A/N: Right, so, writer's block sucks! Let me know if anyone is still reading this… and if I've lost my touch… it's been so long.

The loud screams were driving him feng leh. It had been bad enough when Kaylee'd been shot; but she at least had been all quiet like. And he'd worried the same way, quietly, so nobody really knew. But Zoë was screaming the metal sheeting off the hull, and cursing like she were… well, him.

He'd been around childbirth before, had five little brothers and sisters on top of his three older brothers, and since his ma knew all about being up the spout, she'd been the midwife around their neck of the woods when he was little; that didn't mean this whole thing wasn't making Jayne mightily discomfited.

He was looking down into the sick bay through the small window, Zoë's back thankfully to him, and was watching as the doc and Inara were busying themselves between her wide open legs.

If he wasn't so damn disturbed by the gorramn screaming, he'd find that funny.

'Ain't no way to think about a friend in labour.

He chided himself, then huffed because he really was going soft.

Stupid, pathetic, dirty old hun dun.

As if she'd been waiting for him to think of her, River placed her small hand on his shoulder, making him turn his head to look up at her standing just behind him.

"She has felt much pain before, and never received the rewards she will for her suffering now."

Her smile was all soft and reassuring and made his stomach twist in a way he wasn't comfortable with. He tried very hard to scowl at her, but simply couldn't bring himself to do so.

River stepped around him, and sank to her knees right beside where he was sitting on the floor.

"Ain't too sure you should be watchin' this, lil' one."

He couldn't very well call her 'Crazy' anymore, but he also hadn't worked up the nerve to use her name regularly, or to call her by a proper form of endearment. She just smiled at him sweetly and took his hand in hers.

He wanted to pull away, but her small slender fingers were cool and soothing in his callused paw, and he considered that he'd been denying himself enough over the last two months, he'd allow himself this.

He snorted silently to himself.

'Ain't had no trim in over ten months, an' now ya think holdin' hands makes up fer that… you ain't gone soft, Cobb, you've gone mad.

River just smiled brilliantly, reassuringly, at him:

"She is no stranger to the end result of reproduction. And blood and pain do not scare her, they are like shadows in her mind where they have placed them. But Zoë's pain is brighter than those."

Then she took a deep breath, a look of intense focus settling on her face:

"And she is a girl, she will be where Zoë is one day."

That just made him feel all kinds of weird, since she was looking at him intently, only not weird in the way it should.

No… no, no, no… you ain't goin' there. You ain't breedin' with the crazy little she-harpy who ain't got no better sense 'an to pick you of all the dirty, stupid and perverted bastards out there.

She smiled at him sweetly again, almost as if she considered his thought processes to be somehow endearing, and squeezed his hand lightly.

Zoë gave an agonized groan that sounded almost like it wasn't coming from a human being, then muttered quietly to herself. Simon and Inara were mumbling encouragements at the now exhausted looking first mate; she'd been at this for hours. Mal was laid out on the bed next to her; he'd done his capteny duty, and had been prepared to hold her hand trough the proceedings… only to be punched out by Zoë as a strong contraction hit and he'd told her it was 'all right'. She'd taken offence at that, considering that he'd sounded a little patronising. Zoë wasn't exactly sunshine and daisies when in labour… not that she was any other time.

There was a final long wail from their first mate, some frantic and excited activity between her legs, which Jayne and River couldn't see, and then a long drawn out bawl of a cry, as Simon lifted a bloody and, frankly, slimy looking baby into their field of vision.

Inara busied herself to the side, preparing to clean up the baby, but Simon placed it, as was, on a towel he'd just spread on Zoë's chest. Judging from the shakeing of her shoulders, she was crying.

Jayne didn't much know what to say or think. The last of his siblings, his baby sister Amy, was born when he was thirteen… a long time ago… and since then, nobody he really cared about had had little ones.

Simon busied himself with the umbilical cord, then dealt with the afterbirth. Zoë seemed to barely take note of anything other than the bloody little bundle in her arms.

Finally, Simon handed the little critter over to Inara and helped Zoë into a more comfortable position. When Inara handed her a now clean and swaddled infant, River tugged on his hand as she rose.

Too preoccupied to struggle, he followed meekly as she led him down the stairs and to the open door of the infirmary. He did recall to let go of her hand before they got there, though; far too many pointy, shiny things lying around the place for the doc to stab him with.

Kaylee was standing by the open door on the side opposite to River and Jayne, tears in her eyes, but a bright smile on her face. They all scrambled through the narrow space a little haphazardly, gazes firmly fixed on the small fabric covered creature held against Zoë's chest. She raised her head, her hair was dishevelled, there were dark smudges beneath her eyes and she looked exhausted, but then she smiled in a way Jayne had never seen before, not even when Wash was still alive. Zoë looked like the sun itself.

Kaylee and River had taken up position behind the first mate, with the former making cooing noises at the baby, while the latter smiled and studied the child intently. Jayne still stood frozen just inside the door, not entirely sure what to do with himself.

"She ain't gonna bite ya, Jayne… might as well come closer and take a look." Zoë was now smiling directly at him, and the warmth in her expression made him feel oddly more sure of himself; so he did as he was told.

The tiny critter curled up against Zoë's breast was something of a surprise. Skin the colour of toffee, with a full head of soft dark curls, the little thing actually looked up at him. His ma had always told him that all babies had blue eyes, but he reckoned this little one was different on account of her own ma, still the startling dark olive green of the infant's eyes came as a bit of a shock.

All Jayne could muster was: "Girl?" since Zoe had said 'she'.

"Sure is." There was that warm smile again.

"And big too. From what I've read in the journals, she's a really good weight for being so early." Simon looked rather satisfied with himself.

They'd make landfall on Persephone in another week, and Zoë had intended to stay there until the little one was born, only junior had had other notions.

"Oh Zoë," Kaylee sighed from behind her "she's absolutely beautiful."

Jayne reckoned that, as far as babies went, that was pretty much true.

88888888

They'd been in the Eavesdown docks for a week now; it had taken them this long to get another job, but Kaylee had finally managed to land them a hand full of passengers, while Mal had procured some rather dubitable cargo to be taken to Osiris.

Well, nothing new there.

Inara was pleased, since Osiris would provide her with the sort of clients she favoured, but the rest of the crew was just a might twitchy about their destination… not enough to turn down the job, mind you, but still…

There was their whole history with the Tams, the big medicine haul, and for Jayne, the memory of trying to sell River off to the bastards who'd tortured and twisted her for years, and had driven most of her mind into hiding.

He was lying in his bunk, his eyes blind to the busty half naked girls winking and smiling down at him. He'd considered taking them down, and then had had given himself a stern internal talking to. He was still Jayne Cobb, damn it, and these were his girls… he'd as soon take them down as he'd dismount the guns and knives from the wall beside him. Some of them had been with him longer than Vera, the paper they were printed on turning yellow with age. So what if they didn't quite have the effect on him they used to; so what if they were too different from the kind of body that excited him now. Keeping them there somehow made him feel less pathetic, less caught.

This train of thought just brought him back to feeling guilty… about betraying her in the medical facility, about wanting her now, about being a coward in general.

There was the soft clicking of metal studded army boots on the ladder of his access hatch.

"Damn it, Moonbrain… didn' I go an' tell ya to stop hackin' ma lock."

She didn't respond, didn't even stop, just skipped the last two rungs and landed on the floor of his bunk with a soft thud.

He turned his head to study her.

She wore a pale pink dress, cut off beige britches and his orange and yellow hat… now that he thought about it, the hat looked a little silly… and sort of cute.

Da-shiong bao-jah-shr duh la-doo-tze! Had he just thought the word 'cute'?

River smiled widely at him and semi-danced/shimmied her way to the foot of his bed where she pouted at him prettily.

"Uh-uh, lil' one, not a chance… middle o' the day, an' the ship is pro'ly crawlin' with folk."

Her pout vanished, and she gave him a positively wicked little grin:

"Inara has and 'appointment', not salubrious enough to be entirely as she would please, but nutrition is a question of necessity not pleasure. Captain Daddy and Simon are procuring said and other necessities, Kaylee and Zoë are 'baby shopping', which is an entirely inappropriate name for what they are doing, since Zoë already has Sophia, she does not need to buy a baby, and so…." Here she waved around the room, presumably indicating the whole ship, her eyes never leaving him.

"Don' make no difference if'n we're all alone… makes it worse. I ain't 'entertainin'' ya when there's no-one around… 's just harder this way."

Her wicked grin turned positively feral. Slightly alarmed, Jayne tried to sit up and get off his bed, but River had already crawled up his legs and was now straddling his knees. He fell back onto his pillow with a small groan:

"I could just shove ya off."

"Jayne could, but he won't."

Yea, and that was his problem right there.

She was still grinning like he was fresh strawberries and she were starving, and crawled the rest of the way up his body, giving him, rather generously, a good view down her dress.

"What've I done an' told ya bout wearing underwear?" He meant it to sound stern, but it came out a little breathy and strained.

"She does. She is wearing 'knickers'." She giggled a little as she gave the last word a decidedly cockney turn of phrase.

"And she wore a bra all day… she thought Papa Bear might appreciate the view."

She swayed slightly, her small breasts moving with her, and Jayne groaned.

He took hold of her shoulders and growled:
"I've told ya I can tell when you do things ya don't really understand."

"She understands… not the way she would like to, but Jayne will not teach her, make her comprehend the full implication in as far as they pertain to her." She looked huffy and a little petulant, and so terribly young. And he felt dirty and excited, and then dirtier for feeling excited, all at once.

""Ain't right." He muttered his by now paperthin mantra.

"She will make it right." She told him, and pressed her lips to his. She had him all figured out by now; all she had to do was wriggle her little butt into his crotch, stick her tongue down his throat and make that maddening little purring noise that came straight from her chest and shot right to his groin, and all measurable brain activity in Jayne's head seized.

Always one to enjoy dominance in women within very strict limitations, Jayne managed to roll on top of her without crushing her, and took charge of the kiss. She tasted as sweet as she had that day on Greenleaf, and her purrs of pleasure, quickly turned into wanton little moans as he pressed his rather obviously excited John Thomas against the apex of her thighs.

Her little hands were roaming around inside his shirt, her nails scraping his back before her fingers danced to his front and found his nipples, making him hiss. Her teeth were nipping at his lower lip, so he deepened the kiss once again, opening her mouth with his lips and curling his tongue around her own. She arched into him, and quite without his permission, his large hand found her small breast. When he gently pinched her nipple, she threw back her head and moaned:

"Jayne!"

That somewhat kicked his brain back into gear. He froze for a second, then decided to tread carefully, after all, he could have gotten this wrong. She had referred to him by name before… in the third person… but this had sounded like a direct address… and she'd never done that before. Rubbing his palm over her breast, he softly growled into her ear:

"Tell me what you want, baby girl."

"… again…" She was positively whimpering now.

"Uh-uh… ya can do better'n that, baby girl. Ya know what I want."

"Again, Jayne."

He kissed her, hard, then pinched her nipple while she moaned into his mouth and clawed at his back. He felt irrationally proud of her, like she'd just done the impossible… and maybe she had. He felt like he needed to reward her, and knowing that she'd already heard that thought, he simply panted, a mere breath form her lips:

"Anythin' ya want, sweet thing… anythin'."

"Touch… her there."

She pressed harder into him, and all his better judgement abandoned him. He reached for the fastening on her britches, and between his fumbling and her wriggling, they managed to get rid of them and her 'knickers' in less time than it took to sneeze. Jayne just kept kissing her, determined not to look.

'Sight o' here lil' pussy's just gonna break ya, and you know it.

But visuals or not, she was soft and so wet and turned quite frantic as he touched her little bud, panting his name like she'd never had a problem with calling him by it. And when she arched off his bed with a little wail and he felt her muscles flutter just below where his fingers were touching, he came in his pants like he was nothing but a spotty teenager.

She was still in her dress, he hadn't even taken off his T-shirt, and the whole thing had made him more hot and bothered than he could ever remember being.

Panting, he rolled them both so that they were lying on their sides, facing each other on his narrow bunk. She was breathing heavily, a slight sheen of sweat on her face and chest, and she was smiling at him, an expression in her light brown eyes that made his stomach twist and burn with heat.

And suddenly he remembered his worries again.

"'Won't ever do it again… ya know that, right, lil' one?" He trusted she knew he wasn't talking about touching her.

"He did not know back then… did not know what she had endured."

"How come I ain't 'Jayne' no more?" He frowned at her, feeling oddly hurt.

"She is never sure if he is real… if she is real… but he seemed real then. 'Must not allow wishful thinking to could her judgement. She let them break her once, she was careless and fragile, all the kings horses and all the kings men…" She smiled a little sadly at that.

"Ya think we ain't real?"

"Perhaps she thinks it would be too precious if we were."

He pondered this after she'd fallen asleep. Wondered at how fragile she looked curled up against his substantial bulk; how such a delicate little thing could be so strong… and more importantly, so passionate. He'd been with enough women to know that River was special in this, too. There was no doubt in his mind that he'd just given her her fist orgasm, and the dirty-old-man-smugness he felt at that thought didn't bother him as much as he thought it should.

He didn't quite understand that last bit she'd said, didn't have enough of her smarts to grasp all the implications of what she had told him, but he understood just how much she'd been hurt, how much those hun duns had taken from her. They'd taken herself away from her, and she was scared to give herself back… just in case they'd do it again.

He also knew that she'd said 'we'.