Disclaimer: All the good is Joss'. Blame me for the rest!
WARNING Spoilers for "Ariel"
RATING - I don't honestly know. Probably not quite an 'R' but maybe a little stronger than an NC-13?
TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 13
An interesting day.
Mal's pupils dilate, constrict and dilate again. Sure signs he's awake and focusing. Simon can't move. Can hardly even breathe. The muscles of his face seem to have congealed into an expression of absolute horror. All he can do is look into eyes so deep he could drown in them. Drowning - now there's a solution to the predicament he finds himself in. Right now he wouldn't turn down spontaneous combustion either. Or perhaps Jayne could finally make good on his repeated promises to end him. Anything rather than have to face the consequences of what he's just done. He kissed Mal. Shit! The best he can hope for now is a lifetime of humiliation - pointed comments, double-entendres. Mal has a cruel streak he knows will revel in being able to make him squirm. He'll probably keep it to himself for a while and let Simon sweat, never knowing when the others will find out. Oh God, he's going to make Simon suffer for this.
Mal inhales and his lips part slightly. Tamade - is he going to start right now?
The waiting is excruciating ....
And then the Captain's lids flutter closed again. His chest rises and falls in a steady rhythm and he looks for all the 'verse like a man in a deep, deep sleep. Except Simon knows he isn't.
The medic remains rooted to the spot, not daring to move. Mal can feel him there, hovering, just inches away. He can feel the warmth radiating from him and smell the clean, slightly sharp scent of him. How does he manage to stay so clean when there's so little water on Serenity? A vivid image of how Mal could dirty him up some flashes through his mind and it takes all his control not to reach out and grab the Doc by the back of his neck. A minute passes - maybe two - then there's a creak and the sound of retreating footsteps. Cooler air rushes in to fill the sudden emptiness above. Where is that boy? Still in the infirmary, Mal is sure. Simon Tam's far too conscientious to leave seriously injured patients unattended. Most like he's watchin' from across the room ... So Mal keeps still, keeps his breathin' steady, and wonders if he's managin' to fool the Doc. Because - despite the havin' been shot and the drugs crawlin' through his system - Mal knows somebody jus' kissed him. And that that somebody - unlikely as it seems - has to've been Simon. Don't make no sense. The boy don't even like him much. Oh sure - he's grateful that Mal offered him sanctuary from the Alliance. He maybe even feels a bit of grudgin' respect for the way he captains his boat. But he don't like him. Two of them got about as much in common as Mal's got with Inara. So why the hell'd he do such a thing? Afraid Mal's gonna sell him out to the Feds now the reward for him and li'l sis 's gone up? Or out of some twisted notion of payin' for the two of 'em's keep? Could be - Core folk is like that. They think sex is a commodity like genseed or ammunition an' use it to get rich or advance their position. Case in point: Inara. Well, Mal don't approve of Simon sellin' his body no more than he does of Inara sellin' hers. An' he sure as hell ain't gonna be buyin'. Come to think of it, he feels mighty insulted Simon imagines he would. Gotta mind to tell him so too. Ask him what the diyu he thinks he's doin' why he ain't no more sly than Mal is. Thinkin' about a thing an' doin' it are two very different things. On the other hand - no. Best plan is to pretend that kiss never happened. Cos he ain't gonna take advantage of the boy. Not like that ... Whoa! Not never.
Ever since he saw that number Jayne ain't slept well. Most of the time, durin' workin' hours, he can push it to the back of his mind, but soon as he's alone in his bunk it keeps lightin' up his brain. Two hundred and fifty thousand platinum. He di'n't get a real good look at the page 'fore Mal switched it off so he ain't sure whether the reward was jus' for Simon Tam or for him an' his sister. Wou'n't matter much to Jayne. Be damn glad to see the back of both of 'em. Money'd be a kinda bonus.
The Consul is a very powerful man. An angry very powerful man. The Director's comprehensive knowledge of the penalties that lie within his power to assign make him exceedingly grateful that he has something the Consul needs. Something no-one else can give him. Even if he doesn't exactly have it to hand.
"There's already been an uprising on Augustus," the Consul fumes. "And yesterday we received reports of suspicious activity on Portia. The insurgents are becoming ever bolder, Director. It would be unwise to delay further. I want the girl activated. We must implement the imprinting process immediately."
The impossibility of complying with this request brings a bead of sweat to the Director's forehead and makes him regret his career choice bitterly. He should have stayed in mainstream medicine. Certainly he would not have become so obscenely wealthy but neither would he be in the unenviable position of having to lie to the Consul.
"Certainly, High Consul - if that is your wish. However, I should inform you that, according to Research -" a disbelieving little laugh adds a touch of authenticity here "- the girl has the capacity for extraordinary skills of perception and precognition which they were hoping to develop to their fullest extent. Also, given her physical frailty, some muscular enhancement would probably be desirable. Of course, this would require some time ..." He pauses to let the seed of doubt take root in the Consul's mind. "And the girl may already be adequate for your purposes. She does not need to be one hundred percent effective ..."
The Consul frowns and taps his foot. "Is one hundred percent efficacy even achievable?"
Oh, renci Fozu - he's taken the bait! If the Director's cunning, it won't take much to reel him in. Gently now ... "Not normally, Your Excellency. But in this case ..." He shrugs, seemingly doubtful himself, "It appears to be a possibility. But surely not a necessity? After all none of your rivals has anything ..."
"How long do you need?"
"Two months. Three at most."
"All right - do it! It may be worth the wait. We both know I have bigger fish to fry than browncoat scum on backwater planets."
"Thank you, High Consul. I'm sure you won't be disappointed."
A week ago it seemed like a good plan. Simple. Jus' pretend it never happened. Never mention it his own self and rely on the boy bein' too tight-wound to wanna start down that road. After all - least said, soonest mended.
But as soon as Mal steps down into the kitchen, Simon gets up from his seat and hurriedly scoops his unfinished meal into the garbage chute. He exits the room without a word, leaving Mal all kinds of frustrated. Yesu tamade but this is drivin' him feng le! Simon ain't looked him in the eye since it happened an' ain't answered him back not once. Mal misses his snippy wit, his way of sayin' somethin' sharp jus' when Mal's sure he's got him beat. Now he's always got some excuse for leavin' any room Mal's in. Always gotta be scuttlin' away like Mal's gonna bite him. No - don't think about that. Don't think about markin' that pretty skin. Think about how to fix this.
"Open up. See what's inside." River's words make the hairs on the back of Mal's neck stand up. Damn but that girl is creepifyin'. "Thinks you're mad."
He looks at her, tryin' to figure whether she knows what she's sayin'. "Mad as in like to punch him? Or mad as in ... ?" He circles his forefinger round and round near his temple.
"Yes," she nods enthusiastically like he's managed to wrap his skull around a really difficult notion.
He rolls his eyes. "Well, thanks for clarifyin'. That's a great help."
She pokes her tongue out at him and dances away after her brother.
Mal sighs. So, the Doc thinks he's mad at him. That explains the repeated disappearin' act. Mal ain't mad. He jus' wants things to be back the way they were. Why does everythin' have to keep changin'? He grits his teeth. There's no getting' away from it - he's gonna have to talk to the boy. Explain things - how Simon don't owe him nothin', how bein' ship's medic is more'n enough to pay his fare an' his sister's too. How he don't need to be offerin' nothin' more.
A hazy coil of blue smoke rises from the incense burner, filling the shuttle with the scent of nasturtium, meadow saffron and yarrow. The very air around Inara is a prayer as she sits cross-legged and with eyes closed in silent supplication. She knows she should not trouble the Infinite with a matter of such insignificance and yet she cannot do this alone. She is not strong enough.
He has made her weak.
A knock at the door interrupts her entreaties for help in relinquishing the selfish desires that plague her and she is glad of the distraction.
"Can I come in?" Zoe asks, He body is tense and her expression guarded. She eyes the incense burner warily.
"Would you like some tea?" Inara asks, placing a gilt dome over the burner to extinguish the glowing embers and contain the smoke. After all, the prayer is hers, not Zoe's.
"No. No - thank you. I need to talk to you about the Captain. About you and the Captain."
A serene smile betrays nothing of the turmoil Inara feels. "Yes?"
Zoe looks embarrassed. An unnerving event in itself. "Don't wanna tell you how to do your job .. but, could be it's time to up the ante."
"Really? May I ask why?"
Zoe hesitates. Should she explain? Tell the Companion the Captain's gone and let hisself have feelin's for the Doctor? An' that she's seem somethin' that's convinced her they're reciprocated? An' that if the Captain's fool enough to bed the boy it'll go badly cos ever since the war the Captain likes to beat up his lovers - which by the way I shoulda mentioned before, but you're a professional and've probably had worse - an' if he does that to the boy the ship's like to end up without a medic an' then who's gonna patch up the stupid sonofabitch when his latent deathwish has him takin' another dumbass decision like orderin' his crew to leave him to die alone? She takes a deep breath and clenches her jaw. And lies through her teeth. "Saw him readin' up on that rebellion on Augustus. Afraid he's maybe plannin' on joinin' the Independents there. He does that - ain't no way he's comin' back alive. You gotta stop him. Give him somethin' to look forward to instead of back."
Inara reads most people very well but Zoe has always been a challenge. Her face gives little away, even to an Academy-trained Companion. And yet Inara's intuition tells her there's something wrong with the other woman's story. Zoe means enough of it to be convincing, but some of it is unquestionably a lie.
"Am I to understand you think my taking to bed with the Captain will fill him with hope for the future and the strength to go on?" She smiles. "Well, I am very flattered, but I wouldn't make such extravagant claims myself."
Zoe isn't used to feelin' powerless. She can't make this an order, can't threaten nor bargain. That leaves beggin'. Oh hell ... "I'm worried 'bout him, Inara. He was ready to die when that damn part blew. Think part of him still is. He likes you. You like him. Please."
Inara's heart does a little flip at the unexpected word. She glances down at the gilt dome. Is this her answer? And is it really the one she wanted? Because if so, why is she suddenly panicking at the prospect of affording Malcolm Reynolds the same service she's given to hundreds of other men? Why does she see her freedom ebbing away? Why? Because it wouldn't be about her servicing him. It would be about her wanting something back. Feifei de piyan! This job wasn't supposed to be about loving Malcolm Reynolds and yet she does. Keeping that a secret is the only way Inara has of holding onto herself. There has to be a way out of this. Or at least a way of stalling until she feels stronger. And then it comes to her ... An excuse so feeble, no-one could doubt it.
She stands and smooths the folds out of her silk gown with a graceful sweep of her hands. "He may not yield to my charms as readily you think," she says with a cool smile. "But, given your concerns, I will certainly try to advance our relationship." Zoe presses her hands together in a gesture of thanks, but Inara continues, "As soon as I have undergone my annual medical. I must have a clean bill of health in order to practice as a Companion. Besides, I would like to know all is well myself since I have several clients for whom I - as the Captain so delicately phrases it - 'spread' ."
Zoe grins. "You gonna get the Doc to check you out? Better be on standby then, to scrape him up off the floor. Not sure he's ever ..."
"Oh, no. I'm afraid Simon isn't accredited with the Guild. I will have to attend a registered clinic."
Zoe's eyes narrow, but Inara is the picture of earnest innocence. "Okay," she says slowly, "But after that ..."
Inara nods enthusiastically. "Absolutely. In fact, I'm looking forward to it!"
Mal's outside the infirmary. It ain't like him to feel nervous an' yet he does. The mere sight of Simon through the window sets his guts hoppin' about like rabbits in spring. Realizing his hands are clammy, he rubs them dry on the seat of his pants and steels hisself for A Personal Chat.
Simon is fiddling with the hydraulics on the exam table, and if he hears Mal come in, he doesn't show it. Mal stands in awkward silence for a moment, wishin' River would say somethin' rather than jus' ruttin' well sittin' there starin' at him. Finally he gives a little cough.
Simon jumps and nearly bangs his head against the table. When he sees it's Mal his eyes take on a hunted look. They flicker about and Mal knows he's seekin' an escape route. Can't be havin' that. Almost unconsciously he moves to block the doorway. "Hey, Doc," he says lightly if lamely.
He watches the medic's Adam's apple bob up and down. "Captain .... "
Sounds a mite scared. Tamade - shoulda got Zoe to do this.
"Captain ..." Simon reaches for his notes and suddenly he's all brisk professionalism. "How are you feeling? Is your wound giving you any pain at all?"
"Some. Not enough to keep me awake at nights." His eyes meet Simon's. Got somethin' else to fret over durin' the small hours these days, boy. Need to tell you ...
"There's no merit in suffering unnecessarily, Captain," Simon replies stiffly, opening a cupboard and practically diving into it. "I have some painkillers which may offer some relief."
"Don't want no painkillers," Mal snaps. Gotta keep this conversation on course. He walks over and slams the cupboard door shut more noisily than he'd intended. Simon takes a step back and would take more if Mal's hand weren't now on his shoulder.
"There ain't no need for this, Doc," he says quietly. "I ain't mad ..."
"Self-diagnosis is notoriously inaccurate." Being flippant in highly charged emotional situations has always been Simon's way of hiding his feelings, and comments like this come easily enough. They usually make people laugh, but not Mal. Instead he looks almost sad.
"What you did, Simon ..." He's still holding the medic by the shoulder and tightens his grip as he tries to pull away. "I ain't mad ... it's jus' ..."
"Inappropriate?" the medic asks bitterly, wrenching himself free. "Unethical? I can't argue with that, Captain. And if you want to leave me behind the next time we make planetfall, I'll understand." He's gone even paler than usual and his eyes are downcast. "In fact, I think I might prefer it."
"No-one's getting' left," Mal tells him firmly. "Least of all you ..." His dress sense, the boy's hardly like to pass unnoticed on any planet. Wou'n't be long 'fore someone was rattin' him out to the Feds. What'd happen to him then? Prison at the very least. Mal's seen the inside of more'n one Alliance jail an' knows, for all he ain't weak, that Simon Tam would probably lose his mind in one. "Need a medic on this boat. An' besides, you an' River are always gonna be safer on the move. You know that."
Simon does know. He raises his eyes and studies Mal's face. Is he really prepared to just forget about it? Or will his opinion of Simon have changed forever? Does he despise him now? Men from backwater planets like Shadow tend to have some fairly unenlightened views on sexual orientation and even if Mal's not the type for sly-bashing, his morality is pretty strict and uncompromising. Did Simon's kiss imply he thought it might not be? Oh, how insulting was that?! He nods. "Yes, Captain. I do. But I don't want to stay if things ... if you ..." His hands are flutterin' nervously about his face, almost touchin' it and then not. Mal suppresses the urge to still them between his own. "Oh God, Mal - I wish I hadn't. I didn't mean to offend you ..."
"Offend?!" Mal snorts out a surprised laugh before forcing a more serious expression. "Wo de ma, you thought you'd offended me?"
"Mmm. I know we don't exactly get along. You don't even like me. And then I had to do something stupid ..." He shakes his head, angry at himself.
"Like you well enough," Mal grunts and looks away. How the diyu he end up confessin' that? This ain't nowhere he wants to go. Don't wanna tell the boy he's missed him this past week. Nor that the urge to touch him keeps creepin' up on him unexpectedly. Don't wanna ... an' yet he's dangerously close to doin' jus' that. Every time he looks into that boy's eyes.
Simon realizes they're staring at one another and that Mal is on the verge of saying something. For some reason he's got this eerie feeling that it's something he wants to hear. He waits. Mal blinks. His eyes are very blue.
Like Simon's. River smiles. "Fearful symmetry," she says, clapping her hands and the tension breaks. Simon rolls his eyes and Mal grins. "Gotta find a way to make it fit," River continues eagerly, taking first her brother and then Mal by the hand. "Nearly there."
Simon quickly disengages her hands. As he does so his fingers brush against Mal's and both men recoil a little from the tingle the contact generates. River giggles. "Getting warmer! Nearly on fire!"
"Fire? That ruttin' moonbrain start a fire now?" Jayne asks, poking his head around the infirmary door. "Gorram dangerous little freak!"
River tosses her hair haughtily. Jayne is a girl's name but Jayne is not a girl. It's a deception. Part of his camouflage. In green and brown, it's hard to be found. Turncoat. Never see him in his true colours.
"My sister is not a freak," Simon snarls. "She's just a kid. A kid the government decided to experiment on."
Just a kid. But they took her anyway. And there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
Jayne laughs nastily and Simon feels an urgent need to hurt him. The stupid great brute is a malignancy on this ship. Something that needs to be excised. Cut out. Simon's a surgeon. He has sharp knives that would slice easily enough through that thick skin. Make the leering wangba dan bleed.
"'s all right, Doc," Mal says quietly to Simon but he's glaring at Jayne. "I got this. Now Jayne, let me make this abundantly clear to you." He grabs a fistful of the mercenary's shirt and yanks him out of the room. "This thing between you an' the Doc. Better put an end it Jayne - 'fore my patience runs out, dong ma?"
Jayne mutters something about his preferred way of putting an end to it and stomps off. Mal turns back to Simon, more certain of what he wants to say now. "Far as I'm concerned, boy, it never happened. So you can stop worryin' about me bein' mad an' concentrate on fixin' your sis."
Simon smiles weakly and watches him go. As far as Mal's concerned, it never happened.
"All I'm saying is, not everybody wants a religious ceremony," Wash explains to Book as he deals out the cards. "Take me an' Zoe, for example. First of all, we didn't have access to a preacher. And then there was that whole giving-the-bride-away thing - which, seein' as how he was Captain, Mal would've had to do. Zoe wasn't comfortable with that. Mal wasn't comfortable with that. And neither was I. So we just did the civil thing. Logged onto the Cortex and BAM! Man and wife."
Inara laughs and winks at Kaylee. "You make it sound so romantic!"
"Oh, it was plenty romantic, let me tell you." Wash grins at the memory. "Specially later on ..."
"If'n I get married, I wanna have a real big ceremony with all my folks an' friends," Kaylee declares dreamily, her eyes sparkling. "Want flowers an' bells an' choirs singin'- girls in pretty dresses ... an' me in the prettiest dress of all!"
Jayne frowns. Fancy affairs like that cost more money than he makes in a year. T'aint right that some folk got all the money an' others got next to nothin'. He'd like to buy Kaylee all them things she wants, but how's he ever gonna do that? He ain't no fancy rich boy. His thoughts slip bitterly to Simon Tam. Bet his family could afford all that. Jayne's nose wrinkles with satisfaction as he realizes ain't no 'could' about it no more. Not now their son's a wanted fugitive. More chance of him ending his days in an Alliance jail than walkin' down the aisle. Even if he wa'n't sly.
"What 'bout you, 'Nara?" Kaylee asks the Companion as she sorts through her hand. "What kinda weddin' d'you want? If you married one of your clients, you could have a real fancy one!" She teases and then asks seriously, "You ever wanted to marry any of your clients?"
Inara has to turn her head whilst she composes herself but her objective is sabotaged by Mal's arrival in the commons. He answers for her, his tone heavy with contempt. "Nah, Kaylee. Inara don't wanna get married. She did that, she'd have to give up playin' the fancy lady!"
Inara would say something cutting in return if only she could think of something. Instead she just glares and he flashes her a brittle hostile smile. Mal likes this dance. Could do it for hours. Inara''s smart and beautiful and completely untouchable. Bein' with her don't scare him half as much as bein' with the Doc does.
Book clears his throat. "Captain ... I was wondering ... I mean, I know-" a glance at Wash - "We'll be passing in the vicinity of Ariel soon. If at all possible, I should like to spend a few days at the Bathgate Abbey."
Mal flops down into a chair. "Needin' to top up your religiosity, Preacher?" he asks, helping himself to a swig from the bottle on the table.
"Something like that, yes."
"Going to Ariel would suit me too," Inara puts in. "I was saying to Zoe earlier it's almost time for my annual check-up." She gives Mal a sarcastic smile. "So that I can continue playing the fancy lady. And earning enough to pay the rent that keeps you in fuel. Captain."
Mal shrugs. "OK. We ain't in no particular hurry. Not like we got a job or nothin'."
Jayne scratches the side of his nose. "Ain't Ariel a Core planet?"
"Yup," Mal answers with a sneer. "Whole gorram place crawlin' with Feds."
Jayne rubs his chin. "Thought so."
You're hungry, so hungry the emptiness could devour you. And you crave something to fill you. Something warm and sweet and yours. Something to wash away the bitter taste of shadows and ashes ...
River looks at the food he's offering and pouts. "I don't want it," she complains but Simon insists. "River, you have to eat. It's good, it tastes like ..." He swallows a forkful. "It's good."
"Smells likes crotch," Jayne comments unhelpfully as Simon and River take a seat at the table. The others seem to be debating the merits of shore leave on Ariel but Simon's more concerned about his sister. Her crazy spells are coming more frequently and her moments of lucidity are dwindling. He doesn't want to try the Captain's patience any further ... A kick to his chair from Wash draws Simon into the discussion. "But not boring like she made it sound." The pilot is asking for a little support. "There's uh ..."
"There's... there's hiking. You can go swimming in a bioluminescent lake," Simon supplies, but Zoe isn't convinced and then Mal announces that no-one's leaving the ship anyway. His decision is not met with universal approval. Jayne expresses his displeasure by spitting on one of the big knives he wears in his belt. He starts polishing it vigorously. At the table. The man is utterly revolting. "Can you not do that ... ever?" Simon grimaces.
The mercenary retaliates by spitting again and Simon isn't surprised that River gets up from the table.
"So - two days in a hospital, huh?" Wash asks Inara sympathetically. "That's awful. Don't you just hate doctors?"
"Hey!" Simon objects.
"I mean, present company excluded," the pilot adds hastily.
"Don't be excludin' people," Jayne chides him. "That'd be rude."
He's flying under false colours. Like a pirate with his cutlass in hand. River picks up the knife. But is it the colours that are false? She walks swiftly back to the table. Or the man himself? Simon's a surgeon. He uses knives to make people better. She raises her arm -
and slashes Jayne across his chest with the blade. His colours change in the blink of an eye. And he backhands her painfully.
brought the back of his hand down hard across her mouth ... he could still hear the muffled whimperin'.
Suddenly there's shouting and everyone is running about. Simon is at her side. Inara and Wash too.
Mal and Zoe rush over to Jayne, not simply to check the wound but also restrain him from seeking further retaliation. That ain't gonna happen. Mal feels sick enough already.
Then li'l Kaylee is there too, eyes wettin' up with concern for Jayne. Makes gettin' cut on almost worthwhile.
Simon is mortified and more terrified by Mal's quiet calmness than he is of his punches. He knows he's thinking this out. Weighing up whether River's too big a risk to keep on his ship. This is all Simon's fault. If he'd kept his mind on treating her illness, he might have found a drug that worked by now. It's a punishment, that's what it is.
"Gorram freak's completely off her axle," Jayne growls.
"I'm sorry about this," Simon apologizes, mostly to Mal. "I don't know why she ..."
"Not talkin' to you," his patient hisses. "She's gotta go. They both gotta go. Ariel's as good a place to leave 'em as any. Might even pick us up a reward for our troubles."
Simon curses him inwardly but continues stitching the gash on his chest. All of a sudden he feels very cold and alone.
"No-one's gettin' left," Mal says firmly, repeating his words of earlier and giving the doctor a crumb of hope.
"She belongs in a bughouse," Jayne argues. "You don't pitch her off this boat ... I swear ..."
Mal leans in under the light and gets right in the big man's face. "What? What do you swear, Jayne?" he demands menacingly.
Jayne's eyes slide off to the side. "They don't get gone," he mutters, "You better start locking up your room at night. Next time li'l sis gets in a murderin' mood, might be you she comes callin' on. Maybe Kaylee. Or Inara." Simon glances at Mal. What he sees on his face is like a knife to his own heart. "You let 'em stay, we're gonna find out."
If he thought it would help, Simon would be on his knees right now. Begging. Mal doesn't even look at him. "Finish your work, Doctor." He stares hard at Jayne. "This is my boat. They're part of my crew. No-one's gettin' left. Best you get used to that."
Since when did Simon ruttin' Tam take precedence over Jayne? "You owe me a shirt," he spits at the medic as he stalks out of the room.
Simon's mouth is full of apologies and promises but Mal doesn't give him time to utter them. There's a touch of flint in his eyes as he issues his order. "She's to stay confined to her room at all times, no exceptions. You want to take her to the kitchen, the infirmary - whatever - you ask me first, you understand."
They'll never even be friends, let alone lovers. Mal is the Captain and Simon must do as he says. "I do."
Then Mal twists the knife again. "When I took you an' your sister in, the deal was you keep her in check. You can't keep up your end, we're gonna have to revisit the deal." Simon wonders if he's still angry with him after all and hangs his head miserably in the brief pause that follows. "She's gettin' worse, isn't she?"
Simon nods once."Yes."
"Dreamt about hitting you," River tells Simon, as he rummages through his bag for a syringe.
"Did you *mei]mei*?" he asks distractedly. "Why? What had I done?"
"Not me. The Captain. Mal."
Simon's blood runs cold. There's no way she could know that but if it were true it wouldn't surprise him in the least.
"Trembling with tenderness, lips that would kiss," River smiles wistfully, and presses a finger against her brother's mouth. "Between the desire and the spasm falls the Shadow."
She's crazy. Really, really crazy. How is Simon supposed to deal with that? He doesn't even know what's been done to her. If he could just scan her brain, it might give him some idea of how to proceed. But for that he needs access to a neural imager and you only find that kind of sophisticated equipment on a Core planet.
"Ariel's the Core," River points out and Simon has the distinct impression she just read his mind.
Gotta admire the boy. He's thought this out. Might even work. Mal listens attentively as Simon outlines his plan. "Obviously we can't steal everything we need. Any illegal activity in the planning stage could end this thing before it begins." He catches Mal's eye and receives a nod of agreement. "Ariel City hospital contracts with a municipal junkyard for its large disposables. Big hospitals mean big waste. We'll have to look like we belong. That means uniforms, ID badges ... all these items are easy to obtain."
Mal grins encouragingly and Simon returns his smile. Maybe they could be friends after all. Simon hopes so.
Mal ain't so sure. Cos what Simon's doin' here is takin' charge. Makin' the plan. Executin' the plan. No-one givin' him orders. An' Mal likes it. An' don't. Could be he's jus' not used to sharin' responsibility. Could be he don't want to. Ai ya, Simon Tam's got his head all messed up!
"Pupils were fixed and dilapidated ..."
"Dilated," Simon corrects him gently.
"Qingwa cao de liumang!" Mal curses. This'd be so much easier if he di'n't have to pay such close attention to what Simon is sayin'. If he di'n't have to watch that mouth form words like 'pupils'. An' if Simon wa'n't gazin' back at him so intently. He tries again. "By the time we got there, the patients were cyanotic and ... uh, non-responsive. We tried but we couldn't revive - resuscitate - them. Despite our best efforts ... " Simon is hangin' on his every word, his lips slightly parted like someone expectin' a kiss. Mal's brain shorts. "They kicked!"
The medic ignores the error and rewards Mal's earlier efforts with a genuine smile. Boy's got a real nice way of leadin', Mal realizes. Never heard so much praise flyin' about his boat as in the past few days. Or seen people so eager to earn it. Wash was practically glowin' when Simon told him he'd done an amazin' job on that 'copter. An' even Mal gets a warm glow when the Doc lets him know he's done good.
"What about the cortical electrodes?" Simon directs the question unexpectedly at Jayne.
The mercenary looks startled. "Yeah .. we, uh ... they, uh ... I don't ruttin' know!" he snaps defensively.
'Course, Mal reminds himself, gentle leadership don't work on the likes of Jayne. Some men need the threat of a beatin' to keep 'em in line.
That was a gorram stroke of luck - the contact arrangin' the meet by the vidphone. Gives Jayne a perfect excuse to be here. Even if Mal were to come round the corner right now he wou'n't be suspicious. Don't wanna be alertin' him to the scheme jus' yet cos his first reaction'll be to punch Jayne an' call him all manner of stupid. But he'll come round. Sure he will. When Jayne counts out his share of the reward.
The mercenary consults the palm of his hand and punches the number he copied down from the Cortex screen into the number pad.
"That's it," Simon encourages Zoe as she tentatively prods at a vein on his inner elbow with the needle. "But you need more pressure to puncture the skin."
Mal closes his eyes, glad as all glory he ordered Zoe to do this. Too many layers of meanin' in it for him. Breakin' the boy's skin. Enterin' his body. Killin' him. No, it ain't a job Mal could do.
A little more force on Zoe's part and the needle slides in. Her relief is palpable..
"Now depress the plunger," Simon tells her. "Slowly!"
Zoe does as instructed, one corner of her mouth lifting as the irony of this hits her. Well, she did tell the Doctor she'd kill him on Mal's order.
River is already unconscious in her coffin-like body bag and now Simon climbs up into his and lies back. Already he can feel his pulse slowing and it's hard to hold onto a thought. "You ... you remember how ... to wake me up?" The question to Mal is slurred and before he gets his answer, Simon slips into unconsciousness.
Jayne slams down both lids enthusiastically and waggles his eyebrows at Mal.
Mal got no problem with this bit. Wakin' them back up. He injects the antidote into River and moves onto Simon. His arm is cold and lifeless and touchin' it makes Mal shudder. Quickly he administers the drug, part of him wishin' he could stay to watch Simon come round. Be the first thing those keen blue eyes see when they open again ... But that ain't the plan. He turns to Jayne.
"That should bring them out of it in a few minutes. As soon as they're up, get them to the imagin' suite, let Simon do his thing and then haul it back to the roof. Fifty minutes."
Jayne's tempted to tell Mal his genius plan but decides the Captain's more likely to see reason with a wad of platinum in his paw. "Got it."
Inara enters House Anming with a sense of profound relief. The House Priestess is waiting for her and ushers her into a private room.
Inara curtsies respectfully. "Thank you for receiving me at such short notice, Ning-Shun."
"Not at all. You sounded in great distress, mei-mei."
A single tear spills for Inara's eyes. "That is because I am weak, Ning-Shun, despicably weak." The other woman dismisses the claim with an indulgent smile and encourages her to go on. "I made a sacred vow but ..." Her voice falters. "I am struggling with it. I need help."
"And the nature of this vow?"
"I offered my hopes for a relationship with a man to the Infinite in exchange for his safety."
"I see. But your feelings for him persist?"
"Persist and grow," Inara admits miserably. "And I'm afraid there's more ..." The House Priestess has such a sympathetic demeanour, Inara find herself telling her the whole story, from how Zoe engaged her services in the first place to how the friction between her and Mal gradually changed into mutual attraction and finally to how Zoe is convinced that Inara may be the only thing standing between Mal and an early death.
The older woman closes her eyes and rocks her chair back and forward. "A not inconsiderable problem, mei-mei," she concedes. Inara waits in silence. Finally the House Priestess rises and moves over to a black lacquered cabinet. She withdraws a box of some size and hands it over. "What I give you here is not for every day use. The serum you already use - as you know, that is for the body. This is for the spirit. It is very powerful and only for use when the pain seems unbearable. Or as a preventative in circumstances where your resolve is liable to weaken. Dong ma?"
"Good." A sad smile. "I will pray you stay strong, mei-mei. Never forget that the Infinite is not to be trifled with."
"Alprazaline's a painkiller not a ..." the young intern starts to protest but he's cut off by a coldly furious Simon.
"Unless you combine it with droxine, which as any first year should know is the standard prep medicine your patient was taking before his surgery. Your patient should be dead." Simon returns the intern's stethoscope with a little too much force. The younger man looks suitable chastened.
Jayne is not impressed. He snorts disdainfully. Core folk mus' be pretty damn spineless if they lets theirselves be pushed around by the likes of Simon Tam. Bet not a single one of these white-coated sha gua knows how to handle a gun - not even the men. Jayne signals to Simon to hurry the diyu up. There's a whole pile of cash waitin' for him downstairs an' he's eager to make its acquaintance.
"How much we get?" Wash asks.
"'Nough to keep us flyin'," Mal replies, still reelin' a bit from the value of their haul.
"Can we fly somewhere with a beach?" Zoe asks with a wide grin at her husband.
He takes the idea and runs with it. "Maybe a naked beach?" Zoe hugs him excitedly and they kiss.
"Cut it out," Mal orders suddenly superstitious that celebratin' to soon will mean trouble. "Job ain't done till we're back on Serenity."
"Sorry, Sir. Didn't mean to enjoy the moment." Zoe's sarcastic apology is tinged with sadness. Cos for some reason she's rememberin' the day Cody Bain an' the Sarge brought down that Alliance hover-plane by stuffin' a handful of grizwalds into a damn near obsolete rocket launcher. Never mind that there was a whole squad of enemy ships comin' in - Mal swept the private up in his arms and was dancin' around yellin' so loud he got winged by sniper fire. She seems to recall that made a nice excuse for him to drag the boy off into the bushes ... Perhaps she didn't oughta be standin' in his way? If he wants the Doc might be best he has him?
"Well, gentleman," the Director says, "This is good news indeed. Very good news." He smiles chillingly. "I have just been informed that the Tams are in custody on Ariel."
Gaunt and Ginger's smiles are no more attractive. "When do we leave."
"Immediately. The sooner we extract them, the less likely it is the girl will have imprinted."
Gaunt purses his lips. "I thought the brother had to ..?"
"Yes, yes," the Director replies impatiently. "And he's hardly likely to just come out with it during questioning. But we can't be sure." His lips peels back in a disgusted leer. "Never know what's likely to pass the his lips at the sight of a man in uniform!"
His subordinates acknowledge the implication with a snicker.
The Director is swiftly business-like again. "And that means, anyone who's spoken with them must be eliminated. No exceptions."
Gaunt and Ginger nod. Sometimes their work is its own reward.
"Time?" Mal asks, instinct naggin' at his gut.
Zoe checks. "Ten minutes past rendezvous."
Too zai zi! "Somethin' happened." Too damn bad he knows what. Don't really need Wash an' Kaylee to confirm it for him.
"Feds got 'em," he declares, dread raising the hairs on his arms. The Feds took 'em an' there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. Not again! For a second or two Mal feels like breakin' things but soon gets a grip on his emotions. Learnt the hard way durin' the way during the war that fallin' apart don't help no-one. Only way to help is take action. His mind is racin'. One thing's sure - he ain't losin' none of his crew. Not today. Not never. That li'l girl needs him an' he needs her brother. For his doctorin' skills. Obviously. Hell, he even needs Jayne."Kaylee, bring up the hospital schematics on the Cortex. Find me a way into the security substation."
Wash is goggle-eyed. Here again is proof positive that Mal is crazy. "You're just gonna walk into the security station through the front door?"
Mal's smile has a you-idiot flavour to it. "No. You're gonna find me a way round the back."
"Guy shoved me," Jayne shrugs. "I shoved back. Not like I was tryin' to mount a rescue."
Simon is touched by the mercenary's modesty. Underneath that gruff exterior, it turns out that Jayne's really quite a decent man. "Still - I appreciate you trying."
The fear and anger at being caught Jayne can deal with but guilt's still too new an emotion for him to handle easily. "You know what I'd appreciate? If you'd stop flappin' that pretty mouth at me. I'm tryin' to think of a way out of here an' I can't do it with you yammerin'."
Simon falls silent and River is confused. Simon's coming adrift. His mooring to the Captain has slipped loose and now he's heading downstream towards the rapids and the waterfall beyond. Is that why he's smiling at Jayne? Why he's flattering him? Is Jayne his last hope? River stares at the mercenary. He reminds her of someone she used to know. No - that's not right. He reminds her of someone Simon used to know. Oh, God. Pain and shame and the fear of someone finding out come crashing down on her. That man hurt Simon - whilst his friend stood by and laughed. It was the holiday ...
"They took Christmas away," she whispers, as the pieces fall into place.
"Christmas?" Jayne asks, bewildered.
"Came down the stairs for the shiny presents, but they took the tree and the stockings. Nothing left but coal." Her brow wrinkles. The man who did that to Simon wasn't Jayne. Jayne tried to save him. Liu koushi de biaozi hehouzi de ben erzi! The water's murky and the tide keeps changing. Jayne is their friend. She smiles at him. "And don't look in the closet either. That's greedy. It's not in the spirit of the holiday."
They're close. River can feel it. She starts to run. Is the screaming her own? No time to worry about that. Sometimes you have to follow your instinct, find your way to the voice that calls you. Even if it means barrelling down corridors with no idea of where they'll lead. Or braving corners so dark demons might live there. If the staircase goes down, you just have to descend it and trust in the voice.
The empty room echoes with the sound of their footstep and the door is locked.
The doors are always locked. It makes people feel safe, even if they suffocate inside.
"This is it," she announces breathlessly. Her eyes shine but the victory is not hers. There's a current between them and all she did was let is carry her.
Door ain't gonna yield to brute force alone, Jayne realizes. Gonna need some fire power. "Stand back." He takes a shot at the door with the rifle Simon handed him earlier but the gorram thing's worse than useless. "Xi niu high-tech Alliance crap!" he mutters angrily before using it as a battering ram on the lock. He can hear the footsteps closin' in on 'em. He bashes harder, not knowin' what caused all that screamin' and not much carin' to.
Suddenly there a loud shotgun blast and the door flies open. Mal and Zoe are standing there, the guns in their hands still smoking.
By force of habit, Mal checks off his crew. One, two, three. River, Simon, Jayne. The hurry-it-up gesture he gives them conveys a nonchalance he don't feel.
River slips her hand into Simon's. "Time to go."
"What happened to your face?" Kaylee asks, indicating the swelling on Jayne's forehead. Ain't that jus' like her, gorram sweet thing that she is?
"Got it shot," Jayne answers. He'd like to revel in her attention, but he's gettin' an odd kinda vibe off Mal an' is keen to put some distance between 'em.
Kaylee gasps. "With a gun?!"
"One of them 'non-lethal' guns," Jayne sneers. Never did see the point of them things. You shoot a fella, you want him dead.
Mal certainly does. But it ain't necessarily gonna come to that. He only gotta scare him ...
Somewhere between findin' out they'd been took and seein' the look on that treacherous bastard's face when Zoe blasted that door open, Mal worked it out. How the whole ruttin' mess was Jayne's doin'. Kinda pained him to know for sure that the mercenary was every bit as untrustworthy as he'd always suspected. Thought maybe what happened on Higgins' Moon mighta woke the chun zi up to his moral failin's but - apparently - not so much. So it falls to Mal to point a few things out to him. An' if he don't see 'em - well, Mal's shot men under his command before.
"It was a sonic rifle," Simon tells Kaylee with a sideways admiring glance at Jayne. "He was amazing! I can't begin to tell you ... we wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for him." He looks up at Jayne, eyes shining and clasps his arm. "Thank you."
Jealousy rips through Mal's belly like shrapnel.
"Hey," Jayne can't hold the medic's gaze. "You're on my crew."
"I think I might cry," Mal says, changing his mind. Pointin' things out, a bullet in the brainpan - both too good for the likes of Jayne. After what he did today the sight of him acceptin' Simon's adulation - an' the sight of Simon damn well givin' it to him - is all too much. Mal had some experience with torture durin' the war. Both ends of it. He knows how to make a man suffer. How to make a strong man cry. Trick lies in tailorin' it just right. His tone is deceptively neutral. "Jayne, help me with the cargo. Everyone else - make yourselves useful. You got jobs, go do 'em."
"Gotta be one of our best takes ever," Jayne comments, unease making him talkative.
"Doc had a good plan. Boy's got a decent criminal mind." Mal picks up the wrench and weighs it in his hand. It's heavy enough that he could kill Jayne with it if he's not careful. And you can't hurt a man who's already dead.
"What're you buyin' with your cut ...?" Jayne's question is punctuated by a solid blow to the head.
River is drawing when Simon enters her room. A perfect row of Russian dolls, starting with the biggest and tapering down to the smallest. He compliments her artistic skill as he fills a syringe.
"I brought you some medicine. You remember why we went to the hospital?"
"Time to go to sleep again?" she asks.
He shakes his head. "No mei-mei - it's time to wake up."
She lets him take her arm and watches his face as he inserts the needle. So much tenderness in him. So much love. "Snow White and the handsome prince. Not dead, you know. Only sleeping. Poisoned by the apple. True love's kiss will bring up the pieces."
"Well, Snow White should probably lie down for a little." He smiles affectionately at her. "I'll be back to check on you in an hour, okay?"
"Shell's going to crack and then all the chickens will be coming home to roost." River warns, wagging a finger.
"Shh. We'll talk about it later." He blows her a kiss and opens the door. She waves cheerily as he slides it shut.
Why the good gorram is it so noisy? An' what the hell is Jayne doin' lyin' on the floor. Through the pain that's splittin' his skull he realizes he's in the airlock. Huh? How'd that happen? There's a tap on one of the diamond window panes and he looks up to see Mal pointing to something lying on the floor.
Confounded, he switches the thing on. "The hell are you doin'?" he croaks.
"Figured it was time for a little chat." Mal's voice crackles through the walkie-talkie. He jabs at a button and the airlock door opens a fraction. Jayne squints against the sudden bright light.
"Seems to me we had a solid plan," Mal continues, drawin' it out. He wants to make Jayne sweat. "Smooth you might say. But what I can't figure out is what you were doin' round the back exit."
"What? I couldn't go round the front," Jayne lies. "I had to improvise. Open the damn door!"
He's scared and Mal knows it but the demand goes unacknowledged. "You called the Feds," Mal declares regrettin' there's a wall between 'em. Cos there's a lot to be said for bein' able to smell the fear.
"What? I got pinched!" Least tha's got the benefit of bein' true so Jayne is able to sound indignant.
"Which is what happens when you call the Feds."
"No! I would never do that!" Jayne protests. "My hand to God! May he strike me down as I'm standin' here!"
Involuntarily Mal's hand curls into a fist. "Well, you won't be standin' there long. Minute we hit atmo, you'll be a lot thinner when you get sucked out that hole." Shame about that gorram vacuum thing, Mal reflects. In space, ain't no-one can hear you scream. An' he's pretty sure he'd like to hear Jayne scream. Nearly sold the Doc to people as would torture him an' his sis, an' somehow got the boy to idolize him for it. Mal is gonna make him regret that.
"No! Come on, Mal. That ain't no way for a man to die. You wanna kill me, shoot me. Jus' let me in."
"You know - I hear tell they used to keel-haul traitors back in the days." Drag 'em under the boat, let the barnacles rip the flesh from their bodies before they drowned. "I don't have a keel to haul you on, so ..."
"Oh." Mal ain't easy fooled an' Jayne knows it. "Okay, I'm sorry. Right?"
Mal's anger is white hot. Makes him icy. "Sorry for what, Jayne? I thought you'd never do such a thing?" He's glarin' at Jayne through the window an' the mercenary's kinda grateful he can't jus' reach out an' strangle him.
"Money was too good. I got stupid. I'm sorry, okay? Be reasonable. Why're you takin' this so personal? It ain't like I ratted you out to the Feds."
"But you did," Mal snarls through the glass. "You turn on any of my crew - you turn on me. Which, if such a concept you can't seem to wrap your head around, then you got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne and that's a fact." He turns and walks away from the door.
"What're you gonna tell the others?"
"About why I'm dead?"
"Hadn't thought about it."
"Make summat up," Jayne mutters. "Don't tell 'em what I did."
Mal never expected Jayne to find the words to reach through his anger an' yet he has. Six simple little words. Oh, he's dumb an' graspin' an' totally untrustworthy - none of tha's changed - but those words got a power to 'em an' now Mal don't wanna kill him no more. Well, not for any justifiable reason like treason. He goes back over to the door, where Jayne's face is still pressed up against the glass.
"The next time you decide to stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face."
He leaves the big man where he is. Best he keeps out of Mal's way for a spell.
Now that the rage has left him Mal feels exhausted. Completely spent. Could sleep for a ruttin' month. Sooner he gets to his bunk the better ...
Simon drains his tea-cup and puts it in the sink. What a strange day it's been. Terrifying in parts but fruitful too. The cerebral scan is safely in the infirmary, the hold is packed with valuable cargo and Simon's relationship with Jayne has turned a corner. But now it's late and he needs to check on River before retiring to bed ...
Mal looks up and sees Simon heading down the corridor towards him. His heart beats a little faster. There were long moments today when he thought he'd never see him again. The doctor moves aside to let him pass and without warning finds himself being shoved up against the cold metal wall.
"Captain?" His eyes are wide with incomprehension. "Mal - are you all right? You look ..."
"Bizui," Mal orders, leaning in toward him.
Simon's mouth opens and instantly Mal's is covering it. His tongue is tracing the soft wet inner edges of Simon's lips and his arms are drawing him nearer. The hot, dangerous, intoxicating scent of him is filling Simon's nostrils and it's a joy beyond words to be able to breathe it in. This close there's another note beneath the familiar smell of worn leather and slightly stale sweat - an intimate spicy musk of indefinable composition that seems to enter Simon's body molecule by molcule, starting a chain of chemical reactions of extraordinary scope and power, changing him from the inside out. Turning him into someone better, stronger - new. He clings tightly to Mal and kisses him back, putting everything he has into it. Trying to tell Mal things words never could. Whatever Mal wants he can have it. Because Simon only wants him. Wants to make him happy.
Tian a, this could be so good. There's a fire in this boy to match his own. Anger an' pain too. Darkness ain't nothin' new to him. An' he ain't tryin' to retreat from this, he's tryin' to push it forward. Simon's mouth is hot and wet and tight around Mal's tongue and he finds himself hardening in response to the implied promise. Then a hand is on the small of his back and Simon is rocking against him in a way that drives the breath from his lungs and sparks nerve endings into almost painful life. But it ain't the points of contact between them that makes Mal realize how much he wants the boy. It's the part of his body that ain't touching him that do that. They way they strain twoards him an' the gorram certainty they will have their way if he don't stop this right now.
The needy little noise comes from Mal's own throat but it still shocks him into reason. Abruptly he pulls back and pushes the medic sharply away. "'s no good!" he snaps angrily as Simon wilts against the wall. "Don't want this!" And then he's stalking off down the corridor, leaving Simon weak-kneed and wretched.
He covers his face with his hands and notices they're shaking. He tries to steady his breathing and remember that this feeling, bad as it is, will pass. Eventually.
A hand on his arm startles him. River. He wishes his sister would wear shoes like everybody else. Her behaviour is creepy enough as it is. And none of it's her fault. Certainly not this.
"Doesn't want to do it to you," River says, gazing dreamily after Mal.
"Thank you," Simon replies bitterly. "I'd worked that out for myself."
She stares at him, astonished, her eyes raking over his face for signs he understands. Has she left him so far behind?
"I don't give a good gorram, Zoe," Wash all but shouts as he and his wife appear at the other end of the corridor. "We need a holiday."
Zoe spots Simon and River and decides not to argue. Don't wanna be airin' this in public. Simon has a similar instinct. Somehow he pulls himself together and tries to encourage River back to the passenger dorm. "Come on, mei-mei," he wheedles. "Let's just go to bed."
Bed. It's what he wants. What they both want. It's the fear that stands in their way. The Shadow. "Pudding and pie," River says loudly, resisting Simon's attempts to move her and blocking the gangway.
Zoe quirks an eyebrow at Simon who shakes his head and shrugs. "I'm sorry. I really have no idea what she's talking about."
"Not what," River exclaims impatiently, slapping his arm. "Who. Georgie Porgy. Kissed the girls and made them cry."
Wash notices Zoe's spine stiffen.
"Ask her," River says, pointing. "She knows. Georgie Porgy, pudding and pie. Kissed the girls and made them cry."
Zoe doesn't say a word, merely shoulders River out of her way and strides off at speed, with Wash almost running along in her wake. "Zoe, baobei? Honey? What is it? What's the matter?"
Please post a comment on this story.
Title: Ch 13. An interesting day.
Series Name: Trauma Medicine
Author: Kispexi2 [email]
Details: Series | R | het *slash* | 53k | 02/04/05
Characters: Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, River, Book
Pairings: Mostly M/S - a little M/I, K/R
Summary: Set against "Ariel". Mal and Simon try denial, Inara seeks help, Jayne has A Plan and River lets the cat out of the bag.
Notes: Spoilers for "Ariel". Probably not raunchy enough for R but possibly a little too much for PG-13?
Sequel to: Ch 12. Am I dreamin'?
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