baby for a while if she needed a break. He sensed somehow she thought the crew would think badly of her if she did that, though, so she muddled through. So, a shower was her escape once Mal was down for the night. Her private time.

He knocked. "Riv, it's me," he said, before letting himself in. What he saw gave him pause. She was in the shower all right, sitting in the small area, knees bunched up around her, the water on to barely a trickle, aimed directly at her breasts. He saw the evidence of tears on her cheeks, but she didn't seem to be sobbing uncontrollably or anything.


"Go away."

"Come on now, you've been in here for quite a while Jayne says."

"It hurts," she said softly, glancing at him and he saw the tears swimming in her eyes.

"Simon told you it might, but this ain't helping."

She shifted slightly so the water changed spots, arching into it and groaning softly. A groan that made parts of him already twitching from standing here watching her naked do so even more. He'd wondered a couple of times now if that desire would ever go away. Of course, there were times seeing her with clothes on made him react in the same way.

"Feels good," she murmured.

"Yeah, he told you it would, but it's not going to stop the problem. Remember? The more you do this the more comes out, the more your body thinks it still needs to make more."

"I know," she murmured.

"You want to try again tomorrow?"

"No, Simon said he would have recommended I wean him about now anyway."

Mal sat down behind her, gathering her to him so the focus of the water was no longer on her breasts. He didn't really care he was getting wet, too.

"It ain't right what happened, and I'm sorry, but little Mal was already eating mushed up food anyway."

"Yes, but at least if I'd been able to stop properly it wouldn't hurt so much."

"Simon said there still would have been discomfort."

"Not like this!" She crossed her arms in front of her and then drew them away almost violently with a hiss. "See! I can't even do the most basic things!"

"I get that, bao bay, I do, and I can't begin to understand what you're going through. If I could help, I would, take some of it away for you. But the showers are out. And you've got my crew kind of in a snit hogging the shower."

"Can't help it. Need the relief. It wants to come out, made to come out."

By the time Inara had gotten back to Serenity with little Mal, he'd gone over a full day without nursing. Mal had thought of that when sending Inara away, but there wasn't anyone else who could have stood in River's place for that type of thing. So, he had no options open to him there.

The baby had taken to bottles so well in his short absence he wanted nothing more to do with what his mother had to offer him naturally. Simon said it wasn't unusual, particularly at this age since he'd been exposed to some foods already. Mal wasn't so sure what he'd been given could be called food exactly, it didn't look like anything he'd ever eaten.

"Come on, let's get you out of here."

"Don't want to go."

"I know, but this isn't doing you any good. You're just going to delay the drying up process. And make my crew think I'm favoring you by letting you sit in here well past your allotted time. Want me to get Simon?"

"No, no Simon. Don't need a doctor to tell me what I already know."

"Then come on, River. This is just prolonging the process."

"Can't wear nice clothes because I leak."

"Simon said it shouldn't take that long. Couple of weeks, maybe a little longer but he said a couple weeks and you shouldn't have that problem anymore."

"And what do I do until then?"

"Well, gee, you can't wear clothes. I could think of a thing or two."

"I said nice clothes," she said, but he could hear the laughter in her tone.

He stood then, helping her up. He was relieved she let him. He had no doubt if it came to a struggle between the two he'd probably come out on the short end of the stick. He pulled her robe around her, gathering her into his arms.

"You do what every other woman in your position has done, Riv. I know that's not very helpful, but you've got to let nature take its course here. A few weeks of pain like this? Or you taking a warm shower for the purpose of expressing more, which will only make things worse?"

"I'd rather have none."

"Yeah, me, too, but life doesn't work that way."

"I know."

"If I need to come in here with you to make sure all you're doing is showering, I will."

She lifted her head then to look into his eyes. "That could be fun."

"No," he lifted his lips in a smile. "I'd be doing it from a merely medical standpoint, out of concern for my wife's wellbeing. No fun would be had."


"No, as it is tonight I'm surprised Jayne's given me this much time to get you out of here."

"Hot water's gone."

"Yeah, I suspect that's the reason. He can take one later."

"You don't think I did anything wrong?"

"What? What could you possibly have done wrong?"

"Tried harder."

"River. Come on," he said, smoothing back some of her hair. "No one on this boat things you've done anything wrong. I knew when I sent him with Inara he'd be relying on bottles, but not knowing how long it'd be before you got back I didn't see as I had much choice. I wanted to protect him, afraid somehow he'd been found out. And I couldn't let him starve until you got back."

"I hate when you look at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like you feel sorry for me."

"I don't. Not at all, I'm just sorry I can't help you through this. If you come to bed now I'll show you just how I feel for you."

She laughed softly. "You say that all of the time."

"And it's true all of the time." He grazed her lip with the back of his finger. "You all right now?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"It's already been over a week. Just a couple more and you should be out of the woods. All right. You start feeling like this again, you come find me and I'll see to it I take your mind off the pain."


"Cross my heart, bao bay. Now, let's get out of here so Jayne doesn't have a conniption."

"He already thinks that we…"

"Yeah, I can guess what's going on in that mind of his."

"He has a rather filthy mind."

"Any ideas you pull out of that mind of his you want to try, just let me know."

"I will be sure to do that."

"Until then, I've got a few of my own I'd like to give a spin. And I promise each and every one will keep your mind off what's going on with you elsewhere."

"I know," she said, giving him a kiss.

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**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, Sir…"

"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 sticking 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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**Part Twenty-Nine**

Word Count: 1,726
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #48-Writer's Choice - Bath

"There you are," he said upon entering his bunk and finding River there.

"Where else would I be?"

"No one seemed to know where you went off to."

"You needed me."

"I did?"

"You're saying you don't?"

"Well, that goes without saying, but why now in particular?"

"You needed to clean up."

"Well, yeah," he frowned, tempted to ask how she knew that. The answer was obvious he supposed. Why couldn't she have just stayed there and prevented him from walking in the line of fire. "I was just going to wash up and change."

"I thought I could do it for you."

"You did, huh?"


There was a time not too long ago she would approach him with such ideas and appear bashful or uncertain. He couldn't find either of those things there now. He supposed it had something to do with realizing he wasn't going anywhere. And he as of yet hadn't been put off by anything she'd suggested.

"Something tells me my way would be a bit faster."

She took his hands, pulling him toward the bed. "But not nearly as fulfilling."

He chuckled at that. "Can't argue that point."

She slid her hands to his chest, pushing him enough so he sat. And then she began to remove his clothes.

"This will need washing," she said more to herself than to him as she slid his shirt over his shoulders and off.

"I already told you that, Riv."

"My baths are good enough for little Mal."

"I ain't a child."

She smiled at that, a challenge visible in her eyes. "I think I know that already."

She worked on his pants then. He was momentarily ashamed that just the slightest brush of her arm over his crotch had him reacting to her. Until he saw that touching him had an effect on her, too. Leaking was no longer a problem, but her breasts were still too sensitive for her to keep confined in a bra all of the time. Since this was one of those times she was without, hardening nipples was easy enough to tell on her. Particularly now that she'd taken to wear dresses that fit her better.

He halted her progress in getting his pants off to whisk off the offending garment standing in his way of seeing her the way he liked looking at her best. The only evidence he could tell that showed she'd had a baby was fuller breasts and a curve to her waist and hips that hadn't been quite so prominent before. And he'd looked over every inch of her the past few months to know if there was any other evidence.

"I'm supposed to be bathing you," she whispered.

"Later. We'll bathe each other then."

She smiled, tucking some hair behind her ear. Seemingly not ashamed to stand in front of him nude. She knelt before him then, pulling his pants off the rest of the way so he matched her nakedness with his own.

He gathered her onto his lap then, arms encircling her waist.

"The water will get cold," she said, still in a whisper. Her body, however, betrayed the fact she wanted him inside of her as much as he wanted to be.


She glanced over her shoulder, his gaze followed. It wasn't a full-fledged tub, but there was a bucket there. He presumed it contained warm water.

"Bao bay, you went through all of that trouble for me?"

"Yes, I thought it would be fun."


She blushed then, nodding and biting her lower lip. "Yes."

His hands slid to her hips where he lifted her up, positioning her so he could enter her. "Well, far be it from me to stand in your way of some fun. What was your plan then before I rudely interrupted with getting you all naked-like? I have to tell you, though," as he slid deeply into her. She was slick, wet already so he knew she really didn't have her mind entirely on the bath anymore. "This is fun."

She rode him, her arms by her head to keep her hair from her face so he could watch her. He loved watching her lift herself off him and then take him deep again. She seemed to crave it as much as he did, being as far inside of her as he could be.

"Grab on," he murmured before standing from the bed and making his way the short distance to the bucket. His plan hadn't taken him through sitting on the floor without dislodging her from being on top of him. The parting was only for a brief second or two and she was back on top of him with him inside of her.

She stilled when she saw him reach for the cloth. He took it in his hand, squeezed out the excess water as best as he could. He let some of the water bead over her breasts, licking the drops off.

"This what you had in mind?"

She groaned softly.

"Cuz I have to say I agree with it being fun."

She took the cloth from him, pushing him so he was laying on the floor. She gave him a bath, though the floor underneath him probably got as wet as he did in the process. She'd even gone so far as to turn so she faced his feet, washing his legs. Neither of which had been in the line of young Mal's fire.

"Just stay like that," he murmured when she made to turn around again.

"Okay," she whispered, clearly not sure why he was asking.

"Sorry, if you could see what I see right now." He shook his head, hands cradling her hips before sliding over to her backside. And then up along her spine as far as he could reach.

"You've been behind me before."

She was right, this wasn't much different than him behind her, except it was.

"Never like this. There's something about this view with you in control." There was something almost regal about the way she sat there, back straight, only thing wasn't too prim and proper to be seated on his very stiff erection.

"Oh," she said, seeming to catch on to what made it so particularly arousing. At least to him.

She gave him what he wanted, but then she always did. Or maybe it was need and not want. He never could tell. A little of both. He sometimes wondered if she tapped into his mind, knew how close he was and worked to heighten it just that much more. Because she rarely failed to leave him feeling boneless when they were through. This time was no different.

She spent the next little while doing what she'd come in here to do all along, washing him up. She even found some spots in his hair young Mal's pudding had found a home in.

"Stuff is lethal."

She giggled softly. "Perhaps we could use it as a weapon."

"Not that, but his diapers probably could be."

She laughed again as he took the cloth from her hand and dropped it back in the bucket. He returned the favor and then stood. He took her into his arms and taking her back to the bed where they'd started.


"Zoe's got him."


"We've got nothing but time, bao bay. I reckon my crew knows where to find me if the need arises. Been gone long enough, both of us, they ain't stupid."

He found a breast then, carefully licking and sucking it not wanting to spur her body into thinking he was needing nourishment from her.

He heard her start to say something, but cut her off.

"Have you not figured out yet that once is never enough? You started it, taking off my clothes and all."

"I just wanted to give you a bath."

"Like that'd ever work without leading to this."

"We could try."

"Bite your tongue. There'll be plenty of time later for that."


"Yeah, you know," he murmured, finding the other breast while he sank first one finger and then another inside of her. "A few years from now when you're tired of me."

"Or when you're tired of me. Or I'm pregnant one too many times."

"But we're trying." He glanced at her sharply, pulling away just a little. "Why would you say that?"

"It was a joke. You read stories of women that have child after child and their figures just aren't quite the same."

"Well, I maintain you could use a little extra on your bones," he said, finding her most sensitive spot with his thumb, causing her to cry out. "Just one more would satisfy me, made the right way. Then one of us can get fixed if you're really worried about it. I assure you I ain't out to have you in the family way every time you blink."

She shook her head and he chuckled, knowing she was too close to getting off to actually say anything. Her orgasms right after they'd had sex were always intense. She took his face in her hands, drawing her to him. Not that he needed much coaxing to kiss her.

"I won't get tired of you," she whispered.

"Me neither. Came this far alone too long to go that route."

He slid next to her then, licking his fingers before drawing her against him.

"What's he doing now?" he asked.

"He's working on crawling, Zoe's not sure what to do. He's fine, though."

He chuckled. "We should go rescue her."

"He's not ready yet."

"You suggesting I leave my first mate thinking little one's going to go mobile on her at any second to lay in bed with you for a while longer?"

"That's exactly what I'm suggesting."

"Well, now, since you were honest about it…" He kissed her shoulder then, a hand sliding protectively to her abdomen. She hadn't mentioned whether their efforts since her escape at getting her pregnant had worked.

"You enjoy trying too much for me to tell you," she whispered.

"I do, huh?"

"Yes. You are rather vigorous about it."

"Well, now, I could have lost you. Just need you to know how much that bothers me."

"I understand," she whispered.

And he knew she did. Probably better than he himself did for that matter.

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**Part Thirty**

Word Count: 3,551
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #12-Grandparents

AUTHOR'S NOTE: My thanks goes out to buffybot76 for not just BETA'ing the final part to this story but also for going through the tremendous task of re-reading the whole thing to help steer me the direction I thought I should go. Many, many thanks!

Mal watched as little Rebecca made her way across the floor. She was making an attempt at trying to keep up with her much faster - and older - brothers. He remembered Malcolm being this age, perfecting the art of crawling, very clearly. There were days the five years seemed forever ago and some it seemed like yesterday.

He wasn't sure who was more shocked by the fact he and River were actually making a marriage onboard Serenity work. Him, her, or the crew. It didn't much matter anymore who had doubts, they were kind of pointless now. If there were any nagging doubts left over from Malcolm, they went by the wayside as soon as he saw Peter with his own eyes.

Rebecca brought him away from his thoughts as she fell the short distance to the floor, a startled look on her face. She really wanted to be as fast as the two boys. He didn't need to be able to read minds to know that.

Peter was just about four; Irish twins he and Malcolm had been referred to a time or two. Memories of his crawling were blurred. He wondered if that was normal, you remember the first one most because everything's so new.

Rebecca was the earliest learner of the three, he knew that much. Peter hadn't been too intent on crawling any sooner than was necessary. Perhaps that was because he and Malcolm were barely a year apart. That had been planned. Rebecca had been a bit of a surprise, and in some ways Mal loved her a bit more because of it. No planning, no trying, no conscious thought. Just River one day telling him he was about to become a father again.

Soon she would be walking and then all hell would break loose on Serenity one last time. Malcolm looked a little like River, Mal didn't see much of her in him though, truthfully. So, whoever they'd mixed in with her gene pool must have had dominant features. Peter was the spitting image of him. He didn't have anything left of his childhood but the memories, no photographs or anything, but he remembered what he looked like well enough. And Rebecca, well, as fitting she took after her mother.

The mother in question was nestled in his lap, paging through a book he knew he couldn't begin to understand. Her mind, now that it was for the most part clear, was like a sponge. She wanted to read anything and everything she could get her hands on. By this point, she probably knew more about the workings of Serenity by way of having read the manuals at least twice when she had nothing else available to read.

Simon told Mal that was how she'd been as a child, so he suspected by the time all was said and done they'd have a full-blown library aboard Serenity, too. She was well on her way to seeing one was started anyway.

He loved that about her, and from everything he could garner so far all three of their children had minds like their mother's. Both the sponge part and the reader part. Troubling. To say the least. When they were older he wouldn't be able to get away with anything! Not that he could now, but four readers certainly spoke of the odds being stacked against not just him but his crew.

"He is not stupid," she murmured. "And she likes that he is not a reader. Calms her mind, soothes her soul."

"He knows," he said, no longer unaccustomed to talking about himself in the third person. "He just pales in comparison to the four brains currently surrounding him."

"We all still love him anyway."

She turned on his lap then, legs going around his waist. Three children hadn't had the least amount of negative effect on her body. She was still as petite as the day he'd first set eyes on her. Filled out some in a few places that needed filling out in. But overall, she was the same and still as agile as a cat. Rebecca was like that, too. She'd be a dancer like her mother, and would be prone to touring places in Serenity she had no business being merely because she could get to them without anyone knowing.

His arms went around her, sliding to her ass so he could support her. "He loves all of them, too."

"Even the mother?"

"Especially the mother. Look at what I had before I met you and look at what I have now. They might maybe should be in school one day, little Malcolm especially now, but you're smart enough you can teach him yourself. I have a family. You have any idea how good that feels after going so long without? Serenity was a family, my crew was my family, but I've come to learn over the past six years it ain't no substitute for the real deal. I'd still die for them, but those three I'd take whoever tried to hurt them to hell with me in the process of dying."

"Such a loyal man and yet you fail to see what everyone else does."

"You opened me up to that. No one else could I wager."

She rested her head against his, watching from the corner of her eye as Rebecca crawled toward them. Malcolm and Peter were busily playing with some blocks on the other side of the room, building some type of fort it looked like. They steered clear of little Rebecca now that she was mobile. She'd more than once tipped over one of their creations through no fault of her own. They didn't understand that, though.

"You sure you're all right with no more?" he asked. They'd both decided when Rebecca had been a girl to stop where they were. They had three healthy children. They didn't have all the room in the world on Serenity, but Malcolm and Peter enjoyed sleeping in a bunk near their Uncle Simon, leaving Rebecca to the nursery that had six years ago been a plain bunk. Now it was full of frilly things, girlish things. Pink things. So, if another one was in order, space could be found.

Malcolm in particular, not only enjoyed Uncle Simon but had a fondness for Jayne and the type of things the merc could teach him. That had bothered Mal until River had assured him their son would be all right. Alliance-made or not he would still grow up their way. A curiosity of guns and weapons did not an assassin make.


"All right. Just saying. This is very definitely a speak now or forever hold your peace type deal."

"I do enjoy making them and will gladly act out the part as much as the husband wishes."

He regarded her then. "The fact you can say that after going through what you went through three times amazes me."

None of her deliveries had been easy. Malcolm's had by far been the hardest, but Peter and Rebecca had been no cake walk either.

"Simon says the procedure is easy enough."

"But not painless," she said.

"It doesn't seem like much compared to what you went through having them."

"All right. If you're sure."

"Well, I don't know that we have much choice. The idea of you being altered in any way bothers me. So, that leaves me. I don't trust other methods, no matter how reliable Simon says they are. We do seem to have the art of making of them down pat, don't we?"

She had the audacity to blush. He found it one of the most endearing things about her. After all they'd done together, been through as not just a couple but as part of Serenity's crew. And she still got embarrassed about the most basic things.

Rebecca managed to make her way to the chair Kaylee was sitting on opposite Simon. He was trying to teach her how to play chess. From the look of things, he was getting more frustrated by the fact she wasn't learning the game more than she was. Kaylee was just having a good time.

Rebecca grabbed onto the chair's leg and pulled herself up. Mal didn't like seeing how easily she was doing that now. Ease in getting up from the crawler position meant she'd want to venture away from the chair upright.

Kaylee stooped to pick up Rebecca and brought her to her lap. Mal watched as Kaylee bounced Rebecca and cooed softly in his daughter's ear. He'd often wondered if women came with some type of unspoken about manual as to how to handle babies. Even Zoe had known how to handle little ones seemingly without flaw or nervousness.

If Kaylee felt like a substitute since Inara had taken leave of Serenity sometime around the announcement that there would be a third child for the Reynolds family she didn't show it. Mal suspected the third was proof enough the marriage was sticking. Her shuttle was still intact, ready for her to use if she so desired. She and Simon had never gotten past the friendship phase, that didn't seem to be the case with Kaylee and Simon. He suspected a time or two that Kaylee's absence from her bunk in the morning was not due to an all-night chess match as had been the case between Simon and Inara.

Truthfully, as much in common lifestyle-wise that Simon and Inara had, Mal believed the same obstacles that had existed for him did for Simon as well. It was one thing to know the woman you were involved with had bedded a man or two, maybe even twenty. But to know they were trained in the art of bedding. Well, that was just a difficult thing to get past. You'd never really know if the desire they felt for you was sincere or that of years of practice at appearing to be so.

"Always sincere," River whispered against his ear.

"Don't I know it," he said, grazing her lips with a kiss. "I don't need to be a reader to know that how you respond to me is genuine."

"And you to me."

"Got that right."

"They're talking all hush-hush again," Jayne said from his vantage point on the other side of the room. He was not so much supervising the fort Malcolm and Peter were making with their blocks and whatever else they could get their hands on as helping. A little boy at heart.

"We are not," Mal said with a low chuckle. "Some things are meant to be kept between a man and his woman, Jayne."

"Yeah, well," his eyes drifted to Simon and finally resting on Mal. "Not all of us have those."

Mal had nothing to say to that. Jayne treated his weapons better than most men treated their women, so in a way he did have a significant other. It was just an object not a person, and there were several of them. More ways for Jayne to spread the love around was his way of thinking.

Wash was busily flying them away from their latest job, Zoe was on the bridge with him. Mal was quite certain she was giving him the play-by-play of yet another successful mission. And it had been one to talk about. He'd sworn when Malcolm was born he would never, ever bring his children out on a job. He'd stood by that until being a family unit was just too perfect a cover to resist. Who would suspect the man with his wife and three young children of being a thief? They were never in any danger, he just needed anyone coming by his empty theatre seat to assume the father was off getting treats for his children.

Malcolm had picked up on something, because he was all kinds of relieved when Mal got back to his seat; job complete. One day, it would be impossible to hide from any of them what the folk on Serenity did to survive. For now, though, they were safe.

Zoe's voice came over the comm, telling them they were about to land at their next destination. A destination perhaps only River understood being a part of their plan today. He was so close to it that he'd been compelled to come look. They'd been close before, but it had never seemed fitting before now to stop. Malcolm was just big enough to fit into the smallest space suit, so he would come with. Peter and Rebecca had to stay onboard.

It seemed fitting somehow that Mal shared this experience with Malcolm over the other two. He was the product of the people who had destroyed it, left it uninhabitable. Serenity touched down and the three of them dressed before getting into the mule.

River was quiet and, for once, Malcolm was too, as if sensing this was a somber moment in his father's life. Perhaps he did sense it. He got out of the mule once they were on the ground and away from his ship a bit. He scanned the nothingness that was Shadow, a sense of loss he didn't quite understand entering his heart. There was signs of previous life here, but it was clearly dead and gone. Nothing existed here anymore, not even dust he wagered.

He recognized from the damaged buildings where they were and headed the mule in the direction he wanted to go. Needed to go. He wasn't sure why, was sure Simon would be full of some psychological babble were he to ask his brother-in-law. This is what had made him the man he was, he'd needed River to see it. Maybe she'd get a feel from it to understand why he was the way he was. Malcolm, too.

Years, too many, had gone by, but he remembered the way as if he'd left yesterday. The ranch was all but gone, destroyed by years of inactivity. There were a couple of fence posts he could see and a carcass or two were visible but that was about all that was left of his childhood home. The house while dilapidated and lopsided, stood barely hanging onto this recognizable form. Soon, anyone coming here wouldn't have a guess as to the memories the house held. Or even that a house had been here once upon a time.

Malcolm cried out. River showed no sign of being bothered by anything. Malcolm's eyes were wide through the mask he wore, frantically looking in way too many directions at once.

"It's all right, son, this is where your dad grew up. Ain't much left, can't tell that it was a decent place, held together by an upstanding woman."

River had told Mal he acted as an anchor to her, someone who settled the psychic noise down a bit. As Malcolm seemed to settle down at Mal's voice, he could only assume he did the same for the boy.

"Were she alive, I reckon she'd be rushing down those stairs about now, anxious as all get out to see you. She was a good mother. You'd have loved this place, too, when it was in its prime. More animals than you could shake a stick at. I never understood that saying, why anyone would shake sticks at things. But, you know, there it is. Plenty of food, always something to do, mischief to be had for a young, curious boy. And you are curious, ain't you?"

Malcolm merely nodded his head, Mal smiled slightly.

"Yeah, nothing wrong with that."

River was quiet. She looked fine, so Mal could only assume she was carefully treading through his mind and the memories there to see what she could find out about the curious boy that had been Malcolm Reynolds. Before he'd gone to war, before he'd had to live a life on the run. She'd told him she carefully avoided THOSE memories and he was appreciative of that fact. There were things she didn't need to see and he didn't like thinking she could relive some of his darkest moments.

"He could have a ranch of his own."

"He could, huh?" Mal said quietly, his eyes never wavering from Malcolm's. For some reason, eye contact seemed essential to keeping him soothed.

"Yes, not one this grand, but if it is what he loves."

Mal shrugged, regarding the remains of his childhood home for a brief second. Even that long seemed to be enough for Malcolm to be overcome by something. He didn't think it was fear.

"I love you and my family and will not make us sitting ducks for the Alliance to find and capture any of you."

"Perhaps one day," she said, sounding more hopeful than meddlesome.

"Perhaps at that."

She slid an arm around Malcolm's shoulders, guiding him back to the mule. "Your father needs to say good-bye," she whispered, Mal heard her, though. Maybe she'd meant for him to.

He didn't have much to leave here, nothing really, but knowing he'd be making this stop he'd purchased a silk flower at their last stop. Somehow it had seemed essential for him to move forward with the rest of his life that he formally and officially say goodbye to the past. He left it on the porch steps that he didn't dare try climbing up. One step by a man his size, maybe even a boy Malcolm's side, would probably send them collapsing.

He wasn't a man of many words, wouldn't even know what to say if he was one. He just knew that he wished his kids had grandparents, a place like this to look forward to visiting. The Tam's were still alive, but seeing them was about as impossible as seeing Malcolm's parents. So, sadly his children were doing without one of life's greatest pleasures, grandparents.

Without the suit on, he would have taken the time to wipe away the few tears that had escaped his eyes. To see this place, one he'd left when it was still in its glorious prime, look like this. Well, all he knew was that he was glad his mother wasn't alive to see it.

"All right, Ma, just needed to say good bye, let the boy get a feel for who I am, what kind of man he's dealing with. Not sure if he'll get a feel for you, too, but maybe in some way he'll carry his grandma with him because of today."

So, he was a man of words after all. He was glad no one was standing there to hear him, though. Anyone but River would think he was nuts for thinking that, but he no longer discounted people getting things that others didn't. And that included from the dead.

The trip back to Serenity went by much slower than on their way out. Perhaps that was just a state of mind. He couldn't be sure. Back onboard, free of the clunky space suit he noticed Malcolm clutched something in his gloved hand.

"What's that, son," Mal asked once River was on her way to checking on little Rebecca.

Malcolm's arm shook slightly before he opened the glove to reveal, "I'll be damned," Mal said when he saw the dirt his son's little hand clutched. "You took that?"

"Y-Yes, sir."

"No reason to stammer about it, Malcolm, it was just a question. No one owns that soil anyway. You want it, you can have it. If Shadow was a habitable planet, you'd have rights to that land. That's Reynolds land, you hear me? That means it's yours. I wish I had more of a legacy to give you than a broken down and abandoned ranch on a planet that in a few years no one will even remember existed."

Malcolm seemed uncertain, Mal wondered that was about. And then he realized, Malcolm couldn't take the space suit off without getting rid of the sand.

"Want me to hold it while you get out of that contraption?"

"Yes," he said, pouring the sand into Mal's hand. He wasn't sure how safe it was, but really it was just a little sand after all. "You're not mad?"

"Not even a little bit. I'm glad my home means something to you. Now, let's go find a bottle or something to put that in, that way you can keep it and look at it any time you want."


"Just one thing."

Malcolm paused, glancing up at Mal with large, doe-like eyes.

"You saw what it looked like before, didn't you?"

Malcolm nodded simply. He seemed hesitant to discuss his abilities with Mal.

"You have to show it to your brother and sister. One day when you think they're old enough, I trust you'll know when. I couldn't bring them with today, you understand why. So, that sand, well, that's all they'll have to know their grandparents by. I leave it to you to show it to them. To describe to them the things you saw when we were there. Tell them about the house, the animals, all of it. That's what big brothers do."

Malcolm smiled then, tucking his head against Mal's side as they went about finding something to store that little bit of sand in.

~The End~

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