* Three days prior*
River awoke with a scream so shattering that it echoed through the walls of Serenity and awoke the whole of the crew right along with her. Simon catapulted from the bed he shared with Kaylee before his senses quite caught up with his actions and he half stumbled-half raced out of their living quarters across the way to River's quarters where his sister was sitting upright stiff as a board in her bed.
Simon approached her with quick caution, his hands slightly raised, his heart racing in his chest. "River?" he called out with well deserved apprehension. River's body jolted at the sound of Simon's voice and she released a scream even more startling than the first. Simon wasted no time closing the distance between them and climbed onto her bed. He took her hands in his, trying to grab her attentoon, but she immediately began to fight him off. "Mei Mei, calm down! It's just me! It's Simon!"
River's eyes snapped to his as her body stopped thrashing and for a moment she stared at him with an utterly terrified gaze. Then she began to shake her head vehemently and tears of distress sprang from her eyes. "S-Simon?" she stuttered as if in disbelief and she yanked her hands from his, only to throw her arms around his neck urgently. She clung to him and Simon could feel her trembling in his embrace.
"Mei Mei, it's okay. You're okay," Simon assured her as he delicately rubbed her back. "Whatever it was, it was just a nightmare."
"No!" River's voice quaked as she responded to him. "Simon, no, you can't-"
"What's all this Gorram ruckus?!" Jayne's voice bellowed from elsewhere on the ship. Simon frowned when he heard him and looked back over his shoulder towards the doorway as if expecting Jayne to burst into the room at any moment. "That kwong-juh duh [nuts] girl is gonna wake this whole Gorram rock if she keeps screaming like that!"
Mal's voice could be heard firmly silencing Jayne, but Simon couldn't make out the muffled words. His attention had already returned to River who had now pulled away from him and had her face pressed tightly to her hands. She was mumbling incoherently and her mannerisms were nervous, a tell all sign that she was far from okay in that moment, but Simon didn't understand it. It was never easy to understand his sister when she slipped into these mindsets. He sighed and placed a gentle hand on River's shoulder, waiting for her to work through the moment, prepared to sit there as long as it took or until Mal or Jayne came barging in with a demand for an explanation...whichever came first.
"Simon?" Kaylee's tired voice called out to him from the doorway. "Is she okay?"
Simon looked in her direction to find her wrapping a silk robe around her swollen stomach as she leaned against the door frame. Kaylee's hair was mussed and her cheeks tinted red from sleep and she couldn't hide her exhaustion these days even if she wanted to. But Simon couldn't help thinking in all her pregnant glory, Kaylee had never looked so beautiful to him. He tried telling her that too, but she was easily moody and quick to tell him how biased he was, like he HAD to tell her that. Of course, it never helped his argument when he chuckled at her disposition. That was HIS Kaylee...
"Catastrophe," River muttered. She wrenched away from Simon's touch, wincing. "I'm fine."
"Oh, sweetie...did you have a nightmare?" Kaylee questioned with genuine concern. She flit her eyes from Simon to River as she pushed away from the door frame and stepped into the room. Simon noticed how she waddled more in her steps these days with the extra weight she carried.
River moved further away from Simon and laid down on her side with her back to the two of them. She yanked the blankets up over her head and mumbled something that sounded like a mix between a distressed cry and an angry curse in Chinese. Simon didn't know whether to chuckle at his sister's antics right then or be more concerned.
"Are you sure she's okay?" Kaylee asked Simon again, only quieter this time.
'When is River ever okay?' Simon thought but he nodded nonetheless and rose from the bed. "She's fine. Just...a nightmare, I suppose. She'll be okay in a moment. You should go back to bed and lay down."
Kaylee frowned, her hand resting on the swell of her stomach. "I can stand on my own two feet, Simon," she replied to him defiantly. "Ain't hurt. Been laying down enough."
"Your condition though-" Simon tried to reason with her.
"My condition?" Kaylee looked offended. She always looked offended when he brought it up this way. "It isn't a condition. I'm pregnant. I'm not...I'm not dying."
"No, no, of course not. I didn't mean it like that." Simon shook his head and reached out a hand to place it against Kaylee's stomach, but she swatted it away.
"I think you did," Kaylee spoke indignantly. "You sure look at me like you meant it that way." Frowning, Kaylee turned from Simon and swiftly left the room, disappearing across the way into their quarters once more.
"Death can't carry life," River mumbled beneath the blankets. "You're such a boob."
Simon released a shallow sigh beneath his breath and running a hand through his hair, he began to leave River's room. Zoe interjected him just outside with a knowing glance and he felt the heat ignite in his cheeks immediately.
"Strike out again, doctor?" Zoe guessed. There was a faint smile toying at the corners of her mouth, but she wouldn't laugh at Simon for the mishap and he appreciated her for that.
Simon sort of shrugged. "I, um..."
Zoe patted his shoulder. "A war of words with a pregnant woman is no easy feat," she replied.
"I suspect I am losing," Simon said as the heat in his cheeks intensified.
"Hormones, doctor. She'll be over it before you know it," Zoe answered and stepped past him to continue on her way to the kitchen. She stopped a bit of ways away and turned back to face him, a fleeting glance of apprehension passing over her face. It wasn't something the crew was used to seeing, but Simon had noticed it a lot more since Wash had been gone. Zoe bit her bottom lip for a moment. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble...would you mind taking a look at Emma when she wakes up? She had a rough night last night and I think she has a bit of a temperature."
Simon's expression relaxed at the request as Zoe spoke of her daughter with uncertainty. As a woman of war who was typically so strong in demeanor, the Washburne toddler had softened the woman dramatically. Of course, Simon thought a lot of that had to do with the untimely death of Zoe's husband and the prospect of raising their child on her own, but she filled the shoes of both mother and father wonderfully. Emma was never lacking a pair of caring hands and she had more love surrounding her than any child would know what to do with. It would never make up for the fact that Emma would never know her father, but she would be alright. The crew of Serenity, especially Mal, saw to that.
"I'm probably overreacting, but I just want to make sure," Zoe continued.
"She's teething. You can expect her temperature to spike sporadically," Simon explained, if anything to put Zoe's mind at ease. "Bring her to the infirmary once we break atmo. I'll be happy to examine her."
Zoe nodded firmly, pleased with answer. "Thank you," she said and she was gone from sight within seconds.
Simon turned to the closed door of his quarters and sighed again. Kaylee was clearly angry at him and rightfully so. He worried too much about her and the baby, but he couldn't help it. Their lifestyle didn't allow him to relax though and his and River's history of running from the Alliance left no room for error. It would kill Simon if something ever happened to Kaylee and their child. Inhaling deeply, Simon opened the door to step inside the room, silently preparing an apology he hoped Kaylee would find suitable.
Just the start to another typical day on board Serenity...
"Wuh de ma [Mother of God], are you out of your mind?!" Jayne shouted in annoyance as he sat heavily at one end of the table in the kitchen. Gripping an apple in one hand, he dramatically stabbed his knife into the center of it and narrowed his eyes at Simon where the doctor was standing at the other end of the table, rolling the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows. "Ain't you learned a Gorram thing yet?"
Zoe shot him a warning glance, but it went unnoticed. She looked at Simon as well, her face stoic. "I hate to admit it, doctor, but Jayne has a point. Venturing off on your own in this place isn't your smartest idea. I wouldn't recommend it."
"More like pretty boy here asking to get himself jumped by a band of no-gooders looking for an easy target," Jayne gruffed. "You looking to get yourself killed? Especially dressed like that? Ain't you supposed to be smart or somethin'?"
"Don't be dramatic," Simon calmly responded without so much as affording a glance in Jayne's direction.
"Dramatic," Jayne scuffed and rolled his eyes. "I'm not the one who's talking all crazy-like."
"Crazy is a perspective," River murmured. She lingered nearby, absently running the tips of her fingers along the edge of the counter. "You wouldn't understand."
Jayne snapped his attention to her, glaring. "Don't think I asked for your opinion."
"Jayne..." Zoe warned.
"You're being a ruttin' fool," Jayne snapped as he hastily cut a slice off the apple and shoved it in his mouth. He talked around it as he chewed. "Gonna get yourself into a load of trouble."
"Catastrophe," River spoke up again. Simon looked to her to see the familiar glaze of concern in her eyes and it made him think back to when she had awoken screaming from her nightmare. "Jayne is crazy, but it is a catastrophe."
Jayne growled. "Thought I said I didn't ask for your opinion!"
Simon opened his mouth with a sharp rebuttal, but Mal strolled into the kitchen at that moment before he could get the words to project. The captain looked at all of them with a brow raised as he tucked his shirt into his pants. "We got a problem in here?"
Jayne sat up straighter, clearly hoping to take hold of the opportunity to bring Mal onto his side of the matter. "Yeah, we got us a ruttin' problem, alright. Doc here is actin' all fong luh [loopy in the head]."
"Don't think much I understand what you're running your mouth about, Jayne," Mal said with a casual shrug of his shoulders. "Someone wanna give me an explanation that I can actually make some sense of?"
"I'm trying to tell you!" Jayne snapped again. "Doc's got the grand idea-"
"I'm not looking for your approval," Simon interrupted him.
Jayne rose to his feet as he slammed the apple and knife on the table. "I ain't giving it to you!"
"This is what you walked into, sir," Zoe provided.
"You ain't leaving this Gorram ship!" Jayne looked determined in his statement. It was almost comical the way he squared his shoulders, but it didn't phase Simon any. If anything, it only made the tension rise even further between everyone else.
Mal stepped forward quickly between them, less than amused. "Ta ma de! Nimen de bizui [Everybody shut the Hell up!]!" His sharp voice echoed around the kitchen, causing the silence to fall over the area just as fast as it had risen. "Ain't nobody leaving this ship."
"Actually..." Simon inhaled deeply. He grabbed a brown leather satchel Inara had given to him months back and draped the strap diagonally across his chest. "I am."
Mal blinked. "Come again?"
Simon's posture straightened both visually and diplomatically, even though staring Mal down was not only unpleasant but also at the bottom of a list of his best interests. "I have a run I need to make. It won't take me long."
"That ain't gonna happen, Doc," Mal answered him plainly. "We break atmo in just over two hours. Plenty of preparation still left to do. Don't need anyone running off right now. Least of all you." Mal turned to where Inara, who had yet to speak up, was standing behind the counter fixing herself a cup of tea. He snatched it from her without second thought and swallowed a sip, only to choke and cough as his eyes bulged. "Aiya [Damn!]! That's hot!"
"Next time you'll keep your thieving hands to yourself," Inara told him and took the cup back. She muttered to herself and turned her back to him, dumping the liquid out in the sink to prepare a fresh cup.
Mal watched her for a moment before returning his attention to Simon who was still staring at him pointedly. "Now, don't you go looking at me like that. I don't have any plans to stick around on this go se [crap] planet any longer than I need to. You all have your jobs and I expect you to do them. Dong ma [Understand?]?"
"My job right now is to see to it that Kaylee is happy and provided for," Simon told him. "And that's what I intend to do, whether you like it or not. Like I said, I won't be gone long. I just need to get a few things." His eyes flit to River who was watching him nervously. He offered her an awkward smile. "I'll be back soon, Mei Mei. You don't need to worry. Be good while I'm gone and I'll bring you back something." He gently pat her shoulder and proceeded to leave the kitchen.
Mal stared after Simon in disbelief. "Gwai-gwai long duh dong [What the hell!]!" he exclaimed, motioning with his hands to Zoe. "Was he arguing with me? He was just arguing with me."
Zoe slowly rose to her feet, fighting a small grin of amusement towards Mal's bewildered expression. "I do believe he's also about to step off this ship." She cleared her throat and forced her face to become more serious. "Sir."
"Don't much like being put in your place," River snickered as she brushed past Mal and skipped off to disappear elsewhere on the ship.
Mal stormed towards the cargo bay, releasing a sharp string of curses in Chinese under his breath. By the time he reached the area, Simon was already in the process of opening the air lock door. Mal wasted no time closing the distance between them. "This is absurd," he said. "You set one foot off this ship, doctor, and I will leave you here on this Gorram rock."
"Juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan... [This is a happy development...]" Jayne chuckled as he lingered a few feet behind with Zoe at his side.
Simon turned to face Mal. "No, I don't think you will," he answered calmly. He crossed his arms over his chest, challenging the captain's authority. There was no doubt in his mind that the threat on Mal's part was an empty one. Mal wouldn't chance enduring Kaylee's wrath if Simon got left behind, nonetheless for something so trivial. Simon knew it as much as Mal knew it as well.
Mal appeared taken aback for the briefest of seconds. "I don't think you much wanna test that theory."
"And I don't think you want to breach that betrayal with Kaylee. You leave me behind, Captain, and she will have your head on a platter." Simon had to fight his lips wanting to curl up in a smirk with the way the flash of realization spread across Mal's eyes. The argument was already won and it wasn't in the captain's favor. "I'll be back in an hour."
Jayne huffed when Simon began to depart from Serenity. He wanted to wipe that proud little smirk off the doctor's face. "Zhu yi [Watch your back!]!" Jayne yelled after him. Then he stepped up to Mal and together, they watched Simon's retreating form. "Y'know, for someone bein' jen duh sh tyen tsai [an absolute genius], he's actin' like a ruttin' fool right now. I warned him. You heard me, I warned him."
Mal shook his head. "Go do your job, Jayne," he spoke as he shifted his attention to the mercenary. "We leave in an hour, with or without the doctor."