TITLE: Mystery Meal

DISCLAIMER: I am the proud owner of…nothing…

A/N: Plot bunnies are strange and disturbing creatures…slightly more angst laden than my usual fare (which is decidedly happy ending orientated), hope you enjoy.

"Plums are tall."

The game was impromptu, a result of the desire to enjoy themselves while the Cap'n and Kaylee got to eat the fancies. Jayne was pleasantly surprised that Simon could actually play Tall Card, and had said as much. The Doctor had smiled in that slightly smug way of his, but it didn't grate the way it usually did, the boy was just pleased to be included it seemed.

The preacher was another surprise, but as he watched him play Jayne figured the man had more than a few surprises up his sleeves. He smelt the girl when she entered, skinny and pale and reeking of medication and generic soap. Those thin little feet of hers didn't betray a footfall, and Jayne reflected that he wouldn't want her sneaking up on him anytime soon. Luckily he had his tracker nose as well as hearing.

That smell always set him on edge, the odour of the ill always having had this effect on him. Disinfectant, drugs, and the light scent of sweat that came during withdrawal. Ain't like she smelled bad, just sick. But if he closed his eyes, which he never would, and breathed her scent in real deep, which would never happen, he'd smell the faintest spice of cinnamon. Not that he ever did.

They'd made their bets when the crazy girl had started her fit, tearing labels off the cans of food with trembling hands and long fingers, like white spiders legs. Her brother had subdued her while the preacher put the foodstuffs away, excusing her behaviour as usual.

"We'll have a few mystery meals."

Ruttin' girl ruining another thing on the damn ship, and he felt that overwhelming anger rise up, despising the fact that she was always allowed to get away with this craziness. He took the opportunity to offload a few of his crappier cards, and felt his anger dissipate. Least he could make use of the distraction.

The Doc and the preacher returned to the table as the girl slipped out of the kitchen. But not before turning her head slightly towards him, and he caught the slightest nod and barest wink. His eyes widened as she left, before a smirk settled on his face.

Crazy might not be so damn bad afterall.

His baby girl was cryin' again and damnit if he had no idea what to do about it. She turned her little face up at him from her position on the floor, and he immediately scooped her up in his big arms as her lip wobbled and big fat tears rolled down her slightly chubby cheeks. Her long dark hair, previously so well groomed thanks to Auntie Inara, was in disarray, her pretty pink bow resting limply on the floor.

He scooped that up too, and held her tight as she pressed her little face into his neck, not minding the rough stubble of his throat, just needing the contact. He sighed.

"What happened baby?" She turned in his arms until those massive chocolate eyes, eyes that could still make him feel almost teary with memories of Reavers and loss, and blinked back her tears. He was so proud of his baby girl.

"I gwazed my knee!" He looked at the offended limb that she held out, and swiftly examined the damage. A tiny red mark was yielding the barest trickle of blood, some of it wiping off onto his t-shirt. He sighed. Poor little tyke missed her Mama somethin' fierce, and she wasn't the only one. Sleeping alone was getting harder every night, not getting easier like they had said it would. So little time had passed since she'd gone.

"Well baby-girl, you know what that means." Brown eyes looked at him curiously, still teary but at least distracted.

"We're gonna have to have one of yer Mama's mystery dinners tonight." His baby-girl made him even prouder as she straightened and put both hands gently on his rough cheeks. She worked so hard to be strong for her Daddy, but being close to Mama was something she longed for every day.

"Don't wowwy Daddy, I'll be ok." He looked into those big eyes with their long dark lashes and swelled with pride that his daughter was trying to spare the need to take one of those treasured presents that Mama had left behind. He shook his head.

"Naw baby-girl, we need it, it's the only thing that'll make that knee better." His little girl nodded sagely, already wiser than her Pa, already able to recognise that she wasn't the only one who needed the comfort. They headed back to his bunk, where he let her pick a label less can from the little stockpile he'd made before she was born.

The mystery tonight was peaches, and as his baby tucked into the syrupy fruit with the vigour only a two year old could bring to eating, he held the can and smiled sadly at its small indentation. His head sure had hurt after she'd done that.

His baby now full and her eyes staring to droop, he scooped her up and carried her towards the bunk. He remembered when River had been too big to use the ladder, how they'd had to use her old room, how she'd hated being away from their little sanctuary. Even pregnant she'd been tiny, and their baby girl hadn't created a massive bump like Zoe had with Jason, but it was still enough to restrict her movement. The memory of her, all thin arms and skinny legs with a belly full of his baby stirred him, and he laid his little girl down, stroking her hair and thinking how much she looked like a tiny copy of her Ma.

He pulled the blanket over his little one, wishing that the movement had yielded the scent of cinnamon it used too, but it had been washed, leaving only the smell of the generic laundry soap they all used. He picked up an old t-shirt, remembering how she'd worn it when Lily had still lived in her stomach, remembering how the oversized material had hung from her, both alluring and adorable. Here the smell was still strong, as she'd worn it long after Lily had been born, and he breathed deeply her spicy cinnamon and the smell of apple shampoo.

He was about to leave, intent on making friends with Mal's bottle of whiskey, when Lily cracked open her eyes. "Don' wanna be alone Daddy."

He couldn't say no to his baby-girl, not after she'd been so brave today, and he pulled her onto his massive chest, lying down on the bunk and letting her use him as a mattress, hearing her breathing change as she finally fell asleep. He drifted off eventually, images of apples and chocolate curls filling his dreams. The dreams grew less restful as he thought of hospitals, check-ups, and Feds.

The sound of his bunk hatch opening had him shooting upright, clutching his still sleeping baby to his chest with one hand, grabbing Carmine with the other. The faint scent of disinfectant wasn't as strong as the smell of cinnamon. His intruder arched one delicate eyebrow, regarding her bare chested husband and her sleeping baby.

"Did you miss her?"

A/N: Ok, so apparently I just can't stick to angsty stuff! My bad :P Please review!