It was Inara who noticed first, as River had thought it might be. The companion was astute in matters of the heart and the flesh, at least as pertained to other people. She had noticed a discordant note in the relationships of the crew for some time but had thought it was just her ongoing situation with Mal that had made her overly sensitive. When she saw Jayne stroke River's hand at dinner one night, it took her a moment to realise what she had witnessed. The girl's hand had crept over towards his plate, probably to snaffle some food while he wasn't paying attention, but instead he reached out to trap it beneath his own then turned it over and rubbed his thumb gently across her palm, never breaking off his conversation with Mal and Zoe.
Inara's eyes widened. It was the lack of conscious thought in the gesture that was most telling. Neither he nor River seemed surprised by his action. In fact, the girl smiled shyly to herself as she nimbly wielded her chopsticks with her free hand.
"River, dear," Inara said softly and then looked pointedly at where their joined hands still lay on the tabletop. River flushed and tugged her hand away quickly, glancing nervously back at Inara and then at the others to see if anyone else had noticed. Inara didn't think they had. They weren't the most observant bunch of people: Kaylee and Simon only had eyes for each other these days, and Mal and Zoe had been deep in conversation with Jayne about the next mission. For herself, Inara decided to keep quiet for now. It wasn't her secret to share, and she didn't know all the details anyway. Perhaps she should have a word with River, though. If something was going on between the fey assassin and the socially challenged mercenary – and what a strange thought that was – River would undoubtedly need her professional advice.
* * * * * * * *
Zoe still wasn't back to her usual self, she'd be the first to admit that. Even now, several months after Miranda, she felt physical pain when she thought of her husband. Everyone said that grief lessened over time, but it hadn't yet, not for her. So she took a while to pick up on the nuances of behaviour and body language among the crew. Simon and Kaylee were fairly obvious, of course, and Mal and Inara seemed to be tiptoeing around each other even more than usual these days, making her wonder what exactly had happened between the two of them.
What really took her by surprise, though, was the change between Jayne and River. They were both very physical beings, much like herself, and they probably didn't realise just how much they gave away in their stance and movements. At first, she watched with a kind of bemusement – it was a distraction from thinking of herself and all she had lost. Gradually, she realised it wasn't a casual thing. There was something going on there. Something… established. She wondered when it had started. And she wondered why she didn't feel the urge to run and tell Mal.
Perhaps she of all people understood what it was to grab hold of a little happiness. You never knew when it might be snatched away from you.
* * * * * * * *
Going down to the cargo bay to look for a spare part for her beloved engine, Kaylee didn't realise right away what she had stumbled on. When she heard the first moan, her initial thought was that someone had hurt themselves and she almost called out to see if they needed help. Then another, deeper, more guttural groan joined with it and she realised it was the good kinda hurtin'. She stifled a giggle and crept between the boxes, trying to get closer. It had to be Mal and Inara, surely. They'd been acting mighty strange lately, all prickly and polite, something had been bound to snap. And from the sound of all that panting, it was snapping real well.
Then she peeked around the pile of boxes into the corner and saw who was doing all the sexin'. Her mouth fell open as she took in the site of River spread-eagled on a crate, with her skirts all mussed up round her waist and Jayne's head buried between her thighs. As Kaylee stood there in shock, River grasped his hair and tugged.
"Inside. Now," she demanded in breathy tones. A leer crossed Jayne's face.
"Anything for my girl," he growled and started crawling his way up her body in a way that made Kaylee break out in a hot flush. She turned away quickly and shut her eyes.
'Wow,' she thought when she was capable of thinking straight. 'When did this happen?' She thought briefly about whether to bring this up with Simon, or the Captain, and decided against it. It had all looked pretty gosh-darn consensual to her. And she figured that made it none of their never mind.
Serenity might have to wait a while to get serviced, though, at least until her crew had finished servicing each other…
* * * * * * * *
Simon didn't put two and two together right away, but then he can be a bit of a boob sometimes, as his sister is fond of remarking. When she started throwing up in the mornings he thought it was a bad reaction to her medication (not that she took much any more) or perhaps something wrong with the food or water supplies. After testing everything on board, much to Mal's chagrin, he couldn't find any possible source of the illness. Then she keeled over one day in the infirmary and he managed to draw a sample of blood before she woke up again. She insisted she was fine, of course, and kissed him on the cheek with a smile telling him not to worry.
Of course, worrying was what he did best. He tested that blood every which way to Sunday and found that she was frighteningly healthy – as close to a perfect physical specimen as he could find. He was frustrated. That was the only reason he did the hormone analyses at all, sheer desperation. Desperation that was nothing compared to what he felt when the results came up.
How in the name of all that was holy had she gotten herself pregnant?
They'd only set down at a couple of worlds in the last few months, still trying to keep a low profile, and she'd barely had time to get up to anything on those occasions. Still, someone had impregnated his baby sister, all right. He didn't know how to break it to her. How she would take it. This was a disaster.
He watched her closely over the next few days, until Mal asked if he needed glasses with all that squinting. He couldn't find any trace that she might be worried or nervous, so could only conclude that she wasn't aware of the baby yet.
That is until he saw Jayne brush the back of his hand surreptitiously against her still-flat belly. He just stared at it for a moment and then looked up just in time to see his baby sister, innocent little River, give that big lug what could only be described as a come-hither look. His jaw dropped.
"You aimin' to catch some flies?" Mal said. "What in tarnation's wrong with you today, Doc? Kaylee not been lettin' you get enough sleep?"
Kaylee grabbed his arm at that point and hoisted him from the table. "Don't think he's feelin' too good, Cap'n. He's lookin' a mite peculiar." And with that, she dragged him from the room all the way to her bunk.
He was still gibbering. "But she…? And he…? And they…? Oh, god."
"Jayne and River, right?" Kaylee said with a wry smile.
He turned to her in shock. "You knew?! And you didn't tell me?!"
"Didn't think it was any of our business. You don't see either of them interferin' in our relationship, do ya? 'Sides, I've only known for a few days. Walked in on 'em sharin' a private moment, if ya know what I mean," she said with a wink.
Simon shuddered. "Kaylee, the furnishings know what you mean. I just… I can't believe she'd keep this a secret from me."
"Might not have thought you'd understand. Might have thought you'd freak out a l'il bit. Can't imagine where she'd get such an idea…"
"I might not understand, but she's my sister. I just want her to be happy."
"Well, darlin'," Kaylee said, putting her arm around him as he dropped his head onto her shoulder. "If it's any consolation, she looked real happy when I saw her."
"Eww, I don't want to have to think about my little sister that way, thank you very much. Bad enough I have to be the one to deliver the baby, since I doubt anyone else on board is going to volunteer."
"Baby?!" Kaylee shrieked, right in his ear. He tried desperately to shush her. "They're gonna have a baby? That's so shiny! They'll just be the cutest li'l family."
"The thought fills me with terror," Simon said drily. "Perhaps I should take out shares in some armament manufacturers."
* * * * * * * *
The whole family group was gathered round the dinner table a couple of nights later, talking and laughing in a way they hadn't done in quite a while. Mal and Inara seemed to have called some sort of truce and were even sitting next to each other without looking uncomfortable. For a while, they'd left an empty chair at the table, no one wanting to admit that Wash wasn't going to be sitting there any more. Now, though, the chairs were evenly distributed, three at each side and Mal at the head of the table. When River put her hand over her mouth at the end of the meal, only Jayne noticed at first.
"You okay?" he said in an undertone.
She nodded, then whispered, "The smell of the coffee is… displeasing to my system. Insides coming out if stimuli is not removed."
"Whoa," he said. "Might put a crimp on dinner. How 'bout I shift the pot over to the counter?"
She smiled up at him in thanks as he grabbed the coffee pot and carried it over to the side of the mess, out of smelling range.
"Uh, Jayne," Mal said. "Some of us weren't finished with our coffee yet. You wanna bring that back over here?"
"Can get up and walk fer it, can't ya? Smell's makin' River feel sick."
"Yes, that's quite a common reaction…" Simon began before biting his tongue and flushing slightly. River and Jayne both stared at him with wide eyes, while Kaylee hid her face in her hands.
"You know?" River whispered.
"Oh, mei-mei," Simon said and reached over to hold her hand. "You could have just told me, you know. I promise I'd only have freaked out a little."
"Then you know…" and her eyes glanced over at Jayne, who looked as though he was nervously gauging where the first attack was going to come from.
Simon sighed. "Unfortunately, yes. I can't pretend to understand your choice, but you're a grown woman and as hard as it is for me to accept that, I don't have any right to dictate how you live your life." He smiled at her ruefully. "You've already missed out on too much of it."
"Mighty generous of you, Doc," Jayne grudgingly acknowledged. "Some guy knocked up my sister, I'd beat him to a bloody pulp."
"Yes, well, your talents do lie more in that direction than do mine. Just one thing, however," he said, fixing Jayne with a cold stare that made even the battle-hardened mercenary feel uneasy. "Break her heart and I'll break your spine."
"Fair 'nough," Jayne said gruffly. "Don't intend on doin' any such thing, but if'n I did, reckon I'd deserve that."
"Well, now, as touching as all this male bonding is," Mal drawled, "would someone do me the courtesy of tellin' me what the ruttin' hell is goin' on around here? 'Cause I've got some nasty suspicions taking root in my brain and I'm really hopin' for the good of my sanity they turn out not to be true."
Everyone looked at each other, nobody wanting to be the one to break the news to the captain. Finally, River spoke up. "The stork has made an appointment. He will be bringing a bundle of joy in one hundred and seventy-eight days, four hours and seven minutes. Not yet decided on name."
"Bundle of…? A baby? Our li'l albatross is havin' a rugrat? Then who the hell's the fa--- Oh no! No, no, no, no, no! Jayne, did we not talk about the Special Hell?"
"Hey, I'll have you know she seduced me! I was an innocent victim. Ow! What'd ya punch me for, ya little hellcat?"
"Not nice to imply unwilling participation. Decision was mutual, and mutual pleasure was had."
"Sure was," Jayne said, with a piratical grin. "Five times, as I remember."
Several pairs of hands slapped over ears in denial. "Gorramit, Jayne. Last thing we need is details. You and you," Mal said, pointing at the guilty pair. "So freaky and wrong I don't even know where to start, so I won't. But you knocked her up, Jayne, so you'll be makin' an honest woman of her soon as we can find a preacher."
"Already planned to," the merc said smugly, leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head. It took only a small push for River to send him sprawling on the floor. "Now what?" he said angrily.
"It is customary to ask the girl," she said primly. "I was merely assisting you onto your knees, where you should be."
"Aw, hell. You gonna make me ask you all formal-like, front a'everyone?"
River merely stuck her nose in the air and drummed her fingers impatiently on the table. Jayne knew that face. That was her 'not budging an inch' face. Figured he'd better do this and get it over with. After all, she was bound to say yes, right? Wasn't she? What if she didn't want to get shackled to a no-good mercenary just cause he'd got her in the family way? Jayne cleared his throat, trying to get rid of the lump that seemed to have lodged there.
"River," he said, not knowing quite how to say it. "I know I ain't one of them fancy Core dandies you prob'ly figured on marryin' one day, and God knows I ain't never gonna be good enough for ya, but if ya give me a chance I'll do my best to show ya, and the baby, and any more we have 'long the way that, well, I… love ya and all." He hazarded a glance up at her and saw a slight smile on her lips that gave him hope. "Will ya marry me, darlin'?"
River threw her arms around his neck, nearly choking him. "Yes. Love you too. And you are very worthy," she said, for his ears alone. "You are my big damn hero."
He pulled back and grinned at her in relief. "Damn straight!" he said.
* * * * * * * *
A/N: This is the original ending point for this story, and it works as such. I haven't marked it as complete, though, because I may want to add additional stories in this particular reality and will post them here if I do. So, if you'd like to see more, let me know! :)