Labor of Love
Part IV—Baby Girl
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Summary: Conclusion. Baby Reynolds makes her entrance into the 'verse.
Anya lowered Serenity's ramp, relieved beyond belief to see Captain Mal and Adam heading toward her with her mama and Uncle Jim right behind. Seeing Anya, Adam ran forward to hug her, wanting to tell her all the news about the carnival and the fancy ship he and his daddy had been on. But Anya shushed him quietly, turning to Mal instead. "They're in the infirmary. I think she's doing all right so far."
"Thanks, blondie," Mal said, not breaking stride as he headed to the infirmary.
Anya nodded, taking Adam in hand. "What's all that white stuff down your front?"
Adam grinned. "Sugar," he answered. "Real sugar, that came off a kind of funny-shaped cake at the carnival. You shoulda' seen it, Anya," he said, beginning to tell her the tale as she headed him toward the galley.
Zoe and Jim looked after the two children, amazed at how mature Anya was behaving, given the afternoon she must have had. They could hear vague sounds from the infirmary, and the sounds were none too pleasant. "Think we should go check it out?" Jim asked, halfway between dread and duty.
"Maybe just stick our heads in a minute, and be sure they don't need anything," Zoe said hesitantly.
Jim sighed. "So, I take it there'll be no quiet evening in a candle-lit restaurant, with real food…"
Zoe smiled slowly. "Maybe next time, if you play your cards just right."
Jim reached out to touch her face gently. "So long as it's not solitaire I have to play."
Zoe covered his hand with hers for a brief moment. "Don't imagine it will be," she said softly. She shook herself slightly, as if coming out of a dream, and squared her shoulders. "Best be checkin' everything out," she said, her soldier's demeanor firmly back in place.
Jim followed her, puzzling over the difficulty he was having getting her undivided attention with a ship full of folk that seemed to need constant looking after.
Jayne punched in the keycode to lower Serenity's ramp, wondering why no one was there to greet them when they returned. Inara stepped gracefully into the ship, and immediately felt the tension in the air, thick and heavy.
Jayne drew his gun, assuming that something must have gone pear-shaped while they were away, but Inara stilled his hand. "Listen," she said.
He cocked his head to one side, listening for the sound she had heard. In a moment, he re-holstered his weapon. "River," he said.
"I expect so," Inara said. "The baby must be coming."
Thinking of all manner of places he'd rather be when the baby came crying into the 'verse, Jayne followed Inara to the infirmary with a firm sense of dread.
Zoe and Jim sat outside the infirmary, both looking like they'd rather be almost anywhere else, but rooted to the spot just the same. "How long?" Inara asked, wincing as she heard River's moan.
"Since early this afternoon," Zoe said solemnly.
Inara sat down beside her friend. "And Simon hasn't gotten her to agree to going to a proper hospital yet?"
"She's fair determined this child be born on Serenity," Zoe replied, her voice deceptively calm. "So far, Simon ain't budged her a bit."
"Mebbe if he knocked her out," Jayne suggested, more than a little uncomfortable with the sounds emanating from the infirmary. When Zoe, Inara, and Jim all glared at him, he said, "What? Like it ain't crossed your minds?"
Silence fell as they continued to wait, Jayne and Jim relieving some tension by pacing, and Zoe and Inara sitting still as stones side-by-side. After a long while, Kaylee joined them, having put all the children to bed and pocketed the baby monitor just in case Daniel should awake. And the night wore on for all of them.
Mal looked at Simon worriedly, as he finished his latest assessment. "Makin' any progress?" he asked raggedly, feeling strangely as if he were the one who had endured fourteen hours of labor.
Simon stretched his back, the motion causing popping sounds enough to rattle Mal's teeth. "Some," he said.
River moved slightly on the table, needing to change position after the exam. "The baby," she said tiredly. "Is the baby all right?"
"So far, so good," Simon said soothingly. "She's making her way into the 'verse steadily."
"She's taking her own sweet time about it," Mal growled, wincing as another contraction roared through River's exhausted body.
When River could catch her breath again, she smiled weakly. "Stubborn like her father."
"Hey now," Mal said, mustering up enough energy to look affronted. "I conjure I'm one of the most easy-goin' hundans you'll ever meet."
Simon snorted, causing River to laugh before her breath was taken away by another contraction. "They're comin' awful close together," Mal muttered, wiping River's brow as he looked at Simon.
Simon nodded, putting on an encouraging smile for his sister's benefit. "Could be a good thing, if the baby will go ahead and start moving more rapidly down the birth canal."
"And if not?" River asked, her voice strained with the pressure of the contractions.
Simon sighed. "If not, we need to think about moving you to a hospital, and delivering the baby by C-section. I know it's not what you want, but your body can't handle this much stress indefinitely, and the baby will, sooner or later, be in distress as well."
"Bao bei," Mal said softly. "If they could deliver this baby without you havin' to keep goin' through this, ain't it worth it to go?"
River grasped his hand hard enough to bruise. "Don't make me go there, Mal, please. She's coming. I can do this. I know I can. Trust me." Her words were cut off by another contraction, as she writhed on the table.
"How soon can you give her something else for the pain?" Mal's voice was hoarse with the strain of the situation.
Simon glanced at the chronometer, doing a rapid calculation. "Another half hour, at least."
Mal nodded grimly, holding on to River with all his strength, as her body bucked painfully against him.
Adam wondered why all the adults on Serenity were acting so strangely, as if he could not tell that they were all worried about his mama. Adults were silly sometimes, he decided. He could feel his mama's struggle, and he could feel his baby sister, like a butterfly flitting lightly along his consciousness. Mama was so tired, he thought sadly, and Daddy's mind was shot through with sharp worry.
Adam wanted to tell them not to worry, that everything would be all right very soon, but Miss Inara seemed determined not to let him into the infirmary. Any protest he made earned him a sharp look from Anya and so he sat outside with the crew, thinking it quite possible that his baby sister was going to be more trouble than she was worth.
Seeing that Adam was beginning to get increasingly restless, Anya persuaded him to tell the crew about the carnival. He began his animated tale, bringing smiles to every face as he described his father's reaction to the rides he'd persuaded him to try. But, when he began to describe the men who had come to take them from the carnival, the smiles faded, replaced by looks ranging from curious to horrified. Momentarily forgetting the sounds emanating from the other room, Zoe leaned forward.
"Where exactly did they take you?" she asked.
Adam smiled. "To a real pretty ship, not too far from here," he answered.
"Did you know anyone on the ship?"
Made vaguely uncomfortable under Zoe's intense scrutiny, Adam frowned for a moment, trying to remember what the woman had said. "There was a woman there. She had grey hair…and yummy-looking cookies, but Daddy wouldn't let me eat 'em. She wanted Daddy to help her with sumpin', but I don't know what."
Inara nodded encouragingly, stroking Adam's cowlick down soothingly. "Did your father seem to know her?"
Adam shook his head. "Nope. Not at first. Not 'til she told him who she was."
"And what did she say, sweetie?" Kaylee asked gently, her heart hammering uncomfortably in her chest.
Adam squirmed under their collective gaze. "She said she was Mrs. Niska."
A collective gasp rose from the adults, but further question was forestalled by the ear-piercing scream that came from the infirmary.
"You're doing very well, mei mei," Simon said, his voice filled with relief and excitement as he saw the crown of the baby's head emerge. "Just one more push should do it. Now."
River bore down with the last of her strength, her scream rattling the windows of the infirmary. Mal clamped his own jaws tight, resisting the urge to scream right along with her. Suddenly, River's tensed body relaxed, and she slumped back against his chest bonelessly, drawing in large gulps of breath.
Mal looked up in time to see his daughter stiffen her arms and legs, letting out a healthy wail of displeasure as Simon cleared her airways. Grinning, Simon laid the baby in River's arms.
Stroking the infant's cheek with her fingertip, River glanced up at Mal. "Look at her, ai ren," she said, awe in her tone.
"I see her, darlin'," Mal said, his voice betraying the joyous wonder of the moment. "She's a beauty, just like her mama," he whispered against River's ear, kissing her lightly.
River's smile was luminous as she handed her daughter to Mal. Wrapping her carefully in a blanket, Mal turned to Simon. "You done with the little one?"
Simon grinned. "For now," he answered.
Mal looked hopefully at River. "You up to havin' Adam in here for a minute, so's you can see him meet his baby sister?"
When River nodded, Simon said, "But just for a minute. There are still some things I need to do for River."
Mal nodded. "Won't take but a minute." Placing the baby gently back in River's arms, he went to summon Adam into the infirmary. Swinging the boy up in his arms, he held him close to the baby. "Adam, this here's your baby sister, Hannah."
Adam stared at the infant, mesmerized by how tiny she was lying there in his mother's arms. "Can I touch her?" he whispered, his eyes as big as saucers.
"If you do it real gentle-like," Mal said softly, glancing over at River, his blue eyes bright with unshed tears.
Adam reached his little hand out gingerly, just barely brushing the baby's skin. "She's all soft," he said quietly.
"That she is," Mal agreed.
"Been waitin' for you for a long time," Adam said softly, staring into the baby's eyes. "Glad you finally got here."
The baby regarded him solemnly, as if she understood everything he said. The sight of it made Mal's heart swell with gratitude for this latest gift in his life.
River reached out to stroke Adam's cheek, and he looked at her thoughtfully. "You did good, Mama," he said finally.
"She certainly did," Mal said, pulling away from the bed reluctantly. "But Mama's tired now, and we need to introduce Hannah to everybody else, while she gets some rest."
He set Adam down, and reached for the baby. "Lead the way, little fella'," he said.
Adam proudly walked out of the infirmary hand-in-hand with his father to introduce his baby sister to the rest of her family.
Author's Note: Thus ends this short tale of Hannah Regan Reynolds' arrival into the 'verse. I hope you enjoyed reading it, as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for the kind comments along the way. There are, as always, other tales of the 'verse to tell, but they will have to wait for another day. 'Til then, happy reading and writing to you all!