TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 20
Sometimes you need a doctor
RATING - R
WARNING .... Mal and Simon flavoured SLASH, but not graphic. Not in this chapter. ;-)
With thanks for scrupulous beta-ing to the wedjateye formerly known as wedjat.
Zoe hooks a couple of grenades onto her belt. She ain't taking any chances and she's glad to see Jayne's of like mind. His belt is bristling with fierce-looking blades, he's got two large guns stuffed into his holsters and is cradling Vera against his chest.
"Ready?" Zoe asks.
"Hell, yeah!" he declares, spittin' on the deck-plating for emphasis an' ignorin' Zoe's Do-you-have-to? scowl. "If'n there's any Feds still waitin' for us, I ain't goin' down without a fight."
Mal's boots ring out on the staircase as he comes hurryin' down to join the mercenary and his First Mate. He casts a mildly disapprovin' eye over them. "I ain't expectin' that much trouble."
"Better safe than sorry, Sir," Zoe points out and Mal grunts in resigned agreement.
Serenity's engine tone changes as the reverse thrust comes on and the landing gear extends. Mal stands taller, bracin' himself for whatever awaits them on New Melbourne.
"Touchdown in five, four ..." Wash advises over the comm.
Followed by the others, Mal climbs up onto the mule. The vehicle ain't much to look at after havin' been pressed into service on Niska's skyplex but at least Kaylee's got it workin' again. That girl's a ruttin' genius with machinery an' Mal's eager to have her back on his ship where she belongs. Least she wants to come back.
Not like some.
Mal starts at the sound of Zoe's voice and realizes that the cargo bay door has already lowered. He turns the ignition and the mule rolls forward out onto the damp, green surface of a planet Mal's already decided he don't much like. Too much water an' that all-pervasive stink of fish. There's a few local folk to be seen - fishermen mostly, them an' fish processors - going about their business. No sign of any Feds.
The mule arrives at a crossroads and Mal looks to Zoe for directions. "Left here, right at the next," she says, consulting her Pos-Loc. "Then straight ahead for about two miles."
They drive on in silence, each envisaging a different sort of disaster having befallen Inara's shuttle. None of them can quite believe this ain't a trap. Those Feds were too easily satisfied with a couple of ident cards. It never normally goes that smooth.
But when at last they locate the shuttle, Kaylee and Book are lounging outside on the grass, looking out for them. Kaylee waves her arms wildly over her head.
Mal pulls the mule to a halt as she runs over to greet him.
"Oh Cap'n!" she cries, flingin' her arms around his neck. "I'm so sorry. I tried to stop her, really I did, but she wou'n't hear none of it. Said she had her plans all set an' she was goin' back to Sihnon." And with that the mechanic buries her face into Mal's shirt and begins weepin' in earnest.
"Ain't no point in cryin', mei-mei," Mal tells her, steelin' himself against her tears 'fore they dissolve him. "Inara's a free agent. Up to her what she does."
Kaylee looks up at him in astonishment. "You ain't even gonna try an' fetch her back?"
Mal shakes his head. "No point." He looks across at the Shepherd. "We good to go?"
Mal turns to Zoe. "Best you pilot the shuttle back to the ship. Never could fly that thing my own self."
The echo of Inara's words falls painfully on Mal's ears. He can't help but wish she'd gone sooner if she had to go at all. Before things between them got complicated. Hell, right now he wishes he'd never met her.
He pushes Kaylee gently away. "You get in with the others now, xiao mei-mei an' I'll see you back on the ship."
Making a valiant attempt to smile, Kaylee wipes her eyes. "Aye aye, Cap'n."
Inara accepts a glass of iced herbal tea from the smartly dressed young man and takes it into the private booth she has rented. Xuefang is evidently a much more civilized planet that its reputation would imply.
"If that will be all, madam?"
"Yes. Thank you."
The waiter withdraws and Inara taps a spot on the screen in front of her. She scrolls down the list of options and opens a Cortex link. The screen changes colour and Inara speaks into the mic. "Planet: Sihnon. House Madrassa. House Priestess."
The booth fills with music as light and sweet as flowing water and Inara relaxes back into her chair. It will be good to get back to the Central Planets where everything is ordered and calm and predictable. And away from this life where everything is complicated and messy, where feelings arise unbidden and refuse to be ignored.
The music fades and a woman's face appears on the screen. "Inara, xiao jie, this is indeed a pleasure."
Inara bows her head. "The pleasure is mine, xiao pengyou."
"You look well, Inara. Your new life has made you even more beautiful. It must suit you."
Inara raises her eyes. "You are most kind. But I find it does not suit me as well as I had expected. I want - I would like to return to House Madrassa. With your permission."
The lovely face on the screen remains serene and impassive even as the perfect mouth speaks the terrible words "I am afraid I cannot give you that permission, xiao jie. Not in the foreseeable future, at least."
Inara goes cold and it takes a huge effort of will to keep the sudden panic filling her out of her voice. "But why?"
"Earlier today, Inara, we were visited by Federal agents- Federal agents - who demanded access to your records."
Inara would argue that her records are in perfect order and that she has done nothing wrong, if that were the point of the House Priestess' remark. But it is not. Companions are required to conduct themselves in such a way that their integrity is never even questioned, let alone subjected to official scrutiny.
She hangs her head. "How long, xiao ma ma?"
The House Priestess answers with uncharacteristic bluntness. "That I cannot say. Your licence has been temporarily revoked. Pending investigation."
Were it not for her training, Inara would gasp. She is no longer endorsed by the Guild? How will she live?
"If - I mean when - you are reinstated we will speak again. But not until then. Dong ma?"
Inara lifts her chin and smiles with professional calm. "Perfectly. Xie-xie ni."
River presents Simon with an exquisitely detailed drawing of a row of nesting dolls. Another exquisitely detailed drawing of a row of nesting dolls. "It's a compulsion," she tells him brightly.
He sighs and squeezes her hand, trying to make the best of it. "It's beautiful."
River's face clouds over and she pulls away from him. "No, it isn't, you jing chang meiyong de boob! It's ugly and painful and it's gotta stop, dong ma?"
"What?" Simon asks, bewildered, making a mental note to review his sister's medication. "I don't understand-"
River's expression melts from one of annoyance into one of affection. "Gorram stupid boy," she smiles, stroking her fingers lightly over his bruised mouth and cut lip. "Can't read the picture. Needs words."
Simon shrugs helplessly, feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of what's been done to her and by his own inability to put it right.
River tugs at his hand. "Quickly, Simon. The scarecrow's coming back."
Although he has no idea what she means, Simon allows her to drag him out of the passenger dorm into the cargo bay just as Mal returns on the mule.
"The others back?" The Captain asks as he pulls into the mule's parking bay, his brisk business-like tone falterin' a mite when his eyes meet Simon's. He looks quickly away. Made the boy a promise. Ain't gonna go breakin' it. "No hitches?"
"Yes," Simon says, noticing the shadows under Mal's eyes and the tight little lines around his mouth. He'd like to comfort him but can't because - much as it pains him to admit it - this is about Inara, not Simon. "They're all safely back on board."
"All but one," River points out, making Simon clap a horrified hand to the side of his face. Hurriedly he tries to shush her, but she won't be silenced. Mal's heart is aching and River longs to soothe the hurt, to explain that it's not what he thinks. "She made a deal," she tells him softly, laying a hand on his arm.
Mal shakes it off and his expression darkens. He glares first at River, then at Simon. For a moment there's an ominous silence, then Mal says bitterly "Reckon she did at that."
"Gorram stupid boy!" River spits in frustration. Words, pictures, music - why does no-one ever comprehend? She closes her eyes and her mind fills with pictures of naked bodies, limbs entwined. A thick, heady perfume fills her nostrils and there's a taste of salt wet on her tongue. And in her ears, the jingle-jangle of coin changin' hands. "No!" she screams and begins hammering her fists against Mal's chest. "Candles and prayers mats!"
Mal catches her flailin' arms an' pins them to her sides. "This gotta stop," he growls at Simon cos he jus' ain't in the mood for this. Not today. Not now.
"I know. I'm sorry. I ... River, mei-mei, please -"
Simon holds his arms out to his sister and Mal watches as they seem to close in slow motion around her. Strong. Certain.
Mal takes a deep breath and stalks away.
River's anger subsides as quickly as it came. "Told you," she smiles at Simon. "It's gotta stop."
"It's not much," Book apologizes, placing the steaming casserole dish down on the dining table. "Afraid our stocks of fresh produce are running mighty low."
"Like to run a deal lower, we don't find a job soon," Mal replies grimly, helping himself to a single ladleful of the dish's unappetizing contents. "Gonna have to introduce rationin'. Till I say otherwise, everybody eats every gorram thing they put on their plate an' no eatin' between meals." He pauses and there's a general murmur of agreement. "That applies to you too, li'l Kaylee. No sneakin' protein bars up to the engine room where you think no-one knows you're eatin' 'em."
Kaylee gasps, flushes and looks down miserably at the large pile of food in front of her. She always eats too much when she's unhappy an' cos of that the Cap'n thinks she's selfish an' greedy. Mayhap she is. Tears well in her eyes and start to spill down her cheeks.
"Zao cao!" Mal snaps. "Ain't you done enough weepin' for one day?"
His sharp words only make Kaylee cry harder.
Jayne slams his cutlery down on the table. "Hell, Mal, it ain't her fault 'Nara's gone," he says, putting a protective arm around the mechanic's shaking shoulders. "If'n it's anyone's fault, it's your'n."
Mal clenches his jaw and narrows his eyes. "Might wanna watch that mouth, Jayne."
"Tell the truth and shame the devil," River puts in cheerfully.
"Might wanna watch your mouth too, missy," Mal snarls. " 'less you wanna be confined to your quarters for a month."
"She didn't mean anything!" Simon defends his sister hotly. "You know she didn't. Don't take your bad mood out on my sister, Mal or .."
"Or what? You'll leave too? Might be best for everyone if you did."
Simon reels back in his seat an' Mal could bite his own tongue off. That wa'n't what he wanted to say. He don't want Simon to leave. Not now. Not never. But he can't make him stay any more than he could Inara. Can't offer him nothin' either. He swallows awkwardly, too agitated an' wretched to know how to fix this. Simon's got an arm around River an' is glarin' at him, Kaylee's nuzzled up against Jayne who's refusin' to be cowed an' Zoe's gazin' at Mal every kind of sad an' exasperated whilst Wash holds her hand. Meanwhile that gorram Preacher's wearin' a knowin' half-smile like God his very own self was whisperin' into his ear.
Everbody's got somebody except Mal. An' that's the way it's always gonna be. Always gotta be. Cos he's dangerous. Hurts people.
The room starts to spin. It's hot and Mal's head's hurtin' like diyu. At least Kaylee's sobs are slowin', fadin' an' turnin' into somethin' quieter. Face pressed against Jayne's chest, she's whimperin' now.
Mal shakes his head an' blinks. What? Where? Hunh?
" 's'all right. I'm all right," Kaylee's insistin', although she's huddled even closer into Jayne's embrace. "Cap'n's tired, is all."
Mal realizes he's on his feet but he don't remember gettin' up.
Zoe links her arm through his. "Think you could use a lie-down, Sir," she says firmly.
"Think you might not be wrong about at that," Mal mumbles, offerin' no resistance as she steers him out into the hallway an' off to his bunk.
The rest of the crew stare at each other. Was Mal really about to hit Kaylee just then?
River's head is tipped to one side and her eyes are troubled. She turns to Simon. "He's gettin' worse, isn't he?"
Simon looks down at his plate, aware that everyone is awaiting his diagnosis. "Yes," he says quietly. "He is."
"Your duties would be mostly of a light domestic nature. Cooking, cleaning, tending to the kitchen garden. Occasionally I may require you to ...."
Saffron isn't really listening to the woman interviewing her. She's too busy congratulating herself on having discovered the only place worth robbing on this whole piece of crap moon and scanning the room for items of value. For a few horrific days there, Saffron was afraid she'd end up spending the rest of her days on Burgess Moon with no hope of ever getting her hands on that reward money for turning over the Tams to the Feds.
The trail went gone cold just after St Alban's, but one evening she picked up a read on Early's ship heading out towards New Melbourne. Unfortunately for her, by then she was out of money and relying on the kindness of strangers - well, not so much on their kindness as their gullibility. Till one of them caught her helping herself to his petty cash and dumped her on this dirt-ball.
" ... I find it hard to manage on my own," Belinda Burgess concludes.
Saffron realizes she's expected to say something and opts for the first things that pops into her mind. "On your own, ma'am?"
Belinda sniffs and turns her head away. "I lost my husband. Just over month ago."
"I sure am sorry to hear that," Saffron says in her most sympathetic tones.
Belinda Burgess acknowledges her condolences with a tilt of her head, but says nothing. There's something about this woman's bearing that tells Saffron that she's not used to the concern or sympathy of others. And yet there's something in her eyes that says she craves both.
"Did he ... did he suffer?" Saffron asks gently.
"Suffer? Suffer?" To Saffron's alarm the other woman starts laughing hysterically. "Yes, my dear. He did suffer. He was murdered. Murdered in cold blood. All thanks to a man calling himself Malcolm Reynolds."
Saffron gasps, despite herself. Malcolm Reynolds was here! A month ago! Her brain starts working overtime. What to tell the grieving widow? What to conceal? She knows she doesn't have a lot of time to play with because she needs to catch up with Serenity and fast. And then it comes to her in a flash of inspiration. She'll cut Belinda Burgess in on the deal. At least until they get the coin. After all, why part with money you don't have to?
"I know Malcolm Reynolds, ma'am," Saffron announces calmly. "He captains a Firefly. Oh - I ain't a friend of his, if that's what you're thinking. He done me all manner of wrong."
Now it's Belinda Burgess' turn to look sympathetic.
"Did you know he's wanted by the Alliance for harbouring fugitives from the law, ma'am?"
"Call me Belinda. No, I did not know that."
"Alliance wants those fugitives back real bad, ma- Belinda. They're offering a reward of five hundred thousand platinum for the pair of them. A brother and sister."
"That's a lot of money ..." Belinda muses. Rance left her well-provided for, it's true, but a woman alone has to seize her opportunities where she can.
"That it is," Saffron agrees. "Like I said, the Alliance wants them real bad. So bad I don't imagine they'd be asking too many questions of anyone who turned them in. Not about the ship they were on nor about what happened to her crew."
At first Belinda Burgess' expression gives nothing away, making Saffron fear she may not take the bait, but then a slow cold smile spreads across her face.
Mal ain't feelin' a whole lot better next mornin' but he's got Captain-y things to do. Things like findin' a job. Daren't even break atmo till he knows they're goin' some place they're gonna get paid. It's not only the food ration that's low; fuel ain't much better.
He goes up to the bridge and turns on the Cortex screen.
"One. New. Wave. Recorded," the mail system's disjointed synthesized voice informs him. "Sender: Gordon, Monty."
Mal flicks a couple of switches an' Monty's open smile lights up the screen. Mal notes with satisfaction that his old friend's beard is comin' back in.
"Malcolm Reynolds! How you doin', you old son of a gun? Still flyin'? Only just, I reckon, knowin' what a sorry-ass operation you run. Lookin' for a job? Heard you was headed out to New Melbourne. If you're still in that quadrant, send me a wave. Got somethin' for you. A good payer - if you was wonderin'. Send me a wave an' don't forget to say hello to that handsome First Mate of yours for me."
Mal smiles, feelin' a tad happier. That big old grizzly bear always did have a way of savin' Mal's life - literally an' metaphorically.
Mal opens a vid link. "Monty Gordon, you must be a gorram Reader!"
Monty laughs. "Been called a lot of things, Mal, but never that. Now - you interested in earnin' yourself a bit of hard cash?"
"Is the Alliance a gang of liars, murderers an' thieves? Yeah, I'm interested. What ya got?"
Monty leans forward and drops his voice. "Best I don't give you the details in case our encryption ain't all it should be. You far out from New Melbourne?"
"Still in the world."
Monty grins. "Well that's shiny. I'll get you a meet with my contact and let you know the time and place before nightfall, okay?"
"Shi a," Mal nods. "An' thanks. I'm grateful."
"No need to thank me, Mal but since I'm pickin' up the next leg of the run let's just say you owe me a few beers on New Hall."
"Kewu de yun ben de baojun!" River hisses at her brother, bombarding him with cushions and anything else that comes to hand.
Wash ducks out of the way of a ricocheting coffee mug. "Poor kid," he says kindly, stooping down to pick up the broken pieces. "She having another bad day? When I think what those Alliance hundans did to her, I-"
"I'm afraid this isn't about what the Alliance did," Simon interrupts, dodging another cushion. "It's about her new treatment programme."
A coffee table comes flying past the medic and lands with a splintering crack on the floor beside the pilot. "Seems to be going well," Wash comments drily without taking his eyes from River and her next missile - the crew's chessboard.
"Too early to say," Simon hedges. "It's only just started."
The chessboard takes flight, complete with chessmen, which scatter noisily across the commons. Wash pulls a face. "What in the good gorram did you give her Doc?"
"I didn't give her anything," Simon explains, taking advantage of River having exhausted her arsenal to take hold of her hands. "I took her drawing things away."
Wash tugs at his hair. "I'm confused."
All the fight drains out of River and she slumps down into a chair, muttering to herself.
"I realized that I've been enabling her compulsion when I should have been challenging it," Simon explains, taking his sister's hands in his. "It's only by confronting this compulsion of hers to keep drawing Russian dolls that I'm going to understand what's behind it." He purses his lips. "Or at least, that's the plan."
"Gotta have a plan," River says without looking up.
Wash frowns. "Don't wanna tell you your job, Simon, but from the looks of this..." He invites Simon to survey the destruction his sister has wrought with a wave of his hand, "You could end up getting seriously hurt."
River raises her head and fixes Wash with a surprisingly sharp look.
"Only the basics, mind," Mal reminds Kaylee firmly, when they reach Maintown. "Nothin' fancy. Jus' what we can't do without, dong ma?"
"Aye aye, Cap'n," she agrees cheerfully turning the small handful of coin he counted out earlier over in her pocket. Beside her River giggles and salutes.
Mal turns to Book. "Same with the kitchen supplies, Shepherd. Jus' what we need to make the protein ration taste of somethin'." He catches sight of the anxiety etched into Simon's face. "An' keep an eye out for Feds, will ya?"
"Always do," Book answers with a wink at the medic before escorting the girls in the direction of the market traders' stalls.
The bar Mal's lookin' for is in the opposite direction, down a dark alley. Monty's contact thought it'd be better to meet here, out of the way of pryin' eyes.
Simon doesn't like the alley way - it reminds him of one on Persephone he'd rather forget. He doesn't like the bar much either and wishes Mal hadn't needed him to help load the cargo. But the Captain reckoned the sooner they got it on Serenity and got out of the world the better, and Simon could see the sense in that. Besides, since administering the anahaemofluxin Inara offered him, his leg has almost fully healed. He really has no excuse for not helping out.
No sooner are the four of them settled at a table with a mugful of some foul-tasting brew in front of them than a tall, thin man gets up from his seat in a corner and approaches.
"Malcolm Reynolds?" he asks in an undertone.
"Think you know. Meet me in the back room in five. You an' one other."
As soon as he disappears into a room behind the bar Zoe speaks up. "Think we can trust him?" She's got a bad feelin' about this. A sick-in-the-stomach kinda feelin'. So bad this beer ain't sittin' right.
Mal shrugs. "Gonna have to. Anyhow, he comes with Monty's recommendation. Should be solid enough."
"Need him to be more than solid if we're gonna be transporting explosives to a border planet, Sir."
"Yeah, well Monty says he is. An' we need the money. So drink up an' let's go talk business. You two wait here."
Five minutes later, Jayne and Simon are sitting together in rather awkward silence, uncomfortably aware that many of the bar's other customers are regarding them with, if not actual hostility, then certainly with suspicion.
"I'll be glad when we're back on the ship," Simon says eventually.
"Gotta get the cargo first." Jayne drains his mug. "Wan' another?"
Simon eyes the dregs of what he hoped would be his only drink in this establishment. "If I have to."
This time Jayne brings back not only two mugs of the house ale but also a couple of shorts. Simon refuses the whiskey so the mercenary downs both, one after the other. A warm glow spreads through him an' suddenly the Doc don't seem like quite such bad company after all. Specially now Jayne knows about ...
"So," he begins conversationally, leanin' back in his chair, "How long you been sly, Doc?"
Simon splutters a mouthful of beer down his vest and stares dumbstruck at the mercenary for a moment until the simple directness of the question strikes him as funny. "All my life, Jayne," he smiles.
"Right." Jayne nods sagely. "Guess it's a life-time kinda deal, eh?"
"Right" Jayne is silent for a while, thinking. Then he asks another blunt question that has Simon spluttering all over again. "You ain't interested in me at all, are ya?"
"Good God, no!" Simon exclaims, horrified.
Jayne grunts, looking almost offended.
"Not that you're not a very attractive man," Simon finds himself adding hastily. "It's just ..." Oh shit. How in the 'verse did he end up talking to Jayne like this?
"Yeah, I know," the mercenary says. "I ain't your type. Well, thank God for that! Cos you know I'd have to put a bullet in ya if ya was interested, right?"
Simon smiles. "Obviously."
Jayne stands up.
"Where are you going? The Captain said-"
"Gotta bit o' shoppin' to do. Don't worry, Doc. I'll be back before you've had time to miss me."
And with that Jayne disappears through the saloon doors. Gonna get somethin' real nice for Kaylee. It'll be her birthday in a coupla weeks an' Jayne knows what great store she sets by birthdays. Look at all that fuss she went to for the Doc.
It don't take Jayne long to find what he's lookin' for. The stall holder wraps it up all pretty like an' Jayne hands over more money than he's ever spent on a gift for anyone. He tucks the little package into the pocket of his pants and heads back to the bar ...
... where Simon Tam is bein' pummelled by a trio of young fellas with a lot to prove an', in Jayne's assessment, not much to prove it with. For a few seconds he watches the action. Simon's scramblin' back to his feet an' aimin' a punch at the biggest one's jaw. Nearly gets him too, only the little one cracks him over the back of the head an' the Doc goes down again. Looks like it's all over, Jayne thinks sourly. They've had their fun. But no! That gorram feng le medic's haulin' hisself to his feet again an' this time he actually manages to land a punch on the little one. Right. That's e-gorram-nough, Jayne decides. He grabs the biggest fella by the hair and shoves him forwards onto the ground. His ass is jus' beggin' to be kicked, so Jayne obliges.
Simon's other two assailants rush Jayne at once but he seizes both by the scruff of the neck and drives them into each other instead, relishin' the sound of their skulls crackin' together.
At this very moment, Mal and Zoe emerge from the back room. Mal shoots a stern questionin' look at Jayne whose nod towards Simon offers some kinda explanation for the brawlin'. The Doc's on his feet an' clearly only a tad bruised and shaken but that don't stop Mal feelin' an upsurge of murderous rage towards the two youths Jayne's unceremoniously dumpin' on the floor. Then a pang of conscience reminds him that he's done much the same to Simon his own self.
Simon catches Mal's eye and gives him a small self-conscious smile. Mal nods and indicates the door with an urgent tilt of his head. They just about reach the exit when suddenly the rest of the bar's clientele start clappin' an' cheerin'.
Mal and Zoe exchange a look of relief.
"The goods ain't far from here," Mal announces as soon as they're out in the street. "We get it loaded an' we get gone. Already attracted more'n enough attention."
Jayne takes the seat beside Simon. "Di'n't they teach you nothin' useful at that med school o' yours?" he asks.
"Apparently not," Simon replies ruefully, tasting blood in his mouth.
Colonel Steadman is an easy man to please, Inara realizes as he suddenly stills beneath her and a little moan escapes his lips. Easy to please, restrained and a perfect gentlemen. She could have chosen far worse. Particularly now that she has been denied access to the Guild's screening methods.
It was a risk coming here, to his house, but he has been kindness itself, treating her with the utmost respect as though she were still a Registered Companion and not merely a common whore. It is good to know her instincts are still sound.
"That was most enjoyable, my dear," he compliments her as soon as he gets his breath back.
Inara smiles and lowers her lashes. "Xie-xie. It was not entirely unpleasant for me either."
The Colonel brushes aside her attempt at flattery with a kind laugh. "Well, that's very charming of you, but I'm not such as old fool as to believe you. Beautiful young thing like you needs a man of her own age. I say! I have my nephew staying. I'm sure he's more your type. What about if I .. I mean, if you're agreeable, of course. Poor boy hasn't had much luck with the ladies of late. Think he's a bit self-conscious about that duelling scar even though I told him the ladies like a warrior. You see I'm not as convincing as you'd be. What do you say? You'd be doing him an enormous favour. And me too. Might be able to stop worrying about the lad if ... Sorry, my dear," he breaks off suddenly self-conscious at his own enthusiasm for the proposal. "I'm getting carried away. I'm good for his payment - if you decide to accept the offer."
Inara smiles to conceal her discomfort at such frank talk of money. She supposes it is something she will have to get used to. "I'd be honoured. But first, if I may, I'd like to freshen up."
Colonel Steadman beams happily at her. "Of course. Bathroom's through that door to your left. What shall we say? Half an hour? An hour?"
A little more than hour later, Inara has bathed, remade the Colonel's king-size beds with fresh sheets and reapplied her makeup.
A knock sounds on the heavy wooden door.
Inara crosses the room to open it. "Qing jin," she murmurs demurely, inviting her new client into the room.
"Well, well," a familiar voice remarks, the surprise in it rapidly turning into something more sinister. "Inara Serra!"
Her mouth falls open.
Taking a breather from unloading the cargo, Simon looks up to see Zoe hesitating over picking up a crate. All of a sudden she straightens up and claps a hand to her mouth.
Her eyes are wide as she shakes her head. She looks like she might be sick.
"Zoe?" he asks again. "Are you all right?"
She swallows and takes a deep breath. "I'm fine, Doctor."
"Well ya look terrible!" Jayne informs her cheerily. "That New Melbourne ale too strong for ya?"
"Why don't you leave this to Jayne and I?" Simon suggests as Zoe pales. "It's nearly all done."
"Got what we need, all safe and sound!" River announces from where she's sitting with her back resting against the entrance to her favourite hidey hole. Well, at least she's not inside it, Simon's pleased to note.
Another wave of acid bubbles up into Zoe's throat and she decides to accept Simon's offer.
Jayne and Simon return to completing their task. This really is one helluva loada crates. Jayne reckons them folk on Beylix mus' either be plannin' to blow theirselves up an' put an end to their sufferin' or else they're plottin' rebellion.
Not that he cares much either way.
He wipes the sweat from his face and glances over at Simon. The Doc ain't flaggin' at all. Under that fancy exterior he mus' be stronger than he looks. Certainly got a few good muscles in his arms, that's for sure. As for the rest of him ... Jayne stops himself Right There.
"Pretty strong for a Core fella, ain't ya?" he comments, helping Simon move the last pallet. "So what I can't figure is why you ain't better at fightin'."
"Not a lot of call for it in the O.R." Simon swings another crate into the hold. "Besides, I don't think I'm really the fighting sort."
Jayne snorts. "Everyone's the fightin' sort when they get their dander up. Even you."
"I don't think so."
"So - you jus' gonna let every dumbass kid between here an' the Rim take a poke whilst you turn the other cheek?" Jayne sneers.
"How you gonna stop 'em?"
Simon shrugs. "I don't know."
"I could show ya."
"Uh - I don't know-"
"Aw, come on, Doc! We'll finish off here an' I'll give you a lesson. It'll be fun!"
And, to Simon's immense surprise, it is. Jayne shows him how to block his opponent with one fist and how to land a decent blow with the other, how to centre himself so that's he's not easily knocked over and how to tense his muscles against a punch to the stomach. Simon's a quick learner and Jayne's a good teacher with bags of enthusiasm for his subject.
When Kaylee comes lookin' for River she's horrified to see Simon dodgin' Jayne's massive fist an' aimin' a kick at his shins.
"Just playing," River tells her, beckoning for her to come over and take a seat on the floor.
"Okay, now I'm gonna show ya what to do if yer opponent gets a lock on ya," Jayne declares, grabbing Simon without warning by the neck. "Can you breathe?"
"Not so much," Simon wheezes.
"Good. Gotta make it realistic. Now you gotta throw me off balance, see? What I generally does is stamp on their feet, twist round, knee 'em in the balls an' then smack 'em hard in the face whilst they're still reeling. Think you can do that?"
Simon has no air with which to reply so he just nods and stamps his foot down as hard as he can on Jayne's toes. The pressure on Simon's windpipe eases up immediately and he twists round and breaks free but somehow none of the rest of it goes right. He loses his balance, Jayne loses his and they both end up on the floor laughing.
River claps with delight.
"What in the good gorram is goin' on here?"
Tamade, it's Mal an' he ain't lookin' best pleased. Jayne gets quickly to his feet and hauls Simon up. "I'll be in my bunk," the mercenary mumbles and heads for the stairs.
Simon Tam looks mighty pleased with himself, Mal notices.
"Jayne was teaching me how to fight," the medic explains breathlessly, casting an almost affectionate look after the big man.
"Was he now?" Mal's tone is suspicious. "Cos from where I was standin' it looked like somethin' else entirely."
"What?" Simon's brows knit together. Mal is clearly angry about something but Simon has no idea what. "What did it look like?"
Mal takes a step closer. He's so close to grabbin' the boy an' shakin' him it ain't funny. "Like you was flirtin' with Jayne," he accuses in a dangerously quiet undertone.
"Flirting?" Simon's voice rises in disbelief and comes out far louder than he intended. "Me? You thought *I*was flirting with Jayne?"
"Well, wa'n't you?" Mal demands through clenched teeth to stop himself from raisin' his voice too. No need for the whole gorram crew to hear this.
"Would it matter if I were?"
The Captain gives Simon an unfathomable look and then simply turns on his heel and leaves.
Simon watches him go, scratching his head.
Kaylee approaches an' starts apologizin' on the Cap'n's behalf.
"Cap'n di'n't mean that," she assures him. "He's mad cos he's unhappy about 'Nara goin'. He wou'n't have said that otherwise cos he knows you ain't sly..." She breaks off, noticin' the way Simon's gaze has dropped to the floor an' the way he's bitin' his lip. "He knows you ain't ... cos you ain't, right?" Her tone is less certain now.
"No! Don't tell me! Don't you dare say it, Simon Tam!"
"NO!" Kaylee repeats him desperately. "You ain't."
Simon catches hold of her hands, presses his forehead to hers. "Yes, Kaylee. I am. And I'm sorry. Sorry I didn't tell you before. I should have."
"They're heading for New Hall," Gaunt says, flexing his long fingers. "No doubt about it. Gordon's ship is set to rendez-vous."
Ginger rechecks the datafeed and opens a secure link to headquarters.
"I trust you have good news for me gentlemen."
"Indeed, Director. We have a positive read on Serenity's destination and are altering course for pursuit. River Tam will be in the Consul's possession within the week."
She has such lovely things. The finest of everything. Lace and silk and fur. And none of it means a damn to her. She would give it all up in a heartbeat if he could only find the courage to ask her to.
River takes a paintbrush and ink from the drawer beside her bed - her vast, welcoming bed that always feels empty no matter how many clients she takes into it because the one man in the 'verse she wants has never occupied it. There's not even the ghost of him upon her satin sheets, nor the scent of him on her pillows.
River finds paper in a box near the dressing table. No, not paper. Parchment. Rough to the touch. Like his hands. Strong, like his body. And beautiful.
River blinks aways the pictures forming in her head. These are her dreams, not his. His are the only ones that matter.
She dips the brush in the ink and paints a perfect circle. No beginning, no end. Eternal.
"Captain," River replies without looking up. A line, a curve. Lost and found.
"You shou'n't be in here, xiao mei-mei. This here's Inara's shuttle."
"Not really," River replies. It belonged to you. All of it. But you didn't know. Never saw it. "That's why she left."
"Yeah. Well, it was never meant to be a permanent arrangement," Mal says, mostly to himself.
There was a road and it was going somewhere. Somewhere beautiful and scary. And the further you went down it, the more lost you became, until the kinks and twists tangled together into knots you couldn't untie. And now you're really lost. Lost in the woods and unable to see the path. Not even sure there is one anymore.
River lays down her brush and hands Mal the piece of parchment.
"What's it say?" he asks, trying to make sense of the swirls and lines.
"The last bit," River sighs impatiently as if it should be obvious.
"Really?" Mal asks, humourin' her an' turnin' the sheet this way an' that. "Look more like an eye to me."
Trouble with shipboard life is it's real hard to get away from folk. There's only so many places you can go.
Mal's favourite place for seekin' solitude is up on the bridge an' since he knows Wash and Zoe are in their bunk right now, that's where he heads.
Only when he gets there - hoetze de pigu - he finds the gorram Preacher sittin' in the pilot's chair, gazin' out into the Black, fingertips pressed together, forefingers against his lips.
"You prayin', Preacher?" Mal asks, not botherin' to conceal his irritation at the other man's unwanted presence.
"In a manner of speaking, Captain, " the Shepherd replies evenly. "Praying I'm wrong."
Mal does a double-take. "Wrong? Wrong about what?"
"This." Book indicates a faint read on the long range radar. "Size and speed of an IAV. Coming our way."
"Gorramit," Mal curses, "Tha's all we need!"
"Indeed. Unfortunately Captain, it's not all we've got."
Book points a finger at the medium range radar screen. "Here. Another vessel. Also heading out way."
Mal's hand moves instinctively to his gunbelt. "Tamade. More Feds?"
"Don't think so. Definitely not a standard Alliance vessel. Couldn't identify it at all, as a matter of fact. Not one I've ever seen before.
Mal quirks an eyebrow. "Can't be many spaceships they di'n't familiarize you with at the Abbey."
Book ignores the jibe. "They're a ways out yet, Captain. Should be able to get a visual some time tomorrow morning. Not much we can do for now. Best we eat and get some sleep before they get here."
"Eat? Sleep? With the Feds an' some mystery ship on our tail?" Mal scoffs. "Ain't gonna happen."
Book stands and rests a hand on his shoulder. "Sufficient unto the day, son. And there's not many things look worse after a good meal. I made steak pie."
Mal glowers darkly at him. "Thought I told you no luxuries?"
The Shepherd smiles. "Sometimes you need to feed the soul as well as the body, Captain."
Zoe is the last to take her seat at the dinner table. Simon would ask her if she's feeling any better but Book has started saying grace and old habits die hard. The medic closes his eyes and bows his head. Beside him River stares at Zoe with undisguised curiosity.
Kaylee ain't mad at Simon. Not any more. She's just sad. Feels like she's lost something shiny an' special an' it's left her so empty inside that she could eat the whole gorram pie the Shepherd's made for dinner all by herself. Instead she takes a particularly small portion of food, castin' a sideways glance at the Cap'n in the hope that he appreciates her restraint. But Mal's mind seems to be elsewhere. He's chewing on the inside of his cheek an' frownin' at his plate.
Wash passes the pie to his wife. She takes a small slice, then thinks better of it, cuts it in half and slides one piece back onto the serving dish.
"Less than fifty percent," River declares loudly. "Less than fifty percent of what you need."
"Shen me?" Zoe asks, a mite spooked by the girl's words.
"Eating for two now," River smiles sweetly. She cocks her head to one side and puts a hand behind her ear. Her eyes have that distant look as if she can hear things the others can't.. "Listen! Patter of tiny feet."
Wash gulps. "We're pregnant?"
Zoe is shaking her head, disbelieving and yet at the same time knowing in her heart of hearts that River is right. "I don't know. We could be. I've been feeling ..."
"Congratulations!" Shepherd Book says warmly as Kaylee starts to squeal with excitement. Even Jayne grins and comments that Wash must be more of a man than he looks.
"You okay, husband?" Zoe asks with a grin, looking at Wash's stunned face.
He kisses her cheek. "Yeah. I'm okay. I'm amazed. I'm also scared and a bit queasy. But yeah - okay!" A bright smile lights up his face as realization dawns. "We're gonna be a family!"
Family. The word penetrates River's brain like a knife. Family was all he ever wanted. Lost both of his own - the one from his past and the one in his future - but made this new one and tried to hold it together with the strength of his love. Only now it's splinterin' apart an' each part that breaks away is takin' a piece of him with it.
River squeezes her eyes shut and a silent tear rolls down her face. This family is not enough for him. She can see that now.
"Great!" Mal snaps, shoving his chair back from the table. "Great idea Zoe. It never occur to you to discuss this little project of yours with me first?"
"I hate to be the one to break this to you, Mal-" Wash's sarcastic tone has an edge of anger to it "-but it's really none of your business. Any discussing of babies will be between Zoe and me, not Zoe and you."
"Fine. Discuss away. Maybe find yourself a new job while you're at it!" Mal yells back. "Oh, this is a fang zong feng kuang de jie an' I don't wanna hear no more about it. I'll be in my bunk."
No-one speaks as Mal snatches up his cup and stalks out of the room.
When he's gone, Zoe addresses Simon. "He's near to breaking, ain't he?"
"Mental health isn't really my area of expertise. But yes. I think he is."
"Ain't there something you can do? Some drug you could give him - just to calm him down a touch - so he can start thinking straight?"
Simon smiles weakly at her. "We have some tranquilizers and a few antidepressants that I've been using to try to help River but I doubt the Captain will accept them." He looks around the table at the anxious faces surrounding him and shrugs. "All right. I guess it wouldn't hurt to try. I'll get my bag."
"Thank you, Doctor." The look of gratitude and - is that admiration?- in Zoe's eyes is almost more than Simon can bear and he hurries off to the infirmary.
River leans across the table to squeeze Book's hand. "That young man's very brave. He's my hero."
Mal starts at the sound of a foot hitting the top of his ladder and lunges for the doorlock button, but it's too late.Daxiang baozhashi de la duzi! The door clangs shut just as Simon reaches the bottom rung.
"Get the hell outa my bunk," Mal growls.
"I will," Simon assures him, refusing to be intimidated by the Captain's scowl. "When I'm sure you're okay. I've brought you some-"
Mal cuts him off by snatchin' the medical bag from this hand an' flingin' it across the room. "Qu diyu cho yade!"
Simon rolls his eyes. "So - you've added the hurling about of things to your already impressive cussing repertoire?" he observes coolly, deliberately echoing Mal's own words from what now seems so very long ago as he retrieves his bag.
"You ain't funny, boy," Mal snarls, stridin' over to stand much too close.
Simon stays where he is but can't quite maintain eye contact. And that's when he notices his waistcoat - the one he was sure River had hidden from him as a game - lying in a creased heap just under the head of Mal's bed. He blinks in surprise and looks back up at Mal who's staring at the vest as if it might explode in his face.
"What-?" Simon begins.
"I don't ruttin' well know," Mal lies. Badly. "Mayhap that moonbrain sister of yours put it there."
One corner of Simon's mouth lifts slightly. "Mal," he says quietly. "It's all right. Really."
Mal opens his mouth and closes it, suddenly speechless. He was expectin' a shoutin' match an' now Simon's jus' smilin' at him. An' there's no mistakin' the look in his eyes.
But just in case Mal is going to pretend to, Simon places a hand on the Captain's hip. To make it clear. " Mal-"
"Go. Jus' go."
Simon stays where he is. Doesn't even move his hand.
Panicking slightly now, Mal tries for mean. "Go an' play at bein' a tough guy with your pal Jayne."
Simon's jaw drops. "You're jealous!"
Damn! "Am not."
Simon swallows a smile. "No, of course you aren't. But really Mal-" he reaches up to feel the tight muscles in Mal's neck. "It's not normal to be so tense. I'm worried about you. Please, let me help."
"Don't need no help."
It never ceases to amaze Simon how truculent and obstructive some patients can be. How they persist in challenging their doctor's authority and in questioning his ability. He watches as Mal folds his arms across his chest in that same sulky way River does when she won't cooperate. Mal is trying to shut him out just like his sister does, but this time Simon isn't going to let him. No matter how angry and difficult he becomes. Sometimes the patient needs to know that the doctor is in charge.
"Yes you do," Doctor Tam tells Mal firmly, suddenly sure of what he needs to do. "You're exhausted. And I'm fairly certain you're suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome."
"Gou shi. You have all the symptoms-"
"Don't start with the medical jargon!" Mal snaps suddenly, taking a step back. "An' I ain't takin' no drugs. We look to have more Feds after us, more bounty hunters an' who knows what else. Need a clear head to deal with that."
Simon barely registers the mention of these new dangers. There's nothing that he personally can do about them anyway, whereas there is something he can do for Mal.
"I'm not offering you drugs."
Mal gives a short hard laugh. "Well, I sure as hell ain't talkin' about it."
"I'm not offering to talk either."
"Huh?" Mal looks blank for a moment and then his eyes widen. "No," he says quietly and then again more loudly in case it sounded like he didn't mean it. "No."
"I think it will help. I want to."
This time Mal's laugh is bitter, sad. "Could be you're forgettin' what happened last time."
"No. I'm not. But this time I have a plan. And besides - I want to."
"No, Simon." Mal's tone has an almost pleading quality to it. "No. Don't wanna be losin' any more of my crew."
"You wouldn't lose people it you didn't keep pushing them away," Simon tells him, moving closer again and taking hold of Mal's upper arms. "Don't push me away, Mal, please. Don't you think I've got a few ghosts to lay of my own?"
Mal feels his resolve crack a little at these words. Never could turn a deaf ear to cries for help. Simon's lips have parted slightly and his eyes are full of longing. Even so, Mal manages to resist.
"I ain't sly, Doc."
Simon closes the remaining gap between them so that their bodies are flush against one another and his smile grows wider because Mal may be saying one thing with his mouth but his body's saying something else entirely.
"I never thought you were, Mal. I've learnt through bitter experience that the 'verse isn't the way I'd like it to be." A beat whilst they look into each other eyes. "But I don't think you're entirely plain either. And you do care for me."
Mal doesn't deny it outright - just asks "How d'ya figure that?"
"You came back for me on Jiangyin. You rescued me on Ariel. And every day you let River and I stay puts everyone else at risk. Why else would you do that?"
"You're on my crew."
Simon shakes his head, his smile wry now. "Jayne's on your crew. And you gave him one hell of a concussion on my account."
Mal looks surprised. "He tell you about that?"
"No. River did. My sister can be perfectly lucid at times." He notices Mal swallow hard. "She said you were going to kill him. Twice." Mal looks away but Simon gently turns his face back so that their eyes meet again. "You do care for me. And I ...." He hesitates, certain Mal will send him away if he says what he really feels. "I care for you."
Mal tries to tell him 'no' but Simon's drawin' his mouth down towards his own an' this ain't right an' it's gonna end badly but Mal ain't made of stone an' this boy is warm an' solid an' Mal needs both of those things right now.
He grabs Simon by the back of his neck an' kisses him fiercely
Simon doesn't crumple like Mal had been expectin' but instead kisses him back every bit as hungrily. He's stronger than he looks and Mal finds he can lean into him without either of them fallin'. And when all sense of reason burns away in the rising heat - when all of Mal's iron self control finally crumbles and he pushes Simon roughly down onto the bed - he finds he's yanked down too.
And that the hands holdin' him are very nearly as strong as his own.
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Title: Chapter 20. Sometimes you need a doctor.
Series Name: Trauma Medicine.
Author: Kispexi2 [email]
Details: Series | R | *slash* | 47k | 06/24/05
Characters: Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, River, Book, Other - Saffron, Belinda Burgess, Atherton Wing
Summary: In the aftermath of Inara's departure Mal's mood worsens. A couple of old enemies form an alliance, Wash gets some interesting news and Simon works out a new treatment plan for his patients.
Notes: Implied violence.
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