Do No Harm
I don’t own Firefly, wouldn’t be fan fiction if I did after all.
The pain in my leg is intense. It burns like fire, yet is wet as the blood flows from the wound, soaking the loose drawstring pants I’d worn to bed and staining the floor.
From a strictly clinical view I knew what to expect. I’ve treated enough bullet wounds in the Capitol City emergency room, not to mention those on board Serenity, to have some experience. But no matter how I rationalize it, all of that was still second hand. So I knew
what to expect, but did not really know
. None of surgeries or medical journals could truly prepare you for the reality of it.
I knew it would happen, that even if I survived this night I was going to get shot. I knew from the moment Early told me doctors should be shot the same as psychologist have to be psychoanalyzed that it was going to end this way.
My mind is clouding. There’s nothing beyond the agony in my leg and a light headedness pulling me down into the black. Then I hear it. It pulses like a beacon leading me through the fog and back into the light. River’s scream.
She’s in his ship! That Bun tyen-shung duh ee-dway-roo is going to take her with him!
No! I won’t let that happen! I won’t let him take her back to those people! I won’t let those monsters cloaked as doctors cut into her brain and do god knows what else to her! They are not going to torture her again!
It seems like hours by the time I make it to my feet, but it can’t be. Early hasn’t even reached the bottom of the short set of stairs leading into the locked crew quarter’s hall. As he’s on the bottom step I push off with my good leg and let gravity do the rest.
He’s surprised as I bring us both tumbling to the ground, his head impacting with the floor grating before rising back up with a sharp snap into my face. I tumble backwards and wipe at the blood coming from my not quite broken nose.
Gorram it hurts, but I’m ignoring the pain easier now. Adrenaline my mind fills in absently as I get to my feet. Early is standing as well and I throw wild punch into his face. It’s knocked to the side as he twists a little with the blow, but otherwise has depressingly little effect.
As he turns back he catches me with backhand that knocks me for a loop and it occurs to me it probably would have been wise to have asked the Captain or Zoe, even the Shepherd, to teach me to at least throw a proper punch. Hell, even getting Jayne to teach me to fight, as sadistic as he would have been about it if he hadn’t just laughed the idea off, would have been better than nothing.
As it is I barely stay standing as the left straight punch knocks me back a few steps. There is barely any time to catch my balance as Early lashes out landing a fist in my gut that nearly doubles me over.
But I’m still standing.
A swift kick to my chest sends me sprawling on the stairs.
I’m finally down.
Early gives me one last look before turning and starting back down the corridor. Like what I’ve just done was the stupidest thing anyone in the ‘verse had ever done. Like he expected me to just lie there bleeding and wallowing in my own pain while he took River away. There’s something else there too. I’m not sure whether he looked more angry, surprised or impressed at the ‘stupid’ move. The hwoon dahn!
My mind starts to swim again. The pain is coming back some. Cracked ribs and a now surely broken nose are added to my tally of injuries. Blackness seeps into the edge of my vision as I feel a wetness trickling down the back of my neck. Must have cut the back of my head on the metal stairs.
Then there is a light in the darkness of my eyes.
No… not a light… a glint.
The ship’s lights are reflecting off something metallic.
Early’s gun! It must have fallen during the tumble down the steps!
It takes all my concentration to push the black that’s encroaching on more and more of my vision away, to push the burning pains to the back of my mind. All of my willpower, more than I ever thought I had, to grab the gun and pull myself to my feet. Allowing a single-minded purpose to override all else. I have to keep River safe.
Early freezes as he hears the familiar cocking of a gun behind him. He turns slowly and can’t mask the surprise on his face as he sees me still standing pointing his own gun his way.
My vision is blurry but I can still see him. The warm red of his space suit sticks out against the cooler colours of the corridor.
My hands are shaking, but not so much that the sights waver from his body. This isn’t right, a surgeons hands are suppose to be sure and steady. I wish I could blame it on the pain or the blood lose, that would be a lie though. What Shepherd Book said in jest was right. While I had shot at
someone I’ve never actually shot
Early sees this. He takes the shaking as a weakness; that I won’t go through with it.
“You’re not going to shoot me Doctor.” He says with surety. “You’re no killer. You wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if you took a life.”
“For River I’ll learn.” I say as I steady myself as best I can and pull the trigger.
The recoil from the pistol isn’t much, something Jayne would probably appreciate. I’ve no doubt that under normal circumstances I would barely feel it, or at least enough that it wouldn’t matter. As it is I’ve just been shot and taken a beating. It forces me to take a step back to balance myself. I gasp and nearly crumble anyways as I’m forced to put pressure on my wounded leg to stay upright.
The bullet catches Early in the shoulder spinning him into the wall with a crack as his head meets the plating before continuing to the floor. It’s barely an instant later that he’s back up on his feet, blood flowing down his face from the fresh cut above his eye.
That gorram suit must be armoured!
Early rushes at me, intent to take the gun and take me out before I can fire again. A blind panic overcomes me as I shoot wildly, no longer bothering with any pretence of aiming. Sparks fly as bullets ricochet off the walls or as they hit Early’s armoured suit and push him back. Somehow the bounty hunter remains standing through it all.
He’s in arms reach now as he reaches for the gun with one hand and brings a combat knife he’d procured from his boot down on me.
I bring one arm to protect myself from the knife up on instinct. I cry out as the sharp blade imbeds itself straight through my forearm, but I’m still firing the gun even as I hear it click on empty.
Something wet hits my face and a coppery taste on my lips. Through my hazy vision I see Early fall to the deck, a large chunk of the back of his head missing where the gun’s final bullet exited.
I’m falling even as I see this, no longer able to force my leg to hold my weight. My back hits the stairs hard and the force nearly knocks the wind from me.
The last of the adrenaline rush is fading and with it the pain is coming back in force, bringing friends along for good measure.
I don’t fight the dark as it comes for me this time. I’m almost grateful for its embrace.
“Simon!” I barely make out the distant voice, but I can still recognize it. Blurrily I can see two figures in Serenity’s space suits coming towards me. I once again have to force myself to stay conscious as the smaller of the two rushes towards me at top speeds.
“Mei-mei.” I somehow manage to croak out as River drops to her knees beside me.
Blood loss is making me weak and the concussion isn’t helping matters in the least. She’s speaking to me rapidly, but I can’t make out what she’s saying anymore. Not that I can really understand what she’s talking about half the time anymore anyways. It doesn’t matter though; her voice is soothing, calming my nerves and driving the darkness away.
She’s here, she’s safe, and that’s the only thing that does
Tears are flowing down River’s face like, well… rivers. I reach up with the arm that doesn’t have a knife sticking through it, gun long since discarded, my weak hand brushing away the tears.
“It’s alright mei-mei. Everything is going to be alright.”
“’Course it is.” Mal says as he gently moves River aside. “Just need to get your brother to the infirmary that’s all.”
With surprising care Mal lifts me up causing new pains to run through my already burning muscles.
“Tah mah duh hwoon dahn!”
“I’m going to ignore the insult Doc.” Mal says as he takes one side and Zoë, who had just come from… well somewhere with Wash, took my other. “On account of you being shot and all.”()()()()()()()()()()()()
“Good.” I tell Zoë as I guide her through the surgery that needs to be done on my left leg. “Ok, now very gently pull that aside.”
“This really isn’t my area of expertise Doctor. I tend to be putting these into people more than the other thing.” Zoë tells me, her jaw set in concentration. She sounds a little more frazzled than I remember hearing her. Then again that could just be the drugs talking.
Ah yes the drugs, I’m beginning to love the drugs. Now that the pain has lessened I’m a lot more coherent. Granted there still is pain. I couldn’t dope myself too much or I wouldn’t be of any use during the surgery. And I’ve grown quite attached to having the use of my arm and leg.
The throbbing that’s left has the side effect of keeping me from succumbing to the pull of unconsciousness. Plus River looks like she’s about to start crying again from where she sits in front of the exam table I’m on every time my eyes begin to droop. That’s incentive enough to stay conscious.
I’m still weak from the blood loss but that’s nothing a transfusion can’t deal with. It’s on my patch Simon up list. The leg and arm wounds are just higher up. I didn’t lose enough for it to be life threatening, just disorienting.
Wash is at Zoë’s side, surgical gloves and mask on, offering to sponge her brow. It’s barely perceptible but I’ve been a surgeon long enough to know when someone’s hands are moving surer. Idly I wonder why I never noticed how much strength Zoë draws from Wash’s humorous nature. Probably because she seems so strong on her own that it’s not something you’d suspect. Should have though, everybody needs somebody after all.
“You got the bullet.” I tell her as I watch the progress she’s been making closely. I sigh in relief as she pulls it out. “Ok, I’m just going to pass out for a minute but you’re doing great.”
My eyes close and I start to fade into blissful unconsciousness. Then I hear a sniffle and snap my eyes open to find River in front of me looking as scared and lost as I’ve ever seen her.
This is going to be a long night.()()()()()()()()()()()()
I’m not sure what time it is that I finally wake up. Giving my level of exhaustion by the time the operation was done, a long while I’d guess. For a moment I consider getting up but quickly dismiss it. Even if I didn’t think I would fall flat on my face I would still have stayed put. River is curled up to my side fast asleep, somehow managing to balance herself next to me on an examination table barely built big enough for one.
Sleep will overcome me again soon enough, of that I’m sure. That’s why I never bothered to open my eyes. Just when I’m beginning to fall back under I hear a voice floating in from outside the infirmary.
“I didn’t take you were the type to keep vigil over the children Jayne.” Shepherd Book’s voice, I belatedly realize, and from the sounds of it he caught Jayne off guard. Funny how a shepherd manages to do things like that.
Jayne collects himself quick; I’ll give him that. “Just don’t seem right.”
“Nothing about this situation seems right, perhaps you could be a little more specific?”
“The Doc killin’ a guy and all.”
“Somehow I think God will forgive him this one.” Book replies dryly.
Jayne snorts but has the good sense not to comment on that one.
“I would of thought that you, of all people on this crew, would be least bothered by the taking of a life.”
“Just not right is all I’m sayin’.” Jayne grumbles.
“Perhaps you aren’t so much bothered by our young doctor killing a man as that if you were to pull another stunt like the one on Ariel he would be capable of turning that gun on you.”
Why am I not surprised that the Shepherd knows about that? I can almost picture the look on Jayne’s face though. As a matter of fact I think I’ll open my eyes just a little and… yep, my eyelashes obscure it a little but he definitely looks flabbergasted.
“Doc said I was safe on his table.” Jayne told the Shepherd after a minute or so, not seeing the need to hide it at this point.
“I’d be more worried about when you’re off it. If this incident has done anything it’s hammered home just how far that boy is willing to go to protect River.” I can hear Book start walking away now, but he sends one last comment over his shoulder. “Something to contemplate over I believe.”()()()()()()()()()()()()
I’ve been moved to my room and I find some amusement in the fact that Jayne actually volunteered to take me.
I’m not arrogant enough to think the larger man is afraid of me now that I’ve killed someone. Perhaps a bit less nasty to me but certainly not afraid. Just the general nastiness the rest of the crew gets.
He won’t sell River and I to the Alliance again, I’m sure of that. Jayne knows I’m wary of him since finding out about the first time. That every time he watches our backs will be met with suspicions and every change of plan confirmed. He thinks I’d been willing to shoot him if he tried, or try to because I doubt even with the element of surprise I could take the man down. I’m not sure I would be able to pull the trigger given the chance anyways.
I’ve been having nightmares these last few nights. Nightmares of Early killing the crew, nightmares of him taking River, nightmares of him ra… doing things to Kaylee. Horrible things I can’t even bring myself to think about.
Then there are the other nightmares, the ones that happen when I’m still awake. Every time I close my eyes I see it. The gaping hole in the back of Early’s head as he lays still on the corridor floor, blood and grey matter staining its grating. Every time it makes me sick to my stomach. Odd since I have seen so many worse wounds when at the hospital.
Funny thing is I’m glad he’s dead. Yet at the same time the thought of killing a man, even an evil man, bothers me.
I’m a doctor, I’m supposed to save lives not take them.
I took an oath. The Hippocratic oath. It’s changed some over the centuries, but is also essentially the same. A large part of it boils down to a very simple fact, do no harm.
Do no harm.
My thoughts are interrupted as the door opens and Mal walks in. The man never did learn to knock. A fact that Inara and I had laughed at earlier when she had visited. I have to admit I like her visits. She never pressures me to talk about what happened with Early, sensing that I’m not really comfortable talking about it. Instead we talk about everything else and I’m grateful when she tries to distract River, who has rarely left my side since finding me in the corridor, as my bandages are changed. It’s like she thinks that if she leaves me alone I’ll disappear.
It was Inara who finally managed to coax River out to have dinner with the rest of the crew, another thing I’m grateful for. As much as I love River I’m glad to have the peace of solitude for a short while.
Book was the opposite of Inara. He would encourage me to talk about it or at least pray. Perhaps I’ll talk soon but I’m not going to pray to any God who would let those butchers at the Academy do whatever it is they did to River.
Wash was a good deal more subtle than Book in his endeavours to get me to open up, making jovial attempts to talk about it like it was some grand tale but I could still see the worry in his eyes. Even as Zoe practically drags him out of the room.
“You in there Doc?” Mal asks as he waves a hand in front of my face. When did he get so close?
“Sorry, guess I zoned out there for a second.”
An uncomfortable silence fills the room and after a minute or so I break first. “Something I can help you with Captain.”
“We’re landing in Boros day after tomorrow. Thought you should know so that you can stay out of sight givin’ the Alliance presence and all.” Mal looks thoughtful for a moment before adding. “Not that it will be a problem for you right now. Or your sister for that matter.”
“Thanks.” I say, but Mal doesn’t move. I already know he has more to say.
“She had a plan.” He says finally.
“So I’ve heard. Repeatedly.”
Mal grins. “Been getting an earful of that have ya?”
I nod. “She did the same thing whenever I did something stupid when we were kids too.”
“I have to admit, you were right Doc. She is a smart one.”
“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.”
“Rest up you hear. That’s an order.” Mal says with a chuckle as he turns around and heads for the door. He stops when he reaches it but doesn’t turn back. “For what it’s worth Doctor you ain’t weak and that’s something.”()()()()()()()()()()()()
It’s late when Shepherd Book pokes his head inside to check on me under the pretence of saying goodnight. River is curled up to my side fast asleep, having come back immediately following dinner. The bunk in my room is a little more spacious than when we were in the infirmary but it still amazes me she manages not to fall off.
“Goodnight son.” The Shepherd says quietly when he sees I’m still awake.
When he goes to leave I stop him, speaking softly so as not to wake River. “Can I ask you something?”
Book comes closer and kneels by the bed. “Of course.”
I take a deep breath steeling myself to ask the question that has been burning through my mind. Letting it out I finally ask it. “Does it ever get any easier? Taking a life I mean.”
He looks taken aback but recovers so quickly that I wonder if I imagined it. “You were trying to protect someone that you love. I’m sure God will forgive you this one.”
“I’m not asking about God.”
There is no mistaking how uncomfortable he looks now. “Wouldn’t that be something that you should as the Captain or Zoe or Jayne.”
“I’m more comfortable asking you.”
“I am not a killer Simon.” He tells me, a note of finality in his voice.
“I know that,” I say trying to assure the man that I indeed do know that much. “But I don’t believe for a second that you’ve never taken a life”
Book sighs and looks like he was debating something with himself before levelling me with an intense gaze.
“For some it does get easier, but for you son, I hope it never does.”
With that he gets up and heads for the door. The Shepherd pauses and then comes back and places a comforting hand on my shoulder. “And, though I’m sure it won’t mean much to you right now, for what it’s worth I think you did the right thing.”()()()()()()()()()()()()
My leg is throbbing by the time I enter the cargo bay, but I push myself forward. We’ll be landing on Boros in a few hours and I want to work my leg for a few minutes before I have to keep River and myself out of sight.
I’m nearly at the edge of the stairs when a sharp pain shoots through my left leg. I’m right handed so it is only instinctively that I reach out with my right arm to stop my fall.
Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng! See, I swear in my head when the situation warrants.
Unfortunately the right arm is the one that had a knife through it and the wound in the forearm lets itself be known as I grab hard onto the stair railing.
“Ta ma duh!” Or I swear out loud if I’m in enough pain apparently. I really should take more than I am for the pain, but a doped out of his skull doctor isn’t of much use to the crew. And a doped out of his skull brother is of absolutely no use to River.
“Simon!” I hear Kaylee call as she rushes down the stairs to me. For a moment I’m almost glad for the pain. She hasn’t spoken a word to me in days.
“I’m fine.” I push out through clenched teeth as she reaches my hunched over form.
Kaylee shoots me a look that definitely didn’t belong on her ever cheerful features. It was actually quite reminiscent of Zoë’s ‘don’t bullshit with me’ look. I wilt almost immediately. “Ok, not fine but still breathing.”
“I’m sorry.” She says, not meeting my eyes as I right myself.
“Why? You’re not the one who shot me. Or hit me repeatedly. Or stabbed me.” I pause as I consider what I had just said. “Man, that was a long couple of minutes.”
She shoots me another look and I know that my feeble attempt at a joke didn’t have the desired effect at all. “It’s not funny.”
“No, no it’s not.” I try to assure her that I don’t find any humour in it either. “But it still doesn’t tell me why you’re sorry.”
“I told him!” She exclaims. Tears are trailing down her cheeks but she pulls away when I try to wipe them. “I told him where River’s room was.”
“It’s alright Kaylee.” I say soothingly.
“No it’s not!”
alright Kaylee. I know what he would have done to you if you hadn’t. You did what you had to.” I try to assure her.
“You wouldn’t have helped him.” She says miserably.
“Don’t be so sure.” I say and for the first time her teary eyes meet my own glassy ones. “He told me that he had you tied up in the engine room and that if I didn’t help him look for River he’d… he’d-”
I shake my head as if trying to banish the thought. There is a wetness on my cheeks and I realize I’ve let a few tears loose.
“Listen to me.” I tell her as I cup her face in my hands and this time she doesn’t pull away as I gently wipe away her tears with my thumbs. “There was nothing you could have done then but cooperate. You were brave when it mattered.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“You pushed back your fear and got out of the engine room and unlocked the crew quarters. You were scared but did what was needed anyways. That takes courage Kaylee. More than mocking a man with a gun.”
“It didn’t matter in the end though, did it?”
“No, but that was my fault now wasn’t it?” I say, a small grin on my face. “Just ask River.”
A ghost of a smile crosses her lips. “That’s true. She’s been going on about that one for days now.”
I pull her into an embrace, she doesn’t resist. “And if River says it then it must be true.”
“Plus she hasn’t been confusing about it or nothin’”
I feel rather than hear her giggle. “What?”
“You swore! I heard you!”
I give a soft chuckle in return. “Told you.”
We stay like that for a moment, just holding each other, and I try not to think about how comfortable I feel in her arms. “I should probably get back to my room.”
I want to kick myself as I feel her tense and hold me tighter. She sounds so small when she speaks. “Could we stay like this? Just for a little while longer?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”()()()()()()()()()()()()
It felt like hours by the time Kaylee and I broke our embrace and I headed back to my room, but at the same time it didn’t feel like nearly long enough. For a moment I don’t think anything can wipe the smile from my face.
Then I see River sitting on my bed. She’s giving me an intense look that seems like it pierces my very soul.
“I had a plan.” She tells me once again, but I can tell this time is different. There are tears in her eyes. I never could stand to see River cry.
“I know mei-mei.” I say as I move into the room and do my best to kneel in front of her rather than fall. Her arms are around my neck almost an instant latter.
“You protect me,” She cries into my shoulder. “You always protect me.”
I rub my hand soothingly up and down her back. It always used to calm her when she was little and it seems to still work some now. “And I always will.”
River pulls back to look me in the eyes.
“You always protect me.” She repeats intensely and I know I’m talking to River my sister and not River the Academy experiment. “I wanted to protect you.”
My breath hitches as the impact of those simple words and I pull her back into our embrace.
“Why don’t we protect each other now?”
We stay like that for a long while, drawing strength from the other. My knee is throbbing more now from kneeling so long. I ignore it.
“I love you Simon.”
“I love you too mei-mei.”