Healing Presence

By Juli

September 2008

Baobei = Sweetheart

Gorram = Damn

Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng = frog humping son of a bitch

When Simon Tam awoke, he instinctively knew he was in Mal's arms. The scent and the warmth of the man surrounded him, not to mention the touch of the familiar calloused hand that was stroking his back. The rest of the world seemed muffled and fuzzy, but Simon would know Mal's embrace anywhere. He wasn't sure exactly what was going on, but most of Simon's life had been spent without physical displays of affection, so he wasn't going to let a little confusion dent his enjoyment of the sensation.

"Mmmmm. . . ." he murmured, trying to burrow deeper into Mal.

"Baobei?" The petting stopped. "Are you with me?"

That was all sorts of wrong. Not only did Mal's voice sound hoarse, but he was asking. Pleading, almost. Mal Reynolds made demands, most usually ridiculous ones; he didn't beg. Simon struggled to lift his head, determined to figure out what was going on.

It was a good thing he'd recognized Mal's touch, because Simon almost didn't recognize his lover's face. Mal was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes. Not only that, but he looked gaunt, as though he'd lost weight, and there was unhidden haunted look in his eyes.

Simon tried to ask what was wrong, but to his surprise, all that came out of his mouth was an ugly croaking sound. It was enough, though, to get Mal's attention and prompt him into movement.

"Here, this'll help," Mal reached one arm to the nearby table. Simon made a discontented noise as the movement caused his position on top of his living Mal pillow to shift. Mal either didn't hear or chose to ignore Simon's pique.

Mal lifted a glass to Simon's lips. At first Simon felt insulted that the older man thought he couldn't handle such a simple action himself, but that lasted only as long as it took for the cool liquid to enter his mouth. As soon as the sensation of moisture registered, Simon realized he was parched. He grasped at the glass with eager but clumsy fingers.

"Easy there, Simon," Mal soothed him. "Nobody's going to take it from you, Baobei."

Manners were forgotten in the urge to drink and Simon sucked in the water greedily. Thirst eventually slaked, he collapsed against Mal again. Simply drinking had exhausted him and he didn't complain as Mal returned the glass to the table.

"You look terrible," Simon told Mal, his voice working now that his throat wasn't so dry. "Are you all right?"

Mal chuckled, but it had a wet sound to it. "Am I okay? Baobei, you're as crazy as that sister of yours."

Since waking, Simon had been feeling a vague sense that something was terribly wrong. He'd been so wrapped up in Mal's comforting presence, however, that he hadn't noted River's absence. Now that lack had an ominous feeling to it.

"River. . . ." Simon flailed as he tried to get up.

"Whoa there," Mal's hands were gentle as he restrained Simon and thwarted his attempts to rise. "River's fine, Simon. She's just sleeping. River's all right, I promise. Well, as all right as she ever is. Shiny, even, seeing as she's napping instead of getting into trouble. Everyone else is right as rain; you're the only one that caught it."

It took a few moments for Mal's soft words to penetrate Simon's panic. As he allowed himself to be calmed, Simon lay back against Mal's warmth, panting. Mal continued his patter of reassurance until Simon's breathing slowed.

"What happened?" Simon asked. He was embarrassed at how querulous his voice sounded.

"You were sick," Mal explained. "Real sick." His arms tightened around Simon. "That damn Tam superiorness of yours, you even have to be an overachiever when it comes to catching a gorram bug."

Simon heard the fear in Mal's voice, so he didn't take offense at the dig about his supposed arrogance. He frowned as he tried to decipher the vague reference of his illness.

"With what?" He asked. "I was sick with what?"

"Doesn't matter," Mal kissed the top of Simon's head. "But no more treating sick strangers, Baobei. I don't care how much we need the money."

Simon remembered. At their last planetary stop, Mal had been approached by a wealthy man looking for medical treatment for his mistress, newly arrived from the Core. The man apparently had an influential wife and couldn't risk taking his mistress to a more legitimate medical source. With Mal along as a bodyguard, Simon had gone to the woman's apartment, but had barely begun his exam when the angry wife and her thugs had burst in. Mal had ushered Simon out before things had gotten too heated.

Apparently Mal hadn't gotten him out fast enough. No wonder his lover had looked haunted.

"Not your fault," Simon reached up and cupped Mal's cheek. The water had helped revive him a little, but Mal's obvious need was doing more to help Simon throw off the fuzziness of having been ill.

Mal shook his head even as he leaned into the caress. "I'm the boss, Simon. I decided it was okay to take that healing job. I should have known it would go bad."

Simon snorted, being deliberately crass, since he knew it amused Mal. "You're a wonderful captain, but as a doctor, you're better off pointing your gun at things."

His quip got him a glare and Mal's realization that Simon was checking his temperature caused the captain to pull his face away from the doctor's hand. "I told you, nobody else got sick."

"I want to see for myself," Simon hadn't been entirely kidding about Mal's abilities as a physician. Serenity's crew had become family and Simon had a responsibility to them. He struggled to get out of Mal's arms, urgency giving him a burst of strength. His victory was short-lived, however. Simon slipped out of Mal's embrace and right off the bed.

"You really are as crazy as that sister of yours," Mal peered over the side of the mattress at him. He was pretending to glower, but even in his diminished state, Simon could tell that Mal was pleased that he was feeling better enough to give him trouble.

Simon hadn't recognized that he was in the infirmary. He'd been so wrapped up in Mal that he hadn't noticed, but the perspective was also off. They hadn't been lying on the exam table. Rather, some sort of pallet had been made up on the floor and so Simon hadn't fallen far. The fact that he hadn't been in his own room, or Mal's, gave Simon pause. He must have been very sick to need to stay in the infirmary.

"What was I sick with again?" He asked.

"Don't matter none," Mal replied as he sat up. Simon noticed that the captain was fully clothed, except for his feet, which were bare. Simon himself was in a set of loose knit pajamas that were a bit too big. He'd never seen them on Mal, so the clothing must have been borrowed from another crew member. He could only hope that it wasn't Jayne.

Simon struggled to get to his feet, but he found that his limbs wouldn't cooperate. "Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng," he cursed in frustration. "I just want to see my sister and make sure she's all right."

To his intense embarrassment, Simon's realized that his eyes were full of tears.

"Okay, Baobei," Mal said softly. "We can do that."

Without a word of reproach, Mal bent and picked Simon up, one arm under his legs and the other behind his back. Simon felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment, but he'd already proven that he couldn't make it on his own. They made their way down the narrow corridor and Simon was grateful that they didn't meet any of the other crew. He'd never live it down if Jayne saw him being toted around.

They ended up in front of Kaylee's quarters and Simon breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the cheerful twinkling lights that outlined her door. It meant that River wasn't alone. Mal kicked at the door with his foot and a moment later it opened, revealing Kaylee herself.

"Quit makin' that ruckus, you'll wake River and she needs to sleep," she grumbled before she got a good look at who'd disturbed her. "Oh, it's you, cap'n. And Simon!"

Kaylee stood back and let Mal enter her quarters. Simon was vaguely aware of Kaylee telling him how much better he looked, but mostly his attention was taken by the figure on the bed. River was curled up in sleep, her dark hair spread over the covers like a silken blanket. She looked as calm as he'd ever seen her. For once, her sleep wasn't plagued by nightmares.

Mal sat Simon at the edge of the mattress and he immediately reached out for his sister. It was obvious that she wasn't ill, but he touched her cheek gently just the same. It was warm with sleep, but not fever. River murmured softly, but didn't stir and Simon turned to Mal with a smile.

"You were right," he whispered. "I shouldn't have doubted you."

"Where your sister is concerned," Mal replied, equally quietly, "You'll never take anything for granted and that's a fact."

Simon nodded and it quickly turned to a yawn. Mal chuckled gently. "C'mon, you. Now that you know that River's fine and dandy, it's back to bed."

Mal picked him up again and Simon laid his head against the older man's shoulder. He was too tired to be embarrassed, but unfortunately that state of being was just a temptation to fate. To get back to the infirmary, they had to pass the kitchen and Jayne leaned up against the doorway, looking at them with a grin.

"Ain't that sweet,"

"Jayne," Mal's voice was a low rumble, but the threat was clear enough.

"Lookin' good, doc," Jayne told Simon as he sauntered by. "Last time I saw you, you looked somethin' terrible. Hell, I shit stuff that looks healthier than you did."

"You want to be walking away right now," Mal told Jayne. "Or come the next meal time, you'll be finding out if your shit tastes as good as it looks."

The big man left without further incident and soon Mal Simon back in the infirmary and deposited on his pallet.

"If even Jayne thought I was bad off, I must have been very ill," Simon stated as Mal was fussing with his covers. "You're going to have to tell me some day what it was. It might as well be now."

Mal made a show of smoothing the covers. After a moment, he seemed to come to a decision, because he left off with the busywork and sat at the edge of the bed. "Out here in the Black we call it Cindershock."

Simon had heard of it, although he knew the illness by its more technical name. His well-trained mind rummaged through his medical knowledge and he felt the blood drain from his face as the implication hit. No wonder Mal had looked so upset; Cindershock was almost always fatal.

"So if I seem a little twitchy about you recoverin', that's why," Mal explained. "Of course, most folks headed to the Black get themselves a shot to protect against it. Hell, as poor as most people out here, they can afford that. Can't afford not to. All of my crew are protected against it; just assumed you were too."

"I didn't know I'd be running this far," Simon whispered. "Or I would have. And you're sure River didn't get sick? The disease is unheard of in the Core; I doubt she had an inoculation either."

Mal shook his head. "Nope, she's fine. Whoever messed with her mind must have gotten her inoculated. Never took a lick of fever, just tuckered herself out lookin' after you. She lay down by you and never took her eyes off your face, like she was willing you to stay with us." He swallowed heavily. "Guess I know how she felt."

Simon held a hand out to Mal, thankful that the older man took it and allowed himself to be coaxed next to Simon on the bed. "I'm here, Mal. I'm not going anywhere."

"Gorram believe it you're not," Mal replied roughly. "You die and we won't bury you in one of those fancy vests of yours; we'll stick you in that stupid hat of Jayne's and you can spend eternity wearin' the damn thing."

"Oh, you wouldn't," Simon protested, trying not to smile. He had become accustomed to the way Mal hid his deepest feelings with humor and took the comment for the declaration that it really was. "His mother knit him that hat; he'd never part with it."

Mal snorted. "If it meant you were gone, he would." His arms tightened almost painfully around Simon. "But don't you dare come that close to dyin' again. I'd go straight to hell to get you back, you know I would."

"I know," Simon reassured him. "It won't be necessary, trust me."

"Gorram well better not be," Mal grumbled. To Simon's surprise and chagrin, he yawned again. Mal quit lecturing as he realized that Simon was exhausted and pulled the younger man closer. "Sleep, Baobei, I'll be right here."

"Never doubted that for a moment," Simon nestled closer to his lover, letting the warmth of Mal's body lull him into sleep.

Simon might be the doctor, but Mal could heal just by his presence alone.


~the end~

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