TITLE: Daddy Knows Best

DISCLAIMER: Not mine

A/N: Damnit, why can't I stop?


"An' another thing, young lady, I ever hear ya use a word like that again an' I'll give ya a hidin', don't care how old you are!"

He heard River huff from behind her locked bedroom door, and adjusted his side arm, carefully pointing it to the ground. He shifted his boot slightly, ignoring the noise. Her voice rang back through the paper doorway.

"Can only learn from those around her! Language is imparted through habit!"

He narrowed his eyes. "Don't ya be talkin' back ta me when I'm in a mood like this; I'm like ta go off the deep end!"

He could almost hear the eye roll. "Over reaction! Paternal instincts are inappropriately directed!"

"Ain't nuthin' inappropriate 'bout my direction!"

He heard her throw something at the door. "Only one on the boat subject to continuous restrictions! Old enough to fire a weapon, old enough to fight, old enough to make own choices!"

"Yer old enough fer whatever I say yer old enough for, dong ma?"

From the corner of the hallway Simon covered his mouth, hiding a snicker. Mal turned his eyes on the doctor, his arm never moving.

"You got somethin' ta add, Doc?"

Simon shook his head as Zoe moved beside him, her arms carefully wrapped around her little bundle, sharing a knowing look with Inara. Kaylee was crouched at the wall beside River's bedroom door, watching Mal's boot with wide eyes.

Her voice was worried. "Cap'n ya sure that's-"

"No arguments Kaylee, I ain't in no mood."

Simon sighed. "Captain, you're not going to win here. She was just the same when we were children; she's got an answer for everything."

Mal shook his head. "Ain't no answer fer this Doc, she ain't old enough fer those goings on."

From behind the door River's voice was infuriated. "Why is she the only one faced with a rule book?"

Mal rolled his eyes. "Cuz yer the youngest one of this damn boat, an' I'm meant ta be protectin' ya!"

"Protection not an issue!"

He brought one hand up to cover his ear, the one holding his weapon never leaving its position. "Damnit 'tross, I can't be hearin' that!"

The door slid open roughly, revealing a sheet clad River, her hair tousled. "Then he shouldn't be making such enquires!"

Mal tried to cover his eyes as she slammed the door closed. "Or seein' that, I can't ever be seein' that!"

"Over age of consent, not his place to provide input!"

Mal was growling now. "Darlin' if I don't look out fer ya now who knows what kinda hun dan will try an' charm his way inta yer sheets! Ya obviously don't got no good taste fer this sorta thing!"

He heard her laugh dismissively. "He acts as if so many have ever been invited! Only one, rare for her age!"

"Yer eighteen years old, ya can't be doin' that sorta thing!"

"Kaylee did! Inara did! Zoe did! Simon did! Even Daddy was engaged in such behaviour many years beforehand, why is she the only one to be sheltered in a loveless cocoon?"

Mal had no answer for that, and flicked his eyes to Zoe, who gave him one of those even stares that only mothers are capable of giving, the look that says 'you started this mess, you roll in it'.

He stuttered. "B-because I said so!"

"Fine! Provide age of consent as applicable to Serenity!"

Mal pressed his boot down a little harder, ignoring the muffled groan. "That there feels like a trap lil albatross."

"Provide!"

Mal wracked his brains for a second. "Thirty! Ain't no copulating on my boat til yer thirty!"

The door slid open and River gave him a radiant smile, the kind of smile that snaps closed over the legs of unsuspecting woodsmen.

"Wu dong, Daddy dearest. No copulation on your boat until I'm thirty."

He sighed in relief. "Glad ta hear it darlin'."

She turned to go back into her room, her words thrown over her shoulder. "Of course, it will be a long twelve years for all the boat's other inhabitants."

Mal raised an eyebrow. "Come again?"

She turned back, her face a false look of surprise as she tilted her head to one side. "Did he not hear himself? No copulation on his boat until she turns thirty. Didn't provide appropriate parameters, so clause applies to all crewmembers. No copulation for anyone until she turns thirty."

With that she shut the door with a snap, leaving behind a flabbergasted Captain. Inara laughed openly at the look on Mal's face, and Kaylee giggled behind her hand. Zoe rolled her eyes, gesturing to the floor.

"Sir, best you get off Jayne's neck before he passes out."

Mal looked down to where his weapon was pointed. Jayne was glaring up at him from his position on the floor, shirt and pants clutched in one hand. Mal dazedly stepped off his neck, holstering his side arm as Jayne leapt to his feet, a smirk gracing his face.

"Jayne, go get some damn clothes on."

Jayne leaned down close to Mal's face, the smirk widening to a wolfish grin. "Gonna be rough fer y'all, ain't it?"

He strode out of the hallway towards his bunk, as Simon stepped forward and petted Mal's arm sympathetically.

"I tried to warn you Captain. You can't win against River."

He turned, helping Kaylee up and heading towards the galley. Zoe followed them, carrying a giggling baby Jason Washburne with her. Inara stepped up to Mal's still dazed face, running a hand over his cheek. He turned shocked eyes to her.

"How the hell'd she do that?"

Inara smiled at him. "You knew she was a genius."

He gulped as she raised a flirtatious eyebrow, the hand on his cheek lowering to skim down his chest. She leaned in close, her breathe warm against his lips.

"Of course, the better question is this; how long do you think you'll last?"

She sashayed away to the galley, leaving behind a stunned and aroused Captain who couldn't quite believe his bad luck.

Two Weeks Later

Mal had never really given much notice to how sex affected his ship, except to argue that it complicated things. In the last two weeks he'd had a wrench thrown at his head with undue venom from his normally sunny mechanic, his doctor had issued his innoc with slightly more force than necessary, and his merc had been swearing a blue streak, working out in the cargo bay nearly constantly and pissing everyone off to no end.

It complicated things alright, especially when folks weren't getting it.

He looked around the quiet, tense table. Inara had decided to wear one of her more revealing gowns to dinner, and damned if it wasn't making the meal a whole lot harder to swallow. Kaylee and Simon hadn't stopped glaring at him for the last fortnight, and Jayne was wound up tighter than a compression coil. To top it all off, River was smiling to herself, daintily picking at her food as Zoe fed spoonful's of protein mash to Jason.

Inara stretched back in her seat, the movement pushing her breasts up. Mal's chopstick broke in his hand at exactly the same time Mal broke.

"Alright! Enough! 'Tross, ya can do as ya please, an' so can the rest o' us."

Jayne whooped, pushing back his chair and picking River, throwing her over his shoulder caveman style. He turned to the Captain, grinning widely.

"We'll be in my bunk."

He looked at River's rear, giving it a firm slap. "Girl, ya ain't gonna walk right fer a week."

As he strode out of the galley River giggled, waving to a wincing Mal over the merc's shoulder. "Bye bye, Daddy."

Mal sighed as they left, watching as Simon and Kaylee abruptly excused themselves and ran smiling in the other direction. Inara sighed, throwing over a bag of coins to a grinning Zoe.

She stood, holding one hand out to Mal, who took it with a look of relief. She rolled her eyes at him.

"Honestly Mal, I thought you'd last at least three weeks."

He let her guide him out of the galley. "Guess I'm full of surprises then, ain't I."

Zoe was left alone at the table with her smiling baby, who promptly reached out and chewed some of her hair. She laughed as she removed it, looking into her late husband's bright blue eyes.

"Looks like it's just you an' me."

He gave her a gummy grin, giggling when she tickled one of his little feet. She stood, picking him up and turning her eyes skyward.

"Baby, if you're watchin', I know you're laughin'."

She held her son tighter as she moved towards the privacy of her bunk, intent on a night of watching old dinosaur vids on the cortex. The next morning people would be late as they stumbled in to breakfast, their eyes tired but their expressions happy and relieved. Everyone was more relaxed.

Except the merc and the Reader, who weren't seen for three days.