Crash Course

Part XX—Healing Process

Author: justslummin

Disclaimer: Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.

Rating: PG

Summary: Conclusion. The Tams make arrangements to leave, and Mal becomes mobile again.

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Regan Tam sat watching her daughter and son-in-law communing with each other wordlessly as Adam took his first shaky steps since his surgery. There was something so beautiful in the sight that she found her breath catching as she watched, and she wondered if she and Gabriel had once looked thus.

Gabriel, for his part, had eyes only for his grandson, as Adam's steps became more sure by the minute. He had never imagined that he would be given the opportunity of seeing a grandchild of his, much less one so full of life and love as Adam seemed to be. The lump in his throat was an exquisite ache. Aware of his grandfather's thoughts, Adam looked up at him and smiled happily. "Looks like they work okay," he said, pointing to his legs.

"It would seem so," Gabriel said, bending at the knee to get on eye level with the child. "How do they feel?"

"Wavy," Adam said after a moment.

Simon chuckled softly. "That's natural after you've been off them for a few days," he said. "Think you can make it back to your father?"

Adam nodded, walking steadily back to Mal with a huge grin. "Easy peasy," he said, reaching up to be pulled into his father's lap.

"Good," Simon praised. "No running and jumping for a few more days, but I think everything's going to be back to normal soon, okay?"

"'Kay," Adam agreed.

Kaylee wandered into the infirmary, bringing Daniel in to have the stitches in his scalp removed. Regan eagerly reached for the baby despite the pain in her side from the bullet wound, and Kaylee laid him carefully in her arms. "He looks a great deal like Simon, except for the eyes. The eyes are all yours," Regan said softly, smiling down at her grandson with open admiration.

Gabriel straightened up from his kneeling position, and winced as his knees cracked loudly. "Speaking of things going back to normal, I suppose now is as good a time as any to discuss the future, since the whole family seems to be here." He put his arm around Regan's shoulders and took a deep breath. Looking at first his two children and then Mal, he said, "Captain Reynolds, my wife and I appreciate you letting us hitch a ride when we so desperately needed one. But I suspect it's time for us to stop imposing on your generosity. It's obvious you have a full house without us to complicate things."

"You're welcome to stay on Serenity as long as you like," Mal said easily. "I don't conjure things are gonna be too pleasant for you back on Osiris, if any of what happened in that hospital was caught on tape." River squeezed his hand gratefully.

Gabriel grimaced, having thought about that problem himself. "That's a situation that Regan and I will just have to handle as best we can," he replied. "Of course, we wouldn't expect you to go all the way back to Osiris to drop us off. Perhaps we can get off at your next planetfall, wherever that is. So long as there's access to a cortex link somewhere on the planet, we should be able to transfer enough funds to get by until we can arrange transport home."

Simon spoke up. "Isn't the Alliance looking at your transactions?" he asked. "The minute you access your accounts, they'll know where you are."

"I suspect they'll know where we are soon enough anyway," Gabriel replied grimly. "And, while Serenity seems to be home to all of you, I really don't think your mother and I can begin a wandering life at this point. A little too old to take up a life of…" He paused, not wanting to name it. "….adventure."

Mal smiled at the euphemism. "Got some medical supplies to be sold on Deadwood," he said. "Think that might be a decent kinda place to be dropped off. Doesn't have much of an Alliance presence, but they got a good-sized settlement and cortex access. Be there in about a week."

"That sounds perfect," Gabriel said. "If it's all right, perhaps we could discuss some way to maintain communication, now that we've had a chance to get re-acquainted with our children and meet you and Kaylee and the grandchildren. I'd like to think that we could see everyone occasionally, if we can find some way around the surveillance."

"Might be able to come up with something. Li'l Kaylee is a right wonder at finding her way around things like that," Mal said fondly, smiling at his genius mechanic.

Kaylee beamed. "I can give it a try, leastways." Daniel began to fuss in Regan's arms, and she handed him back to Kaylee. "I think he might need his mother," she said softly.

"Sometimes we all do," River whispered, loud enough for only Mal to hear.

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Mal sat in the galley at the overcrowded table. Making a mental note to thank Jayne again for installing the lifts that enabled him to move freely in his ship again with the aid of a wheelchair, he looked around at the faces of his family gathered there and wondered at the peculiarities of a 'verse that would strip so much from him and still give him so much in return. He'd long since stopped believing that things balanced out on any cosmic level, but occasionally he did have to consider the possibility he may have been mistaken in that assessment. River looked positively luminous, her skin glowing with the effects of the new life within her and the joy she felt at the reunion with her parents. Mal had known that their absence had been a source of pain for her, but he had not truly sensed the extent of it until he had seen her with them for the past week. He was profoundly grateful that he had not followed his first instinct of killing Gabriel Tam on sight.

Even Simon was smiling again, Daniel cradled protectively to his chest, as he talked quietly with his father at the end of the table. Kaylee's hand rested on his knee, and Mal could not help but think of how much strength his mei mei offered her husband with the simple gesture.

Inara talked animatedly with Regan, and the older woman seemed enthralled with the conversation, having never spent much time in the company of a bona fide Companion. Jayne sat with Adam on one knee and Anya on the other, munching on a dinner roll and watching everything with an air of satisfaction.

Mal's eyes turned to Zoe, fully expecting to be met with her steady gaze, as this was the first meal he had been able to take with the crew since the shuttle accident. To his surprise, however, Zoe was looking at Jim instead, her head inclined to hear whatever he was telling her in low tones. Sensing her husband's thoughts, River rested her hand on his arm, and whispered softly, "Healed enough to move on."

He glanced up into her bright brown eyes, and answered softly, "Good to know."

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River set Serenity down on Deadwood, kicking up a cloud of dust in the open field. She made her way quickly to the cargo bay, where everyone was gathered to say their good-byes to the elder Tams. Hugging her mother tightly, she whispered, "Love you, Mother."

"Love you too, baby mine," Regan answered, her eyes welling with tears at the leave-taking.

Gabriel cleared his throat as River hugged him as well. "Take care, daughter," he said hoarsely.

"And you as well," she replied, her own tears spilling down her cheeks.

Simon hugged his mother, whispering a private good-bye in her ear as Kaylee looked on approvingly. Turning to his father, he extended his hand, but Gabriel took it and pulled him in for a genuine hug instead. "I'm proud of you, son," he said quietly. "Thank you for doing what I couldn't do to protect your sister."

Simon nodded, unable to speak with the intensity of his emotion, and Gabriel released him.

Turning to Mal, Gabriel shook his hand, his proper exterior recovered. "Captain, we're grateful to you for all you've done for our family, and very pleased to call you one of our own."

Mal nodded in acknowledgement. "I'll do my best to see they're safe and happy," he said.

"Of that, we've no doubt," Regan said, kissing his cheek lightly. Whispering in his ear, she added, "And please find a way to bring my grandchildren to see me as you can."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, seeing the briefest flash of his own mother in her eyes.

As the Tams walked out into the dust of the day, River stood beside her husband's chair, holding his hand tightly until they disappeared from view. "You okay, darlin'?" he asked, seeing the tears still glistening on her face.

"Better than," she replied, leaning down to kiss him lightly. He pulled her down into his lap, heedless of the others in the cargo bay. As the crew dispersed, he kissed her deeply, feeling the pleasant weight of her in his lap, and thinking it was the most wonderful sensation he could imagine at just that moment.

River smiled. "I can imagine an even better one," she whispered against his ear.

Mal shivered pleasantly at the thought. "Best you tell me that a little later," he replied huskily. "Right now, we got a job needs doin'."

River sighed, sliding off his lap. "Aye, aye, Captain," she said as she walked gracefully away, her hips swaying in a way that made Mal almost forget the job for just a moment.

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With considerable effort, Mal maneuvered his body onto the bed in the passenger dorm that Kaylee and Simon had vacated in his behalf. His arms and shoulders were exhausted by the new exercise of wheeling himself around on the ship all day, and pulling himself from place to place out of the chair when needed.

He'd found it almost disconcerting that Jayne seemed to follow him around, offering all day to help him get where he wanted to go, but he supposed it was the mercenary's way of showing concern, so he tried to temper his answers accordingly. Finally, Simon had run interference for him, telling Jayne that Mal needed the exercise, as he would be in the casts for at least five more weeks before he could even think about putting any weight on his healing legs. The big man looked so crestfallen that Mal felt compelled to thank him again for installing the lifts and ramps. "Couldn't be gettin' around nowhere near as good if you hadn't thought of it," he said warmly.

Jayne had beamed like a child at Christmas. "Weren't nothin'," he'd said gruffly, though Mal could tell the compliment meant more than the man would ever say.

Now, however, after a full day of hoisting himself in and out of the chair, Mal thought wryly that maybe he should have taken Jayne up on some of the help offered. He pulled his legs more comfortably into the bunk, and lay back against the pillows to rest for a minute.

"Pushed yourself too hard," River chided gently, gliding into the room. "Always do."

Mal sighed heavily. "S'pose you're right about that," he said. "Just don't much like the thought of folk havin' to look after me, when I can do it myownself."

River smiled, slipping out of her dress and into a filmy little nightgown in two smooth motions that made Mal's mouth water just a little. She rummaged in the drawer for a moment, pulling out a bottle of massage oil. Holding it up for his inspection, she said, "So I suppose you'd rather apply this yourself than let me help?"

"Well now, some things a man needs help with," Mal said, his voice suddenly a low growl of anticipation.

"Thought as much," River whispered as she climbed onto the bed and poured some of the oil into the palms of her hands.

As his wife's hands trailed the warm liquid down his shoulders and chest, Mal closed his eyes and purred in contentment. And as she continued downward, he realized with a deep sense of joy that sensation had most definitely returned to his lower half.

River said softly, "Care to test sensory reaction a little more, ai ren?"

"Seems like the right thing to do," Mal replied, pulling her down against his lips and stealing her breath away with his kiss.

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Author's Note: So ends another tale of Serenity's crew. This one was a true pleasure for me to write, and I sincerely hope it was a pleasure for you to read it as well. As always, I'd like to thank especially those kind souls who took an extra moment to leave a comment, as feedback is like butter to bread. There are more stories yet to tell, but they will have to wait for another day. Until then, happy writing and reading!