Labor of Love
Part I—Baby Blues
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Author's Note: Takes place after the events of "Friends and Lovers".
Summary: River struggles with the late stages of pregnancy, and Mal completes his physical therapy.
River lay on her side trying to relieve the pressure caused by the weight of the baby inside her. Three days past her due date, she had passed uncomfortable and was halfway to downright miserable. The only thing that currently kept her tears at bay were Mal's warm, strong hands kneading the muscles of her back into submission.
"Better, bao bei?" he asked softly.
"Mm hmm," River answered. "Don't stop."
"I wasn't plannin' to," he chuckled. "Least not until you fell asleep, that is."
She sighed, rubbing her abdomen in the same distracted manner she had been doing everything for the past month. "Don't know how much longer I can stand this," she said honestly.
"Maybehaps it won't have to be that much longer," Mal said soothingly, leaning forward to brush his lips lightly along the exposed skin of her neck. "Remember Simon said if the baby hasn't come by the time we set down on Greenleaf, he'll think about inducing labor."
"Don't want to have her in a hospital," River replied sadly. "Wanted her to be born in the Black, like Adam."
"Well, it ain't too late for that just yet," Mal pointed out. "We won't be gettin' to Greenleaf for another two days at the rate we're goin' now, so you got plenty of time, darlin'."
He waited for a reply, and getting none, realized that River had drifted off to sleep. He eased away from their bed in the passenger dorm carefully, so as not to wake her. Truth be told, he was more than a little worried about his wife. River's abilities had been seriously hampered by carrying this child, and in the past couple of months, she had become increasingly lethargic and uncomfortable. Simon had told Mal that this was probably to be considered natural for a woman with River's slight frame, especially as this pregnancy, unlike her first, had caused her weight to balloon rather more drastically. Mal had, more than once in the last few weeks, had to threaten Jayne with being thrown out the airlock for references to her increasing girth.
Stretching his own tired back, he made his way gingerly to the infirmary, where Simon was waiting for him. "Sorry to keep you waitin', doc," he said. "Your sister was havin' a little trouble gettin' to sleep."
Simon nodded. "I imagine so," he acknowledged. "She has to be incredibly uncomfortable at this stage." Turning his attention to the patient before him, he said, "And how are you? I noticed that you haven't been using your canes for the past couple of days."
"Just tryin' it out," Mal said. "Kinda' wanna be standin' on my own two feet when the baby makes her entrance into the 'verse."
"I understand," Simon said, walking with Mal to Jayne's weight bench. Laying the mat on the deck plating, he watched as Mal positioned himself for the stretching exercises that constituted the first and last part of his physical therapy routine every evening. "You're getting much better at maneuverability," he observed. "Didn't even wince but a little when you got down there tonight."
Mal smiled thinly. "Yeah, my flexibility is a thing of wonder," he said dryly.
"It actually is, considering what's happened to you," Simon said, as he provided counter-resistance to the push of Mal's legs. The men worked together for awhile in silence, going through the motions that had become rote to them in the past few months. River had worked with Mal as long as she was able, but it had been quite a while since she'd been able to get up and down from the mat with any kind of ease. So Simon, in his typical brotherly fashion, had taken the burden from her, and spent a portion of every evening doing physical therapy with Mal.
Finishing with the beginning stretching routine, they moved on to the weights. Mal had slowly worked his way up to being able to handle fifty pounds of weight per leg, and Simon was fairly certain that he did not want to push Mal beyond that point, given the extent of the original injury caused by the shuttle crash, compounded by the torture Niska had applied to the damaged area. Mal moved the weights without an undue amount of trouble for the repetitions required, and they moved back to the mat to complete the stretching exercises.
Once the routine was completed, Mal stood up slowly. "So, when do you think we can stop this little evenin' visit we have every night?" he asked, putting his hands on his hips.
Simon tapped his lips thoughtfully with his index finger. "If you will agree to continue doing the stretching exercises yourself, perhaps using the bulkhead to press against, I think we can agree that tonight was our last session."
"Agreed," Mal said quickly, lest Simon change his mind. "And, um…in case I ain't said it, I'm obliged to you for helpin' me with this. Don't think River could have handled it, bein' how she is right now."
Simon's smile crinkled the skin around his eyes. "You're welcome. I could hardly let the father of my niece be incapacitated, now could I?"
At the mere mention of the little baby girl coming, Mal's face lit up. "Guess you couldn't, at that."
Jim sat with Zoe on Serenity's bridge, watching her gaze at the view out the window. "If we have to stay on Greenleaf for River to have the baby, do you think we might be able to have a nice, quiet dinner to ourselves?" he asked hopefully. "You know, somewhere where there's real food, and maybe candlelight, and a little music…."
Zoe looked placidly at him, one eyebrow raised slightly. "You wooin'me, Mr. Bowden?" she asked, the slightest of smiles playing about her lips.
"Depends," he answered.
"On whether you're the kind of woman that likes to be wooed," he said evenly.
Zoe took a deep breath and looked back out Serenity's window. "S'pose I might be," she said softly.
"Then, yes, I'm wooing you," Jim answered, coming to stand beside her. He rested his hand lightly on her shoulder. "So, is that a 'yes' to dinner?"
Zoe looked up into his blue eyes, so very like Anya's. In the space of that instant, she thought how different this man was from Wash, or Mal, or really any other man she knew. And she wondered, with a vague feeling of displacement, how he had managed to so thoroughly work his way into the very fabric of her life. "Yes," she answered simply. "I'll eat dinner with you."
"Inara, I said I'd do it," Jayne said, vague irritation in his tone. "I'm sure I ain't gonna have any trouble passin' the gorram physical."
Inara sighed. "It's a lot more than just a physical examination, Jayne," she said. "You'll be subjected to a battery of psychological tests as well. And then there's the rigid exam schedule we'll have to keep, which may be more difficult than you think, considering the nature of Serenity's wanderings across the 'verse."
"If'n it's the only way you can keep your job, we'll work it out," Jayne replied, pulling the last of his clothes off and climbing into bed with her. Seeing her suddenly dubious expression, he said, "You don't think they'll let me be your man, do you?"
Inara paused for a long moment, trying to find the right way to phrase her answer. "I'm not sure, Jayne," she finally said. "The Guild is very particular about Companion dating, and it's a very complicated procedure for both parties. That's probably why so few Companions even try to accomplish it." She reached up to smooth the wrinkle from his brow. "It really has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with an antiquated set of requirements with which we have to work."
Jayne was not so naïve as to believe that was completely true, but he kept his peace for the moment. "And if you were to decide to quit the Guild, exactly how much coin are we talkin'? What would you really owe them?"
"I'm not exactly sure," she answered honestly. "It's a complicated formula, and basically varies from Companion to Companion. I would have to make the application to withdraw from active status, and then await their decision."
"That don't seem exactly on the up and up," Jayne said. "Seems like a way to keep you whether you want to go or not."
"I suppose that's the general idea," Inara said, smiling ruefully.
"Well," Jayne said, leaning forward to kiss her softly. "I said when we started this thing that I wouldn't ask ya' to be givin' up your work for me, and I mean what I said. Whichever way you decide, I'll try to do what needs doin'."
Inara wrapped her arms around him, burrowing into the warmth of him. "I know you will, love," she answered gently. "And I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out myself."
Kaylee looked up from the crib as Simon came through the door. "You finished with the Cap'n for the night?" she asked, tucking the blanket under Daniel's chin.
"Yes," Simon replied, moving to embrace her. "For the night, and for the duration, it would seem. He's doing well enough now to go it alone, I think."
"Well, ain't that all manner of shiny?" she said, her smile warm and inviting. "I know he was eager to be done with it all."
"No more eager than I was," Simon replied, nibbling lightly on Kaylee's neck as he bent her backward. "I can think of all kinds of things I'd rather do with my evenings."
Kaylee giggled, the joy in the sound a balm to Simon's jangled nerves. "Can you now, Dr. Tam?" she asked throatily.
Simon glanced at the baby, making sure that he was well asleep. He did not relish the thought of having an audience for what he had planned. Daniel was developing the disconcerting habit of popping up at odd times in his crib to survey the activities in the room, and more than once, Simon and Kaylee had been interrupted at a very inopportune moment.
Seeing the direction of his glance, Kaylee whispered, "He's asleep, honey. Just got himself a full belly and a good rocking in the chair, so he should be out for awhile, if we're quiet."
"We aren't the best in the 'verse at doing 'quiet', Kaylee," Simon said dryly.
Kaylee's brow wrinkled as she considered the dilemma. After a moment, her face lit up. Rummaging around quickly for the baby monitor she'd rigged for when she was in the engine room and Daniel was napping, she raised it triumphantly. "Could maybe go elsewhere if we turned this way up."
Simon grinned, beginning to warm to the idea. "Where are you thinking of going?"
Kaylee smiled, dropping one of the monitors in Daniel's crib, and pocketing the other. "Been workin' on that shuttle Mal found to replace the one we lost on St Albans. As of today, it's got heat. And it's real quiet-like, and sort of away from the rest of the crew."
Grabbing up a couple of blankets, Simon took Kaylee's hand, practically dragging her toward the door. "Sounds like heaven." Sometimes, he thought happily, he was very grateful his wife was such a fine mechanic.
"Looks like they're headed to Greenleaf, ma'am."
"Are you certain?"
"As certain as I can be, given the multitude of course adjustments they could make at any time that would take them elsewhere," the thin man answered.
His employer looked at him sternly over her glasses. "There is no need to be snippy with me, young man," she said, huffing slightly. "I am well aware that ships can alter course at whim. But I assume you've been tracking them for long enough to believe they will not do so."
"Yes, ma'am," the thin man replied, swallowing a little nervously at her stern expression.
"Good," she answered. "Continue to shadow them, but not too closely. I believe Mr. Reynolds has proven that he is clever enough to spot a tail if it's done poorly. And I would be most displeased if he became aware of us before I'm ready for him. Understood?"
"Yes, ma'am." The thin man bowed slightly as she walked past him toward her quarters, leaving a slight chill in her wake.
To be continued