When Mal walks through the door and sees the three of them standing there, he's knows it means no good. Zoe, her face is as rigid as can be, a sure indicator that she's done something she ain't happy about. And that means near to always that Mal ain't going to be happy about it either.
Inara too, her face is composed, and she meets his eyes, carefully. Her arms are crossed, and this musses up the lines of her dress. Not that he'd ever say he notices such things.
Simon, he's standing the same way, arms crossed, face grim. It doesn't bode well. It's already been one hell of a couple of days, meeting out in the ass end of nowhere with a particularly twitchy, paranoid, contact. Mal doesn't need this. He doesn't even know what it is, but he knows he wants nothing to do with it.
Zoe steps forward, and quiet as can be, she says, "We didn't have a choice."
It's going to be bad. "What? And where the hell are Kaylee and Jayne? River? They hiding out from this little gathering?"
"Sir." She says it slowly, "We've sold the ship."
It seems like time stops, for just a minute. Mal shakes his head, tries to clear out his hearing. It doesn't work, just makes the sudden ringing in his ears get worse. "What?" he asks, but he can't even really hear his own voice. He's sure he asked, but maybe not. "What the hell?"
Simon steps forward, his hands out, down. "Mal. It was my idea."
And Mal snaps. Simon takes a step closer, and does a real nice job of meeting his face up with Mal's fist.
Simon stumbles back, slowly, and Mal hears Inara gasp, maybe; hears Zoe say, "Sir." But all he can see is rutting Simon Tam, who has gone and screwed him again by selling his ship. It never stops with Simon, especially when Mal lets down his guard, when he starts to trust him.
Blood is spilling from the side of Simon's mouth. It's enough that Mal wants to hit him again. So he does. It hard enough that this time, Simon falls to the floor. Mal's on him in a second, holding him down, readying for more.
Zoe grabs him before he can get in a third punch, and as far as Mal's concerned that's a crying shame. Zoe's saying something though, still using her slow, calm voice, about explanations and Kaylee and Jayne. She pulls him up, away, pins him up against the wall, and says, "Listen."
Somehow, he does. He listens hard, and follows the story, and watches Simon dab at the side of his mouth, grimacing.
It make something hard and fierce inside him grin.
After Zoe finishes, he asks, "Chemical exposure?"
He gestures. "Explain it again."
This time, Simon has a go. "Jayne went with Kaylee and River down to a spare parts depot, one Kaylee had heard about while she was in town. She had things she wanted, and knew she'd have time to have a good search, since we were waiting for you."
No way is this going to be his fault.
"Apparently, they found some interesting things in one of the buildings, but some of the parts there hadn't been properly cleared before being put out on the market. Something –" he looks at Zoe, Inara, but they just shrug, "something vented a gaseous coolant and then a preservative into the building. The two interacted, caused a chemical reaction, and Kaylee and River breathed it in. Jayne had been outside, but he got exposed as he pulled them out."
"This leads to selling my ship how?"
Simon pulls his hand through his hair, his eyes tired, expression harried. "Medical costs. The treatment is expensive. We had to pay for time in the local infirmary, in addition to the medications and supplements to help minimize the damage." He pauses. "It was very severe. Internal and external chemical burns. It started a chain reaction with their body chemistries, and treatment needed to be administered right away. We didn't have the supplies on board."
Simon's voice takes on a sharp edge, just for a moment. "And we were lucky that the locals even had what we needed."
"They gonna be fine?"
That's gorram good. But of course, there's more. Always is. Simon just keeps talking.
"Just not anytime soon. We can accelerate the healing of the external burns – they actually have decent equipment here – but it will still take time. The internal injuries aren't as bad as I'd feared, so we don't have to worry too much about pulmonary complications, particularly since we have all three of them hooked up to pure oxygen in the hospital."
He takes a deep breath, and continues, "Jayne will be able to be released tomorrow, he's doing well and was only partially exposed. Kaylee and River will need to stay in a sterile environment, and that means the local hospital. It all takes money. Money we didn't have, even with our savings combined."
It's reasonable, it's all reasonable. But he can't help the sinking feeling he has. No ship. No job. Stuck in one place, and it's all falling to pieces.
"When do we have to get out?" Who had the rutting nerve to buy my ship, he wants to ask. But he can't. Can't quite think about someone else having her. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
There's a pause, longer than any so far, and it makes him start thinking about punching again. Finally, Inara says, "We don't."
He is not gonna be someone's bondsman. "I ain't working for someone else. If I'm on this boat, I'm in rutting charge."
Inara sighs, rolls her eyes upwards and mutters, "I knew it would be like this."
"Just tell him." It speaks to all manner of bad that Zoe won't tell him herself.
"Fine." Inara squares her shoulders and looks right at him, like she's daring him to try something. "We sold Serenity to the Guild."
Oh, rutting hell.
Sometime later, Simon climbs down into his bunk, a bottle in his hand. He holds it out, and says, "Do you want to hear the rest?" Because Mal hasn't heard it all, not yet. Inara made her announcement, and he'd just turned around and headed to his bunk. Away from the whole thing.
He'd been sitting there, on one end of his bed, trying not to think. Even though he knew he should be going 'round to the hospital, checking on his crew, he couldn't quite get to it.
He takes the bottle. Looks to be one of Jayne's.
Simon sits on the opposite end of his bed, and he looks mighty comfortable there, like maybe he thinks he belongs in Mal's space. In retrospect, it seems it was a mistake to let Simon down here, some nights. Looked like it maybe was a good idea, at first. Him and Simon, sharing a drink and a bed, and maybe, just maybe, starting to like each other.
But turns out it just gave Simon all sorts of pretensions, thinking he has the right to come up with a plan that involves selling someone else's property when no one is looking.
When he's out, trying to get work.
"It's not as bad as it sounds."
Right. Next he knows, he'll be carting around a boatload of Companions, all of them primping and preening; trunks of dresses cluttering up the halls, and devious wiles being used right and left on his crew. They'd probably be just as stubborn and aggravating as Inara can be some days. He opens the bottle, takes a long drink. This ain't what he needs.
"Really. It isn't." Reaching out, Simon takes the bottle himself, puts it to his lips. He grimaces as he swallows, and Mal knows the liquor must sting in the cuts around his mouth. His bottom lip is pretty swollen up too.
Mal ain't sorry about it. He's not.
"Inara got a very good deal for Serenity. We won't have to spend it all on the hospital care. It isn't a loan, so we're not paying interest. And we can buy Serenity back at any time, at no fault, no penalty."
"You sold my ship."
Simon nods, his expression solemn. "Yes. And if we hadn't, we would have had two dead crew members, and a severely injured Jayne. I'm not sure even he would ever have fully recovered, either." He hands the drink back. "I think you'll agree that it wasn't an acceptable alternative."
Part of him wants to disagree, just because Simon's going and telling him what he thinks. "Maybe."
"Mal. I know you think you're a mean old man, and granted, some days you are. But would you have wished that kind of death on Kaylee?"
No. But still. His ship.
"It won't take long for us to earn the money to get Serenity back. And in the meantime, the Guild won't be giving any orders, won't be telling you to take jobs. We're still free agents."
But it ain't the same thing, and Simon, he can probably never understand that. They sit quietly for a space, Mal thinking on what exactly he wants to do right about now. Mostly it involves hitting Simon a few more times, then going after Zoe and Inara next.
Finally, just to fill up the silence a little, he asks,
"How come it's you?"
"Why'd they chose you to come down and talk to me? Zoe could hold her own if it came down to violence. Better than you. And Inara would have used her wiles. So why you?"
Simon smiles, more of a twist of his mouth than anything else. He reaches into the pocket of his vest and pulls out an injector. "Zoe thought you might have to be doped. Depending on how you were taking it."
Zoe would know better than to try something like that. "Zoe?"
Simon moves closer, leans towards him slightly. Mal's got to say, the way he's feeling right now, Simon's being awfully brave getting this close. Simon always gets brave at the stupidest times. "I have an idea that will mean quite a bit of money. Quickly. Want to hear it?'
No. Because plans to get a lot of money quickly, they always seem to result in heavy violence and stupidity.
But come to think of it, he's in the mood for heavy violence right about now. He turns to Simon, and says, "Yes."
Summary: "We didn't have a choice," Zoe says.
Note: For greenapricot