TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter Four
It's who I am.
*They held her down and ignored the way she sobbed and pleaded. One of them brought the back of his hand down hard across her mouth to silence her, but he could still hear the muffled whimpering. As it went on and on, with him powerless to stop it, he prayed to the God he no longer believed it that they would hurry up and finish. All five of them. Get it over with.
He couldn't look at her, nor at what they were doing to her body. He didn't need to. Unable to close his eyes or turn away, he chose to look at them. Those tamade hun dans. He studied their faces and promised himself he would kill every damn one of 'em if he got the chance. And what savagery he saw in those faces. Brutal desire. Voracious self-gratification. Eyes glazed, unfocused in the heat of sensation. Mouths hanging open loosing bestial grunts with every thrust into her. Faces florid and dripping sweat. And then the hideous predictable grimace that signalled release. How gorram ugly, how totally ruttin' repellent these men were. He felt his own mouth twist and the sting of perspiration as it dripped into his eyes.
How ugly men can be.
He expected them to put a bullet in his brainpan afterwards, but they didn't show him that charity. Didn't save him his suffering.
It's haunted his nightmares for years, filling his nights with impotent rage as the horror replays over and over again. And always there's the serpent's voice telling him that maybe it wasn't like that. Insinuating that she didn't fight because, well ... hiss, hiss ... And sometimes his anger turns on her, on her vulnerability and her inability to save herself. She should have fought them, gorramit!
Her abused body - scratched and battered and bleedin' - looked dead at first. So pale, so small. Immature breasts and slender thighs exposed by torn clothing. Intimate areas of a woman no-one should see without her consent. And this wasn't even a woman. Little more than a girl.
But she didn't die. At least, not straight away. She staggered out of that place just as Mal and Zoe and the others were being put onto a prison wagon. Looked him cold in the eye. Did she blame him? He never did find out. Killed herself a few weeks later. Couldn't live with it, couldn't endure it.
She damn well let them win.
The nightmare hasn't faded with time. The colours are still vivid. And each day a new thread is woven into its terrible fabric. Green like the fields and trees of Shadow for Zoe, the closest thing to home he has left. Yellow as sunshine for Kaylee with her sweet smile and unquestioning love for him. And lately, scarlet for Inara, red as passion and blood. When he closes his eyes to sleep he never knows which one of them will that takes that girl's place as he takes her and holds her down. Never knows whose eyes will be staring into the darkness in his soul. The only certainty is that he will wake with a mouth full of ashes and despair.
They call him a survivor. He's not. He knows what lies in the heart of men. Has to live with the knowing. Find a way somehow to bear it*.
"I merely asked you what time you expected to make planetfall," Inara is saying, crisply enunciating each word to emphasize the reasonableness of her enquiry and, by contrast, the absurd churliness of Mal's reply.
A muscle in his cheek twitches and his nostrils flare. "An' I'm fed up with you harassin' me about it. We'll touchdown when we touchdown, dong ma? Have a bit of patience, woman."
Inara laughs out loud. "I'm afraid we're not all blessed with your sang froid. When I make an appointment with a client I do my best to be punctual. It's called politeness, Mal - a concept you are clearly unfamiliar with."
When did she start callin' him Mal? Still calls him Captain too. Gorram whore has an uncanny knack of pickin' the one that will annoy him most accordin' to the situation. An' what the hell's song fua anyway? Mal pushes his chair back from the table with an angry scrape. If it weren't for gettin' the gorram shuttle back, he'd happily dump her on Persephone. Do it with a clear conscience too - she wou'n't come to no harm there. Her kinda world, or near as makes no never mind. An' i's not like she'd starve. Plenty of clients there. Said so her own self.
*... five of them ...*
Inara watches him squeeze his eyes shut and shake his head, as if to dislodge something. Something painful. He catches her looking at him with something like sympathy and it stings like acid. "Hmm. Well I got work to do. Not all of us gets paid for lyin' on our backs."
Mal is still muttering about that gorram fancible whore an' her attitude when he reaches the bridge. Zoe swiftly slides off her husband's lap and stands to attention. "Good idea of yours to rent the shuttle to a Companion, Sir" she says. "Wasn't it, dear?"
Wash nods. "It's amazing, Mal! Everytime they run a sweep on us, we keep getting confirmation to land on account of Inara. It's like we've got our very own ship's Ambassador! Stroke of genius getting her on board."
Mal bites his lip. "Can't say I'm surprised the Alliance is prepared to bend the rules for a whore." He gazes out of the viewports."Badger waved us a meet point yet?"
"Just came through. Written the location down for you." Wash hands him a scrap of paper. "Think the pay'll be good?"
"Better had be. Runnin' low on about every damn thing we got."
A pair of blue-gloved hands reach out to accept the proferred folio of printouts and photographs. It is marked: Special Programme: Reference 00/7/Ps42: TAM, River.
"With or without assistance?"
"With. Probably the brother. A surgeon. Dr Simon Tam."
"Are you sure?"
"The hospital in Capital City, Osiris where he is employed as a trauma surgeon reported him absent without explanation earlier today. A warrant has been posted on the Cortex. Meanwhile ..."
"There is not a moment to lose. The project must be completed."
Zoe raps her knuckles softly on the door to Inara's shuttle.
Zoe nods a greeting and Inara dips into a half-curtsey before taking a seat and offering her visitor some tea.
"Captain said to let you know we'll be making planetfall by eighteen hundred at the latest."
"Thankyou," Inara replies, the arch of her eyebrows asking why Zoe didn't simply use the intercom to pass on the information.
Zoe's eyes flicker about, as if she's looking for eavesdroppers. "Been looking for an excuse to come an' ask how you think it's goin'?"
Inara's lips bow into a serene smile. "My grand seduction of the Captain, you mean?" she asks, with a little laugh at the way Zoe all but jumps at hearing the words said out loud. "As well as can be expected."
Zoe frowns. "Thought he was showin' a bit of interest myself."
Inara takes a sip of tea. "He's certainly being insufferable. I take that as a good sign." Another sip. "And he appears compelled to denigrate my career choice whenever the opportunity presents itself. I must say, the Captain can be astonishingly inventive when it comes to insults.." She smiles, shaking her head in wonder as she recalls some of Mal's more colourful remarks.
Something tickles at the back of Zoe's brain. "He ain't upsettin' you, is he?"
Inara's smile is extra bright. "Absolutely not. Not at all." She's fairly certain her tone is convincingly firm. And besides - Mal's harsh words really haven't affected her in the least. It's all those other things - the little glimpses she gets of his sense of honour, tell-tale signs of the pain he tries to keep hidden, his ridiculous protectiveness. It's just as well that, despite the rush of lust she sometimes discerns in his eyes, he regards her with such contempt. If he were at all pleasant ... "Don't worry about me. I can handle Malcolm Reynolds."
Zoe fingers the twist of leather around her throat. She likes Inara - she really does. Sees a strength in her similar to her own. An ability to bear things others cannot. Both women take a pride in being exceptional at their jobs. Had she chosen a different path, Inara might well have made a good soldier. "Good," Zoe says, relieved. "Captain's bark's worse than his bite."
When the kiss became a bite, it ignited something in her and she cried out more from the pleasure of it than the pain, little knowing that cry would lead to something that drew a line between them forever.
"Zoe? Did you hear me? Would you please tell the Captain I plan to take the shuttle out after we land at - say - about twenty hundred hours?"
Zoe nods hastily as Inara's voice brings her back to the present. "You'll be takin' the shuttle out. Right." She stands up, eager to be out of here an' afraid she might betray her sudden misgivin's. Before she betrays Mal. No reason to think it would necessarily go that way with Inara. Besides she must've provided her customers with all manner of servicing. Would probably shock her much less than it did Zoe.
"I'll let him know," she repeats and slides the door shut as she leaves.
"Cap'n says I gotta stay on board," Kaylee sulks, sprawling out in one of the commons armchairs. "Says he don't wanna be worryin' about me fritterin' his money away."
"You can keep me company," Wash offers. "Mal doesn't want me going with them either. Thinks I'll be in the way."
Jayne raises his head, sniffin' trouble. "Reckon he wants to get your woman alone, do ya? Can't say I blame him ..."
"Hey! Do we have to go over the her being my wife thing again?" Wash leans angrily towards the mercenary.
"Don't stop a man lookin'," Jayne points out, amiably enough. "Mal ain't blind. Tell you what, li'l man - I'll keep an eye on 'em when we're in town. Let ya know if there's any hanky-panky."
Wash opens his mouth in indignation but snaps it shuts again quickly, deciding he doesn't want to discuss his marriage with this neanderthal.
"Ain't gonna be no hanky-panky," Mal says firmly, making the others shift nervously in their seats. Especially Jayne. Ai ya! Huai le! - has he been listenin'? "Ain't got time," Mal continues, mildly suspicious at his crew's discomfiture but not overly concerned about it. "You got a job to do, Jayne. Here's the list of stuff we need." He holds on to it a mite longer than needs be, fixin' the big man with a look. "I ain't gonna have a problem with you, am I?"
"No, Mal. No," Jayne replies quickly, eager to keep going down this particular conversational track an' away from any suggestion he mighta been talkin' out of turn about the Cap'n an' Zoe.
Mal frowns slightly but decides to accept Jayne's deference at face value. He turns to Kaylee. "You got any last minute shoppin' requests? Important stuff? Nothin' expensive mind..."
Her bottom lip juts out slightly. "'pends what they got. Can't tell if I'm stuck on ship. Captain." Yep, tha's a powerful sulk she's aimin' his way.
"Best you go along with Jayne then," Mal says unexpectedly, with a wink. "Keep him out o' trouble for me."
Kaylee's smile lights up her face. "I love my Cap'n."
"Mmm. Just you be careful, mei-mei."
Wash smiles to himself as Mal leaves and just can't stop himself from asking, "Notice anything different about our dear Captain lately?"
Jayne chews the inside of his cheek, considering. "Well, he ain't actually yelled at me for a coupla days..."
"Exactly!" Wash exclaims with a wag of his forefinger. "Any notions as to why that might be?"
"Mus'n't be my turn. Heard him givin' 'Nara a piece of his mind 's mornin'."
Kaylee and Wash try really hard not to exchange a knowing look.
"Captain," Inara says mildly, rising to her feet as Mal stalks into the shuttle, "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you knock."
He knows damn well she knows he di'n't. Knockin' - another of the gorram rules of polite society she sets such great store by. Kind of society where you can buy a woman for your bed an' have the deal thought respectable. "Probably too used to listenin' out for the clink of rich men's coin," he suggests with a sarcastic smile as he sits down on her couch.
"Please do take a seat," she invites him with a wave of the hand and a sarcastic smile of her own. "To what do I owe this .. pleasure?"
Her lips are painted bright red and her eyelids have been dusted with purple shadow so dark they look bruised. Her hair is neatly coiffed into an elaborate pile of tidy curls and she's dressed in layers of silk that shift through the red-yellow spectrum like flames. Not exactly a uniform, but a statement of who and what she is. Mal hates it. Might as well have a ruttin' sign flashin' "For Hire" over her head. Not many can afford her - tha's for sure - but it don't make her any the less cheap.
"Come to tell you if everythin' goes smooth, job should be done in a coupla days. That a problem?" He damn well hopes it is. Right now nothin' would delight him more.
"Not at all, Captain Reynolds."
"Thought you had a whole regiment of fellas lined up," he goads, somewhat surprised to find he's fishing for information.
"More like a squadron, Captain. Two days will be perfectly adequate, thank you." Her smile is wide but irritation crackles in her eyes.
"Right then. Good. Right." He stands up and snaps his suspenders as if they've just come to an agreement.
"Don't let me keep you."
Mal makes for the door but when he reaches it, stops. "Best you check in with Wash whenever you're .. uh, not busy. Let him know you're still on schedule."
Inara's eyes go wide. "You want me to report in, Captain? Because when I rented this elderly vessel from you, it was on the understanding I would have complete autonomy."
Mal clenches his teeth together as a whole passel of reasons why he needs to know where she is bubble up. Too many of 'em nothin' to do with business for him to be sayin' out loud. He glowers at her. "We're off this rock in two days. Make sure you're ready."
"Soon as they arrive, let me know," Badger tells his muscular side-kick. "Won't do 'em any harm to wait a bit for me - jus' so as the nature of our business relationship is clear to 'em - but let me know." He taps the side of his nose. "You can tell an 'ell of a lot about a man by the way 'e be'aves when 'e don't know you're watchin' him."
The underling nods and Badger retires to a side room. Could be a good job, this 'un. Alliance ships got sophisticated emergency systems an' blow-outs don't usually cause much damage. 'Course that means Alliance usually checks 'em out eventually, salvaging anythin' worth 'ard cash. The trick is to get there before they do. An' get out again.
Time was, 'e'da done a job like this 'is self. But now he's a man o' some standin' it'd be a real shame to get caught handlin' stuff the Alliance figured was theirs. So nowadays 'e always gets someone in. People 'ose good name's already a thing of the past. People like Malcolm Reynolds.
Now there's a man Badger can rely on. Lost most everythin' already an' always dirt-poor enough to take on the dir'iest jobs. No friend of the Alliance neither - what with them 'avin' practically vaporized his 'ome planet. See? Every cloud as a silver linin'.
They've 'ad dealin's before - an' not all of 'em've gone well. But Reynolds ain't nowhere near rich enough to bear a grudge. Always ready to talk business if the job's worth enough to keep that le se junker in the air.
Simon Tam is still trembling when he closes the hotel room door behind him. He presses the autolock switch and tries the handle. It holds reassuringly firm. Then he notices there's an unauthorized access alarm option on the autolock and flicks that switch too. Better safe than sorry. Safe. He lets out a long breath and sinks down onto the bed. It's almost as soft as the one at home. He grits his teeth, deciding that some things are best not dwelt on.
The room is startlingly normal. Bed, table, easy chair, vidscreen. A bathroom off to one side. An ordinary room for ordinary people leading their ordinary lives. Which makes everything about it seem strange to Simon. What use could he possibly have for the Guide to Persephone to which the hotel has helpfully tuned the vidscreen? What pleasure could he derive from sinking into the whirlpool tub glimpsed through the open bathroom door? Even the chair seems incomprehensible. He stares at it in amazement that anyone would waste time on making something so lavishly upholstered and clearly intended for just sitting in. Will he ever be able to just sit again? Or will the rest of his life be spent planning for flight, for getting just far enough ahead of the authorities?
If only there were someone to talk to. The cortex link in this room is a biometric one, so he dare not use it. It might as well not be there. Is a cortex link still a cortex link if it is unused - or merely an assemblage of plastic and wires?
For distraction he takes the Bible-pod from a bedside cabinet drawer and punches the keys at random. He's surprised to notice his hand is shaking. A surgeon with unsteady hands? He drops the pod and holds the hand out in front of him, trying to predict when the next tremor will come. Before now he has only paid attention to his hands when they were clad in surgical gloves. This hand is pale and naked and utterly unfamiliar. Looking at it makes the room spin. Suddenly Simon feels nauseous.
" ... to make one wise, she took of its fuit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate." The disjointed synthesized voice makes Simon jump. He snatches it up and punches the off switch. There must be some delay in the buffer because the machine spews out "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked" because the processor finally cuts out. Naked ...
EARLIER THAT EVENING
The men in the alley way had told him they wanted him naked. He tried to ignore their lewd suggestions as they followed him, tried not to change his pace or give any indication of fear. He couldn't think what he'd done to attract this kind of attention. He hadn't so much as made eye contact with anyone as he forced himself to eat dinner after leaving River's cryochamber with dock security. Surely nothing he'd done could have been construed as an invitation. So why were they following him and saying those things?
A hand reached out and grabbed him, spun him round and slammed him into a wall. Simon looked the man eye. There'd been a mistake. He must have unwittingly given out a signal or something that could be interepreted as such on this planet. But that didn't have to be a problem. He would simply apologize, explain there had been a mistake and everything would be all right.
The man was about his height, thick-set and with a badly healed scar the length of his cheek. He had the breath of a man without dental insurance and jaundiced yellow eyes. Clamping Simon's chin between calloused fingers and thumb, he hissed, "Alway fancied drillin' me a Core boy. Heard tell you can get rich if you strike lucky." A thrill of dread went through Simon as he realized it didn't matter to this man if he was interested or not. He thrust both hands against the man's chest to try to push him away but for all his unhealthy appearance, he was strong. He pushed back and Simon's head hit brickwork with a thump that made him see stars. Whilst he reeled, his assailant began tearing at his vest and shirt. Fabric was rent and buttons popped. The attacker's companions were laughing and jeering, egging him on.
Suddenly the frenzied struggle of limbs stilled and everything went quiet. Simon stared in disbelief as the expression on the man's face changed from enraged determination to one of pained surprise. His head lolled backwards and he folded into a heap at Simon's feet.
"You all right, Sir?" one of two federal officers asked solicitously, resheathing his baton. Out of the frying pan into the fire.
Simon swallowed his panic and shook his head. "Y-yes. Thankyou. Officers." He looked down at the inert body. The other men were nowhere to be seen. He straightened the shirt he'd purchased earlier in the day because he'd thought it plain enough to allow him to go unnoticed. "I'm - uh - very grateful."
The second officer rolled Simon's attacker onto his back with a shove of his boot. "We could have him bound by law, Sir," he said slowly, "But quite frankly it's paperwork we could do without. Don't worry though, Sir ... he won't be giving you any more trouble. Or anyone else." The officer seemed to be suggesting ... an officer of the law? Shouldn't he be upholding it rather than breaking it? Some part of Simon's brain reminded him he ought to be grateful for that and he grunted his assent. The last thing he needed was to be asked to produce his ident card.
Simon decides the shirt and vest are beyond repair and dumps them into the garbage chute. Neither had helped him blend in. With their costly fabrics and professional tailoring, the other clothes he's brought won't either but at least he'll be comfortable in them. They were his, after all.
Shepherd Book's departure from the abbey was delayed by the unexpected death of one of the brothers. The idea of going before the funeral seemed like leaving a friend without having the good manners to say good-bye, so he stayed on. He stood under the cherry blossom that was already being shaken from the bough as they laid him in his grave, pondering the brevity of life. How short a span man is granted in this 'verse before the Lord calls him back home. He offered up a prayer that he might be allowed a few more years - years in which he might put at least some of his wrongs right.
Eavesdown is not entirely unknown to him, but it has grown rapidly since the last time he was here and it takes him a while to get his bearings. He decides to overnight at a hotel and let the Lord help him choose a ship and a destination in the morning. His clerical garb is a source of some amusement as he books in at reception. In his room he opens the window to clear the stuffy air and wonders if perhaps he should adopt less blatantly religious attire.
From far away comes the cry of a rooster. No. The dog collar must stay.
"Captain Reynolds! Come in, come in!" Badger slaps a hand on Mal's shoulder and uses it to encourage him through the entrace to his inner sanctum.
Once in the room, Mal removes it with an ostentatious display of distaste. "Tell me about the job."
"Eager, ain't ya?" Badger says with a sharp-toothed little smile."Gotta say, I like tha' about you, Captain Reynolds."
Mal gives him an impatient smile that melts as soon as it forms. "Shiny."
Zoe casts an anxious look at him, willing him to keep his cool, agree terms and get out of here before anyone starts doin' anythin' stupid. Mal and Badger have a way of lookin' at each that reminds her of dogs circlin' each other before a fight. Badger rubs the lapel of his pinstripe jacket between a thumb and forefinger and Mal pushes back the sleeves of his battered suede coat. Businessman and outsider size each other up a moment.
"There's a carrier adrift about ten hours out from here," Badger says at last and the tension eases. "Engine blew out a few months ago. All 'ands died in the blast. But," he pauses for effect, "An' 'ere's the good news - it was stocked with supplies for settlers out of the border. Cargo like tha's worth a pretty penny."
"What about the Alliance?" Mal asks. "They shown any interest?"
Badger shakes his head. "Accordin' to my sources, they're treatin' it as a graveyard. With respect." He gives Mal a sharp look. "You ain't gonna get all shi dang about Alliance dead, are you?"
Mal stares right back at him. "Not as a rule."
"Good. Then, Captain Reynolds, it looks like we're in business again. I'll get you the coordinates an' I'll expect you back here with the good in - shall we say - thirty-six hours?"
"Thought you told Wash two days?"
"Guess I'm like you - eager."
"You ain't mentioned payment," Zoe points out before Mal feels the need to explain how very different he is from this jumped-up colony boy.
Badger grins at her, like she's caught him out. "Bright as a button, that one," he remarks to Mal as if Zoe wasn't there. She allows herself the pleasure of plannin' a painful end for him as he engages Mal in a spot of haggling. Eventually terms are agreed and Badger extends a hand to shake on it. Mal waits a second longer tha is comfortable before taking it.
"Now that," Kaylee sighs sucking on the wishbone, "was real tasty." She licks the grease from her fingers with a pink, strawberry-shaped tongue.
Jayne grins. He likes watchin' this li'l mechanic eat. Girl takes a pleasure in it that's downright stimulatin'. Appetite like that at the table promises a fair helpin' of enthusiasm in the bedroom. Sure would like to get her in his bunk some day. See if'n he can't make her close her eyes and purr with pleasure like that. Often thinks on it when he's abed at night.
Must've been lookin' at her too long, cos suddenly she flips him lightly in the chest an' asks "What? What're you lookin' at me like that for?"
He turns his attention to his his beer an' takes a long swig. "Nothin'," he mumbles, wipin' foam from his upper lip with the back of his hand. Leavin' aside the fact that Mal'd probably slice of his John Thomas an' beat him with it if he thought Jayne was lustin' after the girl, the mercenary knows the value of patience when it comes to womenfolk. So he walks soft. Don't wanna spook her. He got all the time in the 'verse - ain't like there's a lot of rivals for her affections on Serenity.
'fore he took to trackin' men, Jayne used to hunt birds for the pot. Taught him stealth and how to wait till the moment for pouncin' was ripe. Taught him gentleness too. Hands might be big an' powerful, but he ain't never crushed a bird nor bruised a lover with 'em. Knows how to hold 'em jus' so. No need to be rufflin' their feathers.
Them was good days, back then with all the family around. But it ain't right for a full grown man to be tied to his momma's apron strings. A man's gotta stand on his own two feet. Make his way in the world.
"Better be getting' back to Serenity soon," Kaylee says, getting to her feet. "Don't want the Cap'n yellin' at us for bein' late. This job's awful important to him."
Jayne plonks his slouch hat onto his head and tosses a handful of coin onto the saloon table. Kaylee slips her arm through his as they step out into the bustling street. Makes the big man's heart swell with pride when passers-by look at 'em like they's man an' wife.
Book kneels by his bed, despite the pain in his left knee, or perhaps because of it. Without the ritual of communal prayer, it's hard to find the words he wants to say. Just him and God now. No hiding behind the regular pattern of the standardized service. It's liked being stripped naked and the desire to cover up is like a physical need. The room feels cold.
Cold as that place where all was metal and marble and white light.
He keeps on kneeling and waiting. Hoping that God will understand.
You wonder where the pain went. Did it stop or did it reach such a pitch your nervous system could no longer process it. Perhaps you died. Because now all you feel is cold. Bitter, biting cold and complete stillness. Are the thoughts that swirl up through the sparkling mist the dreams that come unbidden as dying neurons flare and are extinguished? Your mind is filled with dazzling glitter and brittle light. The Ice Age. Everything here is virgin white - untouched. But look closer and there's blood in the snow and the bare trees are skeletons. Hands turning blue in the cold. The ringing in your ears is not the wind but the sound of screaming - your own. The tingle in your skin is not the nip of frost but the crackle of electricity. And the pictures in your mind are not your own. They put them there. And some of it is true and some of it is made up and some of it can't be quantified. Only endured.
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Title: Chapter 4. It's who I am.
Series Name: Trauma Medicine
Author: Kispexi2 [email]
Details: Work-In-Progress | PG-13 | gen | 27k | 10/15/04
Characters: Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, River, Book
Pairings: little bit of M/I and of J/K
Summary: Mal and Inara warm a little too each other. Jayne and Kaylee have a 'date'. Simon has a nasty encounter and the Hands of Blue get going.
Notes: Tiny spoilers for Serenity (episode not movie)
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