Babylon III: Reunion [Battlestar/Firefly]

Babylon III: Reunion
by Jennifer-Oksana
Fandom: Battlestar Galactica/Firefly
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Lee/Laura, Mal/Inara UST, Kaylee/Tyrol
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Ron Moore have the rights, not me.
Summary: The Colonials are reunited, there are babies, everyone is having all kinds of culture shock. Plus, animated manga about Laura.

Laura’s Companion met Lee and Kara at the shuttleport and dared them, via silence, to say a thing about it.

Lee Adama wasn’t sure that he was ready to interact with Inara under the circumstances. For the last five months, he had been asked, incessantly and with increasing mockery, how he felt about being cuckolded for a woman and an Alliance one at that.

But Inara gave Lee a look when he shook hands with her coldly that told him that if he brought the fleet scuttlebutt into his wife’s home, Lee would find himself a very unpopular man.

“How’s Laura?” Lee asked.

“Overworked,” Inara said. “Tired. Extremely pregnant. Captain Thrace, it’s nice to see you.”

“Hey, Inara,” Kara said, grinning. “Apollo here has been jealous as hell you get to share the big bed. Is it as comfy as advertised?”

“There are lots of big fluffy pillows,” Inara said. “So you’re back for the bed, huh?”

“That and the free food being promised at this party,” Lee said, forcing a smile. “You’re sure she doesn’t know? That it’ll be a surprise?”

Inara nodded happily. “It took a lot of work, but Senator Roslin has no idea that you’re coming.”

“Do we have to dress up?” Kara asked, glowering at the city. “After all, the minute the president sets eyes on Lee, the party will be over.”

“You’d be surprised,” said Inara. “It’s the social event of the year, Senator Roslin’s last public appearance before her confinement. The price of a ticket is somewhere in the realm of twenty head of cattle. Dress fancy, Kara. You’ve got the figure for it.”

“Besides, our reputations as fleet representatives are at stake, too,” Lee said. “Yes, we have to dress up.”

“Oh, give me a break,” Kara said. “Are you really thinking politics? Your wife’s due any frakking second and that’s why you’re home.”

“Now I’m home, am I?” Lee asked. “Thought this whole system shouldn’t be thought of as home.”

“Whatever. Home is where your family is, and your family happens to live here and run the place,” Kara answered. “I think it’s crap that we gotta dress up for family, but that’s this culture for you.”

Inara politely let the two of them squabble as she led them to the small transport. “Serenity arrives tomorrow, yes?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Kara said. “Kaylee’s so excited to show the Chief Persephone that she’s been unbearable for a week. And she’s even more excited that she’s allowed to stay on the senatorial estate. What’s this place got that’s so great?”

“Swans,” Inara said with a smirk. “And tonight, it will be at its most beautiful. There’s nearly a full symphony, the entire grounds are lit with candles, and trust me, the champagne is to die for.”

“Champagne?” Kara asked, perking up. “And all I have to do is wear my dress uniform and look pretty? Nice.”

Booze was flowing like water, there were three hundred people working this party of only about one hundred guests from the finest houses of the Alliance, and Mal Reynolds was escorting the guest of honor and enjoying it thoroughly.

Senator Roslin’s gown was clearly inspired by something she’d seen Inara wear — high-waisted, with yards of deep green watered silk flowing lightly and beautifully over her much-swollen stomach. Lace and silver-threaded embroidery dressed up the bodice so that you noticed that even ladies of a certain age benefited muchly from pregnancy, and her necklace was a pearl-and-diamond concoction which highlighted imperial carriage that would have shone through in any outfit.

Truth be told, Mal liked Laura’s frippery more than he’d admit. Despite being eight and a half months pregnant, his date was outshining the whole room in part because of the rage for “Colonial” everything had people looking a mite dowdy, and there was the senator, looking as elegant as could be.

“I think half the girls at this shindig want to tear you apart,” Mal murmured, as Laura smiled and shook hands with dignitary after dignitary, listening to polite lies about their hopes for her child. “After all…lady of your age, in your condition, the belle of the ball?”

“Captain Reynolds, it’s about presence,” Laura replied with a graceful nod. “And always having a handsome man squire me about. My husband would have been a powerful ally for that alone.”

Mal, who’d never much liked Laura’s dashing young husband, smiled at the jibe.

“Does your Captain Apollo know he’s a prop?” he asked. “I’m sorry — Lt. Commander Apollo.”

“Lee’s a good politician and a good man. I’m sure he knows and pretends not to,” Laura replied, making a half-bow to a younger, jealous woman. “My dear, your outfit is lovely. And, Mal…ooh, the baby kicked again. Can we sit down? Also, I think I want strawberries.”

“And I do aim to please, Madam Senator,” Mal replied as Laura half-waltzed, half-glided to the nearest couch and he grabbed himself a large plate. “Waiter, the senator will require something non-alcoholic. Juice or seltzer, please.”

“Of course, sir,” the waiter said. Mal still wasn’t used to that part. He liked Laura Roslin and he was enjoying watching her build up a following for herself and her Articles of Colonization, but being her attache and the semi-official liaison between the Colonial Fleet and the Alliance did give him a turn now and again.

“Miz Laura,” Mal said as he returned with a plate of goodies, handing it to her with a bow. “I figured you might have a craving for more’n strawberries.”

The half-dozen politicians and toadies who had swarmed the senator in his brief absence scowled as she accepted the plate and smiled.

“Oh, mango,” Laura breathed. “And those little biscuits! Gentlemen, I am afraid to say that Captain Reynolds has quite the knack for revealing my weaknesses.”

A lean, overdressed man standing next to the senator chuckled mirthlessly. “My dear Miss Roslin, I thought you had no weaknesses,” he said. “Or should I refer to you as Mrs. Adama?”

“Madam Senator, if you please,” Laura answered with a smile. “Mal, this is Chaz Jergens, the mayor of Demeter. He was describing the indentured servitude codes of his region, and how he’d be delighted to take some of the criminals and less fortunates of our fleet off my hands.”

Mal knew that was dangerous territory — Laura had expressed extreme hatred of the slavery the Alliance practiced, as well as the economic indenturement. If this Chaz fellow wasn’t smart, he was going to end up pasted on a wall, as well as whoever put the dumb bastard up to it.

And this evening already had a surprise waiting, so Mal put his hand on Chaz’s shoulder as heavily as he could without doing violence.

“I’m afraid Senator Roslin’s not at liberty to entertain your offer,” he said. “Colonial law strictly forbids selling human beings, and the Senator does remain the President of the Twelve Colonies.”

“Surely, that’s just a formality,” Chaz said. “It’s well known integration is due any day now.”

“Formalities, Mr. Mayor, are the soul of civilization. After all, this thin veneer of formality covers so many sins, doesn’t it?” Laura asked, smiling gnomically. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I see a dear friend I must speak to.”

With Mal’s help, the senator rose, nodded a coolish farewell, and half-waltzed, half-waddled away.

“Good gods, what is WRONG with people?” Laura steamed. “I will not countenance slavery. And I really, really want to sit down, but not if I can’t get any relief from the vultures.”

Mal didn’t have a good answer for her, and so looked around frantically for a dodge. It didn’t take long.

Inara swirled into the ballroom, looking delightful in her lace-and-velvet gown that was also quite a contrast to Colonial-influenced attire everywhere. Laura rested her head against Mal and smiled.

“Oh, Inara looks lovely,” she said, admiring the wine-colored material. “Though gods know, I’ll be glad to escape the fancy gowns for two or three months. A discreet confinement is sounding more and more restful.”

Mal squeezed the senator’s hand. It had taken him a while to get used to the orders that the senator was to be constantly touched, but now it was second nature. Though gorram, it was still fun as hell to watch the tight-belts of Persephone watch a pregnant, middle-aged woman lean against an Independent while her personal Companion circulated as her emissary, especially knowing that Mr. Senator Roslin was about to make an entrance.

“You think they won’t come to you, Madam Senator?” Mal teased. “They’ll be scratching at the doors.”

“Only if they can get past Zoe,” Laura said as Inara glided up to Mal and smiled triumphantly. “Inara, you look wonderful. They had the burgundy after all?”

“Special-ordered. Nothing’s too good for Senator Roslin’s personal Companion,” Inara said smugly, kissing the other woman on the cheek. “You look absolutely radiant. What happened?”

“Some idiot asked me to sell people,” Laura said. “It probably has me angry.”

“Nonetheless, you look like a queen,” Inara said, taking Laura’s hand and soothing it. The two women hadn’t the least bit of shame about how much contact went between them. Mal half-wondered if they were having sex, but he knew a single word on the topic would earn him death from both of them. “How are you feeling?”

“Swollen,” Laura said. “Simon is going to have a fit when he hears about all the stress I’ve put my body through tonight. I’ll be on bed rest for a week.”

Before Inara could answer, there was suddenly a hush in the crowd, one of those semi-natural lulls in conversation as the herald looked at the invitation of the newest guests and smiled broadly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have the unexpected honor of presenting Captain Kara Thrace and Lt. Commander Lee Adama,” he said unctuously.

Laura’s eyes widened, and she turned to watch Starbuck walk in, looking as casually perfect as ever, next to a tall, slim-ish young man who was looking the crowd over for one face.

“Lee,” Laura whispered, before turning on Inara and Mal, shaking with thinly repressed joy and a little appalled disapproval. “Did you two KNOW about this?”

The trouble had been worth it. Inara shot a glance at Mal that was met with a broad grin. They both knew the other adored the senator fiercely, and this had been their gift to her, and worth every bit of sweat and fight with Admiral Adama to get the timing just right.

“We figured it wouldn’t be a good party without your husband,” Mal said. Lee finally caught sight of them, and knocked over half the guests at the shindig as he strode over to where Laura was standing, shaking her head in silence.

“Captain Thrace,” Inara said to the trailing Kara, as Lee stared at Laura’s very obvious pregnancy. “Commander Adama.”

“Oh, gods, you’re…” Lee said, shaking his head. “Very very very pregnant.”

“And you’re here,” Laura said with a low cry, before throwing her arms around him. “I’ve missed you. Lee, you have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

Lee, who was practically crying himself, took the opportunity to kiss Laura several times before her head settled on his shoulder. Mal, who still didn’t like Lee much personally, at least approved of that.

“Don’t stare so, Mal,” Inara said, taking his hand. “It makes you look like even more of a jealous ass.”

“Who’s jealous?” Mal asked. “I’m just pleased he’s got enough sense to be in love with his wife. Maybe I can get a little vacation from filling in for now.”

Inara smacked him. “Don’t be such an ass,” she said in Chinese. “She was never yours.”

“Never said she was, Inara,” Mal replied, before turning back to the tableaux of the reunited Colonials. “Suppose you’re not hers, either, not anymore. She won’t need a personal Companion with a husband in attendance.”

“Maybe,” Inara said crisply. “Maybe not. Would you like to dance?”

The senatorial estate was modest by Alliance standards, but compared to the fleet’s lodgings, Lee still felt like he was walking into a palace, especially given that the Senator was not allowed privacy — even with her husband in attendance — until her own bedroom. And even there, Dr. Tam had recorded a message reminding Senator Roslin that she needed to stay off her feet as much as possible, and they had an appointment at the end of the week.

“You look wonderful. And that dress is truly beautiful,” Lee said, walking up behind his wife and laying hands on her stomach.

“I thought it was a neat reversal of the fawning trend of all things Colonial,” Laura said as Lee began to unfasten the green-and-silver gown and kiss her neck. “But enough about the party. Enough about the Alliance. I haven’t seen you in five months, oh my beloved trophy husband. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone from home in weeks, since Billy went to Parliament for me. It’s been horribly lonely. I love Mal and Inara, but it’s not the same at all. And to see you there…”

Lee’s hand was warm and comforting on her bared back. “I know,” he said. “I felt the same way.”

“It’s a boy, you know,” Laura said, shivering. “I had Dr. Tam look, and there’s going to be yet another Adama man in the family. What are we going to name him?”

Lee found himself suddenly kneeling before his wife, hands trying to hold on to slippery, crackling taffeta and embroidered silk while putting an ear against her belly as she started to laugh.

“A boy?” he asked, looking up at her suddenly. “I have a dozen names picked out, but for daughters. Hope. Laura. Rachel. I have no names for our honorable son.”

Laura laughed again. “So far, the semi-official name is something that means fat and naughty in Mandarin,” she says. “When we don’t just call him Son One.”

Her hand rested on Lee’s head and the top of her own stomach, so they both felt the baby push, his hand practically jabbing Lee in the eye.

“Oh,” Laura said, before letting loose a flood of hushed Chinese, to Lee’s great surprise. “You be nice to your father, honorable son. He’s come home to us at last and I will not have you challenging him before you’re born.”

“You’ve learned Chinese?” Lee asked, surprised again.

“Bits and pieces. The domestic servants speak it incessantly, and Inara and Mal were kind enough to teach me a few phrases,” Laura said. “Oh, gods, I forget you wouldn’t know what I said. I called him fat and naughty, chided him for kicking my bladder while pushing you, and reminded him I am still in charge here.”

“That’s all right,” Lee said. “It sounded odd, that was all, hearing you tease the baby in Chinese. I’m reminded that we’re a long way from home.”

“The fleets are still fairly segregated, then?” Laura asked. “That’s a pity. It would be a wonderful opportunity for reconciliation and coming to terms with our differences.”

“Alliance doesn’t really want us here, Laura,” Lee said.

“Oh, I am very aware of that,” Laura said. “However, the people are much less fearful than the government, except of the Cylon threat. More than one planet has offered itself as haven in case negotiations fail, and a third of Parliament already wishes to discuss replacing the Alliance Constitution with the Articles of Colonization.”

“I hadn’t heard that,” Lee said, gazing upward. “The Alliance military despises you, and says that you’re reopening old rifts and supporting the Independent cause long after unification settled things.”

“Oh, because I called for a full investigation into Miranda,” Laura said, grimacing slightly. “And because I’m a troublesome, misbehaving female who is advised by a notorious Independent by the name of Malcolm Reynolds. I’m apt to bring a civil war, I am.”

She said it in a folksy, outer planets-style voice that made Lee blink with surprise. Definitely, Laura had gotten fairly cozy in her accommodations among the Alliance and outer worlds. And for some reason, not the least because she had been sharing her bed with Inara, Lee was disturbed by it.

Or maybe it was that she could be flippant about civil war. Even now.

“Let’s hope not,” Lee said. “We didn’t come all this way to start another war.”

“We didn’t come all this way to accept a lousy system, either,” Laura said, walking toward the bed as she undid the dress and let it fall behind her. “Come to bed, Lee.”

He did, the fight evaporating because after all, it had been months since he’d seen his wife, and now she was there, radiant, and inviting. Plus, the bed looked comfortable as hell, which upon falling on it, Lee discovered was true.

“I do love you,” Lee said. “I’m sorry I got tense for a moment there. Politics.”

“It’s all right,” Laura said. “Our honorable son likes politics, I think. He squirms less when they’re being discussed.”

“We have to think up a better name than honorable son. Or fat and naughty,” Lee said, scooting over so that he could throw his arm around Laura. “Have you got any ideas? We could name him for my father or yours.”

“No more Williams. We have Bill and Billy, we do not need a third,” she said sleepily. “We’ve had this discussion four times anyway. No, wait. Inara and I have had this discussion.”

Lee was reminded, once again, that his wife’s bed had not been empty for the past few months. Not even a little bit. “How about Mal?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Laura said, turning over and staring him down. “Next you’ll suggest Jayne is a great name for our firstborn.”

“Well, you know, he is a folk hero,” Lee said, settling against her. “It could be worse.”

Lee’s firstborn was still only the honorable son when he went downstairs the next morning, but Lee found himself not unhappy about that.

No, what had him unhappy was the man standing at the bottom of the stairs trying to walk right into his bedroom to see his wife before breakfast.

“I must insist on seeing Senator Roslin immediately!” the officious loudmouth announced. Lee, who had only just managed to pull himself away from Laura (who woke up a little bit amorous the way Tigh woke up a little bit hungover), fixed him with a look.

“The Senator’s still in bed,” Lee said, noting with approval that Zoe was giving the idiot the same look that Lee was. “I’m about to get her breakfast, and she does not want to be disturbed.”

“Who the hell are you?” the idiot asked, clearly unimpressed with Lee’s appearance or age. “I am a very important advisor to Madam Roslin, and no half-baked new boy is going to tell me whether I may or may not see her.”

Zoe snorted. “That’s the senator’s husband, Lord Nelson,” she said. “You do realize the Senator’s in a family way, and last night was the last night she’ll be appearing in public until after she’s delivered, don’t you?”

“I was BUSY last night. I sent my regrets…you’re her husband? What did she do, raise you herself?” Nelson asked. “Tell your wife it’s not my problem she’s pregnant. That’s your problem. Senator Roslin needs to speak to me immediately. I await her presence. Tell her so.”

“No, I won’t,” Lee said. “You leave your concern with Zoe here, and Senator Roslin will deal with your concern in due time. On her own terms.”

Nelson gaped, but Lee was done caring, and stepped past for the kitchens, which were abuzz to see Mr. Senator Roslin in the flesh. They were all excited to get breakfast for the two of them, and by the time Lee finally managed to get back upstairs, he was sure that somehow, he had fallen into an alternate universe.

“Mmm,” Laura said, peeking from behind the covers. “That smells like fresh bao, hong dou zhou, tea, and melon. Am I right?”

“And something called savory zongzi,” Lee said. “It looks weird.”

Laura’s eyes brightened. “Savory zongzi? Oh, that’s wonderful,” she said, sitting up. “You didn’t let them boil the milk, did you? I approve of everything they have for breakfast here except for warm milk.”

“No, the milk is cold,” Lee said, sitting down on the bed. “You’ve really assimilated parts of the culture, haven’t you?”

“Well, didn’t we agree that was my job?” Laura asked, seizing her chopsticks and attacking the zongzi. “Oh, gods, this is heavenly. Have some bao.”

Lee took one of the bao, which was delicious, though when he tried to get a slice of melon, he found his hand slapped away.

“Our honorable son is hungry this morning,” Laura said sweetly. “Did Lord Nelson come by yet? I’m expecting him.”

“Was he a loudmouthed idiot who insisted he must see you immediately?” Lee asked.

“Yes, him,” Laura said. “He comes by every day, you know. It’s always urgent. We have tea together three times a week and he teaches me Mandarin. Except when he proposes marriage to me, I like him quite a lot.”

Lee raised an eyebrow. “Am I to understand that there’s yet another suitor for my wife’s hand?” he asked. “How many of them are there?”

“I am the most eligible married pregnant alien woman in the system, you know,” Laura said between mouthfuls of food and tea. “I’ve been told it’s shocking, how a beautiful young woman like myself, a senator and a president, can be left to her own devices.”

“It’s absolutely terrible,” Lee answered, kissing Laura’s hand. “But have these suitors seen you eat?”

“Regularly,” Mal said, knocking on the doorframe. “Morning, Senator.”

“Good morning, Mal,” Laura said, favoring him with a smile. “How’s Serenity?”

“She’s well enough, ma’am,” Mal said. “Kaylee’s kept her flying, and she’s brought her Chief Tyrol with her, along with a few other folk from Galactica. River stayed behind. She’s apparently a damn good Viper pilot, our girl.”

“That’s wonderful,” said Laura. “Nelson was by already. Must be quite a list of people who aren’t too happy about my confinement.”

“No, ma’am, I fancy most of Persephone went into mourning without their shining star to dance attendance on,” Mal teased. “Now is it me, Mr. Adama, or is it hard to look at your wife without fearing blindness?”

Lee chuckled. “You know, I just squint and it’s much easier,” he said, enjoying the disapproving pout from Laura. “She does shine brightly, doesn’t she? How does Persephone live without her on her feet all the time?”

“Not so well,” Mal said with faux mournfulness. “Will you be out of bed today, Madam Senator?”

“I want to see everyone who’s come,” Laura said. “I’m almost presentable. Inara will fix me up and I’ll see Kara and everyone. Then we can have lunch and you two oversized heroes can shame me back into bed after that.”

“We’re just trying to look out for you,” Lee said.

“Yes, I’m terribly fragile,” Laura replied tartly. “See? I almost withered and died without you brave men to boss me around.”

She fell back against the cushions and began to laugh. Lee caught the odd look Mal gave Laura and him, and suddenly felt unaccountably sorry for the man.

The transition between a life where Laura was primarily alone and one where Lee was advising her was going to be difficult for everyone, especially given how adept Laura was at manipulating loyalties.

Breathing fresh air was a frakking novelty.

Tyrol considered that, and thought that even for a Colonial loyalist like himself, it had been far too long since he’d touched the dirt. Kissing it had even crossed his mind when he first set foot on the moon.

Then again, Tyrol was on a new world, and there was a beautiful girl with him who was a much better prospect for kissing. Besides that, Kaylee knew enough about this insane culture to make the oddities of Alliance culture less godsforsaken odd.

“I could get to like this place,” Galen said, putting an arm around Kaylee’s waist.

Kaylee beamed at him, her round face tilting up at him. “I told you that Persephone’s shiny,” she said. “This is where I got my dress, remember?”

Galen did remember, but he was currently distracted by white, swimming birds that were gliding past him on the private pond he and Kaylee had been walking around.

“Are those swans?” he asked, staring.

“Yep,” Kaylee said. “Inara told me that Lord Nelson got them for the Senator. Oops, I mean the President, right?”

“I think when we’re on this estate, Senator’s plenty suitable,” Tyrol admitted. He hadn’t yet gotten to see President Roslin — she had a doctor’s appointment, and about ten people screening out folks — but he was impressed and a little alienated by how much these people had claimed the Colonial President as their own.

Then again, it would appear Senator Roslin did well under extraordinary circumstances. He wouldn’t have credited it with the strained relations between Adama and the Alliance military, but the people of the system were friendly and welcoming to the Colonial cause.

They also didn’t make much secret that they thought Roslin an extraordinary — and somewhat scandalous — figure, one of romance and adventure. A street boy had been peddling an animated comic book about how apparently Roslin had singlehandedly found the way to Earth That Was.

Tyrol had bought it, given it to Kaylee, and they’d both chuckled in disbelief. “The hair’s dead on, though,” Kaylee said.

“I can’t wait for lunch,” Kaylee said, bringing Galen back to the present with a rub of her nose against his neck. “I bet you thought all we Alliance yokels ate was protein, didn’t you?”

Galen smiled fondly; Kaylee’s love of fresh fruit and her self-deprecating comment about the food supplies the Alliance had them on had been a sticking point for her. Besides which, in the two minutes Galen had seen Lee Adama, he’d heard the man complain that all Senator Roslin did was eat, so Galen was certainly curious about the local cuisine.

“Hey, Chief!” someone shouted. Galen and Kaylee turned to see Jayne, Starbuck, and Cally tromping down the neatly manicured bank to the pond-side path. Kaylee waved to them energetically, and Cally half-sprinted to greet her friends, with Jayne and Kara trotting behind casually.

“Hey, what?” Galen asked as the trio came to a stop.

“It’s time to eat,” Jayne said. “That woman’s putting on a big ol’ ceremony. You seen Madam Senator yet? Looks like she swallowed a gorram asteroid.”

Kaylee glared at Jayne, but Starbuck chuckled and took up the refrain.

“That could be because all anyone does is fuss over her,” Kara said, pushing her hair back. “Lee is competing with Mal and Inara for attention. He’s winning, but not by much, even though he’s goofy with new daddy love. They keep calling the baby honorable son.”

“Honorable Son’s a good name,” Kaylee said, twining her hand in Tyrol’s. “I had a cousin, once, called Strength Jacobus. Why not Honorable Son? Don’t you think that’s a perfectly respectable name, Galen?”

Galen smiled at his girl and smirked at Starbuck and Cally, who both endeavored to look nauseated. “We can call our first whatever you want, Kaylee,” he said. “But I think President Roslin and Lee want a more traditional name.”

“Probably,” Kaylee said. “I’m just sayin’ there’s nothing wrong with calling the baby Honorable Son. But there IS something wrong with us, hanging around out here like a bunch of lookie-loos when we just got asked to the senator’s table for lunch.”

There was a general rumble of agreement, and the five new arrivals headed back toward the house for food and gossip.

“Is that the one where I defeat ten Cylons with the power of my mind?” Laura asked when Tyrol produced the latest animini he’d found on his trip in from the city. “There’s a wonderful offshoot line where Billy kills dragons.”

Chief Tyrol blinked very quickly and shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Are these really popular?”

“They’re insidious,” Laura replied, throwing a fond glance toward Inara, who was arm-in-arm with Kaylee and chattering. “Zoe discovered them during a trip into the city and we’ve all gotten addicted. Inara!”

The president, who was looking slightly vexed as she sprawled out on a large chaise lounge that she was apparently compelled to stay on by the combined dirty looks of Captain Reynolds and Lt. Commander Adama, started speaking Chinese. Ms. Serra laughed and answered in the same dialect.

“I wanna see all the chibis!” Kaylee said, squealing and sitting down next to the chaise. “Galen and I just laughed and laughed when we saw this. They’re so cute!”

“Oh, this one is new,” Inara said. “Oh, look, you’re evil in this one!”

Laura shrugged. “I’ve noticed the trend,” she said. “They play up the autocratic aspects. Though usually, they don’t accuse me of personally killing Meier for no reason other than he got between me and Tom Zarek.”

Tyrol, who hadn’t gotten that far in the ridiculous little thing, felt a little embarrassed, but the two women were suddenly in deep political conversation about the trends this was showing, what they could do to counter it, and a number of things that were beyond Tyrol’s ken.

“You look so satisfied to have blood on your hands,” Kaylee said, tilting her head. “I only ever saw you look that way after you and Lee played Hide and Seek with me and River and didn’t get found.”

Jayne, Mal, and Lee all snorted with embarrassment or disbelief, and Tyrol awkwardly walked over to the corner where they and Starbuck were going over documents and drinking heavily.

“This place is frakking surreal. I feel like I’m about to break something,” Galen admitted as he sat down.

“You ain’t the only one,” Jayne said. “Feel like I’m about to get told I better leave before I dirty up the fine carpets. Mal, how in the gorram hell did you let this get so prettied up? Man can’t scratch his balls in a joint like this.”

“Oh, but you’re special, Jayne,” Starbuck snarked. “There’s no place where you won’t scratch ’em.”

“You lookin’ to make ’em itch, Captain Starbuck?” Jayne said with a leer. “Frakking hell, Mal, I’m serious. Place is prettier than a tomb, and twice as girly. Makes me want to go back to Serenity, almost, except I’m enjoying the grub and the sight of all them sissified lords and big men scratching at that woman’s door.”

Lee chuckled, and leaned back in his chair. “We have to let them in tonight, or I have to,” he said. “It’s the only way we can keep Laura from climbing out of her window to make arrangements and finesse politics. Me, Mal, and Inara — oh, and Starbuck, you’re coming along, too — have to stand in for my wife.”

“Going to drug her first?” Starbuck asked.

“Yes, we are,” Mal said. “Doctor’s orders. Did you know she had two near-misses this pregnancy? Shouldn’t have been on her feet at all, but she’s ten times worse than you and Jayne combined, cuz she seems reasonable.”

Lee nodded, a shadow crossing his handsome face anyway. Starbuck knew that Apollo didn’t much like having to be so openly Laura’s man, especially considering he’d fought hard to stay his own back in the fleet with the old man. He looked into his glass as though there was something he wanted to say, but instead he just took another gulp of the liquor and half-laughed at Mal’s joke that wasn’t a joke.

“Not how you expected being a husband and father to be, huh?” Starbuck asked.

“Not by a gorram sight,” Lee replied sharply.

“Gonna run?” Jayne asked. “You got you a scary wife, Captain Apollo. She ain’t gettin’ any less scary when she’s glowing and pregnant and the size of a planet, neither. Plus, she’s got Inara if she needs a friend. And Mal, right?”

Lee looked away from Jayne, shaking his head, and then his gaze settled on the woman he’d defied so much for, laughing heartily over some joke in the animated strip. On the way her other hand rested on her stomach.

Laura’s eyes flickered up and Lee was suddenly aware she was regarding him as calmly as he was her. Her head was resting against the chaise and she looked tired. Remarkable for someone who had survived so much, and Lee realized he was smiling at her.

“Naw, he ain’t running,” Mal said to Jayne. “Look at that man there. That is a man who is whipped, in love, and not about to deny it.”

“Not really, no,” Lee answered, waving at Laura, who smiled and waved back. “If you three will excuse me, I think I will see what has her laughing.”

“So disgustingly in love,” Starbuck mourned as she slouched deeper into her armchair as Lee ditched them to go play the lovebird. “Hey, Mal, do we get to do quality violence on assholes if they disrespect the Twelve Colonies?”

“Only if they really deserve it,” Mal said. “Why, you yearning to punch some bastards?”

“No, just thinking if there’s any way to make politics LESS boring,” Starbuck said. “Maybe the president will go into labor. That would work.”

“Why don’t she just summon her ninjas?” Jayne asked. “I read in the strips she’s got ’em, and they’d make short work of all those city boys outside.”

Starbuck and Mal stared at Jayne. “What?” he finally asked. “I’m sayin, life is always easier when you got a ninja at your beck and call. That’s all I’m sayin, and if she’s got more than one, we shouldn’t be wasting our time with this diplomacy crap. Easier than popping a baby out on demand, any-gorram-way.”

“He’s racing us,” River said to Admiral Adama as their Raptor prepared for the FTL jump to Persephone. He and Tigh had decided that the time was right for a big-time military visit to Madam President Senator Roslin, That Bad Woman.

Mostly Tigh thought of her as That Bad Woman. Admiral Adama thought of her as Laura, when he didn’t just dodge behind a title.

In the olden days, River would have pestered and poked Admiral Adama until she understood, but River knew differently now. River was a soldier of the Colonial Fleet now. Not the kind the Alliance had, all round pegs in round holes, brains beat out with a hammer. No, she was part of the family on Galactica. Beloved. Everyone’s Mei-Mei.

You didn’t pry when family said not to.

Kat braided her hair and Starbuck claimed she cheated at cards, and the boys were all interesting and River had tried a few of them, with kissing and touching, but she didn’t quite wanna frak anyone yet. She’d tried kissing a few girls, too, but that didn’t quite take, either.

And she was going home to show Simon that she had found her path. Simon would be proud. Lieutenant River Tam, Colonial Fleet Viper pilot. Could turn a bird around as fast as Starbuck. Good as Lee, and the old man, he liked her as good as Lee.

Lee was kind of bad, because he’d run off with the President. At least, that’s what Tigh said, but River thought it was more because Adama was a sky person and Lee was a planet person, and he’d gone off with another planet person when Adama hoped he’d go with Kara, who was in love with big skies, just like Adama.

Just like River.

“Are you excited for your grandson?” River asked, her muscles tensing in anticipation as the Raptor got ready to blink in and out like a bubble.

“Why are you so sure it’s a boy?” Adama asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’ve said I’m having a grandson for weeks now.”

“Just know, is all,” River said. “They’re having difficulty with the name. He’s very happy about frustrating them, and that they’re both together again. Her heart beats stronger when Lee’s home.”

Tigh shook his head. Not because he disbelieved River, River knew, but because he thought it wasn’t fitting to talk like that in front of the old man. “Lieutenant, you going psychic on us again?” he asked.

“Gods give us all gifts,” River said with a shrug. “I just know. Don’t think that’s a sin, do you?”

“Suppose not,” Tigh said. “It’s just damn creepy.”

Adama stayed silent through the exchange. River knew how he felt. He’d kept himself away from Persephone because he wasn’t sure how he felt about Laura anymore. She was different now; sparkling and shiny and treacherous. Adama didn’t know if she was still theirs, the Laura who had given them hope and counsel.

River understood being different. River was different. But Simon would still be glad to see her, and Mal, and everyone else from Serenity. Laura would be glad to see them.

Even with the baby racing against his grandfather. His name was going to be Ben. Benjamin or Benedict, but Ben for everyday.

She didn’t say anything to the old man, because River could feel him preparing himself in case Lee and Laura weren’t glad to see him.

“They’re waiting for us,” River said as they skipped back into realspace, realtime. “The baby’s coming. And Laura wants to reconsider…”

Childbirth hurt in the exact opposite way that cancer did. Cancer was slight to moderate general pain, so much and so long that eventually it was everywhere always. Childbirth was big pain, very localized, and made everything hurt just as badly.

“I am too old to do this,” Laura announced breathlessly. “I think I’d like to reconsider.”

“My apologies, Senator,” said Simon patiently. “But I can’t oblige. Now breathe.”

Laura glowered, breathed, and swore. “He’s worse than Bill and Lee put together,” she snarled. “I need more drugs. And my husband. And to reconsider this whole ridiculous idea of childbirth.”

“Breathe,” Inara said, stroking Laura’s hand. “It won’t be long now.”

“This HURTS, Inara. I don’t need a frakking pep talk,” Laura said. “Frak! This hurts.”

All of Laura’s Alliance slang and acculturation had disappeared in the midst of labor. She swore like a Colonial, and wanted her doctors, her husband, and maybe a C-section. Simon wished he could oblige at this point, but there wasn’t much he could do, given it was about time to push.

“How often are the contractions?” Simon asked.

“Often,” Laura said dryly, hand on her stomach. The honorable son had apparently decided he was not going to wait for his grandfather’s arrival, and was trying to escape. “They hurt, Simon.”

“Childbirth does,” Simon said. “And this was always going to be a difficult delivery. Just breathe.”

Outside, the Adama family, Mal Reynolds, and Kaylee were waiting, fidgeting and glaring up at the clock. Tigh had taken one look at Jayne and the rest of the guests, announced that he was buying the drinks, and gotten everyone out of the way, for which Lee was eternally grateful to the old drunk.

“This is a stupid custom,” Starbuck said. “You should be in there.”

“Yeah, you said that,” Lee replied. “Thanks for reminding me, Kara, where I’d like to be.”

“Well, if Honorable Son doesn’t make an appearance soon, you might be better off naming him slowpoke,” Mal said.

Bill chuckled grimly. “Firstborns take forever,” he said. “All of you take note of that.”

“Really? How long did Lee take?” Kara asked.

“Eleven hours,” Bill said. “It’s almost better, sitting outside. Your mother screamed at me for two hours during a bad part of her labor, and from what I can hear–”

The five waiting people winced as a shriek pierced the air.

“Laura’s not best pleased,” Bill finished awkwardly.

Laura was cursing both Inara and Simon as best she could between bouts of being breathless from a contraction, and Inara kept having to count to ten so as not to fire back. Having a temper of her own occasionally made Laura absolutely infuriating, because Laura rarely went for the direct kill. She made the air so hot that you couldn’t breathe instead, and Inara knew she knew what she was doing.

“I want to be done,” Laura said.

“We all want that,” Inara said. “You’re not the easiest patient, if you hadn’t noticed.”

What Laura answered was clearly audible in the other room, and Kaylee’s eyes went giant as she looked at both Mal and Lee.

“Did Senator Roslin just say that?” asked Kaylee. “To Inara?”

“She did,” said Bill. “You were aware that Madam President Roslin has a temper, weren’t you? I’m surprised she hasn’t been cursing Lee that loudly for an hour.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Lee said.

“Don’t get me wrong. Laura is a wonderful person,” Bill said. “But get her mad and she’s a hell of a force of nature to deal with.”

A nurse bolted out of the room as if to punctuate Admiral Adama’s point, and ran right up to Lee, eyes wide with terror.

“She wants you,” she said. “And Inara says that you have to come. Now.”

“About damn time,” Lee said, bouncing up.

It was nearly four hours later when Admiral William “Husker” Adama, commander of the Colonial Fleet, father of Lee “Apollo” Adama, and all-around hero, finally got to see his daughter-in-law and her firstborn. Lee was sprawled out in a chair, snoring, and Laura looked envious.

“Are you ready for family visitors?” Bill asked, sitting down in the only other chair in the room, one of the doctor’s stools.

“I am,” Laura said sleepily, looking at the red-faced child in her arms with owlish surprise. “Is Lee asleep?”

Bill glanced over at his son, whose mouth was open as he snored slightly. “Out cold.”

“I think I was a little hard on him,” Laura said. “I might have called him a devious bastard for putting me in this situation.”

Bill smiled at her fondly. “You do get dramatic from time to time,” he said. “But look what you earned for your trouble.”

“Benjamin Adama,” Laura said proudly, her voice squeaking slightly as she did. “Take him for a minute. My arm is tired.”

“Thank you,” Bill said, taking the baby eagerly. “He has your eyes.”

“Sadly,” Laura agreed. “He looks something like you, too.”

“I noticed that,” Bill said, looking up and smiling at the tired woman. “I’ve missed you.”

Laura chuckled as Bill began to examine Benjamin closely and carefully, smiling faintly as he looked at the tiny fingernails.

“You know where I live,” she said, gesturing around. “This is a longer road than I expected, of course. I…don’t know what I expected. Not this. Maybe to be teaching schoolchildren on Earth by now, out of the picture, right?”

“Laura, be honest,” Bill said, Benjamin’s fingers wrapped around one of his. “You’re no Cincinnatus. You would have been meddling in President Keikeya’s affairs before the first semester of school ended.”

For a moment, Laura looked at Bill like she wanted to protest. But then her eyes crinkled up and she started to laugh.

“That’s true,” she admitted. “And now I have my own future schoolchild, which is especially unexpected.”

“You’ll be all right. Lee will be gung-ho about avoiding my mistakes,” Bill said with the slightest ironic nod toward his sleeping son. “And you have your other spouses to thoroughly spoil my grandson.”

Laura’s smiled widened, and she struggled up to a half-seated position. “My other spouses?” she asked. “You mean Mal and Inara.”

“Am I wrong?” Bill asked.

“Not entirely,” Laura said with a diffident shrug. “But I have a devious scheme concerning Captain Reynolds and Miss Ser…” and a yawn half-split her head. “Ra.”

“Tell me tomorrow,” Bill said, standing up and handing Benjamin back to his mother, who took him and smiled before biting her lip. “You should sleep. I’ll wake Lee up, or get Dr. Tam if you think we should let him sleep.”

“Oh, don’t wake him up,” Laura protested as Bill headed toward Lee. “He’s snoring. I’m not that sleepy.”

“Yes, you are,” Bill said, favoring her with a very amused glance. “I’ll sit with you until Simon arrives, if you’d like.”

Laura looked over at Lee, who was still asleep, mouth open and arms hanging over the sides of the chair, and found herself yawning helplessly.

“If you insist,” she murmured tiredly. “Thank you, Bill.”

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