Simon sat, thoughtfully spinning a teacup on the small table in the cargo bay. He watched Zoe and Jayne watch the guards out of the corners of their eyes. Wash leaned against Zoe's chair, carefully avoiding touching her or getting in the way of her gun arm, even though her gun had been taken.
Kaylee twisted her hands in her lap, her fingers getting lost in the frills on her dress. She looked distressed.
I think he knows what end to hold. Zoe's voice had been dry, but there had been a small wrinkle of concern on her face.
Simon tapped the teacup thoughtfully. If the captain were to lose, he would most likely be severely injured, or perhaps killed, depending on the level of humiliation this man Atherton wanted to inflict on Inara.
Normally, Simon wouldn't have worried about the captain. The man was resourceful, and certainly seemed to know his way around a fight. But Kaylee looked anxious, and it took a lot for Kaylee to lose her sunny optimism. So it followed that Kaylee's anxiety was in turn creating Simon's own disquiet, which was in turn adding to the overall level of stress in the cargo bay, which was beginning to give him ulcers. River had always accused him of having a delicate disposition.
Well. He put down his teacup with a decided clink. It wasn't the manliest noise to show his determination, but it would have to do. He rose to his feet and made a show of brushing the dust off of his clothes.
"Excuse me." No response. "Excuse me," he enunciated clearly. "I would like to speak with someone."
Everyone looked up at him. The guards looked amused. Zoe looked ready to kill. Or like she was deciding what to make for dinner. It was difficult to tell.
He straightened up to his full height and clasped his hands behind his back. "Who is claiming to be in charge, here?"
Zoe surreptitiously smacked Jayne's hand down as he tried to raise it.
"Well, that'd be me, mate, now wouldn't it?" Badger stepped forward, bowler hat perched at a jaunty angle. For whatever reason Simon was reminded of one of those trained monkeys that played concertinas in old vids from Earth That Was. "And 'ow can I be of service to a fine Core gent such as yourself?"
"I would like to see the Captain."
Badger snorted, and his cronies followed suit. "And if wishes were 'orses blind men would ride, mate," Badger snickered.
Intimidation didn't work well on Simon sometimes. He waited.
The man blinked. "Well, well," he said softly, studying the young doctor closely. "And why would you be wanting to go see the Captain? Wanting to say your goodbyes before he gets all cut to pieces?"
Simon picked a piece of lint off of his collar. "I am to understand that this place follows traditional rules regarding dueling?" He waited for the man to nod. "Then who is to be Captain Reynolds' second?"
Badger looked confused. As did Jayne. Not that that was a surprise. Jayne looked a question at Zoe, who shrugged and shook her head subtly.
"His second?" Prompted Simon, projecting every bit of scorn he had into the question. "Who will fight in the Captain's place should he be unable to dual?"
"In the general vernacular, my son, they'd say he was shit out of luck," Badger told him.
"Yes, well, vernacular or not, Captain Reynolds is entitled to a second." He stood as straight as he could, imagining the weight of a Ms. Rosemount's Guide to Etiquette book on top of his head. "I volunteer."
The silence would have been deafening if it hadn't been drowned out by laughter.
Simon could feel his ears grow red, but he stood his ground. It wouldn't have been quite so humiliating except that Badger's men weren't the ones who were the loudest.
Jayne snorted. Fine. Who cared what that one thought. Wash's disbelieving snicker stung slightly, and Kaylee's horrified gasp almost made him twitch, but Simon didn't turn to look at the crew behind him. He waited. His clasped hands were becoming sweaty, and this was the first time since boarding Serenity that Simon did not have a handkerchief available.
River had taken them all and carefully covered the heads of the dinosaurs in the cockpit before allowing Wash to take off two planets ago.
He was entirely too well bred to wipe his hands on his pants, so he ignored the slight discomfort.
"You.." Badger choked. "You volunteer? Just like that?" The man reached up to adjust his hat, the smirk never leaving his face. "And why should you be seconding the Captain, then?"
"For one, because it's the right thing to do," he answered. "And secondly because if the Captain loses the duel -- and I think we're all in agreement that he's not exactly a swordmaster -- then he's going to need somebody to patch him up. Possibly bring him back from the dead. Lucky for you, I'm a doctor, and lucky for him, I've brought people back from the dead before."
"Well isn't that sweet. Do you see this, lads? I'm weeping buckets because that's so sweet." Badger crossed his arms. "No offense, my son, but why do you think it matters to me if your dear old Captain makes it through this little bit of domestic trouble he's found himself in?"
Simon arched an eyebrow. "I'm assuming you DO want someone to take your cargo off world, right? And I'm assuming you understand that if something happens to the Captain, not only will your cargo not make it off world, but you can be fairly assured that you won't make it off this ship in one piece. Two or three pieces, perhaps. But not one."
"Well, now. You might have a point there." Badger examined the large mercenary who had happened to rise casually to his feet to tower menacingly at just that moment.
Jayne offered him a toothy grin. Zoe didn't bother. She just stood at attention, looking relaxed and faintly amused.
"Very well," Badger clapped his hands gleefully. "We shall take you to your undead Captain, and you shall be his second. I do believe this might be downright entertaining to watch."
"Oh, yes," Simon said mockingly. "I'm sure the Captain will do his very best, and your cargo will walk itself onto Serenity and deliver itself to the highest bidder. We all must watch that."
Badger smiled, showing all of his teeth. "You know, I do believe I will enjoy seeing you taken down a peg or two off of that high horse. How's about a small wager?"
Simon looked offended. "A wager? For a man of my standing? I think not," he said scornfully. "You might as well ask the rest of this riff raff of a crew to judge the duel."
"Hey, who're you calling riff raff?" Wash asked, sounding mildly offended. "I'll have you know I'm bona fide hoi polloi."
"How much you bettin'?" Jayne asked Badger speculatively. Kaylee poked him in the ribs. "What?"
"Don't go bettin' against the captain!"
"Who said I'd be bettin' against him? Just cuz he ain't got the sense of a mule or the wits of a dead donkey doesn't mean I'd be willin' to put my hard-earned coin against him. Especially seein' as the man don't know how to take a beatin' proper-like." He sounded vaguely put out about that.
"If we're all done with our negotiations, I need to get a few things from the Infirmary." Simon began to move in that direction, only to find himself stopped by some of Badger's goons.
"Sorry, mate," Badger apologized, not sounding sorry in the slightest. "'Fraid I can't let you do that. Company policy and all that."
Simon raised his eyebrows slightly. "How I am supposed to doctor the man if I do not have my tools?"
"A doctor is never without his hands to heal," a voice remarked.
Simon winced inwardly, and responded without looking at the pale shape in the doorway. "There are other things that can be useful, as well. Plasma. Bandages. A coffin."
"And who is our lovely young friend, here?" Badger was examining River with eager interest. "Would you care to come out and play with the rest of them, then?" He gestured towards the crew, who were all staying very very still, trying not to set River off onto any strange tangent. Badger gestured for a guard to collect her, but she frowned and sidestepped him, gathering her skirt to her to keep it from touching him.
"I don't play well with others," she said pointedly. "Running with scissors is frowned upon in most preschool classes. Pity you don't learn quickly." She yawned in his face and strolled past him to stand beside Simon. She dangled a small bag from one finger, which she dropped beside him. "Too small for a coffin." She studied him for a moment, then adjusted his collar. "Watch out for your left side. You'll have the Right of Way, but it won't matter if you're dead."
"An excellent point," Badger said. He was still eyeing River. "Shall we all go, then? Your riff raff can see their captain got skewered, and you can provide some amusement for those that think I don't have the proper manners to afford the captain his second."
Simon gripped the little bag of medical instruments River had given him and nodded sharply at the other man. "Lead on."
As they were led off the ship, Simon began to realize just what he was doing. He was being led in metaphorical chains to a metaphorical gladiatorial stadium, where he'd be tossed into metaphorical combat with very REAL steel.
He sighed. Things had never been this complicated back on Osiris. The only thing he'd had to worry about back then was making sure he didn't cut the wrong bit of fibrous tissue during brain surgery. He'd never had to be DEVIOUS. It was exhausting.
A warm hand hooked around his elbow, and he glanced to the side to see Kaylee -- looking adorable as a pink-frosted cupcake in her frilly dress -- walking beside him. "This is real brave of you, Simon," she told him with a big smile. "What gave you the idea to volunteer so we could all get off the ship?"
Simon blushed. "Well, it wasn't really to get everyone off the ship. I was actually planning-"
"Cuz this way, we'll be able to swamp 'em!" Kaylee enthused, not hearing him. "Jayne can do a bit of headbashing, and Zoe can glower at folks, and Wash... Well, Wash'll cheer Zoe on. And 'fore you know it, bing, bang, boom, we'll have the Cap'n and Inara back on the ship, safe and sound!" She bounced up on her toes and pecked him on the cheek. "That was real smart thinkin', Simon!"
"I really wasn't.." he tried again, but the words failed in his mouth. Which was better than what his mouth usually did around Kaylee, which was run off with itself and throw him off of a cliff. Metaphorically.
She was still prattling on about the different ways they could get the Captain out of this without swords, but Simon just let her happy voice wash over him. Her hand was warm where it was wrapped around his arm, and he almost smiled at the little bit of grease he could see under her fingernails.
River was walking a few feet ahead, completely ignoring Badger, who kept trying to chat her up.
Jayne and Zoe looked like they were trying to come up with some plot to save their brave Captain, and Wash seemed to be providing the comic relief with wild hand gestures. Or he was swatting at bugs around Zoe's head.
Simon let himself hope that Zoe would be able to pull some sort of rescue out of her body armor, and neither he nor Captain Reynolds would actually have to pick up a sword.
Which would be a good thing. For a variety of reasons.
The rag tag little group rounded a corner, and all of a sudden, Badger's goons had them surrounded again. And they were heavily armed. A hundred feet beyond them were Inara and the captain, looking very startled at the addition to their party. Captain Reynolds was holding a sword loosely in one hand, and was swinging it rather like a club and poking at a wound in his shoulder.
"Well, now," Badger grinned. "Would the fine doctor like to step forward then?" He turned to face the group in the clearing, waving cheerily. "Hello, there, all you fine upstanding folk. Seems that the good captain went and left his second at home." He patted his chest proudly. "Don't you worry none, Captain! I brought him here for ya!"
Kaylee gasped at the view of the already bleeding captain. Zoe looked displeased. Or possibly like she had a splinter. Jayne just looked annoyed.
Simon carefully unwrapped Kaylee's hand from his arm, and handed her off to Shepard Book. Nothing seemed to faze him. He hadn't even seemed surprised by Simon's offer in the first place.
He stepped forward, tucking his medical bag under his arm and straightening his shoulders. He saw more than heard the Captain mouth "What the gorram hell?" to Zoe.
Inara was looking hard at Simon, and he bowed to her. "Would the lady be willing to step out of the circle, please?" He asked politely. "She is unarmed, and I would not want her to come to harm." He paused. "Also, I need someone to hold my bag."
"A second?" Atherton sounded scornful. "You actually had a second on board your ship, Captain?" His face was flushed with anger. "You had been planning such an insult to me the whole time!"
"Uh." Mal blinked, still looking confusedly towards Simon. "I think you got it all wrong. I don't have a second." He paused. "Well, not one like that, anyway. All fancified and prissy. No, this boy seems to have hit his head too hard somewhere."
"Don't be so modest, Captain," Simon said as calmly as he could. His mouth was dry, but he fought to keep his voice level. "You were aware of my background when you accepted my job application."
"And what exactly is your background, boy?" Atherton demanded. He let his lip curl as he examined the young man in front of him.
Simon pictured what the others saw. A prissy boy with an attitude and a medical license. He swallowed hard. Then he stepped forward, pulling out the glove that River had tucked into the bag she gave him, and slapped Atherton across the face with it as hard as he could.
It was a rubber glove, so it wasn't exactly proper procedure, but sometimes you had to make do.
"Mr. Atherton Wing," Simon said formally, fixing his eyes on the furious man in front of him. "As Captain Reynolds' second, and his medical doctor, I recommend he sit this duel out." He dropped the glove to the ground as insultingly as possible. "I hereby take on the responsibility of Captain Reynold's insult to you and yours." He raised his eyebrow. "I assume that you do follow full Guild rules, even on such a backwater as this?"
The rest of the crew were all watching with their mouths open. Malcom Reynolds looked rather like he had just seen Simon sprout wings and a tail.
Atherton Wing hissed, a red mark on his face where the glove had struck. "Very well, boy." He smirked. "I believe we will let you take the Captain's beating. I'm sure such a refined man such as yourself is aware that if the Second bows out, both he and his First forfeit?"
Simon nodded. He felt like a bowstring, he was wound so tightly. "I see you've already drawn first blood from Captain Reynolds. Or, were you aiming for something a little more permanent?"
Wing smiled, teeth gleaming in the sun. "I'll make you regret your offer. I'll feed it to you inch by inch through your torso."
He heard Kaylee gasp, her hands clapped over her mouth, and her eyes wide with fear. He would've liked to reassure her, or possibly see if she had a token for him to wear into battle, but he couldn't afford to take his attention off of the man in front of him. Inara took the medical bag from Simon's fingers, studying his face thoughtfully before hurrying over to comfort the worried girl.
"Don't worry," River said, slipping her fingers into Kaylee's. "I know something you don't know."
"What's that?" Zoe turned to give the girl a curious look. It could be that she had slipped a pistol or something into that bag before handing it over to her brother.
"My brother is not left handed."
Somehow, that was less than comforting to the confused crew.
Mr. Wing turned abruptly and strode to the edge of the clearing where a man was standing with a sword. He yanked it from his assistant, glaring intently at the young man standing calmly in the middle of the circle.
"Captain," Simon called without turning around. "Would you be so kind as to relinquish your weapon and step to the edge of the circle? This is most likely going to get rather complicated, and I'm sure you would appreciate not being skewered by accident."
"Or by purpose, for that matter," the Captain muttered. "Do you have any idea what you're doing here, Doc? It's not that I don't appreciate not having to get killed or anything, but.."
"Don't worry, Captain," Simon interrupted. "If I lose, both our lives are forfeit."
Mal stared. "Great!" He said through gritted teeth. "You got some grand plan, then?"
"Yes," Simon clipped. "Don't lose." He turned, pulling the sword smoothly from Mal's hand. He examined it for a moment. "This sword is a piece of gos se," he called to the man waiting for him. "There must certainly be a better piece of steel somewhere on this horrible little planet?"
Atherton smiled tightly. "I am afraid that is all there is."
"Very well," Simon sighed. He had tried as best as he could to get them all out of this. But Guild rules only take one so far, and then one must improvise. He gave the sword back to the confused Captain, who didn't look as if he knew if he should stab Simon himself, or take off swinging at the man across the clearing. Simon unbuttoned his shirt, removed it, and carefully folded it before exchanging it for the sword.
He turned and settled into a loose stance, "En guarde," he said simply.
"I can't look," Kaylee groaned. She hid her face in Inara's shoulder, and Inara quickly put her arm around the younger woman.
To say it was a massacre would be putting it lightly.
Within three moves, Atherton Wing was sprawled on the ground with Simon's sword at his throat.
"What the.." Jayne blinked in surprise. "Anybody else see that?"
"Do you yield?" The young doctor asked politely, pressing the point of the rapier rather impolitely into the soft skin under Mr. Wing's shoulder. Simon's posture was relaxed, as if he spent everyday knocking bullies over and holding them at sword point.
Atherton snarled, knocking the sword to the side with his own blade and scrambled to his feet, lunging towards the doctor.
Within seconds, he was back on the ground. Only this time, he was bleeding rather heavily from his side.
"That could have gone through your heart," Simon informed him calmly. "Do you yield?"
Again, Atherton Wing surged to his feet, teeth gritted and hilt clenched tightly in his hand.
He managed to make contact with the young doctor's sword this round, which snapped in two. Simon made a disappointed noise while moving away. "You gave me inferior steel on purpose," he said disapprovingly, shaking his hand from the force of contact. "I dislike cheaters."
"Then die," snarled the older man across from him.
Simon vaguely heard the gasps from the crew as Atherton came towards him, and he could only imagine they foresaw certain death.
Well, yes, but probably not the way they expected.
Simon paused thoughtfully, just out of reach of the furious swordsman. Wing had some minor training in fencing, he wasn't a complete beginner. But, he was injured and angry, and Simon waited for the inevitable mistake.
Simon made one smooth move, broken sword seeming to dance in the air before barely arcing over Atherton Wing's neck.
The older man froze.
"Good idea," Simon remarked calmly. "If you move even a quarter of an inch, I will sever your carotid artery." He pressed the point into Wing's skin - only the smallest amount of force was needed to break the other man's skin, and Simon could tell in Atherton's eyes that the man was aware of it. "Do you yield?"
Atherton Wing's face was clenched tightly. He bared his teeth in answer.
"I said," Simon said softly, adding just a hint of pressure to back up his question, "Do you yield?"
"And if I don't?" Wing ground out.
"Then, you will have anywhere from two to five minutes to regret it, as I might miss, and instead of merely nicking your external jugular vein, I slice all the way through to your carotid artery. At which point, I'll sit back and watch you bleed to death quickly." He breathed out, focusing on nothing but holding his hand steady. "It's also possible that an air bubble could enter your bloodstream, even if my aim is very good, which means you could die of an embolism. It is your choice."
Atherton stared at him, hard, for another thirty seconds.
Then he dropped his sword.
"Gun ni mar," Jayne whistled from the sidelines into the shocked silence. "Doc ain't dead."
The level of surprise in his voice should probably have been insulting. Simon, however, was rather used to being underestimated by the large man, and paid no attention to anything but Atherton Wing. The man in front of him was pale and sweating, but there was a set to his jaw that made Simon suspicious of Mr. Wing's intentions.
"Dead? He's not even bleeding!" Wash exclaimed in sheer disbelief as Simon and Wing remained locked in position.
"Check and mate," River said thoughtfully. "White King wins the spoils." She turned to face Jayne, her face lighting up in a falsely innocent smile. "You owe me credits." Her face went blank. "I intend to collect in blood."
Jayne squawked and batted her away. "Mal! She's been creepsome again!"
Simon finally stepped back from Mr. Wing as the other man's people came to haul him up and away, barely registering Mal's cross mutterings about stupid hun dans who bet against psychics. He watched with narrowed eyes and a tight grip on his borrowed, broken sword, but Wing seemed willing to go with his people. Which probably meant that the crew of Serenity needed to be quickly on their way, before Mr. Wing invented a reason or four for why they all needed to be strung up by their necks. He collected his shirt and rebuttoned it neatly, feeling much more like himself as soon as he was redressed.
Kaylee was still looking at him in awe, and she grinned at him as the crew began the long walk back to the ship. "Ain't it golden that he was no good with a sword?" she chirped. "You looked awful manly with that thing, but who would have guessed you'd get so lucky!"
Simon blinked at her in confusion, but before he could correct her misunderstanding, Zoe clapped him on the shoulder as she passed. "Never thought I'd be grateful for a Core education."
Wash threw in a comment of his own, "I bet everybody at those fancy Core schools can do that with one hand tied behind 'em. Good thing you didn't flunk out of that class."
Inara dropped back as the others sped up, chattering about the fight and the upcoming job, Simon's sword fighting already out of mind. She slipped her arm into his and smiled, "You know, I took on a client on Hera some years ago, and he was quite proud to take me to the Naming Ceremony of a new Master Swordsman. The youngest in years, as a matter of fact. The young man was very charming - he was a wonderful swordsman, but got a little nervous when he had to speak. He nearly dropped his sword when he stepped up to take his oath."
Simon flushed slowly, his entire face and neck turning red. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course not," Inara soothed gently, her face barely showing a hint of amusement. "It's a pity, though. The young master was quite attractive. I'm sure Kaylee would have thought so - she did enjoy the story greatly when I told her about it."