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Chapter Eleven

When River began screaming hysterically, Inara assumed the young girl had yet again slipped into another one of her psychotic fits. But there was something different about it this time that Inara hadn't been able to pinpoint exactly. Something about the way River abruptly dropped to the floor screaming and crying out for Simon as she gripped her head. Panicked and inconsolable didn't even begin to describe River's state of being and nothing Inara had tried to say to her calmed the poor girl. It had sent Kaylee into a state of panic as well. The mechanic had begged the younger Tam to calm down and tell her what was wrong, but River only screamed louder and Little Sebastian's resulting wails of distress nearly drove Kaylee right over the edge of her sanity. It had taken all that Inara had to grasp hold of her own calm and control the situation. By the time she convinced Kaylee to remain in her bed in the shuttle, Inara had managed to soothe Sebastian back into a peaceful state of sleep, all the while River remained on the floor, rocking back and forth in a near catatonic state as she mumbled to herself.

It was quiet now, as quiet as Inara could expect the near deserted ship to be. River hadn't spoken a word for some time and Kaylee had taken to curling up against the pillows on Inara's bed in a numb fashion. Periodically, Inara heard her begin to cry softly, but she didn't question it and she knew that Kaylee needed the outlet to freely release her worries without holding back. Sebastian was soundly asleep in Inara's arms, which she was more than thankful for and in some ways, Inara had found comfort in cradling the infant, focusing on him when there was nothing else she could productively focus on.

Inara paced the shuttle slowly, her gaze set on Sebastian as she hummed to him quietly. He couldn't hear her from within his sleep of course, but it gave Inara the peace she sought and Kaylee had yet to voice her opposition of not having her son tucked safely in her own arms. How much time had passed, Inara couldn't be sure, and her mind kept drifting to Mal and Zoe and whether or not they had been able to successfully locate Jayne and Simon. It was the not knowing what was going on that bothered Inara the most. The situation was dire and had been since Simon first went missing, but there was no ignoring how much worse it had become.

Pressing a tender kiss to Sebastian's forehead, Inara turned to look over at Kaylee and found the mechanic staring back at her dismally. They exchanged a silent gaze for a few moments before Inara slowly approached the bed and sat beside her on the edge of it. "Sebastian will need to be nursed when he wakes up," she noted softly in hopes of drawing Kaylee into a conversation that would lift her mood slightly. "I am certain he would love for his mother to hold him as well."

Kaylee's eyes were bloodshot shot from a lack of sleep and the tears she had shed and she glanced over in River's direction where the young girl was huddled in a corner, keeping to herself. "He didn't nurse much earlier," she replied quietly and pushed herself to sit upright. "Didn't seem interested in it none."

Inara carefully transferred Sebastian to Kaylee's arms without waking him and made sure the blanket he was wrapped in was tight enough to keep him warm. "It will take him a while, Mei Mei," she assured and brushed the tips of her fingers against Sebastian's cheek. "As long as you try and he feels safe with you, he will be fine."

"It's not enough," Kaylee murmured in return. She shifted Sebastian to cradle him against her chest and rested her cheek against the top of his head. "It won't be enough, 'Nara."

"You are more than enough for Sebastian right now," Inara countered.

Kaylee's brows furled as she delicately rubbed Sebastian's back through the blanket. "I don't mean right now," she whispered dully.

Inara smoothed the messy hair back from Kaylee's face and tucked it behind her ear. "The future is not what you should be focusing on," she told her gently. "It is the here and now that matters the most. For you and for Sebastian."

"How can I not think about the future?" Kaylee questioned. Her voice trembled and threatened to break and once again the bitter tears surfaced to her eyes. "It's cruel, what's happened. And it ain't right."

Inara sighed quietly enough that she hoped Kaylee couldn't hear it. "That will change soon. You just have to be patient for a little while longer."

"What am I gonna do, 'Nara?" Kaylee sniffled. "I ain't strong like Zoe. I can't do this on my own. Serenity is my home and the captain won't wanna keep me around no more with Sebastian if Simon ain't here with us."

"Fei hau [Nonsense]," Inara said as she shook her head. She reached out to brush away the tear that began to slide down the mechanic's cheek. "You are the one that keeps Serenity running the way Mal needs it to. He can't afford to lose you."

Kaylee exhaled a shallow breath. "There's plenty'a other mechanics in the Verse. Ones that don't have a baby and...and..."

Inara drew Kaylee close to her as the woman began to sob just audibly. The sound of it pained the companion because it wasn't like the Kaylee she was used to. Granted, Kaylee had always been a bit on the sensitive side but fairly easy going and only temperamental when she felt it necessary. But this was something completely different. Inara recognized how real the fear was for Kaylee, even if she couldn't relate and couldn't completely understand it herself. The fear of losing Simon and losing her home on Serenity which meant so much. It was more than Kaylee needed to deal with; it was too much for her to handle.

"Mei Mei..." Inara spoke up as she tightened her embrace around the mechanic. "I promise you that you will always have a home here on Serenity and I am confident Mal would tell you the same. You are no more a liability than the rest of us are."

"It don't feel that way right now," Kaylee swallowed thickly in response. She kissed the top of Sebastian's head in an effort to calm herself. "Captain would be right to send me back home to my folks."

"You must stop thinking that way," Inara reasoned with her. "Mal is unpredictably cold at times and unforgiving, but he would not see to you leaving. He does have a heart and I refuse to believe he would allow it."

Kaylee shifted her gaze with uncertainty to River, the anxiety passing over her face. "But River..." she whispered and quickly looked back to Inara again. "What will happen to her? She'll have no one, 'Nara."

Inara's expression was calmly stern. "She has us, Mei Mei," she answered and afforded a small encouraging smile. "And she will still have Simon as well."

"But..." Kaylee started to shake her head as another tear slipped down her cheek.

"No," Inara interrupted her firmly. "River will still have Simon, just like you and Sebastian will still have Simon."

Little Sebastian released a tiny whine and wriggled a bit against Kaylee's chest, signaling his awakening. Kaylee frowned as she looked down at him. "He sounds so sad..."

"He is probably hungry," Inara suggested.

Kaylee exhaled a soft sigh through her nose and started to adjust her shirt, speaking absently. "Simon was insistent that breastfeedin' was the healthiest option for the baby," she explained as Inara respectfully draped a solid colored shawl over Sebastian and Kaylee's chest. "Even got this pump thing, like what Zoe had, so he could help with the feedings. He had so many things he wanted to do."

Inara smiled politely and propped the pillows up behind Kaylee. "Simon is very thoughtful."

Feeling Sebastian latch onto her, Kaylee allowed herself to gradually relax back against the pillows. Her tired distraught eyes drooped slightly, expressing her exhaustion. "He always has been, 'Nara..."

"You are very lucky to have him, Mei Mei," Inara agreed with a nod. "And he is even luckier to have you."

River rose to her feet rather abruptly and turned to move towards the shuttle doorway, muttering under her breath. Inara caught sight of the movement and watched her with a glance of increasing concern. "River?" she called out to her. "Where are you-"

"Simon," River cut her off without so much as a glance back over her shoulder before she hurried out of the shuttle.

Kaylee stared up at Inara in confusion. "What is she talking about?"

"I don't know," Inara answered and returned her attention to Kaylee with a calm smile. "I am going to go check on her. Just stay here and relax with Sebastian. I will not be gone long."

By the time Inara made it out of her shuttle, River was already racing across the cargo bay towards the air lock door with a renewed streak of determination. Inara hurried after her, the beads on her dress clinking against the metal stairs as she flew down them. "River, wait!" she called after her in confusion. "What is going on?"

River stopped at the control for the air lock door and looked back at Inara calmly. "Simon," she answered and pressed her hand against the button to cause the door to open.

Inara slowed her pace considerably as the air lock door opened and approached River with apprehension. The darkness outside was daunting and it made her want to grab River protectively and pull the young girl back, but by River's posture alone, Inara knew that would be impossible. River stood there, staring hard out into the darkness with anticipation and maybe even a little bit of hope. Inara couldn't be sure. She didn't know what River was looking for or what had caused her to dart down to the cargo bay so quickly.

River took a step closer to the opening of the ship, her wide eyes shifting back and forth as she searched the darkness. "The captain's anxious," she said. "Zoe's scared. Doesn't show it, but she's scared."

Inara stepped up beside River, frowning. "Are they coming?"

"Jayne sees his own red," River answered.

The familiar sound of the mule approaching drew Inara's attention out into the darkness just as the lights broke through up ahead. She quickly pulled her and River out of the way, watching as a disheveled Jayne directed the mule haphazardly inside and brought it to a stop before it could crash into the far end of the cargo bay. River tore out of Inara's grasp before she could protest the action and slapped the button for the air lock door. "River, wait-"

"Need to get him to the infirmary!" Mal ordered as he and Zoe began to lift Simon's battered limp body out of the mule. "You too Jayne!"

Inara rose a hand to her mouth in shock at the sight. "Oh God..."

"Simon!" River cried out. She tried to get to her brother once Mal and Zoe were on their feet, but Jayne blocked her path.

"Get my gorram ship in the air!" Mal demanded.

"What's going on?" Kaylee's voice rang out from above them. She cradled Sebastian protectively against her chest as she stepped out into the open, her eyes wide with fear and concern. And then her gaze fell on what was happening in the cargo bay below and she froze in spot. "Simon?!"

Mal's attention shifted to her sharply while he and Zoe began to maneuver their way in the direction of the infirmary. "Get Kaylee out of here, Inara!"

"Is he okay?!" Kaylee panicked as she started to stumble down the first set of stairs, her fretful eyes glued to the doctor. "Is he breathin'?! Is he alive?!"

"Ta ma de [Damnit], Inara!" Mal shouted. "I said get Kaylee out of here! Ma-shong! [Now!]"

Inara turned swiftly and met Kaylee when she was half way down the stairs. She turned the mechanic to keep her from proceeding further. "Bao bay [Sweetheart], c'mon...the captain and Zoe are going to take care of him."

Kaylee struggled against her, her voice trembling on the verge of tears. "He's bleedin'! Why's he bleedin'?!"

"Sir!" Zoe urged.

Jayne grimaced as he pushed an emotionally unstable River towards the cockpit. "Gorramit, girl. You wanna help your brother, then get to the bridge like Mal said. Get us in the air."

"T-there's so much blood!" Kaylee stuttered as Inara ushered her back up the stairs. She kept looking back over her shoulder, trying to keep sight of Simon before Mal and Zoe carried him away, but they were already gone and Jayne was forcing River to the cockpit. "I have to see him, Inara!"

Inara didn't answer her, only continued to hurry Kaylee back to her shuttle where she could shelter them both from the horror of what they'd seen.


Jayne cursed so harshly and quickly that Mal had no honest idea what the mercenary said. He didn't figure much that it was important and it was pretty colorful just by the sound of it, but it made the task at hand all the more difficult. Jayne wouldn't sit still where he and Mal were at just outside of the infirmary and despite the considerable amount of pain he was in, his attention remained focused past Mal inside the infirmary. The captain couldn't blame him. He caught himself periodically glancing back over his shoulder where Zoe was diligently working on stabilizing their resident doctor, but even that did little to calm Mal's nerves. He knew there was only so much Zoe would be able to do and he knew even more that unless they got Simon the help he actually needed, what Zoe could do would be too limited and not enough.

"Gorramit, Mal!" Jayne hissed as he jumped from a fiery sting of pain that raced the entire length of his arm. He grit his teeth together, inhaling and exhaling dramatically through his nose. His nostrils flared from the action as he attempted to yank his arm away, but Mal gripped it tightly to keep it in place. "You're trying to tear my arm up!"

"I'm trying to keep you from bleeding out all over the place!" Mal growled in annoyance. He reached for another piece of medical gauze and dabbed it against the seeping bullet wound on Jayne's bicep.

Jayne gripped a flask of liquor tighter in his good hand and brought it up to his mouth for a hasty drink. "Can't you give me a smoother or something?"

"I already gave you one, Jayne," Mal answered stiffly before pulling the gauze away and discarding it on the metal tray beside him.

"Well it ain't enough!" Jayne insisted and released another sharp string of curses.

"What ain't enough is the fact that my Gorram ship keeps falling apart!" Mal's eyes met Jayne's and they glared hard at each other, but it didn't take long for the expression to break. As his shoulders slumped a bit, Mal looked everywhere but at Jayne's face and then gradually refocused his attention on tending to the mercenary's injury. "You did an honorable thing for the Doc and I recognize that. I ain't too tickled you defied my direct orders to do it, but...reckon the Doc would thank you himself if he could."

"Don't need no thanks for it," Jayne muttered. He swallowed another hasty sip from the flask and once again tried to peer into the infirmary.

"Fine, but Simon would be sure as dead right now if you hadn't intervened," Mal continued. He lifted the roll of medical gauze from the tray and began to carefully wrap it around Jayne's bicep; the injury would require actual trained medical attention to remove the bullet embedded in the muscle, but there was nothing Mal could do about that at the moment. "And I've already lost enough crew members. Can't afford to lose another one."

Jayne clenched his jaw from a flare of pain. "Ain't gonna do him a lick of good if we don't get him somewhere. Zoe ain't a doctor."

Mal sat back from Jayne when he finished securing the gauze in place. "I don't need reminding of that," he said and removed the protective gloves from his hands. He rose to his feet and turned towards the infirmary. "It's plenty troubling that the doctor needs doctoring."

"It ain't just that," Jayne grunted as he pushed himself onto his feet. The mercenary swayed in spot momentarily, his hand darting out to grab hold of something to right himself with. "Doc dies and Kaylee'll go bat shit crazy, Mal. Not to mention his moonbrained sister ain't so sound either."

Mal exhaled a hard breath through his nose. "She got us in the air without crashing my ship. That's a start I'll take."

Jayne collapsed back onto the couch as the room teetered around him and it became apparent just how pale he was right then. Mal hadn't given it much notice before, but Jayne didn't look to be doing so well. His skin was clammy and his eyes were relatively unfocused, all things considered, and the longer he sat there, the more he started to slump over. "Could really use another smoother, Mal..." Jayne slurred.

"Keep drinking from that flask and you'll smooth yourself over just fine," Mal told him before making his way into the infirmary. Zoe's back was to him as she hovered over Simon's body on the exam table and as he slowly approached, he couldn't mistaken the stress she was under. He cleared his throat quietly. "Zoe. Update."

It took a bit before Zoe withdrew from the task at hand and when she turned to Mal, she was holding a bloodied rag she'd been using to clean up the lacerations on Simon's face. The doctor still looked ghastly though and if it were possible, worse than when they'd first found him in the cellar of that house back on Jirah. He was paler than Jayne even, something Mal supposed was attributed to the trauma and blood loss Simon sustained and now that he was shirtless, Mal could see just how extensive the damage really was. Didn't look like there was very much surface area on Simon's body that wasn't discolored from some sort of bruising or injury. Mal would be damned if he didn't actually feel bad about it too.

Zoe looked back down at Simon and adjusted the IV tubing she had connected to him, keeping it from tangling with the wires that were hooked up to the machine monitoring Simon's vitals. "I got him stabilized best I could," she answered and set the rag aside. "It isn't enough though, sir. Simon's blood pressure isn't holding steady, pulse is weak, his oxygen levels are low, and there's signs of internal bleeding that need tending to. Head trauma that could be causing swelling. He needs help that I can't give him.”

"That's not the answer I want," Mal gruffed as he stepped to the other side of the exam table. Crossing his arms over his chest, he stared down at Simon, wincing.

"It's the answer I have, Sir," Zoe affirmed.

"Can you keep him alive for one more day?" Inara's voice questioned from the doorway as she stepped into the infirmary. She pursed her lips tightly together, looking between Mal and Zoe with hope.

Mal's gaze shifted to the companion. "Zoe ain't making it sound like Simon has another day to spare."

"That's not what I asked," Inara told him pointedly. She avoided his gaze as she stepped up to Simon's side and lightly placed her hand on top of his.

"Unless you have a grand idea, Inara, I'm not interested in hearing what you have to say right now."

"Let her talk, sir," Zoe interjected with a hard frown of disapproval.

Inara gently squeezed Simon's hand, studying his battered features. Zoe had done a fair job cleaning him up, but it was still difficult to look at him and see him so broken and vulnerable. This wasn't the Simon Tam that Inara had come to respect and admire. "We are a day's ride from Sheydra's training house, maybe less if we burn hard," she started to explain. She caressed the back of Simon's hand as she spoke, swallowing the sickness in her stomach.

Mal scowled at her. "Time's get hard and you're looking to jump ship again?"

Inara inhaled a deep breath to keep her calm before her piercing eyes moved to set upon the captain. "There is a medical facility that is located nearby the training house," she returned steadily, mentally willing him to just listen to her without judgment for once. "If we set course now, I can send a wave ahead to Sheydra and she can contact the facility for us. She can pull some strings to get Simon the treatment he needs."

"You're asking me to set course for a place that gives me no guarantee we'll even find help at," Mal responded. "That's a mite bit of fuel to be wasting too, fuel I might add that we can't afford to be wasting right now."

"I am asking you to have faith, Mal!" Inara snapped at him. "Look at Simon and tell me he's not dying right now."

"She's right, sir," Zoe interjected.

"It's a hunch," Mal argued. "Especially when it comes to a companion medical facility. Doc's life won't sustain on a hunch."

"I'm still bleedin'!" Jayne's slurred voice called to them from just outside of the infirmary.

Mal motioned in that direction. "And he won't stop running his mouth. It's a minor bullet wound. He's overreacting."

Zoe stepped over to the captain, her face more authoritative than it had been in a long time. "Simon WILL die without proper medical care, sir. There's only so much I can do here and you know that," she stated in a harsh lowered tone. "And right now we don't have many other options and even less time to decide on what option we're going to take. So if there is even a SMALL chance that the medical facility near Sheydra's training house can help us out, then we need to take that chance...whether it's a hunch or not."

Mal tried to stare her down because he didn't care much for his authority being challenged, but there was something in Zoe's eyes that had his shoulders sinking in defeat. He knew both Zoe and Inara were right; Simon wouldn't live much longer if he wasn't tended to properly. Even if they did set course for the training house, there was no guarantee the doctor would live long enough for them to reach it. Slowly, Mal nodded as he focused his attention on Simon in troubled thought. "Send the wave, Inara," he muttered.

Inara opened her mouth to respond, but thought against it and turned to swiftly leave the infirmary.

"We don't have any other choice right now, sir," Zoe said to him, calmer this time.

Mal ignored her statement. "Make sure the doc's stable and go see your daughter," he said. "I'll sit with him once we're on course for the training house." Affording Zoe a glance that told her a lot more than his words could, Mal turned from the exam table to make his way to the cockpit.