Day 9

Title: Day 9
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Firefly
Rating: PG
Pairings: canon
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Everyone thinks Mal's sneezing except for Simon.
Notes: Written for my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2017-18 project project for Anonymous.

Any smuggler worth his salt would tell you war was good for business. Sure, it usually meant finding creative ways around blockades. And of course it entailed a certain added level of risk. But with war came desperation and need—two things that were very good for smugglers. Even if you weren't in the habit of smuggling weapons and ammunition, there was always a constant need for medical supplies, raw materials, and food.

“Sign here,” the brute of a man said, thrusting over a pad.

Mal eyed the pad, debating for a moment. Records, unlike war, were not so great for smugglers. He signed quickly, as illegibly as possible.

“Thank you, Captain...” The man's tiny black eyes narrowed at the scrawl. “Spike?”

“That's me,” Mal grinned.

There was a loud sound behind him, which was either a horrible crash or the sound of Jayne finishing his work and already feeling bored. “We're all loaded here!” he called over.

Mal nodded toward the man. “Nice doin' business with ya.” He headed into the cargo hold, which was half-filled with crate after crate of hay and alfalfa. It was probably too much, but he really didn't know how much goats ate on a daily basis, so maybe it wasn't enough. Because the other half of the hold contained more goats than Mal had ever seen in one place before.

“Kinda cute, aren't they?” Mal looked over to see Kaylee coming around the paddock the goats were in.

There were more footsteps and Inara appeared up above on scaffolding, leaning forward with her arms folded on the railing. “They are cute,” she agreed.

“Is that what you ladies like these days?” He stroked his chin. “Long teeth? Large ears? Little bit of a beard?”

“I don't think that's quite your look, Mal,” Inara said, but he could see she was amused. Oh yeah. He was wearing her down, slowly but surely.

heh-Kehtchhhh! Heh-Pffttt!” He managed to clap his hand over his nose and mouth for the second one. He looked up to see Inara frowning.

“That’s not quite the best look for you either.”

Luckily, she continued on her way and Kaylee went over to look at the goats more closely, letting him wipe his nose without them seeing. 

*             *             *

“Mal’s sneezing.” River hovered in the doorway of the infirmary, fingers stroking each side of the doorjamb.

Simon raised his head. He’d been reading through the latest broadcasts from the Alliancce, scanning them for anything even close to a reference to him and his sister. He should have been getting more confident as time went on, but all he felt was jumpier. They were far from the core, but every contact with new planets potentially met more pairs of eyes that might recognize the Tams. He must have been deeper into his reading than he’d expected if he hadn’t noticed the captain was sick. “He is?”

She looked at the doorway, not at her brother. But she nodded, her head bobbing emphatically.

That was good enough for Simon. He grabbed a small kit and hurried out to the captain’s cabin. Mal wasn’t there, though. He also wasn’t in the common area, the cockpit, or the engine room. He wasn’t in the cargo hold, though it was hard to tell for sure, given the number of boxes and goats filling the place up. “Mal?” There was no answer and, more importantly, no sound of sneezing.

The thought crossed his mind to go check Inara’s shuttle, but it turned out he didn’t need to. As he passed through the dining area a second time, he ran into Mal more literally than he might have wanted. “Ow!” Simon pulled back, massaging his nose that had collided with Mal’s prominent chin.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Mal asked, running a hand over his chin.

“Oh… trying to find you, actually. Rumor is you’re sick.”

“Sick? Where’d you hear something like that?”

Mal looked suspicious, and the last thing Simon wanted to do was point the finger at his sister. “Can’t remember. Just something I overheard.”

“Uh-huh.” Mal eyed him. “Well, do I look sick?”

Simon studied the man before him. Mal looked a little tired, but they were in the middle of a job, so that was to be expected. And the underside of his nose did little a little red, but it might have just been his imagination. Honestly, the man looked better than he had in a while. “Actually, no.”

“Do I sound sick?”

Again, “No.”

Mal eyed the doctor’s kit. “Look, I appreciate you lookin’ out for me, but I ain’t in need of any doctorin’ right now. I’ll be sure t’give you a call the next time I am.” He gave Simon’s upper arm two reassuring pats then sauntered past him, out of the dining area.

Simon turned on his heels to watch him go. He could have sworn he’d heard a sniffle as Mal left, but Simon couldn’t be absolutely certain. He thought about calling back to him and insisting on a check-up, but he didn’t want to make Mal more suspicious.

*             *             *

Simon was eating breakfast, wishing there were something tastier on board Serenity to put on bread than butter. He’d never admit it to anyone, especially not River, but he missed the big breakfasts he’d had back home. It was one of the many cases where he didn’t appreciate what he had until it was gone.

River wandered into the dining area, looking sleepy. “Good morning!” he called to her.

She smiled at him and ducked into the kitchen. When she was settled beside him, sipping a mug of tea, she turned to him. “Mal’s sneezing,” she told him.

Simon sighed. “This again? Mal’s not sick. I talked to him, and he made it clear that he’s fine, dong ma?”

She shrugged, looking at her tea rather than at him.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, until Wash and Zoe came in. “Morning!” Simon said to them.

“Morning,” Zoe said. “Hey, have you seen Mal?”

“Not this morning,” Simon said, finishing off his bread. “Why?”

Wash gave a laugh. “Mal’s sneezing.”

“I told you,” River said quietly but pointedly.

Simon ignored that. “Wait, what?”

Wash repeated, “His cabin’s near ours, and last night we heard him sn—” He stopped short as Mal walked in.

As everyone exchanged pleasant “good morning”s, Simon evaluated the captain again. His bloodshot eyes, which Simon had taken before as a sign of fatigue, could quite possibly be something else entirely. And the whole underside of his nose now was flushed, irritated. But Mal’s body language still read as if nothing was wrong. It was Simon’s turn now to be suspicious. He listened for sniffles. He listened for congestion.

But he didn’t hear either.

Mal didn’t sneeze. He didn’t cough. He didn’t even so much as clear his throat. If Mal really was sick, he couldn’t possibly go so long without showing signs. When Mal finished breakfast and left, Simon wasn’t yet convinced anything was wrong. He could feel River, Wash, and Zoe staring at him. “All right!” Simon relented, standing up. “I’ll go make sure.”

Chasing after Mal to find out if he felt sneezy or not, when he clearly wasn’t, seemed so stupid. But there he was, rushing through the halls to catch up to the captain. As Mal reached the bottom of the stairs beside the infirmary, he turned to look at Simon. Simon found himself cringing internally, hoping that didn’t show on his face. “Doctor Tam, I do believe you’re following me.”

Simon pointed past Mal at the Infirmary. “That’s where I work.”

Mal nodded. “Right.”

“Are you…” Simon walked down the last few stairs. “Are you okay?”

Mal nodded again, still sounding distracted. “Sure.”

Simon wasn’t convinced. “Really?”

“Mmm-hmm.” He rubbed a finger at his nose.

And that’s when Simon knew. Slowly, a smile appeared on his face. “You’re trying not to sneeze, aren’t you?”

“No.” Mal rubbed at his nose again.

Simon laughed. “Yes you are.” But the expression on Mal’s face made Simon’s laughter end instantly. He took hold of Mal’s arm and directed him into the infirmary. He closed the door and slid the shades down to give Mal privacy. “Hop up on the exam table.”

Mal shook his head. “I’m not sick.”

“Okay,” Simon agreed, deciding to play along. “You aren’t sick. Hop up on the table anyway for me. That’s an order, Captain.”

“I…” Mal scrubbed his hand under his nose hard and fast. But his eyes closed and his mouth opened. “heh-KERSHOO! Kurshuhhh! Heh… heh-KAHSHooo!” He rubbed his nose again.

“You’re sneezing.”

“Brilliant powers of observation. So glad we’ve got you on board, Doc.”

Simon shook his head. “It’s a long story.” He walked over to a cabinet and rifled around until he found a tissue box. He brought it to Mal. “Help yourself.”

Mal did, wiping his nose. “Any chance you’ll forget you saw that?”

“Any chance you’ll open your mouth so I can take your temperature, or do I have to give you another order?”

“D-don’t bother. I’m not sick,” Mal explained. “hehhh-KEHShhhh! Sniff! Sniff! It’s… sniff it’s the goats.”

“The goats?”

“I think I’m aller… allerg… all… hehh!” He grabbed for another tissue. “hehh-KEHTchhh! Kershhhhh!” He panted, breathing in and out. Then he tried again. “I think I’m allergic to goats. Sniff! Or their hay or alfalfa or something. Every time I even get close to the cargo hold I s-start sn-snee… hehh-hehh-KUHTChhoo!

“And you didn’t want to tell m—”

hehhh-KEHTchhh! KAHShooo! Hehh-Kshhhhh! Heh-heh-Kahshuhhh!

Simon waited for the Mal to be done, though he had the sneaking suspicion that Mal wasn’t actually going to be done for some time. He took advantage of the brief respite between sneezes. “We’ll talk later. Let me find you something now to help with this allergy.”

“P-please. Hehhhh… hehh-KEHShhh!

Simon shoved the tissue box into Mal’s arms. Then he started going through the medicines they had there, looking for one that would work. There were a number of strong decongestants, but he was looking for something more of the antihistamine variety.

hahh-KIHTChhhhhh! Heh-heh-KIHSHHH! Sniff!

Finally, Simon found something, checked the date to make sure it was still good, and went back to Mal.

“Think you can stop sneezing long enough to swallow two pills?”

His mouth open, tissue to his nose, Mal nodded. “hehhh-KEHSHH! I’ll heh-hehShuhhh! I’ll try.”

It took three tries. The first time, he sneezed in Simon’s face. The second time, he sneezed and spilled the small cup of water Simon had given him to wash the pills down with. The third time, he got the pills down and sighed in relief. And then he sneezed five times in a row. Glaring at Simon, “Did… didn’t hehh didn’t hehhhhhhh work… hehh-KIHSHhhh! Hehtchhhh! Kihshhhh!

“It’ll take some time, probably an hour or two to kick in.”

Mal looked defeated by the news as he pulled another tissue out of the box. “hehhh-hehh-KEHshuhh!” 

“Do you want to go back to your cabin or stay here?” His cabin was further away from the goats, but the infirmary allowed for more privacy and plenty of tissues if he somehow made it through that box.

“H-here,” Mal managed. “hah-KTChooo!

“All right. Are you comfortable?”

Mal glared at him again. “hehh-Hehktchhh! Hihshhuhhh!

“Comfortable probably wasn’t the right word, was it? What I meant is: can I get you anything else? More water?”

Mal shook his head. “Do we have to… to… hehh-IHKShhhh! talk?”

“No,” Simon said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back against a counter. “If you like, I can just stand here and watch you sneeze for the next hour or two.”

Mal’s eyes widened slightly. “heh-kehh-KTChuhhh! You m-make a good point, Doc. Ehhh-IHKshhhh! Kehshhhh!” He motioned for Simon to keep going, keep talking.

“So, did you know before you brought the goats on board that you were going to be allergic to them?”

A burst of laughter escaped Mal. “You think I’d hehhh-KIHTchhh! bring those gorram… hehh-KIHTChhhh! things hehh-Kehshuhh! onto my ship if I knew?”

“You’ve done worse for money.”

Mal considered this. “Good point. Ihhh… ihh-Hihshhhhh!” He swapped the tissues he’d been using out with a handful of fresh ones. “Uhgh, these sneezes. Sniff! Do you think the whole crew knows by now?”

“I doubt it,” Simon said, thinking about how it was actually possible that the ship’s doctor was the last to know about the captain’s sneezing. “But some of them definitely do.” He wondered if River had heard or seen Mal sneezing… or if somehow she had just known in that way that River sometimes knew things she couldn’t possibly know.

hehh-Kehtchoo! Do you want to know… to… hehh-KEHShuhh! Kehtchuhhh! Do you want to know the worst part of this?”

Simon wasn’t sure that he did, but he could tell Mal needed was trying to keep up his end of the conversation. “What?”

“Those goats… hehh-KIHTchhh!” Sniffling, Mal waved his clump of tissues in the direction of the cargo hold. “They’re adorable. I can’t even hate ‘em.”

Simon laughed.