Firefly belongs to Joss Whedon. Or God, as he's also known.
TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter Three
This isn't home.
"I got no notion to be arguin' this, Jayne." Mal cuts the mercenary off mid-sentence with a glower. "We ain't robbin' from no Rim-world school. 'm'I makin' myself clear enough for you?"
"Why the hell not?" Jayne persists. "Ain't like education's gonna do any of them poor kids any good. They're stuck at the ass-end of the 'verse where learnin' ain't worth a damn thing. I never had no schoolin' - di'n't do me no harm!"
Mal gives him a long, hard stare. "That a fact?"
Jayne narrows his eyes, grunts and punches a fist into the wall as he walks away.
Mal looks round to see Inara standing serenely at the bottom of the stairs into the cargo bay. There's somethin' he can't quite make out in her expression. It makes him feel defensive. "You lookin' for somethin'?" he demands angrily.
"I think I may have just found it," she replies cryptically, one corner of her mouth lifting slightly. "But thank you for your offer to help, Captain."
He stares after her as she ascends the stairs, wanting to yell after her that he wa'n't offerin' her no ruttin' help but is hypnotized into silence by the way her peach gown lifts and billows and swirls.
Late frosts are rare on Persephone. This morning's will surely lift before long, but for now the world looks new again, sparkling as if fresh-made under low slants of light from the rising sun. Where their warmth hits, the thin dusting of ice melts, lifting in a veil of mist - dreamlike.
Book stamps down on the spade but the soil resists, tight and hard and cold. Impenetrable. He tries again, without success. "Yesu tamade!" he mutters under his breath, oddly annoyed by the ground's reluctance to yield. He has made it his mission to plant strawberries today, to grow something sweet in this reclaimed patch of land the Brothers have made their garden - you'd think the earth would want to cooperate!
"Blasphemy, Brother Book?"
He looks up and, shielding his eyes against the shimmering dawn, sees Brother Qingren. The old man is smiling.
The corners of Book's mouth turn down in self reproach. "Old habits die hard, Brother."
"Why don't you leave your labour, Brother?" the older man urges. "Wait until the land is ready. Only then will your efforts bear fruit. Walk with me a while? I find my legs grow unsteady."
"Ofcourse," Book hurries to provide an arm for his companion to lean on. Qingren's mind is so sharp and his heart so joyful, Book often forgets how old he is. How frail his body is becoming.
They walk a few hundred yards in silence until Brother Qingren asks, "It still troubles you, doesn't it?"
Book nods, once.
"As you know, our order does not require it, but confession can be good for the soul."
Book is silent.
"God is good, Brother Book. If you ask for bread, he will not give you a stone."
"A stone is more than I deserve."
Qingren stops mid-step. His voice is soft with compassion as he asks, "Why not let the Lord decide what you deserve. Ask for forgiveness. Let it go."
"I can't." Book says flatly. "Maybe someday ..."
"That is the sin of pride, Brother. You do not earn forgiveness - it is granted by God's grace."
Book nods. "I know. I just ... You - the others brothers - you're all such good men. I feel ..."
Qingren shakes his head sadly. "We used to be your support, brother. Now we have become a burden to you. An obstacle on your path to God. What you fail to realize is that we are simply a little further along that path than you. It's not a race, brother."
Book frowns. A cloud has obscured the sun and the air grows chill again.
"I think you should leave us for a while. Walk in the world. Find your own path."
At the sound of footsteps heading towards the kitchen, Kaylee scrubs her eyes with the back of her hands and stuffs the printout she was reading into the pocket of her overalls. She bends her head over the sink, to all appearances intent on scraping a large pan clean of baked-on grease.
"Good morning," Inara says softly, noting sadness in the slump of the mechanic's shoulders.
"Oh, hi!" Kaylee waves a quick hello to the Companion and turns back to her task.
Not merely schooled but gifted in reading body language, Inara knows something is wrong. And by instinct she knows how best to bring comfort. She approaches the younger woman and lays a hand on her forearm. "You seem troubled ..."
Kaylee instantly bursts into tears whilst pulling a don't-mind-me-I'm-jus'-bein'-silly embarassed face. Inara shakes her head and takes Kaylee's hand. "Would you like to tell me about it?"
Mal hesitates in the doorway. Tian xiao de he hates tears. 'specially on li'l Kaylee ... He could still hear the muffled whimpering ... Fears they might seep into him, wash the starch out of his paper-thin self-control an' turn him to mush if he gets too close. On the other hand, Kaylee is his sunshine an' he'd do anythin' - well, damn near anythin' - to make her smile.
Kaylee gulps in a lungful of air and nods, allowing Inara to steer her to a chair. "What is it, sweetie?" Inara's arm encircles Kaylee's shoulders and she gently strokes the mechanic's hair.
"Got a wave from my Daddy. Says business's been bad an' he's to rent out my room to bring in enough coin to keep my brothers fed. Told me ... told me not to worry, all my things is safe. In storage. But it feels like .. like home .. ain't home no more. " Another bout of sobbing. Inara waits patiently, just holding her.
Mal's eyes narrow. Least he don't have to deal with this - which is a comfort - but he gotta wonder what the whore's game is, whether she's gonna be presentin' him with a bill for all this smoothin' and huggin'. No way's he cuttin' her rent anymore than he already has. She said no servicin' crew - that was their agreement. No way he's payin' for this.
Inara looks up to see him staring at her, suspicion etched deep in the lines around his eyes. She gives him her sweetest smile. "I think Kaylee might like a cup of tea," she suggests.
Mal looks stunned. Did she jus' give him an order? On his own gorram boat? He blinks and gives her a quick flash of teeth that's more like a snarl than a smile. "Feel free. Bags are in the second locker from the right."
Inara's eye twinkle with amusement. Oh yes - all manner of rude and irritating. "Would you like a cup yourself, Captain?"
Wiles. Damn wiles!
Simon's head hurts. Hurts like diyu. There are some painkillers in his bag - the bag that was confiscated, along with his watch, his pers-comm and his shoelaces. If only they would turn down the lights a little. White bouncing off white adds another layer of torment to his suffering. Or perhaps that's the point?
He thought he was being mugged. It was certainly that kind of district. Dark alleys prowled by men in grubby coats with wide-brimmed hats hiding their eyes. Gaudy prostitutes plying their trade on every corner, making him inappropriately explicit offers as he passed by, eyes downcast. So when someone came up behind him in that sleazy bar and grabbed him by the shoulder, he was sure it was a mugger. He'd taken a swing - a laughably ineffective swing - at the man before even noticing he was in uniform. Too late to avoid being clubbed over the head with a heavy duty baton.
So here he is, locked in a cell in a police holding centre and no nearer to getting his sister out of that place. He closes his eyes and rubs his temples miserably.
There's a clang as a metal barrier opens and the click of hard-soled shoes on stone flooring. He looks up to see a warder swipe a card through the cell door reader.
"Time to be going," the warder grunts. "Seems you check out. Your father's here to collect you."
His father? Oh gou shi! At the end of the corridor, leaning an elbow on the reception desk, Simon can see Gabriel Tam. He doesn't look pleased. As soon as Simon is released by the warder, Gabriel hisses at him, "Have you completely lost your mind?"
'Yes,' Simon thinks and then 'No, and it seems like I'm the only one who hasn't' as his father starts complaining that his arrest interrupted a dinner party. A dinner party? Simon tries to make him understand he was trying to help River, maybe even save her life but all Gabriel Tam is concerned about is how much Simon's efforts have cost him in terms of coin and reputation. His father has always been cold and remote but now he's icy. A stranger. Simon feels dizzy - not from the blow to his head but from the sudden feeling of being cast adrift, of being totally alone. Gabriel hardly needs to says the words: "I won't come for you again. You end up here, or get mixed up in something worse, you're on your own. I will not come for you."
The journey home is a silent one as Gabriel Tam plans ways to restore his standing in society and his son vows he will rescue his sister no matter what it costs him.
"What d'ya mean, ya don't like it?" Jayne demands, glaring at Wash across the table. "That there is my mother's own recipe. Passed down to her by her mother an' her mother before that."
"Strong stomachs must run in your family then," the pilot replies, pushing his plate away. "I'm sorry but I cannot eat that."
Jayne grinds his teeth, readying himself for a fight but Kaylee jumps in. "Wha's it called, Jayne?"
The mercenary likes the li'l mechanic - sees a kindred spirit in her - so her question diverts his attention from Wash who's mouthing the words 'da xiang bao zha xing de la du in a gou shi sauce' to his wife. "Welders' Warmer," he tells her proudly.
"Certainly has the texture of something that's seen a lot of welding," Wash concedes.
Jayne's lip curls back and his fist tightens around the knife in his hand. Out of the corner of his eye, Mal sees Zoe feel for her gun. Zao cao - even mealtimes don't go smooth. He's just about to open his mouth an' put both men firmly in their place when Inara speaks.
"I've had something like this before. On Bellerephon." Mal knows she's lyin'. Don't eat lan dong xi like this on fancy rocks like Bellerephon. Jayne seems convinced though. He winks at the Companion, glad of her support. "Only I think it had more herbs ... May I?"
She rises from the table and opens one of the food lockers over the counter, pulling out a silver foil pouch. She sprinkles a handful of its contents over the lumpy mix in the casserole dish and gives it a stir. "Try now."
Wash is staring at her in disbelief but dips his fork into the pan. Swallows a mouthful. "Ti wo de pigu!" he exclaims. "That's not half bad now."
Jayne gives him a triumphant sneer. "See? My folks ain't the barbarians you seem to think."
"No, but you can see how a man might jump to a conclusion of the sort," Mal says straight-faced, making Wash and Zoe smile and Jayne frown. Time he put an end to this. "Wash - got word from Badger. Wants a meet on Persephone. Something about a carrier that may be worth a look."
"We still speakin' to Badger, Sir?" Zoe asks. "After Whitefall?"
"Weren't his fault," Mal replies, absent-mindedly fingering the still unhealed wound beneath his shirt. "An' besides - we speak to anyone who's got a job for us. You know that. Only way to keep flyin'. How far we out from that low-life's midden?"
"Week - ten days at the most," Wash tells him. "An' if I fly clever, we should make it all the way to Persephone without runnin' out of fuel."
"Do you expect this job to take you back to Persephone again, Captain?" Inara asks. "I have several clients based there ..." Mal shoots her a is-there-any-place-in-the-damn-galaxy-you-don't-have-a-ruttin'-client? glare but she continues, unperturbed, "I would like to make appointments with as many of them as possible."
As many as possible?
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.
How many is as many as possible? Mal gulps down a mouthful of water, in a futile attempt to wash the taste of bile from his mouth.
"Expecting a full docket?" Wash asks conversationally.
"Full somethin'!" Jayne guffaws.
Zoe catches the glint in Mal's eye. "Jayne," she warns quietly.
Brother Qingren is dozing before the fire, his open Bible resting against his chest. Book clears his throat and the old man's eyes fly open.
"I have come to say my farewells," he says simply, brown eyes welling with emotion. "I hope this will not be the last ..." He can't finish the sentence. Bites it off before there's any mention of mortality or uncertainty.
Qingren gets to his feet and clasps Book in a warm embrace. "I am sure it will not be. There will always be a home for you here. Only -" he pushes the other man back a little so he can look him in the eye - "don't come back until you're sure it is home, not a prison."
"I will. Xie-xie, lao peng you."
"Walk with God."
"Qing wa cao de liu mang," Mal curses - not exactly under his breath - as a jagged edge on the handhold slices through the skin between his thumb and forefinger leaving a raw gash.
Inara steps out of her shuttle into the hallway to see him sucking on the cut. "Is there something wrong, Captain?"
"Gorram rail," he mutters, examining the wound. It's deeper than he'd expected and there's a lot of blood.
"You should put a bandage on that," Inara tells him."Ma shang."
Mal don't take kindly to be bein' told what to do. "Should I?" he snaps back at her. "Tell you what - you worry about your whorin' an' I'll worry about my bleedin' ..."
She ignores him. Simply catches his wrist in her cool hand. The unexpected touch makes him jump but he's too surprised to pull away. "I have something to stop the bleeding. Although -" she gives him the kind of full-on smile that generally reduces strong men to putty, " - I doubt you have anything to stop my whoring. Come in."
He glowers at her but enters the shuttle anyway. He looks around, taking in the lush fabrics, the sweet scent of incense and oils. Inara doesn't so much walk as glide over to a cabinet from which she removes a small case. She takes out a tube of cream and something in a cellophane wrapper.
"Give me your hand," she orders, adding "Please," just in time to stop him bolting.
It feels all kind of strange to be touched like this. To feel his hand resting in hers. Her palm is smooth as the silk of her dress. Against it his own hand is too rough, too big. He swallows uncomfortably as she begins to massage the cream into the cut and almost flinches.
"Does it sting? Sorry. But it will slow the bleeding. There," she lifts his hand for closer inspection and he can feel the warmth of her breath as she continues. "It's working already."
Could be. Then again, it could be his blood's found some place else to go.
"Yeah. Great." He pulls his hand from hers, looking away in embarassment. His glance falls on the Cortex link screen in the corner of the room. Looks like a diary entry. He can't help but read it. Atherton Wing: April 17thth (UAP revised calendar). Well there's one fella whose blood flow's gonna be more'n a mite predicatable that day. "Got customers lined up already?" he remarks, a touch unpleasantly.
Inara smiles as she hands him the bandage pack. "I'm much in demand."
Five of them ... an' he cou'n't do a damn thing about it..
"Fixed it for now," Kaylee announces as she reaches the top of the stairs leading onto the bridge. "But that compression coil's not gonna last forever." She casts an appealing look at Zoe who's sitting on the arm of her husband's seat.
"I'll let the Captain know," Zoe says, folding her arms as if bracing herself in advance for Mal's reaction to a request for money they ain't got. "When he's in an accommodatin' frame of mine."
Wash grins knowingly. "If it's accommodating you're looking for, sweet-cakes, perhaps you should get Inara to ask him."
Zoe arches an eyebrows. "Meaning?"
Wash looks mightly pleased to have noticed something about her precious Captain that his wife hasn't. "He likes her. Don't tell me you haven't seen the way he looks at her."
Zoe's face betrays nothing of the satisfaction she feels at the knowledge her plan is working. In fact she frowns, making a good job of looking doubtful. "Heard him snipin' at her. An' her at him."
Wash laughs. "You mean like we used to? Before your inevitable surrender to my manly charms?"
Delighted that the grain of sand is becoming a pearl, Zoe allows herself a half-smile. Beside her Kaylee is all wide-eyed excitement. "You think the Cap'n might fall in love with her, Zoe?" she asks hopefully. "She's real nice an' she'd make a beautiful bride. An' the Cap'n'd be so shuai as a groom."
"Don't know about that .." Zoe begins.
"But you like her, Zoe, don't you?" Kaylee pleads.
"Yes. I like her. But don't you be sayin' anything about this to either of them, dong ma? You do an' like as not the Cap'n'll tell her to leave, jus' to prove us all wrong."
Kaylee nods earnestly, delighted at their romantic conspiracy. "Not a word," she promises.
"Where are you taking me - taking us?" Simon asks, as the larger of the two men bustles him into a battered shuttle. "Are you sure this vehicle's space-worthy?" He's talking too much, asking too many questions, he knows. He has a tendency to babble when nervous.
"May not be the fancy kind o' vessel you're used to," the large one - Yandor - mutters, sealing the outer door, "but she'll get us to the ship all right. Never you mind about that."
Simon looks around him, distaste written all over his face. The musty smell of men who can't have washed since last U-day is bad enough, but the remnants of their last meal are scattered all over the floor, crawling with flies. Yandor laughs a deep, rumbling laugh and slaps Simon on the back. "Maid's day off," he tells him.
All too aware of how his own safety and River's depend on these men, Simon apologizes quickly. "Sorry. It's been a hell of a day."
Yandor's partner, a thick set ginger man in his twenties, gives him a black-toothed leer. "Welcome to the real 'verse, Doc."
"Mmm," Simon mumbles, rolling his eyes from one unsavoury sight to another. It's too much. He shuts them tight and tries to concentrate on what it will be like to be free. On how he and River will laugh about this in the weeks to come.
"Now'd be a good time to settle up," Yandor says, once he's programmed in the shuttle's flight path.
"Ofcourse," Simon reaches into his pocket for his wallet. Coin, they said, not credits. Outlaws don't have the luxury of credit accounts. "We agreed twenty thousand platinum, didn't we."
"Plus four thousand for the cryo box," Yandor's partner says hastily. "Had to get a bigger one than we was plannin'."
Simon nods, aware they are scamming him but with no choice other than to accept their terms. At least that will leave him with enough coin to buy passage to an out-of-the-way planet. If they ask for any more he'll be in real trouble. This morning he discovered all his accounts had been frozen..
Once the money is safely in his pocket, Yandor visibily relaxes. He lights up a cigarette and Simon tries not to splutter as the smoke burns the back of his throat. "Soon have ya on Persephone, Doctor. If you want my advice, you'll make your way to the Eavesdown Docks. They got all sorts there. You won't look out of place - even in them fancy threads."
Simon fingers the expensive fabric of his tailored suit, regretting not having acquired something more appropriate for a life on the run. If he'd had only had more time ... He would have emptied his accounts over a longer period and perhaps have avoided the attention that his major withdrawals in coin attracted. He would have found someone capable of producing forged ID cards. The ones he has are worse than useless bearing, as they do, the name Tam. But the word that they'd got River out of the school came so quickly, he'd had no time. Just had to make a dash for it.
And despite feeling light-headed and a trifle queasy, he doesn't regret it one bit.
"And go for one of the older ships. Nothin' flash. More disreputable-lookin' the better. Junkers is safest for you an' your sis. Alliance like to travel first class."
"Firefly class transport, identify yourself and state your destination."
Mal bristles at the precise, clipped intonation of the metallic voice hailing them. He flicks a switch. "Serenity. Captain Harbatkin speakin'. En route for Persephone."
A pause that seems to stretch into eternity. Then: "There is no record of your having been granted permission to land at that location. By Authority of the Alliance of Unified Plants you are therefore ordered to change course."
Mal slams a fist angrily down onto the control panel.
"Firefly class transport Serenity: I repeat - by Authority of the Alliane ..."
"Yeah, yeah, I hear ya," Mal spits into the mic. So damn close an' they get turned around! Ni tamade tian xia suo you de ren dou gai si! By the time they've found a way to sneak in under the radar, Badger'll've found someone else for the job. Biting his lip with frustration, Mal curls his fists into balls.
An arm reaches past him and an ivory finger tipped with a glossy red nail flicks the comms switch back to the open position. "I am afraid this is all my fault. My name is Inara Serra and I am a Registered Companion. I asked the Captain..." her eyes dart to Mal's face as she tries to recall the false name, " Captain Harbatkin if he would mind taking a detour to Persephone so that I might meet with a client."
Mal realizes his mouth is open and snaps it shut.
"Insert your ID card into your ship's reader please, Miss Serra," the voice crackles back. Mal notes the reverential tone the Alliance uses when talkin' to a whore. Inara slides a wafer of polycarbonate into the reader and waits, beaming at Mal like she's enjoying herself. "Thankyou Miss Serra." A pause. "Firefly class transport Serenity: you are clear to proceed to Persephone."
Mal leans forward to kill the link. He catches Zoe's eye. Knows she knows he's seethin' inside. "Bastards," he hisses over his shoulder as he barges past Inara and leaves the room.
"Not at all," Inara calls after him. "It was my pleasure, Captain."
Wash sighs and kisses the tip of Zoe's nose. "I am the luckiest man in the whole of the gorram 'verse!" he declares, meaning it. "An' you, my woolly one, are the best wife a man could wish for. You know sometimes," he murmurs, tenderly stroking her cheek, "I watch you sleeping an' I think it's me that's dreaming. Doesn't seem possible I could have you at all - let alone all to myself."
Zoe takes his face between her hands and kisses him long and sweet. "Well you have."
Wash's smile turns a bit shame-faced. "An' to think I used to worry about you and Mal. I'm sorry I ever ... I know you never ..."
"Shhh," she whispers. "There's no need to say anything ..."
He nods, rolls onto his side and pulls her up against him. Within mintures, the slow steady sound of his breathing tell her he's asleep.
'I know you never...'
Zao cao! She hadn't meant to lie to him. And maybe it wasn't a lie. Because that wasn't Mal. Not really. Oh, it was his body all right but that wasn't him. Mal would never've ... If she'd been expecting it, she'd've hit him back. As it was, it took all her strength to scrabble out from under him. To get away.
They never spoke about it. She read the pain in his eyes the next day and knew it wasn't him, wasn't her. So they never spoke about it. And gradually it was buried, alongside all the other corpses from their past.
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Title: This isn't home
Series Name: Trauma Medicine
Author: Kispexi2 [email]
Details: Work-In-Progress | PG-13 | gen | 23k | 10/09/04
Characters: Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, Book
Pairings: Z/W M/Z(implied) M/I(UST)
Summary: Book leaves the abbey, Simon's on the run. Inara and Mal annoy one another.
Notes: vague spoilers for Serenity
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