the pearl

Milk Run

They were on a milk run — nothing too complicated or messy or even mildly interesting. It was one step up from just becoming a regular ol' transport ship and one step below anything they did before Zoe hit her eighth month.

But she was eight months along and definitely showing, and even though Mal complained incessantly about losing his first officer and back-up for at least three months, if not more, he made sure they were doing nothing but milk runs and was occasionally seen putting his hand on her belly whenever Honorable Son Number One was kicking to beat the devil himself.

And whenever he thought about it, he figured that, if there had to be a baby aboard Serenity, it's for the best that it was theirs rather than Kaylee having her heart stolen by some smooth-talkin' go seh from some backwater world or Inara finally deciding to settle down and raise up a new generation of Companions, or, Gods forbid, River somehow conceiving. No, Zoe and Wash finally deciding it was high time to have themselves a few little critters learnin' how to fly and shoot like their Mama and Daddy, well, that was understandable.

A bit of an inconvenience, and he still wasn't entirely sure that having a baby aboard was a good idea, but understandable.

More understandable than when she decided to marry Wash anyways.

So since it was such a milk run, he really didn't need everyone hangin' around while he made the deal, so he gave 'em all leave. Kaylee ran to the nearest junkyard, Jayne ran to the nearest and cheapest bar, Book strolled to the nearest church, with Simon and River in tow just in case anything happened, Inara had another high-falutin' client, and Mal didn't have to even look at them before Wash and Zoe high-tailed it out to the finest hotel, one with a bath large enough for two — even if the "two" was Zoe and Honorable Son Number One.

Yep, this whole baby thing was a tad inconvenient, but, when the marks came up looking for him and he started making his deal, Mal figured that things were working out nicely.


The hotel was old and a bit run down, but it still had running water and a nicer bath than they'd seen in awhile — one of those claw-footed giant baths that would serve as a bath, a bed, or possibly even a boat if there was ever a flood to worry about. Within five minutes of setting down her bag and taking off her boots, Zoe had filled up the bath with warm bubble-filled water, and had slowly gotten in, sighing happily as the water lifted some of the weight she had been carrying for so long.

Wash came in a few minutes later, carrying a bag filled with fruit and vegetables from the local market, smiling when he saw his wife in the bath. "Hey, I didn't order a beautiful woman in the bath — this can't possibly be my room..."

"Compliments of the staff," she said, laughing. She waved her hand at the bag. "What's in there?"

Wash looked down at the bag. "Strawberries...mangoes...pickles..."


"Just like you asked." He shook his head. "You're lucky I love you so much I'd kiss you after you eat those."

She splashed a small amount of water towards him. "Anything else?"

He grinned and pulled out a small jar. "Guess what this is?"

She looked at it quizzically. "An alien in a box?"

"Well, I thought about getting that, but then I remembered that aliens are usually bigger and not stuck in tiny little jars." He paused. "No, this is something that you've been wanting for ages."

She stared at the jar. "You didn't."


"But that —"

"Nothing is too good for you and the baby." He unscrewed the jar and held it in front of her. "100% pure natural fresh cocoa butter. There's apparently a farm around ten miles from here that makes it themselves."

She leaned over and took a deep breath, smelling the sweetness of the lotion inside, and smiled widely. "Oh..." She slipped back into the tub, grinning. "When I finally get out of here, you are gonna have to spend at least an hour massaging me, you know."

"Why do you think I got it?"


The businessman looked like he was made out of the toughest leather from the meanest old cow in the 'verse — all sinews and strings and brown dry skin. He wore farmer's clothes, nothing fancy or dignified, just a plain pair of tan trousers and a faded blue shirt that looked nearly as old as he did. He stared at Serenity like space ships were some new-fangled invention that he didn't think would ever last, and when Mal approached him, had a faint look of distaste on his face.

"Evenin', sir," Mal said, on his best behavior. "You Andrew Wheelwright?"

The man nodded. "Ayup."

Mal nodded as well. "I heard you might have some work for me and my crew."

"Ayup." The man looked back at the ship, then at Mal again. "Might do."

Mal nodded. "Well, then, why don't we go back to the ship and you can tell me all about it?"

The man looked at the ship again then shook his head. "No, I don't hold much with those sort of things," he said. "Supposin' we talk right here."

Mal looked back at his ship for a second, then looked at the man, who, at that particular moment, chose to spit out a wad of tobacco. He sighed inwardly and nodded. "Sure..."


"You've practically eaten the whole jar!"

Zoe took another bite of the pickle and nodded. "Mm-hmm."

"But...geagh. I don't know how. I can barely eat one, which I have, and then you go and finish the jar off without even getting out of the bathtub. Isn't the water cold? Aren't you all prune-y? Aren't you sick of the taste of garlic and pickle?"

She shook her head and took another bite. "Nope," she said after chewing.

He stared at her in shock. "Y'know, when you told me you wanted a baby, I thought I was prepared. But I didn't know I'd be learning how to make protein look like potato cakes at three in the morning, or reading childbirth manuals so that Simon could stop panicking, or talking Kaylee into making the air ventilation system go a different way so you wouldn't have to smell Jayne in the morning when you were sick, or watching you eat an entire jar of pickles while in the bath!"

She looked at him. "You 'bout done?"

His mouth was open, about to begin another tirade, when he closed it and nodded. "Yep." He sighed. "Just had to get that out of my system."

"Good," She smiled and held out her arms. "Help me up out of here."


"Y'see," Wheelwright said, still looking at the ship with distrust, "I don't quite fancy movin' out past this world — it's been good to us. But my wife says that it's best if we expand our marketplace."


"So she says 'Get a ship, Andrew. Get a ship to send a few containers full to my sister over on Mordecai' — you know where Mordecai is, boy?"

Mal nodded. "Just past Persephone, sir."

"Right. Well, she says that her sister on Mordecai would be more than willin' to sell what we have, and says that it's time we expanded our sales, and who am I to argue?" He spat out another wad of tobacco and looked right at Mal. "What I need is a ship with a good captain who's willin' to get my stuff to Mordecai before my competitors find out I've been branchin' out. You gotta be quick, you gotta be clean, and you gotta be smart. Else I ain't gonna be able to do business with you."

Mal nodded. "I can guarantee you won't find another ship as quick and clean as us, sir."

"And what about smart, huh?" The old man cracked a smile. "Ain't you got a smart crew?"

Mal took a deep breath. "Well, sir, I'd be lyin' if I said we're all smart...but we aren't stupid."

Wheelwright snorted. "I like that," he said. He gestured to the ship. "I'll be sendin' the containers along tomorrow, with half of the amount you asked for. Get them to Mordecai in three weeks, and I'll make sure my wife's sister pays you the rest."

Mal nodded, holding out his hand for a shake. Wheelwright grasped it, surprisingly strong, and nodded as he shook his hand.

"Pleasure doin' business with you, sir," Mal said.

"You just get the containers there in time, and I'll make sure there's regular business for you the next time you come 'round here..."

"Will do, sir." Mal paused, looking at the man. "Um. Pardon me for askin', but...what exactly will we be carryin'?"

The man looked at him in surprise. "I would've figured someone would've told you by now...or, at least, you would've heard of the Wheelwrights..."

"I'm afraid not sir. We've been out on the rim for awhile now, and namebrands ain't exactly somethin' we've been able to pay attention to."

The man shook his head. "Well, I'll be. Maybe the wife's right when she says we need to expand..." he muttered to himself. He looked at Mal. "You'll be carryin' baby clothes, Mr. Reynolds."

Mal blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Baby clothes. Bonnets, shoes, those little one-piece things that they wear, that sort of thing. Wheelwrights are the sole creator of baby clothes outside the Core, as far as we know, and Mrs. Wheelwright's decided it's high time we try to prove we're just as good as those Core brands. If it works, we'll be branching out into toys, bedding, buggies, but, primarily, everything a little baby needs."

"Huh..." Mal said. He straightened. "Sir, if you would be so inclined to include a reasonable selection of your clothing range as an addition to the price we have settled upon, I can guarantee your shipment will arrive on Mordecai at least a week early."

Wheelwright tilted his head slightly. "Is that so?"

Mal nodded. "That's most definitely so."


"How do you feel about Ernest?"

Zoe snorted. "That's a description, not a person."

"I had an uncle named Ernest. He was anything but."

"No, hon."


"Ttch. The name of a bully who used to beat up my sister at school."

"What did you do to him?"

She twisted slightly, looking up at him with a smile. "Why do you think I did anything to him?"

Wash chuckled as he scooped out a bit more cocoa butter. "Let's see... Because I know you?"

"Mm-hmm. What about Dean?"

"Dean the Mean, Dean the Bean, Dean the Lean, Dean the Queen, Dean..."

"All right, all right, I get the picture." She looked at him oddly. "Is there a name you don't know a million rhyming insults to?"

"Not really, no." He rubbed the lotion onto her skin, smiling when the baby kicked in response. "If he's not careful, he's gonna punch a hole through the ship when he gets out."

"Better the ship than me," she murmured back. "What about Ma —"


"But I didn't even —"

"Don't care. No."

"We can't keep calling him Honorable Son Number One, you know."

"Why not? It's a perfectly valid name. We can shorten it. Hsno. Hisno!"



"How about plain no?"


They returned to the ship slowly, first Kaylee with a small bright red wagon loaded down with parts, laughing as she showed Mal the latest idea she had for her ship. Then Book, River, and Simon, loaded down with small trinkets and books, River carrying a length of ribbon that she twirled around happily, smiling at the shimmer of sunlight upon it. Jayne came back long after midnight, a bruise forming under his eye and a shit-eating grin on his face. Inara's shuttle docked just as the cargo was being loaded. And, finally, Zoe and Wash slowly walked up, both of them smiling happily, Zoe resting a hand on her belly as she walked up the ramp.

"So what's all this?" Wash asked, looking around at the containers.

Mal looked at it. "Don't really matter, as long as it gets to Mordecai in two weeks."

Wash frowned. "Other side of Persephone...we'll need to burn fast for that to happen. Any particular reason for the rush?"

Mal looked back at the containers. "Well, I got a little somethin' extra if we hurried it..." He bent down and lifted up a large box. "Here ya go." He pushed it into Wash's hands.

"What the —" Wash looked in the box. "Um..."

Zoe looked in the box and, carefully, pulled out a tiny pair of socks. "Sir?"

Mal shrugged nonchalantly. "Baby's gotta have clothes, don't it?"

Wash and Zoe looked at each other, then broke out into matching grins. "Thank you, sir!" Wash said over the box. "I'll just...get these to our quarters..."

"Be quick about it," Mal replied. "I wanna get us up there as soon as possible..."

"Sure thing," Wash said. "Right away." He shifted the box and began scurrying to their room.

Zoe stood there, still holding the socks, looking at her captain. "Sir..."

"Don't get all sentimental on me now..." Mal said. "Like I said, a baby's gotta have clothes, and since we're shippin' piles of the things to Mordecai, I figured it was a good bargain."

"Yes, sir," she said, smiling widely. "Thank you, sir."

This Firefly story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at