Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Author's Note: Takes place after the events of "Labor of Love." Just a small piece of fluff for Hannah Reynolds.
Summary: Mal shares a quiet moment with his baby girl.
Mal slipped the baby carefully out of River's arms, and pulled the blanket up over his sleeping wife. He had forgotten how exhausting caring for an infant could be, and wondered with a certain admiration how River was managing to do so well in view of how difficult her labor had been. Fair certain that he would still be in bed after such an ordeal, he found it amazing that River was functioning as well as she was.
He leaned down to gently brush his lips across her forehead, the motion causing Hannah to scrunch up her face in displeasure. "All right, all right, little one," he whispered, straightening up immediately. "Best you and me just take a walk and let your Mama rest a mite."
Wrestling a blanket around the baby, he walked out into the corridor and up the stairs to the bridge. Zoe turned to look at him, her hand on the console. A small smile lit her features as she looked at the baby. "She's a regular beauty, sir," she said softly, letting Hannah wrap her tiny hand around her index finger. "Looks a lot like her mama."
"She does, doesn't she?" Mal asked, not even trying to disguise the pride in his voice. "Simon said River looked just like this when she was little."
"I don't doubt it," Zoe replied. "River gettin' any sleep?"
Mal nodded. "Fell asleep feedin' Hannah," he answered. "Thought I'd just give her a little while of quiet. Keep Hannah up here with me for a bit."
Zoe inclined her head. "You sure you want this watch? I can stay up here a little longer, if you want me to."
"We'll be fine," Mal said, slipping into the pilot's chair Zoe had just vacated. "Have a good night."
"You, too, sir," Zoe said, walking out and sliding the door shut behind her.
Mal looked out at the Black, the weight of his daughter in his arms a pleasure to him. "Well, baby mine," he said. "Looks like it's you and me to keep us on course 'til mornin'."
Hannah looked up at him with huge serious eyes as if she understood every word he said. He thought, uneasily for a moment, that maybe she did, being as how she had the Tam genes. Could be he was holding another genius reader for all he knew, he mused. He was not quite sure how he felt about such a prospect. While Adam seemed to be adjusting to his abilities well enough, Mal could not help but wish a more normal life for his baby girl.
He supposed, upon reflection, that it was highly unlikely she would have anything approximating a so-called normal life. But he would do whatever he could to ensure that she at least had a happy life, he assured himself, a life where she felt loved and cared for, much as he had as a boy on Shadow.
Gazing down into Hannah's eyes, he smiled softly. "Named you after your grandmas, you know," he said, his voice low and soothing. The baby blinked and began to gurgle happily. Mal went on. "Don't know much about your Grandma Tam, but she seems nice enough. Not near as strong as your own Mama, but she tries, I reckon. 'Spect she'll be wantin' to see you, now she knows your Mama and Uncle Simon are still in the 'verse."
Mal held her close to his face, and Hannah waved her fists in the air, just barely managing to touch her father's cheek. He wrapped his hand around her tiny one, and jiggled it lightly. "I'm sad to say you won't be seein' your other grandma, my Mama. She would have been some kind of proud to see you, I conjure."
He continued, as Hannah stared up at him with her bright eyes. "She was a rancher's wife, and then a rancher herownself when my Daddy died. Ran one of the largest operations on Shadow, with only about forty hands at any given time." Mal looked up blankly for a moment, seeing the spread of land that had belonged to his family on Shadow in his mind's eye.
Sighing at the memory, he turned back to Hannah. "She was a little thing, not much bigger than your own Mama. But everybody knew she meant business when she talked. Reckon that's how she managed to keep the ranch runnin' so smooth with all them hands. Down to the last man, they all looked up to Mama." He paused for a beat. "And if a hand came along that didn't do what she said right quick-like, Mama had no problem sendin' 'im on down the road to work somewhere else. Said life was too short to mess with folks didn't have good sense." He chuckled at the memory, picturing his mother with her hands on her hips sending a worthless hand off the property with no trouble at all. "Course, I suppose it was because she knew she had good people to back her up," he said, thinking that was a lesson she had drilled into him early on. If you had good people with you, you could accomplish just about anything that needed to be done, she'd said time and time again, preparing her son to run the ranch when she was gone.
"Anyway," Mal said, sighing slightly. "She was a strong kind of woman. Met things head-on and didn't back down when she knew she was in the right. Hopin' that's how you're gonna be, little one," he said, cupping the back of Hannah's head in his palm and laying her out on his arm. "The 'verse ain't the most forgivin' thing there is, and sometimes a body's got to stand up for what's right. Dong ma?"
He looked into Hannah's eyes, and could almost imagine she was agreeing with him wholeheartedly. She cooed in answer.
"Course, she was a tender woman too," Mal said, moving Hannah up and down gently on his forearm. "Looked after the men like they were her own, which I conjure they were, come to think on it. If one of 'em got sick, she'd make a pot of soup and take it down to the bunkhouse, nurse 'em back to health herself."
He paused for a minute, thinking about the feel of his mother's calloused hands cool on his own forehead when he was sick with fever. He remembered her soft voice, lifted in song when she soothed him to sleep night after night after his father's death, the sound like an angel's music to his ears. He told Hannah about the stories she used to tell, the books she used to read to him every night before bed, the quiet evenings of pleasant conversations and easy calm between them as he grew up.
After a long while of talking, he looked at his daughter, sleeping contentedly in his arms, her little cheeks round and rosy in the light of the console. "You got a lot to live up to, baby girl," he whispered, his heart full to bursting with the love he felt for the family he'd had and the one he was making now. "But, I'm fair certain you can do it," he continued. "You come from a long line of good folk."
And turning his mind back to piloting Serenity, he steered them into the future, the strength of the past guiding them forward.