BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MERRYK

Crew, But Not - Chapter 4
Monday, November 12, 2007

Simon and River struggle to find their place in Serenity's crew. Simon goes shopping in Boros, and Mal punches him again.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1910    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 4

Simon woke suddenly and sat up without thinking. He had slept too long—the past near-week had already trained his body to the schedule of being woken every few hours by one of River’s nightmares. And now, as he got up and opened her door, he saw why he had remained asleep.

“River?” came his voice, slightly hoarse after just waking, but concerned all the same. Yesterday she had hidden under her bed, but she never failed to answer when he called. And there was no answer.

Throwing on a shirt and trousers, he left the room in search of her. It was late in the morning, and the ship was alert. This was bad, this was very bad.

He moved swiftly through the lounge and checked in the infirmary, then went up to the kitchen, pausing only to ask Kaylee and Book as inconspicuously as possible if they had seen River. He hid his worry at their negative responses, and ignored Jayne’s comment from across the room of “Girl was creepin’ around my bunk last night, doc, n’ I don’t want it happenin’ again,” then went up to the bridge and then down to the cargo area. She was nowhere.

“River?” he called in the cargo bay, and it echoed slightly.

“Is something wrong?” asked Inara, just leaving her shuttle.

“I can’t find River,” he confessed, holding back the desperation in his tone.

“She can’t have gone anywhere,” said Inara, reassuringly. “Did you try the other shuttle?”

Simon at once turned and went up the stairs two at a time. “River,” he called, as he struggled for a moment to get the shuttle door to open. The door finally slid aside to reveal what Simon had hoped for and been afraid of.

“Oh no, mei mei,” he murmured, coming forward to kneel and wrap his arms around her as she knelt on the floor. She was shaking and breathing frantically, eyes wild and not teary, hands buried deep in her tangled hair.

“Rabbit holes,” she gasped, neither fighting nor resting in his arms, but almost ignoring his very presence. “A safe trap, doors look as many but lead to only one,” she rambled on, her breathing fast and jerky. “They’ll come, he’ll let them come.” She let out a scream, half-hoarse but horrifying, and began to struggle violently.

“River, River, mei mei,” he said, holding her close so that she was only hurting him. She arched back and struck at him, eyes darting back and forth, breaths coming like gasping sobs. “Mei mei, it’s all right, I’m here.” Still she struggled, fighting back with a strength he could only match because of recent events. “River, it’s Simon, your brother. You’re safe, you’re safe, mei mei.” She let out a final pained cry, and then sunk down to her knees again.

Simon gathered her closer, resting her head on his shoulder while she trembled as the adrenaline still coursed through her veins. “Oh, mei mei,” he murmured brokenly. What was this, some form of punishment for yesterday’s calm? Was she now to pay for every lucid moment with paranoid terror? God, how could anyone have faith in anything in a world where such justice lived?

“No, no, don’t want to go,” cried River as he tried to help her to stand.

“Please, River,” persuaded Simon quietly, keeping his arm securely around her. “You haven’t slept all night, and it is cold up here. We need to go back.”

She protested, babbling on in words that meant nothing to Simon, but perhaps in some corner of her mind she knew what he was doing and made no struggle as he took gentle steps towards the door.

The crew was filling up the cargo bay, talking, Wash and Kaylee prepping the mule, Jayne making sure Kaylee knew what he wanted along with the new supplies. Inara’s shuttle was just leaving. Simon and River moved hastily down the stairs, catching the sight of all, but attention of none. River looked at them all as she always did, and let out a small cry of fear that Simon could not place, but then she pulled more towards the infirmary, which he was glad to comply with. Shepherd Book was just leaving his chamber, and followed them in.

“Need help, son?”

Simon didn’t respond at first as he helped River sit, and left her for a moment to find a sedative. “Things are worse today.” He felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Do you think that drugging her will make it better?” asked Book gravely.

“No, it won’t make it better,” said Simon bitterly. “Nothing can do that. But I am not going to let her cause harm to herself because I do not know yet what medicines will be more effective.” He paused as he tried to calm River, stroking her back and murmuring, “It’s time to rest again,” as he quietly gave her the injection. She lay back, a tear running down her cheek, still shivering a little. Simon turned again to Book, indignant. “Do you think I want this?”

“Take it as a warning, not an accusation,” said Book quietly. “I know what it’s like, to have the power to do what you think is best for someone, and sometimes you forget that you are dealing with someone’s life. She cannot be sedated forever.”

Simon sat wearily down, resting his forehead in the palm of one hand.

“You had errands to run today, did you not?” asked Book.

“Yes,” said Simon. “I did not think of what I should do with River, though.”

“Leave her to me,” said Book, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“No, I—I don’t want to keep you from where you need to go,” said Simon, rubbing his brow.

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Book smiling.

“Really?”

“I discussed it with the Captain, and surprisingly he has allowed me to stay on for another trip,” said Book. “I didn’t feel that this was where my journey should end.” Simon didn’t say anything. “She’s asleep, and there are radios to keep in touch. Go. Get what you need.”

“Right,” said Simon, breathing out slowly. He took his datapad from the counter and paused to look at River.

“We’ll be fine,” assured Book.

Simon nodded, and turned to go back into the cargo bay. Mal and Zoe had just left in the second shuttle, and Kaylee was talking to Wash by the mule.

“Y’ coming?” she asked as Simon came over.

“Yes,” said Simon. “Shepherd Book is watching River for me. Do you know where I could find medical supplies here?”

“Come on,” said Kaylee, beckoning for Simon to get one the mule.

In many ways, Boros wasn’t as bad as Simon had predicted—it wasn’t particularly crime-ridden to the casual eye, and the odors and sights were primitive but not to a huge extent. Unfortunately, this was due to the thing that was worse than Simon’s predictions: the Alliance presence. They kept the streets clear and clean, to be sure—and police officers were stationed every couple blocks. It had escaped Simon’s mind when choosing a destination that this planet had supported Independence and had a more concentrated Alliance presence now; at that time he had not come to grips with his new criminal status, and thought of the Alliance as protection against the unsavory parts of human nature.

Now he was distracted by everything—he was not yet comfortable with people begging for money or offering services he had no desire for, and he felt tension at each officer of the law, no matter if they gave him a glance or not. He tried to keep an eye on the streets they turned on, in case they ever came back here. After a couple of minutes on the mule, Kaylee stopped.

“This is probably where you’ll find what y’need,” she said, wrinkling her nose a bit. “Normally Zoe gets those things.”

“Thanks,” said Simon, scrambling off the mule with his bag.

“I’ll pick ya up at the bar when I’m done,” she said, indicating a building nearby. “Have fun!” Then she was off, before Simon had time to request a more neutral meeting place.

This store had a sign that said “Clothing and Medical”, and Simon had to scratch his head at that before straightening his coat and walking inside.

~*~*~*~*~

“Lady Tembriar?” asked Zoe.

“Neglect the ear-cleaning, or is that the tone of incredulity?” answered Mal, pushing buttons in a manner that appeared random, though the right controls turned on.

“Just wondering who you were contacting who would hear about this job,” answered Zoe, strapping a gun to her boot.

“Didn’t have to. I’m to understand hiring independent contractors is considered an act of charity among the highbow.”

“An open Independent sympathizer on Boros?”

“No, just a small business supporter,” corrrected Mal, detaching from his ship with only a little bit of a wobble.

“Sounds safe enough,” Zoe admitted.

“As I said, quirky, not suspicious.”

“I like to make my own assessments, sir, that’s all.”

“I don’t know, all Mal’s bosses are kinda unsavory,” muttered Jayne from the back, where he was sulking a bit about having to come along on this one. Mal was thankful he was mostly silent about it.

Mal hovered a little before turning to the right and pressing on the accelorator. There was a moment where the only sound was the exciting rush of the engines, and Mal stroked the wheel of his darling little ship, content now that things were back to normal. The ground began to fly beneath them.

And then there was silence. “What the—” started Mal, as the shuttle began to fall from the sky.

~*~*~*~*~

Simon felt a little out of place in the small store, but as the long-haired store owner stood up straight and brushed his jacket down, he gained a little confidence.

“Good morning, sir,” the man said, coming forward with arms spead welcomingly. “Your desires are mine.”

“Um, right,” said Simon, losing his thought for a moment. “How well stocked are you on medical supplies?”

“The store is yours, young sir. You have but to speak the word, and the product will be before your eyes.” The wide smile, the hands palms up, the cheerful tone—it was all rather odd to Simon, but somewhat reassuring.

“This is what I’m looking for,” he said, bringing up his datapad and showing it to the man.

“Oh,” said the shopkeeper, drawing out that one syllable to change its meaning several times. “Well, well, sir, just come this way.” He walked down one of the aisles, Simon following. “The stars foretold your coming and had me purchase just what you need. All the medicines you will find down there, and here we have the latest product from Blue Sun, their blue latex surgical gloves, surely to fit the needs of just such a person as you.”

Simon took a box from the shelf and flipped it over. “These are not hypoallergenic,” he said.

“Oh, of course,” said the man, and pointed to another box. “You know what you are about, sir. These are a generic brand, but high quality, of course.”

“Hmm, yes,” said Simon. He listed off a few more items, and then walked to the other aisled and began calculating the prices of the medicines he wanted.

“Do you need help?” asked the shopkeeper with wide smile.

“No,” said Simon slowly, making a last minute decision between the extra bottle of isoprovaline and the hydrozepam. He decided for the isoprovaline. “I think this will do.”

“Do you have any clothing needs?” asked the man, beckoning across a few aisles to where clothing racks lined the walls.

“Um, yes, actually,” said Simon, wrinkling his brow.

“As I said, your wish was already anticipated,” exclaimed the shopkeeper, almost a bounce in his step as he led Simon over.

“How did—why have both clothing and medical supplies?” asked Simon as he began flipping through the warm leggings and sweaters.

“I shall share a secret with you, good sir,” said the man, drawing a little too close for Simon’s comfort. “Good business.”

“Really,” said Simon flatly, shifting away and looking closely at a coral sweater that he found particularly ugly.

“Transports come through this part of town,” explained the man. “My brother owns the food and mechanics store, for those who are just stocking up on necessities. But after a long long journey, or for those making the first step, they will think about those necessities that are not so obvious. My existence justified.”

“I see,” said Simon. He had to admit that it made sense, but he wasn’t interested in a conversation. He let his hand rest on some flannel socks. It could get cold on Serenity, and River was so thin. He took a few pair, as well as some half leggings and a couple sweater-like overgarments.

“Not this one?” asked the shopkeeper, disappointedly holding out the more expensive coral sweater.

Simon cringed at the sight. “Ah—” he began.

“It is not for you, but for a young lady?” prompted the man.

“Of course,” said Simon hastily.

“She does not like this color?”

“Actually—” Actually, River loved bright colors. Simon lived in the neutral and the cool tones, but he knew in that instant that River would adore that sweater. It had a ragged design to it as well, which he was sure she would find interesting. Somehow all her tactile tendencies had been multiplied a hundredfold since the Academy. “Yes, thank you, I will tak that also,” he said.

“Good!” cried the man, grinning wider than Simon would have thought possible. “And now, to the counter!”

Simon paid up his credits, about half of what he had left, and the shopkeeper began wrapping the medicines in soft insulation. “Shall I wrap the sweater as a present?” he asked. “Only seven bits more.”

“No, that’s all right,” said Simon. He took up his purchase bags and left, making his way to the tavern, where he sat in the most deserted corner for what seemed like an hour.

“Have fun?” came a cheery voice to Simon’s ears. He had put his head in his hands as the smoke and noise had steadily worn on his nerves, but looked up now.

“I have what I need,” he answered.

“Good! So do I, so we can go now.”

Simon got up almost eagerly, and they began driving back to the ship.

~*~*~*~*~

“You all right, Zoe?” asked Mal, coughing up some dust.

“A bit bruised, that’s all,” said Zoe, shrugging her shoulders as her neck cracked.

“What th’ hell happened?” moaned Jayne, regretting not being seated as the shuttle half-soared half-tumbled to the sands just outside Boros.

“Not a mechanic, sir, but I believe that was a stall,” said Zoe.

“Yeah, but why? Loaded with fuel, it shouldn’t do that.” Mal flipped a few controls. “Says we don’t have fuel.”

Zoe checked the fuel gauge herself. “We do,” she said, and then looked at another gauge on the dashboard. “It’s just not getting to the engine. Someone’s reset the fuel tube to deliver a slow supply of fuel, for a long space journey, not a short flight.”

“Gorramit, I thought you said Kaylee could only do small changes,” growled Jayne.

“It wasn’t Kaylee,” said Mal, eyes darkening. “She knew we needed the shuttle today. And, she wasn’t up in the shuttle.” He noticed something white on the bare grey floor, and stooped to pick it up. His brow narrowed. “Let’s get back to the ship.”

~*~*~*~*~

Simon hurried to the infirmary as soon as Kaylee stopped the mule. River was still sleeping soundly, and Book smiled at him.

“Worried?”

“Yes,” answered Simon, half embarrassed.

“You need to learn to relax,” said Book, putting down his Bible and sitting up.

“Thank you for watching her,” said Simon, as he began to unload his purchases.

“It was no trouble,” answered Book, standing to help Simon by unwrapping each bottle. “Sterizing equipment,” he commented, glancing at the other bags. “I feel safer already.”

“It’s amazing they survived this long,” said Simon, loading the boxes of gloves, needles, and ready-made doses of certain medicines into his drawers.

Book chuckled, and Simon looked back over his bags. One was missing, and he went back to the cargo bay and found the one with River’s special package in the mule. He heard a few steps behind, and then turned around to catch a magnificent punch to the right jaw.

Simon went flying backwards, River’s brown-paper-wrapped sweater landing several feet away. “What? he managed, blinking his eyes as the stars faded, and looking up into the furious face of Malcolm Reynolds. He rose to his feet.

“You ain’t got much in the way of brains, top 3% aside,” said Mal, his right hand clenching by his hip. “If you had, you’d have waited to modify my shuttle to steal until after we used it and had a near brush with the angel of death.”

“What are you implying, Captain?” asked Simon, his hairs bristling in indignation. “I haven’t touched your shuttle.”

Mal thrust a handkerchief in his face. “S. T. Fancy white lace. Even Jayne could decipher those signs. You were trying to steal my shuttle—or kill me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” remarked Simon. “I didn’t go anywhere—oh no,” he sighed.

“Memory returned?” Mal asked dryly.

Simon brought his hand up to his face, rubbing across his eyes as a little weariness returned. “River was up there this morning, terrified about something. She—I don’t think she feels safe here.”

“So it was little genius, then,” said Mal, his ire dropping a couple notches. “I thought I told you to keep her in check.”

“She sleepwalked,” defended Simon sharply. “I can’t control that. I’ll tell her to stay away from the shuttle, though.”

“I’d be obliged,” said Mal in a tone that belied the civility of his words.

“So’d he do it?” asked Jayne, walking in and seeming disappointed to see Simon still standing.

“No, it was River,” said Zoe. “She didn’t mean any harm.”

Jayne frowned, and wandered off to his bunk grumbling.

“Don’t let this happen again,” said Mal, the anger gone from his tone, and walked off himself.

“Kaylee’s going to drive out and fix things up,” said Zoe, coming back. “We’ll have to make the deal tomorrow, though.”

Simon sighed and returned to the infirmary. Things were going so well, weren’t they

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