River's voice was innocent and playful as it called out to him. She sounded so far away and yet right there with him at the same time and he couldn't see her, but he could feel her near. Still, Simon had a hard time focusing on the sound of his sister's voice with the way the exhaustion weighed him down like a heavy comforting blanket. He wanted to sleep, to ignore everything that was around him and just...forget.
'Simon...' she called out to him again. This time it was as if she was right there next to him, her familiar presence beckoning him to pay attention. It was hard though, so hard, and try as he might, Simon felt himself slipping further away. The black void surrounding him was overwhelming and impossible to ignore. Something told Simon to turn away and seek River out, but the temptation of the unaware was difficult to fight. There was no pain in the dark, no trouble to be faced with, nothing at all.
It was tempting and Simon didn't want to feel anymore.
'Simon!' River spoke more urgently this time and if Simon thought about it hard enough, he could almost feel his sister shaking his shoulder in annoyance as she demanded his attention.
'Not now, River...' he answered her quietly. His voice barely projected. It sounded off and unlike him, distorted. 'I'm so tired...'
'We're in trouble, Simon,' River insisted with a laughter like quality to her voice. 'We got cut off.'
A faint smile curled Simon's lips as his focus caught onto what River was saying. Of course she had a way of drawing him in to whatever her imagination was cooking up, and this scenario was nothing out of the ordinary. It warmed Simon from the inside out, made him feel safe and began to beckon him more than the dark did. 'Cut off from what?' he humored her.
'Our platoon, Simon,' River answered him with a barely audible giggle of delight now that she had caught Simon's attention. 'We got outflanked by the independent squad, and we're never gonna make it back to our platoon.' She paused briefly before adding in a rather serious matter-of-fact tone, 'We need to resort to cannibalism.'
'That was fast,' Simon chuckled in response out of habit. He searched through the dark for any trace of his sister and found none. The exhaustion began to creep in on him again and he tried harder this time to fight it off. 'Don't we have rations or anything?'
'They got lost. We're gonna have to eat the men.'
Simon gasped awake suddenly and felt the wash of pain flood back into his body from head to toe. He tried to curl in on himself, but the attempt was a bitter mistake and a quiet groan of distress passed his lips. To say he felt awful was an understatement and it left him reeling with a shortness of breath, his lungs on fire and aching from a lack of sufficient oxygen. Simon clenched his teeth together and willed the flare of pain to pass him.
"River..." he murmured, but she was no where to be found. The sound of his sister's voice, nothing more than a memory in that moment, had faded away into the darkest recesses of Simon's mind. It had been nothing more than a dream. River wasn't there; she was nowhere near and that one sliver of safety Simon could rely on in his sister was something just out of his grasp.
It took Simon a bit to finally be able to pry his eyes open and regain his bearings and when he did, it made him sick to his stomach to see the crudely constructed stone walls still surrounding him. The air was chilled, colder than he remembered, and it penetrated every inch of him. His clothing did little good, even without the tears now littering the material. How much time had passed? How long had Simon been stuck in this Hell?
The room teetered around Simon as he tried to push himself to sit upright. His body wouldn't cooperate though. The energy he needed to do so just wasn't there. So he laid there on the damp ground in a loose fetal position and attempted to take stock of everything he could assess was wrong with him. His head, for starters, felt like it was splitting open from the base of his skull in the back to the front point of his forehead. That thought alone made it a wonder that Simon was even conscious. A concussion of that magnitude was dangerous almost more so than any other injury he had sustained. And then there was the fiery pain spreading through his mid section. Bruising with the possibility of internal hemorrhaging. Damage to his organs was a fear becoming reality. If that happened, Simon would be in real trouble and the time he would have would be cut considerably short.
Simon swallowed thickly and tried to pull his wits about him. He remembered trying to escape when two of his captors had come into the room, but that had quickly turned against Simon's favor. He'd never even made it to the stairs before they'd over taken him and the last thing Simon remembered was the splitting pain exploding in his head that had brought him right back to where he was laying in his cold dark cell. It was then he realized there wasn't a way out, not on his own.
Where was the crew of Serenity? Had they even started looking for Simon yet? Certainly they wouldn't just let his absence go and move on. Kaylee would never allow that and River...Simon suspected his sister would set out on her own to seek him out if the others didn't do something. She had tried to warn Simon that morning; he should have known better. And he should have listened to Jayne. Why didn't he just listen to Jayne?
Foot steps approached the cell and the sound was like an ominous echo around him. Simon tensed as he listened; they were coming for him again and he feared their arrival unlike anything he had ever feared before. Seeing them would bring more pain. Simon was sure of it. And then the lock on the door jiggled and the door was thrown open roughly, causing Simon to jolt out of reflex as Jethro stepped into the room with a sinister smirk.
"Our little rebel lad is awake," Jethro spoke as he moved forward, his steps very calculated. Another man stepped into the room behind him and Simon recognized him as the one who had been accompanying Jethro when they'd taken him from outside the produce shop.
"Thinks he a smart one," the second man spoke. He came over to Simon and yanked him harshly off the ground. "Yer not too smart, are yeh?"
Simon grimaced as the man pinned his arms behind his back, immobilizing him to the point that he couldn't even struggle against the hold. "Please..." he croaked as his eyes lifted to meet Jethro's. "Please don't do this. Let me go."
"Let yeh go?" Jethro repeated. A corner of his mouth slowly curled upwards. "Why would we do that?" Simon tried to look away from him, but Jethro gripped his chin and yanked his attention back. "'Ey! I'm talkin' to yeh!"
Simon felt his legs quaking and wanting to give out and the smell of the man's breath - a heavy mixture of stale tobacco and cheap whiskey - made his stomach churn and threaten to rise at any given moment. He stared wearily back at Jethro, pleading with his captor silently. "...Please, I am begging you," Simon started to reason. "My fiancee is waiting for me. She...she is about to give birth to our first child...at any moment. And my sister...she needs looking after. They need me. Please...let me go."
Jethro chuckled and slammed his fist into Simon's stomach harder than he had before. It left the doctor wheezing for breath with bulging eyes of discomfort. "Pathetic," he hissed at him. "Don' care much who is waiting for yeh."
The second man kneed Simon hard in the back side, making his knees buckle. He held the sagging doctor upright. "Aye, none that now."
Jethro gripped Simon's hair and yanked his head up, snarling at him. "Yer a fool teh think we will let you go, lad. Can't have that now, can we? Don't know who yeh run with. Don't need that trouble."
"I...I can give you money," Simon sputtered as he gasped. "Any price."
"Now yeh done angered meh," Jethro growled. He tugged Simon out of the second man's grip and threw the ragged doctor into the closest wall. Stepping over to Simon, he crouched low to his crumpled form. "Don't want yer bloody money. Yeh rich folk think yer money can buy yer way outta anythin'. Not with ol' Jethro. We're gonna have us some fun and yer gonna realize help won't be comin' for yeh by the time I'm done with yeh, lad. Course, yeh'll be good and dead by then."
Simon shook his head sluggishly as his vision swam in and out of focus. "Stop...I...I'm begging you..."
"S'not in my vocabulary."
The first few blows left Simon reeling from the excruciating pain until finally his body began to numb towards the offensive hits. The cruel words and laughter from his captors was nothing more than jumbled background noise the more they continued. Eventually, Simon ceased from crying out and prayed for the darkness to take over him again, hoping he would find River waiting there for him once more. And maybe Kaylee would be there as well.
Mal had lost track of the time he'd spent pacing the corridors of Serenity, but he hadn't slept since returning to the ship late the night before and the lack of sleep was really beginning to have its effect on the captain. Zoe and Inara had cornered him the moment he stepped foot back on board despite the fact that he had told them over the radio that there was nothing he could tell. And even more curious to them was why Jayne hadn't returned as well. But it had been the mercenary who had insisted on staying behind to keep searching for their missing ship mate and Mal hadn't been able to find it in himself to argue. Part of Mal suspected that Jayne felt guilty Simon was even missing, which was unusual for the normally gruff and hardened man, so Mal had given him the permission to do so, welcomed it even.
At one point, Inara had approached Mal and insisted he needed to go sit with Kaylee. He was avoiding her, Inara said, and it wasn't going to do any of them any good if he continued to do so. Kaylee would want to talk to Mal and maybe he would be able to put the poor woman at ease, but if anything, Inara also said, it was Mal's job. His responsibility. Kaylee had questions needing answered that the rest of them couldn't or didn't know how to answer. Maybe they were just avoiding it too. Mal grudgingly knew that Inara was right though. Kaylee had always looked to him and he knew he owed her this much.
It had taken Mal time yet to build up the nerve to even venture to the passenger quarters where Kaylee had been sharing a room with Simon. When he arrived, Mal found River obediently close to the mechanic's side as the woman slept. The younger Tam, however, was wide awake and no closer to sleeping than Mal was. She didn't mention it, but River was troubled over the situation with her brother in her own particular way. It took a great deal of convincing for Mal to dismiss her from the room, but he was thankful when she finally crept away to seek refuge elsewhere on the ship, probably in the cockpit if he didn't know any better. Mal was glad when River was gone; he didn't have the patience for her odd quirks at the moment.
Sometime in the early morning hours, Zoe came by the room to check on the two of them on her way to the galley with Emma for breakfast, but Mal had sent her away quickly, told her to wait on word from Jayne. Whether that word would ever come, Mal couldn't be sure. He just didn't need Zoe breathing down his neck when there was nothing else he could do and he sure as Hell could make do with much less distraction from the toddler. Thankfully enough, Zoe didn't argue with him either.
So Mal spent his time pacing the small living quarters and the space just outside the room with only his sullen thoughts to keep him company. It was weird to consider how lonely it actually made Mal feel while Kaylee fitfully slept when it was supposed to be HIM comforting her. There would be no avoiding their talk once she finally awoke and he knew she would have questions. He knew she would demand answers. That's because everyone looked to Mal when it came to needing answers. But how was he supposed to give Kaylee any Gorram answers when he didn't know the answers himself?
Mal wanted to curse the doctor for being stupid, just like he had been since that first hour had come and gone. Guy was supposed to be a self-proclaimed tyen tsai [genius], but his recent decisions sure didn't make him seem like it. Simon was too damn ignorant, Mal decided. He didn't think like the rest of them did and that only brought more trouble his way. Still, Simon had been with the crew long enough that he should have known better.
Mal cursed under his breath and stood from the chair beside Kaylee's bed to resume pacing the room. It surprised him enough that she slept through out the night, but it was a restless slumber and on several occasions, Kaylee had whimpered in pain and quietly cried out for Simon. She never awoke though and had saved Mal from a whole lot of awkward moments when he took it upon himself to sit beside her on the bed and try to comfort her while she slept. The acts of kindness may have sufficed for the time being, but it wasn't really what Kaylee needed. Not by a long shot.
Mal stopped in mid step and slowly turned to find Kaylee's tired eyes open and staring at him wearily. He offered her a small calm smile, just enough that the expression surfaced and she was able to see it. "Hey there, Little Kaylee," Mal greeted her quietly and stepped back over to bed. He sat carefully on the edge and reached out to pat her hand, albeit awkwardly. "How ya doin'?"
"Not so shiny," Kaylee answered him and her voice sounded so feeble. Her eyes were bloodshot and her skin held a certain palor appearance that had her looking even worse for wear. "Can't say I'm A-OK right now."
"Now that's not what I like to hear," Mal told her. He covered her hand with his and gave it a small squeeze. "...You're not looking so well."
"Just hurts some, that's all," Kaylee murmured, but Mal could tell it was more than that. The mechanic just didn't want to admit to it. Still, her eyes said more than her voice actually did. It bothered Mal some the way she disregarded her current state, yet at the same time he couldn't really blame her. It was Kaylee's way of coping, even if it wasn't the right way.
"I want you to be honest with me," Mal told her. "I know I ain't much for comfortin', but I want you to tell me how much it really hurts."
Kaylee's frown was undeniable and the sadness flashed across her eyes. "It hurts real bad, captain. Something don't feel right and the baby ain't been moving none."
"You been taking it easy?" he asked her expectantly. He attempted to crack a small grin. "Don't wanna hear about you busying yourself in the engine room. Ain't proper to be covered in engine grease when your mini comes."
Kaylee didn't smile in return. If anything, she looked more withdrawn and run down. "Don't much think I can do anything else but lay here," she replied. "Don't have the energy and...'Nara wouldn't be happy if I tried to get up."
"No," Mal agreed with a firm shake of his head. "Inara is right. You're doing what you're supposed to be doing right now."
"...Where is he, captain?" Kaylee asked with a quake in her voice. She gripped Mal's hand in hers, her eyes pleading with him for an answer.
Mal looked away to keep her from seeing the anxiety in his glance, but he kept his voice calm. "Jayne's still looking."
"Something happened to him," Kaylee said. "He's hurt, ain't he. Someone did something to him and...and that's why he hasn't come back. Captain, he's not okay-"
"Hey," Mal interrupted her as her voice rose with urgency. He clasped her hand in both of his, his eyes returning to hers and locking. "No talking like that, dong ma? [understand?] Now, I know you're worried about Simon and rightfully so. But he's a well to do adult and he can handle himself. May be a few screws short of hairbrained at times, but...he's gonna be fine. And even if that ain't the case, Kaylee, well we'll get him back. Don't matter none if he's banged up a bit. Point is, we'll get him back."
Kaylee stared up at Mal for a long while before a tear of distress made the long trek down her cheek. "What if he doesn't come back?" she whispered brokenly.
"Doc can't stay away from you for too long. Figure that's on account of how crazy he is about ya," Mal replied. He reached out to gently brush the tear from Kaylee's cheek. "Besides, he knows I'd hunt him down to the end of the Verse if I had to if he broke your heart. Wouldn't have let this little arrangement proceed if he didn't understand that much."
Kaylee sniffled. "You wouldn't have been able to stop us."
Mal chuckled sheepishly. "I suppose you're right. Don't stop me none from hoping though."
"You still don't like him..." Kaylee's eyes flit away from Mal as she spoke.
"I like the doc just fine," Mal huffed inwardly. "He just has a fine way of irking me some. Always has."
"And you've always been too hard on Simon, ever since him and River took up residence on Serenity. It ain't right," Kaylee told him pointedly.
"Yeah, well...guess I'm just a kuh-ooh duh lao bao jurn... [horrible old tyrant...]" Mal mustered with a crooked smile.
Kaylee managed a faint smile this time. "You just don't like to admit that you're soft."
"Me? Soft?" Mal made a face and shook his head. "I'm not soft, Kaylee. Calloused is more like. Heartless even."
"You're not heartless, captain..." Kaylee murmured. She grimaced and brought a hand to her stomach, her forehead creasing as she whimpered. A quick string of curses passed her lips. "Ow. Captain..."
Mal studied Kaylee carefully, feeling the way her hand tensed in his. "Tzuh muh luh? [What's going on?]" he asked.
Kaylee cried out sharply this time and brought both hands to her stomach as a flood of warm fluid flushed between her legs beneath the blankets. Her eyes widened in honest fear and she looked to Mal when a stronger wave of pain came over her. "My...my water...I think it just broke-"
Mal blinked at her stupidly. "You're what?"
"My-" Kaylee couldn't finish the statement before she cried out again. "The baby-"
"Wuh de tyen, ah... [Dear God in Heaven...]" Mal muttered as he jumped up from the bed. "Okay, uh...EE-chee shung-hoo-shee! [Let's take a deep breath!] Don't move." He turned quickly from the bed and hurried over to the intercom mounted on the wall, jabbing at the screen. "Zoe! Get Inara. All hands in the infirmary. Now."
"Captain-" Kaylee panicked.
Mal turned back to her and returned to her side, yanking the blankets away from her body. "Don't you worry, Little Kaylee," he assured her as he lifted her from the bed into his arms. "Everything's gonna be just fine." Not wasting another moment, he turned and swiftly carried Kaylee out of the room towards the infirmary.