There's something unsettling about life when the doctor turns patient, especially when it ain't for cuts or scrapes or some such thing. When Simon comes down with breakbone fever, it leaves Mal off-balance.
Partly it's because this specific fever leaves folk writhing in pain after about the first day. Feels like bones are breaking right and left, even if that ain't the case. And Simon, he doesn't keep quiet about it. He and Zoe, they do their best, but who knows what kind of reactions Simon might have to the strongest medications. They don't have the most reliable painkillers these days.
"Are you willing to risk it, Sir?" Zoe had asked.
And as much as Mal is sometimes aggravated by Simon, it won't do for him to go and die from a fever that most people on the rim get when they're just kids. It ain't so bad for kids, they seem to bounce right back. The bastard unlucky enough to make it to adulthood without getting it, that's who has the real problems.
So it's unsettling, and if it were Zoe yelling like that, he'd be out finding a doctor quick as you please. Not that Zoe would ever yell like that, but he'd see it in her face, see how she was wanting to.
But there ain't no doctors around, and even if there were, no way could he risk Simon getting identified. Rest of the crew ain't getting humped because someone went and didn't ever get himself innocked 'cause he was living on a central planet.
"Can't we just – ?" Kaylee had asked.
"No," he'd said. They can't. Doesn't matter how bad the fever gets, they just can't. Too many sightings of Serenity by the Feds lately, and Mal knows how badly they need to lay low.
So they wait it out. It ain't easy on anyone, except maybe Jayne. He doesn't seem to notice. But Kaylee, she walks around, lips tight and pale. She holes herself up in the engine room, and Mal figures it's mostly because some of the engine noises drown Simon out.
River ain't a handful, but she's so quiet it's downright eerie. It's almost enough that he wishes she were pitching a fit. Least she's been innocked, back at that school of hers. So he'd figured anyway, after she spouted off nonsense for a while first.
Wash is edgy. Zoe quiet. Shepherd prays an awful lot, both in the infirmary, and out of it. Inara's off ship, more the luck for her. She's making money and avoiding the aggravation.
Mal, he tries to avoid the infirmary, but someone's gotta watch the spectacle, make sure Simon doesn't hurt himself even more. Ain't fair for just Zoe and the Shepherd to do it.
It ain't a pretty show.
After three days, the fever peaks and starts to go back down, and the body pains must start to slow. Simon, he relaxes on the bed, but he's still sweaty and downright unpleasant to look at. And when he talks it don't make no sense. Mal just ignores his words, though that's hardly new.
"You've got a glow around you."
Sounds like Simon's taking a cue from his sister now. Breakbone fever doesn't cause brain damage, does it? Maybe he asks that out loud, 'cause Simon says,
It ain't exactly reassuring.
That night, Mal undoes the restraints. Simon went so wild a few times that he fell right off the bed. He's got one hell of a gash on his forehead to show for it. But still, restraints ain't ever a great idea, and it's nice to be able to undo them, leave Simon lying there calm. Sweaty, feverish, nonsensical, but calm.
He sleeps. Mal, he heads to the cockpit, where it's Zoe's turn at the helm. She's on sitting in the pilot chair, knees drawn up, staring out at the black.
She nods. "Just enjoying the quiet."
Yeah. It's more than a little nice not to have to hear screams. "Think I'll sleep."
Nodding again, she says, "Enjoy."
He moves to his bunk almost on automatic. He's asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.
When Mal wakes up, he's muzzy headed, dry mouthed. Waking feels like he's swimming up through mud. When he gets his head back together, he figures maybe a drink, something to eat might be a good idea. Simon's yelling had put him right off food.
It's quiet up top, almost deadly still. He's got no complaints.
But when he gets to the kitchen, it ain't empty. It's full up with Simon, even though he's just a small bundle, ashy-grey, hunched over in a chair at the table. He's nursing a cup of something, probably tea. "That tea you're drinking?"
Simon nods, slowly. "I'm dehydrated."
"You weren't drinking much. Was all we could do to get you to swallow without choking."
He nods again, carefully, like maybe his head's feeling fragile. He's sipping the tea, taking careful swallows. "If I'd been in a hospital, I would have been on a hydration drip."
The words just put Mal's back up, he can't help it. It seems like most days, nothing is good enough for Simon. "We ain't no fancy hospital. And we couldn't take you to one."
Simon looks up, his face drawn, pinched in. It's a look Mal's seen lots of times on other people, for other reasons. All of them involved pain, current or recent. When Simon speaks again, his words are slow, and more precise than even the usual. It's as though he has to think about the shape of each word first. "It's not an accusation. I'm just saying that it's normal that you couldn't get me to drink much. I don't blame you for not having all of the supplies they'd have in a core hospital."
And somehow, that just makes things worse. It's not right, he knows it, 'cause Simon's sitting there, looking like he's barely able to stay upright. But talking with Simon most days just gnaws at him. Mal can't help but get aggravated; he can't help but want to say or do things that maybe aggravate Simon right back.
There's tension between them, always. Mal knows it, and he can't help but push at it. It's like poking at a wound that's trying to heal up. It ain't worth it, it's stupid, but it's damn hard to stop.
He takes a deep breath, 'cause now ain't the time. He ain't Jayne. He's got restraint, when he needs it. Turning away, he rummages through the cupboards, finds nothing suitable for eating. Seem like there hardly ever is, these days. So instead, he starts working on his own tea.
He half expects to see Simon passed out on the table when he turns back, but that ain't the case. "You look like hell. Go sleep."
Simon smiles, and it's an unlovely sight. Like his mouth ain't quite big enough for his jaw right now, so it's got to stretch. "I will. Just. Not yet. I've been lying down for so long."
Yeah. Mal knows that feeling, the weight of inactivity, even when the body wouldn't allow for moving around anyway. Stubborn, that's what Simon is, and Mal knows all manner of things about stubborn.
They stay like that, Mal behind the counter, drinking his tea, Simon sitting at the table, near to clinging on as a body can get. They don't talk, just sit, watching each other, and Mal can't for the life of him figure why he doesn't take his mug and head back down to bed.
After a bit, Simon's colour gets better, goes from ashy-grey to just almost normal. Maybe it's the tea. He's still ghost pale, but right now, anything's an improvement. He starts to sit up a bit, moves like he might try on standing. Mal tenses up just watching, and it's stupid, because Simon clearly made it here on his own.
"You heading back?" he asks, as Simon pushes himself upright.
"Need a hand?" It feels like maybe the words are being forced out of him, but Simon looks over, his face a little more open. Relieved.
He sets his tea down and walks over, hooking one arm under Simon's shoulders. This close, Simon smells like sickness, sour and stale.
Mal's had worse smells around him, so he just ignores it, and starts walking Simon forward. "Bed or infirmary?"
"Bed, I think." His eyes flutter while he says it, and it's almost indecent how blissful he looks at the thought. Mal knows those beds aren't all that comfortable, so it can't say much for Simon's frame of mind.
The walk over is slow, and it pains Mal, momentarily only, to think of Simon doing this on his own. When they get to the cabin, he gets Simon lying down, settled in, and set up with water. Simon looks at him, and instead of saying thank you, which would just be polite, he says, "You've got a nice mouth. It's strong."
That just blindsides him, comes out of nowhere. If Simon had said Mal had strong arms, something like that, maybe that would have made some kind of logical sense. Mal steps back a pace. "You ain't right in the head."
Smiling, that same stretched look, Simon shakes his head. "No."
He says the only thing that comes into his head. "Sick people say things."
Simon doesn't answer, just looks at him.
"Things that don't make sense. You ought to know that, seeing as how very – special – your sister is all the rutting time." As soon as the words are out of his mouth, he realizes he should leave, right now. He can't quite make himself do it, though. Something inside him is already anticipating the fight.
But instead of harsh words, or hateful looks, Simon just turns his face away.
Mal has seen the way Simon looks at him some days, when he ain't annoyed or angry or frustrated. He knows the tension between them is about more than sensibilities or River or what's right. Mostly, he can ignore it, because he's got other responsibilities, other priorities.
But right now, he can almost feel the disappointment coming from Simon. Simon must know Mal himself is just picking and picking. He can't quite ever stop, can't ever quite acknowledge anything between them but the annoyances.
It doesn't shame him, but – "Best get some sleep."
Simon's already sinking into the bed, eyes half closed. He looks almost peaceful. Not that Mal's noticing. He never does.
It's weeks later before Mal thinks about it again. Sometimes, it's better to save these things for a rainy day. Or a bloody day. At the time, Simon's berating him, rushing in to criticize one of Mal's plans. Again.
To be fair, the plan <i>had</i> fallen apart in a spectacular way. Spectacular in the sense of the explosions, the screams, and the general way his crew and his ship had been shot up. Still, they got paid, and that makes the day a good one, at least to Mal.
But Simon, he's pissy about his sister being caught up in the action, even though she got away with only a few scrapes. Far less than Mal himself.
He's also pissy 'cause he's being working for hours trying to fix them all up. Mal is the last of them to have a turn in the infirmary. The hours of work show around Simon's eyes. But it doesn't hurt Simon to work hard some days. They all get that look for other reasons, why not him?
"Why does it always go so spectacularly wrong for you?"
It's just the latest part of the rant. They've already been through the part about putting River in danger, and how that is not kosher in any way. It doesn't seem Simon's going to be winding down any time soon.
"Haven't you learned the finer art of developing a decent plan yet?" He pulls the stitch through Mal's calf as he says it, and is it just Mal's imagination, or does that maybe hurt more'n a bit? Ain't the dose supposed to cut out the pain?
"A child could put together better plans than you, some days. River and I, we used to play war strategy games when we were children that were more –"
Mal tunes out the words, 'cause he doesn't give a gorram hell what kinds of games those two played as tiny little genius rich kids. He just lies back and waits for his leg to be all stitched up. Having a doctor is handy, even if he does yap his mouth too often.
When he's done with Mal's leg, Simon leaves Mal's pant leg rolled up, and moves up to Mal's shoulder. The gunshot wound there is shallow, more a graze than anything else. But that doesn't stop Simon from yapping about it.
"Four inches lower, and you could be dead," he says, as he cleans up the edges.
"Four inches lower, and it would have hit my vest." It hurts to say the words, his lip being split to hell from where he stumbled and landed face first. He's lucky he didn't lose any teeth, although some of them feel loose.
Simon rolls his eyes even as he works. "Right."
Then he's quiet for a space, and Mal is all manner of grateful. It wouldn't do to go and clock the doctor while he's stitching up wounds. Even if they are shallow wounds. Grazes.
Simon finally ties off the last stitch, snips it, and stands back a little, surveying his work. Mal looks over and down, and looks at the tiny row of stitches, so neat it almost pains him to see. When he looks back up, Simon is absently frowning at him.
"I can't do anything about your mouth."
Something about the words make Mal want to laugh. They just cut away all the tension.
"I can't really stitch that up. It will have to heal by itself. Just don't worry at it. And be careful when you eat." There's a little pause, and then, "And maybe you won't want to talk for a while. I think that's a very good idea. Don't talk at all."
Mal nods, as seriously as he can. Maybe Simon can see he's not being all that serious, because he scowls.
"It gonna scar?" He says it as carefully as he can, but he can hear the slight lisp that he makes.
Simon gestures at his own mouth, at the edge of his own lip. "Of course it will."
Nodding again, he gets up off the bed, mindful of his leg. "Darn."
Simon has already turned away, and is messing with bits and pieces, cleaning up, rearranging. The curve of his shoulders is soft under his operating clothes. It shows his exhaustion. "It's not as though you don't have other scars. What's one more?"
He pulls on his shirt, wincing at the spike of pain through his shoulder. Maybe he'll just forget about buttoning it up for now. He speaks again, ignoring the pain, because it just has to be said. "Just figured, it'd be a shame to scar up my mouth. My strong mouth. I get comments on it, you know. People like it. It's a real draw for wandering eyes."
Simon's shoulders stiffen right up, and Mal smiles. And then he stops smiling right away, because it hurts like hell.
Still, he can't quite help but push it a little further, "You ever noticed something about my mouth, Doc?" He stands there for a moment, watches as Simon pretends to be looking at his supplies, as he pretends to sort through bandages and gloves and all manner of clean, white, doctorly things. It makes him want to laugh.
Instead, he just leaves the room. He's lurching a little, sure, but if he could, he'd whistle.
Summary: It's like poking at a wound.
Note: For lyrstzha