Holding Pattern

Part VIII—Baby on Board

Author: justslummin

Disclaimer: I own none of these characters.

Rating: PG

Summary: The crew is reunited, and a much anticipated event occurs.

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Serenity's ramp lowered, and Kaylee jumped into Mal's arms, nearly knocking him off his feet in her excitement and relief.

"Glad to see you, mei mei," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "Thought we mighta' lost you."

"Me, too, Cap'n," Kaylee said, her joy overflowing and shining as brightly as the afternoon sun. "We saw the Reavers chasin' ya' and thought you weren't gonna make it."

"Guess we're all just too pretty to die," Mal said softly, giving her another squeeze before she bounced into the ship to greet the others.

Simon, with more dignity but the same amount of relief, walked up the ramp, pulling his shirt on hastily. Extending his hand to Mal, he was surprised to be embraced instead. When he winced at the contact, Mal drew back with an appraising look. Seeing the bright red skin over the collar of Simon's shirt, he said, "See you've been sunbathing whilst we were away."

"Nothing much else to do in this town," Simon said dryly. The two men looked at each other for a long moment, both seeing the toll the last few weeks had taken on the other. Breaking the eye contact, Simon looked around the cargo bay.

"Where's my sister?" he asked.

"I'm here," she called from the catwalk. She made her way awkwardly down the stairs, her tired eyes beginning to regain their luminous glow as she drank in the sight of her brother alive and well.

Mal could swear in that moment that the brightness of Simon's smile rivaled Kaylee's. But by the time River reached Simon to embrace him, his trained eyes had already assessed the changes in her since he'd last seen her.

"You okay, mei mei?" he murmured against the top of her head.

River drew back and looked at him solemnly. Pulling Mal close, she said, "I'm okay. But I think there's someone coming who isn't patient to wait much longer." Resting her hand on the swell of her belly, she added, "Membranes ruptured on the bridge."

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Three hours later, the baby had made little progress in his quest for independence. Mal sat beside his wife in the infirmary, feeling vaguely guilty that something that had felt so good eight and a half months ago was currently wracking River's body with spasms of pain.

Simon, freshly groomed and completely in his doctor mode, was currently arguing with his patient. "It's much safer to be on the ground during your labor, River," he said, his tone revealing his belief that River was being unreasonable.

"Gorram it, Simon," she yelled, irritated immeasurably by having to repeat her thoughts on the matter yet again. "I want to get off this planet now. Don't want my baby to be born at the site of a Reaver attack. Dong ma?"

So far Mal had stayed out of the disagreement, torn between Simon's logical assumption that anything could, and usually did, go wrong in the Black; and River's adamant demand that they leave the site of such recent carnage. But now, River turned her flashing brown eyes to him, and said very calmly, "Ai ren, I want our baby to be born flying free in the Black where he belongs. Just like us. Please."

Unable to break free from her imploring gaze, Mal spoke to Simon. "Any compelling reason you think this particular take-off would cause a problem, or are you just opposed to the idea in general?"

Simon inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly, knowing by the tone of the question he'd already lost the fight. "Go as you like," he said. "But don't blame me if Zoe's piloting skills knock River out of the bed."

"I'll tell Zoe to fly real gentle-like," Mal said, winking at River and receiving a satisfied smile in return.

Stepping out the infirmary where the entire crew was gathered in anticipation, Mal announced, "Simon thinks it might be a little while before the little one decides to make an appearance. So, you can go on about your business and we'll let you know when to come back. Meanwhile, Zoe, I'll ask ya' to take us outta the world."

Zoe raised one exquisite eyebrow. "Any particular destination, sir?"

"Out into the Black," Mal said. "Just out into the Black."

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Kaylee held Anya up to peer into Serenity's heart. Impressed by what she saw of the repairs, Kaylee said, "Heard you saved the day, little one."

Anya wiggled happily. "Just told 'em where to find your stuff. Everybody else did the hard parts."

"But they wouldn'ta' been able to do it if'n you hadn't been such a good helper," Kaylee said, kissing Anya's cheek before she set her down. "And then Dr. Simon and me woulda' been left right where we were and never got back to Serenity again."

Anya looked up at her with wide blue eyes. "I'm glad you're home, Miss Kaylee. Everybody was so sad when you were gone, and I think Captain Mal almost cried."

Kaylee realized suddenly that she hadn't lost her capacity to cry after all, as she felt her eyes moisten at the child's innocent words.

"Well," she said softly, "I'd best not be outta place again, then. Wouldn't want the Cap'n to cry."

"Me neither," Anya agreed, happily taking her hand as she continued her inspection of the repairs.

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"Hope the squirt holds out a mite longer," Jayne said. "I ain't had time to finish this thing up proper."

Inara looked at the sturdy crib, amazed at how close Jayne was to finishing it despite all that had happened since he'd first begun. "It's shaping up nicely," she said. "But it's a little uncharitable to hope River's labor is extended to accommodate your project." Her words were softened by the smile she bestowed with them.

"Well, I don't want the little guy to have to sleep on the floor first night he's in the 'verse," Jayne said in defense. "That don't seem right at all."

Inara laughed, the sound reminding Jayne of tiny bells on an evergreen tree. "I imagine Master Reynolds will spend his first night in the infirmary with his father and mother."

"Reckon I got time to polish it up some then?"

"I believe so," Inara answered. Looking down at the way Jayne's hands caressed the wood as he worked was one of the more sensual things she'd ever seen, she thought abruptly. Startled by her new train of thought, she felt a blush suffuse her face and chest.

Totally oblivious to the effect he was having on her, he said, "How 'bout helpin' if'n you're gonna be standing there anyway."

She looked at him in surprise. "What do you want me to do?"

"Thought you might paint a little symbol on it for me."

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As the evening wore on, River was able to sleep a bit between contractions, as Mal and Simon kept vigil.

Speaking very quietly so as not to wake her, Mal said, "In case I didn't say it before, I'm mighty glad to have you back, doc."

Smiling, Simon whispered, "I expect you are, considering what I've come back to."

"I'm serious, Simon," Mal said. "Don't know what we'd do 'round here without you." He paused for a moment. "Truth be told, though, I'm glad you were there with Kaylee. She'd have been in a bad way without you, I conjure."

"Don't think I really helped much," Simon admitted. The next words came tumbling out before he could stop them. "I killed four people, Mal. People who were not trying to kill me or Kaylee. Innocent people." The bleakness in his eyes make Mal ache in his behalf. He continued, as if lancing a wound. "They were injured so severely, and I didn't…I couldn't do anything to save them, so I…" He stopped, unable to voice this final confession.

"So you showed them mercy," Mal finished firmly.

"Didn't feel like mercy," Simon whispered.

"Maybehaps not to you," Mal acknowledged. "But to them, it was a kindness. Count on it."

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River was so very tired, and Mal and Simon were both beginning to worry that she would not be able to deliver the baby naturally. But unless there were signs to indicate the baby was in distress, Simon was hesitant to consider performing surgery.

The contractions were coming with greater frequency and intensity now. As hard as it was to watch, Mal could only imagine how difficult it was to bear. No stranger to physical pain, he found himself holding his breath through every contraction. When Simon told River for the umpteenth time to breathe through the pain, Mal realized he should be taking that advice as well.

For a long time, River had been able to avoid crying out, but at this point, she could not think of one compelling reason not to. When she screamed, both Mal and Simon jumped. Had she not been in such pain, she would have laughed at the response. Telling her unborn child that she was now more then ready for him to appear, she vaguely heard Simon telling her to push. Mal took a position behind her just as Simon had told him to do, and helped to brace her into a better position for delivery. She reached back to grasp his hands, squeezing until he began to fear he was going to be nursing broken bones come morning.

Screaming loudly enough to bring the crew running to gather around the closed infirmary door, River gave one last massive push.

Almost instantly, the ear-splitting wail of a newborn suddenly shocked by the cold 'verse outside the warmth of the womb reverberated in the small space. River lay back, exhausted by the effort, and released her vise-like grip on Mal's hands, just as Simon said, "Quickly, Mal. Come see your son."

Mal took the child, still bloody and wailing with all the might of his tiny lungs, as Simon cut the cord. Embarrassed by the sudden mist in his eyes, he walked to River and held out their son for her inspection. "Look what you did, bao bei," he said, his voice filled with awe.

River reached to take his free hand. "Look what we did, you mean," she said softly. Resting the now quiet child between them, Mal leaned down to kiss his wife.

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"When you reckon they're gonna open the door?" Kaylee asked, impatient to see the new arrival.

"I'm sure we'll hear something in a minute," Inara said. "Simon's probably just assessing the baby's health." Since she had helped Simon during the birth of Petaline's child, everyone deferred to her experience in these matters.

Just as Zoe was giving serious consideration to prying the door open herself, it slid open and Mal stepped out into the hallway. Holding a tiny blanketed bundle forward, he said proudly, "Everybody, I'd like you to meet Serenity's newest crew member, Adam Reynolds."

Turning to Zoe first, he held the baby so that she could see him more clearly. "Do believe he looks a bit like you, sir," she said, trying unsuccessfully to maintain her stoic expression, but finding herself grinning like an idiot instead.

"Ain't no call to be insultin' the little fella 'fore he's an hour old," Jayne said, his own grin reaching his twinkling blue eyes.

"He's beautiful, Mal," Inara said, her smile bright and her eyes shining with happy tears.

Kaylee's hands itched to hold the baby, but she restrained herself from asking. "You and River done real good, Cap'n," she said.

"So did Simon," Mal answered. "River's resting now, but he says she should be up and about soon enough."

And then he saw Anya, looking up hopefully in the sea of adult elbows to catch a glimpse of the baby. Bending down to rest on his haunches, he called her forward. "Blondie, want to see your new playmate/"

She stepped forward, suddenly shy with the attention focused on the scene. Reaching a tentative hand out, she gently rubbed the downy hair of Adam's head.

"It tickles," she observed, fascinated by the infant.

His heart full to the point of bursting, Mal tugged her closer and hugged both children tightly to his chest.

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Having spent a night and a day in the infirmary, River persuaded Simon that she would rest much better in the passenger dorm that had been serving as their temporary home. Simon, fussing like a wet hen the whole way, helped Mal get River and Adam settled comfortably.

Leaving her to rest, Mal made quick work of his nightly security check of Serenity, and returned to their room. He entered quickly, having learned already that it was best to let sleeping children lie.

River sat in the rocker he'd bought in Athens, gently rocking the baby back and forth as he suckled noisily at her breast. Mal stood, transfixed by the sight of mother and child, his heart swelling with pride that these two precious lives were irrevocably intertwined with his own. River looked up, reading the thought easily, and smiled the smile that Mal was sure he would gladly travel the length of the 'verse to see.

Mal sat on the bed, content to watch as Adam finished nursing and fell asleep. Taking him gently from River's arms, he laid him in the crib Jayne had set up that afternoon and stood back to gaze at the baby some more. Lips still moving slightly, Adam settled down into a deeper sleep as River rose to stand beside her husband.

As Mal's arms encircled her waist, they both noticed for the first time the symbol painted elegantly on the headboard of their son's crib. It read, simply, "Serenity."

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Thus ends another tale of the 'verse. As always, there are more stories yet to tell, but they will have to wait for another day. Thanks for taking the time to read the stories, and of course, a special thanks to those who took the extra time to review and comment. Your words have brightened my days and enlightened my path.