Author's Note: The high rating is because there's no R, and I wanted to be on the safe side--one of my throwaway OC's is less than well behaved.
"You're staying here," Mal snapped. "River too. We can't risk it, the Alliance presence is too strong here and now we've got bounty hunters after us too—besides, your leg is still healing."
"My leg is fine," Simon said calmly. "There's only a scar left. River and I can help, if you'd only let us."
"I don't want you help," Mal said, smiling tightly. "Now get out of sight."
"Captain," Simon said, some of his irritation bleeding through, "we want to try and make up for what happened and we can't do that if…"
"Make up for what, doc?" Mal interrupted. "River got the bounty hunter good, and you're the only one got hisself shot."
"Be that as it may," Simon said, trying to retain his calm. "He was only there because of us and things could have easily gone differently. We're becoming a burden and I don't want…"
"Fine," Mal snapped. "If you feel so strongly about it then maybe you should leave. Otherwise, get your ass back to your quarters like I said."
Simon glared for a moment, but then turned and walked back inside. Mal tried not to notice the slight limp as he stepped out on Persephone beside Zoe. He glanced back up at Jayne, who sat cleaning Vera on one of the crates, apparently oblivious to the argument of moments before. "Stay alert," Mal called to him. "We'll be back in a couple a hours."
Jayne nodded, waving him off distractedly. Mal frowned a bit, but with his hand hovering over his pistol followed Zoe to their rendezvous with Badger. Mal really wasn't looking forward to seeing the man again, but they needed the work, and their last dealings had at least gone somewhat better than the first. If you didn't count the whole nearly-fatal stabbing, that was, and really, that was all his own fault.
River wasn't in her room when he went to find her—she was in his, sitting on his bed with crossed arms and a glare. "I'm not going."
Simon didn't bother to ask how she knew, he simply grabbed his suitcase and pretended not to hear her. "We always knew someday we would leave," he said gently. "They have enough troubles, River. Kaylee…" he broke off, staring intently at his hands. "You're my priority, you know that, but we'll have to find somewhere else that's safe because we've done enough damage here."
River swept up behind him, placing the palm of her hand against his back. "There is damage everywhere," she whispered.
"We'll end up getting someone killed," he said softly. "Besides, mei-mei, we're not wanted here." He wouldn't meet her eyes, and he stuffed his clothes in the bag without folding them. He'd stopped worrying about things like wrinkles in soft fabric months ago.
"That's not true," River said, but when he headed to her room to gather her things she followed him anyway. After that he packed up the medicines he would need for River from his share of the job on Ariel, and then there was nothing left to do but leave.
Jayne barely glanced at them as they walked out through the cargo hold, struggling to keep a grip on their few things. They didn't say anything and he didn't bother to say goodbye, but he scrubbed a little harder against the metal of his gun until they were out of sight.
There were always plenty of ships looking for passengers on Persephone. It was where he had found Serenity, after all, drawn by a smile from the pretty girl with the colored umbrella. He wasn't looking to be a passenger this time; he didn't have anywhere to go.
If Simon had learned anything from his time on the rim it was that doctors were needed almost everywhere, and not only was he one of the best, but he was willing to work for almost nothing. He didn't expect to have much trouble finding a ship to take him on, but River was the one to find it. She grabbed his arm and pointed at a mid-sized ship, put together like patchwork but with less grace than Serenity, and a sign, written in red letters and atrocious spelling, proclaiming crew was wanted.
They walked over to it, River's fingers clenched around his, and Simon tried not to look nervous when a man twice his size stumbled out to greet him.
"Whatcha want?" he asked harshly, blinking furiously as if to ward off the sun.
"The sign says you need crew," Simon said, meeting his still blinking eyes. "I'm a doctor, I could…"
"Can't afford no doctor," the man said, all his voice dripping disdain.
"All I need is food and board for me and my sister," Simon said quickly. "And I'll do anything you need me too."
The man stopped blinking. He nodded to River. "That your sister?"
A comment about his powers of deduction was on the tip of his tongue, but Simon bit it back. At the beginning Mal would have been liable to punch him for it, this guy looked like he'd skip straight ahead to shooting. "Yes, but she's not to be touched, by anyone. That's non-negotiable."
The man nodded. "Sure thing, but you should know we ain't 'xactly respectable here, Doctor," he said, giving a sly grin. "We're kinda wanted by the Alliance. That gonna be a problem?"
Simon shared a brief look with his sister. "That's not going to be a problem for us."
Jayne nodded over at Mal as he stepped back on Serenity. Behind him, Zoe held a crate that had to weigh a ton, but she didn't look like it was stressing her too much. That was why Mal always made her do the carrying, but she still glared at him a little when she let it drop, none too gently, to the floor.
Mal hit the airlock closed and then pressed the intercom. "Take us out of here, Wash. We've got to drop this off on Boros."
"Will do, Captain," he answered smartly. "You bring my wife back in one piece this time?"
"I'm fine, dear," Zoe said with a smile. "I'll be up in a minute." She glanced over at Mal, and when he gave her a nod with a smile, she headed up the stairs.
Mal turned to look over at Jayne, still smiling. "Went off without a hitch. You worried yet, Jayne?"
Jayne just glared at him, a little confused. It didn't seem like Mal to be so callous about turning those two trouble-makers off the ship. Then again, he supposed that was cause enough for Mal's good mood. They had less worries now, anyway. He lifted Vera up from beside him, shiny and new-looking, and smiled back at his Captain. "No, sir," he said. "What've we got to worry about now?"
"Bad things have happened here," River whispered, rubbing the palms of her hands up and down her bare arms. "Many many bad things…" She turned a little, staring at the walls with wide eyes. "Simon!"
Simon quickly moved towards her, catching her hands in his and stilling their constant movement. "Hey, it's okay. We're fine. They aren't going to hurt you, alright, here, sit down." He helped her over onto the bunk. He was glad at least of getting to share one together and not with one of the 'not 'xactly respectable' crew. There wasn't much of an infirmary to speak of on the ship, though, more of a closet, really, and he had his work cut out for him. "They said they wouldn't hurt you."
"The snake would tell the mouse it will not eat it if it will bring it closer," she whispered, "but I am not a mouse."
Simon nodded with a wry smile. "Definitely not. I'm actually more worried about you hurting them than anything else. You won't do that, right?"
"I make no promises," she said huffily, pulling away. "You have brought us here, Simon." She turned to look at him, sitting with one hand to his forehead and looking lost. "What now?"
He sighed and looked up at her. "I guess I'll go see if I can make something of the infirmary," he said. "I have a feeling it won't be long until one of them gets themselves hurt." Simon started for the door but River grabbed his arm.
"It's not safe," she whispered.
He carefully pulled her hand away. "I'll be fine. I need you to stay here, and lock the door after me, okay?"
She nodded slightly, but her eyes were wide.
"I won't be long," he said, slipping outside. He didn't move away until he heard the lock click into place.
Zoe and Wash were on the bridge doing things he'd rather not think about, Inara was shut away in her shuttle and Jayne was still cleaning his guns—many as he had, Mal figured it would be a week-long project at the least. He found Kaylee and the Shepherd in the lounge room, sitting on the couch and smiling over at him.
"Hey, you guys seen Simon or that crazy sister of his?" he asked, dropping down onto a chair with a sigh.
Kaylee frowned a little and shook her head. "Not for awhile, actually, now you mention it. I hope nothin's wrong."
Mal rolled his eyes. "He's probably still sulking," he said, running a hand through his hair. "We had a little bit of a fight earlier, I told him and his sister to stay in their rooms."
Kaylee gave a small smile. "And did you ever tell them they could come out again?"
Mal's eyes widened. "Damn, knew I was forgettin' something. They have to have felt Serenity take off, though, he's probably doing this to punish me."
"Maybe it's not you he's punishing," the Shepherd said thoughtfully, and it was all the incentive Mal needed to get to his feet.
He headed off towards their quarters, feeling unaccountably anxious, and when he reached Simon's door he pounded on it thoughtlessly. "Enough is enough, Simon, we're gonna be eatin' soon. I think I remember it bein' your turn to cook." There was no response, and Mal frowned when he heard nothing from the other side of the door at all. "Simon?" he snapped, pulling the door open.
He froze for a moment before he could bring himself to step inside. The covers where half on the floor and the small closet was open and empty, everything Simon had put up to make it a home missing. He didn't know why he bothered but he stumbled back to River's room, and when he opened her door he saw the same thing.
Mindlessly, he stalked off to the cargo hold. Jayne was sitting on the crate, and didn't look up, not until Mal had wrapped his fists in the material of his shirt and slammed him against the wall. "Where are Simon and River, Jayne?" he snapped, sounding oddly calm.
Jayne's eyes widened, but he made no attempt to pull away. "What do you mean?" he snapped. "They left, like you told 'em to."
He pulled Jayne forward a bit, but just far enough so he could knock him back. "I did not tell them to leave!"
"You told the doc that if he didn't like it to get off the ship!" Jayne shouted. "So he did. How's I supposed to know I shoulda stopped 'em?"
Mal paled and let his hands drop away. "Where did they go?"
Jayne glared at him, futilely smoothing down his shirt. "I don't know. Got off on Persephone after you and Zoe left. They could be anywhere by now, but look at the bright side, Mal. No more fugees, no more bounty hunters…"
Mal's glare ended Jayne's list of reasons to be grateful, and he hit the intercom. "Everyone get down to the cargo hold," he snapped. "Now."
He didn't quite make it to the infirmary and one of his new fellow crewmates was already blocking his way. Quite literally, actually, as the man filled up most of the space provided by the small hallway and there was little to no hope of squeezing by him. He took a step back instead.
"I don't think we've been introduced," he started, but the man seemed not to be interested. He backed Simon up against the wall, trapping him with an arm on one side and his body on the other. Simon had been claustrophobic enough before, but now he wasn't sure he could breathe.
"Name's Claine," the man said, apparently humoring him. "You're pretty for a boy, ain't ya?"
Simon frowned, not quite sure how to react to that. "Thank you, I suppose, I was just headed to…"
"You gotten the ship tour yet?" the man asked, leering obviously. "My quarters are somethin' to see."
"I can imagine," Simon said dryly. "But that's not going to happen."
"Boss tells us you said not to touch the girl, boy, but you said nothin' 'bout not touching you," Claine grinned again, wrapping his fingers tightly around Simon's right wrist.
Simon tried not to wince at the pressure, and met his eyes carefully. "I hadn't realized the need to be quite that specific. I'm here to be a doctor."
"I got all kinds of things need lookin' after, doctor," Claine said with a laugh. "You just come with me."
"He's not going anywhere with you."
Claine looked up at the eerily sure voice. The girl was standing a few feet away, the gun in her hands aimed at his forehead. He tugged Simon back against him using the hold on his wrist. His calloused fingers twisted and burned against Simon's skin. "You gonna risk shootin' your brother, girl?" he asked snidely. "Just walk on by."
"River," Simon said, suddenly terrified. "Get back to the room and lock the door."
River took a step forward. "Not supposed to touch guns," she explained. "I kill people with them and they worry."
Claine smirked. "Right, girl. I was killin' people before you was born and I got myself one, too, you know."
"You won't have the chance to use it," River said, her eyes sparkling. "You'll reach for it—but too late. Let him go."
"River," Simon started, but stopped at a look from her.
"Let him go," River said again.
With a sneer, Claine pushed Simon forward and he caught himself against the wall. "Ain't worth the trouble," he said, before disappearing.
Simon slid down the wall, not sure whether to thank his sister or ask her where she had even found a gun. River kneeled beside him, meeting his eyes. "It isn't safe," she said simply. "You never listen."
He closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath.
"We can't be running all over the gorram 'verse lookin' for 'em," Jayne snapped. "I'm betting whoever this cargo is going to ain't gonna be happy if it's late."
"Much as I hate to admit it, sir," Zoe said. "Jayne's right."
"We can't just leave them!" Wash said, incredulous. "Honey, you know that we've got to find them."
"They left," Jayne said. "Ain't like we forced 'em off or somethin'."
"I'm not sure that's how they see it," Mal said quietly. "Simon should have known I didn't really mean for him to leave. I was just…"
"You told them to leave?" Kaylee gasped. "Cap'n…"
"I didn't tell them to leave," Mal snapped tiredly. "Look, he was heading back to his quarters when Zoe and I headed off. I didn't know he would try something like this."
"Whatever happened, sir," Zoe said softly. "We have to make the drop first. We can't afford for this job to fall through." She kept her eyes on the Captain, ignoring the glare her husband threw at her.
Mal ran a hand through his hair. "If we wait we might not be able to find them."
"Hell, Mal," Jayne said, glancing up at him. "What makes you think you could find 'em now?"
Mal glared at him, but had to admit that he had a point. "Wash," he said. "Stay on course for Boros. After we finish the job we'll head back to Persephone, try and find them on the way."
Kaylee bit her lip and looked away. "Mal," Wash snapped.
"This isn't an open discussion," Mal said. "We'll get them back, but we gotta run this drop first. Bit a money might help us get them home where they belong, in any case."
"You ain't usin' my money to drag them two back," Jayne snapped.
Mal glared at him. "Perhaps you're forgetting our little discussion, Jayne. We need to revisit the airlock?"
Jayne paled a little, and the others all cast concerned looks between the two. Jayne shook his head. None of them asked questions.
"This was a mistake," River said, once they had reached the infirmary and Simon had locked the door behind them. "All to teach a lesson and you're the one that must learn."
Simon was trying not to listen. He was also trying not to let her see the way his hands were still shaking, and trying not to notice there was a gun still in hers. "They have hardly any medical supplies," he said with a shake of his head. "How much good can I do with bandages?"
"You brought some," River said, running a hand along the wall. Her fingers loosened around the gun in her other.
"That's for you," Simon said. "It would do little for them, anyway. It isn't the kind of medicine that can fix up a gunshot, and I imagine that's what they usually try and get themselves killed with."
"They would do worse than that," River said worriedly, "to you—but don't worry, the Captain won't let them and neither will I."
He paused to look at her. "I highly doubt Captain Grena cares about us, River, and I need you to stay locked in the room next time. We'll…we'll try and get off next stop."
"I wasn't talking about that Captain," she said simply. "The ship is stopping sooner than you think."
Simon paused for a moment. "They're not coming for us, River. We left, remember? Mal told us we could."
"But he did not believe for a moment we really would," River said slyly, and then she sighed. "You need the lesson more than him."
Simon turned to glare at her. "The medication I have you on is working extremely well, mei-mei," he said. "You want to tell me why you're still talking in riddles?"
She looked slyly away. "You're obtuse—subtleties may not work, but telling you out right is sure to fail." River nodded and then grinned widely.
He rolled his eyes. "You're a brat, and could you please set that gun down?"
"It is the only symbol they understand," River said, glancing towards the door. "Anything else and we will be consumed."
"You're doing it again," Simon said softly.
"Don't pretend you don't understand." River glanced at the weapon in her hands, tightening her fingers around it. "It's only an object," she added, and this time Simon couldn't tell if she was talking to him or herself.
"This it?" Tarlin Banks glared over at Captain Reynolds. "This don't look like much." He opened up the last case and sneered into it.
Zoe watched Banks, unblinkingly, a slight frown marring her pretty features. Beside her, Mal was smiling, but it was a far cry from friendly. He was missing two of his own, and if he wasn't waiting on his payment, he would have shot Banks straight through his forehead. "I'm just the cargo hauler, Banks, you gotta problem with the merchandise you take that up with Badger."
Banks eyes narrowed, and three armed men appeared behind him. Resignedly, Zoe and Mal both raised their hands. "Why don't you just head on off and leave this here with me, we'll call it even," Banks said.
Mal rolled his eyes. "I really don't have the time for this kind of complication."
Banks smirked. "I am real sorry to inconvenience you, Reynolds, but you know the way things go."
"I do actually," Mal said, giving a slight nod. "That's why I took a few precautions of my own."
He had barely finished speaking and three shots rang out. Banks' men dropped one after the other—but not before the last down fired a glancing shot off Mal's shoulder. He grabbed it with a wince, and a thin trickle of blood slipped through his fingers. When he looked up Banks men were all dead, and any other day, Mal might have wasted thirty seconds feeling guilty. "The money, Tarlin," he snapped.
Banks glared but threw him the small bag of coins and he caught it with his uninjured arm. Behind Tarlin, barely in sight, Jayne threw him a grin and holstered a smoking gun.
River had placed the gun in one of the drawers, for which Simon was grateful, but she had also sat herself in front of the only door and was refusing to let him leave. "We're staying here," she explained. "Until the Captain comes. It isn't safe."
"River," Simon said tiredly. "We can't sleep here. Look, I know you're shaken up by what happened, but really, I can take care of myself and I won't be caught off guard again…"
River interrupted his assurances with a snort. "You're always getting into trouble, Simon."
He crossed his arms defensively and didn't meet her eyes. "You're hardly one to talk."
"We wait," River said, giving him a firm nod. "It is more dangerous here than I first thought. This was a mistake."
"You've said," Simon said drolly. "But I wasn't about to keep us where we weren't wanted."
"You're more wanted than you know, Simon," River said, her eyes meeting his with intensity that never failed to catch him off guard. "We should not have left."
Simon ran a hand through his hair. "We didn't have a choice, River. We have to keep running. You know that."
"We don't have to do it alone," River said, a pleading note in her voice. "You don't have to take everything on yourself, Simon, not anymore." River ran her thumb across the harsh metal of the floor. Something caught on it and tore a paper-thin slice in her skin. Before she had lifted her hand she had smeared a small trail of blood on the ground. "I know they wouldn't help you," she whispered. "Our parents didn't believe you, and you had to save me alone."
"They just…" Simon trailed off, not sure he wanted to be their advocate. "They have a picture of us, River, and we both broke the rules by becoming involved in something they hadn't planned for."
She brought her knees to her chest and kept her hands at her side. Somewhere on that ship someone was screaming, but River didn't know if it was now or then, and Simon didn't seem to hear it. "Will you return to Serenity when they come?" she demanded. "We can not do this alone."
"We don't need anyone," Simon said, quickly, in a fierce determined denial. "River, we never have."
"Never doesn't mean forever," River said, and planted her hands on the thin closed seam of either doorjamb, a slight painless throbbing catching her attention where blood seeped through the slice on her thumb. Her pulse was pounding in her ears, but she could hear Simon's, behind it, almost as clearly. "We're waiting."
"It's just a scratch," Mal snapped when Zoe tried to pull his hand away. "Ain't nothin' to worry about."
She frowned anyway. "We need to get Simon back."
"I wouldn't let him touch it if he were here," Mal snapped. "It ain't nothin' but a scratch."
Zoe nodded, relenting only because she knew that was mostly the truth. "Yes, sir."
"Still," Mal said wryly, as Jayne jumped onto the ramp and he hit the door control to close it, "You're right about one thing. We need them back."
"How you plannin' on doin' that, anyhow?" Jayne asked when he came to stand beside him.
Mal hit the intercom to talk to Wash before responding to Jayne's question. "Wash, we're all aboard and we got the money."
"Went easy, huh?" Wash asked sounding pleased.
"Yes, dear," Zoe agreed. "Captain was the only one to get shot this time, and that's just a scratch."
"You got shot?" Wash snapped, and Mal turned to glare at Zoe.
"Just take us off this rock, Wash. Set a course back to Persephone, and keep constant watch. Wave any ship you see, got that?"
"Sure thing, Mal."
Jayne watched him disbelievingly. "Don't tell me you're gonna just start stoppin' every ship we see, Mal. You ain't that crazy."
"What with River gone someone's got to be," Mal snapped, turning to start climbing the stairs. "Don't cause trouble for me, Jayne. I'm not in the mood."
"Wouldn't dream of it, Captain," Jayne called after him. Zoe gave a small smile and lowered her gaze to the ground.
First ship they came across went okay. Mal had Wash wave them, and he tried to make himself look pitiful as he held onto his wound and asked if they had a doctor. He promised they would be reimbursed well.
The Captain of the ship told them all to live the rest of eternity in fiery hell, and cut the connection.
Second ship went a little better. Family transport, so the language was nicer, but they still claimed to have no doctor. Third ship said they had a doctor too quickly, and to send the money on over first. Mal had cut the connection that time. Jayne had started humming a drinking song behind him.
By the time they found a fourth ship Mal was getting weary and Jayne and Wash had gone to bed. A large gruff man answered his hail, and he was fully expecting to be told to go to hell again—but the moment Mal mentioned a doctor he froze, eyes narrowing with suspicion, and he knew he'd found them.
"Got shot up, you know," Mal said, trying to sound weak. "Think it's gettin' infected and the ship is having some troubles, don't know if we'll make it to Persephone any time soon, ya know, we'd pay ya good, if you knew someone could help…"
"Matter of fact," the man said slowly, reluctantly, "we picked ourselves up a doctor on Persephone just yesterday."
Mal held a grin at bay. "That so? Say, you let him take a look at me, and we'll give you 200 credits."
The man crossed his arms. "I'm not of the habit of lettin' folks on my boat, you see, certainly not for 200 credits."
Mal grinned wryly. "How about 500?"
"You come armed I'll put a bigger hole in ya than that," the Captain said, nodding towards his shoulder.
Mal nodded. "I'd expect nothing less, sir." He gave a wide grin, almost undoing his entire 'man-in-pain' act. "I think we can do business."
"He's coming," River whispered, and before Simon could even glance up there was a pounding on the door.
"Hey, boy, you in there! Open up!"
Simon winced when he recognized Claine's voice. He backed up against the small counter. "Damn," he whispered.
"Don't cuss," River whispered firmly, getting to her feet. "It's not polite."
"So sorry, mei-mei," he said. He reached out to grab her wrist and pull her away from the door. "Stay back, okay? I'll deal with him."
"You want the gun?" she asked him politely.
He frowned over at her as he stepped up to the door. "No."
"Open the hell up!" Claine growled.
Simon sighed and hit the release on the door. Claine stood glaring at him the minute it opened, arms crossed and taking up all the space offered by the door. Simon wondered if Claine would even be able to fit through, and took a step back just in case. "Yes?" he asked.
Claine's eyes slipped past him and darkened when they landed on River. "You've got a patient comin'," he said.
Simon nodded and glanced at the slim supplies. "What's the injury? I'll do my best to--"
"You misunderstand," Claine said gruffly. "We want you to knock the guy out with somethin' not make him better." Claine grinned. "For his own good, 'course. Think you can handle it or are we gonna have ourselves a problem?"
"It seems straightforward enough," Simon said tightly. Claine nodded once and turned away. Simon closed the door again but didn't lock it, and then turned to glance at River. He couldn't hold her gaze long, so he turned away again, biting his lip.
"More complications," River said. "Mal will think of something."
Simon sighed, sitting down on the medical table to wait for his patient, and trying to decide how he was going to treat him without Claine finding out about it. "Mal isn't here, River."
River smiled, her eyes roaming towards the closed door. "Yes he is."
"This is downright idiotic-ness," Jayne snapped, glaring at the airlock. "They ain't gonna let you come back if you get on that barge."
Mal glanced over at him. He knew that despite his orders Jayne was carrying at least three concealed weapons, probably, it was five. He knew even Zoe, on his other side, was carrying at least one. He wasn't, on the off chance they might search him, and he had to admit he wasn't happy with this idea any more than Jayne. It was also possible Simon and River weren't there at all, but he was trying not to think about that.
"I thank you for your concern, Jayne," Mal said. "But I can take care of myself."
Jayne snorted, and Zoe gave a sly grin. "Of course you can, sir," she said. "Just get them back."
"That's the plan," Mal said with a nod, wincing when two very large men appeared in his airlock. He slowly hit the release on the door, hoping he wouldn't regret it.
The smaller of the two men stepped forward with a nod. "I'm Capt'n Grena, and this here's Claine. Where's my money?"
Mal nodded to Zoe, holding his shoulder. He'd smeared the blood around a bit for appearance's sake, but this time it wasn't too hard to pretend he was in pain. It was throbbing enough to distract him some for real. Zoe stepped forward and handed the men the credits.
He snorted. "This is o'ly 250!"
"That's right," Mal said. "I'll give you the rest, personally, when I'm back on my boat. It's this or no deal. We don't trust you any more'n you trust us."
Reluctantly, Grena nodded. "In that case, after you, Cap'n."
Mal took a breath and then stepped between the two men, and into their ship. Simon had better be the doctor they were taking him to, and he was going to have a lot to answer for once Mal had his hands on him.
"I'll just…I'll have to, I mean, I can't just drug a man and then put him in Claine's hands…I couldn't possibly…but perhaps…"
River rolled her eyes at her brother's mutterings, and while he was distracted, took the gun from the drawer and slipped it in the waistband of her skirt. "You will not drug him," she said softly. "There's no reason to worry, Simon. Not yet."
He opened his mouth to respond, but stopped at the sound of the door. His eyes widened as Claine gave Mal a not so gentle shove inside, but quickly hid his surprise. He really had to start taking River more literally. "This here's your patient," Claine said. "Now remember what we talked about."
Simon reluctantly met Mal's eyes. Yep, he looked less than pleased. Simon wondered briefly if maybe he would be better off facing Claine. "Uh, right, yes, right away…" he said.
Claine seemed satisfied at his obedient behavior, but Simon wasn't doing it because of him. "I don't want you here for this," Mal snapped at Claine. "I don't trust you. Wait outside."
Claine growled a little, and threw Simon a significant glance, but he did leave the room. When the door closed behind him Mal took a step forward, and Simon took one back. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, trying to hold his ground. "You're going to get yourself killed."
"Looks to me you've got one up on me with the whole trying to get killed thing, doc. Nice crew you got here." Mal ran his gaze over Simon and River both, making sure they were still in one piece. River smiled at him brightly, and he couldn't help but smile back.
Simon frowned when he did his own survey of Mal. "What happened?" he asked.
Mal shrugged, and then winced at the action. He took a small inventory of the room and then turned back to meet Simon's eyes. "Got shot," he said. "But you can worry about that later, once we're back on Serenity."
Simon crossed his arms. "I don't know if we should go back to Serenity." He wouldn't meet Mal's eyes. "We have to keep moving," he added.
Mal gave a disbelieving laugh. "These guys are pirates, Simon! What, you think they're going to become your buddies? They'll kill you soon as look at you."
"They would do many horrible things for small reasons," River agreed, moving to stand beside her brother.
He glanced at her, before turning back to Mal. "We couldn't stay on Serenity indefinitely, Captain," he said. "You know that. If we hadn't left we would end up getting you all killed."
Mal glared at him. "No, by leaving you might very well get us all killed. Did you honestly believe we wouldn't look for you?"
"Honestly?" Simon asked coolly. "No, Captain, I didn't think you would."
"You 'bout done in there?" Claine asked roughly from the other side of the door.
"We don't have time for this," Mal snapped, pointing at him.
"No," River agreed. "We don't." She grabbed Simon's arm, ignoring his protests, and pulled back his sleeve, showing the ringed bruise around his wrist. "They hurt him," she explained simply, and when she saw Mal's eyes darken she smiled, because she knew they would not be left there now, whatever Simon said.
"Right," Mal said, throwing a quick glance around. "We're leaving. Now." He was trying to find something to use to take down Claine, which, honestly, did not look like it was going to be easy. There wasn't much in the way of weapons in the small infirmary.
That was, there wasn't until River pressed a pistol into the palm of his hand. He glanced at her, only half-surprised, and gave a quick nod. He turned to glare at Simon. "Are you going to help me or not?" he snapped. "'Cause I know you don't want River to have to stay here on this ship. You care too much for her."
Simon bit his lip. "You can't honestly expect to shoot your way off," he said.
Mal met his eyes fiercely. "I'm going to do whatever is necessary, Simon."
"Well it isn't necessary," Simon snapped back. "I'll go back with you, you're right that this ship isn't safe for River, and I…I admit it was a mistake." He took a step forward, and met Mal's gaze defiantly. "But if we're leaving, we're going to do it my way."
"On the bed," Simon said to Mal. He walked to the counter and pulled out a syringe, then he grabbed a bottle of clear liquid and filled it up. He glanced back up at Mal, who hadn't lain down and was watching him. "The bed," Simon said again.
With a frown, Mal moved over to it. "You're not stickin' me with anything," he said shortly.
"Well, considering you're my only way off this ship, that would be stupid, wouldn't it?" Simon asked vaguely. "I want you to pretend to be unconscious."
"Why?" Mal asked.
"Because Claine told me to sedate you," Simon said, tapping the needle of the syringe before slipping it up his sleeve. "We can't afford a firefight, Mal. Just trust me."
Mal glared at him. "You don't trust me," he said. Simon paused, not sure how to respond to that, because he wasn't entirely sure that Mal wasn't right about that.
River, who had been watching the whole thing with amusement, shook her head. "Simon will get us out the door," she told Mal. "From there we can get back to Serenity." She grinned at him, widely. "Play dead."
Mal grumbled a little, but laid back and closed his eyes, going still. Simon hit the release on the door. "It's done," he said to Claine. "He was reluctant to let me inject him with anything, but I was able to convince him."
Claine gave an acknowledging snort and pushed into the room. Simon was surprised to realize he actually could fit. "You done good, doc," Claine said with a harsh laugh. "Might jus' keep you around."
Claine leaned over Mal, giving him a little shake. Simon let the syringe slip down to the palm of his hand, and stepped up behind the big man. Quickly, he jammed the needle into the back of his neck. Claine let out a low growl and reached back to claw at whatever had hit him, and Mal sat up, drawing his gun. Simon just stepped away from Claine and watched, as a second later, he slipped straight to the floor.
Mal grinned a little and holstered the gun. "He dead?" he asked.
"Just unconscious," Simon said, sounding surprised.
"Thought so," Mal said sadly. "Shame." He turned to glance at River before leaning out the doorway, checking to make sure it was clear. "Okay, let's get the hell out of here."
"I need my medical bag," Simon said.
"No time," Mal said easily, taking a few cautious steps.
"River needs those medications," Simon said firmly. He slipped past Mal and started heading in the opposite direction, River on his heels. Mal cursed but followed them, pulling his gun out again, checking the clip to make sure it was loaded with soft bullets and not the type to pierce the hull. He had no idea where River had gotten her hands on it.
River grabbed a shoulder bag that held some of their clothes and Simon grabbed his medical bag, everything else they left behind. Mal grinned when he saw the bullets were soft, he felt like shooting something. Vaguely, he worried he might be spending too much time with Jayne.
"Can we go now?" he asked shortly, when Simon and River slipped back into the hall.
Simon nodded. "There are only four others on the ship," he said. "Claine is locked in the infirmary unconscious, and Captain Grena is probably on the bridge. I don't know where the others are."
Mal nodded, fingers adjusting around the handle of the gun. He led the way down hall. The ship wasn't very large, and the design was mostly straight forward. The hall lead to the kitchen, or what they were using as a kitchen, anyway, and two men sat across from each other at the only table in the room. "Found two more," Mal whispered. "I can take them out."
Simon shook his head. "Stand out of sight with River," he said, giving Mal a slight push against the wall on the other side of the doorway.
"What are you doing?" Mal hissed, reaching to grab Simon as he slipped into the room, but his fingers only caught air.
"Claine is having some problems with our guest," Simon told the men casually, as he entered the room. The two men glanced at him, startled. "Apparently your sedatives are out of date, they aren't working so well. You might want to help him…"
The men cursed and pushed past him irritably, stalking straight through the doorway, and turning without noticing River or Mal. Once they had turned a corner Mal and River entered the kitchen, and Mal locked the door behind them. "That leaves two," he said.
"You choose the wrong two to leave till last, Captain."
The three of them turned around at the voice, resigned. Captain Grena and his second in command, Havis, were both armed and standing at the other end of the room.
"You gotta way out of this one?" Mal whispered to Simon.
Simon shook his head. "This seems more your area of experience, actually," he said back.
The two men they had locked from the room had begun pounding on the door at their backs, and Grena shook his head. "Trying to steal off with my doctor? Not very honest of you, Captain. And I took you all for good folk. Please put that gun down, before I have to shoot you. I'd hate to ding up my boat."
Mal didn't lower it, trying to calculate the odds. He could kill either one of them with one clean shot, but the other would be free to retaliate, and Simon or River could easily get caught in the crossfire.
"He said put the gun down," River said firmly. "You should do as he says, Captain."
Grena smiled at this turn of events, laughing a little as River pulled the gun from Mal's grip. Mal watched her bemused, and she smiled at him, turning back around to face Grena again. Then she closed her eyes, and shot Grena straight between his.
Grena's smile congealed, his eyes the only part of him registering shock. Havis looked disbelieving, and didn't immediately retaliate. River glanced over at him, slowly opening her eyes, and smiled. "You can be Captain now," she said simply. "Or you can be dead."
Havis let them pass without another word, and the moment they were in the airlock, Mal pulled the gun from her hands. Simon was watching her with wide eyes, and River wanted to tell him that it was okay, that he had to die and she was only the instrument, but she feared he wouldn't understand. Mal holstered the gun. "That was some shot," he said, sounding a little shaken himself.
River smiled when the airlock opened to Serenity, and she saw Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Book and Jayne. Inara was up on the balcony, smiling down. "I just got lucky," she said, and skipped inside.
It wasn't as weird to be back on Serenity as it probably should have been. Simon had resigned himself to never returning, but there was a part of him that had never really accepted that, some part that had always known he would end up right back where he was. Leaving Serenity had been almost as hard as leaving Osiris that first time, and the only reason it had been easier at all was because at least now River was with him.
He winced a little, remembering Grena standing dead with his grotesque smile frozen in place. River was dangerous. He knew that, had known it since the moment he had gotten her back, but he didn't like to think about it. When he pictured his sister he still saw her dancing, spinning in circles, not holding guns. She was dangerous, but she was still an innocent, and it was still his responsibility to make things right again.
"We haven't had much time to talk."
Simon came to halt at the words, both in motion and thought. Mal was leaning against the door to his quarters, blocking his way in. He glanced at the floor. "I really have to find River…"
"River's fine," Mal said. "She's playing games with Kaylee like she ain't never left."
Simon nodded, his excuse to get away effectively thrown out, and resigned himself to a confrontation. "If this is about what happened on the ship," he said, "about River…"
Mal pushed off the wall, coming to stand in front of him at full height. "This ain't about her, this is about you."
"I did what I thought I had to," Simon snapped defensively.
"For the top three percent you can be pretty stupid," Mal said. "You nearly got both yourself and your sister killed and for what, Simon, because we had a disagreement?"
"I understand you're the Captain," Simon said. "I try to follow your rules best I can, Mal, I do, but my sister comes first before anything for me and she always will."
"That ship was better for her, then, was it?" Mal asked, stepping closer. "I don't think you left because of her, I think you did it for yourself."
Simon looked up to glare at him. "Maybe I did it for you," he snapped.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Mal asked, incredulous.
"I'm tired of watching people get hurt because of us," Simon said. "I'm tired of putting people back together because of us, you would all be better off if River and I had never…"
"Hold it," Mal snapped. "If you and River had never shown up, how many of us would be dead, do you think? I sure as hell would be without you, and that thing with Niska, that had nothin' to do with you, Simon. He didn't grab me because of you, but you're still the one that put me back together."
"Even so," Simon started, but Mal shook his head, cutting him off.
"We're a crew now, Simon, whether it's what you wanted or not. I know you want to only have to worry about River, you think you owe her all of your attention, but it's too late for that now."
"I do care," Simon said, trying to move past Mal. "Okay? I do, I wouldn't have left if I didn't…"
Mal grabbed his arm before he could slip away into his quarters. "You want me to believe you left to keep us from getting hurt?" Mal asked. "Fine, okay. It's a screwed up kind of logic but I can see it comin' from you. You seemed to forget to take something into account, though, doc. We kinda started to like you an' your sister. You both leavin' like that, it hurt too."
Simon didn't bother to try and disengage himself from Mal's hold. "Then I'm sorry for that," he said.
"You ever leave again," Mal said tightly. "You'd damn well better at least say goodbye."
Simon still wouldn't meet his eyes. "Sometimes there isn't time for goodbye, Captain."
"And sometimes there's no need for it at all," Mal said, and released his arm.
River appeared in his doorway as he was putting away the few clothes they had managed to hold onto. "You still don't understand," she said. "They made you so untrusting."
He paused, his hands stilling over one of his vests, he ran his thumb over the button, and then glanced up at her. "I trust you, River."
"I'm the only one then," she said, stepping inside. "You don't even trust yourself."
Simon collapsed down on his bed, and River came to sit beside him. "Thank you for what you did," he whispered. "You really are the one taking care of me, aren't you?"
She grinned slyly. "Everyone knows that, Simon."
"River," Simon started, looking down at his hands. He sighed. "I can't ever seem to help anyone, can I?"
"You save lives, Simon. There's a hamster somewhere that shares your name." River reached over, lacing her hand through one of his.
"I'm not talking about that kind of help," he whispered. "I know how to fix things up, I just can't seem to protect anyone, can't stop them getting hurt in the first place."
"No one can," River said. "The sooner you realize, the better you'll be."
"You did," he said. "River, where did you even learn to use a gun?" He glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes, somehow afraid to meet her gaze head on.
"I read books about guns," River said, staring at the far wall. "They're just like any other thing. It isn't hard to use one—you don't even have to look, if you don't want to."
Simon bit his lip. "And you're okay with that?" he asked gently. "You killed him, River…"
"Yes, I did," she said, her eyes slipping up towards the ceiling. "He makes six."
Simon paused. "Six?" he asked cautiously. Kaylee had mentioned three, and he'd watched her kill another, but there couldn't be more than that. "There was only four, River," he said quietly.
She shook her head. "I killed the first set of two." She glanced over at him, smiling shyly. "They looked better in red than blue."