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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal stays with Inara in the hospital, then he goes back to the hotel room in the evening to check on the others.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 681 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Mal slept awkwardly, sitting on the chair, his head resting against the side of the bed, his hand loosely holding Inara’s while she slept. His mind hovered just short of sleep, thinking about the softness of her fingers and how quickly she’d retract them after she awoke.
Inara stirred, sputtered haggardly, gripped Mal’s hand and jerked it sharply, unseating his resting head and causing him to bang his brow against the bed frame. A little dazed, Mal lifted his head and Inara jerked on his hand again. Shaking the fuzz from his brain, he focused on Inara and their eyes locked immediately. She could see! But clearly she was frightened, like the time she woke up and didn’t recognize him.
“Hey, ‘Nara, how are you feeling?” Mal soothed softly, cradling her face.
Inara moved her mouth soundlessly, fell a little deeper into panic, then placed a hand on her throat, sputtering and wheezing. Mal pressed the nurse call button by the bed, then helped Inara sit up and lean forward.
“Can’t talk?” he asked gently.
She shook her head.
“Can you breathe okay?”
She closed her eyes, breathing intentionally, placing one hand on her chest. Mal watched, frustrated by his own helplessness, knowing that this time, she wasn’t faking it.
“I think you got musical ailments – never wake up with the same one twice.”
Inara stopped wheezing long enough to make a face at him and he chuckled lightly.
“Good morning,” a nurse in pink scrubs greeted them, entering calmly. “How-”
“She can’t talk now,” Mal interrupted, not caring for pleasantries.
“That’s … interesting,” the nurse said, coming to the bedside, feeling Inara’s neck, asking her to cough, swallow, and say “ah”. Inara had caught her breath, but sputtered soundlessly when asked to swallow. The nurse went in search of a doctor.
Mal set himself in the chair, out of the way again, watching as Inara sat up straight, folded her hands, and waited patiently for the doctor. ‘Morning,’ the nurse had said. Mal thought briefly of his crew.
The doctor entered a few minutes later, going through the same motions as the nurse, murmuring to himself.
“Doctor,” Mal asked softly, “What is this sickness?”
The doctor kept up his poking and prodding of Inara, addressing Mal without looking at him. “It’s called Hitomi’s Fever. It’s native to Perth, but very rare. Most patients sleep through the first fifteen hours of the fever and wake up permanently blind.” He considered Inara carefully, watching her watch him. “We’ve never caught it early enough to attempt a reversal before.”
“And why can’t she talk?”
“That,” the doctor mused, stroking his chin, staring at Inara as if the answer was written on her forehead. “That is an excellent question.”
Mal shifted angrily, seriously considering throttling the doctor, just so he’d have something to do with his clenching fists. He was surprised to feel a hand on his shoulder restraining him from that same action. It was times like this that Mal believed Simon to be just as clairvoyant as his sister. Or perhaps Simon was just moving him aside, because he was blocking the door. Either way, Simon entered calmly, his hair all spiked from running his hands through it, looking like he hadn’t slept at all.
“What seems to be the problem?” Simon asked, his voice holding all the professionalism that his appearance lacked.
“Her vocal chords are paralyzed,” the doctor answered, perplexed.
Simon did not appear immediately concerned, so Mal relaxed a hair’s breadth.
“And?” Simon prompted.
“This is not a natural progression for the fever.”
“No,” Simon criticized sharply. “It’s a side effect of the drug treatment. Hemophalpin and Cytodikaline.”
The other doctor looked at Simon, clearly confused. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“I… huh,” Simon trailed off reflectively, his voice losing the accusatory edge. “I suppose I only discovered it a few months ago… with River… It will pass as soon as the drugs metabolize.”
His tone softening even more, Simon turned to Inara. “It’ll only last a day or so. You might have trouble swallowing.”
Inara nodded, calmed by Simon’s confidence and tone.
“How are you besides that? I see you watching me.”
She smiled a little.
“Any pain? Hypersensitivity?”
Inara shook her head.
“Follow my fingers,” Simon prompted, holding up two. Inara watched him make two sweeps left and right, then took hold of his hand and motioned for the pen. Before she could set ink to page, Mal spoke for her
“She’s hungry again.”
With no windows in the hospital room, Mal had lost track of the hour. Inara mostly slept and he mostly dozed next to her. Simon came in occasionally with food, but the world had tunneled to a pinpoint and Inara was his only focus.
“Sir?” Zoë’s voice called through the haze of darkness.
“Oh, wha…” Mal murmured, the muscles in his neck crying in agony at the move. “Hey, Zoë. What time is it?”
“Just after 1900.”
The time processed slowly through Mal’s brain, causing the world to expand beyond the single room. Mal suddenly felt guilty for not considering his crew and he stood quickly, nearly making his vision black. Zoë ignored his wooziness and handed him a musty smelling coat.
“Thought you might want this before you go out next.”
Mal noticed that Zoë was wearing a fresh set of clothing and carried even more.
“Is that for Inara? Where’d you get these?”
“Second hand store,” Zoë answered. “There’s a ranch partway out of the city hiring day laborers. Jayne, Kaylee, and I –”
“Kaylee?” Mal repeated, another pang of guilt hitting him at the thought of Kaylee working on a ranch all day while he dozed in a hospital. Mal had done his share of ranch work growing up. It was a chore he didn’t readily wish on others.
Zoë laughed off his guilt. “Kaylee’s the bread winner of the day, fixin’ all them tractors.”
Mal smiled and relaxed a little. “I don’t think that girl’s ever seen a machine that don’t speak to her.”
“Do you know where Simon is?”
“I – ” Mal paused, realizing he hadn’t actually left the room since they arrived, though Simon had floated in and out frequently. He vaguely recalled Simon saying River was “up”. On an unrelated note, he also realized that he was in need of a shower and in want of a close shave. Briefly, he considered returning to the hotel room with Zoë, if only to check on his crew. He glanced at Inara, who was awake now and staring vaguely at the blank wall.
“Have the nurse’s station page him,” he answered.
“No need,” Simon said, entering with River. The girl’s color had returned and she was clearly stable on her feet, but she whimpered and tugged at Simon’s wrist. Zoë set immediately to bundling River in one of the coats she’d brought along, assuring her that they’d leave soon.
Simon offered Mal a bowl of tomato soup and Mal in turn offered it to Inara. She blinked despondently and didn’t ever look at the food. Mal exchanged a look with Simon who shook his head. Wordlessly, Mal set up the food tray by her bed and left the bowl there.
“It’s here if you want it,” he said gently, and then returned to the others. “She won’t tolerate this place much longer,” he told Simon. “I’m going batty my own self staring at these white walls.”
“Our contract here ends tomorrow afternoon. The research doctors will want her to stay longer.”
“She won’t stay,” Mal said, rubbing his eyes, but realizing the image of Inara was seared onto his retinas.
“Go,” River pleaded. “Go now.”
“In a moment, mei mei,” Simon said to her, then turned to Mal. “Captain, when you take River back to the hotel, give her this after she eats.” Simon handed Mal a syringe with green liquid. “And this one later if she has trouble sleeping.” The second syringe was blue. Then he gave Mal a pink one. “Use this one and call me immediately if she starts seizing again.”
Mal looked tiredly at the syringes in his hand, not quite processing Simon’s meaning. “Why am I takin’ her back and not you?”
“I’m working here tonight,” Simon explained, looking slightly abashed. “They’re short-staffed… It’s part of the trade, so we can get the medicine.”
“I should –”
“Check on the others,” Simon finished. “Get a hot shower and a decent meal. I’ll be here with Inara.”
Mal nodded slowly, looking at Inara who still stared vacantly at the wall. He could read it in her eyes – the defeat, the humiliation, and the utter frustration at her illness. He went back to her side and touched her shoulder gently.
“I’ll be back in a few hours,” he murmured. “You better have finished that soup before I come.”
Inara sighed, but didn’t even turn her head to look at him. He hadn’t meant to come off so patronizing.
“Would you rather have pudding or something?”
Inara blinked and finally looked at him, not giving an answer. But there was light in her eyes, and intrigue. It warmed Mal’s heart.
As soon as Mal walked into the hotel room, his heart lightened nearly three kilos. The room was bright, comfortable, and clearly lived in by now. The air smelled of sweat, soap, and coffee, and Jayne and Kaylee were busy pulling food containers out of a plastic bag. Both looked weary from a long day of work, but satisfied. The bed was piled high with second hand clothing.
“Hey, Cap’n,” Kaylee greeted cheerfully. “How’s Inara?”
“A little stir crazy, but otherwise okay,” Mal answered, pulling Kaylee into a one armed hug, trying to absorb some of her tranquility and mirth. She had lost her usual strawberry scent to the hotel soap, but was otherwise her sunshiny self.
“Well if it ain’t old Blackbeard,” Jayne remarked, digging his cheap wooden chopsticks into a bucket of noodles and slurping loudly. Jayne hadn’t shaved, and from the smell of it, hadn’t showered either. “Heard about the money and came back for your cut, eh?”
Mal touched his scruffy face tiredly and didn’t bother to comment. Jayne propped his feet up on the bed, and tipped his head toward the showers. “There’s a fresh razor in there if you want.”
Mal blinked, a little startled, unaccustomed to having his needs met by others. Especially by Jayne. A long shower, a close shave, and a square meal later, Mal sat around the table with his crew, minus Simon and Inara.
“You’re sure Inara’s okay,” Kaylee asked for the umpteenth time.
“Simon’s confident she’ll pull through,” Mal reassured, hoping that Simon had sent him away because he was sure Inara would live, not because he didn’t want Mal around when she died.
“Do we have a next step?” Zoë asked.
“If we’re setting roots here, I’m not stayin’ at that ranch,” Jayne grumbled.
“You’re free to do what you like. I’m getting my ship back.”
“I only meant –” Jayne protested but he was silenced by a look from Zoë.
“In the meantime,” Zoë continued calmly.
“Monty,” River interrupted them, picking vaguely at her fingernails. They all looked at her expectantly waiting for her to finish. She continued to clean her fingernails with a folded sheet of paper. Finally she glanced around the table, seemingly unaware that she hadn’t completed the initial thought. “He has your ship,” she explained simply.
“He has a ship,” Mal clarified.
River rolled her eyes in that patronizing way she had. “No, he has your ship.”
“Girl, Monty didn’t take the ship,” Jayne spat.
“Not from us.”
“He may be able to help, though,” Mal mulled, his mind stewing, calculating how much it might take to hire a friend to steal back your home from a half dozen of hun dan with five Alliance assault rifles and one corked baseball bat.
River had no trouble falling asleep and Mal was grateful, because she’d given him the saddest face when he’d administered the post-meal shot. Mal honestly couldn’t fathom how Simon survived those wounded-puppy eyes begging not to be drugged. After stealing all the chocolate off the turned-down beds, River burrowed under the stack of second-hand clothing that Zoë was sorting, folding, and putting into the drawers.
Mal could feel his lids growing heavy, and he tossed around the idea of catching a few winks here at the hotel before returning to the hospital. Kaylee was fast asleep in the second bed and Jayne stood in front of the mirror, meticulously sculpting his goatee now that he had proper tools. It had not escaped Mal’s notice that a large fraction of Jayne’s first day’s wage had gone to purchasing a decent hunting knife and a supply of matches.
Pressing his palms against his thighs, Mal forced himself to stand and help Zoë fold the clothes, slowly unburying River in the process. He noticed Zoë tugging the girl’s dress into place and brushing the hair off her face, compelled by some maternal instinct that Mal reveled seeing in his friend, but was rarely privileged to. Following her lead, Mal unbuckled River’s boots and pulled them off and he and Zoë carefully maneuvered the sleeping River under the covers.
Once the clothing was folded, Zoë yanked off her own boots and crawled into bed next to Kaylee, leaving the two beds in the second room for Jayne and Mal. Mal was about to grab the key and head over when Jayne emerged from the bathroom, smelling of aftershave, his goatee shaped to perfection. Quietly, Jayne slithered into the bed where River slept.
“Um, Jayne,” Mal said, his voice an unsettled warning. “What are you doing?”
Jayne looked over, as guilty as a child with his hand in the cookie jar. “Come on, Mal,” he whined. “She’s a stone cold killer, but she’s all soft and cozy when she’s sleepin’.”
Jayne was about to protest loudly, but Mal’s stern look limited him to quiet grumbling. Mal was sure he heard a comparison of River and Vera surfacing in the mumbles, but he let it slide. Careful, so as not to disturb River, Jayne slipped out of the bed again and the two men crossed the hall into the second room to sleep.
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