Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. But I love them just the same.
Summary: Takes place three months after the events of "Bloodlines". Another night passes on Serenity, and as happens with startling regularity, a complication develops.
Mal scratched absently at the edges of the new scar on his chest. Thing was mostly healed, but still itched a mite, though River had been diligent about applying all manner of lotions and creams to the spot. Mal did not mind, as generally such ministrations on her part meandered well beyond the site of the injury and into altogether more pleasurable directions. Smiling at the thought, he opened the hatch to his bunk, and climbed down. As his feet hit the floor, he was suddenly surrounded by the graceful arms and legs of his agile wife.
"I'm takin' it you're happy to see me," he said, as her nimble fingers pushed his suspenders down and his shirt off his shoulders in what had to be some sort of speed record.
"Mmm hmm," River hummed against his neck, as she reached for the buttons of his pants.
Mal moaned as her mouth trailed down his chest and abdomen. In the last week or so, River's slight bouts of morning sickness had given way to a downright decadent eagerness for physical intimacy. While Mal suspected that technically it was due less his charms than a hormonal fluctuation, he was definitely not complaining with the results. As River's hands and mouth continued their journey, Mal gasped. Hauling her up his body, he murmured, "Whoa there, darlin'. Least let me get outta my boots first. As I understand it, a gentleman don't engage in these kinda…activities whilst his boots are on."
River pushed him toward their bed, steadying him when he stumbled over the pants she'd pushed to his knees. "Not interested in a gentleman right now, ai ren," she said, bending to pull off his boots once he'd fallen onto the bed heavily. As she climbed up beside him, Mal cupped her breasts, fuller now with the pregnancy. River shivered with anticipation and leaned forward, giving him better access to the newly sensitive skin there. Replacing his hands with his mouth, Mal let his hand rest for a moment on the soft skin of her belly, where a growing curve was the only indication of his child within her. Moving with a fluid grace, River flipped over onto her back, pulling her husband along with her.
"Please, ai ren," she whispered, canting her hips impatiently.
Looking down into the enchanting depths of her brown eyes, Mal knew there was nothing in the 'verse he would deny this woman. Slipping his knees between her parted thighs, he said, "Whatever you say, darlin'."
After gently sliding Anya's door closed with a final warning to quit reading under her covers and go to sleep, Zoe turned to see Jim Bowden watching with an amused expression. "She comes by it honest," he said, smiling. "Mom used to have to tell John the same thing when we were boys."
When Zoe didn't reply, he continued. "She sure is a special girl. You've done a wonderful job of helping her acclimate to a new family."
"She's a strong girl," Zoe replied impassively.
Jim cleared his throat. "You don't like me very much, do you?"
"I don't know you ," Zoe replied simply.
Jim gazed at her steadily with blue eyes that looked very much like Anya's. "You will," he said. And stepping past her, he headed to his bunk.
Simon gently lifted Daniel from Kaylee's arms. Both mother and child had fallen asleep, and Simon was loath to wake either one. Caring for Daniel's needs was a twenty-four-hour-a-day job, and Kaylee was still recovering from both the physical and emotional trauma surrounding his birth. Simon himself was beyond exhaustion, and he could hardly imagine how Kaylee was managing to drag one foot in front of the other.
Placing his son carefully in the crib, Simon turned to look at Kaylee more closely. Though there were purple shadows under her eyes, he found her altogether the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. She shifted in the rocker, as if she could sense the weight of his gaze, even in sleep. Simon lifted her carefully out of the chair, and laid her on their bed. Her eyelids fluttered sleepily. "Hey you," she said, yawning. "Everything okay?"
"Everything's fine," Simon reassured her, kissing her cheek. "Go back to sleep."
"I don't know that Mal will agree to go that far into the Core," Inara said, sitting on Jayne's bed. "I mean, considering the patrols now."
"Won't know 'til ya' ask," Jayne said, though he secretly hoped Mal would say no. He really didn't mind Inara taking clients, but the new contract she'd been offered would involve an entire week with her client, and somehow the thought didn't sit well with him. It was one thing to sex a client for the night, and quite another to spend a whole week with him, Jayne thought.
"I wouldn't even consider it," Inara was saying, oblivious to Jayne's line of thought. "Except that he's one my oldest clients and he's offering well beyond what I would have asked. One week, and I could pay the shuttle rent to Mal for an entire year."
"Yup, sounds like a good deal," Jayne said without enthusiasm as he climbed into bed beside her. Turning his back to her, he pulled up the covers and turned out the light, leaving Inara to wonder vaguely if there was something wrong.
Deep in Serenity's night, River woke up gasping. Mal was instantly wide awake. "What's the matter, bao bei?" he asked, grabbing her shoulders to get her attention.
"Daniel," River said, jumping out of bed and slamming into her clothes hurriedly.
Mal's mouth went dry as he quickly dressed as well. Daniel Tam had been holding his own since his birth, though the past three months had been fraught with one crisis after another. His little lungs had finally developed to the point that he was no longer dependent on additional oxygen, but that had come only after a bout of pneumonia that had almost cost the little one his life. A terrible case of colic had kept the entire ship awake for a month, listening to the pitiful cries of the infant. Only in the past few weeks had everyone begun to breathe a little easier, as Daniel had been visibly progressing beyond the problems caused by his premature entry into the 'verse.
Racing into the infirmary ahead of her husband, River came to a stop beside Simon. Bent over his child, Simon spared no glance for his sister, but continued to work feverishly.
Mal moved beside Kaylee, pulling the trembling woman into his arms. Looking only at her husband and child, she spoke woodenly. "He just made a little gurgling sound. That's all, just one little gurgling sound. Then he stiffened up and his eyes just rolled back in his head. Never made even one little cry." Her words tapered off in shock and bewilderment.
"He's breathin', mei mei," Mal said, his own eyes fixed on the labored rise and fall of the thin little chest.
Simon straightened himself, looking up at Kaylee. "Yes, he is, ai ren."
"Is he…all right?" Kaylee asked fearfully, her voice cracking on the last words.
"He had a seizure," Simon said tiredly.
"Why?" Kaylee asked.
Simon shook his head. "I don't know yet. His temperature was not elevated, so it wasn't a febrile seizure. I need to do some tests to give a better answer." As he spoke, Daniel's body jerked, his back bowing off the bed as another seizure began. Mal and Kaylee watched helplessly as the child twitched under Simon's hands. "River," Simon said hoarsely. "Get me the…"
River handed the medication to him before he could complete the sentence, and Simon prepared the injection. In scant moments, Daniel's body relaxed and his eyes fluttered open. Giving a pitiful whimper, he curled into a fetal position.
Almost afraid to break the sudden silence, Mal whispered, "Doc?"
Simon scrubbed his hands across his face as if to clear away cobwebs there. "He should sleep now. Seizures, especially two so close together, will have worn him out, and the anti-seizure drug should do the rest. I'll start on the tests to determine the cause before I can figure out how to really treat him. I can't keep giving him the meds we have onboard. They're designed for adults, not infants."
"What do you need me to do?" Mal asked.
"Nothing," Simon replied. "At least not yet. Maybe you could take Kaylee back to our room…"
Kaylee lifted her chin defiantly. "Ain't gonna leave here 'til we know somethin', Simon Tam." She pulled away from Mal, and went to her son's side. "He needs his mama."
Simon nodded. "Of course, you're right. Sorry I suggested it."
River and Mal stepped outside to give the couple some time alone with their son.
Daniel's seizures continued through the night, and by morning the entire crew had gathered in the infirmary.
"Any clue as to what's goin' on, doc?" Mal asked, unconsciously holding onto his own son a little more tightly.
"Yes," Simon said tiredly. "There's a congenital malformation, very slight, wouldn't have even noticed it if I wasn't looking for it specifically." Observing the worried expressions around him, Simon continued. "As I told Kaylee, it can be repaired. It's a delicate procedure, but I can do it. At least, I can if we can get our hands on the proper equipment."
Mal nodded, pleased to hear something he might be able to do something about. "Whereabouts is this equipment?"
Simon leaned against the counter, dreading his next words. "The nearest place I'm aware of is Osiris. They have three fully stocked neurosurgical units for pediatrics."
Jayne frowned. "We're near three weeks from Osiris, ain't we?"
"Two weeks, five days," River confirmed. "And without enough fuel to get there."
"Unless we go ahead and finish the St Albans delivery and get our coin," Mal noted. "Don't look to me like we've got the time for such as that, though."
"There is something we can do to buy some time," Simon said. "There's a new drug, and enhanced form of dilantin formulated for children, that would probably halt the seizures more effectively than what I have, at least in the short term."
"Fair certain St. Albans won't have it," Mal said. "Planet's backward and poor."
"I imagine you're right," Simon agreed. "But the Skyplex will. There's a brisk business in black market drugs there, and it's only a couple of days away."
"Less, if we go to full burn," Kaylee added, cradling Daniel to her chest.
"And you're sure it'd buy the time the little fella needs?" Mal asked.
"Yes," Simon answered confidently.
"Could maybe do both things at once," Mal said. "If we load the cargo onto the extra shuttle, St. Albans ain't but a day away. Shuttle goes to St. Albans, Serenity goes to Skyplex. Rendezvous back once the deals are done. Zoe, Jim, you two are with me in the shuttle. Jayne, you see the doc gets his meds and makes the deal in one piece, dong ma?"
"Yeah," Jayne said. "Not a problem."
"Then let's get the shuttle loaded. Ma shong."
As the crew dispersed quickly, Mal went to his bunk. Retrieving the small strongbox under his bed, he emptied the contents into a small leather pouch, leaving a very meager bit for himself. Then, he headed back to the infirmary, where Simon and Kaylee sat together looking after their son.
Motioning Simon outside, Mal slid the infirmary door shut and looked compassionately at the exhausted man. "You know anything 'bout buyin' from black market dealers, Simon?"
"I…I know what they're asking for the dilantin," Simon answered uncertainly.
"You got the coin?" Mal asked.
"Yes, just barely," Simon admitted.
Mal nodded, pressing the leather pouch into Simon's hands. "Take this, just in case. Price goes up without warnin' sometimes if the hundans know you need it bad enough."
Simon opened the pouch, his eyes widening when he saw the coin there. "Mal, I can't…this must be all your…I can't take this."
Mal closed the pouch and pressed it back into Simon's palms. "That's my nephew in there, and the newest member of my crew besides. And while I trust Jayne to handle a fight, he ain't exactly a master at negotiatin' without violence, and I ain't gonna be there to do it myself. So, I'm trustin' you to use this and get yourself back in one piece. Dong ma?"
Simon nodded, suddenly overwhelmed by the tangle of emotions the last several hours had brought to the fore. Swallowing audibly, he said, "Thank you, Captain."
Mal nodded shortly, and turning on his heel, made his way to the cargo bay, hoping to God that Simon would be able to handle himself on the Skyplex.
To be continued