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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"With the Captain finally on the mend everything is beginning to return to what passes for normal."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1700 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT"
CHAPTER: 45. Sequel to "THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE CRIMINALLY INSANE"
SERIES: HANDFUL OF STARS Series
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara
SUMMARY: "With the Captain finally on the mend
everything is beginning to return to what passes for normal."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant
Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.
"TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT"
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
It was kind'a wierd how his world had gone all gorram echo-y, like he was in some metal box buried deep. The dark was oddly comforting, it being something he had experienced too many times to not find familiar but it was the sounds that were unsettling. That and the occasional spikes of pain rousing him from that quiet dark place that had been cradling him. Was he dead? If so how come there were no glowy folk or that big ruttin' fire waitin' for him? Shouldn't his mama be there to meet him? Again with the oddly warped noise and a sharp sudden intrusion of pain. If his eyes had been open he would'a closed them. 'Course, in the dark could be they already were, he had no way of knowing.
A tide of weariness carried him on its' ebb and flow and seconds later he knew no more.
Above the operating table Simon Tam worked with great care, his evident skill enabling him to cut no deeper or wider than absolutely necessary. River stood close by, handing him his surgical instruments seconds before he could ask for them. It was automatic, intuitive and creepy as hell for Jayne watching bug-eyed from the corner. Gorramit, Mal looked more dead than alive. Thought Simon was supposed to fix him? But he didn't utter a word, nor did he take his eyes off the activity, as if to look aside was to let that fragile life slip away even though Simon had told him the Captain was in no danger of dying he had added that there could be no certainties when operating inside someone's gorram brain. Some reassurance that was. The other doctor was removing something from a sterilisation chamber. Jayne had heard Simon explain to Zoe but it didn't make much sense. What use was a gorram magnet?
Outside the infirmary Kaylee was staring with wide frightened eyes. At first they had all been so happy, elated to have the Captain back but then that doc, Greenway, had explained to Simon something about things moving about inside the Cap'n's brain pan. Zoe had tried to calm her down but even silent it didn't stop the tears. Wasn't fair. Cap'n was a good man, didn't deserve all this. Then Inara was there and the two of them clung to each other like life rafts, neither daring to say what they were thinking. Zoe excused herself but they didn't notice, the first mate slipping away to go and speak to Wash. It was like everybody was moving around on tip toe, even Serenity seemed to be holding her breath. Jayne didn't see Shepherd Book outside the infirmary looking in, his hands clasped and lips moving soundlessly in prayer.
The transport was rudimentary at best, a ramshackle excuse for a ship but it was still flying. Just. Not the usual kind of vehicle he would be seen dead in but needs must when the *guai* drives. The baggy old coat is spotlessly clean but scruffy enough not to draw any attention. It hides the cut of his expensive grey suit and renders him as nondescript as everyone else. Twitching his nose involuntarily he resists the urge to clear his throat and nasal passages of the offensive smell of other people's unwashed sweat but the ship is going where he must travel and more importantly, it is going there now.
Kaylee was surprised to find herself gently but carefully guided away from the vicinity of the infirmary by Monty Reynolds. Inara using the mechanic's distraction to go to her shuttle. Simon and Dr Greenway had politely but firmly asked her to leave while they operated but it was only after she got to her shuttle that she remembered seeing Jayne Cobb sitting in the corner of the infirmary while River quietly and efficiently handed Simon's instruments to him. If they could stay why couldn't she?
In the commons area Kaylee was comforted to see Shepherd Book talking to Caleb and Zoe. Wash was probably still on the bridge and Inara had said there was nothing any of them could do until the doctors had finished working on the Captain. She swallowed hard and tried to be brave but the smile was too watery to stay and the worry in her eyes kept giving her away.
"*Fang xin*, Kaylee. Cap'n's strong."
"*Wo bu dong*, how come he's got bits of metal in his head? Simon already operated, Zoe. It don't make sense."
Caleb gave Monty a look that the others could not fathom, as if the pair of them knew more than they were letting on. Zoe's eyes narrowed. "If you know anythin' best you spit it out, *dong ma*?"
The look Monty gave Caleb was obviously putting the onus on him to do the talking. "Apparently doc Greenway found a piece of metal, more of a shard, but it was tapered long an' thin at one end. Never seen nothin' like it. Said he didn't have good enough equipment to locate it with enough accuracy. Needed a better scanner."
Zoe looked worried. "Simon already removed the metal an' other fragments, wasn't anythin' else to find when he closed the wound."
Caleb shrugged though he filed away the comment about 'other fragments'. Now was not the time to ask questions the crew might be ansty about giving answers to a stranger. Didn't matter a good gorram that Mal and Zoe knew his father, they didn't know him and that was the rub. "Way it sounded, doc Greenway said the metal appeared to be movin' inside his brainpan. Not sure how that could be but if it was then could be why it wasn't found first time round."
Zoe didn't like the sound of that at all. Pieces of metal still inside Mal's head moving around? Did that mean there was nanotechnology still operating and if so what in the nine hells was it doing? How much damage was going on that they couldn't see and would Simon and that other doc be able to stop it? A part of her could not stop being mad at Simon for leaving the Captain in pain for so long without doing anything about it. If he had taken more notice maybe this unwelcome development could have been spotted sooner. On the heels of that uncharitable thought was the acknowledgement that if Simon hadn't found anything else it was because it wasn't there to be found. So, it must have been buried deep and if that was so why was it moving now?
Shepherd Book knew they were all worried, felt more than a mite unsettled himself. Given what had happened to himself and then the Captain, he wondered what other nasty little surprises might be in store for Serenity and her crew. It seemed there were no lengths Blue Sun would not go to retrieve River Tam and yet they had managed to escape, retrieving their Captain and Zoe in the process albeit with the help of others. It could be that having outside help had been enough to ensure success, Blue Sun not yet aware of who was helping them or where they had gone. His eye flicked to the first mate and his heart missed a beat. She was staring straight at him as he if held the answers. It was more than a little disconcerting to realise that Zoe still did not trust him. Not entirely.
Simon was amazed. The shard was mighty thin to be called such but one end was definitely thicker than the other, the far end tapering into a metal filament so fine that without the thicker end being picked up on the scanner he would never have found it. Even the thicker end of the strand was not very thick and Simon realised that the idea for the magnet was actually quite inspired and told Greenway as much. The man gave a very soft huff.
"Tell me again if'n it works."
Then both men were too busy for conversation, the magnet moved gently and slowly into position while Elias waited poised with surgical pincers to fasten on to the filament as soon as they could lift enough of it free of the cerebal cortex to get a good grip. Extraction by magnet alone was not an option, they could not risk slipping and did not know what if anything the filament was connected to or its' purpose. The operation lasted almost three hours and by that time they had located another shorter filament and a tiny little metal fragment. It had taken longer than Simon anticipated but this was something that could not be rushed. Simon did not want to sew the man up again only to find another filament had been missed or worse still that something even more disturbing was still inside his brainpan. Only when he was good and satisfied that they had got everything did he close him up again. The careful neat sutures drawing an admiring comment from the visiitng doctor.
"You do good work, Dr Tam."
"Please, call me Simon."
"Then you must call me Elias."
Jayne stirred as the two doctors peered into the kidney shaped dish. River met the mercenary's eyes and gave a slight shake of the head and the big man settled back in place, oddly quiessent.
Half an hour later the Captain was resting in post op. Simon said it would be a few hours at least before he was expected to wake. Jayne got to his feet and glanced down at the sleeping Captain. "He gonna be okay?"
Simon was finishing cleaning up and as Dr Greenway put away the now sterilised equipment Simon peeled off his surgical gloves and dropped them in the waste bin. "*Qu*. At least we know why he was getting so many headaches."
"If ya know why didn't ya do somethin'?"
"Jayne, I didn't know there was anything else to find and until I knew why he was getting headaches it would have been irresponsible to prescribe any drugs. The scans I took after the original surgery indicated there was nothing else to find. All he needed was to rest and heal."
The big man grunted. "Like that was ever gonna happen."
Dr Greenway took another look at the filaments they had extracted and noticed the tiny metal fragment was hardly bigger than a grain of rice. "What do you supposed it was doin'?"
Simon sighed. "Nothing good although after the original surgery I wouldn't have thought there was anything left for it to be connected to."
"*Cuode*." Said River. "Can't assume just because you don't know."
Jayne shot the girl a look of sharp interest. It wasn't often he asked her opinion on anything but he hadn't forgotten her part in helping first time round. "What d'ya think?"
"Electrical filaments carry current. We sing the body electric."
"Ya think they left them wires in there when they was torturin' him?"
"The brain is a computer, a processor. It's possible part of it was still being affected."
Jayne looked uncertain, his worry deepening. "They was tappin' into the Cap's brain?"
Simon didn't like the way they were putting two and two together and making twenty five. His sister might be a genius but that didn't mean everything she said was gospel. "We don't know, Jayne, and it's too early to speculate."
"When are ya gonna speculate, doc? Cap could'a died."
"But he didn't and I don't want you spreading alarm among the crew, *dong ma*?" Simon turned to Dr Greenway and gave him a grateful smile. "*Xie xie ni."
"*Buyong xie*, glad to help."
"So he's really gonna be fine?"
Simon actually gave the man a small smile of reassurance. For all the big man's surliness and bluster he had been as worried as the rest of them. "Yes, Jayne. He'll be up and bossing everyone about again before you know it."
Something lightened in the big man's eyes, a weight Simon hadn't known he was carrying. With a nod to the two doctors and River, Jayne left to go find something to eat. Simon shook his head. Just when he thought he knew the man inside and out he would go and do or say something to surprise him.
"He cares." Said River softly, her voice a gentle sing song pitched just for his ears. A tease of emotion that was always a delight. "About you too."
That made his head jerk up. Simon gave his sister a quizzical look but River just grinned happily at him. "Family."
It was on the tip of his tongue to protest that he and Jayne were not family. River dipped passed him and dropped a kiss on the sleeping Captain's cheek then danced around her brother and was gone. Living with River was a bit like being in the path of a largely benign whirlwind. But she was happy and for Simon that was all that mattered. Simon turned and caught Dr Greenway smiling gently at him. "*Shenme*?"
"It's good to have family, Simon."
Simon was about to protest then stopped himself realising the man was right. It shook him to realise this scruffy little ship and her dysfunctional crew had become more family to himself and River than his parents back on Osiris. For all the money and social position, the sculptured gardens and expensive works of art adorning their period house, the soft steps of dutiful servants and all the trappings that went with it, he and River had found more warmth and affection here on Serenity. The thought brought back the memory of his father telling him he would not come for him if he got caught in a blackout zone again, the idea that somehow wanting to find River, to rescue her would in some way shame his father had been a painful eye opener. He could not see Gabriel Tam pulling out all the stops to protect himself and River from the Alliance or the machinations of Blue Sun. A part of him felt ineffably sad but then he thought of what he had now, the riches that money could not buy. Kaylee's smile, Inara's grace and friendship, the Captain's stubborn but oddly noble protection, Zoe's unspoken support and Shepherd Book's warmth and good humour. Then there was Wash with his gentle nature and witty banter masking a hidden steel and Jayne's rough but ready help in times of trouble. It was odd how easily his sister had fit into this new family and a wonder to him when he found a place for himself among them. Family. Might not be the one he was born to but it was the one he chose.
He checked the readings again. Still on course. Not a smile or flicker of emotion crossed his face yet he was pleased. Soon they would be reunited and nothing - not the Alliance, Blue Sun, or their former allegiances - would part them again. Yet even now he must be careful, couch all his movements as if in obediance to that higher order he once worshipped. An order he now knew for the corruption and evil he had thought himself aligned against. How could he have been so blind for so long? Yet now that the scales had been torn from his eyes he wanted to weep and rail against the things he had done, willingly undertaking the most foul of deeds to clense the soul of the 'verse not realising he was but bloodying his own. The stain was indelible. The sin eternal. Though he knew it was too late by far to redeem and save himself his hope was for another. One given no choice and no way out. If he could, with his last act, break those bonds he would die a happy man.
Inara Serra carefully reapplied her make up, hiding the tracks of her tears. Brush stroke by brush stroke rebuilding the perfection of her companion facade so the others would not see the cracks. Oh Mal, why did you always have to reel from one near death experience to another? Yet as reckless as he oft times was the fault was not his own. The 'verse in which they lived was unrelenting and seemed to take a perverse delight in homing in on Serenity's Captain. At least this time the crew had escaped relatively unscathed but how many times could the man visit death's door and be turned away?
The knock on her hatch interrupted further such thoughts and Inara was grateful. "*Qing jin*!"
Kaylee opened the hatch and all but flew in. For a moment Inara feared something else had gone wrong, but no, her friend was a wreath of smiles, her face flushed with excitement.
"*Fasheng shenme shi le?*"
"The operation went smooth 'Nara. Simon says Cap'n'll be fine."
Inara felt as if all the air had whooshed out of her body. Then the two friends were hugging each other, sharing their relief. Inara smiled at Kaylee. "Did Simon find out why Mal was having so many headaches?"
"*Qu*, seems there was some kind'a wire or bit o' metal still in his head but it's gone now. Simon says he just needs rest then he'll be good as new."
"Come on, *mei mei*. Let's see whose turn it is to burn dinner."
Kaylee giggled and feeling light hearted, they chattered and teased each other as they went. When they got to the commons area Inara was surprised to see everybody there even Wash. Catching her eye Zoe made her way to the companion and Kaylee slipped away to corner Simon.
The Companion gave her a smile. "I hear the operation went well?"
Zoe nodded. "I was gonna come an' let you know but Kaylee wanted to pass on the news."
"I thought you'd look happier, Zoe."
"I am it's just..." The first mate hesitated. "It's probably nothin'."
Inara drew her to one side so they could speak more freely. "Let me be the judge of that."
Cool calm eyes fastened on her own, serious in their intent. "Inara what do you know about Blue Sun?"
The question surprised her. Where had that come from? "I know as much as you, maybe less. They're an arm of the Alliance, *weishenme*?"
"I understand the fixation they have with recoverin' River but what's the point of puttin' people through all this? It's torture for torture's sake, Inara, an' it ain't right."
"*Wo tongyi* but you have to know that Blue Sun funds a lot of less than savoury operations for the Alliance, Zoe, and they have fingers in an awful lot of pies."
"I've been thinkin' about Petrie. The kind of set up he had? No way one man could fund all that for himself let alone get access to that sort of equipment, Inara."
"You think he was working for Blue Sun?"
"It's the only thing that makes sense."
Inara looked worried. "If that's true..."
"Then it's all connected."
For a moment the two women fell silent. Inara felt her happy mood vanishing. "What can we do?"
"For now? *Yiwusuoyou*. Just hope I'm wrong."
As Zoe went to move away Inara put a hand on her arm. "And if you're right?"
"Pray, Inara. Pray for us all."
It was dark and warm, might even say cosy except for the odd little interruptions on the edge of his consciousness. Noises that were somehow familiar but not threatening. He would start to drift deeper again only to find his anchor tugged by those small sounds. He waited for the pain to hit - nothing. Gorramit, his headache was gone! His heart lifted and along with the realisation that he was no longer in gorram agony he was cognisant of exactly where he was. The noises made sense now. For a moment or two he kept his eyes closed and just luxiariated in the absence of pain. Had forgotten how wonderful it was to not be fighting to think through it and hide it from his crew, though knowing Zoe she probably saw right through him.
"Not the only one."
His thoughts stuttered to a halt.
"Not imagining it."
Mal opened a cautious eye and sure enough, found himself staring straight at River Tam. The girl was leaning over him, her eyes big and wide and almost swallowed up by the smile on her face,
"Thought I was supposed to be restin'?"
"Were, not now."
"Oh? What am I now?"
She grinned. "Awake, ready for visitors."
He raised his eyebrows then looked around, expecting to see Simon hovering in the background. "Huh, they invisible?"
Her laughter rang in his ears as she kissed his cheek then skipped out of the room. Moments later Inara hurried in, her face flushed and as happy as he had ever seen it. Hadn't meant to worry her none but it wasn't as if Inara was like to listen to him. Neither of them noticed River quietly shut the door to the infirmary behind her. Mal watched the Companion draw a chair as close as she could, her smile warm, eyes fastened on him as if afraid he would disappear if she looked away.
"*Ni juede zenme yang le*?"
He took her hand and was happy to see the pleased look in her eyes. Such a little thing too. He'd have to remember to be a mite more attentive if only to bring that look back to her face. Such a lovely face. "*Wo hao danr le* 'Nara, don't fuss."
Inara raised her eyebrows. "Are you a doctor now, Mal? Isn't bossing everyone around as Captain enough for you?"
"*Shenme*? I can't know how I'm feelin' now?"
She knew he was joking, could hear it in his voice but it still hurt that he could be so cavalier with his health. Not that she would say as much but she had come so close to losing him and it had frightened her. She looked at his bandaged head and resisted the urge to try and shake some sense into him. It wouldn't be Malcolm Reynolds otherwise. Annoying, oddly charming and disarming man.
"You gonna just stare at me or do I get a kiss?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to tease him but she didn't have the heart, too happy and relieved to see him awake and in one piece. Now was not the time to bring up her conversation with Zoe. After all, their fears might be groundless, why worry the Captain unnecessarily? Pushing such thoughts from her mind she smiled and brought her lush lips down to his and for a moment he thought the air in his body had disappeared. Replaced with something so sweet it made him want to cry for the joy of it. When they parted there was barely an inch between them, Inara's eyes so big and wide and gorgeous he could drown in them.
He hushed her with another kiss, feather light and so tender it near broke her heart. "Ain't a time for words, 'Nara."
She let the kiss deepen then smiled as they came up for air. "What is it time for, Mal?"
He gave her a look of mock surprise. "What? I gotta draw you a diagram?"
Her laughter was liquid balm for his heart. Inara sat up but kept hold of his hand, their fingers naturally entwining seemingly of their own accord. "Oh Mal, you gave us quite a scare."
"Didn't mean to."
"*Wo zhidao* but why does it always have to be you?"
She gently poked his chest with her free hand. "It's as if you've got a big Bull's Eye painted on your chest."
"I'm still here, 'Nara, no need to take on so."
"That's not what I'm doing."
"It isn't, Mal."
She opened her mouth to correct him again then stopped at the glint of mischief in his eyes. "Malcolm Reynolds, if you hadn't just come out of surgery I'd box your ears!"
"I'd like to see you try."
"Don't tempt me."
He waggled his eyebrows, eyes shining. "If it's temptation you're wantin'..."
The rest of his words were lost to another kiss. From the doorway, Simon Tam smiled. Dr Greenway glanced at him and seemed amused. "It looks as if our work is done, Simon."
Simon nodded and the two men slipped away, neither of a mind to disturb their patient. River hung back and watched through the glass for another minute then hurried to catch up with them. Shepherd Book was rustling up a hot meal and Kaylee had got Caleb to promise to tell her a story. She didn't want to miss it.
It was something of a convoluted path. For some reason he had expected a direct route to a specific destination but it did not work out that way. The filthy little vessel took him so far then it was time to disembark. To look for something else to complete his journey. He looked for somewhere to break his fast and finding a cubby hole near the back of the grubby eating house got himself settled. Waited until he had placed his order then took out his hand held monitor. It was small, no larger than the palm of his hand. After checking the reading he twisted his lips, somewhat irritated that he was being forced to chop and change. What was going on? The only good thing about it was that it would be even harder for anyone to put the two of them together. Made it safer and less likely that his handlers would suspect what he was about to do.
The meal was simple fare but provided the required sustenance, He hardly tasted it, too intent on his plans and not wanting to make any mistakes. Beneath his ragged coat the sword fairly itched a path across his back as if restless to be put to work again.
The evening meal was a merry one on Serenity. Simon finally allowed the Captain to take a steady walk to the commons room to join them for their meal and pretty soon there was something of a party atmosphere on the ship. River smiled and nodded as she danced around, Kaylee laughing and finally snagging her friend before she made everyone dizzy.
"Come on, River, sit by me."
At the head of the table the Captain smiled. To his right Inara sat and talked quietly to him, a little secretive smile hovering on her lips. Dr Greenway was pleased when Simon added extra chairs so he, Caleb and Monty could sit with them. Jayne kept shooting an odd look the Captain's way. Wash noticed and tried to ignore him but after the third or fourth time called him on it. "Jayne, what is your fascination with the Cap'n?"
"Huh? Ain't that it's just... he's smilin'."
Wash waited but the mercenary didn't continue. Zoe shook her head at Wash to leave it alone but he was curious.
"Ain't natural is all."
Kaylee overheard and leaned forward. "Cap'n's just happy, Jayne. That an' he ain't in pain no more."
"Ya sayin' he's been in pain all the time he's had Serenity?"
The Captain paused mid-sentence and looked up, caught Jayne's eye and said "No Jayne, just since you been on my boat."
The big man scowled. "*Wei*, that ain't funny Mal."
Everybody laughed and the conversation moved on. As the meal came to an end Wash wiped the last of his gravy with a scrap of bread then patted his stomach happily. Monty's ship was tailing them until such time as they made landfall and the big man returned to his ship. Zoe thought they should make for Paradisio and drop Caleb off at the same time but the Captain was back. No way would she assume to make decisions that should rightly be his. Something taut relaxed within her, a measure of happiness allowed to settle. It was good to have him back and fixed.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*guai* = devil/ghost *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *qu* = yes (lit. go)
*wo bu dong* = I don't understand *cuode* = wrong *dong ma* = understand?
*xie xie ni* = thank you *buyong xie* = you're welcome *shenme* = what
*qing jin* = come in *fasheng shenme shi le*? = what happened?
*mei mei* = little sister *weishenme* = why *wo tongyi* = I agree
*yiwusuoyou* = nothing *ni juede zenme yang le* = how are you feeling?
*wo hao danr le* = I'm feeling better *wo zhidao* = I know *wei* = hey!
Thursday, September 22, 2011 8:04 AM
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Friday, September 23, 2011 4:45 AM
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