Disclaimer: Firefly and these characters belong to Joss Whedon.
SPOILERS FOR 'BUSHWACKED' AND 'SHINDIG
TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter Eight.
Impressive what 'nothing' can do to a man.
Ridiculous as it may sound, Simon Tam is bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored. He knows a wanted fugitive like himself ought to be grateful for the luxury of boredom. Surely it's better than the excitement of getting caught in black-out zones, being this close to seeing Dobson take his sister or being punched by Mal? Well, no actually. Simon sighs and rinses out his mug. It's not like he isn't used to prolonged periods of inactivity. A trauma surgeon's life is as much about waiting to be needed as it is about frantic life-and-death, blood-and-guts urgency. But at least back in the hospital on Osiris he was always in the thick of the action, running the show. The one making the decisions, his every word unquestioningly obeyed. There he was important. Respected. On Serenity his job is to sit on the sidelines and clear up after the main event. He's a no-one with nothing to do most of the time and the nothing is threatening to swallow him whole.
River drifts out of the kitchen and he follows her on autopilot, vaguely heading towards the infirmary, wondering what the others do to cope with the endless tedium of the days between jobs. Out on the catwalk he finds one answer to his question. There's some kind of riotous game going on down in the cargo bay. He watches Mal tumble to his knees after an unsuccessful tackle on Jayne, leaving the mercenary free to throw the ball he's holding to Wash. Kaylee smiles up at Simon just as she catches the pilot's pass. Mal rushes to block her but loses his balance again and goes crashing to the floor. The mechanic takes aim and shoots the ball through a hoop hanging from the ceiling by a chain. A goal, Simon assumes. They're all breathing hard and perspiring and if Simon notices the sweat stains on Mal's shirt first it's only because they stand out more on the paler fabric. The game starts up again. Jayne gets possession of the ball but soon loses it to Zoe. Book tries to shake Wash but the pilot is too quick for him. Meanwhile Kaylee has clambered up onto Jayne's shoulders, clinging on with her legs wrapped around his neck. An arrangement the big man is quite happy with if his ear-to-ear grin is anything to go by. Kaylee is aiming for goal again but Simon's attention is diverted by Inara as she steps down onto the catwalk beside him.
"Hello," he greets her with a polite smile, not noticing that Kaylee's shot goes wide of the target.
Inara looks down at the others. "Who's winning?"
Simon grimaces. "I can't really tell. They don't seem to be playing by any civilized rules that I know ..."
"Well, we're pretty far from civilization," Inara points out. Unnecessarily. Because Simon is all too aware of the fact. Aware that he can't really help his sister with the limited facilities available on this boat and painfully conscious that neither of them can go home. He can't understand why Inara remains on Serenity - why she chooses this. Her life before must have been much like his - every desire anticipated and satisfied, often even before the wanting made itself felt. Then again, Simon's noticed a certain tension in the air between Inara and the Captain.
Kaylee looks back up at the two of them standing side by side. They look so good together - so right - that she feels a mean little tug of jealousy. The proximity alert sounds and she takes shameless advantage of Wash having to leave the game to try to draw Simon into it. "Come on down. Play for our side. Inara won't mind."
If he weren't so bored, Simon might have refused but as it is ... And besides, everyone else is in the game. Mal, Zoe and Book are on one side - so he'd be with Jayne and Kaylee, right? He really shouldn't remain aloof. Should show them he's not the stuffed shirt they think him but as ready as the next man to have fun and get a little mussed up. He's not afraid of getting tackled by the opposition. Might even put up a bit of a fight.
However it is not to be. Suddenly Serenity shudders under what feels like an impact and everyone goes rushing to the bridge.
When he was wishing for something interesting to do, this was not what he had in mind. This isn't interesting; it's terrifying. The space suit makes walking surprisingly difficult and the helmet weighs heavily on his neck and shoulders. Yet these are the only things protecting him from the ravenous vacuum of space. The sound of his breathing echoes off the mylar faceplate, the rapid pace of it exacerbating his growing trepidation. He's in what must be the other ship's mess now, judging from the tables and chairs picked out by his torch beam. It's dark, eerie and horribly empty. Where is the Captain? The others? Simon turns a corner and suddenly they're in front of him. The first thing he notices is their lack of space suits. The second is that he can't hear a word they're saying.
Try as he might, he can't get the helmet off by himself and needs help from Kaylee. Mal is staring at him, wide-eyed. "Uh - what are you doin' here an' what's with the suit?" he asks, clearly surprised to see him at all.
Jayne bursts into fits of laughter and a hot tide of anger and humiliation rises up in Simon. He glares at the mercenary. "Oh, you're hilarious. Sadist," he spits.
"All right. That's enough," Mal tells the still guffawing Jayne almost, but not quite, managing to hide his own amusement. He turns to Simon, forcing his features into a serious mask of Captainly command, "Long as you're here, you might as well lend a hand. You can run with Kaylee."
Simon meets his gaze with a cold stare as he catches the canvas bag Mal lobs in his direction. He was mad at Jayne but he's furious with Mal. He expects Jayne to act like a barbarian. Mal, on the other hand ... well, he ought to be more supportive, that's for sure. For a moment he considers hurling the bag back in his face but thinks better of it. This derelict gives him the creeps. The sooner he's off it and back on Serenity the better.
In the event, getting back on Serenity is not such a simple business, what with there being a survivor aboard the derelict. Simon watches with a mix of fascination and horror as Mal promises the man mercy and then knocks him unconscious. Between them they get him back to infirmary where at last Simon is back in control. This is his territory after all and finally he has something to do. Something no-one else can do better. After patching up the wound on the man's arm, he runs the standard series of tests on his patient. Mal hovers nearby, not exactly getting in the way but not giving the doctor a lot of space either. Simon isn't sure whether he likes his being so close or not. "Pulse is rapid, blood pressure's the high side of normal. That's to be expected." Exactly.
The injured man is muttering nonsense as Simon continues, "Other than the bullet wound, there doesn't seem to be any other exterior trauma. Though," he pauses, remembering - remembering that other day too - "that crack to the head you gave him probably didn't do him any good." But Mal is too focused on what the man is saying to register the layers in Simon's remark.
"Cattle. Cattle for the slaughter."
Mal sees Kaylee and Inara through the infirmary window and his blood runs cold. "Dope him," he orders abruptly.
Simon is taken aback. After all, he's the doctor here, not Mal. "I don't think ..."
"Just do it."
And Simon's back to feeling like nothing. A no-one. He grits his teeth and reaches for a syringe.
Simon is as baffled by Mal's order as Jayne. They've only just finished stowing the haul.
"I got no notion to argue this," Mal snaps, hurrying down the stairs. "In about two minutes time this boat's gonna be crawling with Alliance."
A-lli-ance. At first the word doesn't even make sense. But then the meaningless assemblage of sounds takes shape. Alliance. "No ..." Other people are talking but the only voice Simon hears is the one in his head, screaming at him to get away. "We've got to run ..." he says desperately.
Mal continues pulling out crates from the hold. "Can't run. They're pullin' us in."
Simon's face is a study in agony. "If they find us, they'll send River back to that place. To be tortured. I'd never see her again."
Is Mal even listening to him? "Stack everything right here in plain sight. Wouldn't want it to seem as if we're hiding anything. Might give them Alliance boys the wrong impression."
"Or the right one," Wash points out.
"That too," Mal agrees. He turns to Simon who's hoping against hope that the Captain will have a way out of this. "Now run fetch your sister."
Fetch his sister? How will that help? Won't that mean ....? "What?" Simon asks, suddenly suspicious and angry. Angry at the situation, angry at the Captain but mostly angry at himself. For wanting to believe in Mal. For letting himself want at all. "Why? Are you going to put her in 'plain sight' too?"
If the Doc could be any more gorram irritatin', Mal can't see how. Boy's always gotta be questionin', contradictin'. Don't seem to realize they ain't got time for this. "Don't get tetchy," he says evenly, tryin' not to yell at him. "Jus' do as I say."
Anyone else on this damn crew would know well enough to be shuttin' the hell up right about now. But not Simon Tam. "Is that why you let us stay? So you could use us a bargaining chips?"
"I knew there was a reason!" Jayne chips in helpfully.
Simon is glaring at Mal. So this is what happens when Simon has no hold over him? When Kaylee's life doesn't depend on his surgical skills? The man's worse than Jayne. At least with Jayne there's no pretence. "They're not taking her ...," Simon declares, "and you're not giving her to them."
Mal glares back. The gap between them seems to have closed. Tempers are raised and the blood is rising. Mal is a heartbeat away from grabbin' the medic by the throat and shakin' some sense into him. Simon is struggling with a powerful urge to punch the Captain right in the middle of his smug face.
And then Book steps between them. "Don't be a fool, son. Do as the man says."
"Not of the living, nor of the dead," River intones as she and Simon follow Mal and Zoe to the airlock. "Spirits of the interregnum."
"What?" Simon asks distractedly. He's too preoccupied with worrying about Mal's crazy solution to their dilemma to be paying his sister much attention.
"Two glasses - one half empty, one half full."
"Come on, xiao mei-mei - helmet on," Mal interrupts her briskly. "Wanna keep you breathin'."
Zoe places it over her head, smiling at the way the girl is beaming excitedly, chattering eagerly about being able to "listen to the stars sing".
Simon is not so keen. It's only the embarrassment at having misjudged Mal yet again that makes him put on the suit at all. "I'm not sure about this ..." he mutters, looking up at Mal imploringly.
Mal lifts the helmet from the floor. "I got exactly no time for arguin' this. You got a better idea, I'd be all kinds of happy to hear it. Otherwise, jus' do as I say an' bizui for a gorram change." He snaps the clips shut and fastens the seal. "Now, out. Ma shang," he orders, pointing to the hatch.
River climbs out first, looking back at her brother who is casting a last glance at Mal, hoping for a reprieve. "The emptiness is worse when you find something you want to fill it with," she crackles through the suit radio.
Harken sniffs. "Can't imagine how many times men in my position hear that excuse. 'Reavers did it'."
Mal would like to smack the officious self-satisfaction of his face, but that ain't hardly an option. "It's the truth."
"You saw them did you?"
"Wouldn't be sitting here talkin' to you if I had." Idiot.
Harken gives him a nasty half-smile. "No. Of course not."
"But I'll tell you who did - that poor bastard you took off my ship." ...* To punish him for his chivalry, they dragged him in too* ...
They're outside now. Tiny, insignificant specks of nothing out in the void Although they're firmly secured with safety ropes Simon is clinging on tightly to Serenity with his hands So tightly his fingers ache.
"He looked right into the face of it. Was made to stare."... They made him watch. He tried to look away but they wouldn't let him ...They held her down and ignored the way she sobbed and pleaded ...
"The darkness. Kinda darkness you can't even imagine." ...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 ... "Blacker than the space it moves in."
The Black is vast, horrific. Simon risks a glance over his shoulder, and the nauseating emptiness bares its teeth at him. River smiles, eyes reflecting the sparkle of the stars. "Dancing," she laughs.
"They made him watch. He probably tried to turn away - they wouldn't let 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... "You call him a 'survivor'? He's not. A man comes up against that kind of will, only way to deal with it, I suspect ... is to become it." ... Happened to me. Became something ugly and dangerous.
Harken feels a chill of recognition, of certainty that it isn't just the injured man they're talking about.
" ... he'll cut on himself, desecrate his own flesh ... then he'll start acting like one." ... I did. When all I wanted was to still be me.
The Commander suddenly thinks his prisoner may require more than the standard number of guards. "Let's have two MPs up here to escort Sergeant Reynolds to the brig," he tells his underling.
Mal scans the dining room quickly, taking in the scattered cutlery and trying not to react when he spots the space suit helmet on the table. It can only mean one thing ... Simon and River are back on board and in two kinds of danger.
Harken follows close on his heels as he moves up into the foredeck hall. Mal turns a corner and there they are - Simon and River, hidden by no more than a lip of metal. Tamade. Mal breathes out slowly, steadying himself as Harken catches up with him. Even handcuffed, he can take the Commander if he has too. The two armed guards might be more problematical ... Shame Zoe ain't here.
All of a sudden there's a noise, an arm lunges out of nowhere and an arc of red lands a dripping streak of blood across Harken's forehead. The droplets trickle down into his brows for a moment before he pulls himself together and goes for his gun, fingers thick with terror, hand hardly his own.
He's too gorram slow - all thought an' no instinct. Weapon's out of his hand before his grip's tight on it an' then that thing that used to be a man is on him. Only one way to handle this now ...
Simon hears the bone break. Probably the third or fourth cervical vertebrae, he guesses by the way the man instantly stops breathing. Retreating into the abstract realm of text book anatomy affords the doctor some refuge from the ragged emotions warring inside him. Fear of being caught, horror at the Reaver victim's sudden bloody attack, shock at Mal's business-like approach to killing and astonishment at his own reaction to it. This is the second time he's seen Mal kill a man, and far from disgusting him, it fills him with relief. And more than a little admiration. He knows what it is to make difficult decisions about a man's life and he respects the courage it takes. Malcolm Reynolds really is an extraordinary man.
Mal is sitting at the head of the dining table with Zoe at his side, nursing a half-mug of coffee when Simon finds him. The doctor clears his throat and takes an awkward step forward. "I think I owe you an apology."
Mal looks at him, head to one side, considering. He takes a slow sip of his drink. "Reckon you do at that," he nods and Zoe quickly feigns intense interest in the inside of her cup.
Simon pulls a face and shrugs.
"That it?" Mal asks, eyes wide with mock disbelief, unable to stop himself from tormentin' the boy. Thing is, this is a new experience for him. He an' Kaylee got a way of makin' up that don't need words an' Wash hardly even speaks the same language as Mal. Wou'n't know if he was apologizin' or not. Apologies from Jayne don't mean a damn thing an' Zoe - well, Zoe don't ever apologize. Mainly cos she's never wrong. Which makes this all kinds of entertainin'. "That all you got?" he presses.
A spot of pink appears on Simon's cheeks. "I ... uh ...well, if you'd just explained the plan ..."
"Whoa there! This ain't soundin' so much like an apology as you complainin'."
Simon realizes Mal's right and checks himself. "I'm sorry. Really, I am. I should have trusted you."
Mal fixes him with a serious look but suddenly flashes the nearest thing to a genuine smile Simon has ever had from him. "Yeah. Least we can agree on that."
He's so handsome when he smiles. Those too-blue eyes fill with warmth and humour. His mouth ... Stop that right now, Simon tells himself firmly. Just be grateful. "You saved our lives today. Twice. Again. Thank you, Captain, really ..."
Mal looks uncomfortable. "Forget it. Wa'n't nothin'."
Simon smiles at the Captain's inadvertently appropriate use of the double negative. "No, it wasn't," he agrees. "So - thank you."
"Think you're fast becomin' that boy's hero, Sir," Zoe remarks, watching him go. "He remind you of anyone?"
"Nothing," she lies.
"Persephone?" Inara repeats. "Are you sure?"
"Just told Wash to set course," Zoe replies. "Take it the destination suits."
Inara smiles. "Well, I do have several clients there. Generous clients," she adds. "And to be honest it will be a treat to spend time in the company of civilized gentlemen for a change."
Zoe grins. "Best not let the Doctor hear you say that."
Inara's smile widens. "But it might be helpful if the Captain did?"
Atherton ruttin' Wing. Smarmy lookin' hun dan. Rich an' plum full of stamina apparently. Well, good luck to him. Ain't no concern of Mal's. He's jus' gorram glad he don't have to goin' to no ball his own self. Don't much like the idea of prancin' about like a loon amongst a load of Core folk and their whores. Bought and sold all of 'em, like cattle. Asses branded by the Alliance. Mal wants none of it. A man who ain't free ain't a man at all. Won't catch him at a shindig like that, no sir.
"Post traumatic stress disorder - symptoms of," the disjointed electronic voice declaims, "can include some or all of the following: sleep problems, appetite change, irritability, anger, depression and excess arousal. The patient may feel emotionally numb or disconnected from others. They may also be extremely protective of loved ones and fearful for their safety. The patient may suffer recurrent nightmares or flashbacks leading him or her to adopt a coping strategy of avoiding situations, places or people which remind him or her of the traumatic event."
Simon frowns. It all sounds horribly familiar. He gets to his feet and begins pacing the room. Far from easing his mind, reaching a diagnosis has only increased his sense of helplessness. This is completely outwith his area of expertise. Back at the hospital he would have been able to consult with colleagues more qualified in the field. Here it's all down to him. No-one else. River's life is in his hands. Her mind. Her future. He can't. He has to. He takes a deep breath and speaks into the encyclopedia again.
"Post traumatic stress disorder - treatments."
A blip and the screen changes colour. "Antidepressants, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may provide short term relief from the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. However specialists consider the most effective treatments to be cognitive, behavioural and exposure therapies. Assisting the patient to relive the traumatic experience under controlled conditions can help him or her work through their anxieties.
"Two by two," River says quietly, making Simon jump. "Each one a mate. Wants you. Mal. In the cargo bay. Needs your help."
"Gosh, Kaylee!" Simon exclaims, his smile widening as he takes in the details of her ballgown. "You look amazing! Really amazing."
She blushes almost as pink as her dress and grins, wrinkling up her nose. "Pretty?" she fishes. "Do I look pretty?"
"Very." And Kaylee curtsies in acknowledgment of the compliment.
"What about me? 'm'I pretty too?"
Simon turns round and it's like he's been winded. All the air seems to rush out of his lungs as he looks at Mal. Everything about him is perfect. The dark formal suit emphasizes his height and lean, muscular build. It makes him stand more erect and enhances his aura of authority. Against the white of his shirt his skin is golden and his eyes bluer than ever. But the best thing about the outfit is Mal's obvious desire to get out of it. Simon finally gives up pretending to himself that he doesn't find the Captain attractive. He looks him up and down and says, "Yes, Captain. Pretty. Definitely."
Mal grins and curtsies too. Simon presses his lips together hard, trying to stop the corners from curving upwards. "What? Wha's so funny?"
"A gentleman bows," Simon explains, demonstrating.
"Right," Mal copies, a little sulkily. "Knew you'd know all about this fei hua. Need you to teach me an' Kaylee some dancin'. Somethin' simple, mind. Nothin' fancy."
Simon is taken aback at the request. He thought everyone knew how to dance. "Uh ... well, the basic steps of the waltz aren't too hard to remember. If you have to dance, try to stick to that."
"OK," Mal agrees, all determination. "Let's do this thing."
First Simon gets Kaylee and the Captain to stand at his side and copy him. "Forward, side, close. Back, side, close. No, Captain- the other foot. OK, again." He watches Mal out of the corner of his eye and sees he's knitting his brows together with concentration as he stares down at his feet. Absent-mindedly poking out his tongue, like a kid working on a particularly difficult math problem. Eager and serious. Cute.
When Simon's confident they've picked up the rudiments, he puts them together. "Take her right hand like this" - he closes Mal's hand around the mechanic's - "and put your other hand on her back." A slight adjustment. "OK - now do the steps we've been practicing. Only Kaylee - remember you're doing them backwards. When the Captain goes forward, you go back. Dong ma?"
Kaylee grins and they set off. It isn't pretty and it isn't graceful. And it certainly isn't dancing. More like wrestling.
"This ain't workin'. I'm goin' one way an' she's goin' some place else."
"It's because you're not letting her know which way you plan to go," Simon explains.
"She need a map? Or do I got to keep up a runnin' commentary?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You let her know with your body. Watch." To Kaylee's immense delight Simon takes her in his arms and starts waltzing her around the floor. She follows effortlessly, but when Mal tries again, they end up treading on each other's toes and bickering.
Simon steps in to break it up. "Captain. If I may ...? Let me show you. I'll do what you should be doing. Show you how it feels." He takes Mal's right hand with his left and keeping him carefully at arm's length, puts his own right hand on Mal's back. Mal rolls his eyes a little but forces himself to concentrate. Their movements are a bit stiff, but neither tramples the other. A few more steps and Mal thinks he gets it. "You see, Captain" Simon says, "The gentleman has to take charge. Don't be afraid to lead."
Mal's eyes narrow. "You tryin' to be funny?"
"No. I ... oh!" Simon can't help but gasp because Mal has suddenly pulled him up close against his body and is holding him there, hand splayed out over the small of the doctor's back. He takes a step forward, pushing his thigh against Simon's and propelling him backwards.
"Like this, you mean?" he smirks at the surprise on his medic's face.
"Uh-huh," Simon manages to answer before Mal starts forcing the pace. Forward, side, close. Back, side, close. Spin. Another spin jus' to show who's boss. Already a bit breathless, Simon begins to feel uncomfortably hot as well. This is too much. It's too hard ... Damn. It is. Wo de tian he hopes Mal doesn't notice. But Mal's havin' a few problems of his own in that department. Discoverin' he ain't utterly hopeless at this stuff is makin' him think maybe the ball won't be so bad after all. He imagines himself askin' Inara to dance, wonderin' what she might feel like in his arms, how their bodies would fit together. Will it feel like this? Her body supple against his, respondin' to his slightest move? Gorramit if the thought ain't all manner of stimulatin'. In a bloodflow divertin' kinda way. He's just decidin' now might be a pretty damn perfect time to let go of the Doc when Jayne comes bounding down the stairs.
The mercenary hits the bottom step and his jaw falls open at the sight that greets him. He can't quite wrap his brain around it. Mal an' Simon Tam are holdin' each other like they was lovers. Jayne shakes his head and slants a look at Kaylee, doubly astonished now since she ain't at all unsettled by this queer turn of events.
"Doc ain't turned Mal sly has he?" he stage-whispers loudly in a clumsy attempt to uncomfortable the medic without gettin' on the wrong side of the Captain.
It doesn't work. Mal releases Simon, stalks over to the mercenary and snatches his face between thumb and fingers. There's a long painful silence as his gaze slides from the Jayne's eyes to his mouth and back again. Jayne swallows with an odd little grunt. "In your dreams, Jayne," Mal says soft an' low an' jus' this side of menacin', "In your dreams."
Swatting Mal on the backside with her sword relieves some of the frustration Inara is feeling. He is so infuriatingly intransigent, so pointlessly implacable. She risked a lot in bribing the desk clerk and in coming here to his room. And does he appreciate it? Not a bit of it. No, big brave boneheaded Mal wants to stay and fight. He's going to get himself killed ... Inara focuses on a point somewhere on the far wall and tries to clear her mind. It wasn't supposed to be like this. She wasn't supposed to care. He's just a client - even if he doesn't know it. She went aboard Serenity to help him, not herself, and when she's done that, she'll move on. She will.
She looks at him again and the hopeless determination in his eyes makes her heart ache. He won't run. All she can do is try to help him stay alive. "You have to thrust with the point sometimes, or swing from the elbow."
"Swingin' from the shoulder feels stronger," he objects. Renci de Fozu! - does he always have to know best?
She comes up behind him, adjusting his hold on the sword. The touch is like an embrace and they both feel it, scary and comforting. "It's also slower, Mal. You don't need strength, so much as speed. We're fragile creatures. It takes less than a pound of pressure to cut skin."
He don't like her touchin' him - or rather he does. Likes it so damn much he starts to feel things that might burst the dam. Things that might let that, that ... thing out. He scrambles for safety, pushing her away. "You know that? They teach you that at whore academy?"
And they're back from the edge. The danger of falling has gone. Inara continues the lesson. They go back to fighting both with their weapons and with words and nothing is resolved.
"Atherton - wait!" Even to her own ears, Inara's voice is strained, desperate. "I'll stay here, exclusive to you. Just let him live."
A flicker of triumph crosses Atherton Wing's face and Inara marvels at the man's stupidity. Didn't he just hear her declare she'd give up everything for the man at his feet. How can he possibly construe that as winning?
Then Mal is striking out at him, all pretence at fighting like a gentleman gone. Inara should have known he wouldn't follow the rules for long. Should have known too that he wouldn't let buy his life with her freedom. And known that he'd be too blind to realize her desire for freedom was dwindling.
"Been a wacky coupla days, huh?" Wash asks, pushing a ringlet of hair off Zoe's cheek. "What with the dancing, the duelling and now the incontinent cattle. Hey - who's on clean-up duty this trip? Can I bribe the rota-drawer-upper in any way ...."
"I'd say you could at that," Zoe purrs as he traces his tongue up under her earlobe. "But you don't need to be tradin' your body, bao bei. Job's already Simon's."
Wash chuckles. "Oh, he'll love that! Have you seen his shoes?"
Zoe arches a brow. "You noticed his shoes?"
"Well ... they are gorgeous. Noticed some other things too."
"Like how crowded the Mal fan club's getting. Might not be room in it for you much longer, lamby-toes. Might be appointing a new chairman."
Zoe stops smiling. "You got somethin' you wanna say, husband?"
Wash goes over to the sink and squeezes toothpaste onto a brush. He scrubs away for a while, then splutters through a mouthful of foam, "Simon was a revelation, huh?" like he's changing the subject. "All that 'we need to figure out how to get him out of there' and 'since we're unarmed, we should take them by surprise, all at once'. Very gung-ho, eh? And there was me thinking he was all 'Oh my God! You people are all barbarians'. Guess Mal's rubbing off on him too."
"Rubbing off on him?"
"You know - turning him into a leader, a man of action. Someone who sees what needs doing and gets it done. A bit like you." He meets her eyes, the blandness of his tone at odds with the challenge in his words.
Zoe's nostrils flare slightly as she inhales. She forces her shoulders back down and exhales slowly, smiling a bitter little smile. "Be nice to have someone else share the burden."
He ought to be used to disappointment, pain. Why does it hurt this bad when nothing has changed? Maybe because he hadn't expected to be having these feelings. They shouldn't even be here, after all. He should have found them a safe place by now - should have started helping his sister - instead of playing ship's medic to a gang of outlaws. What was he thinking? It's time to find somewhere he and River can settle. Leave this boat and find somewhere safe.
It wasn't so bad when they came back, Mal leaning on Inara for support. Then it was a matter of practicality. Simon's delight at seeing the Captain alive just about wiped out everything else anyway. Then he realized Mal had been injured quite badly and had taken over. Helped Mal to the infirmary, tended his wound. Offered up a silent prayer of thanks that the sword had missed his vital organs. Ordered him to rest. And Mal has been quietly compliant, grateful.
But now he's sitting down there with her, drinking wine. Their voices drift up to the catwalk above.
"I wasn't going to stay, you know."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"Oh - someone needs to keep Kaylee out of trouble. And all of my things are here ... Besides, why would I want to leave Serenity?"
"Can't think of a reason."
Nothing has really changed. Except that now Simon knows. Knows that in his heart, Mal is Inara's. He turns back into the corridor, not wanting to go to his bunk because it will mean walking past them. He's afraid that the hurt he's feeling will show on his face.
He doesn't know where he's going, he just needs some space. Head down, he hurries back along the hallway and doesn't see the Shepherd until he crashes into him.
"You all right son?"
"Uh ... yes. Thank you. I'm ... fine."
Book studies his face. "Don't look fine. What's the matter? Is it your sister?"
"No," Simon says, brushing past him. "It's nothing. Nothing."
Impressive - what 'nothing' can do to a man.
Please post a comment on this story.
Title: Impressive what 'nothing' can do to a man.
Series Name: Trauma Medicine
Author: Kispexi2 [email]
Details: Series | PG-13 | het *slash* | 31k | 11/28/04
Characters: Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, River, Book, Other
Pairings: Not really - a lot of longing going on
Summary: Jayne likes Kaylee, Kaylee likes Simon, Simon likes Mal and Mal likes Inara. A recipe for happiness against the backdrop of Bushwacked and Shindig.
Notes: Spoilers for "Bushwacked" and "Shindig."
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