Title: Picture of Health
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Whedon's, not mine.
Summary: Firefly/Serenity. Some days it ain't so bad, this business of talking to things as don't keep their brains where he can see them. 1000 words.
Joss100 Prompt: Malcolm Reynolds #2.18, Health
Notes: Set after the movie. I guess I'm on a roll with experimental Firefly fic the last few days! Don't ask where it came from, because I have no idea, but it wouldn't let go. I'd adore any critical feedback you care to give.
Some days it ain't so bad, this business of talking to things as don't keep their brains where he can see them. First time he'd set foot back on *Serenity* after the walls come alive with whispers, he'd near wept for joy; he'd known all along that she were more than just another hunk of metal fit for the Black, but now he really can hear her when she keens, and feel her love fill the space of what was took from him. Ain't a thing in the 'verse can compare to the sultry voice of her, welcoming him home.
Hardly a thing feels different when he's sitting at her helm, despite all that's happened. Gun strapped at his hip, fingers flying over the console, *Serenity* singing out their course between worlds; he's still flying, and the chaos of everything else around him fits into the same patterns it always has done. It's the other times, the times when he can't eat his breakfast for the leering of the table telling him what Simon and Kaylee done on it the night before, or when he has to stay aboard during certain jobs for fear he'll get distracted at an inopportune moment, that the reality of all that's changed catches up with him and leaves him breathless.
River makes it bearable, when the worst of it hits him. She drags him back to one of the empty passenger dorms, one of the several what never housed a living spirit in all the time Mal's owned 'em and so are less liable to confound him now, and there she tells him of her ghosts: of the jokes Wash cracks when she's at the helm that nobody else can hear, and the prayers Book muttered under his breath the last time Simon masterminded a job and nearly led them all to disaster. In return, he tells her 'bout Vera's catty comments every time Jayne takes her up after a mission where he carried a lesser weapon, the secrets Inara's dresses whisper about the things they've seen puddled on the floor of her shuttle, and the real and true reason he ain't worn his Browncoat since they brought him back from the Alliance-run medical prison.
Simon always finds the pair of them eventually, of course. Brings out the medicines, each tiny bottle bragging of its own brand of healing prowess or death-dealing might, and measures 'em out to his patients in carefully prescribed amounts. He's long since found the formula as works best for his sister, but Mal's troubles are something he's never seen before, and the needles still share gleeful gossip about the Captain's reactions to cocktails five, nine, twelve, and twenty-three. Simon furrows his brow in irritation when Mal swats the empties away, every damn time, then sighs, watching him with shadowed eyes.
Doc seems to believe it's his fault Mal was snatched in his stead from that bar on Persephone where they was to meet a contact of Badger's as had heard of their job on Ariel. Man's also got a bee in his bonnet about the new strain of Pax what was used on Mal-- meant to make a man more susceptible to subliminal messages piped into public consciousness by the Alliance, but which had inevitably backfired as spectacularly as the other-- that had turned out to have a certain Dr. Gabriel Tam's fingerprints all over its makeup. Doc's father had apparently been asked to do a great many things to prove his loyalty in the wake of Simon's escape with River, and had done them, only to be swept up in the Operative's order to "leave no ground to go to"; a fitting irony to Mal's mind, but one Simon feels he bears responsibility for.
Things'd go a deal smoother if the doc had half the perceptiveness of his sister, as what comes out of Mal's mouth or stylus these days ain't hardly decipherable even when the medicines lend a hand 'stead of dragging him down. It all comes out filtered through some Bible passage or other or some bit of poetry he'd memorized long since, and he ain't found the right quote yet to tell Simon to cut the *niushi* and make the best of things. River's perfectly happy to play interpreter for him now the way he done for her before, but this ain't exactly a message he feels comfortable relaying given it touches on her troubles, too: the doc needs to learn that if a man's going to take personal responsibility for all the harm comes his way, or comes to others due to his choices, then it's also his job to make sure none of the sacrifices made along the way were in vain.
(Besides, Kaylee ain't getting any younger, and that dress she keeps like a wall hanging in her quarters been gossiping to the tin mug she carries down there sometimes. It's been two years already since they took up together after Miranda; Doc goes on insisting he ain't worthy to marry her, Kaylee might just give up and agree with him).
Mal don't much like being counted as one of the sacrifices. But things ain't all bad. Ain't a keypad or a safe in the 'verse as can keep him out now he can hear them mutter their passwords to themselves, and his aim's got even better since his guns started giving him advice. Everywhere he goes is some knickknack or other with an interesting tale to tell, and *Serenity*'s there behind it all, murmuring lullabies when he finds it hard to sleep and filling him in on everything the others been up to when he was out of earshot. River understands him, when the quotes that serve him for language go astray, and he and Zoë can still communicate whole worlds in a glance. Not to mention, 'cept for still being crazy, he's a picture of health.
Alliance ain't took the sky from him yet. He'll pass through this soon enough.