"There you are! I've been lookin' everywhere for you," he sighed with a half smile.

"Why would that be?" River replied with a half smile of her own.

"I think you know," he returned while walking closer to her.

"I think that you need to show me…"

"Since you asked," he shrugged while wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her towards him.

He gave her a long kiss that left her weak in his arms. She smiled and wrapped her arms around him to regain balance.

"Show me more," she whispered into his ear before gently nibbling on the nape of his neck.

"Damn woman, you're gonna kill me."

"I am an assassin. Do you want me to stop?" she asked, kissing her way down his face to find his lips again.

"No way. Go right ahead."

"Is that a kill order?"

"Yeah, 'nough talkin' and let's get to killin'. I'm takin' you down with me."

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

She grabbed his hand and pulled him down the corridor to his bunk. He opened the hatch and she made him go first. Once he got to the bottom, she made her way down. He pulled her off of the ladder as soon as he could and into his arms. It was his turn to kiss her all over.

"Wo de ma…" she moaned.

"That's what I like to hear…" he grinned.

He set her down on his bed gingerly and looked down at her. He could never get over how incredible she was. She reached out and cupped his face with a wide smile.

"I feel the same way," she muttered softly.

He kissed her again, leaving them both completely breathless. She sat up and helped him get undressed. She ran her mouth down his chest. He purred and kissed her shoulder before sliding one of the straps to her dress down slowly. He did the same thing with the other shoulder. She rolled on top of him and ran her finger down his nose and halfway down his chest. He ran his hand down her bare back before brushing some of her hair out of her face. They kissed again.

****

Mal slowly opened his eyes. Dreams like that didn't faze him anymore. He'd been having them for over a year. He slowly sat up, rubbing his dry eyes with a sigh. The only problem after a dream like that was that he rarely went back to sleep. He got up despite the early or late time, depending on how you look at it. He got cleaned up and dressed. The entire time he replayed the dream in his head. He caught himself smiling at the memory.

He had accepted it. He, Malcolm Reynolds, was in love with his youngest crew member, River Tam. He knew how and when it had happened. He was just surprised that he wasn't fighting it anymore. He did at first. Hell, he was livid with himself. How could he be attracted to this girl? That's when it dawned on him. She wasn't a girl anymore.

Sure she was when he found her in that cryo box over four years ago. She was just shy of seventeen then, but now she's a woman. Almost twenty-one. She can make her own decisions. Of course, he's just shy of forty. It can seem wrong, but it feels so right. It's natural almost. She understands him and he understands her. Here's how it happened:

In the years after Miranda, she steadily got better. He saw her change with his very eyes. They spent most of their time together on the bridge flying together. When they weren't flying together, they were out on jobs together. A friendship grew. The more they talked, the more they realized they were alike. Broken pasts, a mutual hatred for the Alliance, something had been taken from them that left them lost, and a similar view on the 'verse. She looked out at the Black and saw more than empty space, just like he did.

He first noticed her in a different way at Simon and Kaylee's wedding. He found her beautiful. He had noticed a little bit before, but she was just Simon's crazy kid sister. The little girl completely off limits. He couldn't notice her like that. But there she was, stunning, grown up, and one of his best friends. Zoe would always be his best friend, but River understood him on a level Zoe couldn't.

Then there was Inara. She was around for years. Their dance continued. He tried more than once to have things move forward in their relationship, but they didn't. Finally, he just blew up. They had an argument to end all arguments. She wasn't about to give up her life as a Companion and he wanted a woman that was just faithful to him, which is understandable. Inara left the next night to continue her life elsewhere.

About a year ago on the night she left, he wandered into the kitchen to find the strongest whiskey they had. He found River instead. She looked up at him with a smile and he smiled back. She heard what had happened and just talked to him. She just talked. His heart had never healed so fast or so completely.

After that, he spent more and more time with her. They were extremely close and before he could even figure things out, he was falling in love with her. It was different than his feelings for Inara. They were based on more than attraction. He liked Inara, but she didn't understand. She didn't know what it was like to be broken. She didn't understand that the Black was more than just space. But River…it was like she wrote the book on those things. She could put anything in perspective. Anything at all. And he loved her for it. He loved her for everything. Even if she could be stubborn and difficult and a complete know-it-all.

You'd think that if someone loved someone else that completely they'd know, or someone would, but no. No one except Mal knew. Not even River. River knew he cared about her, but not as much as he did. He figured out how to hide that long ago. Zoe was the only person that knew that something was up, because they often spent sleepless nights together. It was one of those nights.

****

"Hello, Sir."

"Hi, Zo. Coffee?" he asked as he entered the kitchen.

"Yes sir."

He nodded and poured a cup for himself and joined her at the table. She was cleaning her gun. Ever since Wash…she wasn't the same. She had healed, but not completely. She still spent most nights awake because she couldn't stand sleeping alone in her bunk. Mal had offered to switch bunks, but she said no.

"Dreams again?" she asked without looking up.

"Yeah."

She nodded. They rarely talked. Just the presence of one another seemed to be enough. They had an unspoken bond. She never asked what the dreams were. He never offered it. He never asked her why she was up, but they both knew.

They stayed up the rest of the night in silence. He took her lead and started to clean his gun. They had cleaned their guns maybe twelve times by the time Jayne woke up and wandered in.

"What has you up so early?" Zoe asked.

The mercenary grunted and poured a cup of coffee. He added a good bit of alcohol in it before sitting at the table.

"Bad night I take it?" Mal asked.

"My gorram shoulder was hurtin' from that last job. Couldn't sleep. Didn't wanna disturb the doc 'cause Kaylee gets all bent outta shape, so I took the wrong pills! Uppers 'stead of downers. I was up in my bunk all night!"

Zoe just shook her head and Mal stared off into space. Jayne got back up and made something to eat for him only. Mal sighed and made something for himself and Zoe. About ten minutes later, River floated in.

She was humming happily and dancing around the kitchen. She was in her purple dress. It was flying around with each fluid motion she made. She busied herself with making more coffee and then oatmeal protein. One of the plates on the counter fell, but she caught it with her bare foot and bounced it up into her hand.

Mal watched her, trying to remain inconspicuous about it. Zoe and Jayne were too sleep deprived to notice luckily.

She got the bowl and a cup of coffee and then went over to the table. She set them down in front of the chair closest to Mal. She noticed that Jayne was out of coffee in his cup, so she went back over to the coffee pot and refilled his cup, still humming. She added just a bit of alcohol.

"Thanks," Jayne grumbled.

"You're welcome," she beamed while giving him a pat on the shoulder.

"What's got you feelin' so gorram shiny?" Jayne growled.

River continued like she didn't even hear him.

"Good morning, Zoe."

Zoe looked up, slightly surprised. "Good mornin' to you too."

River smiled warmly. Mal thought that she had forgotten him for a second. Then, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and gave him a quick hug and a peck on the cheek.

"Good morning, Mal."

He had long since asked her to call him "Mal."

He knew he had a stupid grin on his face, but he didn't care.

"Good mornin', darlin'. How'd you sleep?"

She sank into the chair next to him. She thought about how to answer for a moment. "Adequately."

"That's good. So, what has you in such a good mood?" he asked with that stupid grin. He loved to see her so happy.

She just smiled and then took a bite of oatmeal. She had that teasing look in her eyes. She wasn't about to tell, but then again she didn't have to.

Loud laughter erupted from the hallway where the crew bunks were. Everyone turned to see Simon and Kaylee with smiles on their faces. They embraced and started kissing rather passionately. Zoe just raised her eyebrows. Jayne didn't notice since he was too focused on his food. River was smiling just as widely and making her way towards them. Mal was thinking about his dream.

River waited until they stopped kissing to pull them both into a big hug. She whispered something. Kaylee squealed and pulled River into another hug. Simon was smiling wider than Mal had ever seen him smile.

"What's goin' on?" Mal called, hating to break up the moment.

Kaylee pulled Simon into the room with River at her other side.

"Cap'in, Zoe, Jayne. I'm pregnant!" Kaylee exclaimed.

"Congratulations." Zoe said with her typical barely-smile on her face.

"That's great mei mei," Mal said with a big smile. She gave him a hug. Mal patted Simon roughly on the back and then turned to River. "So that's why you were in such a good mood."

"It was their news to tell," she shrugged.

"Congrats, I guess…" Jayne said, awkwardly clearing his throat.

"Thanks!" Kaylee cried. She gave him a hug and then Zoe a hug.

"The ship will be different with a little one runnin' 'round…" Jayne commented.

"Remember how you used to call me that?" River asked Mal.

"Sure do," Mal recalled fondly.

Their eyes met for an electrifying moment before Kaylee started babbling on and on. She had the right to.

"I was hoping that we could stop off on Persephone so I can get a few proper medical supplies. We aren't equipped to handle this sort of thing," Simon sighed with a ghost of a smile still on his face.

"Well, let me ask the pilot. Pilot, can we get to Persephone?" Mal asked in a way that made River laugh.

"We can. May I make a suggestion to my captain?"

His heart stopped at "my" and then resumed shortly after that. He nodded.

"Captain, perhaps Badger has work."

"He might at that. I'll wave him. Set a course."

They got up at the same time.

"Ladies first."

She flashed a brilliant smile and then went down the hall with Mal close behind. He got ready to wave Badger while she set the course.

"How about that? A baby runnin' 'round on my boat," he said mostly to himself.

"I'm going to have a nephew," River replied.

"Or niece," Mal added.

"No, I'm pretty sure it's a boy. I can tell, even if Simon's fancy instruments can't. They'll make great parents…" she sighed while bringing her knees to her chest.

"You'll make a great aunt," Mal said earnestly. She lit up. "I mean it."

"I never doubted that you did."

Their eyes met for another electrifying moment. "Do you want me to stay and work my magic with Badger? He's sweet on me."

"No. I don't much like the way he eyes you."

"It's for the sake of business, Mal. I think a little flirtation might help."

"No thank you. I got it."

"Whatever you say…" she said playfully. She got up and went to the door. "I'll be with Kaylee and my nephew if you need me."

"Okay darlin'."

She left and he sank into the chair. Just for a second he thought that maybe her nephew could be his nephew too, if he told her how he felt, if she felt the same, if they made things work, if Simon didn't kill him…that was a lot of ifs. Maybe that's why he still hadn't told her. The ifs. He didn't have time to think on that too long. Badger's face appeared on the screen and business went on as usual.