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Title: Never Runs Smooth
Rating: PG-13 For Angst

Series: Takes place in the Firefly Sushi!verse created by [livejournal.com profile] terimaru. Here is the list of fics in this 'verse so far.
Pairing: Mal/Inara
Word Count: 1,506
Timeline: set between between Mis-Ceptions and Inara's Gift
Summary: Fourth installment of my angst contribution to the delightful Sushi-verse. There's a reason why Mal doesn't believe in luck. Can Inara and the rest of the crew prove the Captain wrong? Or does Fate truly have a thing against him?
Disclaimer: Mr. Whedon and posse own all but the fish and all things related to Avery. Those are [livejournal.com profile] terimaru's.


Chapters: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8



Chapter Four
***********************


Sound filtered into his consciousness long before he could decipher any meaning from the noise. It washed over him, surrounding him with soft murmurs and lowered voices. He drifted in and out, detached. It was peaceful, and he certainly didn’t mind. He was warm, and something soft and gentle was stroking his hand… He felt his hand now. He hadn’t before.

A fingertip skittered across his forehead, surprising him, which made his arm twitch. The voices stopped abruptly. The hand in his squeezed, and one voice began to speak directly to him, instead of around him.

Until then, he hadn’t concerned himself with trying to discern what was being said, but something about the urgency in this voice forced him to try to focus, even though the more he did, the more he realized he hurt.

Everything felt sluggish. He couldn’t think; couldn’t get his mouth to speak, although he had no idea what he’d say if he could. He felt as if he’d been submerged at the bottom of a dark lake, and it didn’t hurt as much there. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to stay a bit longer…

“Mal…” the voice said, and it was such a soothing voice. He felt warmer just to hear it.

“Mal, you need to wake up. Simon wants to see how you’re doing. Could you try to open your eyes? Can you hear me, Mal?” the voice asked, and Mal could hear the edge of desperation just underneath the calm tones. They were scared. Had he scared them?

“Captain? Can you hear us? Try to squeeze Inara’s hand. Can you do that?” another voice spoke in crisp, precise English. They were familiar… He didn’t know if he could do much more, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to try to move his hand a bit. He didn’t want to frighten anyone. His fingers moved a little. A sharp intake of breath and suddenly his hand was being held much tighter.

“He squeezed my hand,” the voice said. Inara, Mal’s mind supplied. Such a beautiful name… He knew that name.

“Mal, can you hear me? I really need for you to try to wake up,” Inara said, and his mind began to function again, at least a little.

Inara was there, and she sounded like she was trying not to cry. She needed help. Mal tried to draw in a deeper breath, but found it difficult, as if something heavy were resting on his chest. Was he trapped? Had they been hurt?

He wanted to swallow, but his mouth was so dry he knew it would be a futile gesture… He tried to look for Inara, but found he couldn’t open his eyes. His lids would open for a second, but he couldn’t focus, and just when he thought he was making progress, he’d drift back under again.

“That’s it, Mal. Come on. Wake up for us,” Inara said, bringing him back to awareness. He’d slipped under and hadn’t known it. He tried again.

This time at least he was aware his eyes were open, although the moment he realized it he also realized it was bright above him, and the light seemed to travel directly to his brain, making his head hurt. He closed his eyes quickly, and a moan escaped him.

“Sorry, Captain,” the aristocratic voice said apologetically. Simon, his brain supplied. “I turned it off. Try opening your eyes again.”

He did as Simon instructed, wanting to see where they were. Was Inara all right? Had she been hurt? What happened? It was frustrating how hard it was to bring things in to focus.

“You’re doing great, Mal. Just a little bit further. You’re almost there,” Inara coaxed, and her voice was thick with relief.

He blinked a few times more, and let his head fall to the side where he could tell Inara was sitting, letting gravity help him along. Her face was blurry at first, but as her other hand reached out to caress his face, he followed the arm back to her shoulder and made his eyes focus on her tear-stained face.

Her lips were trembling even as she tried to smile, and tears were still slipping down her cheeks unnoticed as she leaned forward and kissed him on the lips.

“Hey,” he tried to say, but it came out more a whisper of air.

“Welcome back,” she said, and smiled brilliantly when she realized his eyes had locked with hers.

“You….?” He tried to ask, but found even just the one word suddenly exhausting. He frowned in concern.

“You okay?” he tried again, and this time it was a little clearer, even if still faint. Inara laughed.

“Of course I’m fine. Everyone’s fine, Mal, but you. You pushed us out of the way. Do you remember what happened?” she asked, leaning forward and resting her lips against his forehead. He welcomed the soothing touch… His stomach was beginning to burn something fierce, and it made it hard for him to take deep breaths.

“Are you in pain, Captain?” Simon asked, suddenly swimming into his field of vision. It startled him, which made him jerk, and with the sudden movement his skin suddenly came alive with sensation. He gasped and felt his hands clawing the table underneath him. Black spots exploded in his periphery vision, and he found the voices were starting to drift again as he tried to anchor himself.

“Hang on, Captain. Stay with us. Give it just a few seconds,” Simon said urgently, and even as he said it, the pain began to ease. Mal panted, trying to catch his breath, and realized he was shaking. Thankfully, as the burning receded, it was easier once again to concentrate.

“Better?” Inara whispered.

He tried to nod, but wasn’t sure if they could tell. He felt as weak as a kitten. Simon came at him with a stethoscope, and listened for a long time to his chest.

“Try to take a deep breath,” he instructed, and Mal tried to comply. As Simon continued to fuss around him, checking readings and listening to his lungs, Inara gently caressed his face.

Occasionally he would feel himself beginning to drift, but a gentle squeeze to his hand helped bring him back. Inara watched Simon anxiously, as if awaiting a verdict, and Mal watched her as memory lazily drifted back to him.

The man at the saloon… “Everyone safe?” he tried to ask. He’d drawn his gun, he remembered.

“Easy, sir,” a cool voice said smoothly, and Mal’s eyes immediately tracked Zoë as she strode into the room and stood at the foot of the table. “She’s not lying. No one was hurt but you.” Zoë’s face was as calm as ever, but her eyes missed nothing; noting his shaking hands and the sweat on his forehead.

There was so much he wanted to ask, to get clear in his mind, but all he had the energy to mutter was, “They taken care of?” Zoë smiled wide.

“You took care of that, sir. Think you made Jayne a mite jealous; he’s taken to practicing just outside of town.” Mal tried to laugh, but ended up coughing instead, which really made his chest and stomach hurt. Simon injected something into the i.v. taped to Mal’s arm, and things began to swim again.

“He’s running a little fever, but if he’s still stable by tomorrow morning, I think it’s a good idea to move him. This table can’t be comfortable, and he’s definitely got a long road to recovery,” he said to Inara. She’d never been easy for Mal to read, but it was hard not to miss the worry and concern.

“I’m sorry,” Mal said to her, knowing he was the reason she looked so exhausted and afraid.

He should have been strong enough to turn her away, so she wouldn’t have to face things like this. This was how it would end for him. He’d always known it. Shot to hell, or beaten down like he’d been after the battle at Serenity, when he’d been interned with so many others and, as sergeant for the losing side, made to suffer for crimes against the Alliance. In the end, he knew he’d be stepped on, squashed like a bug, which is why he kept out from under foot. Kept flying…

“Mal, look at me,” Inara’s voice broke his thoughts. His eyes locked with hers. “You’re safe. We’re going to take you to Abigail’s in the morning. In the meantime, Simon’s given you something to ease the pain.”

“’Nara,” he tried again to say, but Inara shook her head firmly and leaned so that her cheek rested against his, and her lips brushed at his ear.

“I love you. Stop apologizing and get better. If you’re truly sorry, that’s what you’ll do. Dong ma?” she asked him. He smiled at her as the drugs kicked in and he finally started feeling good, like he was buzzing.

Hen hao,” he agreed, and slipped back into the warm darkness.

************************************************


Translations:

Dong ma - Understand?
Hen Hao - Okay

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