Title: The Patient

Author: NaniErin

Genre: Angst, Tragedy

Rating: R

Theme music: Heartbeat (reprise) by Jake Shimaukuro

Setting: AU, taking place immediately after the events of the first episode of the series (Serenity)

Disclaimer: Not my movie, show or money. My plot, though.

AN: defines "patient" as being "one who receives medical attention, care, or treatment." It also defines the same word as "one who suffers."

Tian xiaode – name of all that's sacred

Runtse de fwotzoo, ching baoyo wuomun – Oh merciful Buddha protect us

Doctor Tam finished his examination of the patient and pulled the crisp, white infirmary sheet back down so that her privacy might be restored. The fact that the patient promptly rolled onto her right side and curled into the fetal position indicated she was feeling vulnerable and might possibly be trying to cope with mental and emotional trauma – although, admittedly, psychology was not his field of expertise. The idea that his patient might be experiencing psychological anguish caused a particularly sharp sensation to rip through his chest, but, professional that he was, he boxed the errant emotion up and set it aside to be dealt with at a time when he had the luxury for such things.

Turning to his note pad, the doctor documented a number of observations before allowing his eyes to stray back to his patient again. She had not moved from her right side on the infirmary bed and her eyes were open, but unfocused. Her breathing was even and unlabored, though, and she was giving no other outward signs of distress, so he forced his gaze back to his work.

Despite being too lean for his liking, the patient was not malnourished. As far as he could tell, with the less-than-ideal tools available to him at the moment, there was no evidence of significant injury or internal trauma, her muscle tone was superb, her reflexes were excellent, and her full range of motion was present. The numerous scars that crossed her scalp and traveled down the length of her spine suggested multiple surgeries, but determining the intentions of those procedures was something that would require equipment that he did not have at this time. Faint scaring at regular intervals along the length of the patient's limbs and at both antecubital sites provided evidence of repeated physical and chemical restraint. Additional scarring, at various stages of healing and at a variety of locations on the trunk of the patient's body, both ventral and dorsal, pointed to repeated physical assault over an extended period of time, as did the abundance of defensive wounds on the patient's forearms.

The doctor's hands were trembling. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. A distant part of his psyche begged him to set down his notes and walk away, to pretend that this was where his observations ended and to ignore anything else written in the report he had compiled. If he did that, then maybe he could trick himself into thinking that physical assault and a psychologically hostile environment were the worst that his patient had had to endure. Temptation swelled within him and he paused, for a moment, to taste it before giving his head a firm shake. As a medical professional, he owed it to his patient's health, and eventual rehabilitation, to look at all the facts that were presented, no matter how vile or painful their implication. He released a forceful breath, fortifying his psyche as best he could, and continued reading.

Multiple bruises were sustained by the patient along her torso, buttocks and thighs, the coloring ranging from a faint yellow to a vivid purplish-black. Also present, although not as numerous, were bites – located mostly along the patient's shoulders and breasts, but found on her buttocks and inner thighs, as well. This evidence, coupled with the… other signs of… abuse observed to the patient's … perineum, indicated that the patient had been subjected to sexual assault. Repeatedly. Over an extended period of time.

The note pad slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor of the infirmary.

The patient had been violated, again and again, over the course of multiple months.

He felt the cold sweat that rippled across his skin. He was aware that his breathing had become rapid and shallow, and that his throat was suddenly parched. He felt light headed and weak and all of this was noted only distantly because the roaring silence that was now occupying his range of hearing would allow him no other focus.

His baby sister – his meimei – had been tortured and raped… for more than two years… at the hands of a government that he had been raised to trust without question.

His stomach gave a sudden clench and he lurched for the infirmary sink, more than willing to let the acidic burn in his throat drive out thoughts of all else. He hovered over the basin until his vomiting and dry heaving stopped, then fumbled blindly along the counter for something to rinse out his mouth with. Only after his hand closed around something that felt about the right shape and weight did he look to see what was in his grasp. He nodded absently to himself and was successful in opening the bottle on his second try. He took gulp of the foul tasting liquid, swished it vigorously about his mouth, and spat it out in the sink. He ran the faucet, as much to keep the station clean as to get rid of the rancid smell, and noted that his hands were trembling, badly.

With slow, deliberate movements, he pressed his forehead against the cool metal of the infirmary counter, closed his eyes, and prayed. Let it be a nightmare, he begged. Let everything that had occurred over the past three years – every word, every breath, every thought – be nothing more than an intense hallucination. He would gladly retake his final medical exams – tian xiaode! He would give up every ounce of medical skill he possessed, abandon every patient who's chart he had even glanced at, to keep her from this reality. He would give his intellect, his soul, his life. Just, let all of this be a silly nightmare he could wake from and share with his precious mei-mei in the morning. Let her roll her eyes at him and psychoanalyze his subconscious with technical, multisyllabic words, so that he didn't have to look at the most intimate parts of her body only to find the answers to questions he had never, ever wanted to ask.

He clenched his jaw against a sob, but it didn't keep the sting from his eyes.


He whipped himself up and around and there she stood, no more than a foot to his left. The sheet that had been covering her was now draped around her shoulders like an impromptu toga – she was nine years old and calling him Tiberius and insisting that he dress properly before subduing Germania and her eyes were sparkling and her smile bright and she was so vibrant and alive that he couldn't resist setting aside his books, just this one time, to take up the sheet she offered him – and she wore a shy smile and had a dazed look to her eyes, as if she were just waking up and not quite sure what was happening.

"She tried, gege," River's voice was earnest, her eyes bright in the harsh lights of the infirmary. "She tried to do what was asked of her. They told the girl to dance, but they wouldn't give her any music and the steps were all wrong and then they started to take – they took and took like horrible little thieves – all red and black and swirling together until you can't tell them apart – and she tried to turn the dance against them, but they poisoned the chalice and the tools wouldn't do what they were told and still they took…" Her voice, which had come higher and louder with each moment, broke and she struggled to breathe. Her eyes had dilated until the black of her pupils had drowned out the color of her irises and her fingers were gripping his shoulders so tight that she had to have broken the skin, but he was so numb with horror and confusion that he could only shake his head.

"And then the king came and in his mercy he granted absolution to her and the egg was cracked, but he held it in the palm of his hand and swore that it could be whole again and for a while... for a while… I was a real girl again." Her voice softened and her eyes became distant and, for the briefest of moments, Simon knew that he was looking at River. It was gone with her next breath. "And then they came, malicious pairings with their filthy cerulean fingers – always touching, always grabbing, always breaking," her grip tightened again and she bared her teeth in a feral snarl that had his heart skipping beats. "They came – two by two, hands of blue – and then the king was dead, but there was no heir to the throne, although she didn't think that there would be a need for an heir at the time, and then the egg was broken, smashed to a thousand, million pieces – as many pieces as all the grains of sand on a beach, as many as all the stars in the sky – and now she'll never be able to finish the puzzle because she gave the most important piece to him and now he isn't and… and… and…" She turned her face down and away, hiding behind a curtain of hair, and her hands slid limp from his shoulders to hang at her sides. She gave her head the slightest shake. "And now she has no one to save her kiss for."

"Runtse de fwotzoo, ching baoyo wuomun." His voice sounded small and broken in the silence that followed, and Simon didn't want to think about what it meant that the voice came from him. He didn't want to think at all. He clutched his little sister to him, his chest tight with grief and desperation. "River, I – I'm so sorry. Buddha, I'm so sorry, River. Oh, God. I came as fast as I could – I didn't know… Our parents, they said that you were… And I tried! Oh, meimei, I tried, I swear I did, but I didn't know… I didn't know… I didn't know…"

The words – didn't matter, nothing he ever said would be able to make up for this, for what she'd been through – choked in his throat in their effort to escape and his eyes burned now like his throat did earlier. His legs gave out and he fell to his knees, and he was certain that he was holding her too tightly, but he couldn't force himself to loosen his hold on her, just as he couldn't keep himself from sobbing into her shoulder, and so she was forced to join him in kneeling on the infirmary floor.

He didn't want it to be true. It couldn't be true – he wouldn't let it. It had to be a horrible, horrible dream – he refused to accept any other reality – and when he woke up – because he had to wake up, this couldn't be real – when he woke up, it would still be the night before she left for that damned Academy and he would find a way to stop her from leaving and she would be frustrated and bored with her studies, but she would be safe and innocent and whole…