Alphabet Soup

Part VIII—W through Z

Summary: This is a collection of short scenes in the family life of Master Adam Reynolds of Serenity. Warning: Wall-to-wall fluff ahead. Enter at your own risk.

W—Weaned and Weeping

River sat in the rocker, holding the sleeping Adam close to her breast. She had spent the better part of the evening staring at the bulkhead disconsolately. Adam had, for the first time, completely refused to nurse, nuzzling eagerly into his mother's warmth, but turning his head away when prompted to suckle. Though she knew it was nothing personal, River still felt an odd sense of rejection from her son.

It had been mildly traumatic when Adam had gone from diapers to underpants, but that was nothing compared to the emotions she felt now. For several days, Adam had nursed less and less, until finally River talked to Simon about it. He had assured her that Adam's behavior was perfectly normal. Now that the little boy had several teeth, he was eating more solid food, and would logically need less of the nourishment River had been providing, Simon explained gently. River understood it, but it still broke her heart to think that the precious bonding time would soon come to an end.

Mal came down into the bunk and found her crying, Adam still held tightly in her arms. "What's the matter, darlin'?" he asked, dropping to his knees beside the rocker.

The gentle question released a virtual torrent of tears as River tried to explain her turmoil. Mal listened, barely comprehending the depth of her feelings until he remembered how jealous he had felt at first when he'd been unable to feed his son. Taking Adam from her arms carefully so as not to wake him, Mal put the child into his crib, and turned his attention back to his weeping wife. Taking her into his arms, he waited for her tears to subside. When they finally did, he lifted her chin so that he could see her eyes, and brushed back her hair. "Darlin', there ain't a thing in the 'verse that child loves or needs any more than you. You're his mama, and you're always gonna be, no matter how old he gets. There's no substitute for a good mama, I conjure. And Adam's lucky enough to have one."

River sniffled, wiping the last tear from her eye. "You really think I'm a good mother?" she asked.

"I do," Mal confirmed. "And a wonderful wife as well." He kissed her softly, feeling some of her tension melt away. "Truth to tell," he added, his lips ghosting along her jawline as he cupped one breast in his hand, "I'll be pleased to have these back to myself."

River giggled. "You will, huh?" she said as he lowered the strap of her gown.

"Um huhm," he answered as his clever lips and hands distracted River from her earlier melancholy.

X—X-Ray

Mal and Adam were making their way around the ship, doing Mal's last check of the evening, as was his custom. Mal loved this time with his son, almost as much as he'd once loved the solitude of the route. Adam was growing by leaps and bounds, and Mal was well aware that the child was gifted beyond his age. Ever inquisitive, Adam asked questions about every part of the ship, and Mal took pride in teaching the boy about their home.

Wanting to recheck the cargo they'd picked up earlier in the day, Mal headed down the stairs holding Adam's hand. Not quite sure-footed, Adam missed a step, causing Mal to lunge forward to catch him, twisting his own ankle in the process. Mal heard a sickening pop, and Adam began to scream.

Righting them both, Mal was horrified to see Adam's arm hanging at an odd angle. He touched it gingerly, causing Adam to cry out in pain. "Shh," he soothed, drawing the child into his arms with careful attention to the injured arm.

Adam whimpered, "Hurts, Daddy. Hurts bad."

Mal swallowed thickly, and replied, "We'll get Uncle Simon to take a look, okay?"

Adam nodded, taking in big gulps of air. "'Kay, Daddy," he said, trying to be brave.

Mal limped to the infirmary, certain he couldn't make it back up the stairs to get Simon. Grateful for the comm. system, he called Simon to the infirmary, thereby prompting the entire crew to come out of their bunks to see what had happened.

Everyone crowded into the small room, until Simon made them all step outside with the exception of a very worried River. Probing as gently as possible, Simon examined Adam's arm, as Mal and River gripped hands tightly, holding their breath.

"Don't think it's broken," Simon said finally. "But the elbow's dislocated. We'll have to set it correctly."

Mal's voice was tight, knowing full well how painful dislocations could be. "Can we give him something first?"

"Of course," Simon said, already preparing the pain meds. Adam cried when he saw the needle. "It's okay, baby," River soothed, holding him close. "This will make it feel better in a minute."

Simon slid the needle in, wincing at Adam's scream. "We'll have to wait a few minutes before we make the adjustment," he said to Mal. River began to sing a lullaby softly in Adam's ear, while Simon explained quietly that Mal would need to provide counter-resistance as he pulled the joint back into alignment.

Gritting his teeth, Mal got a firm grasp on his son's arm, as Simon maneuvered the elbow back into place with a sickening pop. Adam fell back against Mal's chest, panting with the pain. Mal held him gently as Simon administered an anti-inflammatory to ease possible swelling. "You were a brave little boy," Simon said, kissing Adam's clammy forehead. "Very brave."

Adam looked at his uncle through watery eyes. "All better now?'

"All better," Simon confirmed.

Adam smiled shakily. "Sleepy now."

"I'd expect so," Simon agreed.

River took her son from Mal and headed back to their bunk, while Mal stayed behind.

"Thanks, doc," he said bleakly. "Don't know how I managed to hurt him like that."

Simon regarded him soberly. "I expect you may have saved his life. If you hadn't grabbed him by that arm, he'd have likely tumbled down the stairs and been seriously injured or even killed."

"Yeah, well, that don't stop me feelin' all manner of guilty," Mal said, grimacing as he put weight on his injured ankle.

"Take your boot off," Simon ordered, brooking no argument.

Mal complied, hopping around on one foot until Simon steadied him. Whistling low in his throat at the swollen, purple ankle, Simon said, "Looks like you may have gotten the worst of it anyway. I believe this is going to require an X-ray."

Mal grumbled, but allowed Simon to take the picture. "The good news is, that is a fairly clean break," Simon said, pointing out the thin white line bisecting the bone. With typical efficiency, he set the bone and prepared a light-weight cast for the Captain. "My advice is to stay off it for a few days, and then we'll see where we are. For now, use these," he said, pulling a pair of crutches out of a locker, "and elevate it when you get back to your bunk."

"You're givin' me leave to use the stairs AND the ladder?" Mal asked, somewhat surprised.

Simon rolled his eyes. "Could I stop you if I tried?"

Mal chuckled. "'Spect not," he acknowledged.

"I didn't think so," Simon said dryly. "But be careful. I don't want to be putting a cast on any other part of your anatomy."

"Point taken," Mal said, fitting the crutches firmly under his arms and moving forward awkwardly. Simon watched him go, pondering the complexities of the man.

Y—Yielding to Yearning

Mal spent the next day in his bunk, impatient to have been sidelined from the job. He didn't breathe normally until River came in at lunch to announce that the cargo had been safely delivered and Zoe and Jayne were back onboard. Setting the lunch tray carefully across his lap, she sat beside him. "Everything all right down here?" she asked solicitously.

"S'pose so," Mal said petulantly. "Though I ain't overly fond of lying around in bed."

River raised one eyebrow mischievously. "Oh really?' she asked, grinning wickedly.

Mal returned the grin, blue eyes beginning to twinkle. "Less'n I got good company, that is." He reached out to pull her closer, but she danced away from his grasp, chuckling softly.

"Hold that thought," she said. "I have to go get Adam for his afternoon nap. Maybe then we can resume this conversation. Besides, you need to eat. Keep your strength up."

"Aimin' to make me exert myself, are you?" Mal said to her retreating form. Her reply was a soft laugh as she climbed the ladder.

Mal waited anxiously for River's return, even managing to hobble over to the sink for a quick shave. When River and Adam arrived, he endured the longest fairy tale he thought he'd ever heard, while River gentled Adam into his nap.

Finally, River turned to him with a smile, dropping her dress in one fluid movement. Stifling the moan that rose low in his throat so as not to wake the baby, Mal unbuttoned his shirt hastily. River helped him out of his pants, as the cast made it somewhat awkward to manage alone. Straddling his hips, she whispered, "Lie still, ai ren. Let me do the work this time."

Mal nodded silently, eyes fluttering closed as she began to rock gently against him. "Ai ya, woman," he breathed against her neck.

"Shhh," River whispered. "Mustn't wake the baby."

Mal clamped his jaws shut, trying to keep quiet. For several minutes, the only sound in the room was their increasingly heavy breathing and the whisper of skin on skin. But as he began to thrust up into her more forcefully, a loud gasp escaped from River, and Mal opened his eyes to see Adam peering over the top of the crib, eyes wide. "Mommy?" the little boy asked.

"Gorram it," Mal hissed, pulling the blanket up to cover River's naked back. River slid off his body, sighing in frustration. "What, baby mine?' she asked as calmly as she could manage.

"Mommy okay?" Adam asked.

"Mommy's fine," River said. "Go back to sleep, Adam."

"Not sleepy," Adam replied, his fingers firmly entwined in the slats of the crib.

"You have to take your nap," Mal said, the last of his earlier arousal effectively gone.

"Sleep with you?" Adam asked hopefully.

Mal looked resignedly at his wife, who was slipping back into her dress under the blanket. She gave him a rueful smile. "All right," Mal said. "Just this once."

Adam grinned happily as River picked him up and deposited him in the bed between them. Snuggling close, Adam soon fell back asleep.

Mal looked over at River. "Think maybehaps it's time for our yearling to sleep in his own bunk," he whispered.

River nodded in absolute agreement.

Z—Zoe's Zoo

Zoe sat in the common area, watching Anya and Adam play with the small box of toys that the crew had been steadily contributing to since the children arrived. As everyone was perpetually short of coin, the box was not as full as one would have hoped. Feeding and clothing the growing children was challenge enough most days, Zoe knew well enough. But still, little things would mysteriously appear in the box after a day spent dirtside. Zoe was not sure who the contributors were, but she suspected it was a joint effort. She herself had dropped in a thing or three when she could.

But looking at the children playing so happily with their meager possessions, Zoe was gripped by sudden guilt. She conscripted Inara to watch the children, and climbed down into her bunk. Opening the closet, she pulled down a large box and set it lovingly on the bed. She took a deep breath and opened it. Instantly engulfed in the bittersweet memory of Wash, she dumped the contents on the bed. Dozens of plush animal toys fell out, soft and well-worn, smelling of Wash's favorite cologne. Zoe picked up each one tenderly, inhaling the sweet scent of her husband, and remembering how very much Wash had treasured these things from his own childhood.

She recalled the surprise she'd felt that a grown man would keep such things, but she had soon learned that Wash was a tender soul who would never willingly abandon anything that he had chosen to be a part of his life. Stifling a small sob, she gathered the precious treasures back into the box.

Sensing her husband as if he still stood beside her, she knew exactly what he would have wanted done. Wiping one treacherous tear from her cheek, she picked up the box and took it to the common area, setting it down carefully between the children. As they squealed with delight at all the stuffed animals there, Zoe whispered, "Miss you, baby," so softly no one else could hear.

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Author's note: And so we come to the end of this fluff-fest called "Alphabet Soup." Thanks so much for reading it, and as always, a special thanks to those who took the extra minute to comment. I'll be back after a short break with the sequel to "Holding Pattern", for those who regularly read my tales of Serenity's crew. Hope you'll tune back in! Thanks again!