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Chapter Four

"This rain is really starting to damage my calm, Mal. Doc better be laying somewhere bleeding to get us out like this."

Mal ignored Jayne as the man continued to grumble about his displeasure and focused on the ground ahead of them. Serenity was a slight distance behind them and the block of shops was a bit of ways ahead. Seemed a lot further the more the mercenary opened his mouth though, but Mal couldn't blame him. Not really. Mal, himself, had expected them to be long gone by now, soaring through the Black towards their next destination, wherever that might be.

Of course, the doctor had to go and muddle those plans right up and put them all behind schedule. This wasn't how Mal liked to do things and he sure as Hell didn't like his authority being challenged, which is exactly what Simon managed to do by defying direct orders. That proper hwun dan [bastard] was really beginning to grate on the captain's last nerves again. And he was putting them all in a bad position if he'd gotten himself in a troubled situation, especially Kaylee. Mal wasn't sure which he was more annoyed about, the fact that Simon had actually left or the fact that Simon had left Kaylee knowing she needed him there every possible moment right now.

The sound of a gun cocking drew Mal's attention to the mercenary and he found him scowling as he handled one of his favorite guns fondly. Their clothes were both soaked through already from the downpour as they trudged along the sodden ground. It made the terrain a little more difficult to traverse and Mal had caught sight of Jayne scrambling to keep from losing his footing more than once. The two of them looked like a couple of miserable stragglers right about then, which was another something that struck a chord in Mal's annoyance.

He returned his attention forward as they came upon a dense patch of trees, separating them and the final stretch of ground that led to the block of shops. "What part of keep it small didn't you understand, Jayne?" Mal asked blandly. His foot caught in a small dip in the ground and he cursed sharply as he righted himself.

"Ah, c'mon, Mal," Jayne answered him and held the gun up with a stern glance. "This one here ain't even my biggest."

"But you're packing it heavy." Mal was talking about the two other guns and the knife he knew Jayne had undoubtedly hidden beneath his jacket. He grimaced at the way the rain methodically rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, making it irritatingly more difficult for him to see. "This isn't a job run. We go in, find the doctor, and we get out. Don't expect us to find no trouble. Don't think much I have the patience to deal with trouble right now."

Jayne snorted inwardly and slipped the gun back into the holster on his hip. "Trying telling that to the doc. His ruttin' fault that we're out here like a bunch of...a bunch of..." He huffed. "A bunch of something, that's what."

Mal exhaled a hard breath through his nose. "Yeah, well...I got me a word or two for the doctor when we find him," he muttered.

They stepped into the patch of trees which allowed some for the rain to ease up on them. Mal lifted a hand to wipe the water from his eyes, looking around them in case there was any unwanted company wandering about. It was quiet, save for the occasional crack of thunder, but as far as he could tell, they were alone.

"Gorram fool," Jayne growled and kicked a fallen branch out of his way. "Don't listen good for nothin'."

"Think we already came to that conclusion a long time ago," Mal said. "Ain't no use in wasting your breath running the point into the ground."

"Why you trying to be the voice of reason?" Jayne looked at him pointedly. He swiped a hand out to keep a tree branch from smacking him in the face. "Hasn't changed one bit. Been trouble from the start. Shoulda seen the doc and his moonbrain sister off a long time ago. Been telling you that since they took up residence."

"It's my Gorram ship, Jayne. Do you good to keep remembering that," Mal answered him with patience that had begun to wear thinner than it already was.

Jayne was quiet for a moment. "...I'm just saying. We coulda done with a lot less of their trouble, Mal. Got enough of our own without them adding to it."

"Are you still talking? Cause the pain in my head says you're still talking."

They walked in silence until they finally stepped out of the patch of trees. The rain attacked them immediately once again, but this time Mal didn't pay it much attention. Instead, his gaze was now focused on the block of shops directly ahead of them. He hadn't anticipated coming back into the area once they'd finished their run the previous day. Hell, he hadn't planned on spending any more time on this go se [crap] planet than they needed to.

Damn troublesome doctor.

Kaylee was gonna have Mal's head...

Jayne stepped up beside Mal where the captain had stopped in place. The mercenary surveyed the area just as intently. "Looks a mite dead, don't it?" he mentioned. "Expected a few more folk about. Ain't seein' a one of 'em."

"Expect that has something to do with the weather," Mal muttered.

"Probably all keeping shelter 'til it blows over," Jayne suggested. "Probably what the doc's doing. We should just head back to the ship."

Mal continued on ahead of them without answering. Jayne would follow because Jayne knew better than to not follow. It didn't take them long before they reached the block of shops and Mal studied the first one with a fair but of scrutiny while Jayne wandered off around the side of the building. "Retha's Fresh Goods" the crudely hand painted sign on the front post of the building read. He remembered seeing it during their first jaunt through the town, but hadn't really given it much thought at the time...they weren't there for goods or a pleasure run, even if Serenity was lacking a bit in supplies.

'Where did you go, doc...' Mal wondered in thought as his eyes flit around their surroundings.

"Mal!" Jayne suddenly called out urgently. "I found something!"

The captain snapped his head in the direction he heard Jayne's voice come from and hurried that way. When he reached him, he saw the mercenary crouched low to the ground, surrounded by an overturned box of strawberries and a bag of apples scattered about. Broken glass was littered at his feet. "What in the..." Mal started to say.

Jayne held up a brown leather satchel and shook it upside down. "Doc's bag. Not a Gorram thing left in it."

Mal stepped forward and yanked the satchel out of Jayne's hand, looking it over. That's when he took notice of the various trinkets littering the ground as well. He released a low string of curses under his breath and joined Jayne in a crouching position. "Don't figure Simon just abandoned this stuff here on his own will."

"Hell, even I know that," Jayne stated as a matter of fact. He lifted a broken glass rose for close inspection, but it was the streaks of muddied red on the bottom of the strawberry box that stole his attention instead. "If I ain't blind, that there's not juice from those ruttin' strawberries. That's blood."

That was the last thing Mal wanted to hear and see in that moment. But even with the force of the rain having washed the streaks of red into a faint trace, he knew Jayne was right. "Things just got a lot more complicated," he said.

"You thinking the doc went and got himself taken?" Jayne asked.

"I'm thinking we got more than just a problem on our hands." Mal stood straight again. "He was here. Dunno how long ago. Dunno how bad it was either."

"This is exactly what I warned him about," Jayne gruffed. "Thinks he can just walk into a hostile area looking like he don't belong and not find trouble." He looked up to find Mal walking away from him and stood sharply. "Hey! Where you going?"

Mal didn't falter in his steps as he continued forward towards the front of the building. Gripping the leather satchel tightly in his hand, he transcended the stairs in two steps and pulled the door open to move inside. The cool air that hit him made him shiver involuntarily at first as he looked around at the various displays of produce, something more impressive than Mal was initially expecting. The bell above the door jingled again when Jayne joined him a moment later and Mal held a hand up to keep him silent.

"Can I help the two of you?" an apprehensive voice called out to them. "I'm afraid we're not open for business. Closed because of the weather."

Mal looked towards the source of the voice, a frail old woman behind the counter who was staring at them with distrustful eyes. He took a step forward. "We ain't here for that kinda business."

"Well then you'll just have to see to it that you seek shelter elsewhere," the old woman replied. "Kindly see yourselves on your way gentleman."

Jayne stood a step behind Mal. "I don't like her, Mal. She's old and cranky. Probably don't even know who Simon is."

Mal had to fight inwardly to keep from rolling his eyes at Jayne's remark as he approached the counter. There was no missing the way the old woman shrunk back from him and when he set the leather satchel on the surface of the counter, she looked at it nervously, but there was a hint of recognition in her eyes. "See, we got ourselves a problem and I'm thinking you may be able to help us." The sound of a gun cocking behind him had his irritation rising and it was all he had in him not to turn around and give the mercenary a steady glare when the old woman gasped. "Put the gun away, Jayne. I don't reckon any shooting to take place."

"Please, I don't want any trouble," the old woman told him fearfully. "You can have what you want, just go."

"He's not gonna shoot you," Mal assured her. "You're not gonna shoot her, are you Jayne."

"Not unless I find reason to," Jayne muttered. He didn't return the gun to its holster, only kept it pointed at the floor and nodded towards the display of red apples. "How much for one of them apples? Got me a mite bit of hunger right now."

Mal pointed at the satchel on the counter. "That there belongs to a friend of mine. I suspect he may have been in here earlier. Spark a recognition?"

The old woman looked at it again, wringing her hands together. "Nice looking young man came in here a few hours back with a bag like that," she answered with a small nod.

"About this tall?" Mal questioned again and motioned with his hand. "Dark hair. Talks all proper like."

"Came in and purchased a bag of apples and a box of strawberries. Said the strawberries were for his pregnant fiancee," the old woman told him. Her grayish-blue eyes shifted back to Mal. "Kaylee? He said the name Kaylee, but I didn't pry. Don't care none to pry with folk who ain't from around here."

"Simon," Mal pressed. "His name is Simon."

"He didn't tell me his name and I didn't see no reason to ask for it," she said.

Jayne plucked an apple from the display and stared at it intently. "People gonna rob you blind if you don't pay better attention," he said before taking a large bite from the apple.

"Did he say where he was going when he left here?" Mal interjected.

The old woman watched Jayne wearily. "Didn't say a word about that. Just paid for his purchases and left. He was polite."

"Imagine that," Jayne said around a mouthful.

"Something happened?" the old woman asked Mal.

"Could be. Found his bag and other things littering the ground outside your shop," Mal answered. "Don't concern you none though. Just trying to figure out where he may be."

"Oh dear..." The old woman looked genuinely concerned. "Such a nice boy. These parts ain't safe for those who ain't local folk."

Mal grabbed the satchel off of the counter. "I suggest you lock your door if you're not open," he mustered and turned to make his way towards the door, no less frustrated than he was before walking into the shop.

Jayne plucked another apple from the display and gave the old woman a hasty stare. "I'll be taking this," he stated and turned to follow the captain out.

The rain was still falling just as heavily as it had been when they'd gone inside the shop. Mal stopped on the top step of the porch, just under the overhang, and looked out over the sodden ground. He didn't speak until Jayne joined him. "This was his last stop. He wouldn't have had all that junk on him if he wasn't fixing to head back to Serenity."

Jayne looked at him, chewing obnoxiously. "And that helps us how?"

"It doesn't," Mal told him. "That's the problem."

Jayne threw the finished apple core away from him. "What do you suggest?"

"We get wet again, for starters." Mal stepped down off the porch without waiting for a response. Behind him, he could hear Jayne grumbling about the rain once again before the man started following him. The old shop keep had been no help, not that Mal had really been expecting her to be. Still, knowing what he DID know didn't make him any less anxious about the situation. Mal wouldn't vocalize it, but something told him Simon had gotten himself into a whole heap of ruttin' trouble that wasn't going to leave the crew much time to get him out of.

And that was another problem all on its own.


"How is she?"

Zoe looked away from the scene before her when Inara spoke to her and she focused her attention on the classy dignified companion as she approached. On all surface levels, Inara looked calm and composed as she carefully grasped a cup of tea in her hands, but one look into her dark eyes told Zoe otherwise. She was concerned and that concern was steadily mounting. Not just for Kaylee, but for Simon as well, and rightfully so it seemed. There had been no word from Mal or Jayne yet. No sign of the doctor either.

"She's calm now," Zoe answered her as her eyes shifted back into Kaylee and Simon's room where River had diligently perched herself at Kaylee's side and was singing softly to her. "Stopped crying. River has her distracted pretty well. For now, at least."

"That is good," Inara said with a gentle nod of her head. "She needs to remain calm, for her and the baby."

"River's doing a good job seeing to that," Zoe affirmed and it was true. It was the first time Zoe had ever seen the young girl so lucid and attentive and for a lack of better words...sane.

Inara stepped up beside Zoe in the quarter's doorway and looked in on the two, taking note of every detail she could. River sat beside Kaylee on the bed with her hand tenderly massaging the swell of the woman's stomach. It was hard to tell what River was singing, but whatever it was, it had captivated Kaylee and lulled her into a comfortable daze. "I made her a cup of tea," Inara mentioned a moment later. "To sooth her stomach. She needs to stay hydrated."

"The issue is whether or not she can keep it down," Zoe murmured with a hardened frown. "The pain is making her sick. Doc didn't say anything about what he's been giving her."

"And no word from Mal yet?" Inara knew the answer even as she asked the question, but she couldn't help herself from saying it.

Zoe shook her head. "Radio silence."

"They've been gone a long time. Too long," Inara murmured before she eased her way into the room. River looked up at her as the song came to a fading end and smiled. Inara offered a small smile in return and lowered herself to take a careful seat on the bed on the other side of Kaylee. The tired woman's eyes turned to her and Inara gently pat her arm. "I brought you some tea, Mei Mei. It should help ease your stomach. Just sip it slowly."

Kaylee sighed quietly as she took the cup from Inara, staring down at the liquid contents dismally. "Thanks, 'Nara..." she whispered, but she made no move to sip it as she'd been told.

Inara stared at her with sympathy; not only was Kaylee feeling miserable physically, but her concerns for Simon's well being was beginning to take its toll. Lying to her had done no good. Kaylee had refused to believe what she was told and she knew better, knew something was not right about the fact that Simon had yet to return. And she had demanded they tell her the truth until they finally obliged. Her demeanor became withdrawn after that and the sound of her guilty sobs were more than painful to listen to.

Offering Kaylee a tight smile, Inara looked at River who was just as attentively seeing to it that the blankets were straightened out and adequately covering Kaylee's lower half. "That was a very beautiful song, River," she told her. "Where did you learn it?"

"Simon," River answered simply. It didn't show on her face, but there was a fluctuation of concern for her brother in her voice. "Used to sing it to me when we were little. He doesn't sing it well though."

Inara swallowed a quiet chuckle as she reached out to brush sweaty hair out of Kaylee's face. "Some people were not born to sing," she noted in amusement. "That is why Simon's talents lay elsewhere. You sing it beautifully, though."

River resumed rubbing Kaylee's stomach, her gaze intently focused. "The baby loves it. It calms him."

"Him?" Inara questioned in surprise. She looked to Kaylee for confirmation, but the mechanic shrugged. "I apologize. I just thought that you and Simon agreed to not know what the baby was until the birth."

Kaylee broke her gaze from Inara. "We don't know. It's just what River is insisting..."

"Males have one Y chromosome and one X chromosome, while females have two X chromosomes," River stated casually. "You should drink your tea."

Inara noticed the anxiety that passed over Kaylee's face. She looked to the younger Tam calmly. "River, will you give Kaylee and I a moment alone?"

River stood from the bed wordlessly and left the room, passing Zoe in the door way without a glance. Inara waited until they were alone before focusing her attention on Kaylee again. "She only means well," she started. "River is just worried too."

"He's been gone too long," Kaylee said and her voice trembled as she spoke. "And the captain ain't callin'."

Inara took the cup of tea from Kaylee when it was obvious she had no interest in it and set it on the nightstand. "Sometimes no news is good news, Mei Mei."

Kaylee rest her hand on the peak of her stomach, grimacing. "Something just ain't right. I know it."

"How is the pain right now?" Inara asked as her hand came to rest beside Kaylee's.

"It's getting worse," Kaylee answered. "Comes and goes in these horrible waves."

'Contractions' Inara thought. She wasn't an expert in child bearing, but she had listened to Simon enough over the months to have learned a thing or two and knew that it was only a matter of time before those contractions Kaylee was experiencing would usher in the arrival of her child, which meant that they were all in even more desperate of a need for Simon to come back. It didn't matter how much the doctor had been preparing Kaylee for what was to come...she needed him there when it happened, medically and emotionally.

"Do you think he's okay?" Kaylee asked as she shifted in the bed in an attempt to get comfortable. It didn't appear to be working. "Captain's gonna find him, right? And bring him back?"

"Mal and Jayne are doing everything they can," Inara assured her.

"That don't mean they'll bring him back," Kaylee whispered as her voice broke. "Or that they'll even be able to find him."

Inara gently caressed Kaylee's cheek as their eyes locked. "They will find Simon, Mei Mei."

"I was so mean to him, Inara," Kaylee suddenly choked. "I was so stupid. I know he's only trying. I wasn't being thankful. I was being mean. How could I be so stupid."

"Oh bao bay... [sweetheart...]" Inara murmured. She shifted on the bed and wrapped Kaylee in a tender embrace. "It will be okay. I promise. The captain will have him back before you know it."

"It just hurts so much." Kaylee sunk into Inara's embrace. "I don't know what to do."

"Relax," Inara soothed. "Think of the baby and relax. It is the best thing you can do right now."

It didn't take long before Kaylee was comfortably resting and Inara felt safe enough leaving her be. Besides, she knew River would return to Kaylee's side before long and she was thankful for that. Affording a final glance in the sleeping woman's direction, Inara left the room and made her way to the galley where Zoe was sitting at the table. She took a seat across from her and stared at her hands. "Anything?"

Before Zoe could speak up, the radio on the table crackled to life and Mal's voice came over the speaker. "Zoe."

Zoe snatched the radio off the table and brought it up to her mouth. "Read you loud and clear, sir."

"Heading your way," Mal stated.

"An update, sir?" Zoe asked.

It took a moment before Mal spoke again and it was the opposite of what Zoe and Inara wanted to hear. "No update to give."