Kaylee slammed cans about in the galley.
Mal strolled through, inquiring, "Got a problem with supper duty, little Kaylee?"
Kaylee moaned. "I thought fairy tales are supposed to always have happy endings. I didn't know it'd upset him. I thought happy meant the hero's legs would be fixed. I thought if I read it, it'd be inspiring. Now he is more depressed than ever. I'm sorry."
She gave a shuddering whimper and cranked open a can of vegetables which, upon being lifted to dump into a pan with two other cans full of vegetables, turned out to be whole kernel corn and not beans. "Oh, no. I wanted three cans of beans. Now I'll have too many vegetables open if I get another can of beans, and nobody will have the right amount of vegetables that match. I can't do anything right!"
"Control yourself, mechanic," Mal said gently. "I need you to work out a solution... to... this mistaken vegetable identity."
"I should never be allowed near the galley! Everybody cares if someone cooks right. I do it wrong and nobody cares and Jayne will never forgive me. He's going to be eating this -- I guess if I just take him the whole can of corn, he'd eat it."
Mal barely smiled. "Carry on."
"Excuse me? Poor who?"
Kaylee turned around from the counter in uncertainty. She wasn't sure what Mal wanted her to say, so she reached for the problematic can of corn again. "Well... But you know his legs're never gonna get well again."
"That a fact? He gonna be Poor Jayne for the rest of his life?"
Kaylee was at a loss. Mal saw this and returned to familiar ground. "Supper on this table on time's what I need outta you, Miss Frye. Don't think about it too hard."
Jayne was too morose to notice River arranging medications on a tray in a manic fashion. She was mumbling to herself. Jayne was sadly staring towards but not at the infirmary hatchway. He roused himself somewhat when Simon entered, but Simon focused on River, who turned her back, hiding the tray of medicines with her arms.
"Hey Doc." Jayne reached for Simon's arm, but Simon skirted the med-bed with a flutter of one hand to acknowledge the patient.
"River, what are you doing?"
"I'm categorizing. You know full well these are Cobb's meds. Don't put them in the drawer meant for my treatments. And these, these too. One of these labels is badly smudged. And I'm donating my antidepressants to Cobb."
"Oh, no, you don't. River, you have half the medicines in the infirmary jumbled--"
"Leave me this tray." River gripped the tray's edges when Simon tried to lift it from her.
"You have everything jumbled up."
"I heard you say jumbled. I don't have anything jumbled!" River responded fiercely.
"Okay, mixed up, then. You need me--"
"I've got it under control, myself!" River tried to gather the medicines closer to her with one arm while still holding the tray.
"Give to me. River, you need these, and we need this place organized."
"No!" River swirled away. "I don't want to need them!"
Simon tried to keep a hand on the tray. The resulting tug sent medicine bottles in all directions. "Oh, no." Some of the pill bottles had spilled and mixed their contents. Liquids dripped off broken glass.
"Now they're disorganized," River moaned. "So, so disorganized."
Simon lost his temper. Though the disturbance did not show on the outside, the instant in which he felt it, River cowered away from him with black, angry eyes. "River!"
River frowned at her brother, lifting a protective hand across her chest.
"It's not fair. So not fair. How can I be gentle with you when you can always tell when I've lost my temper?"
River brushed back her hair and knelt over the scattered medicines. "Some of these are plastic. Maybe they didn't-- didn't get damaged. Maybe I didn't ruin everything."
"You-- well, okay, some of it is ruined."
"Oh, oh. No, maybe we can freeze some of the liquid and use funnels. Some of these caps are on broken glass. That's no good. You can't do medicine. You're no good as a doctor. You don't know what you're doing."
"I'll take care of it, Dear one. Please." Simon laid a hand on her back.
"'Go, before you ruin anything else,'" said River in a condemning tone.
Simon took several quick, deep breaths before he made himself answer. "Go. I've got it now. I'm calm, you go on and trust me, I've got it taken care of." He placed the flat of his hand between her shoulders and aimed River at the door as she rose.
"'Dearheart'," River said listlessly. To Jayne she added, "I'm sorry for interrupting your consultation."
"Doc," Jayne said again when River had deserted them, "I gotta talk to you."
His look was so unnaturally mournful that Simon felt wary. He pulled up a stool and leaned toward Cobb to give him his full attention, discouraged before he began by what he might ask him. But Jayne didn't start by asking questions.
"Kaylee's been reading me a story."
"That was nice of her."
"Yeah. It was nice of her-- on account of my being invalid and all. Until the story turned out to be all about this young prince who got dropped on some marble stairs when he was just going to get christened, and he grows up to be King and never gets well. He's a little, bitty baby, and his legs ain't working. He can't stand up. And he has this fairy godmother, right? Well-- she gives him a cloak, to travel in, but she never fixes his legs? What good is that fairy godmother? If she wasn't a lady, and she came up all sweet on me about how she's my fairy godmother, I'd give her face a rearrangement. Nothing wrong with his fists, that I can see."
"What good is growing up and being King if you can't have young'uns? He has to be King, see, but he has to have a heir, and he don't even take a wife. He takes on one of his cousins as a son to him. I want a real young'un, of my own. I don't want my cousin's young'uns, even if they do turn out fair."
Simon snatched at his professionalism, righted it, and managed, "You-- want children?"
"Not only that, but what they think's a happy ending is the King with no legs just flying off into the beautiful mountains," Jayne scoffed. "I want a ranch on one of the prairies. I been savin'. Need a woman and young'uns for that, so I gotta save up so a gal'll come with me permanent. Fella can't be on no ranch on his own."
"I didn't know you wanted that."
"You're saying I can't have it now, right?"
Jayne saw Simon's helpless hesitation, however brief. "Jayne, that story has nothing to do with you except that you and the main character both have paraplegia." As soon as he used the word, Simon could see this was going to lead to an extended explanation, so he substituted "Paralysis, that is. Of the legs. Your legs don't work," as quickly as he could.
"I know that this is important to you, so I'm going to talk with you about it now, before you bring it up to everyone at the dinner table. Your relationship with-- the ladies whose company you choose may be changed by your injury."
"Ladies? You mean-- yeah, I know. Without legs, they might not want me."
"Jayne, What I'm trying to tell you is that it may take more than an hour's pay to accomplish what you're trying to do."
"Gorramit! This is an expensive wound to get!" This was the Jayne Simon was used to, but in the next moment he was again veiled in sadness. "I heard Cap'n tell you to fix me so I can work. I know what that means."
"What does it mean?"
"Means if you get put off this ship, I get put off this ship. You tell him I can't work, Mal'll believe you. You're the doc. Then I'll be outta a job and my home."
"No, no. The idea is for you to get the best chance at recovery."
Jayne lunged and grabbed a handful of Simon's pullover, yanking him in toward him until their noses were touching. "You think I ain't smart enough to know I'm a goner if I get my back wounded doing something stupid again? Doc, tell me the truth. That electrical thing you told about. You really expect it to make my legs good enough for cargo work? This kind of cargo work?"
Simon felt disinclined to give unfavorable prognoses to a tiger who had him by the lapel. "Jayne, you misunderstand me."
"I think I understand. You're gonna stop thinking about my spine and ways I could get hurt. So you just shut your measly brain up whenever it worries on things ain't its business like how hurt I might get in my body."
"But," Simon panted, "I'm your medic."
"Naw. You're the medic for folks as gets hurt. You fixed up my wounds and I appreciate that." Jayne loosened his grip, but still had Simon pulled up on his toes. "Capn's gonna put me off Serenity. Doc..." he released Simon entirely, leaving a wadded lump in the pullover fleece where his hand had been. "Promise me. Right now. Afore you leave this infirmary or go anywhere else. I'm on this ship. I'm part of this crew. And you're still my regular Doc."
"I can't promise that, Jayne."
"Why? Doc Tam, if I'm dying, or if I ain't healthy enough to be your patient anymore, I want you to tell me to my face. And then I'll go off and die like a good little tiger."
Simon set his jaw, loosened and set it again. Then he took Jayne's hand. "I promise you can work and I won't say a word about your spine."
Jayne shook Doc's hand.
Simon nursed his hand, picked up and sorted pills. He was concentrating on inventorying the medicine destruction on his medscreen when Zoe tilted her shoulder partway in to the infirmary, acknowledged Cobb, and informed Doc, "Your sister's in the wash boiler element access."
"Again?" Simon frowned without looking up. "Can't you do something to lock her out of there?"
Zoe arched an eyebrow. "You ever try locking anything against your mind reading sister?"
"You need to use the element?"
"I was planning on it, 's why I checked the access."
"Thank you." Simon leaned one shoulder anxiously in the direction of the corridor. "I'll be there directly."
Mal headed for the mechanicals with a wrench and paused, backed up and crouched to peer into the opened element hatch. River's back, visible in her wrinkled cotton dress, curved around the drain pipe. Mal rapped on the open access hatch with a knuckle. "Albatross, how about comin' out of there? This ain't natural seabird country."
River coiled around the drain. "I belong here."
"That's well and good, but when Zoe starts up that element you'll be cooked."
"Cooked like goulash."
"River, you know I'm partial to you curling your little body up just wherever you like it on this ship. But you look like a lost calf."
"I'm a girl. I'm frozen. Frozen."
Mal touched her shoulder. River circled herself more firmly in place. She spoke to the back of the canister, echoing. "Get the shepherd. He will have to tell us what to do."
"Shepherd's dead. I got you and Zoe to always tell me what to do."
"I don't tell you what to do," she cried. "I can't. Don't touch me, I'll freeze you."
"No, you're warm. Too warm."
River loosened the curve of her body and Captain Reynolds eased her out. "I found the calf. Better carry this calf of mine back to the barn. Best put her forelegs over my one shoulder-- like this, and her hind legs over the other shoulder."
River draped, limply silent, across his neck.
Mal gripped River's wrists together in one hand. "It's a mite windy. Could have trouble with gettin' back to the barn--" he dipped his shoulder and staggered dramatically.
Simon came to the mechanicals area as River gave a small hee sound. Simon watched the captain steadily with a cool look Mal could not identify. Then River outright laughed, and Doc's expression was displaced with a smile for her.
The captain slung River off his neck as she readied her feet to hit the deck. "There's your big brother calf. Best go in to him."
River went and Simon guided her out by the shoulder; he gave one pleasant look back over his shoulder at Mal.
As prearranged, as soon as Captain Reynolds awoke the next morning, he took McBride, who was unresponsive as expected, to the infirmary and strapped him down so Simon could dose him. This time Danny woke up with disorientation but without a violent fit.
"There's no telling when it will come. Better let him up."
"Can I come to breakfast?"
Simon gave his approval.
"Yeah." Mal waved Danny out of the infirmary before him.
"Yes, Mister Cobb?"
"Can I have one of those cushions off the lounge sofa?"
"Sure. Where do you want it? Behind your back?"
"Just let me have it."
"Do you want me or someone else to come and eat breakfast with you?"
"Nah, I'm coming up to the galley."