Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on characters created by Joss Whedon for the television series Firefly. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: As much as I enjoy heartwarming stories of babies and family, it seems to me that infants and Firefly would be a bad combination. I suspect audiences would have liked 'Zoë pegnant' stories, but not 'baby in danger' stories. And yet, how could the writers keep a baby on Serenity out of danger and still maintain the show's general tone, storyline and credibility? Given Joss's particular sense of drama, I fear we'd have gotten a few scenes of Washburne domesticity, and then something really unpleasant would have happened to little Baby Washburne. This fanfic is the result of my musings. Frank R. Stockton's short story The Lady, or the Tiger? is about choosing the lesser of two evils. More on that at the end of Chapter 2.

Rating: T (for descriptions of implied– but not explicit– violence to children)

Spoilers: None. The story takes place after "Objects in Space" and references events in "Objects in Space" and "Heart of Gold."

The first night:

The baby is screaming. Wash always feels so helpless, hearing his daughter making that sound. He tries to focus, gropes for the clarity that's so essential when complicated, life-saving maneuvers are called for. Sweat soaking through his flight suit, he is doing his level best, swooping and swerving and dodging in and out of the asteroid field, plowing through atmo and then hitting a hard burn just as he flips the pods and sendsSerenity shooting back past the Reaver ship. Used to be this was Wash's favorite part of the job, when he transformed the ship into an extension of his own body and together they achieved the impossible. But certainty has eluded him since the baby came, and he fears today his skill is insufficient. The child is frightened, shaken by the violent, abrupt motions Daddy's making with the ship, and despite the extra soundproofing they added to their bunk, Wash can still hear her wailing out her distress all the way up on the bridge.

The Reavers are relentless. Their ships close in, deploying those fearsome, grisly grappling hooks. He knows, of course, the crew would die to protect the baby, but that's the problem, Wash thinks, now gripped by wild despair as the ship shudders. The hooks have pierced Serenity's hull. He's failed and they will all die, leaving her defenseless. Daddy failed and there will be just an empty cradle, a torn blanket, a plastic dinosaur toy (a gentle herbivore) lying useless on the floor. His head is swimming, hope shutting down as grief and anger and guilt overwhelm him. Oh God, what they'll do to her, his little love! But Daddy won't let them. A grim certainty restored, Wash moves quickly towards their bunk, to help his precious girl stop crying.

The second night:

Mommy's dark eyes, Daddy's square jaw, Mommy's thick, curly hair, Daddy's penchant for funny noises that make Mommy laugh. No doubt about it, the kid's gonna be a heart-breaker one day. Playing with Mommy's betrothal necklace as she balances him on her hip, going about her daily chores. Sitting like an angel in his basket on a crate in the cargo hold, watching as Mommy hauls contraband with Uncle Mal and Auntie Jayne, stashing it in secret places. Someday, when he's a bit bigger boy, Wash will play hide-and-seek with him amid the crates and teach him bird whistles that echo off the hull.

Suddenly rough men boarding the ship, swarming over the cargo hold. The air thick with bullets and Zoë bleeding as one pierces her armored vest. Wash flying down the stairs, only one thought flooding his mind, one object filling his sight. Arms extending, reaching. But he can't manage to get there, and then... His darling boy, his heart! Can't look, mustn't look. Zoë going mad, silent and efficient as Death, slaughtering the intruders without mercy despite her wound. But it's her fault, Mommy's fault! Mommy's work followed her home from the office. A Badger double-cross. A Patience double-cross. A Saffron double-cross. Some other low-life Fate has set against them. Revenge will follow, Zoë will see to that. But who cares? Now Mommy and Daddy no more, and Wash knows he will never care about anything ever again.

The third night:

Niska is laughing, perverse and giddy with glee, fingers steepled together and pressed to his lips. That rigor mortis grin! Lifts an index finger. That's the signal and another wave of current burns and rips through Wash's insides. Iron slats dig into his shoulder blades as the voltage slackens and he falls back hard against the rigid metal frame, body screaming.

But none of that matters. Get away from that cradle, you sick, psychotic sonofabitch! I'll kill you, I'll smash your face in, I'll tear out your throat, I'll…I'll... Another jolt, more spasmodic convulsions and then, then he learns what real agony is. No! Please, no! Wash is sobbing now, begging and broken. The shocks have no effect. He doesn't feel them anymore as Niska lifts the child in his withered arms and turns, walking away.

The fourth night:

"Wash, honey, another nightmare?" Zoë's voice is tense with concern. She rubs his back as he sits bent in shadow on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees, facing away so she won't see the tears still fresh on his cheeks.

"Yeah. I'm sorry I woke you, bao bei."

"Tell me."

He must get hold of himself. He's such a bad liar, and he married such a good lie-detector.

"Tell me, baby," she says again, soft and caressing. He wants to gather her in his arms, overwhelm his senses with everything Zoë, make love to her forever and stop, stop gorram thinking.

How can he tell her? She wants a child, demands a child. Ta ma de, he wants one, too. A permanent family all his own to cherish, amid this family of chance and circumstance. But these nightmares, each one so gorram plausible. Possible. Maybe even probable. She's so strong, so sure. Normally, that's good enough for him, he'll go along. But not with this. If only their life was something else, somewhere else.

Should he tell her? Yes, he thinks sarcastically, let's hash this out again, since he's so very close to getting her to see his side of things. Ha! The ship's been invaded twice in as many months, first by frontier thugs and then by a psychopathic bounty hunter. She's been shot at, he's been shot at; hell, everyone's been shot at! It's the main pastime around here, and yet leaving Serenity for the sake of the future Baby Washburne is off the table. A non-negotiable. There's the Mal factor, but Wash doesn't want to think about that right now, because it will just get him all angrified. And staying here without a baby? She's already rejected that with "I want to meet that child. Period." Punctuated by a take-no-prisoners eyebrow arch that's very hard to argue with. So where does that leave them?

Zoë doesn't press. When her almost compulsively verbal man needs quiet, best to leave him be. He'll speak in his own time. She sits up and gently shifts closer, wrapping her arms around him and draping like a blanket across his back. She kisses the base of his neck lightly. "I know you don't want to take anything, in case it messes up your flying, but…"

"No, I'll go see Simon in the morning." He has an idea, a coward's way out. So okay, he's a coward and … gorramit, this is for her, too! She thinks she could bear it, one of his plausible nightmares coming true, but she couldn't, not if it were her fault in the first place for insisting they bring a tiny little helpless person into the mix. It would only take one rotten deal, one job gone wrong... And with their luck, that's almost inevitable. And if she could cope with the loss, well, that's the scariest scenario of all. Because it would shatter him. And then he'd never be able to forgive her. He'd resent her, for being too strong. So either way, his idiotic plan will save their marriage.

But if she ever found out... No question, she'd never trust him again. Who knows, she might even leave him. And that would shatter him just as effectively. Well, then she mustn't find out. So not just an idiotic plan, but damn risky, too. And yet, can he really chance the alternative?

The dilemma runs in an endless loop through Wash's mind as he dresses and heads to the bridge for a course-check, trying to shake off his dreams.

bao bei = sweetheart

Ta ma de = dammit

fei hua = nonsense