The usual disclaimers. This ain't mine. Again in sequence with a lot of my others, but reading them isn't ultimately too necessary.

Old habits die hard, there's no question, and knowing full well what may take place, Inara and Kaylee and Simon elect to stay back with the ship when Mal proclaims his intention to take the others out drinking. He's said something about making contacts, but it's possible he just needs to take a spin on land a while. Jayne can't say no to liquor, 'course, and Zoe feels she oughta look after the captain's well-being.

Surprisingly, little River tags along, and though Jayne's grumbling about babysitting, she just gives him that look, the one that says "you really think you have to worry about me? Really? With my brain, remember." And she's keeping up with them on the liquor, so it's no downer. Well, them being Mal and Jayne; Zoe's not drinking. Good, because at least one of them's got a level head when the inevitable fighting starts. Another conditional; despite the whiskey, River's plenty levelheaded, and they do manage to make a run before it gets too bad.

It's almost funny seeing them return to the ship; Mal's striding along tough as ever, Zoe's holding her bruised-up shoulder and rolling her eyes, River's helping Jayne limp along, an arm round his waist (she's grimacing, but more at Jayne's being yucky than the weight of him). The others greet them with resigned expressions on their faces.

"Zuò zúgòu de yèjiān lǚxíng hé rén huì zuìzhōng kàn dào guĭ," Inara sighs. "You just had to make a scene, didn't you."

"Ain't hardly nothin'," Mal waves it off.

"Beg t'differ," Jayne grouses, sighing agitatedly and poking at the bullet wound on his leg (despite entreaties to avoid doing that) as River helps him to the infirmary.

"Just drunks gettin' hostile," Zoe says nonchalantly, following behind. She can wait her turn, her shoulder don't hurt too awfully, but she still oughta get it looked at just in case; Kaylee tags along, just in case her help's needed.

Inara's been worrying her lip, not much but enough to be noticeable, and all she finally says is, "You're never going to change, are you?"

His smile skewed, Mal closes the distance between them and gives her a gentle kiss. "Have in some ways, ain't I?"

For all his tough talk, Jayne's a big baby about pain sometimes, so it's no surprise Simon has to put him under entirely while he stitches him up. They don't hurry in waking him, either, and before River wanders off to go fuss with setting a course, she helps lift Jayne and set him on the counter-table, leaving him passed out there. That tended to, Simon can look to Zoe.

"It doesn't seem to be worse than a bit of swelling and the bruising," he tells her. "But even still –"

"I know, Doc," Zoe smirks. "If it starts t'hurt, come find ya."

"Precisely," Simon says, almost laughing. "I'm going to give you some pain medication, just in case – better safe than sorry, though I might wait a bit, until the alcohol has passed through your system some…"

"Weren't drinkin," Zoe shrugs.

"Oh! Well – all right, then!" Simon exclaims, handing Zoe the pills.

She makes a face, contemplating them in her hand, then (there's no choice, really) asks in a low voice, just in case Jayne should stir, "These aren't the sorta drugs they say t'avoid if you're – expectin'?"

"No," Simon immediately responds, then he really registers her question. Of course, he has to register it by gaping at her a moment, then, a hand to the back of his neck, forcing out a "You're…?"

"Pretty positive it's so," Zoe replies, amused at his reaction. (She's not one to create romantic fantasies about others, but she's imagining how much more startled he'll look if and when Kaylee tells him the same news. And that's amusing, too.)

"How – long have you known?"

"Oh, only been sure this last ten days or so," Zoe shrugs. "Ain't wanted t'say 'til I was a bit further 'long, just – in case."

Simon nods, then just has to say, "Zoe, I'm sure you know I'm going to forbid further participation in –"

"I know how much's too much," she replies archly. "Weren't hardly even in today's little scuffle, just happened t'get hit when I was."

"Still, I'd feel better about – if you –" Simon cuts himself off, tries to regain some modicum of composure. He has to slip back to Doctor Mode and out of Sort Of Friend Mode. "You'll – let me run a test, just to make sure of… well, just to make sure?"

"'Course," she nods. "I do mean t'go as easy as I gotta, y'know. This baby…"

"I understand," Simon nods. He may not be exceptionally perceptive most of the time, but even he can fill in that blank. "I assume you've not mentioned it to the others."

"Not yet," Zoe says. "I'm sure River's figured it out, but the rest don't know."

"Do you… intend to, soon?" Simon asks. He can imagine how happy it will make the women, and how having more time to adjust to the idea will be better for Mal and Jayne (and also, he's fairly sure Kaylee would know he was keeping a secret after a little while). "It would certainly make things simpler."

"I know," Zoe sighs.

So over supper tonight, when Jayne observes like he did at the bar that "Zoe still ain't drinkin'," and River again glares at him, Zoe resigns to do it here and now. "Look," she begins. "There's somethin' I oughta say."

Mal nods at the others to quiet down. "Speak your peace, Zoe."

She sighs. Perhaps it would have been better if she planned out what to say, but then she'd just have talked herself out of it, least for now. "You may've noticed I ain't been doin' all that's regular for me."

"Nobody's faultin' that," Kaylee chimes in immediately.

Zoe has to smile at her, wan but appreciative. "I know. There's – well, there is a reason I felt it wise t'share, though. I'm… I'm gonna have a baby."

As everyone could have probably predicted, Kaylee lights up and there might even be a squealing "eee" involved. Inara reaches across the table to give Zoe's hand a gentle squeeze.

"It's Wash's?" Jayne asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Of course," River rolls her eyes. It means that technically Zoe's been pregnant since before – well, she's at least two months along, sixty-four days by River's estimate.

"Y'sure you're… really?" Mal asks. Yep, Zoe could have guessed at how awkward he'd react to the news.

Zoe and Simon exchange looks, and they both nod. "As can be," she confirms.

"It's common not to fully notice a pregnancy for as many as four months," River pipes up. "Depending on a woman's frame and natural genetic makeup, it might not become physically apparent until then, and signs and symptoms rarely manifest in the first months either."

The others blink at her, varyingly perplexed. Not because it's incorrect information, just unsolicited. They never know whether they're supposed to thank her for the biology lesson or just keep talking as if nothing had happened. But as usual, they opt for the latter.

Kaylee perks up, then. "Don't reckon you've much a notion whether it's –"

"Girl," River says immediately, grinning at Zoe. Well, so much for the surprise if she'd wanted it.

"S'pose it's a girl, then," Zoe laughs, returning the smile. She's all right knowing, means she can plan out a bit better, or plan as much as she can at least.

"Huh," Mal says, and he's plainly giving River one of those I know you're a reader but your intuition still spooks me looks. "'Magine you'll be wantin' t'ease up on gun hand work a while?" Inara nudges him under the table, and he hurriedly adds, "An' that's perfectly all right."

Zoe just smirks. "Don't go countin' me outta ev'rything," she says. "But I do mean t'keep this baby safe's I can. It ain't even a question."

Inara's already in her nightclothes when Mal slides the door open and slips in like has become routine. Normally it's the one time he lets his attitude slide off some, but right now he's looking disgruntled; he does murmur a greeting, pleasant enough, as he sits on the edge of the bed to pull his boots of, but he's clearly letting his thoughts drift as he fusses with the buttons on his shirt.

"You're aggravated," Inara says, raising an eyebrow.

"Just – worryin' some," Mal grumbles.

"This is to do with Zoe," Inara says in that way that's not asking even though the words could form a question.

And it's one of those frustrating times where she's spot-on, of course, and he can't very well avoid it or just lie. "Seems foolish is all."

"Foolish?" Inara echoes, edging forward, trying to lock eyes with him. He's stubbornly refusing, which she suspected he would be, but even still it's frustrating.

"Tryin' t'have a child out here, surrounded by all – this," Mal says, waving his hand. "It'd be a difficulty and a hazard."

"Mal, this life is a hazard," Inara retorts, rolling her eyes. "That's nothing special, most any life can be to some degree."

"Just seems it'll be a lot of trouble," Mal mutters.

To that, Inara just shrugs. "Perhaps." She leans back against her pillows with a sigh. "More than that, though, it's a luckiness."

"I can't see Zoe as a new momma," Mal says, figuring humor is an easier angle to play than anxiety.

"I'm sure she'll be a very good mother," Inara defends. "She's certainly going to be very protective, very loyal, and that counts for a lot."

"Oh, m'sure it'll mean lots t'her –"

"What it means, Mal, is that she'll have a piece of him left," Inara says, lowering her voice. She can't speak harshly about this, and sometimes, she's figured out, that doesn't work best with Mal anyway. "A piece beyond the realm of memory, something grounded in reality to treasure."

"But nothin' takes memories from ya," Mal replies, finally crawling under the covers and turning on his side. In that way he never softens for anyone but her, he matches her tone and continues, "Just not sure she could rightly take if somethin' more happened."

It maybe shouldn't surprise Inara when Mal says sensitive things like that, but it still does, some; and in a way because it's surprising, it earns him a gentle kiss, her lips pressed to his throat as she eases her arm over his waist. "Nothing will happen," Inara whispers. "To Zoe or to the baby."

"L'il albatross tell ya so?" Mal asks, his tone joking.

But Inara won't slide into humor just yet. "I mean it, Mal," she murmurs. "They'll be fine. Everyone will be looking out for them, and I'm sure Simon will do a wonderful job of making sure the pregnancy goes smoothly."

"And provided Jayne don't make a habit of openin' his mouth 'round the baby, it'll – she'll be able t'stay clear of most things too foul for children, prob'ly," Mal chuckles.

"Precisely," Inara says, allowing herself to giggle a bit. "It's – a good thing. For all of us, I'd suspect."

"Only time's gonna tell," Mal sighs. "Hopin' for her sake an' all ours you're right."

Well, she didn't have much to eat at dinner, so it's neither surprising nor unusual that River's wandering back into the kitchen to grab a bedtime snack. A meager one, but even still. Jayne's in one of the lounge chairs, passed out, his guns around him. Presumably he's been… cleaning? Sorting? Fixing?

"Can't do that here for long," River murmurs, picking one of the smaller guns up and examining it even as Jayne startles awake.

"Can do whatever I ruttin' please," Jayne grumbles.

"You've got two-hundred and six days to adjust to the idea," River shrugs. She sets the gun back down, heads for the door.

"What's in two-hundred an'… then?"

River gives him another one of those looks. "Two-hundred and six days. Six point seven six months, or six months and twenty-three days, until. Get used to editing yourself."

"How long've y'known?"

They're cuddled up in Kaylee's bed, stark naked under the covers but plenty warm in each other's arms. Being tangled so's normal for them, even when they're just laying still; their ankles overlap, Simon's arm is draped over Kaylee, his hand brushing her breast.

"She only confided in me this afternoon," he says.

"M'real happy for her," Kaylee murmurs, scooting closer still and reaching up to take hold of Simon's hand.

"It's – quite lucky," Simon muses.

A teeny shrug. "Know they'd been – tryin'? Or, thinkin' 'bout tryin', or –" She stops herself babbling with a sheepish smile. "But it is lucky, inna way."

"Zoe seems very determined to – to do this properly," Simon comments, all awkwardness.

"'Course," Kaylee says, mostly just amused. "Zoe does most ev'rythin' full power an' I know this means more t'her than most anythin' else might. 'Specially now."

"Especially now," Simon agrees.

They're quiet a minute, just listening to each other's heartbeats, until Simon asks, hesitant, "Do you… think about these things, băobĕi?"

"These – y'mean, like baby things?"

"Or, I don't know, just – the future? At all?"

Kaylee thinks about this a moment. She doesn't want to be one of those girls, the conclusion-jumping ones, but she has to admit, "I do some."

Simon chews his lip, trying to figure out the proper response, but then comes to the conclusion that it just needs said, however he says it. "I don't know many things about it as a surety, but I – I know that I want you there with me."

"Yeah?" Kaylee breathes, fully aware it's the least articulate response possible and not much caring.

"That sounds like a 'yeah' of agreement," Simon teases, holding Kaylee tight against him. "I can't make – well, any promises, but if – if some day soon, I were to, to ask you a – more official question…"

Kaylee's flushing her whole body over by now. "Y'know how much I love you," she says softly. "Fancy questions or not, I'm yours."

"Good," Simon smiles, giving her a tender kiss. "I can't very well imagine a future without you in it now."

"And y'don't hafta."

Zoe's more than aware it's not healthy to carry on such conversations with someone who's dead, and she tries her hardest not to do it too much; sometimes, though, she feels she's got the right and the need, and tonight's one of those times.

Lying on his side of the bed, her eyes closed, she's murmuring, voice low enough that even River wandering by wouldn't hear (though if she did, she'd be polite enough not to say anything). She's got one of the pillows held in her arms, her expression is dreamy.

"Well, baby, I finally shared. I'm sure you could guess exactly how everyone's feeling: Inara and Kaylee are thrilled, River saw it comin', Jayne's got no idea what t'say, the captain's just as twitchy 'bout it as can be." She smiles wryly. "But he's happy, I'd hope. They all are. They know… they know how important it is to me, to – us."

She heaves a sigh before continuing, "She – it's a girl, River told me – she's gonna be a little piece of you, y'know. It's already breakin' my heart a bit thinkin' of it, but it's keepin' me goin', too.

There's never gonna be someone else like you, baby. But she's gonna be somethin' I can, I will, love just as much. An' I'll keep care'f her as best I can. I'll make sure she's safe, happy, loved. I know she's gonna be loved. She's already got her family."

zuò zúgòu de yèjiān lǚxíng hé rén huì zuìzhōng kàn dào guĭ; literally, "do enough nighttime travels and you will see a ghost," used colloquially to express one's simultaneous disbelief about something and viewing it as inevitable
băobĕi; "darling"