Forward Motion

Forward Motion

Part I—En Route

Author: justslummin

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.

Rating: PG

Summary: Follows "Journey's End" in the continuing Mal/River storyline. As Serenity heads to Osiris, Jim struggles with his new limitations.

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Jim concentrated carefully on the cup in his hand, gauging the distance to the bed tray with intense focus. Very slowly, he maneuvered the cup over the table top and set it down. "You got it, Uncle Jim," Anya said, wildly elated with this tiny bit of progress. "Almost exactly in the middle!"

Jim smiled and was relieved when she smiled back warmly. Smiles were still a bit tricky, often as not coming out as an expression that made everyone vaguely uneasy. But, as he was having more and more occasion to smile, he was re-training his facial muscles to make the correct series of movements to accomplish a somewhat lopsided grin.

Anya rearranged the objects on the tray. "Now, see if you can pick up the spoon," she prompted.

Jim looked down at the tray, focusing carefully on each item until he discovered what he hoped was the spoon. Reaching deliberately toward it, he accidentally spilled the contents of the cup into his lap. Anya quickly blotted it dry, murmuring words of encouragement the whole time as Jim mentally scrolled through all the Mandarin curses he could remember.

"Don't worry, Mr. Jim," Adam piped up from the side of the bed. "Happens to me all the time."

Jim smiled again, wishing he could manage to reach out and ruffle the boy's hair without potentially taking out his eye in the process. "The spoon," Anya reminded him. "Can you pick up the spoon?"

Jim turned his attention back to the tray and managed this time to pick up the utensil without further incident. "Good," Anya praised. Looking at him with a hint of worry in her eye, she said, "Want to try to get it to your mouth?"

Jim frowned, working out the spatial relationship between the spoon in his hand and his mouth. Very slowly, he moved the spoon upward until he could feel it press against his chin. "Another inch," Anya said quietly. "Just one more inch and you've got it."

Jim thought about how long an inch should be and adjusted the spoon accordingly. Anya beamed as the spoon touched her uncle's lips. "Won't be long before you're feeding yourself at this rate," she said cheerily. "Can you place the spoon back on the tray?"

Simon watched from the infirmary doorway, impressed with the patience of the children and the determination of the patient. When Jim managed to get the spoon back into an approximation of its earlier position, Simon stepped forward. "That's excellent progress, Jim," he said, motioning Adam and Anya to step away from the bed. "But speaking of feeding oneself, lunch is waiting for the children."

"Can't we stay a little longer?" Adam asked.

"Not now," Simon answered kindly. "Jim needs to rest now, and your lunch is getting cold. You can come back later to visit, if you wish."

Adam nodded, crawling up to give Jim a quick peck on the cheek while Anya did the same on the other side of the bed. "See you this afternoon," Anya said softly as they headed to the galley.

"Bye," Jim managed to get out, surprising himself and Simon as well.

"Well," Simon said, pulling up a stool to talk to his patient. "It looks like real progress is being made here."

Jim shifted in the bed, becoming disoriented for a long moment until he regained his balance. "S..s…slow," he said.

Simon shook his head. "Not really," he said. "Not for what you've been through. I know it must be frustrating, but you are really doing very well. And when we can get to Osiris, there will be much more that can be used to speed your recovery."

Jim looked at him intently. "Wh….wh…when?"

"According to the Captain's best estimate, we're still about two weeks out," Simon answered. Jim nodded carefully, trying not to set himself into a dizzying spin again. "So," Simon continued. "Zoe should be down in a few minutes with some lunch for you, and then perhaps we can try to walk around a bit again this afternoon."

Jim sighed, the thought of walking right after eating making his stomach churn uncomfortably. Walking was a tedious task so far. It required intense concentration and more than a little luck, as his brain was battling to adjust to his altered sense of depth perception while also sending the appropriate signals to his muscles to move his legs and arms in such a way as to achieve forward motion. But, Jim was determined to re-train the areas of his brain that had suffered trauma, and Simon had assured him that new connections could be made to compensate for what had been lost in the struggle on Whittier.

As if sensing his thoughts, Simon said, "We'll wait until a little later in the afternoon. Give your lunch time to settle a bit this time."

Jim smiled gratefully. At least maybe this time he wouldn't lose his lunch on Simon's shoes like last time, he thought tiredly.

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Zoe stood at Mal's side as he checked the settings on the navigational console. "So you don't foresee any problem with stopping off on Aberdeen long enough for me and Jim to…"

Mal looked up at his friend and grinned. "You havin' problems even sayin' it, Zoe?" he asked. "Don't bode well for a happy marriage, if you ask me."

"Good thing I wasn't askin' then," Zoe said blandly. "I ain't got a problem sayin' it, or doin' it, assumin' we can stop off before we actually get to Osiris. I got no notion to get married on a Core world."

Mal nodded. "Aberdeen's practically on the way. Won't put us off schedule by more'n half a day, at the most. Assumin' you're not plannin' on a big shindig."

Zoe shook her head. "Justice of the peace works fine for me," she said. "Don't expect Jim'll be up for much more than a few words anyhow."

Mal's eyes were kind as they looked at her. "Jim's doin' good, according to Simon. I'm fair certain it'll all be just shiny."

Zoe nodded. "'Course," she said, heading back out the door. "Wouldn't have it any other way."

Mal watched her receding back, thinking that she looked altogether more pale and thin than he would like. Simon had told him that this was to be expected, due to the nature of Zoe's malignancy, but still it was a difficult thing for Mal to watch the strong woman even slightly diminished by her illness. The medication awaiting them on Osiris had better be the miracle Simon seemed to think it was, Mal thought grimly as he turned back to the console and stared out into the Black.

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River sat on the edge of Jim's bed, her head tilted to the side as she listened to his thoughts. He had at first resisted her mental intrusion, but he could not deny that she had helped him rebuild order into what had at first been chaos. They had mutually agreed it best not to reveal the extent of her communion with him, as neither was certain it would be a welcome thing to the others involved. So, daily River came to the infirmary for a "visit" and none were the wiser as to her true purpose.

Jim had come to look forward to these moments of calm in his daily routine, a time when he could concentrate less on the physical effects of his injury and more on the mental recovery process. River radiated calm efficiency, bringing his thoughts into a subtle harmony that encouraged coherence. And, much to Jim's relief, she respected the meager mental barriers he erected to preserve his privacy and he no longer worried that he was revealing too much of himself with the process.

Now, she looked up at him with serious eyes. "Won't matter to her," she said. "Whether you can walk down the aisle or not, or repeat vows or not. Will still be married, regardless." She paused, waiting for him to process the information. "Doesn't expect you to do more than you can do," she added. "Regardless of what you expect of yourself."

Jim sighed, leaning his head back against the pillow and closing his eyes before the dizziness took hold once again. River leaned down close to his ear. "And I'll help you to say "I do". We'll practice, if you wish."

Jim looked up at her gratefully. "Y…y..yes," he said aloud, though he knew she had already heard the thought in his head.

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Inara stepped back, looking at her handiwork with a critical eye. Zoe smoothed the dress over her hips and looked into the full length mirror. "Looks better than mine," she said after a moment. "Besides which, I ain't wildly fond of the idea of getting' married Jim in the same dress I wore to bury Wash in."

Inara nodded sympathetically. "I'm sorry I didn't have anything longer," she said.

"No matter," Zoe replied, eyeing her long legs under the skirt. "Guess it's a good thing I've lost so much weight, or you wouldn't have had anything wide enough either."

Inara pinned a new section of hem, looking up at Zoe with understanding. "You're beautiful, Zoe, regardless of a few pounds lost. Jim is a lucky man."

Zoe snorted, shifting on her feet and inadvertently making Inara stick herself with a pin. "Weren't for tryin' to help me, he wouldn't have even been on Serenity when those men attacked. Can't see how that makes him any kind of lucky."

Inara rose to look Zoe carefully in the eye. Hands on her hips, she said, "Zoe, you know it wasn't your fault. What happened just…happened. And I'm quite sure that Jim would not have managed to pull through as well as he has without your love and support."

Zoe looked at her with haunted eyes. "Don't know as that's gonna be enough to face what's ahead of us," she said softly.

Unaccustomed to this more vulnerable side of the warrior woman, Inara paused for a moment. "It's the strongest thing there is….the love of one person for another. Can survive any amount of stress, any horror that tries to overwhelm it, anything at all."

Zoe nodded, though her eyes were still troubled. "We'll see," she said softly.

"Now," Inara said briskly, trying to dispel the mood that had overtaken them both. "I think I might have just the thing to accentuate that lovely neck of yours."

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The suited man sat behind his desk, his fingers steepled under his chin as he considered the information with which he had just been provided. "And you are positive this Bowden man is to arrive at the facility within the next two weeks?"

"Yes, the arrangements have been made by Gabriel Tam himself. It took a little digging to find the source of the request, but it was most definitely Mr. Tam."

"And what makes you think this has anything to do with Reynolds?"

"It is the same Bowden under whose name Reynolds secured insurance benefits from the Allied government some time ago."

The suited man raised one eloquent eyebrow. "Is there a chance that Bowden is Reynolds?"

"No," the younger man replied. "Shortly after the operation, Reynolds and Bowden dissolved their marital union. Obviously, a device simply to procure medical attention while defrauding the government."

"Still, a connection between Bowden and Reynolds might explain Tam's involvement," the suited man replied, leaning forward slightly in his chair.

The younger man nodded, having come to the same conclusion long ago. He waited patiently for the older man to say something else.

After a long time of silence, the older man said, "You've done well. Continue with your surveillance of the Tam estate, and also cover the medical facility until this Bowden person arrives. Perhaps you will find something else of use for me."

The younger man bowed slightly. "As you wish," he said. "I'll assemble a small team to cover the medical facility within the hour."

The older man nodded and, motioning the younger man out of the room, placed a wave. After a few seconds, a figure coalesced on the screen. "You have news?"

"Possibly," the older man answered, explaining briefly what he had found out.

"Excellent," the man on the screen said. "Keep me apprised of anything that develops. Once we've located Reynolds, you will be compensated for your efforts."

The older man smiled. "Of course," he said, his lips twisting in a parody of genuine pleasure. "I would expect no less."

The man on the screen made no reply as he reached his blue-gloved hand up to cut the transmission.

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To be continued