Summary: Mal comes back from a job with more bullet holes in him than the doctor has ever seen, and Inara's worried in more ways than one.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Slumped on a stool next to the infirmary bed, Simon yawned, and rubbed the tiredness from his eyes. It had been a long night, but at least Mal's vitals were finally on the more optimistic side of "nearly dead" than they had been at the end of his latest fight.
"Simon?" The doctor jumped at Inara's sudden voice from the doorway. She entered the room bearing a tray with some mugs and a teapot, still steaming with the heavenly scent of authentic tea. "How is Mal doing?"
"Ah…he…He's fine…Only one of the bullets pierced the stomach wall—" Simon looked up from her tea set and noticed the urgent look in her eye as she surveyed Mal's heavily bandaged torso, "But he'll pull through it. The Captain's…tough…."
She sighed, "Yes, just not as tough as he thinks he is…"
They both laughed uncomfortably. Simon shifted nervously and coughed. "Uh…Inara, the tea smells…Would you mind if I—"
"Had some? I was actually taking some to Kaylee…She's in the engine room…Why don't you take it to her? I can stay with Mal." She smiled knowingly—all unease and worry suddenly gone—and tilted the tray slightly in his direction, encouraging him.
Simon's expression hovered between morbid fear and elation before he began to stammer an excuse as to why he had to stay to watch Mal's vitals. Inara forced the tray on him and placed a cool hand on his shoulder, "I'll stay with Mal…if anything goes wrong, I'll call for you immediately." She smiled again.
He stammered a thanks and all but bolted for the door.
Inara's smile quickly disappeared and her gaze instantly dropped to Mal's peaceful, sleeping face. "Oh…"she tsked and took Simon's seat, scooting it closer to the bedside so she could lay her hand against Mal's temple. Tentatively, she threaded her fingers through his chestnut hair. "You certainly know how to scare us…"
Silent minutes passed, and she continued to stroke his hair absentmindedly. She remembered the last time they had been alone, and he unconscious. She licked her lips, and subconsciously leaned closer to him, placing her other hand on top of his own limp one.
"Companions aren't supposed to fall in love, Mal…especially not with men like you." Inara passed her hand over his forehead and smoothed his ruffled hair. His eyebrow twitched, she assumed it was just some small muscle spasm in his sleep and nearly jumped when she felt a light pressure from his fingers against hers. "Mal? Mal. The doctor's—"
He let out a slight half-cough-half-whimper. It was definitely the most pathetic, pitiable sound she'd ever heard from him, wounded or not, and the fear she'd tethered and locked up in the bottom of her heart began to wail.
"'Nara…," he rasped, through gritted teeth, "Get…medi—"
"Oh god…Mal…how long have you been awake?" She jumped to the intercom, "Simon! He's waking…get down here now!"
She looked back at Mal, slightly wary, but as he groaned in pain again, she found herself back at his side before she realized she had moved. She clutched his hand reassuringly and laid her other hand against his cheek.
"You've got to be in so much pain…Don't try to move, and don't try to talk…"
"Mm…'Nara…" he ground out, slowly blinking his eyes open to look at her, "Funny thing…'bout…getting tortured…near dea—" he paused and took a shuddering, long breath, wincing slightly, "Can….stand…lil' mor'…" He closed his eyes and gulped, "Pain."
"That's no excuse to—" her reprimand died on her tongue as he groaned again.
"Then don't," he whispered, wincing again, but giving a slight squeeze to the hand that was entwined with his.
"…Love…" Mal was immediately interrupted as Simon and Kaylee both came rushing into the infirmary. Simon, babbling something about dosages and medicine, and grabbing for a syringe and some meds faster than Inara had ever seen him move, and Kaylee asking her if the Captain was okay in a very high-pitched, worried tone.
Inara moved out of Simon's way, and almost didn't notice Mal's feeble grab for her hand as her fingers slipped from between his. He slowly opened his eyes again and looked straight at her, almost challenging. Inara bit her lip and smiled sheepishly, "It's a little late for that…"
Mal's lips quirked to the side in his signature half-smile.
"I know…" he muttered as the pain killers dulled his eyes. He closed them slowly, and soundlessly slipped back into another painless sleep.
Simon took a deep breath, and fell sideways onto the stool by the bed, muttering curses under his breath.
"'Nara, what was Cap'n talkin' 'bout?" Kaylee looked between Mal's unconscious form to Inara's increasingly reddening cheeks. ""Nara…" the woman's voice raised in pitch, "You didn't tell him…?"
Inara bit her lip again and Kaylee squealed, jarring Simon from his restful position.
"You did! Oh, 'Nara! I knew it! I knew it all along…You 'n' the Cap'n…'Nara, I can't—"
"Kaylee—" Inara started in a warning tone.
"Simon, let's go. That tea ain't goin' to drink itself. Cap'n's obviously fine!" She flashed Inara a grin and was pushing Simon out of the infirmary before either he or Inara could begin to protest.
Sliding back onto Simon's stool, Inara took Mal's hand into hers and smiled softly to herself.
"I love you, Mal," she whispered, as she gently placed a kiss against his cheek.