"Don't you think we should help him?" Kaylee asked everyone at the table.
The crew looked to Simon, but Simon didn't reply. He had both hands holding very tight to the edges of the seat of his chair. Mal gave him an appraising glance, then passed Kaylee the fried potatoes as if that were what she had asked for.
Jayne made the stairs sideways. He had begun with the cushion from the lounge sofa tossed next to the med-bed to soften his landing, but in lowering himself to it he pushed it out the way with one leg and could not reach it with his hand. His knees hit hard, he felt and heard the jarring.
His first attempt at forward motion was on his belly, pulling himself with his elbows, but found that without the use of his legs this was slow and inefficient. He rolled onto his side, balancing on one elbow and lifting himself into a sitting position with the other hand, knees bent and legs splayed back on either side. In this way he could inch forward relatively rapidly by pushing with his hands.
When he came to a hatch he pulled himself through it by the frame. He could hook one leg over, then the other, haul himself up and through the frame and land in his forward sitting position. Outside the infirmary he took a rest.
In the galley, a plate of toast had been in the process of being passed from hand to hand around the table. When Jayne stopped outside the infirmary, Zoe had the plate in her hand. She began listening for Jayne and forgot the plate.
The stairs seemed possible in the same way that Jayne had passed through the hatchway, but he shortly decided on going up them in a sideways seated position, as it was easy to lift his seat with one arm behind him and one above for the short distance of one step. His breath was labored by the time he was halfway up. Simon made a pained sound at the rasping noises beyond the galley hatch. His fingers turned white with holding more firmly to his seat.
Mal continued chewing. Kaylee was giving a stricken look at her fried potato fritter.
In the galley, Jayne discovered the problem of gaining his chair. He laid himself across the seat. River spoke. "Let me give him one hint."
"Yeah, can't we help?" Kaylee hoped.
Jayne snarled, "I don't need any help, I'm independently functional. Just ask Doc."
"It's-- it's alright. Let him be."
Jayne considered the problem. He could tense his arm with his palm on the chair seat and slowly raise one side, but found he couldn't use both arms effectively; he tried to change the angle and the chair went over, knocking his head against River's chair. He shook off the blow and tried to use the table edge in both hands to raise himself. There was nothing directly above his head with which he could have easily pulled himself straight up. "Gimme your ruttin' chair," Jayne muttered at River. She lifted from her seat. Jayne put one hand each on her chair and his and swiftly lifted and lowered himself into the chair he wanted. River smoothed her skirt and took her place.
Jayne thought that now he should scoot his chair so his knees would be under the table, but seated properly, he found his legs tied up the front of the chair. He could tip it forward, but if he moved, the chair hit his legs. He twisted so his arms and upper chest were at the back of the chair, used one hand to throw one leg over the seat, hitching it past a snag between knee and chair back, and was straddling the chair with his front to its back. He threw his weight forward, scraping and jouncing the chair along until he turned all the way around and came back up to the table. "There. Pass the potatoes, beans, pork, biscuits and fruit sauce."
Several sets of eyes stared. Jayne waited, sighed, sniffed, rubbed his nose. "Please! Oh, and pass the salt, too. Please?"
Zoe blinked and lowered the plate of cold toast in her hand to the table.
Danny passed the salt. "That was grand, Jayne."
"Was it? It was just coming to the galley."
"Only one cuss word the whole time."
Kaylee began to cry.
"Aw, shut up, Kaylee."
"Jayne," Mal admonished quietly.
Kaylee tried to stop, and munched a piece of cold toast around her tears.
River watched Haven entering the galley.
"Good Lord," said Ducky as she pulled back her chair to join the crew. She was staring at Jayne. "Pilots miss everything. You--" she pointed discreetly-- "got a little blood on your elbow."
"Oh." Jayne took a napkin.
River kept her eyes on Ducky, but her mind was on something else. "Why isn't Wash flying?"
"Honey--" Zoe said in dismay.
Jayne broke in before River could answer Zoe. "What's that noise?"
"What did you hear?" asked Mal.
"Somethin' in the infirmary sounded like it. I thought it was doctor stuff, but now I think on it, that musta been when that pilot came in to look at me when I got woken. And she's here now."
"You heard it when Ducky was in the infirmary?"
"I think so."
"That settles it."
"What settles what?"
"Ducky's arm," said Mal. "Sonic dirt. Beyond the trouble of finding parts and repair for a newfangled arm like that, a tiger with good ears can hear it, no good use if you gotta hide from one. We're going back to the good old fashioned design."
Ducky's forehead creased in concern.
"Don't worry," said Zoe to the pilot. "We'll find a good dealer."
"Why isn't Wash flying?" River persisted.
The crew began to eat slowly, following Ducky's and Jayne's examples. Kaylee had wiped her face and picked up her fork and knife.
River said in frustration, "I know things. I know he's not flying Serenity. But he's just sitting there."
"Like in my dream," Simon remembered aloud. "I had a dream. Mostly about Wash."
"What all was in it?" Zoe asked casually.
"Oh, it was this world full of trees. Full of impressive, tall trees."
Simon stole a lengthy look at Jayne, but Kaylee drew his attention back.
"Like your house, Simon? Yours and River's at home?"
"No, Kaylee. Nothing like that. Pine needles. I was walking on pine needles. And Wash was sitting-- I walked to him. He was sitting down. He was watching the sky, and there were lots of ships in it. I could see the lights-- the engines. And we talked, just chatted. It was really lucid, as a matter of fact. I told him how much we all missed him since he died, and he--"
"What clever thing did he say?"
"I can't talk like Wash, but it was just like him. He-- I can't repeat it like he would. He said... Well, I said, 'After you died,' and he said, 'After--'. You know, like he was surprised. 'After I died?'... No, more like 'After-- after I-- I died?' and it was like a joke, as if he didn't know." Simon gestured helplessly. "I can't do it. It was funny."
"Nobody can tell a story like you, Doc."
"Dreams is boring," grunted Jayne.
Kaylee put down her flatware in attentiveness to Simon. "And then what happened?"
"Nothing. We laughed. We gave each other manly punches on the arm."
"Wash did somethin' manly?"
Mal grumbled, "Watch it, Cobb. The man's dead."
Zoe silently got up from the table, clearing her cup and plate.
"Are we sharing dreams?" asked Ducky. "I had one where I was wearing live kittens as bunny slippers."
"We could use a pair of kitten bunny slippers around here," said Mal. "Or a brace of cats."
"Two hundred and sixty-four little brains," River commented warily.
"We'll take care of that when we get in port." Mal briskly thunked the table edge with his palms. "Now. Day's work. Say, Zoe. You're on bridge maintenance."
"Sir." Zoe informally saluted as she put her dishes on the counter.
Kaylee piped up, "Bridge maintenance should be me and Ducky."
"You're both on other chores today. Zoe can handle that loose control piping. Danny, dishes. All day today."
"I thought I was doing decks," Danny protested. "What's wrong with the sanitizer?"
"You like decks. You can do decks on your birthday. I don't need to personally know who decided to sanitize an oven mitt. Mayhap it was an oversight."
"Then who is on decks?"
"Jayne's doing decks."
Jayne glanced at Mal, then made fixed eye contact with Simon. Simon swallowed his mouthful of potatoes and took a long drink to wash it down.
River offered, "There's a tiny sanitizer in the infirmary."
"Ah. This explains the carefully wrapped, taped dishes in my autoclave this morning."
"The tape changes colors."
"Yes. Yes, it does."
"Ducky, guess what you get to do. I'll hint that the dark reaches are involved."
"Oh, I want to." River was plaintive.
"I know, Albatross. You know I want Ducky to handle it until you get some practice with me with you out there. I know you want to."
"Ooh, scraping hulls?" perked Ducky.
"So I'm takin' a real outside guess that my job is the sanitizer?"
"Get started on scraping, cleaning, and filling those corroded points on the hull. I want us all done before we enter another atmo. Don't need those spots spreading. Get in a suit right after course review and get to that. Yup, Kaylee, sanitizer's you."
Ducky cleared her plate. "Aye, aye. Sir."
"I'm setting up some places to sell those medical supplies once we reach land. Jayne, there's a hovercart in the cargo bay. Program it to hover at mop-handle height--" Mal paused at Kaylee's flicking her eyes towards Jayne's seat. The captain looked at the man he'd been speaking to; Jayne was sound asleep, his chin and one arm slumped on the chair-back. "Right. Uh. We'll just-- explain it in a little while."
"So, let me see if I understand this," Kaylee said in a voice meant not to wake Cobb. "You're gonna give Jayne the hovercart and a mop and bucket. The hovercart's got a field to stop it crashing too hard into or through bulkheads... but Jayne and the mop handle don't. You think this is safe?"
"I think once he catches on he'll be safe enough."
"... I meant for us."
River floated behind Simon's chair and petted his shoulder and the back of his neck. "Shame."
Doc did not need to ask what his sister was talking about. He remained stubbornly seated, but she knelt by his chair and tugged at his elbow.
"You are obliged to communicate. I leave you alone about your mind most of the time. Just go do what Wash told you to do."
"You're not going to let this go, are you?"
River shook her head with righteous certainty.
Simon managed to avoid Zoe, unable one way or another to catch her when she wasn't busy, until Cobb was at his deck project, beginning with the bridge where Zoe was working. Simon felt he had to see how Cobb was getting on, hoping Jayne wouldn't think he was being overprotective, and found Zoe taking a break, leaning on the console.
"Zoe, uh, I--"
Simon overrode his intimidation, bypassed the risk of refusal and took her cheeks in his palms, brushed back her hair and gave her a sound kiss on the lips. "That's from Wash."
Zoe looked startled but also amused, so he continued: "In the dream I had, he got up to go, Wash did, and I was standing there, and he kissed... me like that and said, 'Give that to Zoe for me the next time you see her'." Simon faltered self-consciously in his retelling. "I wasn't going to say anything. But River made me do it."
"Anyway. Then Wash walked away in the woods, and said good-bye with his back to me, sort of waved without turning back. And that's all. Everything else I told at the table."
"Did River read my mind and tell you to kiss me?"
"No." Doc was unsure what Zoe was asking. "Wash told me, in the dream-- oh, yes, she made me do it, but she didn't tell me. She knew."
Zoe nodded and was turning back to her work. Simon pulled her upper arm, stopped her and hugged her firmly. After a startled pause, she squeezed him back.
"And that's just from Simon," he gave her his warmest smile.
Zoe relaxed and grinned. "Okay, Doc. Fine."
Mal swung up to the bridge. "Zoe. Help Jayne when he needs to switch levels again with that cart."
"I don't need any help!" Jayne hollered. He continued in a more desperate tone, "I'll get 'em done! Don't leave me."
"Where would I be leaving you?"
"I ain't givin' you no ideas if you can't think of a place on your own."
"Well, then, Jayne, until I do think of a place you're sticking with Serenity."