TITLE: The Talk
AUTHOR: Mnemosyne

Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss. I just play.
SUMMARY: Mal's tired of the ship being overrun by children, and decides to have A Talk with his crew.
RATING: Let's say light R, for bawdy humor. Hoo boy, the bawdy. LOL!
CHARACTERS: All!
PAIRINGS: River/Jayne, Simon/Kaylee, Zoe/Wash, implied Mal/Inara
SPOILERS: None!
NOTES:
I have no good reason for writing this story. Absolutely none. I blame it entirely on too little sleep and too much Halloween candy. That and Mal demanded I write a story where he got to bitch at his crew. Who am I to deny Captain Tightpants? LOL! I hope you like! Don't take this too seriously; trust me when I say it is what it is and it's not trying to be more. LOL! Enjoy!


"You're awfully chipper this morning, River," Kaylee observed from her place at the common room table, where she was amiably chewing away on a stack of strawberry pancakes Simon had cooked up for her.

"Good dreams last night?" Simon asked, flipping another pancake onto a separate plate for himself.

River looked up from her dreamy-eyed study of the baby in the bassinet beside the sofa. "Melody will be an older sister," she said.

Kaylee squealed, clapping her hands as she jumped up from the table and scampered over to the couch to hug the other girl. "Another baby Cobb!" she enthused, then laughed and patted her own gently rounded belly. "Now little Johnny's gonna have a playmate just the right age!"

River gave her friend a brilliant smile and nodded.

Simon sighed from his position by the stove. "You know, I'm never going to get used to my little sister having babies," he said, picking up his plate and moving to the table. "Especially not with Jayne."

Kaylee shot her husband a faux dirty look. "You like him and you know it," she teased. Simon shrugged noncommitally and tucked into his pancakes.

"Who likes who?" Wash asked as he entered the common room, four-year old Anthony Washburne perched on his shoulders.

"Simon likes Jayne," River told him.

"He does?" Wash raised his eyebrows, setting his son on the floor and before calling back over his shoulder, "Lamby toes! Simon likes Jayne!"

"He does?" Zoe was close on the heels of her husband. "When did that happen?"

"Who likes me?" Jayne asked, sidling past Zoe and Wash on his way to the fridge. Anthony scampered after the tall mercenary, jumping in and out of his shadow.

"Simon," Kaylee said.

Jayne looked from her to the doctor, and snorted. "Yeah, right," he chuckled, opening the fridge door and rooting around inside. He grabbed a yogurt off a bottom shelf and held it out behind him for the youngest Washburne. "Here you go, littler little man." Anthony took it and ran back to his mother with the container held out proudly in front of him.

Kaylee nudged River with her toe. "You told him yet?" she asked.

"Told who what?" Inara asked as she, too, entered the common room, carrying a small packet of herbal tea.

"Told Jayne the good news!" Kaylee squealed, then looked immediately stricken as she turned back to River. "I didn't ruin a surprise or nothin' just now, did I?"

River patted her friend's knee. "Be at ease," she said with a smile.

"What good news?" Jayne asked, straightening up and kicking the fridge door shut as he unscrewed the top off a bottle of orange juice and took a swig.

"God, that's disgusting," Simon complained from the table. "Don't you know how to use a glass?"

Jayne belched loudly in the doctor's direction.

River gave her husband a reproachful look. "Be nice," she warned, "or she won't tell you the secret."

"What secret?" Jayne pressed, moving over to slump down at the table across from Simon, deliberately taking a long drink from the orange juice bottle.

"Jayne is going to be a daddy," the slender young woman said with a soft smile.

Jayne blinked at her. "Already a daddy," he said, nodding to the bassinet. "Iffen you count that one and the rugrat who's buggin' the preacher."

"Amy Jane never bugs me," Book said as he came into the common room.. "She's the picture of sweetness."

Jayne snorted. "Yeah, well she must spend it all on you then," he said. "She's a hell demon fer me."

"Wonder where she gets that from," Simon muttered. Kaylee threw a Chinese checker at his head. "Hey!"

"Ignore him," she told the room at large. "He's just unhappy cuz he didn't get any sex last night."

Simon flinched as Jayne howled with laughter. "Thank you, sweetheart," the doctor said.

"Serves you right, pickin' on Jayne and little Amy J," Kaylee teased, then jumped up from the couch to kiss the doctor's cheek. "I love my husband."

"Where is Amy Jane?" Zoe asked.

"I left her with the captain," Book replied.

Zoe raised an eyebrow. "He didn't mind?

Book chuckled. "She wouldn't let him say no."

Jayne snickered. "That's my girl," he said, and took another swig of OJ.

"I'm still burning with curiosity about this secret," Wash said, as he hoisted Anthony up onto his knee at one end of the table. The little boy was excavating the yogurt with a spoon that looked like a plesiosaur.

"Secret?" Book asked, as he set up a second teacup with a smile that indicated he hoped to share some of Inara's tea. The Companion smiled and nodded to the preacher, pouring him a steaming cupful.

"Is this somehow related to Simon liking Jayne?" Zoe asked, sipping her own cup of coffee.

"In a way," Kaylee giggled.

"If Kaylee's giggling that much, it's got to mean one of two things," Wash observed as his son slumped back against him, bored with the yogurt and more interested in his spoon. "Either Simon asked her to marry him again, or our little River is once again with child."

Jayne sat bolt upright in his seat. "That true, baby doll?" he asked.

River grinned at him.

"WOO!" Jayne whooped, leaping up from the table. "You hear that, Melody doll?" he crowed to the baby cooing quietly in her bassinet. "Now you get to have a baby sister, too!" He stopped and looked at River. "Sister?"

River shook her head. "Baby Jayne."

If Jayne had been beaming before, he was positively GLOWING now. "You HEAR that, Melody doll?" he asked again. "You're gonna have a little brother AND a big sister! One of each! Ain't that just whatcha always wanted, honey girl?"

"Oh, I'm sure she's thrilled," Wash said dryly. "Does she even know what a brother is?" But his eyes were twinkling.

"Congratulations, River," Zoe said, crossing the room to hug the younger woman. Inara wasn't far behind, followed by the preacher. "How long have you known?"

"Since conception last night."

Inara raised an eyebrow. "That fast, huh?"

River tilted her head and smiled dreamily. "She always knows."

Jayne shouldered through the group so he could reach down and swoop River off the couch into a bone-crushing hug. His wife giggled, wrapping herself around him as he spun her in a circle.

"What's all this here celebratin' about?" Mal asked, entering the common room and making straight for the coffee pot, dragging his left foot. "We strike it rich and someone forget to tell me?"

"You appear to have a strange growth on your leg, sir," Zoe observed, taking a sip of coffee to hide her grin.

"Yep, looks like you sprouted a Cobb," Wash said, peering over the table at the little girl who'd wrapped herself around Mal's leg and was happily riding his boot as he dragged her along.

"Trust me, I noticed," Mal griped, glaring down at the little girl. "Go on, get. There's your momma and daddy. Shoo."

Amy Jane giggled and grinned up at him, hugging his leg tighter.

Mal tightened his jaw and looked at Jayne, who was still hugging River like there was no tomorrow. Bypassing them as obviously useless in this situation, he looked at Wash. "Get her off me?" he asked.

Wash laughed. "Come on, Amy J," he said, holding out his hand to the little girl as he wrapped his other arm around Anthony's waist to keep the little boy from squirming away. "Come away from the mean old captain's leg. You don't know where it's been."

Mal glared at him as Amy Jane laughed and scrambled up, darting across the common room to fling herself at her uncle Wash. "Uncky Mal gimme a ride!" she enthused, standing up on the pilot's leg before plopping down on her bottom.

"We noticed," Inara said, with an ill-hidden grin.

Mal gave them all a sour look. "I'm the captain of this gorram ship," he grumbled. "I ain't a taxi service!" He looked pointedly at Simon and Kaylee. "When that little runt's born, I'm puttin' my foot down. No more kids! I find one more teething ring in the gorram engine coil, my vengeance will be swift." He turned back to the coffee pot. "Now what's all this happy joy about?"

"I'm pregnant!" River exclaimed, sitting up straighter in Jayne's embrace.

Mal rounded on them, eyes wide with a mix of horror and rage. "WHA-!" he began, but was cut off when he put his foot down on the discarded lid of Anthony's yogurt container. One foot went skidding forward; he flailed his arms; coffee flew into the air like a hot brown halo of inevitability; Mal crashed to the floor with a bone-jarring THUD; the coffee landed on his chest.

Everyone blinked.

Wash clapped.

"Go se hundan gan ni niang-!" Mal roared. By the time he finished cursing, Book had to take Anthony and Amy Jane out of the room to protect their virgin ears. Even Jayne was impressed.

"Gorrammit, Jayne!" Mal howled in closing, as Inara helped him clamber to his feet. "Can't you quit sexin' up your wife for five gorram minutes!"

Jayne looked from Mal to River and back to Mal. "Uh... 'sthat a trick question?" he asked, as the woman in question nuzzled his cheek.

"No! It ain't!" Mal shook off Inara's steadying hand. "Wo de man, this ain't a family cruise at some gorram kiddie park! We're big, bad people and we do business with bigger, badder people - shut up, Jayne - and this is a big, bad smugglin' ship-!"

"Little!" Kaylee piped up.

Mal stared at her. "What?"

Kaylee shrugged as she perched on Simon's lap. "Serenity. She's just a little bad ship." Smiling, she lovingly patted the table, as though it were part of the bulkhead. "She just tries to be big."

"What. Ever," Mal proceeded through gritted teeth. "I ain't talkin' 'bout size. Size don't matter (shut up, Jayne). What matters is the fact that we do most our business with folks wouldn't mind puttin' a bullet in you, me, or anyone on this boat, and that includes little kiddies. Gorrammit, last time we had dealin's with Badger, I had to deliver the loot in a diaper bag!"

"It was good camouflage, sir, you've got to admit," Zoe said.

"Camouflage is fine. I got no problem with camouflage. It's when I get to the drop and have some pea-brained flunkie ask me if I want a pram to take the payment back to the ship that gets to me."

"No offense, captain," Simon observed quietly, rubbing Kaylee's back, "but these things happen. You can't just wave a magic wand and stop biology. It doesn't work that way. Even the most effective prophylactics are prone to error."

Mal raised an adamant finger. "That's just it, Doc," he said. "That's my point exactly! We might not be able to stop Mother Nature, but we can damn well make her shut her gorram eyes now and then. TEN MINUTES!" This last was said in a voice so loud, it made even Jayne jump. "I want you all here in ten minutes time! Shepard's going to watch the children and you all and me are going to have a talk. Inara!"

The Companion regarded him with a look of mild amusement. "Yes, Mal?"

"I need visual aides. We're goin' to your shuttle and the infirmary." He grabbed her hand and marched out of the room, tugging her behind him.

Kaylee giggled. "What kind of visual aides he talkin' 'bout you think?"

Jayne snickered. "On Inara's shuttle?" He shifted River into a more comfortable position and plunked down on the couch with her, so she was nestled in his lap. "Don't rightly know, but I'm passin' curious to find out."

-----------------

Ten minutes later everyone reassembled in the common room, sans Book and the eldest children. Mal had rearranged the seating arrangement so the table was perpendicular to its normal position, with a sheet spread over it that covered a variety of tantalizing bumps and protrusions. The benches had been moved off to the side and more comfortable seating had been brought in from other parts of the room. Everyone was seated so they were facing the table head-on, like a classroom. The only person not sitting down was River, who was gracefully pacing back and forth at the back of the room, baby Melody cradled against her shoulder as she cooed and hummed into the little girl's ear.

"All right then," Mal said, leaning forward on the table and pinning each crewmember in turn with his steely gaze. "We all here?"

"I would like to go on the record just now as saying this is ridiculous," Inara said from her spot near the back of the class.

"Ain't no reason for you to be here, Inara, so you can be on your merry."

"And miss this? Oh no, I think I'll stay right here."

"Teacher?" Wash said, raising his hand. "Will this all be on the test?"

"Yeah, what is this all about, Cap?" Kaylee asked, leaning her head on Simon's shoulder.

Mal stood up straight again. "That is the very question I'm about to answer, little Kaylee, so you jus' sit tight and listen up." He cleared his throat and spoke up. "Well now, seems to me I've been lettin' matters go far too lax on this boat for far too long. Y'all been pumpin' out babyfolk like rabbits, and I jus' been lettin' it happen. Well not so no more. The big black ain't no place for children ain't settled on some happy moon somewhere. Not to mention they get everywhere. Hell, places I ain't seen in years, they get in there, tug a few wires, stuff a giraffe in a pipe somewhere, and BAMMO! We're in drydock."

"That were a mistake, Mal," Jayne spoke up. "Amy J didn't know-"

"I know, I know, I ain't blamin' the kid," Mal snapped. "All I'm sayin' is, we got three kids on this ship and one- TWO more on the way." He shuddered faintly, as if still coming to terms with that fact. "That just about maxes us out. Which means it's time for a 'fresher course on the basics." With a dramatic flourish, he yanked the sheet away from the table.

Inara rolled her eyes.

"This," said Mal, picking up a familiar square of shiny foil and raising it up for the room to see, "is called a condom. You all know what it-"

"You're giving us the TALK?" Wash interrupted.

Mal glared at him. "You got a problem with that, Wash?"

"What's The Talk?" Jayne asked.

"Do you really think this is necessary, sir?" Zoe asked, ignoring the mercenary.

"Honestly, Mal, this is idiotic," Inara said.

"I told you this ain't none of your business, woman!"

"Point of order," Wash said, raising his hand again. "Lamby-toes and I haven't had a baby in four years. May we be excused?"

"You still have sex together?" Mal snapped.

"You have to ASK-"

"Then shut it and siddown."

"What the gorram hell's The Talk?" Jayne barked, annoyed at being ignored.

"It is a frequently recounted liturgy of sexual do's and don'ts," River said, breezing around the seating arrangement to settle on Jayne's lap, Melody cradled in her arms. "Commonly it is administered by a parent or guardian to a pubescent adolescent just entering sexual maturity."

"You mean a sex talk?" Jayne asked, perking up immensely. "Hell yeah!"

"You through?" Mal asked, tapping his foot in annoyance. "Yes? Y'are? Good. Now, THIS," he again held up the foil wrapper, "is called a condom. You all know what it is. You all know how to use it. However, judging by the pitter patter of little feet we got on board this boat at this point in time, I have a powerful feelin' ain't none of you availed yourself of this fine piece of merchandise. Dirt cheap, you can buy 'em by the boxful ? carton-ful in the case of you, Jayne ? and you can get 'em just about anywhere from the Core to the Rim. Next time we land, I want to see all o' you marching yourselves into the nearest general store and buyin' a month's supply."

"What are you going to do, count them each morning?" Simon asked sarcastically.

Mal's face took on a thoughtful expression.

"Oh for God's sake..."

"I ain't never seen the use in 'em," Jayne said matter-of-factly, settling back in his chair and shifting River to be more comfortable in his lap. "I mean, 'sjust a skinny bit o' rubber. Hell, all the one's I ever done used jus' broke."

"Jayne, please feel at liberty not to share your sexual history with us," Mal said.

"This is when the teacher explains proper application of the product, generally with the aid of a suitably shaped stand-in for the male organ, such as a cucumber or other available vegetable product." River interjected. She didn't bother looking up from her fond appraisal of her daughter's face as she spoke. "In actual practice, once the package is opened, one participant unrolls the latex sheath over the ere-"

"Oh GOD!" Malcolm exclaimed, putting his hands over his ears. "River, little darlin', my ears don't need to be hearin' you describe this."

Jayne, on the other hand, was staring at his young wife with unabashed lust. "Keep talkin', baby doll," he virtually purred, his hand sliding under the hem of her skirt to squeeze her thigh.

A wadded up napkin hit him in the head.

"What the-" the mercenary sputtered, looking around with a frown. "Who threw that!"

"Me!" said Mal, angrily wadding a second napkin. "Hands where I can see them!"

"Mal-"

"Do it!"

Grumbling about remembering now why he hated school so much, Jayne took his hand out from under River's skirt and obligingly hugged her close, so his hands were in plain sight.

"Keep it that way or I'm gettin' the fire hose," Mal warned.

Simon raised a hand. "We don't HAVE a fire ho-"

"Shut up. Listen to me!" Mal barked. "Next person talks who ain't me is gonna get a faceful of napkin!" He held up the wad of paper, which had grown substantially thanks to the addition of three more napkins to the first.

"Even Kaylee?" Jayne asked.

Mal faltered. "Well..." he trailed off in the face of Kaylee's sunny smile.

"Yeah, and what if little Melody there decides to pick now as the time to say her first word?" Wash asked. "You going to hit her in the face with a napkin wad, Mal?"

"Well, no, course I wou- Not little Melody doll, I ain't a heartless monst-"

"Hey, hang on, Wash just talked!" Jayne interrupted. "Hit him with the paper thing!"

"You spoke first!" Wash countered.

"I said what? Two words? You was babblin' on 'bout all manner of stuff. Hit 'im, Mal!"

"I was protecting your daughter!"

"Yeah, well, thanks. Hit him!"

"ENOUGH!" Mal roared, and the room fell silent except for River, who was quietly humming to the little girl in her arms. "That's it! No more talking! You all sit down, shut up, and let me learn you all you need to know about every gorram thing I got on this table!" He made an expansive gesture to take in the wide array of prevention products spread out on the table in front of him. "Jus' remember, this all coulda been avoided iffen you'd just used 'em from the start!"

"Captain, this is completely unnecessary-" Simon started, but cut off abruptly when Mal shot him an evil glare.

River sighed. "Be quiet, Simon, and let Captain Daddy speak his piece." She finally looked up from Melody's face and gave the captain and warm, surprisingly lucid smile. "It will make him feel much better.

Mal shifted uncomfortably under her gaze, waffling between smiling in return and looking shiftily from side to side, as if in search of an exit. "Well, thank you, little albatross," he said eventually, and settled for smiling at her.

River smiled in return, and began unbuttoning the front of her dress.

Mal's face went white as a sheet. "Now little darlin', I'm eager to know just what in hell you think you're doin'."

River glanced down at her chest, then back at Mal. "Melody is hungry," she said, as if it were common knowledge. "Soon she will begin to cry."

"Well you can't just go doin' that here!"

"It is a natural biological function," River said, unbuttoning the dress to her navel.

"Yeah, it's a nat'ral biological function, Mal," Jayne said smugly, cuddling his wife and little girl up against his chest.

"Well, cain't you..." The captain swiped at the air, as if trying to catch the right word. "Wait?" he settled on eventually.

River rolled her eyes. "Silly captain," she said. "Then the little girl will cry, and Captain Daddy will have to postpone his speech." She tugged her dress open.

Mal spun around and faced the back wall. "This is hell," he groaned.

"Oh, I like it jus' fine," Jayne said, kissing River's nose as she quietly got down to nursing Melody.

"Mal, is this going to take much longer?" Wash asked. "Only because I have this intense feeling we're going to fly into a supernova."

"Why do you think that?" Kaylee asked.

"I don't know. Wishful thinking?"

"Oh no, you all just stay right the hell where you are," Mal griped, not turning around. "We'll wait till River's finished her little... feeding... thing, then we're gettin' back to business."

"THEN can we go?" Simon asked.

"Uh-uh, Doc, not yet. Cuz after the lecture," he snapped his arm to the side, and a long wooden pointer stick appeared like magic out of his sleeve, "comes the lesson."

-------------------------------

FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER

"...And then the sperm travels up the canal towards the uterus..."

The sheet had been transformed into a makeshift projector screen, which was currently showing an old, badly warped but still decipherable film of the process of conception. It looked like the kind of thing that could only be bought on the half-civilized worlds that hovered between the Rim and the Core, where they tried to act as educated as their rich Core confederates but still had to scratch a living out of the dust like their Rim counterparts. The fact that the captain had been able to lay his hands on it so easily just went to prove that he'd been itching to give this little lesson for a long time.

No one was paying attention. Well, almost no one. Jayne was staring at the screen with an open-mouthed kind of fascination, squinting now and then to try and better make out the flickering picture. River was dozing on and off on his shoulder as Melody napped quietly in her arms. Kaylee kept giggling hysterically every time Mal said sperm, ovaries, and cervix, while Simon kept his face covered with one hand out of sheer embarrassment. Zoe was watching the screen, but with the detached air of someone whose brain is a million miles away, doing ammunition inventories. Wash was doing a cat's cradle with his boot lace. Inara was trying her hardest not to laugh.

"...and then once the sperm has penetrated the ova, fertilization is complete. And that, ladies and gentlemen," Mal finished, switching off the projector as he motioned for Inara to turn on the lights, "is how babies are made. That's what each and every one of you's been doin' for months, hell, years on end, right here on this boat." He stood back from the projector. "Do we have any questions?"

"Uh, yeah, I've got one," Wash said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "HOW is this supposed to get us to stop having babies? Which, I want to remind you, Zo' and I haven't done in years?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Simon said, rubbing his face with one hand. He still hadn't opened his eyes. "He's trying to embarrass us into abstinence."

"Or bore you into sterility, I really don't have a preference," Mal added.

"Oh," Wash said. "Well. In that case, good job."

"Huh," Jayne said, as if it had taken several minutes for the video to really settle in and now he was ready to express his opinion, that opinion being "Huh.". He looked at River, who was watching his profile through sleepy eyes. "So all that stuff's really goin' on in you when we get to sexin'?"

River nodded dreamily. "Mm-hmm."

"Ain't it uncomfortable, havin' all them tadpoles swimmin' 'round in you?"

"Mm-mm."

"Cuz that looks like it'd be uncomfortable to me."

"Nope." River nestled in closer so she could kiss the side of his neck. "Fills me with Jayne-ness," she purred. "And River always likes to be full of her Jayne."

Jayne growled, eyes going from thoughtful to predatory in a heartbeat.

A wadded up napkin hit him in the head.

"Aww, come on, Mal!" Jayne whined.

"Ain't you been listenin' to a word I been sayin'?" Mal groused as he moved back to the head of the class. "You two 'specially! Outta all the bona fide couplin's here, you two got the least background and history, but now you've gone and gotten yourselves knocked up a third time! I tell you, it ain't natural!"

Jayne grinned. "You ain't never been to bed with my River," he said proudly. Then, as an afterthought, "He ain't been, has he, Riv?"

She poked him in the chest. "Dummy hubby," she chided. "Only one man rides River's rapids."

"I didn't need to hear that, mei-mei," Simon said with a wince.

"Yet somehow you were able to sit through Mal describing the process of ejaculation without comment," Wash observed.

"Oh, I was screaming on the inside."

"Is that what that was? I thought Jayne had gas."

"You wanna go, little man?"

"Only if it's somewhere without a projector." The pilot stood up, shaking Zoe's shoulder to wake the woman out of her self-induced trance. "If you all don't mind, now that the torture is over, we're going to go recover in our bunk. Maybe have some sex. I don't know, it's still up in the air. See you all at dinner. Or... breakfast? How long have we been here?"

"Too long," Simon said, standing and stretching before helping Kaylee up. "I need a nap."

"Me too," Kaylee agreed, leaning sleepily against her husband's chest. "Simon?"

"Yes, bao bei?"

"You gonna explain to me all what the cap'n just told us? I only got about one word every five."

"Sure, sweetheart. Whatever you want."

"Hey, Mal?" Jayne asked, coming up next to Mal's elbow.

"Wo de ma!" Mal exclaimed, putting a hand over his heart and taking a step back. "Ta ma de, Jayne, you near scared me outta my skin."

"Sorry, look, can you take Melody doll for a bit?"

Mal glanced at the seat where Jayne had been not a minute before. The mercenary had slipped out from under his wife's minimal weight, leaving the young woman and little girl curled up comfortably in the chair. "Why?" the captain asked, frowning a little. "Whatcha gonna do?"

Jayne leered and held up one hand to reveal a familiar foil packet clutched between two fingers. "River's gonna finish tellin' me how to put this on," he said conspiratorially. "Then she's gonna give me a hand's on demonstration, iffen you catch my drift."

Mal closed his eyes and counted to three. "Jayne?"

"Yeah, Mal?"

"You got the memory retention of a dead hamster."

"That a yes?"

Mal sighed and held out his arms. "Fine."

Jayne grinned like a Cheshire cat, then leaned down to scoop Melody out of River's arms, pausing just long enough so his wife could kiss the little girl's cheek. "She's all fed and suchlike, you jus' might need to change 'er," Jayne said, fussing with the little girl's blankets before transferring her to Mal's arms.

"I know the drill, Jayne. Ain't like I'm new at this," Mal said, shooing the other man away.

"Jus' double-checkin' 'sall," Jayne said, before leaning down to give his daughter a soft, scratchy kiss on the forehead. "Sleep sweet, li'l girl," he murmured with a tender smile.

Then, turning back to his wife, he held out his hand. "You comin', baby doll?" he asked.

River took his hand and stood up gracefully. "Shortly," she answered, taking the lead and guiding him towards the door.

"Ta ma de," Jayne moaned, following her.

Mal mournfully watched his crew split up and go their separate ways. "Like talkin' to brick walls," he sighed, perching on the edge of the table, absently rocking Melody against his chest.

"You can't say you didn't try," Inara soothed, sitting beside him on the table.

"Weren't enough," Mal muttered.

Inara laughed softly. "Oh Mal, stop pouting," she said with a fond smile. "You know you love the family feeling on this ship, children and all. You're just a big softie on the inside, even if it doesn't work with your big, bad captain image."

Mal sighed but didn't answer. He didn't need to, of course; Inara could read his face like a book.

Reaching out, she laid a delicate hand on his knee. "You won't really be happy till you have one of your own, you know," she murmured.

Mal gave her a sharp look. "Have one what?" he asked.

Inara gave him a tender look. "A child," she said, smiling gently. "You'd be a wonderful father, Mal."

Mal sat up straighter. "I don't know what you're talkin' about, Inara," he muttered. Then, after a beat, "You think?"

Inara laughed softly and stood up. "I know," she confided, kissing him gently on the cheek. Stroking his hair, she gave him one more smile then quietly left the common room.

Mal sat alone in the quiet room, Melody sleeping soundly against his chest. She smelled like baby powder. Before all this babymakin' had started, he'd maybe smelled baby powder twice in his life. Now, since Anthony was born, it seemed to fill the ship twenty-four/seven. There was no getting away from it.

Smelled kind of nice, really. Kind of sweet.

"Yep, Melody doll," he said, rocking the little girl gently back and forth. "That went well."

THE END