Summary: Events from Shuttle One’s point of view as they return to a bloodied Serenity.
Rating: PG-13 I think
Characters: entire cast, but focuses on Jayne and Kaylee
Spoilers/Timeline: Out of Gas, between the leaving of the shuttles and Mal waking up
Disclaimer: People, places and things (in this story, at least) belong to Joss Whedon. Infringement for recreational purposes only. All of “London” belongs to William Blake.
Author's Note: First completed and posted fanfic, Firefly or otherwise. :) Tell me what works and what doesn't. Much thanks to Kit-kat for her beta.
"And the hapless soldier’s sigh / runs in blood down palace walls"
– "London" by William Blake
Kaylee was idly playing thumb-war with Jayne when they got Zoe's wave. Actually, she was just holding Jayne’s limp hand in her own, smoothing her thumb over his knuckles. She listened on and off to Book's never-ending prayer. All four of them were packed into the cramped cockpit, jarringly austere after the rich decorations of the main living quarters. Inara hasn’t moved from the pilot-chair, though she set it on autopilot moments after leaving Serenity. Kaylee's been watching her back for a while now, scared by Inara's immobility.
At the beep from the console, Inara's arm shot out to answer and she leaned close to the panel. "Mal?" she whispered, and the sudden spark of hope in her voice quelled rather than fanned Kaylee's, previously undaunted by the long wait. She tightened her grip on Jayne's hand.
"Hello, Inara," said a tired-looking Zoe. Simon's protest that she please lie back down were heard in the background. Book moved quietly to Inara's side, slipping his Bible into his coat pocket. "Seems like our captain's gone and done something stupid."
Inara nodded, tight-lipped.
"We're turning back, headin' for Serenity. You do the same."
"Did something catch your eye?" said Book as Inara reversed their course.
Zoe looked down for a moment, shoulders sagging a little before looking back to the camera. A sheen of sweat covered her brow. Wash's sweater loomed into view behind her as he put a hand on her shoulder. "We caught a ship's signal coming from Serenity’s direction," he said, stooping into camera view.
"Do you know if—" said Inara.
"They're too far off to be contacted by shuttle," said Wash. "We sent them a signal, though. They know we're here."
Kaylee felt Jayne shift uneasily.
"See you on-ship. We'll get there a bit before you," said Zoe, standing up from the console with Wash's help. "We'll hail you when we get on."
Inara watched as the doctor fussed over Zoe and helped her back onto the stretcher, leaving Wash at the console.
"Fózŭ cún nĭmen," said Inara, smiling softly.
Wash sighed and tried to smile back. "Hé nĭmen," he said, then closed the connection.
Book gave Inara's shoulder a soft squeeze. "God be with us all."
Things in Shuttle One hardly seemed to change after the wave. Inara went back to staring out into the black, the Shepherd went back to his book and Kaylee bit her lip and held onto Jayne's hand.
When they caught sight of Serenity, still just a speck in the dark, Jayne stood and walked to his bags. Kaylee watched him a moment, wondering how out-of-place he seemed amidst Inara's red silk and velvet curtains, before joining Book and Inara by the console. As they got closer, Kaylee made out a slight glow about the ship.
"She's runnin’!" she said. "They got our call! Serenity's running again!" She couldn't help a wide smile as relief ran over her. "She's going to be alright," she added.
Of course, it wasn't just the ship she was talking about.
The sound of Jayne loading his guns put a damper on Kaylee's relief.
"What are you—?"
"Ship's runnin’," he said, sliding a gun into his holster before loading a smaller one. "Don’t mean it's still our ship."
Kaylee gaped at him, but he just shrugged and slipped in more bullets. Book, apparently unsurprised by Jayne's conclusions, tried to reassure her. "It's a precaution only. Just until we get word from the others."
"Yeah, which is a bit later in coming than it should," mumbled Jayne before holding the small gun out to Book. "Here." At Book's hesitation, he huffed and shook the gun handle at him.
Book took the gun, checking its heft. "An 84 Teppic," he said with obvious appreciation. Jayne grinned wide.
They reached the ship still without a word from the others, though Shuttle Two could clearly be seen latched onto Serenity's side. Inara docked their shuttle without a word as the other three passengers moved through the shuttle towards the door. Standing just left of the door, Jayne rolled his shoulders and gripped his gun, waiting for the shuttle to lock in. Book stood to his right, his hand on the door handle, Kaylee behind him.
Once they were locked in, Jayne raised his gun and nodded to the Shepherd, who pulled the door open. Jayne took a step out of the shuttle, crouching, aiming his gun down the hall and towards the stairs. The ship seemed empty.
He took a slow step out of the shuttle, motioning for the Shepherd to stay at the door, and eased down the stairs to the catwalk. Keeping his long-barreled Cobalt pointing down the hall, Jayne held his breath, cocking his head a bit. At first all he heard was the steady echoed thumping of Serenity's engine, a sound he wouldn't have registered had it not been for his last hours on the dead ship and its oppressive silence. With the engine came the regular sounds of a working ship: hums coming from the air support and water-systems, the softly buzzing cargo-lights and the gentle creak of parts only Kaylee could name starting up good and proper.
Jayne glanced back at the shuttle door. Book's eyes were flickering between Jayne and the hallway, the Teppic held loosely in both hands. Little Kaylee was scrunched up against Book, sneaking the occasional peak. Jayne couldn't catch sight of Inara and wondered if she'd even got up from the pilot chair.
Down in the cargo bay, something metallic fell to the ground.
Jayne instantly crouched down, swiveling his gun from the hall to the bay below him. Behind him he heard Book whisper Kaylee further into the shuttle. Jayne crept towards the railing and glanced down, angling the Cobalt over the edge.
His eyes took in the cargo bay floor. "Wŏ de mā," he whispered, too low for the others to hear.
Nothing had really changed since the last time he'd seen the bay, just before getting onto Inara's shuttle. There were still those boxes, their edges charred, piled up against the airlock, the mule was still sitting in the middle, its tarp caught in its front wheel, papers were still strewn all along the floor.
The puddle of blood in the middle of the bay was the only difference. It was a small puddle, really, most of the blood having dripped down through the grate. You really had to strain your eyes to see it.
Jayne saw it fine.
He also saw the smudged bloody handprint were someone – Mal, presumably – had pushed themselves upright. The occasional blood drop signaled a path towards the infirmary.
"Jayne?" Kaylee's voice was muffled behind the Shepherd but carried well in the ship's silence. "It all alright?"
He turned to her, still crouching, not quite sure what to tell her, when he heard the soft scrape of metal coming from below again. He gestured for Kaylee to wait and held his breath, this time catching a soft murmur coming from the infirmary.
"Ship's clear," he said, standing up slowly, trying to get some blood back into his legs. He never could take crouching for too long. Book reached his side, offering the Teppic back as he glanced down into the cargo bay. Jayne avoided his eyes as he holstered both guns. "They’re in the infirmary, which is probably a good sign," he told the Shepherd.
Kaylee, now accompanied by Inara, edged out into the hall. "Where is everyone?" she said.
"Infirmary, I figure," said Jayne with a sniff. He started down the stairs at a good pace, trying to keep it just short of a blue streak. The other three followed behind him, the two women's whispers stopping once they took in the state the cargo bay was in.
Inara was the first to step into the infirmary, stopping just inside. The other three hung back, Jayne the farthest.
Zoe was lying down on the right-hand cot, sleeping, drugged or passed out. Wash hovered between her bed and the main cot, where Simon was working on Mal.
The infirmary floor was littered with syringe wrappers, a metallic bowl and some medical vials. A large needle, looking much like the one Simon had injected Zoe with hours earlier, lay near Simon's foot. Inara distinctly remembered Simon putting the one he used on Zoë into the biohazards container, so this couldn't be it.
Inara was staring so fixedly at the syringe and Simon's shoe that she almost missed the most notable change to the infirmary floor: the blood. There was less here than in the cargo bay, but what had fallen was streaked and smeared about, or, more disturbingly, outlining a footprint.
When she lifted her eyes to the body Simon was so diligently working on, she only managed a quick glance before turning away, swallowing hard. Mal looked so pale, so tired despite being unconscious, that she found it hard to believe in what Simon was trying so hard to save.
"Wŏ de tiān, a," she whispered.
Simon glanced up, trying to blink away a strand of hair that had fallen into his eye. "Hello," he said, before adjusting his grip on a bloodied tool and squinting up at the mini-camera screen. It seemed impossible to Inara for one to make anything out, but Simon gave a low grunt, seemingly having found what he was looking for.
"Yeah," said Wash, approaching the four newcomers, "it's not pretty."
"Sleeping like a tired little bird," said Wash with a small smile. "All that bossing us around must have worn her down."
A sickening sucking sound came over from Simon’s corner. "Better," he murmured, stooping over the wound, putting down a small tube onto the tools tray without looking.
"I take it the ship you detected did this?" said Book, slipping one hand into his pocket to caress his Bible.
"That's what we've got figured. They dropped the part off, added insult to injury – or, well, the other way ‘round – and hightailed it out of here."
"But," said Inara, "Mal was shot in the bay, wasn’t he? Why would they put the part—"
"Didn’t," interjected Jayne. Inara and Book turned to look at him. Kaylee kept her eyes on the captain but leaned in towards the merc. "He put the part in hi’self."
Wash nodded. "We found him on the bridge. Would have called us back had he just made it a bit further."
"He walked the entire ship?" stuttered Inara.
"Gut wounds are slow to kill," said Jayne, "and a real pofù to fix. Doc pulls him through, he’s got his wages set for a month."
"Wash?" came the doctor’s voice. "I think I might be ready for you over here."
At the other's questioning glances, Wash rolled up a sleeve and patted the crook of his arm. "I’m going to get me a blood brother," he explained, taking the blue band on the tools table and giving it a tug before pulling up a stool and settling beside Mal.
Simon put his tools down and rubbed his face with a forearm. "I got the bullet out, stopped the bleeding, sutured a couple arteries," he said as he pulled off his bloodied gloves. He swept his hair out of his eye and rested his hands on his hips, eyes still on Mal's wound. "He'll be fine." He looked tired as he fully faced them for the first time. Book gave him a reassuring smile and a word of encouragement before slipping past Jayne and Kaylee to pray in the common area. Inara followed close behind.
Simon watched them go, seeming not to have heard the Shepherd. He took a deep breath and glanced at Mal's still-open wound and at the screen as if he was finally taking it all in. He flicked the mini-cam off, hooked up the transfusion bag and began dabbing alcohol on Wash's arm.
Once the transfusion bag started filling up and the doc went back to stitching Mal up, Jayne turned from the infirmary door, steering Kaylee along with him.
"Why don't you go an' make sure our bèndàn captain didn't just get lucky putting Serenity to rights?"
Kaylee kept her eyes on Simon and Mal for a second longer before turning to Jayne. "I showed him where the catalyzer went, 'fore we all..." She trailed off, staring blankly in the infirmary's direction.
"But there was that fire and all that other trouble," reminded Jayne. He leaned in towards Kaylee, lowering his voice so none of the others could hear. "You let the doc be the captain's jìgōng and you go on an' be the ship's jìgōng. Ya can't exactly trade."
Kaylee took a moment before nodding. Jayne found in downright eerie that she had to be convinced to check up on her darlin' ship, but they didn't often have this close a call neither.
Once she was gone, Jayne glanced in the direction she'd been staring and saw the smudged handprint.
Man's blood was near everywhere.
Kaylee didn't dare spend too long in the engine room. She just checked to see the catalyzer was well in place and gave the life support a once-over. She'd done her best to clean up the fire's mess before the whole lack-of-air problem, just to keep her mind occupied, so there wasn't a whole lot for her to do. True, they were still pretty dead in the water, engine limping the way she was, but Kaylee figured she'd need just a few hours work before Serenity sailed at her old speed again.
Truth be told, she couldn't bear to be in the engine room alone just then.
She didn't mind getting grease on her hands and face. In fact, she kinda liked it, liked getting her hands dirty, the feel of engine grease slick between her fingers, how everything felt smooth and soft. Even if she'd later have to pick the grime from under her fingernails instead of sleep some nights, or when a grease stain hidden behind her ear mucked up her towel after a shower.
What she didn't want, though, was to know what it felt like to touch Serenity with blood on her hands.
Walking down the hall, all those handprints and smudges and drops, she should have known what she'd see. She should have figured it out once she'd learnt the captain had put the catalyzer in himself, all gut-shot.
She'd seen the engine burnt up, rusted, bent all out of shape and near-gutted with its wires strung out, but she'd never actually considered her darling as hurt. Not until she paused the engine, nodding at the soft hum of the auxiliary, and found the catalyzer.
She should have seen it coming.
However the guĭ did he manage to slip the part in place and connect it all up? The entire part was covered in blood, still sticky to the touch when she checked the connections. Kaylee tried to rub some of the blood away with her fingers but succeeded only in smearing it along the wires.
She had to swallow hard a couple of times at the sensation.
After starting up the engine again, Kaylee made to wipe her hands reflexively on her overalls, but stopped, remembering exactly what was on her hands. She considered wiping them on the engine itself, but decided against it. She wanted the blood gone, not just off her hands, or off Serenity's engine, so she rummaged through her hammock, moving things aside with her elbows. Having found her rag, she wiped her hands clean with more vigour than usual.
Once satisfied that they wouldn't all explode in the next few hours, Kaylee hightailed it out of the engine room and hurried back to the common room, workrag carefully tucked into her back pocket. It wouldn't do to let the blood set on the cloth, else it'd never get out.
This wasn't at all like engine grease.
Just as Kaylee reached the common area, where she could still see Book hunched over his Bible, River walked in from the cargo bay. They walked down the stairs together, Kaylee too startled by the unusual sight of Jayne and Inara talking quietly by the infirmary door to really notice River.
Kaylee stopped a few steps behind the pair, trying to catch a glimpse of the captain through the window, but Simon was in the way. River's cold hand on hers startled her.
"The soldier’s sigh," whispered River as she turned Kaylee’s hand over in hers and trailed her fingers over the palm. "It’s printed onto the palace wall." This time, Kaylee thought she understood the girl's cryptic phrase. River glanced up at Kaylee and smiled. "It'll wash off," she said, then moved past her.
Kaylee hesitated at the foot of the stairs, watching how River eased her way past the Shepherd and joined Jayne and Inara. Kaylee watched the three for a moment, wondering how odd it was to see them together, then peeked into the infirmary. Simon had cleaned up a bit and looked his composed self again as he hovered over all the vials, lining them up and setting syringes by them. The captain looked to be sleeping and Kaylee was glad for the old army blanket covering his middle.
She took a few steps closer to the infirmary door, trying to change her angle so that she could see Zoe, who seemed to have woken up. Wash was leaning over her in his sleeveless, his arm still extended, feeding the transfusion bag.
To her right, Inara shook her head at Jayne. "I don’t think it's something he should see when he wakes up."
"He’s seen blood before, lots of it."
Kaylee chewed on her lower lip, thinking how of all of them, Mal and Zoe were the one's who'd seen the most blood.
Well, and Jayne, what with killing people.
Simon too, she figured. Up to his elbows in the stuff.
But not her. She'd never see that much blood in one place before. Not someone's life's blood.
She swallowed hard again and stayed put where she was, even though she saw Mal's head roll slowly to the right, saw his eyes open slightly as he mumbled something. The others strode into the infirmary, Book and Inara first. Jayne followed after a moment's hesitation no one else noticed. River stayed outside the infirmary but leaned in against the door.
Kaylee wondered if she was leaning on Mal's blood.
She waited a moment, watching through the infirmary window, hating the way Mal slurred his words, how slow he pointed at Wash's arm.
When Jayne lightened things up with a swipe at Inara and her incense, Kaylee slipped in behind him, smile at the ready. "Hey, captain."
Mal gave her a "hey" in return.
"You fixed the ship," she said, weaving a bit, trying to be downright jolly. "Good work."
She was rewarded with a groggy smile and a word of thanks.
While she was indeed glad to see Mal as well as he was, her smile faded a little at the unbidden thought of all his blood drying and rusting away in Serenity’s core.
fózŭ cún nĭmen – Buddha keep you (plural)
hé nĭmen – and you (plural)
wŏ de mā – mother of god
wŏ de tiān, a – dear god in heaven
pofù - bitch
bèndàn – dumb
jìgōng – mechanic
guĭ – hell
Direct Firefly dialogue
Inara: “I don’t think it’s something he should see when he wakes up.”
Jayne: “He’s seen blood before, lots of it.”
Kaylee: “Hey, Captain.”
Kaylee: “You fixed the ship. Good work.”
x-posted to ff_fanfic