BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KISPEXI2

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 4. Some residual heat.
Monday, February 27, 2006

SPOILERS for the comics/BDM. Mal has to accept Badger's job offer. Not much else in his life is going right either.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2324    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Series: Make me a stone Title: Chapter Four: Some residual heat Author: Kispexi2 Rating: PG-13 Warning: Slashfic (Mal/Simon) Spoilers: for the Serenity comics and the BDM

Many thanks once again to wedjateye for her brilliant betaing and support. For steering me away from exposition. For noticing everything.

And because there's been such a long interval between this chapter and the last, if you want to go back, earlier chapters can be found here: Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three

* * * * * * MAKE ME A STONE Chapter Four: Some residual heat

* * * * * *

Simon's sore.

And it's not just his head and bruised limbs.

“Forgave Jayne,” River reminds him, tapping a finger on the counter top and listening intently to the sound it makes.

“I expected it from him.” The words are out before Simon can stop them. Out and hanging there. Reminding him that once again the real problem is his expectations. He should have paid more attention at the temple, taken the lessons about desire being the root of suffering to heart. Inara still practices the old religion, he's sure. Perhaps he should speak to her.

“Hey, Simon. How ya feeling today?” Kaylee enters the infirmary with a bright smile, but her eyes are concerned. “You sure you oughta be going back to your own bunk so soon?”

Simon can't help but smile back. Kaylee is soft and warm and safe. Not a mean bone in her body. Unlike some.

“I'm much better, thank you. Thanks to all the excellent nursing I've received.”

Kaylee dips her head, but Simon still catches the flush of pleasure stealing across her cheeks. “Aw. T'weren't nothin'. It's not like I could fix you.”

“You wanted to,” Simon replies warmly. “And I appreciate that.”

Kaylee's brows draw together. “You mustn't oughta let what Jayne says bug ya. He don't mean the half of it.”

Simon's about to explain that he already knows that, and that he doesn't really much care about the half that Jayne does mean, when River grips his arm, her eyes wide with fear.

Zhu yi. Can't be trusted. Not black and white. All shades of grey.”

“Shh, mei-mei,” Simon soothes. “Don't worry. I can handle Jayne.”

Apparently busy, Mal strides past the open infirmary door.

River follows him with her eyes. “Velvet gloves,” she says quietly, taking one of Simon's hands and giving it an affectionate squeeze.

Seconds later Mal reappears, returning the way he came. This time, he pokes his head in through the door and acknowledges Simon with a stiff little nod. “You outa here, Doc?”

Simon says he is and the Captain grunts, a noise expressing something between approval and indifference.

“Just as well. Our luck - could be needing that medcot 'fore the day's out.”

“I imagine so,” Simon says coolly. “And yes, I'm well enough to be useful – if that's what you wanted to know.”

Mal stares at him. Boy looks different somehow today. Distant, aloof. Almost like he did that first day on Serenity. 'Cept there's something else that's different about him and Mal can't quite figure what.

He realizes he's staring and looks quickly away. “Right. Good to know.” He turns to Kaylee. “We gonna have a bumpy landin', mei-mei?”

“Always do, Cap'n,” Kaylee replies with a resigned sigh. “I told you we need new-”

“Never mind what we need,” Mal interrupts. “You make the best of what we got.”

Before she can argue, Wash's voice comes over the comm. “Mal? Got Badger for you. Says he wants to go over a few details.”

With a mumbled curse, Mal exits the infirmary again and heads for the bridge, albeit without much enthusiasm.

Because Mal's sore too.

* * * * *

When she lived in House Madrassa, Inara never really thought about how many things she owned. The vast wardrobes of formal Companion attire were simply there. She never cleaned or mended her clothing; there were servants for such tasks. Besides, most of her gowns were gifts from satisfied clients or had been selected for her by the House Priestess. Many she had worn only once. As a result, she never felt that she owned them. They existed apart from her - separate, unconnected.

But on Serenity, all her dresses and trinkets are familiar, well-used and even well-loved. She lifts a simple blue silk shift to place in the open trunk beside her bed and immediately the scent of roses and jasmine fills the air. Her perfume, almost her signature. All these items bear it. They are hers, undeniably, irrevocably hers.

She glances around the shuttle. So many things, so many memories. A scarlet satin gown and cape that never fail to raise a wry smile. A gold evening dress that reminds her of a misty summer morning and a broken sword. And the embroidered long red jacket she was wearing when she finally admitted to herself that she would have to leave Serenity or lose her freedom forever.

One can get too attached - to possessions, to people. Tie yourself to too many, or to one too closely, and they will drown you. Better to cast them off whilst you still can. For your sake; for theirs.

Inara slips the jacket from its hanger and folds it neatly, before packing it too in the trunk and slamming the lid firmly shut.

* * * * *

“Ah. The man 'imself. Mornin', Mal. Long time no see.” Badger's neat, sharp-toothed grin fills the Cortex screen.

“Nowhere near long enough,” Mal mutters under his breath to Zoe, before turning on a grin of his own. “Badger. This social call or is there a problem?”

“No problem this end,” Badger assures him. “ Just checkin' that old rust bucket of yours actually made it all the way to Constance.”

“Breakin' atmo in two hours,” Mal informs him, smile still firmly, perhaps too firmly, in place “Expectin' to make planetfall by nine-thirty in the AM, local time.”

Badger frowns and sucks on his top lip. “Cuttin' it a bit fine, i'n't you? That preacher of yours gonna make it to the church on time? Cuz I've been to a lot a trouble to get 'im a full 'ouse.”

Mal leans in towards the vidscreen. “He'll be there,” he tells Badger firmly. “No need to get tetchy - 'less you've heard otherwise?”

Badger beams back at him. “You worry too much, Mal. This plan is gorram fool-proof. Just don't be lettin' me down, dong ma?”

Mal grunts and kills the screen.

There's something about all this that don't sit right with Mal. But then again, bank-robbing ain't never been his preference. Too much risk. But right now he ain't exactly in a position to be arguing - not when Kaylee keeps nagging him about replacing engine parts and Wash gets that mournful expression every gorram time he looks at the fuel gauge. Yesu tamade, the booty from Aberdeen wasn't but a drop in the ocean when it comes to all the things they're running short of. They need this job of Badger's.

“Could still walk away, Sir,” Zoe suggests, as if reading his mind.

“No, we cou'n't,” he replies bleakly. Cuz she only read half of it.

* * * * *

Rubbing his hands together with satisfaction, Badger leans back in his chair and allows himself a moment to savour another minor triumph over that pretentious hundan Malcolm Reynolds. The score between them isn't nowhere near settled yet, but Badger's getting there. One of these days ...

His pleasant musings are interrupted by a question from Horton - one of his brighter hired hands. “Thought Ott was doin' the Constance job, guv?”

It's been a good day and Badger's feeling expansive, else he might've told the cheeky blighter to mind his own. Instead he grins broadly. “Always pays to 'ave insurance, sonny. This way I gets two bites at the cherry.”

* * * * *

There's a soft rap on the hatch into Mal's bunk. Soft but insistent.

He releases the lock and it opens to reveal Simon standing at the top of the ladder up in the foredeck hallway.

Despite his determination not to, Mal feels a rush of heat. Gorramit, why's the boy here? Mal thought he'd put him straight, put his own self straight too for that matter.

“Somethin' you're in want of, Doc?” he asks, immediately wishing he hadn't before rushing headlong into compounding his discomfort by adding “To be disturbin' a fella in his bunk, that is?”

From this angle Simon looks even more aloof than he did earlier in the infirmary. Haughty, even.

“I've been doing some reading, Captain,” he says briskly. “About Constance. Two years ago, there was an outbreak of plague. Almost half the population died. And it seems the moon was too far from the Core to warrant proper medical assistance from the Alliance. There have been sporadic cases reported since and some-”

“This is all very historical, Doc,” Mal interrupts, because having to look up at Simon for so damn long is giving him a pain in the neck, “but I got a job to do an'-”

“Exactly,” Simon agrees crisply. “On a moon which may still be infected with a fatal disease. You need to be inoculated.”

Oh. For reasons he'd rather not examine, Mal feels disappointed. He shrugs. “Guess you're not wrong.” Expecting Simon to descend the ladder, he starts rolling up a sleeve.

Simon doesn't move. “I'll see you in the infirmary, Captain,” he says quietly. “I've already told Zoe, Jayne and Shepherd Book to be there.”

The Doc's fancy shoes are still as shiny as the day he stepped aboard Serenity, Mal finds himself noting, as Simon walks away.

* * * * *

It's been a long time since Shepherd Book gave a sermon. Been even longer since he had a congregation willing and eager to hear one. He surveys the rows of expectant faces on the packed pews before him and feels woefully inadequate. Closing his eyes, he prays for divine inspiration but it seems the Lord would rather Book tell these honest folk what's in his heart.

He takes a deep breath. “And so I say to you on this fine day, citizens of Constance, that your lives are not defined by that with which you enter this world, but rather with what you leave behind on it.”

An elderly man in the front row nods repeatedly as if he understands Book's full meaning but the Shepherd doubts it. It seems unlikely a man with such a gentle expression would be haunted by the things he's left behind.

* * * * *

Jayne can't hardly believe it. He didn't sign onto Mal's crew to watch some gorram piece of zao cao like Ott make off with loot he just emptied half a clip persuading a security guard to part with.

Ott's ugly-ass sidekick stoops down and grabs the sack of money. Jayne grinds his teeth.

And your gun,” Ott orders Mal, adding with a sneer, “I've got a thing for antiquities.”

There's a subtle change in Mal's stance. “This thing's going you way, Ott,” he points out, all reasonable-like. “Don't make it go another.”

Jayne smiles to himself. Knew Mal weren't no pushover. He reckons one grenade oughta do it.

“Your gun,” Ott insists. “Now.”

Mal turns his pistol over in his hands, regarding it fondly. “You know, “ he muses, “this here got me through the war ...it's one of only two things I can recall that did and stuck with me afterwards.”

Ott gives a snort of indifference. “The war is over, Mal.”

“Yeah,” Mal concedes in a low, regretful tone. “People keep sayin' that.”

He holds out the pistol ...

.... lets it drop ....

.... and then suddenly raises his boot to kick the weapon directly into Ott's face. Reeling backwards, spitting blood, the wangba dan barks out an order. “Gut them. ALL OF THEM!”

Jayne dives for cover one way and Mal and Zoe the other just as the leggy blonde in high heels and tight black leather pants starts rattling bullets at them.

“Don't worry, Mal. I'll fix this yaonu,” Jayne promises, asking hisself why it is that the fancible ones always gotta be so ruttin' deadly. He rips the pin from a grenade with his teeth and lobs it towards their attackers.

“Jayne, no!” Zoe yells too late, eyes wide with horror. “We're in a vault. The concussion alone'll kill us.”

Tianna! Jayne hadn't thought of that.

Next thing he knows, his brain feels like it's just exploded inside his skull and is bleeding out of his ears.

“They're getting away,” Jayne hears Zoe say through the rubbery echoes filling his head.

“They're getting away with the money,” he amends bitterly.

“They ain't there yet,” Mal replies taking a shot at the figures dashing for the elevator.

He's got a clean line of fire, oughta be able to take out at least one of them, according to Jayne's reckoning but instead there's the dull ping of lead against steel and the vault door closes with a bang, leaving Jayne, Mal and Zoe trapped.

Kao!”

* * * * *

“Kaylee, are you ever going to put that capture down?” Inara asks, feeling oddly self-conscious as her friend tracks her every move around the shuttle for posterity.

“We gotta have records of everything,” Kaylee insists. “A bona fide Companion entertained clients on this very ship! In this very bed!”

Out of the corner of her eye, Inara notices River lean down to sniff her sheets.

“Well, I can't do my work here,” Inara declares. “And I don't think the Captain approves.”

Kaylee appears not to notice the understatement. “The Captain wants you to stay,” she insists.

“That man doesn't know what he wants,” Inara counters with a frustrated sigh.

But Kaylee is too focused on her own sadness to notice Inara's. “For one sweet second,” she laments, “we was almost classy.”

Fearing tears, Inara scolds “You promised to help me pack” but Kaylee won't allow herself to be distracted.

“Honest, Inara,” she pouts, “Why do you have to leave?”

Inara sighs. To Kaylee, everything is so simple, so easy. She thinks every story ends with Happily Ever After.

“Chains!” River exclaims with a giggle, rummaging around at the back of a closet. “Forgot all about them.”

Inara rolls her eyes at Kaylee and smiles apologetically. “I'd better get her out of there, before she finds anything else Simon wouldn't approve of.”

Mention of the young doctor's name has its usual brightening effect on Kaylee's mood. “Reckon he'd mind getting captured?” she asks.

River looks up from the fur-lined handcuffs she's trying to unlock. “Softly, softly catchie monkey.”

Kaylee grins broadly and takes that as her cue to go off in search of Simon.

* * * * *

“It's coming from the bank!” one of the men cries, leading to uproar amongst the congregation and a general stampede for the exit.

From his position at the lectern, Book looks on with disappointment, if not surprise, as the pews empty.

Mal used him. Again. And Book can't even say he's surprised. He fears it will take a better man than himself to restore the Captain's faith and return him to the Lord.

Outside in the street, the mob is shouting and yelling, promising death and worse to the bank-robbers.

Squaring his shoulders, Book steps down into the body of the church. If he can't save the Captain's soul, he can at least try to save his skin. Now, where is he going to find a getaway vehicle?

* * * * *

Crap. Mal's life is always full of crap. And at this precise juncture it's crap of the literal kind.

“You cou'n't've found another way out?” Jayne grumbles as they wade through thigh-high foul-smelling water.

“Least we got out,” Zoe reminds him, running her flashlight beam over he walls and ceiling until at last it illuminates the underside of a cast iron manhole cover directly above them. “Sir!”

Mal decides that Jayne should go first. Standing on Mal's shoulders, the mercenary hefts the cover open and hauls himself up into the street.

“Gonna take a while for the stink of this to pass,” he grunts.

Zoe laughs scornfully. “Just a sewer, Jayne.”

Jayne glares at her, and then at Mal as he too emerges into the daylight. “Weren't talkin' 'bout the sewer.”

Mal surely ain't in the mood for any more crap.

“Now ain't the time, Jayne,” he warns. “Dong ma?”

The big man's lip curls back. “Well, you jus' be sure an' say when,” he replies, with more'n a hint that he won't be forgetting about this any time soon.

Still, least he's done bitching for the time being, leaving Mal to consider their predicament.

“So ... the job's bust and I have no doubt Ott and his have already made it off world. And even less that they did us the favour of doin' so quietly. It's a fair bet he's turned the whole damn planet onto us. So we'd do best to shut our mouths, keep our heads low, and see if we can't obtain ourselves-”

A squeal of tyres cuts him off mid-sentence as Book roars up in a huge, red mule.

“ ... a vehicle,” Mal finishes, somewhat redundantly.

* * * * *

Simon is on his way out of the infirmary and heading for the kitchen when Kaylee finds him.

“You busy?” she asks with a smile.

“Not really,” Simon admits. He's been tidying and cleaning the infirmary, it's true, but neither task was really necessary. “Why?”

Kaylee produces the capture from behind her back. “Wanted to take some pics of you.”

“Oh.” For the moment, Simon doesn't know what else to say. Kaylee's face is so eager, her eyes shining. He ought to tell her, ought to make it clear ... if only he knew how. He clears his throat.

“Really, Kaylee, I don't understand why you would even want my picture ...”

Oh God, it sounds like he's fishing for compliments - which is exactly what he doesn't want. He wants to put Kaylee gently off, not encourage her.

But before he can attempt to remedy his mistake, Wash's voice is calling over the comm. “Kaylee! Kaylee?”

“What's up, Wash?” she calls back.

“The usual,” the pilot answers. “Crime and us trying to avoid the punishment. We're gonna have to make up how as we go. You wanna make like a kite?”

Unlike Simon, Kaylee seems to know exactly what he means. “You won't have to ask me twice, Wash,” she replies cheerfully. “The fresh air'll do me good!”

Simon shoots Kaylee a querying glance and she winks at him. “Maybe,” she says slowly, ostensibly to Wash, “if I bat my eyes obvious-like, Simon'll be a prince and help.”

Fearing he's being backed into a corner, Simon starts making flustered excuses. “I'm not a mechanic, Kaylee. I doubt I could be of much help with ... whatever it is you're going to do.”

Kaylee turns towards the cargo bay. “You let me be the judge of that,” she replies, adding with a wicked grin, “ 'sides - all you gotta do is strap me in.”

Strange images fill Simon's mind and his mouth falls open. “Strap you into what ...?”

Kaylee beckons for him to follow her. She drags a couple of cables out from store and attaches them with hooks to the cargo bay wall and then goes back for a stout leather harness.

“This needs to be nice an' snug,” she tells Simon with a twinkle.

Simon has seen the harness before, only the last time Jayne was wearing it. A series of images tumble through the medic's mind: Mal deciding to return a shipment of stolen medicine; Mal putting Niska's terrifying henchman through the engine; Mal's severed ear. Even now, Simon can remember the horror he felt on unfolding the handkerchief Zoe gave him. And the terrible, overwhelming sense of loss.

“Simon? You okay?”

Kaylee's voice brings Simon's mind back to the present. “Yes. What do I have to do?”

“Don't worry none - you ain't gotta wear it!” she teases, adding with a flirtatious raise of her eyebrows, “ 'less you want to?”

“No!”

“Then you hold it steady for me,” she orders.

Simon does as he's told and fastens the buckles tightly. “What now?”

Kaylee presses one of a pair of transmitters into his hand and with a tilt of her head indicates the winch normally used for dropping and loading cargo on planets where for any number of reasons landing is inadvisable. “You operate that. Lower me down 'til I tell you to stop, then on my signal, haul me back up again.”

She smiles brightly at him as though that explains everything.

Simon looks at her uncertainly. “And what will you be doing?”

She blinks. “Good question!” She switches on her transmitter. “Wash? What we doin'?”

“You'll see a water tower,” his voice crackles back. “Hook a rope to it.”

Kaylee's eyes go wide. “We gonna pull it down?”

“That's the plan. I've told Mal to head for it. Soon as he clears it, I apply some upthrust and, with any luck, Serenity yanks to tower over. A couple of hundred gallons of cold water raining down on them ought to cool the local hotheads long enough for Mal to get clean away. Then we go pick them up.”

“See?” Kaylee grins at a still dubious Simon. “Easy as lyin'!”

As he starts up the winch, Simon wishes he were as confident.

Kaylee disappears down through the Bombay doors on Serenity's belly and Simon keeps his eyes fixed on a pair of rivets on the deckplating, because every time he tries to catch a glimpse of what the mechanic's doing, he gets an attack of vertigo.

At last Kaylee's voice comes over the transmitter announcing that her task is done, and with much relief Simon hauls her back up beside him.

“Kaylee - we ready for this?” Wash's voice asks.

“Almost,” she answers, wrapping both arms around Simon's neck. “Hold on tight,” she orders, and instinctively Simon does. “Wash, we're good.”

Good? Simon doesn't feel very good. Yet again he's not only failed to discourage Kaylee's interest in him, he's given her more reason to think it's reciprocated.

Thankfully neither of them has time to dwell on the fact that they're locked in each other's embrace because Serenity has a planetside rendez-vous to make, which means Kaylee has to extricate herself from the harness whilst Simon operates the cargo bay doors.

Next thing they know, Mal, Jayne, Zoe and Book are trudging up the ramp, soaking wet and glum-faced.

“Well,” Kaylee greets them cheerily, as Simon resists an instinct that's only partly professional to rush over and ensure Mal's all right.. “That was the dampening sort of heroic!”

Jayne pulls a face. “Yeah. Man could catch his death from this ...”

“That's not how I meant it,” Kaylee jokes lewdly, trying to tease the big man out of his ill humour but it doesn't work and he continues to glower “Oh, don't be such a grouch, Jayne. It's a hard 'verse out there. Ain't easy getting paid.”

Her observation is met with silence. Ominous silence.

Turning to Mal, Kaylee asks in a small, uncertain voice, “We did get paid, right?”

Jayne gives a snort of disgust. “Is now when, Mal?”

The look Mal gives the mercenary makes Simon's blood run cold. He's seen Mal angry before, been on the receiving end of his rage more than once, but he's never seen the Captain look quite like that before. Because behind the fury, there's nothing - nothing but emptiness and despair.

Jayne must see it too because he doesn't say another word. Instead he begins rubbing his hair dry with a piece of rag retrieved from between a couple of empty crates leaving Mal to stalk angrily away.

* * * * *

Mal's attempt to snatch a few hours sleep comes to nothing, and eventually he gives up trying. He pulls his suspenders back up over his shoulders and goes in search of coffee. Hell, if he ain't gonna sleep, he might as well be properly awake.

The kitchen's deserted, which suits him fine. Could do without any more recriminations from Jayne or moaning about stuff they don't got from Kaylee. And if he never has to look at the Preacher's disapproving face again, it'll be too soon.

The coffee's as bitter as Mal is. Almost as cold too. Gorram water tower.

“Ball of yarn.”

Mal all but jumps out of his skin. It takes him a second or two to compose hisself.

River is sitting on the floor underneath the dining table, hugging her knees to her chest.

“River? What in the hell are you-?”

But she ain't listening. “All knotted and tangled with different weights and colours,” she murmurs. “But pull one string, you pull them all.”

She looks so spaced out, Mal wonders if she ain't been helping herself to the contents of the drugs cabinet. Mayhap he should go find her brother-

There you are!”

Mal jumps again and spins round to see Inara.

“I've been looking all over the ship for her,” Inara explains, gifting him with a smile so sweetly beautiful he once again asks himself why she's gotta leave. Even lets himself hope she'll change her mind.

“You cheated,” River says, popping up from her hiding place.

Inara dismisses the accusation with a soft laugh, telling Mal “Simon asked that I look after her, and River was being so kind as to help me pack-”

Her mention of packing is like being doused with cold water for the second time that day.

“If it's all the same to you, Inara,” Mal cuts her off abruptly, “Now's not the time to have this conversation again.”

Inara's expression hardens and she lifts her chin. “Mal, I'm only trying to set a schedule for my departure. And while I can, and have, appreciated that you have a business to run, I must ask you to remember that I do as well.”

The cold settles into his bones and Mal shivers. His jaw clenches and his temples begin to throb.

“Look, Inara,” he growls, “I'm gettin' you where you want to go fast as I can. Now, maybe it ain't as fast as you'd like, but it's not exactly next door an' I've got to take what I can along the way.” Aware that the words are coming out louder and sharper than he'd like, he takes a deep breath before continuing more evenly, “To be clear, I will get you where you wanna be, and I understand that's not here.”

And with that he makes his escape, scarcely hearing her whispered “Mal” or River's creepifying injunction to “Let the ball of yarn go.”

* * * * *

“Persephone?” Wash raises an eyebrow. “Aren't we making with the avoiding Badger 'til the dust settles? Because I very much doubt-”

Zoe elbows him sharply in the ribs.

“Persephone's the nearest, least Fed-infested planet in this quadrant,” Mal replies, gazing out of the viewports. Arms folded, he rubs his uppers arms briskly in an attempt to warm himself up. “ 'sides, waved Badger an hour ago.”

Instantly on the alert, Zoe straightens her leather jerkin. “You tell him about the job going south, Sir?”

Mal nods. “That I did.”

“How'd he take it?”

Mal sniffs. “Better than you'd think. Better than he oughta have done.”

Confused, Wash frowns. “He didn't go all feng le and threaten to turn us over to the feds again?”

Mal shakes his head and a look passes between him and Zoe.

“What?” Wash demands, looking from one to the other and back again. “What?”

“He set us up, honey,” Zoe explains.

Wash does a double-take. “He did? Why'd he do that?”

Mal rubs his cheek. “Don't rightly know, Wash. But I plan on findin' out. Which is why we're goin' to Persephone.”

“And you reckon he's gonna tell you?” Wash asks doubtfully. “Just like that?”

The throbbing at Mal's temples gets worse, but he flashes his pilot a determined smile. “I can be very persuasive when I want.”

* * * * *

Badger is playing with his latest acquisition - an antique spinning wheel reputed to be an exact copy of one shipped by the first settlers on Persephone from Earth-that-was - when Horton announces the arrival of a visitor with a business proposition for him.

At Badger's nod, the stranger is ushered into his office.

Badger isn't shocked by much - been around, see? Dyton Colony had its fair share of freaks and misfits and the lock-down an overabundance of 'em - but the man standing before him is unlike anyone he's ever seen before. Of average height and build, with dark mousy-coloured hair hanging limply about his face, he'd be pretty unremarkable were it not for his eyes. The one he was born with is unsettling enough, burning as it does with a strange intensity, but the other one is what makes Badger stare. It's some kind of implant: a metallic casing surrounding a red, adjustable lens. Must've cost a pretty penny, that thing. Certainly isn't your standard prosthetic eye.

“Good day to you, friend. I'm Badger. And you'd be?” Badger rises from his chair and extends a hand.

“Dobson, Laurence Dobson,” the man replies, deliberately not taking it.

Ignoring the slight, Badger offers him an encouraging smile. “Delighted, I'm sure. An' what can I do for you, Mr Dobson?”

Dobson's gaze sweeps the room, his mechanical eye clicking and whirring as it focuses on various bits of expensive pretty.

“I have a salvage job for you,” he declares, pulling a disk from the inside pocket of his military-style jacket. “This has all the details. But there's a lot of money involved, so I want an experienced team on this. Malcolm Reynolds still work for you?”

“On occasion,” Badger answers, regarding Dobson even more closely. “But I got other people - better people.”

“Has to be Reynolds or it's no deal.”

Hmm. Badger scratches his chin thoughtfully, like a man yet to be persuaded. “An' my percentage would be ...?”

“Fifty,” Dobson says, almost, but not quite, handing over the disk.

The offer's far too generous, Badger knows. The whiff of rat he smelt earlier just got stronger. But business is business, after all and it's not like Badger's gonna be shedding any tears over Malcolm Reynolds should things go badly. He smiles and reaches for the disk.

“Malcolm Reynolds it is then. Now, why don't we 'ave a seat an' a bit of a chit-chat? Fancy a nice cuppa tea?”

* * * * *

Mostly when Mal has an ache, he ignores it. Learnt that during the war. Medical supplies were hard to come by, and there was always some poor bastard more in need of 'em than he was, so he got used to doing without, to pretending the pain wasn't there.

But tonight, he can't ignore the throbbing. He can't get comfortable in his bunk and sleep won't come. In the end he has to admit defeat.

A light shines out from under Simon's door as he passes by the passenger dorm and for a moment, Mal considers knocking, but swiftly decides against it. He only needs painkillers, after all.

He enters the infirmary and rummages through the drawer where he knows Simon keeps the analgesics. Gorramit - nothing but neat packs of bandages and plasters. He pulls open another drawer - syringes, all of them empty, arranged in size order. Mal snorts softly. The Doc really is about as anal as they come.

Expanding his search, he crouches down and opens a cupboard, but instead of discovering the drugs he's seeking, finds it full of splints and plaster of Paris, along with a neck brace and a box of slings. Damn. Nothing useful in here.

Mal stands back up again, cracking his already aching head against a drawer he forgot to close. The impact knocks him off balance and he goes flailing against the counter, dislodging a tower of metal trays noisily onto the floor. He's on his hands and knees, trying to gather them all back up again when he hears footsteps.

Simon's shiny shoes come into view.

“Captain? Are you all right?”

Mal looks up at his medic and feels an absurd rush of gratitude. “No, Doc, I most decidedly am not.”

Instantly, Simon drops down onto one knee beside him.

“What's the matter?”

“I ... uh ...” Mal stammers under Simon's anxious gaze. Don't matter that it's complicated, nor that Mal's a mean old man - this boy cares for him and that touches something in Mal. “I got one helluva a headache.”

“Let's get you up so I can check it's nothing serious,” Simon says, slipping an arm under Mal's shoulder and helping him to his feet.

He presses a cool hand to Mal's forehead and then two fingers to the inside of Mal's wrist.

“I don't think it's anything to worry about,” Simon reassures him. “Just stress, probably. Your temperature and pulse are well within normal parameters.”

Normal, huh? Mal was sure Simon's touch just sent both shooting up.

Simon unlocks the glass-fronted cabinet on the wall beside him and takes down a small bottle. He shakes out a couple of tablets into his hand and offers them to Mal. Mal's fingertips stroke across Simon's warm palm as he takes them, making the Doc catch his breath and take a step back. He goes over to the sink and carefully half-fills a glass.

Mal is surprised to feel a stab of guilt.

“Simon-”

“They'll take a few minutes to work” Simon says, handing Mal the water and behaving as if he hadn't heard Mal say his name, nor noticed the invitation in it. “But they're very effective. I took some myself earlier. And because they target the pain site directly, there's no loss of cognitive function.”

Mal gives him a blank look.

“They dull pain without affecting your ability to think straight,” Simon explains in Captain Dummy talk.

“Right,” Mal nods, and swallows the tablets down. “Thanks.”

“Not at all. I'm glad to have been of use, Captain,” Simon says, putting the bottle back in the cabinet and locking it.

Is it Mal's imagination, or was there an edge to his voice?

“Simon-”

Simon pauses in the doorway and fixes Mal with a piercing look. “Yes?”

Goushi. Mal never can find the right words to say when Simon looks at him like that.

“Uh ... you said you took some too. You okay?”

Simon's polite smile doesn't quite reach his eyes. “Yes, thank you, Captain. The pain's completely gone.” A beat. “Good night.”

Mal's about to go after him when his cognitive functions kick in.

“Good night, Doc,” he replies, but Simon's already gone.

COMMENTS

Monday, February 27, 2006 6:53 AM

ARTSHIPS


Nice to see you writing again. And a good story, too. Looking forward to seeing how Dobson survived a head-shot, a swan-dive, and a desert trek.

Monday, February 27, 2006 3:37 PM

CLIOMUSE


As usual, your take on the "behind the scenes" stuff between the boys is wonderful. Glad you are still at it.

Monday, February 27, 2006 11:13 PM

KISPEXI2


Thanks for the nice comments, everyone. Sorry it's been so long. I have every intention of completing this series - covering the comics, BDM and beyond. I'll try not to be quicker with posting the next chapter.

Friday, March 10, 2006 8:56 AM

AMDOBELL


That rat Badger really needs someone to nail his sorry ass to the gorram wall. What a nasty piece of work. Had to laugh out loud at the only escape being through the sewage, and Mal and Simon - so close and yet so far away. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, March 24, 2006 5:18 PM

GUILDSISTER


"...when his cognitive functions kick in."

Snarf! Ending the chapter on a good LOL moment!

*Finally* a chance to settle down and catch up on this wonderful story. This story made the comic book become more vivid and make more sense, along with the lovely connnects to the movie.

Loved the bit about Mal's life being full of crap, literally. And the way he's growing both more gloomy and more desperate is being very well developed--leads into the movie-Mal well. I liked the bit about Zoe reading Mal's mind but only half.


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