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Mended Cracks

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"Outbreak of plague registered dockside and in merchants' bars," Schuldig said, checking the alert on his comm unit. "All ships' crews are confined to dockside areas until processed and given the all-clear."

"Everyone on the Rose is clean," Crawford said, glaring at his own comm. "They're not accepting medical certification? Do they know what the delays will do to ships ready to depart?"

"They're going to see a lot of traffic heading for jump point at speed," Schuldig said. "There's nothing for it, unless we want to be stuck her for ever. Do you want to round everyone up?"

"No," Crawford said in annoyance. "I'm not winkling Farfarello and Jens out of whatever dive they've found for themselves, and I'm certainly not going to see what Nagi's up to. You do it."

"Thanks, Captain," Schuldig said. "You can bring the navs in for processing."

"Not a problem," Crawford said magnanimously. He paused, waiting, but no warnings ran through his mind. "No, not a problem at all."

"Lovely," Schuldig said sarcastically, and got on his comm. "Nagi, Farfarello, Jens, thank whoever you're screwing and get back to the Rose, now. There's a medical situation dockside, as you'd know if you bothered checking your comms." He smiled at Crawford. "Go on, deal with the idiots we have on board. I'll deal with the other idiots when they arrive. I hope the clinics are ready for the influx of drunk, irritated crews they'll get."

"That's why I intend to beat the rush," Crawford said, and headed for the navs' quarters.

He found Ran napping, and Nanami busy counting the stripes on her faded blanket.

"Wake up," he said, shaking Ran's shoulder. "We're going out."

Ran came awake and looked at him warily.

"Out?" he said, still sleepily.

"Yeah. Up, and hold on to Nanami."

"Is he taking her with that boy?" Nanami said, cocking her head. "She wants to go with the First Officer."

"The First Officer is busy," Crawford said. "Put your shoes on, Nanami. Ran, help her."

Ran hunkered down and tried to put a shoe on Nanami's right foot. She grabbed it from him and stared at him in surprise.

"They're her shoes. That boy can put his own shoes on."

"The Captain wants me to help you," Ran said, sounding like he was tamping down annoyance.

"Just get yourself ready," Crawford said. "Girl, put those on." To his relief she did, though she started a little at his tone.

Ran shoved his feet into his own shoes and took Nanami's hand without needing to be told again. He led her after Crawford, out of the airlock and onto the dock. Crawford kept an eye on them as they all walked towards what his comm told him was the nearest clinic processing ships' crews. Nanami tried to pull away once or twice when noises or brightly-dressed people caught her attention, but Ran kept her moving. Neither of them asked where they were going, which he appreciated. Navs should just do as they were told. After a couple of hundred metres their silence felt odd and unnatural. He was used to Ran looking around and asking questions, and Nanami usually chattered at Schuldig when he brought her around. Now Ran was keeping his gaze straight ahead and a little cast down, and Nanami was trailing behind him, looking glum.

"We're going to a doctor," Crawford said. "People are getting sick, and we need to make sure the crew is all right."

"Yes, Captain," Ran said, in the polite, quiet voice he'd taken to using.

He never complained any more, Crawford thought, or looked either himself or Schuldig in the eyes. He'd even submitted to extra training with Schuldig without complaint. Crawford felt like shaking him and telling him to stop playing at being a good little nav. He sighed. It would only make the boy worse.

"I want to make sure you're both safe and well, you understand that?"

"Yes, Captain."

They walked on.

The clinic was, gods be thanked, not crowded. A few members of other crews kicked their heels and waited to be seen, but it wouldn't take too long.

"You two be good and I'll buy you dessert," Crawford said.

"Can she have cake?" Nanami said hopefully.

"Yes. And a fizzy drink."

"Come on, sit down here," Ran said to her, and pulled her down onto a bench. "Just sit quietly and think about your cake."

They were called in soon enough, and scanned.

"Clear," the medic said. "You need the vaccine against this strain. Want me to do them first?"

"Go ahead," Crawford said, and immediately felt a twinge of foreboding.

Nanami shrieked in surprise and pain, and the medic stepped back, quickly.

"He stuck a knife in her!" she said in outrage, and started crying.

"It's just a needle!" the medic said, holding up the syringe.

"Are we in the fucking dark ages?" Crawford said, furious. "Use a gods'-damned hypospray."

"We were given these for use on less tractable patients," the medic said. "I'm sorry, Lord Captain, but it's current policy –"

"Less tractable," Crawford said in contempt. "A skinny little girl. Get a patch or hypo for my other nav." He looked at Nanami in annoyance. Schuldig would know how to comfort her. After a moment he pulled the girl against him. "Shh," he said. "It's over now."

"Will the Captain kill him for her?" she whimpered.

"Not this time. I told you not to use that!"

"It's all right, Captain," Ran said, rubbing his arm.

The medic looked at his face and fetched a hypospray for Crawford's vaccine.

"Give us the gods'-damned certification," Crawford said. "We're going."

The certification came up on his comm and he swept the navs out, feeling murderous. Nanami clung to his hand, though at least she'd stopped crying. Gods. Now he had to get them dessert. He pulled them into the first café he saw and ordered a large and sticky cake for Nanami and the promised fizzy drink. It was a bilious yellow, and seemed to cheer her up immensely.

"Ran?' he said.

"Just tea, please."

Crawford watched him as he drank his tea, noting how Ran looked at him now and then.

"If you do want a cake –"

"No, thank you. Nanami got a shock."

"This fucking station. I hope your arm is all right."

"It's not bad. They use them on my world, on people who can't pay for anything better." Ran stared down at the table. "Thank you for being nice to Nanami. I'm glad she's happier now."

Opportunity. The feeling was gone as soon as he tried to catch it. Crawford leant back and tried to look non-threatening.

"He should have warned me. And her. I hope you weren't alarmed when I got angry." Ran's gaze flicked up and down again. The feeling flickered again. "I shouldn't get angry around you. Or Nanami. I don't want either of you scared. I'm not angry at you." And again. "At all. I want you to know that." He picked up his cup. He wasn't apologizing to a damned nav more than he had to. Certainly not in public.

Ran looked up and met his eyes, still wary, but not looking away. "I'm glad."

He accepted another cup of tea, even smiling a little in thanks, and didn't flinch when their fingers touched.

Crawford took a satisfied sip from his own tea. It was odd how much better it tasted, all of a sudden.