River settled comfortably in between Mal's chest and arms. He was already asleep and she was close to it. It had been a rough day between their job, Zoe's head injury, and the two very loud children. Zoe was alright and asleep in the infirmary. Jayne was kind enough to stay with her so Simon could go to bed.
Belle's loud cry made them both jerk awake. River sighed and went to go pick her up out of her crib, but Mal insisted that she should stay in bed.
"I got this one."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I haven't spent time with her at all today." He carefully picked her up and balanced her against his shoulder while rubbing her back soothingly. "What's got you cryin' this time, princess?"
It was the third time she had woken up. This time it wasn't a diaper change and she had just been fed twenty minutes ago.
"Maybehaps a nice walk will calm her down. Get some sleep, sweetheart."
River nodded gratefully and shut her eyes.
Mal climbed their ladder while holding Belle securely. He started with a walk around the ship. She was still crying, but it had quieted down some. He sat with her in Kaylee's hammock for a bit.
"Hear that? That's the engine. Serenity's heart. It keeps us flyin'. That and Mommy," he told her with a grin. She calmed down a bit between his voice and the rhythmic pounding and humming of Serenity.
"How's about we go see the stars?"
He took her to the bridge where he sat down in the pilot's chair with her in his arms.
"That constellation there is Lachesis. It revolves 'round Clotho and Atropos. The stars make three women all connected by thread like in the myth. Back on Shadow, they used to look like they were spinnin' durin' the summer."
"I remember when you first told me that," River smiled as she came into view.
"I thought I told you to get some sleep. Belle, didn't I tell Mommy to get some sleep?"
She seemed to kick in response.
"I missed you two."
He grinned and passed Belle to her. She climbed back onto his lap with their daughter in her arms. Mal sighed contentedly.
"Remember how we used to spend some nights up here together before we got together right when I was first becoming the pilot?" River asked thinking back fondly.
"Of course I do. We'd talk 'bout the stars and the 'verse…"
"You taught me every constellation and myth including the full history of when it was discovered."
"I don't have to be a reader to figure that you're lyin'. I know that you already knew them all."
"Alright, I did. Still, I wouldn't trade those nights for anything. You liked them too."
"How do you know?"
"After you taught me them all, you'd still come up here and re-teach me."
"Why'd we stop that anyhow?"
"A terrible need for sleep."
"Well when we got together, it wasn't like we were gettin' much sleep anyway."
"Mal! Not in front of your daughter!"
"Don't listen to him, Belle. He has a nasty mind."
"You want nasty?"
He whipped up the most erotic image he could. River turned red and elbowed him playfully.
"There ain't any chance Belle is a reader, is there?" he asked realizing what he might have sent his daughter.
"No. I wasn't born a reader."
Mal breathed a sigh of relief.
"Serves you right."
Belle started to cry again. River gently rocked her.
"Start talking. She likes the sound of your voice like I do."
He smiled and wrapped his arms around her. He leaned his head against hers while trying to think of something to talk about.
"It doesn't matter. Just talk…or…" she smiled mischievously. "Sing."
"I don't know any."
"Sing whatever you do know. I'm sure it'll be enough."
"You know I don't like to sing."
"You sing to me sometimes when I have a nightmare."
"I love your voice, she loves your voice. We're alone, she's crying. I think it will help. Please, baby?"
He huffed, already folding. If Belle inherited her mother's charm, he'd be done for. And after looking down at her, he knew that she did.
"Okay…" he groaned. River beamed. He thought about something to sing.
"Gotta hold on easy as I let you go. Gonna tell you how much I love you, though I think you already know. I remember I thought you looked like an angel wrapped in pink soft and warm. You've had me wrapped around my finger since the day you were born. You're a beautiful baby from the outside in. Chase your dreams but always know the road that will lead you home again. Go on, take this whole world. But to me you'll always be my little girl."
Belle stopped crying midway through and fell asleep towards the end.
"Told you," River whispered. "You have a lovely voice."
"Thank you, darlin'."
"Great song by the way. Angel seems to fit her."
"It does. She's still my princess, though."
"She's already got you wrapped around her little finger."
"She's your daughter alright."
River chuckled quietly.
"What does a man have to do to get a kiss around here anyhow?"
She smirked and leaned up to kiss him. He met her halfway and then she put her head in the crook of his neck. She let the beating of his heart and the steady tempo of his breathing be her lullaby as she slipped into a deep sleep.
He smiled and held his girls a bit tighter. Sitting on the bridge of his ship with the two girls he loved more than anything in the 'verse made him wonder if there could be anything better than this. After much thought he conjured that in that moment, no there really couldn't be. It was just mathematically impossible.
Disclaimer: Lyrics belong to Tim McGraw.