The Little Things
Part VIII—Full House
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. Apparently, they own me.
Summary: Simon works on the Operative's injury, and Serenity's crew is reunited.
"Take us out of the world, bao bei," Mal said, stopping the mule just inside Serenity's bay door. River ran up to the bridge, while Zoe helped Mal get the Operative out of the mule and into the infirmary.
Simon looked at the patient lying on his table. The unwelcome thought of what this man had tried to do to River and had succeeded in doing to those who would provide safe harbor for her ran through his mind. The struggle between what his heart dictated and what his conscience would allow caused him to stand motionless for a moment.
Mal, sensing the cause of his hesitation, said quietly, "He did what he said he'd do, Simon. Destroyed the samples. Now, do your job."
Snapped out of his moral dilemma by the certainty in his Captain's voice, Simon moved quickly to ascertain the extent of the injury. Stripping off the Operative's bloody tunic and removing the field bandage Mal had applied, he saw that the entry would was beginning to fester angrily.
"Didn't have anything to clean it out with other than a little water," Mal said, seeing the inflammation flaming around the wound for himself.
Simon nodded. "Help me turn him."
There was no exit wound, which Simon had feared to be the case. Laying him back down gently, Simon said, "We're going to have to find the bullet."
Mal was already gathering the materials needed on a surgical tray. Giving the Operative a sedative and a broad-spectrum antibiotic, Simon began his search for the bullet.
A sudden wave of dizziness swept over Mal, and Zoe was instantly at his side. "Sir, we can handle this. Why don't you go to your bunk and rest awhile?"
"Maybehaps that wouldn't be such a bad idea," Mal said, closing one eye to stop the infirmary from spinning so wildly.
"Kaylee," Zoe called to the woman standing just outside the infirmary door.
She slipped into the room readily. "What can I do?"
"Get the Captain to his bunk, and then come back here," Simon said, his hands still inside his patient. "There's more internal damage than I thought, and you're the only match onboard should he need blood. I want you close by just in case."
Kaylee nodded and pulled Mal's arm across her shoulders, wrapping her own arm around his waist to help steady him. Mal protested weakly, "I can make it just fine. Just a little light-headed is all. You stay here."
"Come on, Cap'n. Simon ain't got the time to save him and be stitchin' up your head when you pitch forward off'n the stairs too," Kaylee said, helping him to head in the right direction.
Mal closed his other eye and let her lead him to his bunk.
Having bathed the accumulated dust and sweat from his body, Jayne went into the galley in search of something more substantial than cactus leaves to eat. He found Inara, freshly groomed and smelling of lavender, engaged in a similar pursuit. Triumphantly, she pulled a container from Serenity's cold storage unit. "This is labeled 'Kaylee's soup'. Do you suppose it means it's for Kaylee to eat or that it's soup Kaylee made?" she asked.
"I ain't too sure I care. Let's eat," Jayne answered, putting a pot on the stove to thaw the mixture.
Inara laughed lightly. "I'm embarrassed to say so, but I agree."
As she turned on the heating unit for the stove, Jayne rummaged around in the cabinets, finding half-stale crackers and some sort of cheese-flavored protein cubes. Popping a couple into his mouth, he offered the container to Inara, who did the same.
"Would you like a cup of tea with your dinner?" she asked, somewhat warmed by the pleasant domesticity of the moment.
"Wouldn't say no," Jayne replied.
When Kaylee's soup was thoroughly heated and the tea sat steaming in two delicate cups, Jayne and Inara sat down to enjoy their meal.
"So," Jayne said between bites. "Now you got your stuff back, I reckon you'll be getting; back to takin' clients."
"There's still a bit of work to be done first," Inara answered hastily. "You know, getting everything unpacked and ready to receive clients."
Jayne eyed her thoughtfully. "You don't seem all that anxious to get back to workin'."
"Don't be silly," Inara protested. "It's just that…well, it's not that I don't want to be working. It's …."
Jayne waited quietly for her to continue.
Inara squirmed uncomfortably in her seat. Marshalling her considerable defenses, she said, "Why are you so interested in my work, Jayne?"
He smiled lazily. "Always been interested, 'Nara. Ain't nothin' new. Just didn't used to be able to talk with ya' without getting' my head bit off."
She looked at him carefully, trying to read the truth behind his words, but his expression told her very little as he resumed eating. Regardless of what he said, she thought, there was something new in his interest in her work. Maybe she'd mention it to the counselor in her next wave. Or maybe she'd just keep it to herself, her heart told her. Either way, she was certain that at some point, Jayne's hidden truth would reveal itself, and she intended to be ready when it did.
Mal, having napped for a short time, awoke with no sign of the dizziness that had plagued him earlier. Quickly washing the grime from his body, he remembered to shave as per River's request. Smiling at the memory, he made his way to the infirmary to check on Simon's newest patient.
To his surprise, the Operative was awake and seemed to be fairly lucid, considering the fever that was still somewhat too high for Simon's comfort. "How ya' feelin'?" Mal asked, pulling up a stool beside him.
"Better than I did in the cave," he answered. "Dr. Tam stocks wonderful pain meds."
"Yes, we're big on the pain meds here. Can't seem to go for very long without at least one of us needin' 'em, the life we lead."
The Operative smiled. "I would imagine that to be all too true."
They sat for a moment, both thinking about their latest endeavor. Finally, Mal spoke. "Did it seem to you that things back there went just a little too smooth?"
"Aside from the bullet wound, I'd have to say 'yes'," the Operative answered.
Mal nodded. "So then, this might not be over."
The Operative sighed. "I have no intel to indicate that there will be any further chance of experimentation or that there are even any samples stored elsewhere, but…" He paused.
"But you got an uneasiness about it," Mal finished. When the Operative nodded, he said, "Me too. However, maybe it's just because of my generally suspicious nature."
"Perhaps," the Operative agreed. "But just in case we are correct, I'll be looking and listening for any evidence of such a thing. I'll contact you if I hear of anything."
"Sounds fair," Mal agreed, hoping that their instincts were dead wrong. "So, where do you need to be dropped off?"
"I'll get off wherever your next stop is, Captain. I'm used to making my own arrangements."
"Yeah, I got that about you," Mal said, moving to leave.
"And Captain Reynolds," the Operative called out after him. "Thank you."
Mal held up a hand in brief acknowledgement as he headed up to the bridge.
Any idea where we're going, ai ren?" River asked, slipping gracefully out of the pilot's chair to embrace her husband.
"Not a clue," he replied. "Tomorrow will be time enough to start looking for a job, I'm thinkin'." He laid his cheek on the top of her head, inhaling the intoxicating scent of her hair.
"You bathed," she said.
"I did," he answered.
"Yup," he said. After a moment, he added, "This thing on auto-pilot?"
"Yes," she said, beginning to smile.
"Then, I conjure it's time to be puttin' the baby to bed," he said, running his hand lightly across her abdomen.
They walked hand-on-hand through Serenity's corridors, listening to the soothing hum of the engine.
When they reached their bunk, River shimmied quickly out of her dress and climbed into the bed. Mal followed suit, thinking fleetingly that the sight of her lying in his bunk where he'd once slept so very alone was the most beautiful thing in the 'verse. He smiled when he saw his thought register on her face, not minding that she read him freely in their most intimate moments.
Slipping into bed beside her, he pulled her to him, needing the silky length of her pressed against his body. She responded, as she always did, loving the feel of his toned muscles moving under smooth skin.
He paused, struck by a new worry. "Is this gonna be okay, darlin'? With the baby, has Simon cleared you for this?"
River laughed lightly. "Simon's my big brother. I doubt he'll ever clear me for this." She ran her hands lightly down his abdomen, teasing him by stopping just short of her goal.
Mal groaned at the contact. "River, I'm serious," he said. "You know what I got in mind. It ain't gone hurt the little one, is it?"
"No," she whispered against his ear. "It won't hurt the baby, and it will be very, very pleasurable to the parents." Flicking her tongue lightly along the ridge of his ear, she began to move more urgently against him. "Do you understand?"
Mal sighed in pleasure. "I think I'm beginning to," he answered, allowing his hands to roam where they would. "Maybehaps you could explain it some more."
River's answer was swallowed up by his hungry kiss.
Author's Note: This, of course, is not the real end of the adventures of our band of travelers, but their other stories are best told another day. Until then, thank you to all those who read my little tales regularly, and a very special thanks to those who take the extra moment to comment on them. I love to hear what you're thinking, so please feel free to leave feedback, good, bad, or indifferent.