The burn of the cheap whiskey should have worked to put Jayne to sleep as it filtered through his blood stream, but it proved to have the opposite effect. Instead, it woke him up and made his senses sharper. Might of had something to do with the fact that it was a piss poor excuse for whiskey, though not much more could be expected for quality on an outer rim planet. Still, Jayne was in desperate need for a pick-me-up after he'd spent the better part of the previous night and the current day staking out multiple areas of the town in his quest to locate the missing doctor. So far, he'd come up empty handed and it was really running his patience thin. How many Gorram places could one person possibly be?
Jayne grumbled to himself as he lifted the rim of the glass to his lips. The tavern was crowded for the hour, dimly lit, and smelt overwhelmingly like body odor. Even for someone like Jayne who didn't give a damn where he got a cold drink normally, it was low class. It was loud, too. Obnoxious, even. And to put it lightly, Jayne didn't trust a single one of the rowdy patrons just by looking at them. But who was he to complain at the moment. As long as he got a break, regrouped himself, and got back out to continue looking.
Not to mention no harm done if Mal didn't find out, right?
Swallowing the rest of the liquor in the glass, he slammed it down on the bar top and nodded to the bar keep for another round when the bar keep looked in his direction. Jayne's mind wandered as he waited for the refill. Simon had been missing going on two days now. Two days was a Hell of a long time, especially when it came to their lifestyle. Then again, going missing for any length of time never meant good news, not for anyone. Part of Jayne, the negative part, wanted to automatically jump to less than happy conclusions. The other side of him, though, was Hell bent on finding the hwun dans [bastards] who'd been stupid enough to take the doctor in the first place. And if Jayne got his hands on them, well...
The bar keep set a full glass of whiskey in front of Jayne on the bar top and turned away without so much as a word. Jayne snorted under his breath and drew the glass closer, his mind wandering further as he stared down at the amber liquor. He sometimes had an imagination that liked to run wild, but something told Jayne that Simon's disappearance was more than just simple and that if he or any of the other crew members managed to locate him, there was a good chance that Simon would be in incredibly bad shape or worst case, not all in one piece.
Jayne actually shivered at the thought. He may have liked to get under the doctor's skin and annoy him as much as possible, and true to fact they had gone rounds and never really seen eye to eye, but Jayne wasn't so heartless that he wanted something like this to happen. Not to mention the loss. Losing Serenity's resident medic would be damaging enough, but for Kaylee, Jayne was no fool to know that the loss would be devastating. And it had been hard enough watching the aftermath of losing Wash following the Miranda events as it was.
The whiskey burned Jayne's throat as he swallowed a sip and surveyed his surroundings. Seemed the later it got, the more people that ushered into the establishment. A local favorite, maybe? Not like they had many other choices, anyway. Actually, it looked a lot like the kind of place him and Mal would be privy to starting a fight in, though that was the last thing Jayne needed at that moment, even if THAT thought made him chuckle a little. 'Sorry, Mal...I WAS looking for the doc, but then the local watering hole called my name and well, I ain't planned none for a fight, but you know what we plan and what happens ain't ever similar...'
The fact of the matter was that Jayne was just as lost as him and Mal had been when they were searching together. Going back to corner the old lady who owned the produce shop proved useless when she damn near had a heart attack at the sight of Jayne's gun. Visiting every shop the mercenary figured Simon would have an interest in and then some produced no results as well. Either they hadn't seen the doctor, thought Jayne was out of his mind, or just didn't care. The people of the town were shady too and they seemed apt to avoid ones that weren't their own, so it was no wonder Jayne was having no luck.
He shot the whiskey back quickly and swallowed it in one large gulp, swiping a calloused hand across his mouth. Jayne's eyes shifted momentarily to the radio fastened to his hip but it hadn't crackled to life in hours and the last one to contact him had been Inara hoping for an update. He hadn't been able to tell her anything then just like he wouldn't be able to tell her or any of them anything now. Jayne was especially glad that it hadn't been Kaylee contacting him; there wasn't a part of him that was sure he could front that conversation.
The door to the tavern slammed open and a small group of burly men shoved their way inside, their bellowing voices cutting through everything around them. Jayne looked in their direction and decided he hated them upon first glance; by appearance alone, they were the type he would brawl with. They were the kind that made Jayne's blood boil and the kind that Mal said would one day get Jayne into trouble he might not be able to get himself out of. Of course that had never stopped Jayne in the past from swinging his fist. No shame in a little fist swinging fun.
The tallest of them pushed through the throng of people to make his way up to the bar. He stood directly to Jayne's right and slammed his hand down on the bar top. "Aye, bar keep!" the man bellowed with a cocky smirk. "A round'a cold ones for the gang, ol' lad!"
It took the bar keep a bit before he came over, but when he did, he set four frothing metal mugs on the bar top and looked at the man with a fair bit of recognition passing over his face. "Didn't reckon I'd see you in here tonight, Jethro."
"Missing ol' Jethro, are yeh?" the man assumed as he took two of the mugs in each of his hands.
The bar keep looked less than amused. "Get that big head of yours outta your ass," he answered with a hard scowl. "I look forward to the less trouble that occurs when you ain't around."
Jethro chuckled and tipped his head in a nod. "Keep 'em coming and there be no trouble to be had."
The bar keep grumbled under his breath and turned to walk away.
Jethro turned to find Jayne looking at him. "What are yeh looking at, lad?"
"Hard to tell from where I'm sitting," Jayne told him with a stiff stare.
"Watch yer mouth," Jethro hissed and brushed past Jayne, knocking into him on purpose.
"Yu bun duh, hwun dan, [Stupid bastard]," Jayne muttered to himself. He squared his shoulders and lifted his glass to get the bar keep's attention again. Didn't figure one more drink would hurt none and then he'd get back to the job. Like looking for a needle in a damn haystack.
This wasn't Jayne's idea of a good, proper job. A job of crime was his thing. Making runs was his thing. Not bleeding too much was his thing. Running around in circles looking for their doctor was not Jayne's thing. He didn't sign on to be no babysitter. So maybe he was a little more bitter about all of it than he originally assessed. And he had every right to be. They should have been off this Gorram planet a long time ago. Hell, they should have ditched the doctor and his moonbrained sister a long time ago too.
"What're we gonna do with 'im, Jethro? S'only so much one can take 'fore the body gives out. He's already a bloody mess as it is."
"Keep yer voice down, yeh bloody idiot!"
Jayne didn't glance over his shoulder when he heard the bickering, but his ears perked up at what was being said. It seemed Jethro and his gang had commandeered a table not too far from where Jayne, himself, was sitting and it made it easy to over hear. He hunched over on his stool, leaning against the edge of the bar top, and feigned deep interest in the glass of whiskey set before him.
"I'm telling yeh, I'll do whatever I damn well please," Jethro continued. "For however long I want to."
"Poor bastard don't have much life left in 'im if you keep up the way yeh are," another voice at the table said.
"Don't suppose I care for that, no," Jethro answered nonchalantly.
"If yer gonna kill 'im, then just kill 'im already, yeh crazy idiot," a third voice said.
"Bite yer tongue, Titus, 'fore I cut it outta yer mouth," Jethro snapped at him.
The second voice chuckled. "Aye, Titus has a point, Jethro. The three of us are wondering if yeh kidnapped the poor bastard just to make 'im yer play toy. Not that we haven't enjoyed beating 'im ourselves or anything."
"Didn't have enough bloody money on 'im for two pots to shit in," Jethro gruffed. "Didn't have no use for that fruit of his either. Stupid glass roses. Crap. Can't be picky for pleasure."
"A stroke of bad luck for 'im, then," Titus said.
"Aye," Jethro agreed, his voice smug. "He's as good as dead in a day or two when I'm done with 'im."
Jayne's posture tensed as he listened intently, but it was quickly after that that he lost focus on what else was said. Without saying a word to the bar keep, he slid off the stool and made his way stiffly towards the tavern door. The cool night air greeted him as he stepped outside and he hurried away from the building with more than a turbulent twist in the pit of his stomach that couldn't be attributed to only the cheap whiskey.
There wasn't a doubt in Jayne's mind at that moment that those tyen-sah duh UH-muo [Goddamn monsters] were talking about the doctor and by the sounds of it, Simon was in pretty bad shape. Would be in even worse shape soon if Jayne or the others didn't get to him, which was exactly the last thing Jayne had wanted to hear. It would have been easier to deal with the local lawman having taken Simon some where. That break out would be easy. But this was looking more and more like a full-fledged rescue effort.
Jayne looked around him and ducked into the shadows against the next building over. Crouching low to the ground to wait, he unclipped the radio from his hip and brought it quickly to his mouth. "Mal, come in," he spoke as he kept his eyes glued on the tavern.
His brows furled as several moments passed by with nothing but silence as his answer. "Mal, come in. I got a lead on the doc." Jayne watched as the door to the tavern burst open and a couple of intoxicated individuals stumbled out, jovially singing as they continued on their way. He waited until they were gone and their drunken voices had faded in the distance before he looked back to the tavern and spoke again. "Gorramit, is anybody listening to me right now? Mal? Zoe? I got a lead on the doc. Over heard a couple of hwun dans [bastards] at the local tavern braggin' about what they done. Dunno how bad it is, but it don't sound good. I'm staking out the tavern right now. Waiting for 'em to leave, then I'm gonna follow 'em."
Jayne paused and when he still received no response, he reclipped the radio to his hip and press his back against the wall, prepared to wait however long he needed to.
Mal found himself pacing again, this time just outside of the ship's infirmary. The sound of Kaylee's whimpers of distress from inside the room had him on edge and he hadn't been able to sit still even if he wanted to...not that he wanted to anyway. Moving kept him busy and in that moment, Mal needed to stay busy. He had too much on his mind and not enough brain space to think about all of it.
He had learned a whole new level of respect for Zoe when she quickly took control of the situation the moment she'd arrived at the infirmary. It's not something Mal could have expected. None of them truly knew what to do in this situation because they hadn't forseen the event of Simon's absence. But having gone through the birth of her daughter Emma, Zoe was the closest one qualified to take the doctor's place and she hadn't left room for argument before doing so. Mal was thankful; he couldn't help Kaylee and it more than just bothered him some.
Hours had passed since the natural breaking of Kaylee's water (whatever that meant, because Mal still wasn't sure he understood it) and she had since gone into what Zoe had referred to as active labor. The woman had rattled off a whole bunch of medical jargon Mal assumed she had memorized from Simon during her birthing experience and did what she could to ease Kaylee's discomfort. It just wasn't quite enough, though. Even despite the fact that Simon had prepared the infirmary in advance for the birth of his child, Mal could tell Zoe was on the border of running out of resources and it was testing her calm. Zoe was determined to help, but how much could they really expect her to do?
Kaylee, on the other hand, was an utter mess. She was inconsolable and the stress of it all was really beginning to takes its toll on her, not just mentally, but physically as well. Mal might not have been an expert and he certainly hadn't been prepared for this to occur as such, but he suspected it wasn't supposed to be like this. The weight of Kaylee's stress was too much and it showed the closer she got to actually ushering that baby into life. Mal hated the idea of it. He'd spent more than enough time silently cursing the circumstances and the fact that it felt like he was losing control of his entire crew.
It never showed outright on his face though.
On the outside, Mal appeared eerily calm. Inara had even questioned how he could be so collected in the moment when she herself couldn't hide her concern if her life depended on it. Mal just didn't know what to tell her. He couldn't help matters either. He couldn't do a Gorram thing.
Stopping a few feet away from the infirmary entrance, Mal turned to face what was going on inside. Zoe had just finished "examining" Kaylee to assess her progress and now stood at her right side while River stood a bit of ways to Kaylee's left. The younger Tam was ghastly quiet and had been for a while, which under any other circumstances could have been considered normal. Now, however, Mal knew different. He could see the problem in River's eyes and he knew it was directly related to her brother. There was a storm brewing in River just beneath the surface and it was only a matter of time before that storm exploded.
"Mal..." Inara called out to him softly. He turned to face her and found her slowly approaching with some of her softest sheets folded delicately in her hands. Inara was the epitome of poise in the way she carried herself, but there was no mistaking the creases of anxiety at the corners of her eyes. "What are you doing?"
Mal fumbled over his answer at first. There was a deep swelling urge in him to reach out and pull Inara close, although he wasn't sure whose benefit it would be for, his or hers. So he kept his arms firmly planted at his sides. "Keeping myself busy," he muttered.
"You keep pacing like that," Inara started to reply as she smoothed her hand over the top sheet, "And you'll be sure to wear a new hole in the floor."
"She's sustained worse," Mal spoke absently of the ship. He looked away from Inara and paced a few steps to the side of her.
"...We're all worried, Mal," Inara spoke up again.
"This ain't worried," he told her.
Inara looked at the floor around her feet. "No...of course not," she murmured.
Mal ran a hand through his hair and felt the frustration surge through him. It wasn't Inara's fault, but by God if she wasn't testing his patience right then. Didn't matter to Mal that deep inside he knew she only meant well. "Shouldn't you be in the infirmary with Kaylee?" he asked.
"Zoe asked me to gather some sheets," Inara answered him. Her eyes lifted from the floor to watch as he continued to pace. "I thought...well, I thought perhaps..."
Mal looked at her expectantly when she didn't finish her statement. Their eyes locked briefly and his shoulders sank just enough that Inara noticed it. "Good...that's good."
Inara looked back over her shoulder into the infirmary with thought. "...You should be in there with her too."
"Place ain't big enough for a gathering, Inara," Mal mustered. "Kaylee don't need me smothering her either."
"What Kaylee wants and what Kaylee needs are two very different things," Inara said. When she looked at Mal again, a frown had surfaced on her delicate features. "Kaylee may not be able to have what she wants right now...but she can and should have what she needs."
Mal cowered inwardly under the weight of Inara's stare. Outwardly, he squared his shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you know about it, huh? There's not a Gorram thing I can say or do in there that will make her feel any better."
Inara stared back at him indignantly. "You could start by having a heart," she replied and turned to calmly enter the infirmary.
Mal watched her retreating form, his forehead creasing in a frown, and then slowly followed her into the infirmary. At first, he lingered near the doorway, uncertain of what exactly he could really do. He wasn't good for comforting and everyone knew he was no good with words when it really mattered. Not to mention doctoring was out of the question too, so Zoe was on her own with that. Yet, when Kaylee called out to him wearily, Mal's feet carried him to her side without hesitation.
"Captain..." Kaylee's hand fumbled to grab hold of Mal's. Her tired eyes were wide with anxiety and glistened along the edges, but they were vacant of their normal exuberant hue.
Mal offered Kaylee a crooked smile for her benefit, his thumb brushing across the back of her hand. "How're you feeling, Kaylee?"
"I'm scared," Kaylee whispered only to choke on a muffled sob before she had spoken completely.
"I reckon I'd be worried some if you weren't," Mal told her calmly. He squeezed her hand. "That's what we're here for though. So you don't have to worry none about being scared. You just do what you have to, Kaylee. We'll take care of the rest."
"Won't be much longer, sir," Zoe mentioned.
Kaylee cursed sharply as another apparent contraction came over her. Inara dabbed a damp cloth gently against the mechanic's forehead. "Deep breaths, Mei Mei," she encouraged her softly.
"It hurts, 'Nara," Kaylee whimpered breathlessly.
River stepped wordlessly around to Kaylee's feet and slowly bent over at the waist as she lifted the sheet that was covering Kaylee's lower half. Her forehead was creased in concentration and deep curiosity and she tilted her head to the side. Mal watched her with growing uncertainty. "Uh...what is she doing?" he asked Zoe.
"The baby moves down the birth canal and he is stressed," River said before Zoe could form an answer. "I am looking for him."
"River, honey..." Zoe started. She approached River and tried to pull her back. "Let's give Kaylee a little more space."
"It's invasive," River told her. "He doesn't like it."
Kaylee cried out again, her face flushing red with sudden heat of exertion. "Zoe!"
Zoe didn't give River a chance to argue as she nudged her out of the way and sat down on the stool she'd left at the foot of the examining table. "Steady breaths, Kaylee," she instructed the mechanic and pushed the sheet up, draping it above Kaylee's knees so her lower half was exposed.
"God, I don't need to see that!" Mal exclaimed as his eyes grew wide. He tried to yank his hand away so he could back up, but Kaylee refused to let go of it.
"Now is not the time to be worrying about indecency, sir," Zoe told him distractedly. She grabbed a pair of exam gloves and slipped her hands into them. "Try to relax, Kaylee. I'm going to examine you again."
"The baby is impatient," River murmured as she paced behind Zoe. "He wants to find Simon. He needs Simon. Doesn't understand why Simon isn't here."
"What is she going on about?" Mal demanded.
"R-River, stop, please-" Kaylee whimpered again before clenching her eyes shut. Her face turned a deeper shade of crimson as she suddenly beared down, crying out.
Zoe withdrew her hand quickly from the examination and flit her eyes to the captain. "She's fully dilated, sir."
Mal furled his brows, fighting to keep from wincing when Kaylee's hand clenched around his with strength he hadn't anticipated. "In English, Zoe!"
"It means the baby is coming," Inara interjected sharply. She gently caressed her hand against Kaylee's forehead, murmuring to her soothingly.
"Now?" Mal asked, only to curse loudly when Kaylee yanked on his hand. "Ta ma de! [Damnit!]"
"C-Captain, I can't-" Kaylee stuttered fearfully as her eyes jumped to him.
Mal struggled to keep from grimacing as their eyes locked. "I know otherwise, kid. You can do this."
"I need you to focus, Kaylee," Zoe instructed her with a firmly focused gaze on the task at hand. "Deep breath and push."
Kaylee's scream as she did what she was told was shattering and echoed around the infirmary. Mal hated the sound of it, didn't think it sounded natural at all. Then again, he wasn't sure what he had been expecting. He'd chosen not to be present for Emma's birth and in fact had steered clear of the infirmary during that time, taking refuge in his bunk until the process was complete. Mal had no plans of being present this time either, but he also hadn't counted on Simon not being present as well.
"There's only so much pain the human body can endure," River announced. She had taken to cowering back against one of the counters, her face contorted uncomfortably. "The body screams but the pain has nowhere to go."
"Really don't think that talk like is helping, darlin'," Mal snapped at her.
"You're doing real good, Kaylee," Zoe spoke above him. "Give me another push."
Kaylee panted as she beared down again and released another shattering scream of distress. Sweat accumulated along her forehead, heating her skin and making her appear sickly despite the circumstances. Inara gently dabbed at Kaylee's forehead with the damp cloth and spoke to her encouragingly, but it seemed to do little good because it wasn't long before the mechanic was sobbing.
"Okay, okay...relax," Zoe said urgently as she looked up at Kaylee's face, swallowing her frown of concern.
Kaylee gasped for breath, her eyes relatively unfocused and glistening with tears. "I can't do this!" she pleaded desperately. "I need Simon! He...he's supposed to be here!"
"You can't be focusing on that right now," Zoe told her sternly. "Simon ain't here and there's nothing we can do about that. I need you to focus on this baby and work with me on getting it out."
"Listen to her, Mei Mei," Inara encouraged. "You have to do this."
"Another push," Zoe instructed again. "Ma-shong! [Now!]"
The more Kaylee pushed and the more she screamed in response, the more light-headed Mal felt himself become. His hand had since grown numb to the pain of Kaylee squeezing it and he'd stopped focusing on anything that was being said. For a moment, everything around him became muted and Mal found himself wondering just when his ship and crew had gone from a life of crime to missing doctors and giving birth to babies. God, he was starting to feel dizzy and it was becoming stifling hot in the infirmary...
"That's it, Kaylee!" Zoe approved as she nodded her head. Her hands were poised and ready and suddenly all sound rushed back into Mal's ear. "The baby's head is starting to crown. I can see it. Give me another big push."
Inara moved to stand at Kaylee's side across from Mal, taking hold of the woman's other hand. "You are doing very well, Kaylee. It will not be much longer now."
Kaylee was breathless and sweating profusely. "I...I don't know if I can," she stuttered with a weak shake of her head. She pushed again before she could say another word when the urge came over her, a startling scream tearing from her throat.
"Good! The baby's head is out," Zoe encouraged and looked up at Kaylee another time. "You're almost there. Another big push."
"Wuh de tyen, ah... [Dear God in Heaven...]" Mal muttered when he glanced down just as the infant's shoulders came into view. It was another moment more before Zoe was carefully sliding the baby the rest of the way out and a sharp startled cry filled the whole of the infirmary.
"Oh dear..." Inara murmured in awe.
"We have a boy!" Zoe announced as she reached for the suctioner on the tray near by. She worked carefully to suction the infant's nostrils and mouth, struggling internally to remember everything Simon had ever told her about the process. Her heart had yet to cease from racing when she looked quickly to Mal. "Cut the chord, sir. Inara, get a sheet ready."
It took Mal a moment to realize that Kaylee had released his hand as she slumped back against the examining table and he stumbled back as Zoe fastened a clamp onto the infant's umbilical chord and held a pair of surgical scissors out to him. He couldn't keep his eyes off of the wailing infant or even wrap his mind around the fact that his talented resident mechanic had indeed just given birth. Missing doctors and babies...when did this happen?
"Sir!" Zoe called out to him and Mal snapped to attention. He took the surgical scissors and without second thought, sliced right through the umbilical chord.
Everything happened in a blur after that. Kaylee's sobs of relief were drowned out beneath the hammering of the captain's heart as she protectively held her son to her chest. Zoe and Inara were both quick to take control of the situation, allowing Mal to finally step back into the background as River nervously spoke about the baby not looking good in red. And then, unable to handle the intensity of the moment any longer, Mal turned sharply and promptly left the room.