Title: Is There a Doctor on the Ship?
Disclaimer: Not my characters
Summary: Simon knows he’s got to earn his keep on the ship as a doctor, and he’s glad to be useful to help people when needed. But it sure can be exhausting.
Notes: Written for MoonDuck for the 2019 Blue Forum Secret Santa Exchange
Is There a Doctor on the Ship?
Simon ushered the little girl out of the examination room and paused a moment in the doorway. The line of patients waiting snaked back and forth throughout the clinic's tiny waiting room and extended out the door. Most were sniffling, coughing, or looked dead on their feet. A couple were sitting on the floor, hunched over, or with their legs drawn up to their chest and faces buried in their knees. He wiped his sleeve across his damp forehead and sighed. It was going to take all gorram day to get through these patients.
And wasn't that what Malcolm Reynolds had had in mind all along? Trusted crew member or not, most times Mal found it easier to get Simon out of the way rather than include him in their schemes. This time, however, it was both.
The crew of Serenity wasn't exactly dripping with wealth. It wasn't unusual for them to trade their services for what they needed. What they'd needed now was the favor of a town council. And, apparently, the most pressing concern of the council was the health of its citizens. Offering their ship's doctor to help had seemed the obvious solution at the time. What they hadn't known was that there were no other medical staff in town and there was some nasty, highly contagious virus going around. It wasn't up to epidemic levels quite yet, but it was pretty gorram close. It seemed like nearly everybody in town had at least a sniffle and a stuffy nose.
It was still the morning, but already Simon felt weary. Exhausted, really. “Next,” Simon called, and a mother with a pair of twin sons shoved them toward him. They looked to be about Simon's age, maybe a year or two older. They didn't look especially well, but their mother looked even worse. Normally, he wouldn't see more than one patient at a time, but getting through this line today was going to mean bending the rules slightly. This shouldn't be too hard for him; he was a member of the Serenity crew, after all.
One of the boys pitched forward with the sudden, entirely uncovered cough. Simon rubbed a palm over his face and suppressed a sigh.
“Come on in,” he said as kindly as he could, ushering all three of them into the examination room at once. “I've got some decongestants with your names on 'em.” At least this complaint was easily dealt with. No mysterious symptoms from an obscure, outer rim planet virus. No internal injuries that would require additional tests. No extensive examination required, even. Just a quick look and their ears, noses, and throats, a temperature check, and a short listen to their heart to make sure it was regular and their lungs to be sure the congestion hadn't settled there.
With this many quick examinations, though, he was sure it would take him all day and into the night to get through everyone waiting in line. He wished he at least had a nurse on hand to pass out masks and tissues to those waiting, or even to do quick assessments to make sure there weren't any emergency cases that needed to be bumped up. Little ones with spiking fevers or pregnant ones in pain, for example.
The other twin coughed and Simon winced. He walked over to the small sink and began washing his hands. “Tell me how you're feeling,” he asked them, as if he didn’t already know the answer.
It was well past sunset when Simon stumbled back to the ship. After the first hundred or so, he'd completely lost track of the number of patients he'd seen. Nearly all of them had had the same virus, this tenacious cold bug that lingered for weeks instead of days. The townsfolk were miserable and unfortunate, and Simon couldn't blame them for that, but they would recover eventually. There had been little Simon could do for them except give them medicine that would make the symptoms a little less terrible and advise them to get as much rest and as many fluids as they could. He wasn't positive the council was going to be too pleased with his inability to help further, but frankly he was too tired to care anymore. He'd done what he'd been able to do, and even Mal couldn't fault him for that.
Simon desperately wanted his bed, and he was tempted to head straight for it. But he knew once his bunk was in sight, he wouldn't get out of it until the morning. So if he were ever going to put away his medical supplies, now was the time. He stowed the emergency kit back in its compartment, glad he hadn't needed to use it today. Another case held vials and syringes for vaccines. He had given a few shots today, but most of what he had was preventative and not going to help against a head cold. The case that had been full of decongestants, cough suppressants, pain relievers, and fever reducers, was pretty much empty already, so putting those things away took him mere seconds. There were some more valuable medicines he'd taken along that needed to be locked up. It wasn't that he didn't trust his shipmates... it was that he knew his shipmates.
By the time he was done, he felt so exhausted he didn't have the energy to head to his quarters. Instead, he grabbed a warming blanket and climbed onto the examination table in his infirmary. The sheet beneath was crisp and clean. The warming element of the blanket over him activated as soon as it made contact with his body. And the pillow was firm and reassuring. He was asleep before he knew it was happening.
When Simon woke, he wasn't exactly sure what was happening either. Not realizing where he was yet, he rolled off on one side, landing hard on the floor, though it would have been harder if not for the blanket wrapped around him. Taking stock, he discovered he was of course in the infirmary, not his quarters. And he discovered he didn't feel so great. His head throbbed powerfully, telling him to close his eyes and go back to sleep. It was concentrated in the center of his forehead, an intense pressure that made him want to close his eyes. But he also noticed a familiar motion of the ship in flight, and knowing they'd left that planet behind was something of a comfort. If he never heard another sneeze again, it would be too soon. Still a little disoriented and smarting from the tumble, he lay on the floor, contemplating just going back to sleep right here where he was.
The door to the infirmary opened, and he heard Jayne's voice, unable to see him behind the table. “Nope, the doc's not here either.” The door closed, but Simon could still hear the man shout his name.
Simon started to call after him. “I'm he--” but his voice broke and he coughed harshly. His throat was horribly dry and scratchy, hurting with each and every cough. Pushing himself up, he staggered toward the sink, where he ran the tap, bent over, and lapped water up in a cupped hand. After just a few swallows, the scratchiness was gone but the pain increased tenfold. Swallowing the tepid water was like swallowing razor blades. It burned against the roof of his mouth and his throat on the way down.
The way the air cycled in here was different than in the rest of the ship. It was sealed off to prevent contagion. But the chill of the recycled air must have dried him out overnight. On top of the nasty sore throat, his eyes stung a little and his nose prickled. He made a mental note to ask Kaylee to give the system a look. Maybe there was a filter that wasn't filtering properly or a temperature gauge gone awry. It did feel unusually chilly on top of everything else.
Simon grabbed the warming blanket from the floor, grateful for the overwhelming blast of comfort and heat it gave him the moment he'd draped it around his shoulders. Then he headed to his quarters for a quick change of clothes. And quick was the operable word as he started shivering as soon as he was without the blanket. It seemed chilly here as well. Maybe he should ask Kaylee about the environmental controls for the entire lower deck.
“Hah!” Nose twitching, he looked around for tissues. He knew he had a pack somewhere around here. But the sneeze wasn't waiting for him. “Hahh!” He buried his nose in the crook of his elbow as he pulled open one drawer then another. He tried to keep his eyes open, but couldn't. “hahh-Hahshphhhh!” As Simon opened his eyes, his gaze lay on the tissue pack. He grabbed for it and pulled one out, only to find he didn't feel like sneezing any more. Naturally.
He tossed the pack back in the drawer then suddenly thought better of it. He ended up pocketing it, just in case, before heading up to the galley. He wasn't sure what time it was, but he sure was hungry. Simon assumed it must still be breakfast time, because he heard the voices of almost everybody as he approached the galley. He's been slower on the stairs than usual, a little out of breath. And he hoped there was still something good left on the table.
But what was on the table wasn't at all what Simon had expected. Zoe had her palm on the dining table, resting on a dish towel that was spotted dark with blood. There was a small slash across her hand and a strap clenched between her teeth. Mal sat beside her, a needle and thread in hand. Kaylee stood on the other side of the table, looking worried. Jayne was at the head of the table, watching with some interest.
“Stop!” Simon exclaimed.
Everyone gave a start. Mal dropped the needle, swearing, and Zoe winced and pressed part of the towel against her hand again.
“There you are!” Kaylee exclaimed, looking relieved.
So did Mal, though he also looked annoyed. “Where've you been?”
“In the infirmary.”
“Well, that's a load of g?ush?!” Jayne exclaimed. The man was leaning back against the serving counter, sipping from a flask of something. “I checked there.”
“Then we must have crossed paths.” Simon didn't care for the suspicious look Jayne gave him, but he was far more concerned with Zoe actively bleeding and Mal about to sew up the wound with what looked like a sewing needle that probably hadn't been disinfected. “I appreciate needing to deal with this quickly, but we're not at war and this isn't a field wound. I can handle this.”
“Be my guest, Doc.” Mal said, scooting back in his chair.
Simon headed over to the table, not moving quite as straight as intended but getting there just the same. He sat down and inspected the injury. It wasn't bad at all. It wasn't bleeding much now, and it could definitely use some closing up, but she would certainly be all right. “Okay. Let's go down to the infirmary and... and get this... hah! cleaned up. Excuse me, I feel a sneeze….” He quickly directed his nose and mouth to his shoulder and half-stifled sneezes that were too insistent to fight off. “hahh-Hnnsh! Hngsh!” He rubbed his nose against his shoulder and blinked. “Sorry about that. Come on—”
Simon got up to go, wobbled unsteadily, and sat right back down again. “Whoa!” Kaylee's hands found his shoulders. They squeezed tenderly, reassuringly. “Simon, are you okay?”
“Of course. Zoe, let's... go...”
He felt another tickle in his nose and this time remembered the pack of tissues. He took it out and slid a tissue from it. Nice as Kaylee's touch was, he moved away from it, standing up and staying up this time. With a tissue and his hand clamped over his nose and mouth, he held the sneezes back a bit. “h'Shufff! H'Shihffff!” There was one more sneeze. Simon felt it tickling madly in his nose. Then he felt Kaylee's hand against his back as he curled forward. “hehh-HIHshhffff!”
Kaylee's hand rubbed a circle on his back. “I don't think you're okay.”
“I'b fide.” He sniffed hard and rubbed his nose. Then he cleared his throat, feeling much clearer. “I'm fine.”
“Simon, you're shivering.”
“It's cold in here.” It was just as cold up here as it had been down in the infirmary and his quarters. Probably the whole ship’s environmental controls were broken.
Kaylee pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek, which instantly made him blush. “You're warm.” She laid her palm on his forehead. “You're running a fever.”
“Who's the doctor here?” Reluctantly and with some regret, he pulled away from her. “I've got a job to do. Zoe?” He swept his arm out, gesturing for Zoe to get up and head to the infirmary.
He followed behind her. A few moments later, he realized that Kaylee, Mal, and Jayne were all following behind him. And it wasn't just Jayne who looked suspicious this time.
Knowing he had to deal with Zoe first, he tried to ignore the way they watched him. He washed her hand with a disinfectant, flushing out anything that shouldn't be there. Then he ran a sealing tool over the cut. “It's going to be tender for a few hours.”
“Good thing I use my other hand to fire a gun.” Zoe inspected her hand, flexing her fingers. “Is there going to be a scar?”
“Shouldn't... be one.” He held a finger up and turned away from her. “Pardon-hehh!” The urgency of the sneeze had taken him almost entirely by surprise. He pressed his fist to his face and took a couple steps away. “hehh-hehhTSChhhh! H'Tihshhh!”
There was a tightness in his pants he didn't expect, but not that sort. Kaylee was beside him, her hand in his pocket. She pulled out the pack of tissues and pealed one off the top of the stack. Instead of handing it to him, she held it up for him. He frowned at it, but she was just as insistent as the tickle in his nose. So he closed his eyes, dropped his fist, and let her wipe his nose for him.
Simon had to admit the attention was sort of nice, but all of this fussing over him was silly and entirely unnecessary. “Kaylee, I appreciate your kindness, but I really don't need—”
He felt another hand on his arm and, together, both Kaylee and Zoe guided him back to the examination table. He remembered sleeping on it last night and immediately felt tired again.
“All right... maybe I do need... something…” He hopped back onto the table and lay back. It felt so good to be off his feet. And pounding in his head was still there and the tightness in his sinuses was strong. There was also a full, stuffy sensation in his nose he couldn't remember feeling earlier. Or maybe he'd just been too concerned with Zoe to notice?
“What's wrong with him?” Mal asked. “Kaylee, you said he has a fever?”
Kaylee pressed her hand to his forehead again for a few seconds. Then she dropped it with a sigh. “It sure feels hotter than usual, Cap’ain.”
“Ngh,” he shook his head a little. “You've got to feel with the back of your hand.” Immediately, her hand came back up, the back pressing against his forehead this time.
Jayne chuckled. “Better yet, use a thermometer. You can stick it up his tight—”
Simon coughed. He flung his hand out, gesturing toward an infirmary cabinet. “The oral thermometer is over there.” He eyed Jayne. “We don't even have a rectal thermometer on board.” Kaylee popped the thermometer into Simon's mouth for him, and he shifted it around until it was under his tongue.
Jayne didn't seem phased. “That doesn't mean it can't go—”
“That's enough, Jayne,” Zoe snapped. “I think you've done enough damage this morning.” She glanced at her hand and headed over to him, hooking her arm around his. “Let's go see where we are and make sure the timetable for the drop hasn't changed.”
Jayne looked only slightly disappointed at the prospect of not being able to continue to give Simon a hard time. “Yeah, all right. Sooner we get this job done, sooner we can count our money.”
She nodded. “And sooner we can take that vacation we're owed.”
Mal rubbed the back of his neck. “I reckoned you'd have forgotten about that.”
“Oh no.” Zoe poked him in the chest. “You don't lie to me about time off.”
Zoe dragged Jayne out of the infirmary, but Mal stayed, leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed over his chest. He watched and waited with Kaylee and Simon until the thermometer pinged.
Simon pulled it out. His eyes narrowed. This couldn't be right. Kaylee put her chin on his shoulder, snuggling close to get a good look at it. “That's a fever all right.”
Shaking his head, Simon was about to protest when he felt another sneeze coming on. His eyes closed, he reached out and found Kaylee's arm. And Kaylee's hand with a tissue found him just as quickly. “heh-Hihtshhhh! Hihshoo! Hih hih-IHTTttshhhh!”
Sniffing, Simon opened his eyes to see Mal shaking his head. “Just great. I've got a cargo hold full of dirt and a sick doctor.” He paused a moment, looking at them. “And an engineer playing doctor, apparently.”
“Oh, I don't know about that. I've no idea what to do.”
“Don't worry. I'll teach you,” Simon said. She had good instincts already, and she had a good heart.
Kaylee shook two enormous pills out of the bottle and into her hand. “Think you can stop sneezing long enough to take another dose?”
A quick glance at the clock shocked Simon. It felt like he had just had a dose, and now here she was with more. Had he really slept the day away? Rubbing a tissue at his nose to try to hold back the tickles, he answered unconvincingly. “Yeh-yes.”
Though Kaylee settled beside him with the pills and a small cup of water, she did not hand either to him.
Sheepishly, he pulled another tissue from the box she had found him in an infirmary supply cabinet. “Doe,” he corrected himself before his jaw dropped open, nostrils flared, and eyes closed tight. “hehh... godda… hih… sdee-hihh-IHPTShhhhh! HEHTshhooo! H'TIHshooo!”
Kaylee murmured a soothing blessing and waited for him to finish blowing his nose before handing him the medicine and water to wash it down. It was the same decongestant Simon had been giving all the patients on that planet. He knew it helped lessen the symptoms, but he also knew he was in for about two weeks of this even with the medicine. Two weeks of misery on his own sounded dreadful, but two weeks of misery with Kaylee taking care of him was something he could almost take pleasure in.
“You're so batiedt with be,” he said when he was done with the water. It was cool and made him shiver a bit, but she immediately moved in close to warm him, pulling the blankets around them both.
“You're so sneezy,” she countered. “I just didn't want a repeat of last time.” Spilling water all down his front because of a sneaky sneeze had been highly embarrassing, but it had also meant necessitating a change into pajamas.
Simon blew his nose and wiped it dry, noticing the way she frowned at him when he did so. “What is it?”
“Your nose is looking a little red. Doesn't it hurt when you do that?”
“A bit.” He would be lying if he had said otherwise. Despite the blowing, his nose was still terribly stuffed-up, and all rubbing and wiping was making his nostrils sore. “But it cad't be helbed. It's goidg to get worse before it gets...beh-better... heyahhhh... hahhh... h'HIHTSchhhhh! Hehggshhhh!” He wiped his nose, wishing she hadn't brought this up, because now he was much more aware of the discomfort and far more self-conscious to boot.
“Maybe I could help?” She winced again as she watched him scrub the tissue back and forth under his runny nose. “I have a softer touch.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. Anyone who had seen her with a wrench or even a gun knew that was a lie. And, yet, when she pushed his hand out of the way and wiped his nose with a tissue, her touch was feather light. For a moment, it was comforting, and certainly preferable. But then it was too light. The edge of the tissue tickled against his sensitive nostrils, making them twitch. And if he hadn't already had to sneeze, he certainly did need to now.
“hahhhh... doh... dod't hahh hahh HAHH HIPTTSHHHHH!” He sneezed, finding that she had deftly caught it for him, the tissue held up to his face. “Th-thadg you.”
“Doctor Kaywinnet Lee Frye at your service.” She laughed and pulled at the blankets that had slipped down a little.
Even as he pulled a fresh tissue from the large box on the bed, Simon blew his nose with another. The door to Kaylee's room slid open, and Kaylee entered with a large, steaming mug in her hands. Careful not to spill, she sat down on the edge of her own bed, which wasn't big but was certainly fit them both better than the one originally meant for passengers in Simon's quarters. “This is some of Inara's stash. I hope I let it steep long enough.”
“I'b sure you did,” Simon reassured her, taking the mug. The warmth of it in his hands was delightful but nothing as wonderful as the warmth of Kaylee snuggling up against him as she joined him in bed. She put the box of tissues on her lap and wrapped her arm around his shoulders. He took a sip, unable to taste much at all thanks to this cold. He didn't have the heart to tell her that, because she beamed when he smiled and took another sip.
It had already been a week and a half of suffering from it. A week and a half of sneezing and coughing, of wiping his runny nose or blowing his stuffy nose. A week and a half resting in one bed or another, losing track of what day it was. A week and a half of Kaylee sticking by his side through it all and doing all she could to make him comfortable. The virus the patients he'd seen had been highly contagious. So Simon couldn't understand why she hadn't come down with it yet, but he was extremely glad she hadn't. He’d feel guilty to put her through all this only for her to catch it.
He lowered the mug, his breath quickening. “Kay... Kaylee!” he gasped.
“Oh!” She held tissues up right away. “There you are.” She rubbed her hand up and down his upper arm. “Go ahead and sneeze.”
She said it as if he had any choice in the matter. “hehhh!” He swayed back and then snapped forward. “Heytttschooo! Hehhpptchoo!” She kept holding the tissues up until he gave her a nod, a sign the ticklish feeling had backed down again. Sometimes he sneezed once and sometimes a half dozen times in a row. But no matter which it was, Kaylee had been patient and caring and attentive. If she weren't such a great engineer, she'd have made a decent caregiver.
Or maybe the key was that he was the one sick. He felt her fingers stroke his cheek, and he had to resist the urge to close his eyes and drift off to sleep. Instead, he lifted the mug, determined to finish the drink before the tea went cold.
Simon wasn't sure if he was comfortable exactly, but nothing could have moved him from this spot. Kaylee sat on a cushion on the ramp leading from the cargo hold to the ground. She wore a knit hat and thick, puffy coat. Balanced on one thigh was a box of tissues. On the other was Simon's head. He was curled up at her side, wrapped tight in numerous blankets, arms trapped beneath. But he had complete trust that Kaylee would catch any sneezes that might strike. She hadn't missed one yet.
The two of them were watching the crew of Serenity enjoying their vacation, unlikely though it had been. River had been the one to choose the destination, and none of them had seemed exactly thrilled to find themselves on a part of a planet experiencing a snowy winter. But one laugh from River followed by a snowball smacking Jayne right in the chest had led to an all-out snowball fight. It was a nice release for tension and frankly the best entertainment Simon could have imagined.
Kaylee slid her fingers through Simon's short hair, petting affectionately. “Need to sneeze?” she asked him.
“Doe,” Simon replied. Then, almost immediately, he changed his answer to “Yes.”
Kaylee laughed and held tissues in front of his nose for him.
“hehhhhhh... hehhhh!” The cold temperatures and sharp wind was making his nose run just as much as his cold was, so it was no wonder. “hehhh-Ihhhhhh...” He tensed up and snapped forward. “hehh-hihhhtschhoo! Hehtschhoo! HIHShhhhhhhhh! Hehpttshooo!”
Simon's head whipped up, looking around. It hadn't been Kaylee sneezing, thankfully, but it took him a moment to figure out who it had been. If Mal hadn't lifted his gloved hand to his face a moment later to catch a second sneeze, Simon might not have figured it out. “Ahh-HAHShoo!”
“Sounds like Mal might be coming down with what you've got,” Kaylee said, soft so she wouldn't be overheard. “He could use a tissue.”
Simon agreed. “He could use Doctor Kaywiddet Lee Frye.”
She laughed again. “Oh no. I don't think so. You taught me well, but I'll just have to give Inara some tips so she can look after the Cap'ain.”
Secretly glad that meant he wouldn’t need to share her attentions with anybody, he snuggled closer. She rubbed his nose tenderly as he watched River and Inara hide behind a snowbank to team up against Mal, not realizing Zoe was sneaking up behind their position with a snowball in each hand.