BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KISPEXI2

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 3: It's complicated.
Friday, December 9, 2005

Mal decides to pull a job of his own. Simon offers to help. It doesn't go smooth - but that's not entirely Simon's fault. Non-graphic SLASH.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2564    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

* * * * *

MAKE ME A STONE: Chapter Three It's complicated.

Thanks as always to wedjateye for great beta-ing, encouragement and support.

This is a slashfic. It is not at all graphic, indeed not a lot happens between the parties concerned, but there's a definite undercurrent.

* * * * *

Mal's in Shuttle One, checking it over after their less than careful docking yesterday. Don't seem to be any serious damage. Could do with a bit of fixing up though - not unlike the rest of Serenity. Problem is, they got next to no coin to pay for it.

Mal sighs and rubs his temples. Looks like they've got two options: go cap in hand to Badger or pull a job themselves. Neither prospect fills him with joy. Didn't much like the way Badger took over his boat last time they had dealings with him. Nor the look of near-disappointment on his face when he realized Atherton Wing hadn't managed to fillet Mal after all.

On the other hand, at least Badger's always got a job needs doing. Plus he has the contacts. Only kinda job Mal could do on his own is one where the take's something he can use his own self. Like coin. Or fuel. Or food.

The thought of food makes Mal's stomach growl. Been up for hours already puzzling this. Might think straighter with a full belly and a shot of caffeine.

On his way to the kitchen, he pauses on the catwalk to look down into the cargo bay below. Jayne and Simon are on a collision course, he realizes – too late to do anything about it.

Simon studying his hand-held intently and don't look up until he's but three feet from Jayne. Mal watches as he registers the mercenary's murderous glare – the look of a man whose hopes of coin and play have been recently, and needlessly, ruined. The Doc ain't Jayne's favourite person at the best of times. He oughta move aside, let the big man pass. But 'course, being Simon Tam, when Jayne shows no sign of giving way, he don't neither. Just keeps right on walking. Right into the angry wall of muscle in front of him. How he manages to stay upright is of interest to Mal.

“Gorram sha gua,” Jayne spits. “I've killed men for less than that. Better men than you, an' all.”

Simon rolls his eyes. “How? By boring them to death with tales of your homicidal past?”

A low growl escapes Jayne. “Keep flapping that mouth, Doc,” he warns “an' I'll kick your ass.”

“Hmm,” Simon murmurs as if he's only half-listening. “Oh, that reminds – you're due another injection today.”

Suddenly, Mal notices, Jayne feels less of a need to stand his ground. He starts backing away, mumbling something about the rash being better and how he don't need no more shots.

“It's a course of treatment,” Simon explains with a barely suppressed laugh. “If you don't have all the injections, the condition will come back. Oh, don't be such a big baby. It's only a little prick.”

Chuckling to himself, Mal turns and leaves them to it. Simon can handle Jayne. Mal admires that about him.

That, and a whole lot of other things he wishes he didn't.

* * * * *

On their way along the hallway to the kitchen, River comes to an abrupt halt.

“Shhh,” she whispers, placing a forefinger over her lips. “He's hiding.”

Simon grimaces. Despite his best efforts, his sister's grip on reality is not improving. “No-one's hiding today, mei-mei. We're not playing; we're going to have breakfast.”

She looks at him, confused. Leans towards him and peers into his eyes. “It's not too late.”

“No. I mean – well, yes. It is a bit late for breakfast ... I expect the others will have finished by-”

Damn. Mal shouldn't be here. Simon deliberately delayed waking River this morning so that they would have the kitchen to themselves. Or rather, the kitchen without Mal in it.

The Captain doesn't seem aware of their presence. He's standing, with his back turned, in front of the food lockers, feeling around in one of the higher ones.

“Son of a whore,” he hisses, clutching a hand to his chest. “Ow!”

He sounds surprised to find himself in pain. Resentful. Irritated.

“Are you all right?” Simon asks with a little too much concern for the enquiry to sound purely professional.

Mal turns round. Hesitates for a moment, then flashes Simon a quick dismissive smile. “I'm shiny, Doc. No need to fuss. Forgot I was stitched up is all.”

Simon frowns. “I ought to take a look at you. The wound might be infected.”

“It ain't,” Mal assures him, folding his arms across his chest.

“Then let me at least give you something for the pain.”

Mal holds his gaze a fraction too long before replying.

“Don't need nothin'. It ain't that bad.”

Simon sighs. “Suffering unnecessarily isn't noble, Mal. It's stupid.”

Mal slams the open locker door shut.

“I said no. 'sides, you know your own self how low we're runnin' on just about every damn thing. And how we don't got a job.” He pauses to let the accusation sink in. “Can't afford to be wastin' supplies on them as don't need 'em.”

Simon would argue the point if Mal's words hadn't made him feel guilty as hell. And Simon already has more than enough to feel guilty about.

“All right,” he agrees reluctantly. “But if it gets any worse-”

“It won't,” Mal tells him firmly and leaves.

Simon takes a scoop of protein from the open box on the counter and starts preparing breakfast.

River sidles up to him. “Hungry.”

“Here.”

He hands her a bowl and suddenly, inexplicably, the kitchen is filled with the bright sound of River's laughter.

* * * * *

“I'd say Aberdeen's your best bet,” Wash tells Mal as they examine the quadrant map. He opens a second Cortex screen. “Greenleaf's nearer and the distribution centre's bigger, but they've got more Feds. The depot on Aberdeen's only got a staff of fifteen when it's open. Night-time, let's see – five, tops.”

“Huh.” Mal scratches the back of his head. “How come?”

Wash consults the Cortex again. “Looks to be a singularly crime-free moon, Mal. All upstanding citizens and firm supporters of the Alliance.”

That decides it as far as Mal's concerned. Some folks deserve to get stolen from.

“Okay, Wash,” he says. “Set us a course for Aberdeen.”

Then he looks up and sees Zoe's expression. “Got somethin' you wanna say?”

“Don't see what's wrong with Badger's job on Constance, Sir.”

“Yeah,” Mal replies. “Could be that's why I'm the one runnin' this boat. Constance is a ten day trip from here – ten days in which I wou'n't mind eatin' a time or two. You seen what we got left in the larder?”

Zoe regards him steadily. “Could always ration it out, Sir. Had to do it often enough in the war.”

“This ain't the war, Zoe,” Mal tells her. “And this crew's not soldiers, neither. Can you imagine how Jayne'd take hearin' he's down to one ship's biscuit a day? Anyhow – I ain't arguin' this. We go to Aberdeen. That centre's got food and fuel aplenty. Enough to get us to Constance without havin' a mutiny en route.”

Wash squeezes his wife's hand. “Mal's right, baobei. You've seen the fuel gauge.”

Zoe straightens her jerkin and stands taller. She looks Mal in the eye. “All right, Sir.”

“Good,” Mal nods, feeling anything but. Never feels easy when Zoe's instincts run counter to his own. “Guess I'd better go talk to Inara. Warn her we're gonna be a day or two off schedule.”

Zoe and Wash exchange a look and Mal beats a hasty retreat. Whatever they're thinking, whatever words of advice the two of them have to offer where Inara's concerned, he don't wanna hear them.

* * * * *

Mal don't bother knocking. Shuttle's gonna be his again soon enough, so he reckons Inara ain't like to still be feeling all territorial about it.

He reckons wrong.

“Mal! You could have knocked! You should have,” she tells him sharply, rising from the bed. Sprawled out on it, Kaylee gasps and covers her face.

Mal blinks hard, like that way he could wipe away what he's just seen – Inara pressing his mechanic down against her pillows and kissing her. On the mouth. Running a hand down her front.

Shensheng de gao wan,” he mutters, backing away. “You servicin' crew now after all?”

Inara gives him a withering glare. “What do you want, Mal?”

“I, uh-” For a moment he can't remember. Can't hardly even remember his own name. Then it comes to him. “Uh, we gotta take a detour via Aberdeen. Top up on fuel an' such.”

“Are you telling me my departure is going to be delayed?” Inara demands. “Beyond our agreed deadline?”

Gorramit but she's cold. She's talking about leaving him like it's just another bit of business. Mal squares his shoulders.

“Shou'n't do, but I was thinkin' you oughta know. In case you wanted to rethink your plans.”

“And why would I want to do that?”

Good question. But one Mal don't feel like answering. Cuz if she don't know by now, she never will. He casts a wary glance in Kaylee's direction.

“Want you to make a list of any engine parts we absolutely gotta have,” he tells his blushing mechanic. “Mayhap we'll get 'em on Aberdeen.”

“Yes, Cap'n. Absolutely,” she agrees quickly, getting to her feet. “Right away. An' this ain't what you think. 'Nara was jus' showin' me how they-”

Mal holds up a hand to silence her, turns on his heel and leaves. But not before he hears the end of that sentence.

“- how they seduce a person on the Core.”

* * * * *

“Synchronizers is always useful,” Kaylee tells River, who's lying in the mechanic's hammock and taking notes. River scribbles the word down on the pad in her hand and waits, pen poised over the paper, for the next.

There's so much needs replacing, Kaylee hardly knows where to start. “Lemme see ... what else?”

“Batteries!” River giggles.

Kaylee's almost shocked. Then she grins. “Batteries. Too right!” Though, come to think of it, Simon probably wouldn't like her talking to his sister about such things. Kaylee decides to concentrate on her shopping list. “Pinlocks and fuses. Can't never have enough of them. Nor resistors.”

River dutifully writes it all down.

Kaylee strokes Serenity's engine casing fondly. “ 'Course,” she says with a sigh, “What she really needs is new entry couplings. But you try tellin' the Cap'n that. I know they ain't cheap, but it's like he's got a fear of 'em. Won't even talk about it. Says we gotta make do with what we've got.”

“Two by two,” River says wistfully. “Afraid.”

She's got that look in her eyes again. The look that makes Kaylee sad and scared all at once. She decides to try to jolly her friend out of her sudden gloom. “Ain't nothin' to be afraid of. Cap'n'll take good care of you-”

“River? River? Are you up here?”

At the sound of Simon's voice, Kaylee hastily combs her fingers through her hair and wipes a hand over her face in the hopes of removing any grime.

“She's in here, Simon,” she calls. “Come on in.”

“I'm sorry. Is she bothering you?”

Simon's always so thoughtful, always worrying about him or River being in the way.

“Not a jot,” Kaylee insists. “She's helpin', ain't ya, River?”

Simon looks relieved. “Thanks,” he says, with a grateful smile. “For letting her. She really does love this ship.”

Kaylee smiles back at him and moves a bit closer. They nearly had this conversation once before. Maybe this time they can get a bit further with it.

“It's not so bad here, is it?” she asks.

“It has its compensations,” he agrees, fiddling nervously with the hair behind his ear.

Aw. He's blushing! It's easy to see he ain't had many girlfriends. Kaylee loves that about him. So clever and shuai and still so ruttin' shy! Bet he's waiting for the right girl to come along. Maybe for a girl like Kaylee.

She moves closer still and lowers her voice to suggest huskily “Plenty to be glad of?”

“DOC!”

Tamade ruttin' Captain! Kaylee curses under her breath as Simon starts and the moment is ruined.

“DOC!”

“Uh – in - in here, Captain,” Simon stammers, like he's been caught doing something he ought'n't. His embarrassment gives Kaylee a warm glow.

The Captain's eyes flick briefly around the engine room before settling on Simon. “Turns out they maybe got medical supplies in the depot too,” he informs him. “You wanna tell me what we need? Might be able to lay our hands on a few.”

Simon blinks. “Um. Well – the usual, really. Ivoprovalyn, levofloxacin, propoxim, iodine, dihydrocodeine, hydrozapam, adrenaline, calaphar ...” He trails off under the blank look he's getting from the Captain. “I could write it down ...”

“No time,” River declares. “Won't have time for reading labels. Just grabbing.”

“She ain't wrong.”

“I could come with you,” Simon offers. “I know what I'm looking for.”

The Captain hesitates. “Not so sure ...”

“You'll need him,” River declares, slipping out of the hammock. “Also weaves and dermabond.”

Kaylee watches as the Captain turns from River to her brother. “Okay, Doc. Be down by the mule in half an hour.”

River steps forward and presents the list she's drawn up for Kaylee. The Captain casts a quick eye over it. “I ain't promisin' anythin', li'l Kaylee.”

“Promises don't mean a damn thing,” River says. “It's doin' as matters.”

The Captain grunts his agreement, pockets the list and as he leaves, Wash's voice crackles over the comms. “Kaylee. We'll be breaking atmo in five. Might need some help with that. You know – so we don't explode.”

Kaylee turns to Simon, smiling apologetically. “ 'fraid I'm gonna be busy now. Tends to get a bit sparksome in here jus' 'fore we make planetfall. River might be better some place else.”

“Right. Of course,” Simon replies, taking his sister's hand. “I'll ... I'll ask Inara.”

Kaylee allows herself a few moments to watch Simon steer River down the hallway, admiring the way he holds hisself so erect and the play of tight muscles visible even through his clothes.

Wo de tian! If'n the Captain don't bring back a whole load of batteries, never mind the gorram engine - Kaylee's like to explode her own self.

* * * * *

Dang ran.”

Inara smiles graciously in answer to Simon's request, even though she was clearly not expecting to be disturbed, and steps aside to let River enter her shuttle.

“It's no trouble. I was thinking about starting on my packing.” The Companion glances about her and shakes her head in amazement. “I seem to have acquired an awful lot of things in the past year. Perhaps River would be kind enough to help?”

“No. No point,” River says bluntly, walking over to the bedside table to examine the curious array of trinkets spread out upon it.

“River!” Simon hisses, appalled at her rudeness. “I'm sorry. She-”

Inara touches his arm gently. “It's all right, Simon.”

Without her makeup and with her hair falling in soft, loose curls down over her slender shoulders, Inara has a fragile beauty that is breath-taking. She looks like a girl, scarcely any older than River. Seeing her like this it's easy to forget what she is, what she represents. Tianna - Simon will be so glad when she's gone. She's never been anything but kind to him and River and now he knows her, respects and cares for her, he would hate to be the one who betrays her.

“Simon?”

Jolted out of his guilty thoughts, he looks at her again. At her flawless skin and perfect lips. He can't deny it; he will be so very glad when she's gone for other reasons too.

“I- uh, I'd better be going. I don't want to keep the Captain waiting. Thank you again.”

“Not at all. Zhen tama yaoming. Zhuyi.”

“Yes. Thank you. I will.”

* * * * *

“You get taken again – I ain't rescuin' ya,” Jayne declares firmly, barging Simon out of the way to take the passenger seat in the mule beside Mal.

Relegated to a back seat, Simon retorts “Agreed. And if you get shot, I'll operate without anaesthetic.”

Somehow Mal manages a scowl and he slams the mule into gear to complete the impression of impartial irritation. “Tha's enough. We got a job to do. You two wanna bicker, do it on your own time.”

“I was only sayin'-”

“Well” - gorramit, Mal's glad he can't see Simon's face right now - “Don't.”

* * * * *

“Empty, empty, empty,” River chants.

Inara looks up from her melancholy task of packing to see River place a clamp on top of the tower she's been building out of Inara's extensive range of sex toys.

Inara decides a little diversion might be in order. “Are you, sweetie? Shall we go to the kitchen and fix something nice.”

River's head jerks round in surprise but then she beams at Inara and nods enthusiastically. “Something nice,” she echoes, allowing Inara to take her hand. “Nice, nicer, nicest.” She giggles. “Superlative!”

When they enter the kitchen, they discover Book busy at the stove. Supplies may be down to the basic protein ration now, but somehow the Shepherd always manages to produce meals that smell appetizing. Inara sniffs the air and compliments him on his culinary skills.

“I used dried herbs,” he confides. “Gives an illusion of freshness.”

Illusion. Something at which both Inara and the Shepherd excel. Not that they aren't Companion and Shepherd; it's just that they are so much else besides. But Inara will be leaving soon, whereas Book will remain. With Mal and Simon and River ... Inara hopes she can trust him. Hopes that the man she believes him to be is not just an illusion too.

“Parsley,” Inara says, savouring a mouthful of the soup he places before her. She smiles brightly, capturing his gaze. “Which, incidentally - in the language of flowers – means 'useful knowledge'.”

She knows what he was. And she wants him to know that she knows. Wants an undertaking that he'll do no harm.

Book meets her eyes steadily. “And garlic. To protect and ward off evil.”

For a second, they're both silent, considering and then they laugh, as if at the absurdity of the conversation.

Tasting her own bowl of soup, River looks from one to the other and joins their laughter with an observation of her own. “Salty.”

* * * * *

It's raining. Heavily enough for Simon to wish his coat had a hood like Jayne's. And it's dark. Must be winter on this part of Aberdeen. Simon turns up his collar and wraps his arms about himself for warmth.

Mal stops the mule and consults his map.

“Reckon that's the place,” he says, pointing to a row of lights in the distance. He turns in his seat to issue final instructions to Simon.

“You keep close at all times, dong ma. You take as much as you can comfortably carry an' no more. You don't talk an' you keep your face covered.” He tosses something into the Doctor's hands. “Don't wanna go gettin' caught on voice recorders or security cameras.”

Simon wonders if he'll ever be able to take orders without resenting them. He's always bristled at Mal's failure to add a 'please' to his requests, right from that very first day on Serenity. But back then, Mal didn't know him. Simon's been ship's medic for seven months now. He'd thought, hoped, that during that time, Mal might have developed some respect for him – both as a doctor and as a man. That he might even have begun thinking of him as an equal. Then again, if Mal doesn't respect him, maybe it's Simon's own stupid fault for throwing himself at him. For letting Mal take what he wanted and then slinking back to his bunk with his tail between his legs.

“You listenin'?” Mal demands. Beside him Jayne is grinning triumphantly. “I said-”

“Yes,” Simon interrupts, looking Mal squarely in the eye. “I heard. All right.”

Unexpectedly, Mal grins at him. “Don't wanna lose ya, Doc,” he says, starting the mule's engine up again.

Simon heart flips in his chest. Buddha be praised that it's too dark for the others to see the colour rising in his cheeks.

* * * * *

“I'm betting he'll crack. Right at the last minute. And beg her to stay.”

“Really?” Zoe asks, unconvinced but loving her husband for his romantic delusions.

“Yeah.” Wash hesitates, less sure of himself now he remembers it's Mal they're talking about. “Or maybe Inara will change her mind.”

“And maybe,” Zoe smiles, sliding her hands from his shoulders down onto his chest, “we'll all become rich and the Alliance will decide they don't want River back after all and Jayne will join a monastery!”

“It could happen!” Wash counters, albeit half-heartedly.

Zoe says nothing, just kisses his neck lightly.

He sighs contentedly. “What man in his right mind would give up on the chance of this?” he asks, leaning his head against Zoe's. “Right. Of course! That's where I was going wrong, isn't it? Mal's not in his right mind. He's psychotic!”

Zoe kisses Wash's cheek. “Captain's been through some real bad times, baobei. Changed him.”

Wash pulls her onto his lap. “You were in Serenity Valley with him. You came out okay.”

“Came out different,” she corrects. As did all of the few who survived that bloodbath and the week that followed. Only way to cope was to shut down, block out every thought other than getting through the next few minutes. Stop thinking on those you loved and wondering if you'd ever see them again. Had to harden your heart, turn it to stone.

It was hard to let that go.

And maybe Zoe never would have if it hadn't been for Wash with his easy warmth and never-take-no-for-an-answer determination. She turned him down more times that she can remember but he never gave up. Just kept joking and teasing until one day he made her laugh and something inside her melted. That day all the barriers she'd put up came tumbling down ...

Zoe still hopes that someone, some day will be able to do that for Mal.

* * * *

“Care to make an incision, Doctor Tam?” Mal asks, tossing Simon a pair of wire-cutters. There's no gate on this side of the perimeter fence. It's sturdy enough, but too high to scale, plus it's topped by coils of razor wire. Only way in is cutting through. “Need a hole big enough to crawl through – an' push the goods back through on the way out. Three foot square, minimum.”

Simon sets about the task, whilst Mal and Jayne keep a lookout for any signs of security. The metal is tough; each snip takes enormous effort and by the time he's finished, Simon's arms are aching. Jayne pushes him unceremoniously out of the way and crawls through the hole. Mal follows, takes a quick look about him and beckons Simon through.

The depot building sits in the middle of the compound and at each corner of the perimeter fence, there's a watchtower complete with a searchlight. Mal checks the sweep of one against his pulse. Automated, he realizes. He waits until the nearest completes its arc, then gives Simon and Jayne the signal to run.

They tear across the twenty or so yards of open ground and panting, flatten themselves against the depot's exterior walls. Jayne inches along towards the nearest door - which according to the information Wash was able to glean from the Cortex, ought to be the staff entrance and therefore not alarmed. The mercenary threads a thin length of fuse into the lock. A small explosive charge pulls it apart and the door swings open. Mal has a hand on his pistol just in case, but his there's no flashing lights, no screaming siren. All the same, best they don't linger.

Mal gestures for Jayne to go first, and Simon remembers the order to stay close. He feels faintly ridiculous in the stocking mask Mal made him put on, but it's a small price to pay for anonymity.

The food store is enormous and recently restocked, by the looks of things. Jayne hauls out a crate of protein bars whilst Mal makes for the canisters of freeze-dried coffee. Meanwhile, conscious of the need for at least some real food in their diet, Simon takes down some packs of sun-dried fruit. Once they've filled the rucksack on Mal's back, they move out into the corridor and head for the staircase to the basement where engineering supplies are supposedly located.

Sure he can remember most of the items on it, Mal doesn't bother consulting Kaylee's list. He moves quickly down the shelving stacks, dropping items into a large canvas bag including a couple of fuel rods encased in thick radiation-proof packaging. When the bag gets almost too heavy to lift, he hands it over to Jayne.

By means of hand signals, he indicates that Jayne should take his load back to the mule and be ready to start it up for a fast get away. Then, with a nudge of his elbow and a tilt of his head, Mal points Simon back towards the staircase.

This time they need to go up – two flights to pharmaceutical supplies. They make it to the first landing easily enough, but suddenly there's the sound of footsteps and voices coming up from below. Mal grabs Simon's arm and pushes him through a set of swing doors into a harshly lit hallway. A narrow door in front of them carries a sign saying 'Janitor'. Mal yanks it open and shoves Simon inside, closing the door behind them.

It's dark. And small. And Mal is terribly, wonderfully close. Simon has to take a step away because the adrenaline coursing through his body is threatening to make him reckless.

A minute, maybe two, and Mal risks opening the door. Silence. They creep back out into the stairwell, straining to hear anything that might indicate they're about to be caught. Nothing. Quickly they ascend the next flight of stairs.

As soon as Simon steps into the pharmaceuticals store, he gasps in wonder, exclaiming “Oh my goodness!” at the range of drugs and equipment displayed before him. Nothing like he was used to on Osiris of course, but so very much better than what he has on Serenity.

From behind Mal instantly clamps a hand down over his mouth to shut him up and jerks his head back sharply to remind him of the rules. A brief moment of resistance gives way to a nod of acquiescence. Simon turns to offer a mouthed apology only to find himself suddenly wrapped in Mal's arms, being pulled closer.

A kiss through nylon fibres may well still be a kiss, but it's a strange one. Strange enough at any rate to make Mal come to his senses and pull back. Simon remains rooted to the spot, eyes noticeably wide even through the mask. Briskly Mal pushes him forward and watches as the Doctor walks unsteadily away towards the shelving units. Waits as Simon selects items and drops them into his bag. And asks himself what in the name of renci Fozu he thought he was doing.

Because Mal ain't unacquainted with the strange effect that the fear of defeat and the prospect of success can have on a man. How they can make his heart race and his blood pound. Happened often enough during the war. He ought to have been prepared for it ... ought not to have ... But touching Simon again, feeling him yield ... it brought it all back, reawakened Mal's hunger.

Not that that's any gorram excuse. They've got a job to do. Mal forces himself to concentrate.

Meanwhile Simon tests the weight of his haul. Just about manageable, he decides and pulls the rucksack onto his back. He's not going to think about what just happened. He's not. Instead he gestures to Mal that he's ready to leave.

They're half way down the corridor, when again there's the sound of voices.

“Only gorram Inspector Chung! Why the hell did no-one warn us he was coming?” one is spluttering, almost panic-stricken.

“Must be an actual official inspection,” a higher-pitched, strangled one replies. “Oh shit! Did anyone ever get round to inventory?”

The answering laugh has no mirth in it, only despair. “We've got six people off with that respiratory virus, Maurice is on honeymoon and Yan is away on some pointless training exercise. What do you think?”

From outside the building comes the sound of several heavy vehicles pulling up.

“I think we're going to get fired,” the first voice – nearer now – answers. “Or shot.”

Having no wish to share these hapless souls' fate, Mal dives through the nearest door and into what must be the stationery store. At least it looks out onto the back of the depot. The tradesman's entrance, rather than the front door and therefore not like to be used by Alliance brass. Mal runs over to the window and tries the handle. To his amazement it opens easily. Better still, there's a narrow ledge about four feet down, and from there a drop of eight feet or so to the ground.

Mal helps Simon through the open window and joins him on the ledge. Shows him how to scrabble down until he's hanging onto it by just his fingers.

“You can do this,” Mal tells him firmly, before letting himself fall.

Simon's sweating. Shaking. He feels sick.

Simon.”

He lets go.

The landing is painful and inelegant, but he survives. Mal offers him his hand and gratefully Simon takes it. Its warmth is hugely reassuring.

“Thanks.”

“We ain't out the woods yet,” Mal tells him, looking around for a way out of the compound. Finally he notices a part of the perimeter fence that for some reason is lower than the rest. No razor wire on top neither. It'll have to do. “This way.”

Dodging the searchlights again, they dash across the gravel between the depot and the fence. Mal makes a stirrup out of his hands and gives Simon a leg up onto the metal gridwork. He waits until he's sure Simon ain't gonna come crashing back down again before clambering up after him.

The rain hasn't eased off any and the fence is slippery, but at least it's rigid enough to be steady under their weight. Simon reaches the top and finds a row of sharp, evenly spaced spikes.

“Be careful when you get up here, Mal,” he warns, as he negotiates body parts carefully around them. “It's a bit tricky.”

Mal finds Simon telling him how to handle himself all manner of funny and he can't help but chuckle. However his amusement soon disappears when he finds himself caught in the headlights of one of what he assumes must be the Inspector's vehicles as it rounds the corner into the depot's back yard. Hastily he pulls out his transmitter.

“Jayne, Jayne! You read me? Been a change of plan. Meet us round the back Ma shang.”

Putting the transmitter away whilst trying to avoid getting impaled turns out not to be Mal's best plan ever.

Yesu tamade!” he groans, as his foot slides on the wet metal and he momentarily loses his balance. A sharp pain in his side makes him gasp and, as he tries to right himself, a second in the middle of his chest makes him curse again. “Liu koushui de boazi!”

More than half-way down the other side, Simon looks up to see him struggling, face contorted with pain. “Mal!”

“I'm okay,” Mal assures him impatiently. “Need a few, is all. You jus' get yourself to the mule.”

He looks anything but okay. And he's slumped against the top of the fence. Simon quickly shrugs off his rucksach and drops it to the ground, before starting to climb up again.

“I told you to get to the mule,” Mal growls, taking his weight on his arms again and commencing his descent.

“But-”

“But nothin'!” Mal snaps. “Do as I ruttin' well say for once without arguin', will ya?”

“I-” Simon begins, anger and hurt flaring at Mal's tone. “I was only trying ... Agh!”

Mal freezes, clinging onto the fence, his fingers brittle with horror, as Simon's grip fails. His body arcs out from the fence and tumbles backwards. Mal's not sure if the thud he hears is Simon hitting the ground or his own heart knocking against his ribcage.

“Simon!”

Heedless now of his injuries, hardly even feeling them, Mal scrambles down to the ground just as Jayne pulls up in the mule.

The mercenary cocks his head to one side as he regards the prone body. “He ain't dead, is he?”

Mal feels for a pulse. Oh, thank ... thank God, thank every gorram deity in this 'verse an' the next.

All of a sudden Jayne finds himself bathed in bright light. “Zao cao, Mal! They've spotted us.”

“Take his legs. Easy now. Keep him straight,” Mal orders, lifting Simon's shoulders and allowing himself to pray that the boy's back ain't broke. They lie him across the back seats, and Mal straps him in whilst Jayne quickly gets the mule started and up through the gears.

As they speed away, having spent so much of the money they got from Badger for the Lasiter on buying the vehicle finally stops being a source of regret for Mal.

* * * * *

“Zoe's right,” Book insists. “Can't do much more for him now. Other than wait.”

Mal drags his eyes away from Simon's pale, still form to ask the question he hadn't dared voice whilst Kaylee was still in the room.. “He gonna come round, you reckon?”

“God willing,” Book murmurs, glancing down at the patient. Ignoring Mal's derisive snort, he continues, “Meanwhile you should let Zoe tend to you.”

Mal shakes his head. “Jus' scratches.”

This is all his fault. He deserves to suffer for it. If he hadn't given the boy that scrap of encouragement, he might've known his place. Followed orders.

Book frowns. “The last thing Simon needs when he regains consciousness is to be worrying about your untreated wounds.”

Mal glares at him for an instant and then huffs a sigh of defeat. He peels of his shirt, wincing as the drying blood on it tugs out a few chest hairs, and sits down on a chair beside the medcot.

Zoe dabs at Mal's injuries with a dampened piece of sterile gauze. Once they're cleaned, she takes a tube from one of the drawers.

“Dermabond,” River declares from her position atop the counter, following Zoe's every movement as she applies the treatment.

Zoe steps back, casts a dissatisfied eye over her work and takes something else from the drawer.

“Weaves.” River pokes her tongue out at Mal. “Told you.”

He purses his lips, recalling. “Yeah, you did, di'n't ya?”

“Could be of use,” she suggests with a smile, before scowling at her brother. “If he'd let me.”

“Mmm,” Mal murmurs, humouring her. “Maybe you could at that.”

River slips down from her perch. “Going to be of use to Kaylee now,” she announces and skips out of the room.

“That's you, Sir,” Zoe says, when the last weave is in place. “The Shepherd and I will stay with Simon, if you want to rest.”

“No, no – I'll ...” Mal searches for an excuse to stay. “I'll do it. Not gonna be much help with stowing the goods, what with these cuts. Best you two help Jayne and Kaylee.”

Zoe raises an eyebrow. “It was only three bags, Sir,” she points out.

“Right.” Mal flounders for a second. “That bein' the case, Book can help stow the goods whilst you wave Badger an' tell him we're good for the Constance job.”

Zoe raises the other eyebrow too. “Thought you'd decided against that?”

“Then you thought wrong.”

Zoe looks like she might be about to say something but instead takes her leave. After a moment's hesitation Book does likewise.

Mal gets up to lower the infirmary lights, then settles back in the chair to wait. Can't shirk the job ahead, no matter how much he'd like to. Least this way he won't have an audience.

* * * * *

Everything hurts, his head most of all. What happened? Where is he? Why does he feel so nauseous?

Trying to get more comfortable, Simon shifts onto his side. This isn't his bed. It's too hard. But it is familiar. He's slept on one like this before. Wo de tian - he's in a police cell! His eyes fly open, only to snap shut again in pain. For a moment he lies there, moaning quietly and full of dread until slowly his other senses come into play. This room smells clean, clinically clean. And he can hear the low, rhythmic beep of a cardiac monitor. So, no - not a cell but an infirmary. The infirmary.

Bracing himself for more pain, he prises his lids open for a second to look around him and sees Mal's head, slumped against the side of the medcot. Trying to keep his eyes open is agony, but at least he can reach out a hand.

Mal grunts as Simon's fingers stroke through his hair, caressing the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck. Semi-conscious, he cranes his head in towards the touch, seeking it out, encouraging more. It feels so gorram good, so tender, so right.

“Mal?” a hoarse voice asks. “Are you okay?”

Zao cao! Mal is fully awake in a heartbeat. In another he's out of his chair and on his feet.

Squinting against even the low lights of the infirmary, Simon looks up at him, a fond smile on his lips. “You brought me back.”

Mal clenches his jaw, forces a glare. “Yeah. Damn near got caught by the Feds doin' it too. What did I tell you?”

Simon shakes his head, bewildered. Not a good way to respond as it makes it feel like his cranium's about to split open. “Shen me?”

“I told you to get to the mule,” Mal reminds him, grinding out each word angrily. “Gave you a direct order which you saw fit to ignore.”

“I .. You were-” Simon struggles to explain but Mal cuts him off, leaning in till his face is mere inches away from Simon's own.

“I'm Captain on this boat. Which means you do as I say. No argument, no discussion. We ain't equals nor partners.”

Simon closes his eyes in the forlorn hope of shutting Mal out.

He's hurting in more ways than one now, Mal knows, but he has to finish this. Has to kill the flicker of hope that yuben de kiss sparked in the boy.

“That night – had an itch which you were of use in scratchin' but it ain't gonna happen again.Dong ma?”

Simon doesn't answer but Mal sees him flinch.

Good.

That oughta put an end to all this goushi once and for all.

* * * * *

COMMENTS

Friday, December 9, 2005 9:32 AM

AMDOBELL


Oh no, don't let Mal squash Simon's hope like that! Maybe our wise little albatross can sort those two out. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, December 10, 2005 7:41 AM

ARAGLAS


NO!!! Mal love Simon! Simon is not an itch!!!

Okay, he's an itch I have 24/7 but he's more than an itch to Mal!!!!!

*luffs* Keep writing!, your stuff gets me through finals!

Saturday, December 10, 2005 3:38 PM

GUILDSISTER


Wonderfully developed and played! You're building from the end of the show into the start of the movie very well. So many fine character details were built in that enhanced the story and the character development--like Mal fills the bag until it's almost to heavy to life, *then* hands it to Jayne. Such a nice bit of detail. The 'batteries' thread throughout was LOL hi-larious. Zoe and Wash were particularly well done in this chapter--a great deal of depth to the way you wrote them.

The ending... Mal is such an SOB at times! But it worked so very well. So very much looking forward to where you're taking this story.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005 10:12 AM

BELLONA


mal - bad in this chapter!!!

b


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