On July tenth, after fifteen hours of labor, Kaylee and Simon Tam were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. Inara insisted that she be present as nurse, and Simon was more than fine with that. He found that when it came to his own child, he could only remove himself so far. He needed another cool head in the room so that he didn't do something stupid, and to keep Kaylee going when he was about to lose his professional demeanor and freak out.

River held Angel up to the infirmary window as the crew let the giddy parents have a few minutes to bond with their daughter alone. Jayne sat on the couch behind them. He didn't understand how his two girls could grin at a time like this. New babies always made him uncomfortable. They were too little to be sure about. They died too easily. But River and Angel were happy as drunken oysters.

Zoë stood by River's side and waited to greet the newest arrival. Dewey hung back by the coffee table with his dinos. He didn't see what the fuss was, either. Mal and Inara sat on the other side of the room and just looked relieved that Kaylee and the baby made it through.

Zoë looked down at River, and the two women smiled sadly.

"It's hard watching her go through all this," Zoë said.

"Yes. I wish…."

The first mate put her arm around the young pilot's shoulders and rested her chin against River's crown. "I know. Me too."

Kaylee pried her eyes up from her daughter's newborn face, and looked out the windows of the infirmary. Inara had pulled the blinds up as soon as Kaylee was covered up. Kaylee, pale and worn, grinned at her extended family, and waved them inside.

River turned to the crew. "She says we can go in."

Mal, as father-figure for the entire crew, was the first through the door, followed closely by Inara. Zoë gave River's shoulder a last squeeze, and led Dewey inside to meet the newest crewmember. Jayne took his time getting to his feet which he thought would aggravate River, but she was stalling before she went in.

He frowned at her. "What's wrong?"

Angel put her face to the glass, but River pulled her away before she pounded on the window. "Nothing."

"Don't lie," he said. Jayne took Angel and set her on her feet. He helped her over the raised portal of the infirmary and sent her to Inara. At their looks, he held up a finger to ask them to wait a minute. Jayne turned back, and wrapped his arm around her middle. "You got your 'I'm sad but I don't wanna ruin it for everybody else' face on."

She chuckled, and hung her head. He was learning her-to well, it seemed. Made hiding harder. River twined her arms around his neck. "I'm not sad. I am…envious."

He frowned, not understanding.

River looked through the window again. "Spent every month watching her while the baby grew inside her. I wish I had that."

"What, the pukin' an' backaches?"

"They were evidence of a life growing. She got to feel flutters, and kicks, and stretches, and hiccups that made her whole belly jiggle. Even the pain of bringing forth was worth it. Look at her face. I didn't get that, and I never will. It would be nice to have something good happening inside me instead of crazy, bad things."

"Well, that's just dumb."

River rested her head over his heart. "I am quite aware of that. Does not stop me from feeling it, though."

"Naw, I mean, don't Simon have them frozen eggs or whatnot that he stole from the Academy when we got Angel out?" She pulled back to look at him. "If they could put your egg in someone else an' have it grow into a baby, why couldn't you get your own?"

Her eyes widened as he talked. Jayne caught her expression. He realized what he might have implied, and back-peddled.

"Now, whoa, whoa!" He dropped his hands from her waist, and stepped back. "Stop where you are an' back up. I didn't say now, or anytime soon…or even that it'd be me. I might not be here when your biological clock goes off. I was just sayin' that it's there, an' it's possible, so don't go readin' anything into that."

River reclaimed the step he took. "Do you have any plans to leave?"

"Not particularly, but five months is the longest I've ever been with the same woman since I was…ya know."

She slid her arms around his waist, and smiled when he gulped. "I'll amend my question. Do you have any plans to leave in the near future?"

He shook his head. "No."

River was very serious when she told him, "If you do want to leave, you can. I won't hold on if you want to go. Don't want to keep you against your will. I hope that you stay. Don't want anyone else. But it must be your choice. In the meantime," she went up on her toes and whispered in his ear, "you made me happy, so tonight I'll make you very happy."

"That so?" Jayne was a little thrown by the sudden change of direction, but he wasn't about to argue.

She licked the shell of his ear. "That's so."

River lowered down onto her heels. She gave him a last promising smile before she headed into the infirmary. Jayne needed a moment before he met the crew. He hoped he didn't get the itch to leave her any time soon. River was a constant source of enjoyment. For more than just the perks, he admitted to himself.

Jayne entered the infirmary and went to River's side. She set Angel on the edge of the bed to get a good look at her new cousin.

"So, do we have a name yet?" Mal asked.

Simon and Kaylee shared a smile, and the new father turned to the crew. "I would like to introduce you to Miss Annabelle Lee Tam."

Dewey wasn't impressed. "Does she do anything?"

"Not yet," Zoë said. "It'll be a while before she's up and playing. And then she and Angel will probably gang up on you, and force you to play tea party or house."

Mal gave the boy a sympathetic head shake. "Good luck."

"Come on, Mal," Inara teased. "You could put on your dress and bonnet and join them."

The Captain slapped his hands over Dewey's ears, and glared at her. "Don't be disrespecting me in front of the boy! He looks up to me, you know!"

While the crew laughed, Angel reached out a hand and gently stroked the baby's head.

"Soft," she cooed. She looked up at her Mum. "C'n hold her?"

"Not now," River said. "Maybe in a few days. We'll sit you on the couch with lots of pillows, and then you can hold her."

Angel nodded that this was an acceptable plan. She and Annabelle needed to get off on a good foot. They would be spending a lot of time together growing up, after all.

River shared a smile with Kaylee. Their two girls were already best friends in the making.

Angel craned her neck to look at Jayne. He saw her eyeing him, and smiled at her. "Whatta ya think?"

She beamed at him. "A brother."

Jayne blinked. "A huh?"

"Wanna brother," Angel announced. Then, cool as you please, she turned back to Annabelle.

The others looked at her then Jayne.

Jayne gaped. River laughed, but put her hand over her mouth when the baby jerked in surprise at the loud noise. She kissed her daughter's cheek and said, "We were just discussing that!"

"What!" Simon sputtered at the same time Mal said, "Hey! My three child limit, remember? No more little ones runnin' about my ship."

Angel had recently discovered a powerful weapon in getting her way, and she turned it on the Captain. She lowered her chin, stuck out her bottom lip, and looked up at him with big eyes. He crossed his arms, and shook his head. "Don't you even gimme the puppy face. This isn't a cookie I ain't lettin' you have."

"How would that even be possible?" Inara asked. "You can't…."

"Not now," River interrupted, quoting Jayne. "Not soon. But maybe someday." She leaned down and shared a smile with Angel. "We have to convince him to stay, first."

Kaylee chuckled. "All right, guys. I hate to make ya gawk and run, but I'm bushed."

"Of course, sweetie," Inara said. She went to the bed, and leaned down to kiss Kaylee's forehead. "You were marvelous, mei mei. Thank you for letting me be here. Now you rest. I'll go get the bassinette."

River set Angel on the ground and waved her over to Jayne. He took the girl's hand to lead her out, and jiggled it. "Don't go gettin' me in trouble like that."

River hugged her brother and Kaylee. She kissed Annabelle's head and breathed in the soft newborn scent. She stroked her fingers over the baby's cheeks. One day….

Jayne found more and more that he speculated on his future. Usually he lived for the moment, maybe as far as the next payday. Not so much now. Over dinner one evening, Jayne got the feeling the girls were already planning Angel and Dewey's wedding. Angry and disturbed, he warned Dewey that he better not be thinking on Angel in any girl-like way because there would have to be death. Kaylee noted that Dewey wouldn't start noticing girls for another dozen years or more, so there was nothing to worry about. Jayne said that it didn't matter. Dewey would just have to go find himself someone else because he wasn't going to let Angel date until she was twenty, maybe thirty. Of course, the Doc had to go and ask if he planned on still being around in twenty or thirty years, and he didn't have an answer for that.

December rolled around again, and with it came the second anniversary of Angel's rescue. Jayne managed to haggle an hour alone while River joined Kaylee, Zoë and the kids in a Mommy-and-Me fieldtrip dirtside on Newhall. With his hour, Jayne pondered his predicament. After about ten months together, he had yet to get itchy feet and want to end things with River. Truth be told, he didn't have the urge to change his situation at all, and hadn't for some time. Serenity was the best job he ever had, and he liked the crew. He could even stand the Doc now. He still butted heads with Mal, but that was a given.

Angel was something else, he thought with amusement. She had outright claimed him as her own. It was a little unnerving since she still didn't call him by name. When she wanted him, she just toddled over and tugged on him with the purest, most trusting smile he'd ever been graced with. He loved it. He liked being her hero or her teddy bear, whichever she needed at the moment.

And River…she was a surprise. He definitely hadn't plan on her. She never asked him to do something he couldn't, be something he wasn't. But he had learned what made her smile. It was always little things he didn't realize he did until she glowed at him. He gave her a hug from behind and kissed her neck, and she looked at him like he was her Christmas and birthday present in one. All he'd wanted was to feel her pressed up against him, but her reaction made him more amenable to hugging her more often. Sometimes even when people were around. When River had her most recent episode a week before her birthday, he came in during a wakeful period and rubbed her feet. Even muddled by the drug, she smiled at him, her shine peeking out behind Pax clouds.

It was only a little more than a month earlier that Jayne truly realized the depth of what he felt after a job took a nasty turn, and he got shot. It wasn't a serious wound. It was in his right shoulder again, which seemed to be the one everyone aimed for—Niska's men, Reavers. It was a popular portion of his anatomy with folks who were trying to kill him. The Doc got done patching him up adding a warning that because of prior damage, he needed to keep his arm supported and immobile in a sling so that it healed. River's reaction was startling. She seemed calm enough at first as she helped him into his bunk. Once there, River wasted no time stripping him and divesting her own self of clothes. She sank down onto him, driving him in deep before her body was fully ready, but she rode him at a gallop and came hard. When her aftershocks died away, she clung to him and sobbed. Jayne was awed, and humbled, and gratified. He had never been so important to someone, and he loved her for it. After he laid her down to begin again, much slower this time, until little waves broke over her face as she climaxed, he told her so.

He didn't want to leave them. He had tried, and it didn't work. He loved both River and Angel more than he had loved anyone or anything since he left home. He couldn't figure out how that happened, but he figured hewas smart enough not to lose it.

Something was happening, and everyone except River was in on it. That was infinitely annoying and made her jittery. She wanted to know what was going on, but she didn't want to Look. It was a breach of trust, and she didn't want them thinking that she wasn't trustworthy. She kept all their secrets that she accidentally heard to herself, and she would not go poking around in their heads no matter how much she wanted to.

She wondered if she could push one of them into thinking so loudly that she could overhear it. (Evesdroping was not the same as peeking, she reasoned.)

Before dinner was over, River tossed down her chopsticks and rose. "You all are driving me crazy!"

She got more than one odd look as she pushed her chair in and took her plate to the sink.

Jayne asked with his mouth full, "Should I mention the fact that you're already crazy?"

"I know something is going on," she said. Jayne averted his eyes as did the other adults at the table. Angel giggled. "I seem to be the only one not in on it. It bothers me, I don't like not knowing something, but I will not invade anyone's privacy and peek. So I am going up to the bridge. Let me know when you all plan on enlightening me, bu-ti-tie de hundáns."

She was aware of Jayne standing up and coming after her, but she was too angry at being left out of the loop to slow down. He could just come to her and beg forgiveness and tell her what the rutting hell was going on. It was probably about her. Did she dress oddly today? Did she forget a morning hygiene ritual?

At the top of the stairs, she spun around and caught Jayne by surprise. "Do I stink?"


"Do I stink?"

"No. Why—hey!"

She turned and stomped into the cockpit. She flopped into her seat and set about disengaging autopilot when she noticed an envelope on the console. As she picked it up, Jayne closed the door. River frowned over her shoulder at him.

"I figured I'd screw it up if'n I tried to say it myself, so I got a card," he said. "Kaylee helped me pick it out."

River warily opened the envelope and pulled out the card. The outside was a light, pastel pink background with darker flowers and pale yellow glow effects. It read: "Women wish to be loved without a why or wherefore; not because they are pretty, or good, or well-bred, or graceful, or intelligent…" she opened it, "but because they are themselves°." Underneath, in carefully formed print, Jayne had written two words and a punctuation mark. "Marry me?"

Taped at the bottom was a slim silver band with one small, round diamond.

"'Nara helped me pick out the ring, which is why she knew," Jayne told her. "Had to ask your brother an' Mal for permission, of course, so they knew. If Zoë knows, I don't know how. One'a the girls probably told her. Or Mal. Man's as bad as any of the womenfolk when it come to gossip."

He was babbling as he stood waiting for her to do something. River stood there looking at the card, or the ring, or both. It was hard to tell standing behind her. He shifted back and forth. "You gonna gimme an answer?"

Suddenly he had an arm full of crazy girl. She jumped and wrapped her legs around his waist while kissing him over and over.

"That…a…yes?" he asked between kisses.

"You thought…I'd say…no?"

He wrapped his arms under her butt and lifted her to adjust her weight. "I don't know. You're still pretty young. Guess I was worried you'd want to see the 'Verse a bit before you settled with just me."

"I've seen the 'Verse. The 'Verse is dumb. I like it here better. Or," she slid her legs down, and led Jayne to the pilot's chair. She pushed him down with the hand that didn't still have the card, and sat on his lap. She swiveled the chair to look out the glass to the Black beyond. "There. Now we can see the 'Verse together."

Jayne turned her face so he could kiss her. River turned sideways in his lap, her legs hanging over the arm of the chair, so they could take it deeper. And while he never took his mouth off hers, Jayne took the card, pulled the ring off, and unstuck the tape from the band. He slid the ring on her finger, and they broke the kiss long enough to look down at her hand.

"All yours now," she said. "Think you can handle it?"

He picked her up and sat her on the consol. He moved between her legs with a wicked grin. "Think so."

River laughed. "Yes, that part you can handle quite well." She pulled the back of his shirt from his pants, and ran her hands over his lower back. "Think we can get Kaylee and Simon to put Angel to bed tonight?"

"Why?" he teased. "We goin' somewhere?"

She nodded. "Your bunk. I plan on being loud."

"Damn good plan." He backed up, and practically dragged her out of the room. They clattered down the stairs in a mess of kisses and laughter and pounding combat boots. River untangled herself long enough to run to the doorway leading to the galley where the crew was finishing up dinner.

"Kaylee? Would you mind putting Angel to bed tonight? We're going to be otherwise occupied."

"Sure thing," Kaylee agreed. "Congratulations!"

River beamed at her family before disappearing with Jayne for the rest of the night.

River and Jayne were married two months later on Ezra so that his family could be there. River wore his mother's veil. Something old. Mal, Inara, Kaylee, and Simon chipped in for her wedding dress. Something new. Zoë lent her a silver bracelet that belonged to her mother which she wore on her wedding day. Something borrowed. Beneath the dress, River wore matching lacey lingerie. Something pale, pale blue so that it wouldn't show through the dress.

Angel was part of the ceremony—both as the flower girl, and because she started having a fit half-way through the ceremony. Jayne carried her up to the pulpit, where she stood between River and Jayne as they said their vows. The kiss was a little shorter than they would have liked, due to the little someone standing at their feet. Angel was tugging on Jayne's pant leg.

"Daddy, up!"


bu-ti-tie de hundáns—inconsiderate jerks

° quote from Henri Frederic Amiel