Even Roses Have Thorns, Chapter Twenty-Nine
Friday, January 19, 2007

Simon and Kaylee talk, and seem to be getting better at it. Mal faces a decision. Canon pairings. This chapter is rated PG13, just in case.


Chapter Twenty-Nine: Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt (They change the sky, not their soul, who run across the sea.) Part IV

*** *** *** Chapters 1-10, Chapters 11-20, Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, Chapter 24, Chapter 25, Chapter 26, Chapter 27, Chapter 28 *** *** ***

When the doctor left the kitchen, Mal considered her words, and his cup of coffee. No, coffee just wasn’t going to cut it, not anymore. He took a large gulp and reached into his cupboard. He topped his coffee back up to the rim with whiskey, before setting off to wander the ship. He wandered in the general direction of his prisoner, but he wasn’t quite ready with his thoughts. He wondered whether it was better not to know them, facing a reader, so that she wouldn’t know what was coming; he decided probably not. That conversation was bound to be an unpleasant experience, and probably for both of them; the least he could do is try to make sure it was over quickly.

As he passed the infirmary, he saw Kaylee standing on Simon’s right, cradling his broken and bandaged right hand. River stood facing her, at Simon’s left. Mal didn’t look too hard at the scene, knowing that it had to be a private moment. He was relieved to have seen it, however; he had been wondering if the girl had been going to visit the boy at all.

*** Kaylee was doing her best to be cheerful for Simon. This was so hard. She was used to being cheerful, and trying to do it just felt all sorts of unnatural. She’d left him earlier, confused and angry with herself. How could she just stand there while he asked her if she still loved him? Did he think her heartless? Did he think she’d meant what she’d said when she’d seen him first? Had he even heard it? She couldn’t know, and she couldn’t just ask. She couldn’t talk about what had happened to him, and she didn’t know what else to talk about – it was all she could think of. But she’d promised to come back before bed, and she did. She braced herself before she walked into the infirmary, trying to think of anything light or easy to talk about, but nothing was coming; finally, as she walked through the door, inspiration struck. River stood over Simon, playing with her hair. Yes, it was silly, but she could talk about it and pretend that things were normal for a while. They had to talk about something.

“Hey Simon. Hey River,” she began. “Were talking to Jayne earlier and seeing you fiddling with your hair reminded me of what he was talking about.” She ploughed on, knowing that she would have to supply most of the conversation herself. “Anyway, he was talking ‘bout his sisters, and I just got ta wondering, Simon Tam,” she looked away from River and toward Simon, smiling brightly, if a little falsely, “if ya ever pulled River’s hair?”

River turned a genuinely happy smile on Kaylee, but Kaylee saw that Simon shifted uncomfortably.

“Yes. Once.” River’s voice took on overtones of discomfort and shame. River tried to hold back her grin, but it didn’t matter too much – Simon’s eyes were downcast at the mere thought of his horrible misdeed. River caught Kaylee’s eye, and pantomimed a gesture of being dosed with a soother, before pointing to Simon.

Kaylee smiled a little more genuinely and carried on. “What happened?” Now that she had found something that they could just chat about, she was determined to pursue it. River’s response was encouraging, even if Simon’s wasn’t particularly.

“River cried, and I felt terrible. Father caned me and Mother sent me to bed without supper.” Kaylee wasn’t sure if it was River’s own idea to make it so that he sounded like this had been a reasonable parental response, but she couldn’t help but tease.

Remembering Jayne’s shocked tone, Kaylee spoke as though taken aback. “She tattled?”

Had Simon been able to, he would have sat bolt upright. Instead, he merely gave himself an unpleasant bounce off of the infirmary bed, while he mouthed furiously, face appalled, as River said in an (apparently) equally appalled tone: “River? Tattling? No! Never!”

Kaylee bit back her laugh. “How’d your parents find out then?”

River rolled her eyes, but made her voice low, shameful-Simon like. “She was crying. I told them.”

Kaylee’s heart, already soft, was quickly turning into a big, soppy puddle. She instinctively took his bandaged hand. “Ya told ‘em?”

“Of course.”

“Why, a’course?”

More rolling eyes from River, but she faithfully carried on her brother’s story. “River was crying. I hurt her, scared her. She wouldn’t let me comfort her, so I… picked her up and brought her to Mother.”

“And you told her?”



“She asked.”

“Could a let River tell.”

“She’d have lied.” Simon’s words were said with such a finality that almost made Kaylee believe him, but she was a baby sister herself, and thus would have reserved some doubts on that score, even if River herself hadn’t been supply the voice-over. “And if Mother found out, River would have been in more trouble than I was, for lying.”

“You told ‘em and they still whupped ya?”

“Yes. Six of the best.”

“How old were ya?”

“Uhh – eight, almost nine.”

That sobered Kaylee a little. That was pretty harsh for such a small child, especially for such a tiny infraction. “She really never told on ya?”

“Never.” It was River who said it, in a firm tone, but Simon looked as if he couldn’t understand why she was puzzled. He looked so much like Jayne that she couldn’t help but have a genuine laugh.

“And ya never told on her?”

“Kaylee!” It was the second time he’d actually bothered to move his lips in their conversation. She decided that she liked it.

“Kaylee, what?” She teased.

“Siblings don’t tattle.”

Given the context, that took Kaylee aback momentarily, but she was determined that to keep him talking. It was easier to do this while he was drugged – at least for her, and maybe, if she didn’t screw it up this time, it would make it easier to do during the times when he wasn’t. “Ya know, wouldn’t thought that they’re be much ya and Jayne agree on, but he’s just as determined as ya on the topic. Has views.” She caught his eye again and nodded to emphasise her point.

Simon turned his head a little toward her to see her more easily. He mouthed the words, “Jayne is very wise.” Kaylee laughed again, genuinely. It was helping to alleviate her nerves somewhat.

River hadn’t voice it. She smiled and walked toward the infirmary door. “I’ll be back in a bit. Have to go. I love you, Simon.”

Kaylee watched her go. Could it really be that simple?


Mal took a deep breath, and knocked on the door. “Cadet Swann? This is the Captain, you’ve got thirty seconds to make yourself decent.” He eyed his watch carefully, and slowly pulled the door open, just in case. He knew that this was ruining his stern Captain-y appearance; but then, she was a reader: who knew what she already knew.

At least she was quiet. River would have undoubtedly acknowledged his thoughts with something insightful or witty; Ceres just stood to attention. “Ah, at ease, Cadet.” The girl’s stance loosened a little, but could not be described as easeful. “Why don’t you sit down, Cadet?” He pointed to the bed, then cursed himself. He really should have asked Zoë down here with him. He hated the thought that she might be scared of him, like that. “Or not, as you prefer. Let’s just leave the door open a mite, shall we?” It made him uneasy, but he would rather that then the other way around. Mal leant against the wall. “Cadet Swann, Zoë has passed your message on to me. I’ll be blunt, seeing as you probably already know my thoughts – this ain’t a pleasant situation to be in, not for either of us. We both know that I can’t let you go. Figured that’s why you told Zoë what you did. Ain’t keen on putting a bullet to you, and I ain’t gonna be responsible either for what those hundans do either with you or to you if I cut you loose.”

Mal studied her face for a moment. Aside from her faint flicker of recognition as he stepped in, her face had been unreadable. He corrected himself. Not unreadable, really, not like Inara’s. Closed, but not blank; disinterested but not sullen. Not nonchalance, nor ease, nor boredom. If it was a mask, it wasn’t for his benefit that she was wearing it.

“I ain’t keen on taking you up on your offer, either, and Zoë reminds me that keeping you prisoner ain’t something we can do indefinitely. It is, however, the default position. Now, there’s one other choice that I see, but I ain’t keen on it, either, and I have my own doubts that you would be, but there might be a way as you could earn your place on this crew.” Mal paused, to study her face. It hadn’t changed that he could tell. He wondered what was wrong with her; Dr. Wren had mentioned the likelihood of psychological disturbance, but she was – contained – the other word the good doctor had used. Containing what, though? “I won’t lie and say I’ve made up my mind to offer you a place, but I would like to hear your thoughts before I go make any decision.”

He paused, and waited for her to speak. She didn’t. His rubbed his face with his free hand. There really wasn’t any place to set down the mug. Mal made another stab at talking to his prisoner. Maybe direct questions with simple answers would be better. “I’ve read your transcript. You were a good student. Woulda made a good solider. There ain’t a war, and if their were I think we’d likely be on opposite sides. But you’ve never been commissioned, and I think a student as bright as you knows that you can’t ever go back, even if I was willing to take that chance. Am I right?”

Her voice was clear, and soft, but stronger than he had expected. “Yes, Sir.” There was no hesitancy.

“Do you think you could take a place on Serenity if you got the chance?”

“It would… depend on the terms, Sir. I would think so. I can never not be a criminal, by definition.”

“’Cause Blue Sun would hunt you down if they could.”

She knew that it wasn’t a question, but she answered him anyway. “Yes, Sir.”

“We should put this aside before we move on to the other business. So, we both know you can’t go back, and I haven’t made up my mind about the other thing. Now, ‘til I do, you could just go on, as is, being a prisoner here.” Mal noticed the girl’s face change then; but it was gone in an instant. A flicker of despair? He couldn’t be sure. “So, let’s assume for a minute I ain’t ready to trust you. Might be someday, might not. You rather remain prisoner here for the time being, til a decision gets made, or would you rather a bullet?”

He knew it was deliberate, a gesture of her firmness; he saw as she turned her attention on him completely, not unlike the doctor had earlier, and spoke firmly, clearly. “A bullet, Sir.” He thought she would leave it like that, but she continued to his surprise. “Two years in a cage was already too long. Sir.”

“Alright. I’ll make a decision come morning.” Mal paused before switching back to the lesser of their morbid topics of conversation. “You’ve got a lot of fine and fancy learnin’, and nothing wrong with that. But those skills ain’t much in market on Serenity day to day. But that ain’t a real problem if I decide that we could make a place for you. There’s bound to be something you can do.” He paused, and took a mouthful of coffee. “You can cook, right?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Just askin’, ‘cause it ain’t on your transcript.” Mal sighed, and took anther gulp from his mug to hide it – ‘As if there is a point!’ Mal reminded himself. “The bigger problem is trying to figure out if I can trust you. So, let’s start at the beginning. Why’d you choose that uniform to wear?”


After the Captain had gone, Ceres saw the door slide open again. A younger girl was standing there, with paper and pencils in her hand. “You wanted these.” The girl put them on the floor on the inside of the door, but she didn’t move away.

“Thank you ma’am.”

“I’m not ma’am. Just River.”

“You look different in real life. More brunette.”

“Than in the photos on the warrants?”

“I’ve never seen them. You were out after I was in.”

“Then what do you mean?”

“You know, when the others are loud, and you hear them?”

“Yes. But I can’t hear you. Except for a moment, right after Mal left. You wanted something to write with, to write on. Strong emotion, bled out. But you have control. They never taught me control.”

“They never taught me control, either. Well, I suppose that they did teach me not to scream. Maybe that was the point.”

“We’ll learn together. You’ll teach me. Simon will help.”

“The brother.”

“Yes.” River refocused on her unanswered question. “What did I look like to you, before you saw me?” River watched as the other girl closed her eyes.

“Pink-purple skin and blue hair and silver wings.” Ceres looked a little sad to River. It was strange to be in the same room as someone and not to hear them. It was almost normal feeling. “The picture will fade now that I have something real to replace it with but the feeling will remain.”

“And Simon, what does he look like?” River saw the girl’s eyes close again.

“Slate-grey and strong. A monument of granite. Feet of clay.”

“Show me.” River stepped closer to the other girl. “Can you show me? Before it fades?”


River stepped back into the infirmary and crawled up and into the makeshift bed she’d created for herself. She smiled at Kaylee, and covered a yawn with her hand.

Kaylee wasn’t sure if River was just letting her off the hook: in all honesty she was a little relieved (and felt thoroughly guilty about that small sense of relief) knowing that it was time to go. Trying to follow Simon’s sometimes whimsical and soundless words had been difficult, and she was scared that he would just become frustrated with their inability to communicate with ease, ruining the progress she’d felt they’d made. ‘Ain’t never been easy for us ta talk,’ she reminded herself sadly. She prayed that it would get easier with time. ‘Please don’t let me screw this up again,’ she thought. She buried her returning nerves under a cheerful smile and bid the siblings good night before excusing herself.

As she walked towards the door she braced herself again. She looked over her shoulder, face hopeful, and said, “I love ya, Simon Tam.” She saw him smile and close his eyes.

*** *** *** Chapter 30 *** *** ***


Friday, January 19, 2007 2:30 PM


Thank you to everyone who has been reading, especially those who are commenting.

Comments are shiney, and the muse is hungry.

Friday, January 19, 2007 4:15 PM


Well...this was a rather intriguing chapter, I have to admit.

While I am happy Kaylee has found a path of conversation with Simon, I get the feeling Kaylee's inability to deal with Simon's injuries - mental and physical - will cause problems in the future.

The Mal/Ceres conversation was well done, as I could picture Nathan/Mal struggling to deal with someone onboard his boat that he doesn't trust, but letting them off or ending their life are options that don't sit well either. Really wanna see how this little issue progresses;)


Friday, January 19, 2007 8:31 PM


> “I love ya, Simon Tam.”

Good! Good start! Now don't just say it - show it. Be on hand every day.


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