"I've had worse." The words might've been a bit more convincing if they hadn't been choked out through a clenched jaw. Mal's eyes were closed, his head thrown back against the damp cave wall behind him. Whatever Simon was doing to his shoulder now had to be hurting, for every muscle in his body to be that tense. Wash could see the fingers of his good arm digging for purchase in the cold mud that slicked the floor.

"Oh, good," Wash said, perhaps a little too loudly, from where he sat with his arms around his knees against the opposite wall. "It's good to know you're not being tortured to death at this very moment. That's very reassuring." Of course he regretted his outburst almost immediately after it came out, but Mal's head had already snapped forward and he fixed Wash with a stare.

"We're going to get out of this," he said. It wasn't quite the reprimand for Inappropriate Use of Sarcasm that Wash was expecting, and if there was steel in his eyes it was only the steel of a man whose mangled shoulder was being pulled and prodded at without anesthetic. But then Mal had to understand that he was panicking, a little, and that he didn't ever bring up what had happened to them in his day-to-day inappropriate sarcasm. And Mal was just that sort of captain, who understood things and didn't hold them against you and could still muster a reassuring look like that even though his collarbone had been poking out of his chest not half an hour earlier.

"How do you do it?" he found himself asking, though it was hardly the most relevant question or even one he was sure he wanted an answer to.

Mal's mouth quirked into what might have been a smile if it weren't taut with pain. "Most days I reckon I'm better off not asking that question." A little spasm tore through him as Simon pulled the bandages (the remnants of Wash's aloha shirt anyway) tight. "Specially not where there ain't no end in sight."


This was originally supposed to be the beginning of a story, but I found it on my computer and rather liked it as a (very short) standalone. What do you think?