Chapter 2: Recovery
Normally, the ETA to Arcadia would have been an hour. Thanks to Wash, that time was shaved to a precious forty minutes. Mal suspected that even if the commandos had any ideas of chasing them, they would have been eating a fine mix of dust and exhaust by now.
Three Hills was made up of dry land but Arcadia was nearest its equator which made the land and air dry with considerable humidity. It was something when even the Three Hills' government ignored you. Arcadia relied on mining ore and water as their income. It was also a place where new names were forgotten and old names were never remembered.
Once Wash found a clearing to land nearby the settlement, they hurried the still unconscious Zoe on her stretcher to find the nearest doctor. A young boy passerby led them to a small shack of an office and introduced them to an older gentleman. Very tall, white-gray hair, and a face that was hardened by weather but softened by life. Even his voice was soothing.
"What do we have here?"
Mal explained what had happened, just not how it happened. Mal found it was far easier and safer not letting unknowns to have an inkling to their criminal tendencies. The tall doctor calmly delegated duties to the new crew so to help Zoe switched to the doctor's medical room behind him. Once Zoe was at the mercy of the new doctor, the old man started examining her wound and checked her vitals. He then hooked her up to an I.V. and then looked over at the young boy who was watching along with the crew of Serenity.
"Go fetch your sister, Caleb. I think she may be needed."
Young Caleb flew off like a bullet. The old doctor addressed Mal who he had already established as the leader of this group. "She's lost a lot of blood. We have to get that stopped before we can get into the wound and take the bullet out. She's gonna need surgery. You administered the gauze?"
Mal answered, "Yes. It was all we had."
"Well, it may have saved her life. I don't have much in the way of professional facilities here, but I make do."
Wash grew impatient. "What does that mean? Can't you fix her?" He turned back to Mal and cried, "I think we came to the wrong place."
Mal turned to his pilot. "The doc's going to do what he can, just as he says. If we had taken her anywhere else, she would have died."
The doctor addressed Wash. "He's right, son. I apologize if my sense of humor gave you the wrong impression." He paused and stated, "This woman is special to you."
Mal was impressed how the doctor bled some of his calm demeanor into Wash and worked. Wash replied, "Yes. She's my fiancee."
The doctor took his arm and patted Wash on the shoulder and said reassuringly, "I'll take good care of her." He looked at the rest of the crew and noted, "Well, you're all welcome to stay in the other room, but as you can see this ain't exactly comfy with four people. I suggest using Carson's next door as a waiting room. They got drinks and food."
"You sure we ain't trespassing?" Mal asked.
"Oh, heavens no. You're all welcome. Least we can do while we fix up your mate."
"How long will this take," Wash asked impatiently.
"I suspect a few hours if Fiona can get here quick enough."
"Fiona?" Kaylee questioned.
Mal supplied the answer. "Caleb's sister. She's your nurse?"
"That she is. And a fine one at that. Now you folks go along and get you some grub and drink."
"I may need more drink," Wash admitted.
His remark was a comfort to Mal because it meant his pilot's humor was starting to return. As it was, only Kaylee went back to Serenity. She would always burn depressed time by keeping her hands busy in the engine room. Mal, Jayne, and Wash entered the dive next door to the doctor's office. It wasn't much to gloat about. It looked typical for a tavern that Mal and his crew had been used to. Mal had divvied up the money which they very much earned from the firearm heist and it was no surprise that Jayne ordered a shot of whiskey. It was a surprise when Wash ordered a bottle of whiskey. Ever since he hired Wash, he had never seen him drink more than a few drinks at one sitting. Then again, he may have never seen Wash this worried either. It was very unlike Wash to be in this sort of funk. Mal ordered himself food and drink and not once did Wash speak. After he was finished in about a half an hour, Mal decided it was time enough to join his pilot.
As he pulled a chair out to sit down at the same table as Wash, he saw that he was still barely a third way down in the whiskey bottle. Wash still wasn't much of a drinker. Or he knew that he couldn't handle his liquor. His ignorance made Mal think about how little he knew about his crew. Mal said nothing and grabbed the bottle and poured himself a portion of the bourbon.
"'Spectin' you'd be ok," Mal asked carefully stated.
"Oh, yes. Hunky dory," Wash replied sluggishly.
Seeing that his pilot wasn't going to elaborate, he turned his eyes to Jayne who was talking to a rather unattractive, but well built woman. Mal shook his head slightly in wonderment. Leave it to Jayne to not notice looks on a woman above the neck.
"Seems Jayne is settin' up a partner for the night," Mal remarked.
"At least she won't be given the chance to die in the next few hours."
"See, that's the funny thing about the future. You never know what plans it has in store for us. Could be that woman will walk out of here, with or without Jayne, and get herself run over by a hover taxi. And that would make your previous statement a mite false."
Wash still stayed silent as he emptied his current glass of whiskey then poured another.
Mal decided his next course of action would be to be blunt. "She's gonna be fine, Wash."
"How do you know?"
Mal shrugged and answered, "Doc seems pretty smart, and he sure as hell ain't nothing like any of the panicky doctors I've encountered before. He seems methodic-like and takes his time, which is a good thing."
"I suppose. I don't have much experience with doctors. Even where I grew up I hadn't much use for them. All the pollution on that planet and I become immune to it." He paused before he added, "It's just...I haven't seen Zoe that helpless before."
"Oh, I have," Mal countered. "Plenty of times in the war she was injured. Worse than this even."
"Well, I'm just not used to any of this."
Mal leaned in closer to him so their eyes met and he lowered his voice to just a level above a whisper. "You'd better get used to this. Our line of work ain't the light and comfy type. It's dangerous. Risky. Best you shoulda' known that before Zoe said yes. She knows the risks, and since you're gonna' be a part of her and this life all officially come Saturday, you should as well."
Wash seemed to take what Mal considered advice well. Without words, Wash downed the last of his current whiskey and poured yet another. He then calmly asked, "Have you ever truly been in love, Mal?"
All the time Wash had known his Captain, he had never seen him taken back by any question. Until now. Mal answered anyway, "I've had my share of women."
Wash chuckled and corrected, "That's not what I asked."
"Oh, you're talking about those long term commitments with one woman. Those kind I haven't had the privilege of keeping."
"See, that's the difference between you and I, Mal. You consider love to be a 'long term commitment' and I refer to it as being lucky."
"I wouldn't go so far as to saying lucky."
"I would. Haven't you ever loved someone or even something so much that it defies logic?"
It was Mal's turn to fall silent and reach for another glass of whiskey.
Wash kept on despite his noticing his Captain was growing uncomfortable. "I bet I can tell you what you love."
"You think you know me all that well, Wash? Ain't been quite two years since you've been my pilot."
"It was enough time for me to get to know Zoe."
"I ain't Zoe. You just keep your speculatin' about me to your self."
"Mal, you can't hide your emotions forever. I can see them."
Wash took a breath and said, "I see how you look at her."
Without a beat, Mal took to a look of frustration and snapped, "Inara is just a business partner! Besides, she's only been renting the shuttle for barely a month now. I hardly know her."
Wash smiled and softly replied, "That may be, Mal, but I wasn't talking about Inara. I was referring to Serenity." He saw Mal's eyes go a little wider but still continued. "I see the way you look at that ship either from the inside or when we leave it. That look is pure love, Mal, whether you know it or not. It's not writ anywhere that you have to love a person. You can love an idea, a belief, or a thing. With Jayne, it's Vera."
Mal wrinkled his brow and questioned, "Vera?"
Wash shook his head and quipped, "You don't wanna know. With you it's an Aught 3 Firefly. I saw a few of them at the flight academy and had the chance to fly one before I flew Serenity. They're not the fastest ships or the prettiest. But once I was in the sky in one, they are the most...majestic. They're very simple to fly 'cause they more or less glide in the air or the black. So, I can understand your love in her."
When Mal still gave no reply, Wash stated, "That love you have for Serenity, Mal, is the same love I have for Zoe. Imagine if Serenity were broke down and injured someday, which I'm sure is bound to happen, and you're helpless to save her. Then, and only then, can you understand what I'm going through now."
Suddenly, a soothing voice could be heard nearby. "Very well said, son."
Mal and Wash looked beside them and saw the langley figure of the doctor standing stoically. Wash immediately erupted and cried, "Doctor! You're back early. A little too early."
The doctor raised his hands to hold Wash off. He told him, "Easy now, son. Your lady is all right. It wasn't as bad as we anticipated. I dug in and retrieved the bullet and got her on some sedatives. She's doing fine now. Fiona's with her now finishing up."
Mal put in, "Any internal damage?"
"Well, some. You were right saying it was near the spleen. Damn thing hardly has any use 'cept to be bad when punctured. I got the internal bleeding stopped and she's all bandaged now."
"Can I see her?" Wash breathlessly asked.
"She's still unconscious."
"Doesn't matter," Wash replied.
The doc smiled and said, "Go to her, son."
Wash didn't have to be told twice. He exited Carson's Tavern in no time flat.
Which left Mal and the doc alone among the other patrons of the tavern.
The doc spoke to request, "You mind if I join ya?"
"By all means, being that you saved a member of my crew. You drink?"
His answer came while watching the doc pour a hearty portion of whisky into Wash's empty glass and then downed it all within seconds.
Mal stated, "Well...I guess you can." Then Mal felt embarrassed. "I'm so sorry, I haven't officially introduced you to my crew."
"Oh, you had no time. You had mighty larger things in mind when you came into my office to worry about names.
"Well, my name is Captain Malcolm Reynolds."
"Doc Randall Flynn, at your service."
"Pleasure. The groom-to-be is Wash, he's our pilot. His soon-to-be better half who you patched up is my second-in-command, Zoe. The other lady you saw before was Kalyee, our engineer."
"A lady engineer. I'm impressed."
"And Jayne is..." Mal looked to the bar and no Jayne. "...probably in some woman's bed by now."
Doc Flynn chuckled. "More than like he met Hattie. Ain't no gent of age in Arcadia who hasn't had that woman." The doc paused to fill another glass of whiskey but not as big and he reverted to sipping this time. "You look like a fine crew."
"Uh huh. How much had you heard Wash before?"
Doc laughed this time and it was a belly laugh that seemed to exude joy to all around him. He stopped and answered simply, "I heard enough. Your pilot seems to have you pegged."
"There's more to me than what's on the surface."
"I'm sure, I'm sure. I would like to amend more to what Wash was saying, if you'll permit me."
Doc leaned closer and said, "What he said about loving a thing is ok in it's own right. But...the heart needs warmth and tender care. No ship can give you that." He paused as Mal simmered on that a bit and proceeded to reveal, "Aggie, my wife, will be gone ten years come this fall. We had a time together. We lived on Ariel and boy did we define the word 'live'. She saw the war with the Alliance and the Independents coming a mile away. We left Ariel because of it, and found this backwoods planet. It didn't matter where we lived as long as we had each other. But Aggie took sick soon after we came and she lasted two more years." He stopped for a spell and it looked to Mal that there was a hint of tear in the Doc's eyes.
Mal took that time to say, "I'm sorry."
"You don't have to be, son. It's been long ago. But, every once in a while, when I see things going on around here, sad or comical, I catch myself thinking, what would Aggie say to that?" He paused again and said, "Now, our wedding was one of the grandest on Ariel, and I 'spect it still is."
A sudden thought came to Mal when Doc mentioned wedding. He looked up at him and cautiously asked, "Zoe won't make hers on Saturday, will she?"
"That's exactly what I wanted to mention to you first. She won't take to traveling anytime soon in the shape she's in. It's not so vital that she can't be on the ship. I figure a week of ease will do. So, yes, that will make her wedding attendance a bit difficult."
"Shun-sheng duh gao-wahn. She, nor Wash, will take to that news kindly. Which, I'm thinking is why you told me first."
"Can't get much by you. Which is why I propose to you, so to speak, a proposal."
"Really? What kind would that be?"
"The matrimonial kind."
"You have a preacher in mind?"
"Why yes." He swigged the last of the whiskey in his glass and stated, "Me."