River was humming softly while fixing some of Serenity's important papers. Since she wasn't going on the jobs, she decided to help Mal out with the paperwork type tasks.
Belle was humming the same thing that River was while she was drawing. She was next to River scribbling away.
She was two years old now, Ricky was four, and their youngest edition, Jason Tam, was close to a year old.
They heard the thud of boots coming towards the kitchen. Belle looked up to see Mal entering with a smile.
She slid off of the chair and ran to him.
"There's my girl!"
He picked her up and tossed her in the air. She giggled as he caught her and gave her a bunch of kisses on the cheek.
"How are you today?" he asked.
"Great! How are you?"
"Great too," he smiled at his genius daughter and motioned towards his cheek. "Forgettin' something?"
Belle giggled again and gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek.
"You're forgetting Mommy," Belle commented.
"That I am."
He put Belle down and walked over to River. She smiled at him before they kissed.
"How'd it go?" River asked.
"Good. No one is in Simon's infirmary."
"Daddy! Mommy taught me a new dance step!"
"Did she? Well let's see it."
Belle twirled around a little unevenly, but it was still impressive.
"That's somethin' else. Good job!"
She smiled proudly and then hopped up on the chair to hold up her drawing. It was of River and surprisingly good.
"It sure is," Mal kissed River on the cheek before crouching down in front of Belle.
"I got you somethin' today," he searched his pocket for it.
"You did?" Belle inquired.
"I did. Here it is."
He pulled a necklace out of his pocket. It looked just like River's Serenity necklace, only with a shorter chain.
"It's like Mommy's!" Belle exclaimed.
"I know how much you've been admirin' it. So I got you one of your very own."
Belle flew into his arms with her tiny arms around his neck. She kissed his cheek.
"Thank you Daddy! I love you!"
"I love you too, princess. Let's see how it looks on you…"
River watched them with a grin as he put the necklace on her. Belle's grin mirrored Mal's exactly. She looked more and more like him everyday.
"What do you think, Mommy?" Belle asked.
"You look beautiful."
Belle climbed into her lap and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"I love you too, Mommy."
"I love you back."
"I promised your cousins that I'd stop by when I got back. Do you wanna come?" Mal asked.
"Will Mommy come too?"
"I have work to do-"
"Please?" Mal asked with his best puppy dog eyes.
"Please?" Belle asked with a similar puppy dog look.
"Okay…" she sighed.
Belle cheered and reached out for Mal.
"Daddy, will you carry me?"
"Sure. Come on darlin' and little darlin'."
He picked Belle up and took River's hand.
They went down to the couch outside of the infirmary where the Tams were.
Ricky was playing with different parts while Kaylee supervised and Simon sat with baby Jason on his lap.
"Hey there Cap'in!" Kaylee grinned. Ricky looked up with a smile and darted to him. He hugged his legs.
"Easy there little man! I'm old!" Mal laughed.
"You aren't old, Daddy. You're refined."
Mal laughed. Belle was definitely her mother's daughter. "Thanks, princess."
"I made a clock! Come look!" Ricky pulled Mal by the hand to the table and he pulled River with them.
He held up the ugly homemade clock with pride. It worked perfectly.
"He did it all by his-own-self!" Kaylee beamed.
"He did," Simon nodded.
"Would you look at that? We've got ourselves a junior mechanic in the makin'!" Mal said happily. Ricky's smile widened.
Kaylee moved down on the couch so Mal and River could sit down. Belle sat half on Mal's lap and half on River's.
"Auntie Kaylee, look at what my daddy got me!" she clutched the chain. Kaylee looked at it.
"Ain't that the same one that River's got?"
"It's beautiful, Cap'in. And you look shiny, Belle."
Little Jason started babbling and squirming around in Simon's lap. "I think he wants to see his Uncle Mal," Simon sighed.
He passed Jason to Kaylee who passed him to Mal. Mal sat him down on his lap beside Belle.
"How's my youngest nephew doin'?"
Jason gurgled. Belle laughed as he blew a bubble. Ricky leapt up onto Kaylee's lap so he could be a part of the action.
"I'm feelin' a group hug comin' on…" Mal said mischievously before wrapping his arms around all three kids. They all laughed as he kissed each one on the top of the head. Belle attacked him with kisses while Ricky hugged him. Jason just laughed as he blew another bubble before he reached out for Simon again.
"I think Jason wants to see his daddy," Mal sighed as he handed him to Ricky. Ricky walked the little Simon look-a-like to his father before getting back onto Kaylee's lap.
"Uncle Mal, Belle and I have been talking…" Ricky began.
"Oh really? What about?"
"We want a puppy," Belle explained.
"I knew it. I knew that we shouldn't of smuggled those beagles last month. I even said, 'No, it'll give the kids ideas' but no!"
"Please? Please? Please?" they chanted in unison.
"We'll take good care of it," Ricky promised.
"A space ship ain't a place for a puppy." Mal paused and looked at his daughter. She looked at him innocently. "Was this your idea or Ricky's?"
"Well…" she stopped with a sweet smile. "Will I be in trouble if it was my idea?"
"Will you lie to your father if I say you will?"
"Lie as in not telling the truth or as in stretching it just a little bit?"
He laughed. Her mischievous streak came from him. There was no doubt about it.
"It was her idea," Ricky pointed a finger at her.
Mal looked over at River. "This is your fault."
"How is it my fault?" she asked.
"Seems I recall a certain shipment of creepy spiders…" he started.
"This is different!" she argued.
"How? You got attached to her and we kept her as a pet. This is the same idea, only with beagles!"
"Auntie River kept a spider as a pet?" Ricky asked.
"Yes. Her name was Daisy. She was a big brown curly haired tarantula," Mal nodded.
"She was horrifying," Simon shivered at the memory.
"She saved Mal's life," River snapped.
"Daddy…" Belle looked up at him with her big blue eyes. "Please?"
He had to look away because he felt himself folding.
"Why does she have to have your charm? Why?" he asked River. She laughed while he sighed. "No. Puppies are a lot of work and they grow up to be big dogs. We don't have the funds to support another life on this boat right now."
"Speaking of life, no one showed up in my infirmary close to death. Is everyone okay?" Simon asked.
"Yeah…" he stopped and looked around curiously. "Where's Jayne at? And Zoe?" He turned to River. "Sweetheart, do you know?"
"They're aboard, but I can't tell what they're thinking."
"I conjure we'll see them at dinner," Mal sighed.
"Will you play with us until then?" Ricky asked.
"Please Daddy?" Belle said sweetly.
"Okay, I'll play."
They cheered and dragged him off of the couch and towards Ricky's room where all of the toys were. River smiled when she all three of them laughing.
"I'll go put Jason down for his nap. Come with Mommy," Kaylee picked Jason up and they vanished down the hall.
"So," Simon started. He was about to continue, but Belle's voice cut through his.
They heard something that had to be Mal growling like a dragon followed by Ricky.
"I'M COMING TO RESCUE YOU!"
"YOU'LL NEVER GET HER!" Mal roared.
Mal emerged from Ricky's room with Belle slung over his shoulder. He started running down the hall with Ricky in pursuit. They circled the coffee table and then went back into Ricky's room. River laughed while Simon shook his head with a smile.
"No wonder my kids adore him," he sighed.
"He's a big kid himself sometimes," River chuckled.
They came flying out again only this time he had both kids in his arms. They were kicking and laughing. He set them down and they chased him into Belle's room, which used to be River's room way back when.
"Apparently…" Simon laughed.
An hour later was dinner time. Mal was beat from running around with the kids so he sat down with a huff. Belle hopped up onto his lap.
"I love you, Daddy."
"I love you too, princess. Let's help Mommy and Auntie Kaylee with dinner."
He was shoved out of the kitchen, but they let Belle help by watching Jason. Mal, Simon, and Ricky were left to set the table. Jayne came in and sat down at the table. Five minutes later, Zoe showed up.
"Auntie Zoe!" Belle cried as she ran to her and hugged her leg. The prospect of godmother was a bit hard for her, so she just called her "Auntie" instead. Mal figured just as well. Zoe was practically his sister anyway.
"Hello Belle. How was your day?" she asked.
"Great. I learned a new dance step from my mommy and I drew pictures and my daddy played with me and Ricky and oh! Lookie! Lookie! Daddy got me this! It's like my mommy's."
She showed her necklace off proudly.
"That's real pretty. Let's go sit down for dinner."
Zoe took her hand and they went over to the dinner table. Belle looked at Jayne curiously. He smiled at her.
"Hi…" Belle said back timidly. She turned to River. "Why is he being nice?" she whispered.
"He's in a good mood."
Belle nodded and sat in her usual spot on River's lap. Other than Jason getting a hold of one of Ricky's tomato slices and flinging it at Jayne, dinner went pretty well.
"What's that one?" Belle asked as she pointed at a cluster of stars outside of Serenity's windshield on the bridge. It was their nightly ritual to stargaze.
"Xanthus. It's a horse. See that right there. It makes his mane and it goes around making his head."
"I want to ride a horse."
Mal laughed. "You're too young to ride alone, but I could ride with you. We can do that sometime."
"Will you buy me a horse?"
"Well it isn't a puppy."
He laughed again. "True."
"What's that one?" she asked as she pointed to a different one.
"Iris. See how those three stars twinkle in different colors?"
"Those stars above them make a woman, Iris, and you can always find her by looking for the three colorful stars."
"Really. Now it's bedtime."
"Belle, it's bedtime. Let's go."
"No. There are more stars!"
"There will always be more stars. We'd be up here forever."
"I know. I want to be up here forever with you."
She melted his heart, but he couldn't give in.
"Do you want your bedtime story?"
"Do you want your bedtime song?"
"You won't get them if you don't go to bed right now."
She huffed. "Okay. I'll go to bed."
Mal smiled and picked her up. If only River was that easy to beat in an argument…
"I know what I did wrong," Belle said as they walked to her room.
"What?" he asked.
"I should have called you 'baby' like Mommy does."
Mal laughed again to the point of tears welling up in his blue eyes.
Mal gave her a kiss on the forehead before exiting her room and walking with River to their bunk for some alone time…