The Doctor dropped his hands from River’s temples and smiled at her.
“Done?” she asked.
“Uh-huh. I need to talk to your brother now.”
The Doctor rose, and was nearly pounced on by Simon, who drug him off to one side. Mal accidentally-on-purpose drifted in that direction, on the pretext of heading towards River.
“Y’all right, Albatross?”
She smiled and nodded, looking downright normal for a moment — whatever the Doctor‘d done, it clearly hadn’t upset her any.
“It’s difficult to diagnose physical injuries this way,” the Doctor was telling Simon off to the side. “Although one can extrapolate from the internal structures the mind generates . . .” he rubbed an earlobe and looked thoughtful.
“Can you think of anything that could help her?” Simon asked.
The Doctor switched to rubbing the bridge of his nose. “There are some anti-psychotics and anti-depressants that might help ease some symptoms of trauma. I can’t tell you trade names, but I can give you chemical formulas, and, if need be, structures . . .”
Simon hauled him over to the infirmary computer console before he could finish his sentence, the two of them switching over to medical lingo that could as well be Greek for all Mal could follow.
He noticed River was gone from her chair, and looked for her. She was eyeing the Doctor’s friends. Rose was still sitting where she’d been the whole time, but Jack had joined her, leaning one-armed on her chair backrest in a familiar way. They were both watching River with amused expressions as she circled them with slow, wary grace, like a feral cat.
Bet you wouldn’t be looking at her like that if you’d seen her standing in a pile of dead Reavers, Mal thought wryly.
River leaned in for a closer look at Rose’s face. Rose smiled at her, bright and open. She was surely pretty when she smiled -- and awfully young to be out traveling on her own with two older men, though one saw things like that on the Rim . . .
“Hello,” Rose said, friendly. River didn’t answer, and pulled back a little.
“Oh, c’mon,” Rose said, going to a full grin. “I don’t bite!”
River looked at her with an expression of flat-out, irritated disbelief, like a youngster who knows an adult is being patronizing.
“Yes, you do,” she said bluntly.
Rose’s grin slipped a little at that, and Mal had the interesting experience of watching her age at least ten years -- quick as that. Something about her expression, and her eyes.
Still, she stayed sounding friendly. “Only if I have to,” she told River.
River considered, and nodded, seeming to like that answer.
River kept circling, and turned her attention to Jack, moving around behind him. Jack raised his eyebrows, and turned his head slightly to follow her, but he didn’t turn all the way around to follow her. Instead, he turned his head back around the other direction, to catch sight of River as she came around his opposite side.
He met her intense eyes with a broad grin. “See anything you like?” he asked, more teasing than really flirting.
River cocked her head to one side. “Kiss or kill,” she commented.
Jack snorted, and then gave her a pouty look. “Not fair!“ he told her. “I’ve got more than just two speeds.”
River looked unconvinced.
“Dunno, Jack, some days . . .” Rose began, flipping him grief the way old friends do to one another.
“What, ganging up on me already? Women!” Jack straightened, and River skipped back — not frightened, but like she was avoiding something. Jack, surprised, shifted, and River moved again, graceful as dancing. She was keeping away from Jack’s shadow, Mal realized.
Jack exchanged a glance with Rose, and Mal could see that meant something to them.
“I wouldn’t worry about that, hon,” Jack told River, serious as you please.
She considered a second, then turned and was gone from the infirmary, cat-quick. River considered good-byes unnecessary, more often than not.
Neither Jack nor Rose seemed especially put out.
Mal reflected it was a sorry state of affairs when River seemed normal, and he was the one who felt off-kilter.
It turned out Simon had already tried several of the medications on the Doctor’s list, with varying degrees of success. He carefully noted down the ones that were new.
He was shutting off the computer when he asked, without looking up from what he was doing, “What images did you see in River’s mind, the first time?”
The Doctor had been dreading that question. He hesitated.
Simon looked up from what he was doing and glared at him.
“I’m her physician," he pointed out, with calm precision.
You’re also her brother, the Doctor thought unhappily.
“Let’s just say the people who . . . experimented on her were more concerned with extracting information quickly and without resistance than they were with the comfort of their subjects,” he hedged.
Simon looked back down at the now blank computer screen for a moment.
“Rape, then,” he said, perfectly calmly. The Doctor could definitely see the resemblance between Simon and his sister. Both of them had that astonishing core of self-control.
“In the sense of deliberately violating another individual’s privacy and integrity, yes,” the Doctor told him, equally calmly. He sighed. “More specifically, since River was being made into a weapon, there was a concentration on . . . imagery of combat and violence, intended, I’m sure, to enhance aggression towards others at the same time it encouraged, ah, swift cooperation with her interrogators.” Best to leave out the details, definitely . . .
Simon’s hands were balled into fists, knuckles white. He remained still, face blank.
“She’s healing, you know,” the Doctor told him, as gently as possible. “Remarkably well. She’s very strong. And she has your help. That means a great deal to her.”
Simon took a deep breath, and loosened his fists with obvious, conscious effort. “If only I’d gotten to her sooner . . .” The voice of old pain, old regrets.
The Doctor snorted, and Simon glared at him again, ready to be angry. “I’d say it’s bloody amazing you got to her at all, based on what River remembers of her rescue. She wanted to show me that, by the way, made a point of putting it where I’d see it — she’s very proud of the memory, and of you.”
Simon met his eyes for a moment, and then glanced away, disconcerted. It was a common reaction for humans who weren’t used to Time Lords.
The Doctor continued.
“Y’know, every time I see what I think is the worst -- the final -- abomination that will make me give up all hope in the human race, I see something that counterbalances it, something so rare and wonderful, it defies description. What was done to River is appalling, but what you’ve done for her is amazing. Remember that.”
Simon looked stricken, at a loss for words.
The Doctor rested a friendly hand on his shoulder for a second, and gave him a reassuring smile before slipping past him to head back to the others.
Rose and Jack looked after River for a moment, and then the Doctor rejoined them. Rose stood and moved to put her arms around him. He hugged her back, tightly, and that was the first thing Mal had seen since that initial recoil to tell him how rattled the Doctor had been by the inside of River’s head.
Jack moved to the side of them, as they embraced, and rested a hand on each of their backs — extra reassurance, and an eye-opener for Mal. Yessir, these folks were darn close with one another.
Jack saw him looking and smirked . . . but it was a warning, too. Mal took it completely — the three of them would defend each other to the death, he was sure of it, and were unlikely to take kindly to any casual threats, either.
Not that he was planning on offering any, but it was always good to know where people stood on these things.
“You and the doctor — Simon — conjure there’s a way to help her?” Mal asked, as Rose released the Doctor.
“I recommended some medications to ease her symptoms,” the Doctor told him, which was a pretty a not-answer as you please. Still, it matched what he’d said earlier.
The Doctor stuck his hands in his pockets and considered Mal. “So, Captain, any decision on my proposal?”
“Well, now, I do appreciate your offering help with River’s condition, you realize . . .”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, waiting for Mal to continue.
“. . . But like I said, I’ve got a boat to run, here, and crew to look after. We’re in the middle of refitting, and this here’s taken fair amount of time. I’ll be better able to sit down to a powwow with you tomorrow, if that suits . . .”
They’d have the refuel and the hydraulic fluid change taken care of bright tomorrow morning, Davesport time. After that, there was little enough holding them here unless Jayne managed to keep his pants on long enough to catch word of a job. In between, there was enough time to sleep on the matter, conjure if he wanted to get any more involved with these folks. He’d been willing to see if he could get help for River, her bein’ at least partly his responsibility, but for the rest of it . . .
Rose was looking hurt, and Jack annoyed, like they figured they were owed something. The Doctor just stood there with his hands in his pockets, and a half-smile on his face.
“Fair enough,” he said. “I hope you’ll sleep on it, though.” He gave Mal a sunny smile, and what he'd said was close enough to what Mal’d been thinking he wondered again if this Doctor No-Name was a better Reader than he’d let on. He deliberately shot a mean thought in the man’s direction.
No reaction. Not a distance-Reader, then, or else good at hiding reactions. One way or another, Mal was pretty sure he’d never want to play poker with the man.
Which was something to consider in and of itself.
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