BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HARRIET VANE

Honeyed Thorns: part thee of five
Wednesday, July 9, 2003

All that stuff that happened in the first to chapters . . . it keeps going, only racier and more exciting.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3372    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

CHAPTER THREE

"He’s real sweet, usually," Kaylee told Drake as she sat down next to him on the couch. "He’ll warm up. He’s just not the kind who knows how to be friendly right off."

"Looks like he had a little crush on you," Drake said with a laugh.

"Yeah, well," Kaylee muttered, trying to ignore the feeling of guilt pressing down on her heart. "It ain’t like he didn’t have his chance."

"His loss is my gain," Drake said lustfully. "I don’t suppose you’d have any wine, would you?"

"Wine?" Kaylee asked, laughing a little. "Why would you . . .?"

"I feel like celebrating my gain," he said simply.

"Then you’re in luck. Wine I got."

"This is just my lucky day," Drake said. His voice, tinted with utter amazement, made Kaylee laugh. "I don’t want to drink it here, though," he told her. "We should go somewhere more private."

Kaylee giggled, "Don’t want too-serious doctors sneaking up on us do we? And the preacher’ll be back any minute."

"Your room?" he asked hopefully.

Kaylee opened her mouth to assent, but quickly remembered that River was hidden up in Zoë and Wash’s room, which meant Simon would be in and out of the crew quarters. She didn’t want him to see her steal away with Drake, although she didn’t bother to think about why that was. "The shuttle," Kaylee suggested. "After all, it’s why you’re so lucky."

"No, it’s not," Drake said suggestively, leaning forward so he could nuzzle her neck with his nose.

Kaylee kept giggling as she stood up, grabbing his hand and pulling him up with her. "Come on," she said, smiling sweetly. "We’ll fetch the wine and then I’ll give you a tour of the shuttle."

"Is it that big?"

"No," Kaylee said, shaking her head playfully. "But I know every little corner."

"Then by all means," Drake said. "Let’s get that wine."

* * *

"So," Ojal, one of Inara’s fellow companions, asked. "Tell us all about your adventures."

Inara laughed and turned to her dinner. It was nice, she thought, to be eating dinner with one’s colleagues in an intimate setting. It was relaxing and mature and wonderfully unlike the ruckus that so often accompanied meal times on Serenity.

"I don’t know that I would call them adventures," Inara said. "Space travel is mostly sitting and waiting until you reach the next planet."

Ojal looked disappointed. The girl was just over 20, having graduated from the Academy only six months before. When Inara had left, she’d been a novice, living in the House Mederssa doing menial tasks for the other Companions while she completed her training. Inara had always liked the girl, and taken her under her wing, in a sense, much as Michi had taken her under her wing. When Inara left, Ojal had openly cried.

"Modest Inara," Ryanne, a companion who’d graduated from the Academy two years earlier than Inara and done everything she could to make Inara’s own novitiate a living hell. For reason’s neither of them ever really understood, that trial by fire had made them close friends as soon as Inara was accepted into the house. "You had adventures, and you know it. You can’t go to the rim and not have adventures."

"Well, I’ve been in firefights, if that’s what you mean," Inara said.

"You fired a gun," Ojal asked in shock and awe.

"No," Inara said with a smile. "I hid while other people fired guns."

"You’re holding out," Xuan, another of Inara’s dear friends said. She was about six years older than Inara but the two had always gotten along. "I can see it in your eyes."

"Well," Inara said, searching her mind for something that would qualify as and ‘adventure’. "For a short time there was a Reaver on our ship."

Ojal gasped, "You’re kidding!"

"Of course she’s kidding," Ryanne scoffed.

"No," Xuan said, somewhat amazed, "She’s not."

"Tell us the tale then, Nara," Ryanne said, almost as if it were a challenge.

"We found a ship," Inara explained, enjoying the re-telling far more then she’d enjoyed the events. "It was transport for settlers, families. It looked abandoned, but there was a distress call being sent out, so we thought we had better go look and see if there wasn’t anyone we could help."

"And there were Reaver’s on board," Ojal asked with tingling excitement.

"Not really," Inara said. "We, well, the captain really, found one survivor. He was a boy, no more than 25, and he’d seen it all."

"All what?" Rayanne asked.

"Reavers had attacked his ship; we found the bodies. He saw it all, the killing, the mutilation, and it drove him mad."

"Did he attack you?" Xuan asked with concern.

"If he’d attacked her, she’d be dead, " Ryanne pointed out.

"That’s true," Inara said. "Right after we left the ship, the one the Reavers had attacked, an alliance patrol ship found us and assumed that Serenity had done all the damage."

Ojal gasped at the unexpected twist in the story. Ryanne laughed. Xuan asked, "But, how many people had been on that transport?"

"Over forty, as I recall," Inara said, her voice tempered with the appropriate sadness.

"And your ship, Serenity, she carries a crew of?"

"Nine," Inara said, amending, "But that’s counting me, and the Shepherd we had as a passenger, and a 17-year-old girl."

"That’s ludicrous," Xuan said.

"What were the Alliance morons thinking?" Ryanne scoffed.

"They found the boy in our infirmary," Inara said very seriously. "He’d been mutilated."

"But he must have been like that when you saved him," Xuan said. "The Reavers would . . ."

"No," Inara interrupted, shaking her head. "He did it himself."

"That’s horrible," Ojal breathed.

"It is," Inara agreed. "But, as I told you, what he saw drove him mad. As the captain explained it, the only way he could survive what he saw was to try and become the greater force. He turned himself into a Reaver."

"How did you . . .?" Ojal asked, too enthralled by the story to finish her sentence.

"The boy escaped. As I understand it he killed or wounded all the doctors who were trying to help him, and then he killed several guards as he ran back to Serenity."

"Why would he go back there?" Xuan asked.

"I don’t know," Inara shrugged. "But that’s where the captain found him."

"Your captain?" Ryanne asked to clarify.

"He led a group of Alliance officers into Serenity to find the boy. When he attacked he killed one before they even realized what was happening, then he attacked the alliance commander and was about to kill him when the captain snapped his neck, the boy’s, not the commander’s, and saved them all."

"How gruesome," Xuan said, grimacing.

"And you said you didn’t have any adventures," Ojal said, clearly unnerved by the story.

"But it’s not really your adventure," Ryanne observed. "You were, what, safe on the ship Serenity when they found the reaver-boy, and then when he killed all the Alliance people you would have been in the brig, or what have you."

"I told you I didn’t have any adventures," Inara said. "That’s about as close as I came."

"I want to hear more about this captain of yours," Xuan said, a playful tone in her oft-serious voice. "He sounds like quite the man."

"Quite the man," Inara mused. "That’s one way to describe him."

"Is he handsome?" Ojal asked.

"Yes," Inara said slowly. "In a rugged sort of way."

"Unkempt?" Ryanne asked, slightly disgusted. "I hate a man who doesn’t shave."

"Not like that," Inara said. "He managed to shave and shower."

"He seems very brave."

"Foolish more like," Inara chuckled. "He’s the sort of man who can’t let go of anything."

"He let go of you," a sweet and strong voice said from behind them. Inara turned her head and smiled at Michi.

"How long have you been there?" Inara asked with a chuckle as the mistress came and sat in the seat Ojal quickly vacated for her. The girl continued to stand at the table, eager to be part of the conversation.

"Long enough to hear that your captain is ruggedly handsome."

"Did Simon reach the ship all right?" Inara asked.

"Indeed he did," Michi nodded. "We had a very interesting conversation on the way there."

"Did you?" Inara asked, seeming for all the world pleasantly interested.

"He had some very nice things to say about you, deary," Michi said. "He also had faltering words for this captain of yours. Ruggedly handsome, however, was not among them."

All the girls laughed, although Inara’s laugh was somewhat tense.

"But he did leave me curious of your impressions of Captain Reynolds."

"The captain," Inara started. She was smiling brilliantly, and most people would think she had nothing but warm remembrances floating behind her eyes, but she was surrounded by companions, and companions who knew her well. Everyone at the table was aware she was doing her best to fool them, and everyone at the table knew it wasn’t enough.

"He was a chauvinist of the worst kind, always calling me a whore," Inara began to explain. "He thought he had to protect me. Once he even punched one of my clients – an escapade that ended with him being stabbed, at which point I think he learned his lesson. He was so drunk one night he married a girl and didn’t remember it the next morning, and then she tried to steal the ship and kill us all. He made a deal with a gangster, then went back on it, which nearly got us all killed, that was the fire fight I told you about Ojal."

"What a horrid man," Michi said, enunciating every word.

Inara’s composure broke, a little. She laughed and looked down, when she turned back to her friends who were all listening with rapt attention, her smile was a little sadder and much more genuine. "The captain . . . Mal . . . he was the kind of man were everything’s a fight and good has to win. Not an easy man to live with, but he was good company sometimes."

"So I gather," Michi said, nodding as if she understood. Then, taking a deep breath, said, "But, I did not seek you out, my dear, to talk about you’re captain. I need to ask something of you."

"What?" Inara asked, relieved that Mal was no longer the subject of discussion.

"It seems Mage has had another one of her asthma attacks," Michi said with a sigh.

"Poor girl," Xuan said, compassionately.

"It’s gotten worse since you left," Ojal quickly informed Inara.

"She has a client tonight," Michi continued. "Instead of canceling, I was wondering if you’d be willing to offer you’re services, understanding, of course, that if for some reason you would find the man unserviceable . . ."

"I’m sure I wouldn’t," Inara said, feeling a little excited at the prospect of working so soon. "Mage always had wonderful taste. There is one problem."

"Yes?"

"My room, it’s hardly –"

"You can use Mage’s room," Michi said. "She’ll be in the infirmary so she’ll have no use for it."

"In that case I’d be delighted to help."

"Good," Michi said, standing. "The gentleman will be her at half past twenty one hundred."

"I’ll be ready," Inara replied with the calm confidence of a seasoned professional."

* * *

"Ah, Simon," Book said as he entered the bright kitchen. He had his usual smile on, a stark contrast to the doctor’s clenched jaw and Wash and Zoë’s somber expressions. "I’m glad to see you made it home safely."

Book himself had just returned from his adventures at the prison. He’d found his way back with the help of a map one of the MP Officers had been kind enough to draw for him. He’d strolled slowly along the glowing streets thinking and praying and humming hymns to himself. By the time he reached Serenity the sun was just beginning to shed it’s light on the eastern horizon and the shepherd was in a very good mood.

"Michi brought me," Simon said curtly. He was behind the stove, stirring something that smelled more or less editable, and didn’t even bother to look up or say hello. "Would you like some dinner?"

"If you’re making some," The preacher replied, his smile slipped a little as he realized the doctor was not the only grouch in the room. No one seemed happy, not even Wash.

"How’s the captain?" Zoë asked, looking up from the game of Hnefatafl she was playing with her husband.

"Well," Book nodded, walking over to the table and sitting down at his usual spot. "He seems to be doing better then his crew. Are we sad because Inara left?"

"Humping xing zhe," Wash muttered, "I forgot all about that."

"Nothin’s gone right today preacher," Zoë told him.

"Can’t be as bad as all that," Book said utterly bewildered.

"Well, let’s see," Wash said, leaning back. "We have Inara leaving, which nobody really wanted. Then we have Mal and Jayne getting arrested. As much as I like the idea of Jayne behind bars, I think it’d be better if they were out."

"It’s no so much trouble," Book said, trying to sound encouraging. "They’ll be out noon tomorrow."

"Oh, but that’s just the beginning of my honey’s headache," Wash explained with a ridicules, bitter, flamboyance. "’Cause, you see, on her way home from not-being-arrested-because-she’s-a-pretty-girl, Kaylee got attacked by a mugger and saved by . . . well, the only term I can think of is demigod."

"My," Book said, trying very hard to digest the whole story at once. "Is she all right?"

"She’s doing very well," Simon clipped from behind the counter, where he was now dishing rice out of a larger pot into three bowls. "She and Drake couldn’t be happier."

"Drake is the demigod, I take it?" Book said, glancing sympathetically towards the doctor.

"And is he a strapping example of manhood," Wash said.

"Yet, we seem hostile," Book observed, glancing between the three clearly upset people.

"I don’t trust people who are too good to be true," Zoë said, "They almost always turn out bad."

"Almost?"

Zoë nodded coolly towards her husband. "Wash worked out, but ‘fore that, and since, come to think, anything that looks too good to be true, has been."

"So, we don’t like him because he looks good, is handsome?" Book asked, trying not to sound too disappointed in his little flock of lost sheep.

"What kind of people do you think we are?" Wash asked incredulously. "We can accept the extremely good looking, it’s his other perfections we hate."

"I’m not understanding," Book said with a sigh.

"He’s a prospector, wants to rent the shuttle to search out new sights for mines," Zoë said.

"What kind of mines?"

"Iron, coal, gold, whatever’s worth anything," The first mate continued to explain. "Doing it for the family business."

"See, he’s the youngest son of Jarvis and Paige Goodhaus," Wash explained.

"Goodhaus?" Book asked, "As in . . ."

"Goodhaus Industries, a subsidiary of Blue Sun, yes," Zoë nodded.

"Boy can’t help what family he was born in," Book said.

"He was even annoyingly bashful about being filthy rich," Wash said, stuttering. "Asked us not to hold his name against him."

"Got nothin’ against rich folk in general, preacher," Zoë said.

"Yeah," Wash nodded. "We like Simon just fine."

"But, Drake," Zoë continued, shaking her head. "There’s somthin’ about him that just . . ."

"He’s just too likeable," Wash said.

"And you don’t find this logic somewhat backwards?" Book asked. "Liking a person so much that you dislike them?"

"It’s hard but we manage," Wash nodded.

"I’d like him better if I could think of a reason not to," Zoë said.

Book sighed, giving up on the two in front of him, he asked, "How does Kaylee feel about him?”

"Head over heels," Zoe said.

"Quite possibly, literally," Wash said, before being smacked in the arm by his wife.

"Kaylee wouldn’t," Book started with a dismissive chuckle.

"He’s perfect for Kaylee," Simon said from the kitchen, he was focusing solely on pouring the brown sauce over the rice and didn’t even glance in the direction of the other conversing parties. "He’s handsome and he’s polite and he and he’s . . . and they – they match. Plus, he’s . . . he could rent the shuttle and so he’d be here permanently."

"Yeah," Wash said, "Our own permanent perfect person."

"Well, I don’t suppose any of you could introduce me to him," Book asked hopefully.

"Kaylee’s been giving him a privet tour of the shuttle for the last twenty minutes," Zoë said.

"The shuttle’s not that big," Book observed and then, catching on, "Oh."

Simon picked up one of the bowls and brought it, along with a pair of chopsticks, to the preacher.

"Are you all right?" Book asked the boy as he put the food down.

"I’m tired," Simon said, clearly lying, or at least, telling just the smallest fraction of the truth. "It was a long day."

"It was," Book nodded compassionately.

"I’m going to go give River her dinner," Simon said, walking away, back to the counter where his and River’s dinners were sitting. He picked them up and then turned to Wash and Zoë, " I hope you don’t mind if we eat in you’re room."

"Don’t know that we got another option," Zoë said. "Girl’s pretty much stuck there ‘till Drake leaves."

"He hasn’t met River?" Book asked.

"Pretty little girls shouldn’t talk to strangers," Wash commented.

"If the Captain gives this guy the ‘ok’ he can meet River," Zoë said.

"Until then we’re sparing her," Wash said. "We figure, poor girl’s suffered enough."

Book laughed softly, but he couldn’t help feeling an aching sympathy as he watched the doctor carry the two bowls out of the kitchen and to the room where River was hiding. He turned to his own dinner; sticky white rice with protein cubes soaked in some sort of sauce that Book guessed was supposed to be reminiscent of teriyaki. Poor fair by any standards, but Simon was right, it had been a hard day and he was hungry.

He bowed his head and said a quick prayer, thanking God for the food, for the opportunities of the day, for the comforts of home. While he was praying, he slipped in a supplication for the captain and Jayne, that they would be safe in their jail cell, and a prayer for River’s healing, and the general safety of everyone on Serenity, and last but not least, a plea for forgiveness of the strong and unjust dislike he felt for Drake Goodhaus, a person he’d never met.

* * *

"So you fly a cargo hauler?” Fermin, Jayne’s new friend the pimp, asked.

"That’s right," Mal replied dryly. With Book gone back to Serenity for the night, the captain found that he’d rather talk with his cellmates then sit and stew.

"Ever do any smuggling?" Fermin asked. "Traffic contraband?"

"Why would you ask that?" Mal replied.

"I’ve got my own interests."

"Everybody does."

"You didn’t answer the question," Fermin said with a smile.

"As I stand here in this federal jail, I did not," Mal said.

"Because my cousin has some cargo he’d like to get to the rice farms on Bulwark."

"Bulwark," Jayne nodded. "We’ve been there."

"Tough tariffs," Mal observed. "Overhead’s libel to bleed a man dry. But, ah, contraband, as you called it, ain’t taxed."

"Damn government on that moon can’t take its finger out of any pot," Fermin spat.

"Bulwark’s a very religious community," Mal said. "They have a vested interest in protecting the public morals."

"You know, I wish you’re preacher friend was here," Fermin said. "There are some finer points of Christian theology I’d like to discuss with him."

"Mao niao," Jayne muttered. "We’re gonna be talking church-talk?"

"That is an unusual subject for a jail, I’ll admit," Mal said glancing up at his mercenary.

"How can condom’s be a sin, is all I’m askin’. Don’t seem right. All I--I mean, all my cousin -- wants is for people to protect themselves."

"Frankly," Mal said, "As a cargo hauler, I don’t give a damn what you, or your supposed cousin, wants. As a general rule, all I give a damn about is gettin’ paid."

"Sex happens," Fermin said loudly. "Jayne knows what I mean."

"We gonna talk about sex?" Jayne asked hopefully.

"So long as you’re cousin don’t want to traffic in whores I’d like to meet him."

"Might be fun to have whores on the ship," Jayne said with a smile. "I’m sure I could find a place to bed all a them."

"I’m sure you could," Mal grumbled. "But I’m done having whores on my ship. Never again."

"So, you—?" Fermin started to ask.

"Don’t want to discuss it," Mal clipped.

"All right," the pimp nodded. "We won’t discuss it."

"Good," Mal muttered. Then, taking a deep breath, turned back to Fermin, "So, just out of professional curiosity, how much would you’re cousin pay for this kind of job?"

* * *

"I hate him," River said with calm and unshakable conviction.

"What?" Simon asked, craning his neck so he could see the back of her head as she sat on Wash and Zoë’s bed, as he climbed down the ladder to their room.

"I hate him," River repeated, a little bit louder without turning around.

Once Simon had hit the floor he was able to reach up and get their dinners from the floor of the hall above them. Not for the first time he wondered if this was really the most efficient way to build a ship. "Are you talking about Kaylee’s new friend?"

"He’s not her friend," River said bitterly. "He’s thinking about one thing and it’s not being a friend."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Simon asked uncertainly, sitting down next to her and handing her her bowl and a pair of chopsticks.

"They got real food," River said, poking at the largest of her protein cubes with her chopsticks. "He made eggs."

"Eggs?" Simon said compassionately. "I’m sorry you had to miss that, mei mei."

"Zoë tried to save me some but he was greedy, he didn’t understand."

"She couldn’t tell him about you," Simon said, picking at his own food, thinking about eggs. "You know that."

"Not me, I’m not what he doesn’t understand," River said, looking up at her brother and rolling her eyes. "You’re so much better then he is."

"River," Simon said with a chuckle. "Half the time I don’t understand you."

"But you never assume you do," River insisted. "That’s the difference."

"There are other differences," Simon said, turning back to his teriyaki protein cubes.

"She hurt you," River said after a moment.

"I don’t think she meant to," Simon said. "We really should eat. Wash told me you had a very busy day, you must be hungry.”

"We should hate her too," River said, trying to sound encouraging. "Don’t you think?"

"I don’t . . ." Simon started. His voice seemed to get caught in this throat.

River sighed, set down her dinner, and leaned against him, hugging his arm. "It’s ok," she told him as she set head on his shoulder. "You don’t have to hate her. I’ll do it."

"River I don’t want . . ." Simon started uncertainly, pulling away slightly to try and look at her.

"But, you should," River insisted, clinging resolutely to her brother’s arm. "I hate her. I hate them both."

Simon wanted to tell her that hating people was wrong, that it backfired, that nothing good could come out of something so bad, but the resolution in her voice and the overall sweetness of the sentiment touched him. All he could think to say was "Thank you."

She smiled at him and leaned forward to plant a compassionate kiss on his cheek, "Lancelot doesn’t find the grail."

"Well, I’ll keep that in mind," Simon replied, managing to find a smile for his sister.

"Good," River said, smiling back.

* * *

"I’m in love with someone else."

"Really?" Inara asked, surprised that her client would bring up something so personal and intimate during the tea ceremony. Usually they waited to drop their emotional bombshell’s until they had a little saki in them. She handed him the cup of steaming tea. "Well, that would make two of us."

"Companions can fall in love?" the man, Toshi Reasa, asked.

"We’re human," Inara said with a laugh. "Of course we can."

"But I thought, with, with this profession . . ."

"The profession complicates things," Inara said, "But life is nothing if not complicated."

Toshi nodded, "That’s true."

"I hope," Inara said, blowing on her tea, sending curls of steam up around her perfect lips. "That you won’t be pretending I’m her all night."

"Do you pretend every man is the man you love?"

“No," Inara said. "I respect them more than that."

"Well, then, I suppose thank you," he said. "And don’t worry, I have no imagination. I’d never be able to fool myself, not for a second."

"Because," Inara continued. "What happens between us is between us. You and me. Who we really are."

Toshi laughed, "I know about companion training, my sister’s a companion."

"Really?" Inara asked.

"I know you’re going to make me believe that I’m the most wonderful man on this rock, or, at least, that I’m better than I really am. That is, after all, why men come to companions."

"Is it?" Inara asked. Toshi’s blatant honesty was enjoyable and his cynicism entertaining, Inara genuinely looked forward to a long nights work.

"It’s why I’m here."

"Tell me about her," Inara said, leaning forward. "Does she make you feel that you’re wonderful."

"She does," he nodded, smiling. "And I know I make her feel the same way."

"Then why are you here with me and not someplace with her, if you don’t mind my asking?"

"She’s married," he said simply. "And I think, if that was all there was, she’d leave him, but there are children, and money, and social situations and I can’t blame her for being afraid. It would be one thing if he abused her, if he cheated on her, if he did anything to hurt her. But he doesn’t, he just sits there and overlooks her. She’s so alive, so full of passion and fire, and all he sees is his wife. I don’t think he’s ever really seen her."

"I’m sorry," Inara said.

"And what about you?" Toshi asked, turning to the companion candidly. "Who are you in love with and why don’t you give up this racket to go be with him?"

"I won’t stop being a companion," Inara said. "I love this work, but he can’t accept that."

"He can’t accept you?"

Inara nodded. "If I have to fall in love –"

"Being human it’s somewhat hard not to," Toshi observed.

"I wish it would have been with someone who could let go of things."

"I don’t understand."

Inara smiled sweetly and poured them both more tea. "It’s not important."

"I think it is," Toshi insisted. "What can’t this man who holds you’re heart let go of?"

"The fact that I let other men hold my body," Inara said.

"He wants all or nothing," Toshi said, nodding. "I’d be happy for anything."

"I know how that can feel," Inara said, moving closer to her client. "I’m glad we’re together tonight, we can comfort one another."

"Comfort," he said, as she turned his head towards hers. She kissed him softly, tenderly, comfortingly, on the lips. "Comfort’s definitely what I want," he said, leaning forward and kissing her back.

As a strange man held her in his arms, Inara thought ‘me too.’

* * *

Kaylee felt delightfully drunk. Everything Drake said was funny. She wasn’t thinking about Inara and she wasn’t thinking about Simon. The only thing she was thinking about was Drake, and he was making her laugh, and it was fun.

"Yer kiddin’," She gasped, trying desperately to get more air in her lungs so she could laugh harder. "Ain’t no way . . ."

"No, no, that’s just what happened," he insisted, poring them both a little more of her amber dandelion wine and setting the jug on the floor at their feet. "So, she can’t get the key’s right? And I’m standing there, cuffed to the bed in nothing but these ridiculous red sequins pants and my mother’s reading to us from the news paper all about some damn battle or something. I don’t give la shi about the war or whatever, I just want her to go."

Kaylee felt like her lungs were going to explode.

"So," He was laughing very hard as well, "So Talia throws a blanket over the cuffs and we just stand there listening and I’m hard on and she’s all bothered and we just listen, right until my mother leaves and by that time we’re both so spooked that it was a no-go, ya know?"

"Lao tian," Kaylee managed to say between hysterics. "And did your ma –"

"Never said a word," Drake said. "I think she was so amazed by the newspaper she didn’t . . ."

"But sequis . . . sinquins . . . I mean, sparkly plants and red!"

"Red."

"And yer ma didn’ . . ."

"I don’t know how," Drake laughed. "But every day I thank God ‘cause the way she is, if she’d a caught on, then she’d a taken a laser saw too . . . you know. My little me, man parts – gone."

Kaylee didn’t respond, she couldn’t, she was totally overcome with laughter.

"This is good wine," Drake said, after downing another glass and setting the empty vessel on the floor next to the jug. "You make good wine."

His voice was so intense, and he was looking at her with such a libidinous expression that the only thing Kaylee could think to do was laugh.

"You’re so drunk," Drake said, laughing with her again.

Kaylee nodded, "Oh, yeah," she said. "Cap’s gonna be so mad at me."

"Why would he be mad at you?" Drake said, scooting closer to the inebriated mechanic. They’d been sitting on the bed, the only piece of furniture had left in the cold mettle shuttle, with the bottle of wine between them. But now the wine was on the floor and there was nothing between them.

"We gotta take off in the morning," she said, still laughing, although she was starting to wish she could stop. "An’ I’m gonna have such a hangover."

"You have the most lovely neck," Drake said, nuzzling his face in the aforementioned appendage.

"I’d go ask Simon if he had anythin’ fer hangovers," she said, not picking up on Drake’s advances. "He’s got something for everything." She burst into laughter again, this time so hard that she fell back on the bed.

Kaylee’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut and hot tears where coming out as she gasped for breath. The little part of her that was still sober was telling her that she had to get control of herself but she could barely stop laughing long enough to breath, composing herself would have been nearly impossible.

She felt the bed jostle a little and opened her eyes. Drake was kneeling over her, straddling her, leaning in to kiss her.

Kaylee kept laughing at the sheer absurdness of it. "What are you doing?" She demeaned between her peals.

"Come on, sugar," he said, leaning forward and pressing kisses onto her neck. "I need somethin’ sweet."

"Get off," Kaylee said, still laughing.

"Loosen up," he said again, pressing himself against her. Even drunk as she was, she had a hard time finding this funny.

"Got me pinned," the girl said, still giggling but not really enjoying herself as he planted sloppy kisses all over her face and neck. "Can’t loosen." She liked a good romp as much as the next girl, but if she was going to have sex, she liked to be included in the decision making process as a matter of principle. If he kept pressing, she was going to refuse him, if he backed off, then maybe something would happen.

"Come on," he insisted, a little more forcefully. He was positioned solidly over her on the bed, and he was much bigger then her, and not quite so drunk. She couldn’t push him off. "You’ve been imagining this all night."

"Not like this," Kaylee said, trying to squirm out from under him but he was pressing down on her, not only with his mouth, slobbering kisses, but also with the weight of his whole body. Her giggles had left her entirely, she was starting to get scared.

"Stop struggling," Drake soothed as he grabbed the wrist of her right hand, which was pushing on his shoulder, and pulled it back at a bad angel to pin it against the bed. Kaylee screeched in pain.

"Hush," He told her as, with his other hand, he deftly undid the buttons on the fly of his pants.

"Yer hurting me," Kaylee said, her voice half lost to terror and pain filled sobs.

"Just let it happen," Drake said, kissing her neck again as he unzipped her jumpsuit. Kaylee tried to grab his wrist and stop him, but she just didn’t have the strength. With her left hand she batted at his face, trying to slap him, but coordination was woefully impaired by the wine and she ended up battering his shoulder to no avail.

He’d reached the end of her zipper and she felt his hands on his hips and saw a greedy glint in his eyes. She was terrified, crying, but unable to find a voice to scream with.

Luckily for Kaylee, someone else was there to do it for her.

Drake jerked up at the sound of River’s high pitched, incessant shriek. The girl had picked the lock and opened the door to the shuttle and was standing there, screaming to raise the dead.

"Wo pu!" Drake yelled, rolling off of Kaylee to attack the pretty young trespasser. "Bi di yu zui!"

"Kaylee Run!" River yelled, as soon as Drake was off her.

The mechanic didn’t waist a second in thinking. She tumbled off the bed and ran as quickly out of the shuttle brushing past Drake and River in the doorway, but not sparing a second to worry about the younger girl. She was so frightened she could hardly breath, her heart was pounding in her ears and her vision was blurred from too much dandelion wine.

"Kaylee," Drake called from behind her. At the very sound of his voice, her blood seemed to freeze and the world in front of her seemed to tilt drastically to the left. She tried to lean towards her right, stay on her feet, but gravity suddenly reasserted itself and before she could move to catch herself, she plummeted down a half a flight of hard mettle stairs.

"Oh," Kaylee whimpered, squeezing her eyes shut. Her lungs seemed to be on fire and her head was pounding. She wanted the world to fold up into darkness and swallow her.

She heard another voice call her name, this time it was Simon. Air seemed to rush into her lungs and she opened her eyes. What she saw turned her blood, once more, into ice.

Drake was bounding down the stairs towards her. It seemed to Kaylee’s somewhat warped perception, that his eyes were fiery red and everything around him was black. She felt blood pulsing through her ears and the only thing running through her head was that she had to get away. She tried to push herself up, but the second she put pressure on her right hand her wrist felt like it was about to explode. She closed her eyes again and forced herself to flee as quickly as she could, scooting herself away from him at a hopelessly slow pace. He’d be on her again in seconds and she had to get away, that’s all she could think, she had to get away.

"Kaylee Watch out!" Simon’s voice called, echoing off of the walls of the cargo bay, seeming to come from every direction.

For the briefest second, Kaylee came to herself enough to wonder what Simon was trying to warn her of, but suddenly the world below her disappeared and she was falling headlong backwards and she’d finally found her voice and was screaming and it seemed so was everyone else. Then it was absolutely silent.

* * *

What Zoë saw from her vantage point at the very top of the cargo bay was very clear and, while upsetting, easy to follow, almost to the point of being predictable.

River had been screaming, a caterwaul pretty much guaranteed to rouse the whole ship. And rouse it had. She and Wash had hurried down from the cockpit. They got there just in time to see Drake slap poor River so hard that the girl staggered and fell, clutching her face and crying. Before Zoë could build up proper rage for the assault on a helpless girl, Kaylee bolted out to of the shuttle door and started running wildly away, towards the stairs leading down. Zoë immediately knew what was going to happen next. Not only was the mechanic scared witless but the off-balanced stagger in her run made it clear she was also drunk.

The first mate rushed into action, hurrying down the stairs hoping to catch the also inebriated Drake before he could do anyone else any harm. She heard him call Kaylee’s name as she was jumping down the stairs, two at a time, and when she reached the next landing and was once again facing the action in the cargo bay, she saw Kaylee tumbling down the metal stairs, too drunk to catch herself, and Drake rushing after her.

Simon and Book had emerged from the common area. They were still in the doorway when Kaylee hit the landing hard and cried out in pain. The doctor, who was holding something white in one hand, dropped it and ran to the stairs to try and help Kaylee; he yelled her name. The preacher was right behind him.

Zoë hit the catwalk and ran to River, kneeling over the young girl. “River, you all right?”

“Gotta make it stop, gotta make it stop,” River said, her voice panicked, as she pushed herself to her feet.

“Kaylee, watch out!” Simon yelled, his voice overlapping his sisters. Zoë turned her head just in time to see Kaylee, who’d been lying on her back, inching away from the rapidly approaching Drake as fast as her broken body could carry her, pitch backwards off the edge of the platform, scream, and fall seven feet to the cargo bay floor. Her back hit the ground and she didn’t move.

Zoë didn’t waste a second in being shocked or worried. She jumped to her feet, trusting that Wash, who was undoubtedly right behind her, would look to River.

Book reached Kaylee first, kneeling over her. A second later he moved aside as Simon fell to his knees and started examining her. Zoë’s urgency hit a new level. Kaylee was down, and Simon was going to be trying to take care of her, which meant the only one to defend them was the preacher. Book could handle himself in a fight, but Drake was in a full-fledged drunken rage and wouldn’t be taken down by anyone who wasn’t just as mad.

Even though she was running as fast as she could, Drake had a huge lead and reached the small group before Zoë. She’d just started down the stairs when the man punched Book, who’d been foolish enough to try and calm the man instead of knocking him out straight away. The Shepherd staggered and was out of the way long enough for Drake to grab Simon by his shirt and pull the boy off the floor and away from Kaylee before Simon could collect himself enough to fight back. Zoë was only at the landing, she had half a flight of stairs to go, and helpless Kaylee was lying on the floor, the stunned preacher was trying to get his second wind, and the hapless doctor had been more or less tossed out of the fray. Zoë tried to run faster, and she wished she had her riffle with her, and she tried to think what Mal would do.

And then Drake fell.

It was as if he’d been shot, but there hadn’t been the bang of a gun. He’d been standing, looming, over Kaylee’s unconscious form and then it was like an invisible rope took him round the neck and pulled him to the ground. He hit it hard, almost with a clank it seemed, and he was unconscious.

“What happened,” Zoë demanded breathlessly when she finally reached the cargo bay floor.

“We need to get Kaylee to the infirmary,” Simon said, pushing himself off the floor where he’d been tossed and scampering to the girl’s side. “Get the stretcher.”

“Right,” Zoë said, running into the sickbay and fetching the large mettle litter. When she got back, Wash and River were heading down the stairs towards the scene, Simon was futzing with Kaylee and Book was standing over Drake, looking very serious.

“Kay, doc,” Zoë said, putting the stretcher down between her and Kaylee. “What we gotta do?”

“Ok,” Simon said, kneeling down, Zoë knew enough to follow suit. “We need to make sure her spine moves as little as possible. You put your hands on her shoulders and her thighs, I’m going to take her neck and the small of her back. Book,” he called to the preacher, who hurried over. “Make sure her arms and her calves get on without catching anything.”

“Right,” the preacher said, nodding.

“Count of three,” Simon said, positioning his hands. Zoë carefully did the same. “One, two, three.”

They lifted the girl on to the stretcher in on seamless swoop. When they let go, she moaned, which Zoë took to be a good sign.

“Book,” Zoë said, seizing control of the situation. “You help the doc.”

“Yes, ma’am,” The preacher said.

“I’ll take the front, you take the back,” Simon ordered, hurrying around the stretcher to Kaylee’s head. He counted off again, and the two men lifted the girl, taking her to the infirmary. Zoë stopped worrying about that, it was out of her hands. Now she had a bigger problem.

“Wash,” she called, knowing perfectly well he was only about four paces behind her, as she walked up to Drake. “I’m gonna need you’re help.”

“With what?” Wash asked. His voice sounded a little overwhelmed. It occurred to her that, for someone who had never been in a battle, these events might have seemed to happen fast.

“We need to decide what to do with him,” Zoë said, kneeling down and taking Drake’s pulse. She saw that he had a large cut right below his left ear. It was bleeding heavily, the way head wounds do, but Zoë knew enough about triage to know that letting it bleed wouldn’t be fatal, so she decided not to rush with the first aid.

“Is he alive?” her husband asked, half afraid of the answer.

“Yes,” Zoë said, standing up. “Pulse is strong. Only thing wrong with him is that gash by his ear.” She turned and looked at her husband. “What the hell happened?”

“I don’t think I’m the one you wanna ask,” Wash said, glancing at River, who was picking up the white thing Simon had carried into the room and dropped in all the excitement.

River stood, drawing the cloth up with her gracefully, revealing it to be her nightgown. “It’s dirty,” She said, looking at it with scrutiny.

“We’ll wash it,” Zoë said, stepping closer to the girl. “You all right?”

“Am I . . .” River said introspectively, lowering the gown and eventually letting it drop. A half-nervous, half-ashamed giggle slipped out of her and smiled up at Zoë sadly. “He hit me.”

“I know sweetie,” Zoë said, stretching out her arms to the young girl. “Everything’s going to be just fine.”

“I didn’t kill him,” River said, tears building up in her eyes as she let Zoë hug her.

“You didn’t kill him?” Zoë asked uncertainty.

River leaned her head in the first mate’s shoulder. “It’s thick and too sweet, like molasses and it make me sick to my stomach. I tried so hard to keep it all down, but I couldn't help it. It all came up and out and the worst part is I think I might be copying. I want to be good. I’m trying so hard. I don't want to be like him.”

“You are good,” Zoë soothed, stroking River’s hair. "You ain't at all like Drake." Then, turning to look at her husband, she mouthed, ‘what she do?’

“She threw a nut at him,” Wash whispered, as if to keep the fact they were talking about her a secret from the psychic who was standing two feet away.

“A what?” Zoë asked in a hushed voice.

“A one inch hex nut,” Wash said again, pantomiming a twisting motion to clarify his point.

“She hit him, from up by the shuttle, with a nut?”

“Girls got a great arm,” Wash said. “Makes me wanna start a baseball team.”

“I’m sorry,” River said, she was still leaning on Zoë, big fat tears running down her cheek.

“It’s ok,” Zoë said. “He was drunk crazy. No tellin’ what he’d a done if you hadn’t taken him out.”

"I didn't kill him," River said again. "It's not a game, it's not playing, I know that. I didn't kill him."

"River," Zoë said, pushing the girl away so she could look in her eyes. "You did the right thing. No one's gonna be mad at you. Ok?"

The girl nodded, "I'm trying," she assured the first mate.

"I know you are," Zoë assured her. "Now, why don't you get on to bed? It's been a long day."

River nodded and knelt down to pick up her nightgown. She walked, silently and gracefully, out of the cargo bay to the common room, and Zoë and Wash watched her go. Once she seemed safely out of earshot, Wash stepped closer to his wife. "No knives, no guns, and now no engine parts. Makes me wonder just how many ways she knows to kill a body."

"She didn't kill him," Zoë said, staring down at the still unconscious Drake. "And it wasn't senseless. Might even a saved Kaylee's life."

"I never accused her of being senseless," Wash said. "I mean, who hasn't wanted to take a carving knife to Jayne? But it is scary."

"Yeah," Zoë said, nodding. "Yeah it is."

* * *

Kaylee woke as they carried her on the stretcher; she started talking. "Simon," she said, her voice was soft and cracked with pain.

"You’re going to be fine," he assured her, taking a moment to glance behind him and look at her before he entered the infirmary. "But, please, as much as possible, try not to move."

"I . . . I didn't want to," she insisted, although her statement seemed to have no context. "Didn't mean to."

"No one thinks you fell down those stairs on purpose sweetheart," Book assured her as they lowered the stretcher onto the examination chair.

"We break on the count of three," Simon said, all business. "One, two, three."

They separated the two halves of the stretcher and Kaylee cried out softly as her injured back hit the examination chair.

"Kaylee," Simon said as he put on blue surgical gloves. "Can you move your feet?"

"Umm-humm," She said, flexing her ankles to prove it.

"Does it hurt?" Simon asked, turning away from her as he started gathering supplies form here and there throughout the infirmary.

"M' back hurts," the girl said. Tears were flowing down her red cheeks and she taking gaspy shallow breaths.

"I need to know if it’s painful to move your feet and you're legs," Simon insisted. His voice was hard, a stark contrast to his patient’s.

"I . . ." Kaylee started, but the rest of her statement was drowned out by a sickly gurgling noise. Without batting an eye, Simon hurried over to her, an emesis basin in hand. The girl pushed herself up, and even before she was sitting, putrid vomit started spewing out of her mouth. Simon put one hand on her back, easing her up, as she folded herself over the basin. Book watched, trying to make his pity overpower his natural disgust.

"Is she going to be all right?" the preacher asked as the doctor carefully pulled the girl's hair away from her moist eyes and mouth.

“Yes,” Simon said dryly as he tucked her hair into her shirt to keep it off her face. “She can sit up, she’ll be just fine.”

“But vomiting can’t be –”

“She’s drunk,” he clipped, turning away from his patient and, picking up an IV bag he’d been preparing before her stomach took a turn for the worse, and hanging it above the girl’s head. “It’s to be expected.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Book asked.

“Here,” Simon said, handing Kaylee, who’d finished her vomiting, a damp cloth. Turning to Book, he said, “Make sure River’s all right.”

“I meant—”Book started.

“If you really want to be helpful, you’ll look after River,” Simon said, his voice sharper then any of the scalpels in the room. “It doesn’t help me to worry about her, nor does it help me to have an assistant who doesn’t know the first thing about medicine.” The boy ripped open a small disinfectant packet and pulled out the alcohol soaked pad. “Kaylee, I need you to give me one of your arms.”

The girl nodded and wordlessly and offered Simon the arm closest to him, which was her right. In his peripheral vision, Simon noticed Book leaving the infirmary and closing the door behind him. He wasn’t sure if that was a relief or not.

“This is swollen,” Simon said, touching the appendage carefully. “I don’t think you fell on it.”

“Got twisted all wrong,” the girl said with a sniffle. “Think I’m done throwin’ up.”

“Right,” Simon said, taking the basin off her lap and setting it on the counter to be cleaned later. “Let me know if you feel sick again.”

Kaylee nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said so softly that it was almost a whisper.

“We’ll just use your other arm,” Simon said curtly, carefully setting down her wrist and moving to the left side of the bed.

“That’s not . . .” Kaylee started, but she let her voice trail off. “Oh, I think I’m gonna be sick again.”

Simon hurried to get her the basin and, because he couldn’t do much for her while she was vomiting, leaned back and watched with an ER doctor’s utter detachment.

* * *

“River, honey,” Book said, knocking on the girls thin door. “Are you asleep?”

“Yes,” the girl said. “I’m dreaming.”

Book laughed softly to himself, “Do you mind if I come in?”

“Will you answer a question?”

“I can try,” Book offered.

“Then you can come in.”

Book slid open her door and walked into her room. She was nestled in her bed, with her blankets up to her chin, illuminated only by the soft light that came in from the hallway through the translucent walls. “What’s on your mind, sweetheart?” he asked sitting at the side of the bed and smiling down at her.

“I broke a promise,” River said. “Didn’t do what I said I would.”

“Well,” Book said slowly, “The way I understand it it’s probably a good thing that you snuck out of Wash and Zoë’s room. Otherwise, Kaylee might have been hurt very badly.”

“I know,” River said. “She should have been.”

“I’m,” Book said, faltering a little at River’s judgmental stance. “I’m not . . .”

“She was mean,” River continued calmly. “And she was foolish. If she got hurt it was her own fault. Her own doing.”

“River, dear,” the shepherd said, choosing his words very carefully. “Surely you don’t mean to imply that you wish Kaylee harm.”

“I should,” River said, her voice cracking. “I told Simon I’d hate her. He couldn’t so I would. But I felt the pond waters rushing over head but they weren’t deep enough. They should have been a baptism, but they weren’t that, not even a bath or burial, just water. I couldn’t stand it and I couldn’t let it happen again. I couldn’t hate her that much, I tried so hard, but I couldn’t.”

“Hating someone, especially someone like Kaylee, who you know loves you, is not good, River. You know that,” Book said, choosing to ignore the more confusing and abstract parts of her soliloquy. “You should be glad that you couldn’t hate her.”

“But Simon . . .”

“I don’t think Simon wanted you to hate her,” the preacher insisted. “I can appreciate that you want to be loyal to your brother, and we could both see that what Kaylee did hurt him, but to hate her for it . . . you’re approaching the problem from the wrong angle.”

“Love conquers all,” River said sulkily.

“Yes,” Book nodded, relieved that the girl had picked up on what he’d meant even if he’d been unable to find the right words to express it.

“You catch more flies with honey then with vinegar,” River continued.

“Well that’s not . . .

“A false friend is worse then an open enemy.”

“That’s true, but . . .”

“Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.”

“River,” Book said, a warning in his voice.

“Gross negligence is equal to intentional wrong. Even the devil was an angel in the beginning.”

“That’s quite enough,” Book snapped, silencing the girl with sudden, authoritative tone.

She immediately clamped her mouth shut pressed her hands against it, as if to physically hold back any more words.

Book sighed, disappointed in himself, and turned back to the girl graciously, “I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to be so short with you.”

River nodded, and let a few words slip through her fingers. “Living is like licking honey off a thorn.”

“Sometimes,” Book chuckled. “But doing good, no matter to whom, no matter under what circumstances, helping people: that’s the honey. Hatred is what makes up every thorn.”

The girl glanced away, her hands fell from her mouth and curled into fists, which she pressed against her eyes; she looked like she was going to cry again, but no tears came out. “Will you tell Simon and Kaylee I’m sorry?”

“Of course,” Book said kindly. “But for what?”

“Tell Simon I tried, but the thorns were cutting me, and cutting her, and I couldn’t stand the sight of blood.”

“All right,” Book said uncertainly, wondering if he should deliver the message verbatim, or maybe tell the doctor what he thought she meant.

“And tell Kaylee I’m sorry I hated her, and I don’t, but I am very mad and hurt, but I don’t hate.”

“I’ll tell her that,” Book said with a smile.

River nodded again and dropped her hands so that she could pull the covers more tightly around her. “Good,” she said, with a note of finality in her voice before unceremoniously closing her eyes, turning over in her bed and, to all appearances, falling immediately asleep.

* * *

“So?” Wash asked, handing his wife a cup of steaming tea as he eased himself down to sit next to her on the stairs, facing the unconscious Drake. “What have we decided to do?”

“Only two things we can do,” Zoë said very practically. “One, take him off this ship, two keep him on it.”

“Are we at the flip a coin phase?”

“I want him off the ship by the time the captain comes back,” Zoë said. “After Inara leavin’, and gettin’ arrested, and a night in a drunk tank, he’s not going to be in the mood to deal with this.”

“He might just shoot the kid for being annoying,” Wash observed.

“He might,” Zoë sighed. “And one thing we don’t need is Mr. Goodhaus, C.E.O. offering millions to whoever brings in the man who shot his son.”

“Government bounties we can handle, but private industry knows how to get things done,” Wash observed, with not half the humor the joke warranted. He was wise enough not to try and lighten the mood, or make his honey forget her troubles. At this point his witticisms weren’t even amusing to him, he just had never disciplined his mind to think seriously when the situation demanded it. It was a fault, he knew, and every time Zoë had to live with it he thanked all the stars in heaven that she didn’t break his neck or, worse still, ask for a divorce.

Zoë favored him with a weak chuckle, “And so, we gotta make sure Mal doesn’t get the chance to kill him.”

“Meaning we move him?” Wash asked.

“But where is the question?”

“Well, seein’ as how he’s bleeding from the neck, and unconscious and all, maybe a hospital.”

“They’ll ask what happened.”

“We lie, say we found him in a ditch.”

“He wakes up, tells them different.”

“We’ve already hit the sky.”

Zoë shook her head. “Too much to chance. We don’t know when he’ll wake up. It’ll be ten hours yet before Cap’n and Jayne make it back.”

“So,” Wash said. “Someone comes knocking we explain that he shoved Kaylee down the steps.”

“Just brings more questions,” Zoë said, shaking her head. “We tell them the truth they’ll need to see Kaylee to confirm it.”

“Good thing for us she’s not invisible.”

“They see Kaylee all patched up, they’re gonna want to know who did the patching.”

“And we’re back to government bounties.”

“Wish it were a place we could avoid,” Zoë sighed.

“Got any alternate routes?”

“I’m gonna put a bandage on his head.”

“My wife the compassionate.”

“Then I’m gonna tie him up.”

“Maybe compassionate isn’t quite the right word.”

“We keep him here for a while, see what happens. If he wakes up, he won’t be able to go anywhere, if he don’t, all the better.”

* * *

Simon thought that Kaylee probably felt like she looked, which was utterly miserable. She was hooked up to an IV to rehydrate her, thereby eliminating the most physically uncomfortable affects of the alcohol, as well as administering a moderate amount of pain killers that should have eliminated the most physically uncomfortable affects of the fall. The drugs in her system should have placed her in a dazed but contented mood; she seemed neither. But Simon didn’t care about her emotional state at this point; all he was concerned about was her physical wellbeing. It was much easier to be a triage doctor then a lover scorned.

“Your wrist is the least serious of your injuries,” he stoically told the girl. “However, it’s the one that you’ll probably be tempted to stress. I want Shepherd Book or Wash or someone in the engine room to help you for the next few weeks. Your sprain will only get worse if—”

“Do ya hate me?” Kaylee interrupted suddenly.

“What?” Simon asked, glancing up from his work wrapping a supportive bandage around her wrist. He wasn’t used to his patients asking emotionally charged questions while he was working. He hoped he’d misheard.

“After all I done,” Kaylee said, her voice was soft and pleading. “Do you hate me?”

“Please,” Simon said, turning back to the bandage. “I’m trying to work.”

“I just can’t stand it,” Kaylee continued. “You’ve been all work. Doctor kind and doctor gentle, but you’ve not . . . you’re just bein’ a doctor.”

“I am a doctor,” Simon said coolly. “And you’re a patient.”

“Ain’t I more?” Kaylee asked. Her large brown eyes were red around the edges, bloodshot from the alcohol, or maybe the pain, Simon wasn’t sure. It took some work, but he managed to convince himself he didn’t care. Bloodshot eyes were not a danger to Kaylee’s overall health so, as her physician, he didn’t worry about it.

“Kaylee, you’re half drunk and a little high on painkillers,” Simon told his patient. “You’re not thinking clearly. If you were, you would realize that this is not a conversation that either of us should be having at this point.”

“I’m sorry,” The girl said, sobs leaking into her voice. “But I gotta know if you hate me. Think I’ll go crazy if I don’t.”

“You need to calm down,” Simon said, forcing his voice to be utterly calm. “I can give you something to help you sleep and –”

“No!” Kaylee said forcefully, practically yelling. “Just tell me! Do you hate me or don’t you?”

Simon sighed, this was not how doctor-patient conversations should go, and he resented the fact that she’d forced him to veer from the text-book norm. “No,” he said dryly. “I don’t hate you.”

“Why not?!” the girl demanded.

For a second all Simon could think to do was stand and stair at her, utterly baffled. “Isn’t that the answer you wanted?”

“I want the truth, Simon,” Kaylee pleaded.

“That was the truth,” the doctor said. “Now, I suggest you calm down and try and get some rest.”

“Why don’t you hate me?” Kaylee asked. “You should hate me.”

Simon sighed again and rubbed his eyes, “We can discuss this in the morning, it’s been a long night and . . .”

“I was horrible to you, Simon,” Kaylee insisted. “I was a bitch.”

“Well, I won’t argue with that,” Simon said.

“If you don’t hate me, then ain’t you the least bit mad?” Kaylee continued.

“Do you want me to be?”

“I guess,” the girl said meekly. “I want you to care.”

Simon nodded and made a decision to be a little less doctory. “I care,” he said earnestly. “I care more then I should, more then is safe. In fact, truth be told,” his voice was rising and he allowed himself to think of her not as a patient, but as Kaylee, someone he’d trusted and someone who hadn’t let him down so much as tossed him casually on the floor. “I’m furious with you! What the hell were you thinking? How could you bring in a stranger? How could you act like that with someone you didn’t know?! Whatever he did, you deserved out of pure stupidity.”

“Simon,” the girl choked, “I—”

“Worse still,” the boy continued, not caring at all about the tears running down her cheek, “You put River in harm’s way.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“What if he wakes up and remembers that the girl who screamed at him also happens to be the girl who’s face he’s seen on wanted posters. He knows the ship’s name and make and half the crew. He could turn us all in, all because you though he was handsome.”

“I’m sorry,” Kaylee said.

“That doesn’t matter,” Simon replied, his anger edging out more tempered emotions. “You do things for little, petty reasons and then they blow up into horrible catastrophes and I end up being beaten and bloody or worse you end up beaten and bloody. And stop crying like that,” he ordered the girl, who’s chest was heaving in dramatic, uneven, gasps. “You’ve got three cracked ribs, that sort of pressure will only make them worse.”

The girl closed her mouth, pressing it shut, making her lips thin and white as she forced herself to take more regulated breaths through her nose. Tears still flowed, unregulated, down her flushed cheeks.

She looked so unnatural, Simon thought, beside herself with grief and guilt. Those weren’t emotions she was well acquainted with. She looked so pitiful. Still, he was not the least bit inclined to comfort her.

“I’m sorry,” Kaylee finally said softly as soon as she felt she was in control of her breathing.

“I’m sure, right now, you are,” Simon said with a sigh. “But forgive me if I don’t trust you at this moment.”

She nodded mutely, accepting the judgment, and continued to cry. He thought that if this was a cortex flick or a romance novel this would be the point that he should forgive her and they’d probably start making out. But, at this moment, Simon felt about as inclined to kiss her as to hit her, he felt valid arguments could be made for both courses of action, and both courses of action seemed distinctly unpalatable. He hated that she could hurt him so much, and he reveled a little in the fact that he could hurt her back, but then, he hated himself for being so sadistic, especially when it came to Kaylee, who he knew he didn’t want to hurt at all.

“You’re doped up,” he told her, trying to sound detached and reasonable, although he ended up sounding more disgusted. “You need to sleep. If you still feel inclined to apologize in the morning, maybe I’ll accept it then.”

“Maybe?” The girl asked, her voice was soaked with tears.

Simon hadn’t meant to sound conditional, but he was sick of explaining and re-explaining himself. “Try and sleep,” he told her. “We’ll talk in the morning.” With that he turned and walked out of the infirmary, closing the door behind him.

He glanced around the common area and found it was deserted. It looked ragged and dingy, not warm and homey. He wanted to be someplace drastically else.

With a deep breath the doctor turned and bounded up the stairs leading to the openness of the cargo bay. Sunlight was seeping in through the crack in the hatch and, even though the doctor was exhausted, the brightness of it seemed to plant in him a restlessness and clarity. He realized where he needed to go, whom he needed to see, and what he needed to say. He headed towards the hatch with a singleness of purpose so focused that he didn’t even notice Shepherd Book until the older man called his name.

The doctor turned quickly, startled by the sudden interference by a second party. “Yes,” he clipped, and then, realizing he didn’t know what question he was answering, added, “What?”

“Is Kaylee all right?” Book asked, getting up from his perch on the stairs from which was guarding the now bandaged and bound, but still unconscious, Drake.

“Oh,” Simon said. “Yes, she’s . . . she’ll be just fine. Hopefully she’s crying herself to sleep right now.”

“Crying herself . . . ?” Book asked bewildered.

“Yeah,” Simon said briskly, not picking up on the Shepherd’s concerned tone. “If she’s awake later she can move to her room if she’d like. Just be sure she doesn’t take the IV out of her arm, and that the bag is over her head at all times.”

“Why is she crying?” Book asked.

“I yelled at her,” Simon said simply. “Did River get to bed?”

“Yes. But, Simon,” he continued with a note of disappointment in his voice. “Why did you yell at Kaylee? You can’t blame her for –”

“Preacher, please,” Simon said forcefully. “I’m going for a walk. If you need me, which you shouldn’t, not for Kaylee and not for him, I’ll take a transmitter.” The boy turned and walked over to the hatch, pounding the button that would open it with more force then was necessary. “I won’t be gone long.”

“But, where will you go?” Book asked.

“I need to talk to Inara,” Simon said, slipping a small black radio into his pocket and starting down the hatch before it hit the dust. “I won’t be long.”

“Is that wise,” Book asked, hurrying to follow the doctor, but stopping short at the edge of the hatch.

“Everyone is taken care of,” Simon called over his shoulder. “You don’t have to worry about anything.”

“Simon,” Book insisted with all the shepherdly authority he could put in his voice. “You’re upset. You should stay here.”

“This is something I have to do,” Simon said, turning to look at the preacher, almost challenging him to stand up and stop him. “Something I need to settle.”

“All right,” Book said, nodding. “Be careful.”

Simon nodded back and then turned and headed towards the blinding lights of Shinon.

To Be Continued <7F257B><7F257B><8F2EA3><8F2EA3>

COMMENTS

Friday, November 28, 2003 6:50 PM

TEELABROWN


When Zoe and Wash were wondering how many ways River does know how to kill somone, and the part about the knife to Jayne's chest, I did begin to think "They're right. She has (from my knowledge) shot 3 people with out looking, slit a chest open, and has knocked a man out with a nut. Jeese."

Great writin', keep flyin'.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005 12:10 AM

PURPLEYOSHI


"He hated that she could hurt him so much, and he reveled a little in the fact that he could hurt her back, but then, he hated himself for being so sadistic, especially when it came to Kaylee, who he knew he didn’t want to hurt at all."

Yep, definitely been there too. I'm looking forward to reading more of this story!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005 12:22 AM

PURPLEYOSHI


"He hated that she could hurt him so much, and he reveled a little in the fact that he could hurt her back, but then, he hated himself for being so sadistic, especially when it came to Kaylee, who he knew he didn’t want to hurt at all."

Yep, definitely been there too. Can't wait to read more of this!


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