Even Roses Have Thorns, Chapter Thirty-Six
Thursday, February 1, 2007

Five moments of revelation. Canon pairings +1 (River/ofc). NC17 for grown up discussions. 3k words.


Even Roses Have Thorns

Chapter Thirty-Six: Culpam poena premit comes (Punishment closely follows crime as its companion.) Part I

*** *** *** Chapters 1-10, Chapters 11-20, Chapters 21-30, Chapter 31, Chapter 32, Chapter 33, Chapter 34, Chapter 35 *** *** ***

Kaylee watched Simon climb into bed, then set up her own cot and pushed it up close so that she could sleep next to him. He lay back gingerly. “I don’t think I’ll be able to talk in the morning.” Simon’s voice was a little raspy.

“It’s ok, sweetie. You can always sign.” All of the crew had ended up picking up an array of various signs in order to understand Simon’s attempts to communicate with them. Some had learned more than others, of course. She watched in the dim lighting as his fingers moved.

I know. I just – wish everything was normal again. Kaylee was particularly familiar with those signs, and the ones for other, similar, complaints.

“It will be, soon, sweetie. You just have to be a patient for a while longer.” Kaylee was a bundle of emotion, mostly happy, some confused, and some downright sad and scared; she desperately wanted to talk, but knew that Simon needed to rest. She leaned over and kissed him, before laying herself down.

“What were you going to say bao bei?” Kaylee heard Simon whisper.

“Oh, sweetie, don’t try to talk, rest your voice. I was just thinkin’ a asking ‘bout what Jayne said at the table. I know you’re her doctor so ya can’t say anything ‘bout her, but ya can tell me if I’m right about what Jayne was sayin’ can’t ya?” He nodded toward her, slowly. “Am I right in thinkin’ that Jayne were implyin’ that Ceres’ guards had – forced – her?”

Simon saw that Kaylee’s gaze was focused exclusively on his hands. He also knew that despite the fact that the word ‘rape’ had very few synonyms, that Kaylee would always prefer to use one rather than the word itself. The only time he’d heard her use it was when she was directly quoting the bounty hunter who’d threatened her with it. The word alone terrified her. Simon signed a simple, yes. He saw the line of her lips harden, though her gaze never shifted.

“And when Jayne said guards he meant guards for sure, not like one, once?”


“Weren’t right, the Cap’n saying that ‘bout her at table. Not anyone’s business, now the whole boat knows.”

In fairness, Simon thought – the Captain hadn’t said it – Jayne had. But Jayne and Kaylee likely had been the only ones not to know. He knew for sure that the Captain and Aren knew – and he guessed that Inara probably did too – and he was certain that Zoë knew. Jayne had possibly guessed – but the Captain’s remark had confirmed it for Jayne and the Captain’s decision not to contradict the mercenary had confirmed it for Kaylee. Kaylee knew that Simon could never say, but if Jayne had been wrong the Captain would have spoken up. So if that’s what Jayne had said – that’s what the Captain, in his silence, had agreed to. Simon lent across Kaylee and grabbed the pad of paper off of the side table. ‘Nobody’s going to think badly of her because of it, bao bei. Nobody thinks it’s her fault.’

“I know, Simon, it’s just – she must a been so scared, and then tonight, she and River looked so happy, and you kinda hope that they were having a good time, but what if she got all frightened? What if she scared River? River’s first time – no way she can deal with that. And what if she wasn’t, and everything was fine, and then she heard all seven a us thinking about it at the same time, while she’s try’na have her first time since they’d hurt her?”

Simon’s eyes closed as Kaylee’s worries washed over him. Mother of Mercy. Two readers on the boat, and that’s what everyone else was thinking about the first time they lay together. He threw the blankets off of himself, and tried to push Kaylee’s cot away.

Kaylee’s voice reprimanded him in a fierce whisper. “Simon Tam, what do you think you’re doing, trying move this cot with me in it?” She got up, and pulled it away from his bed. He stood carefully. “Need a hand?” She offered.

No. It’s a short walk.

She lay back down in the cot as Simon carefully walked to door and stepped out, closing it behind him.

Simon knocked gently on the door to his sister’s room.

He heard his sister’s voice call a out a drowsy, “Qing jin.” Simon stepped through, more than half-expecting to see Ceres’ red hair spilled across his sister’s pillow. River sat up, and spoke. “We tried. No room. Not practical. Ceres went back to her room to sleep. Champagne and sex. Made us sleepy.” River’s drowsy smile was happy and wide, and if he there had been any ambiguity there, well, the room did smell more than faintly of sex. “I like it.” She patted the space on the bed next to her in a gesture to sit down.

He wasn’t sure if she was addressing his thought or continuing her own, but it didn’t really matter. He addressed his next thoughts to her. “Most people do, Mei-mei.” He sat next to her. “Of course, most people like to sleep next to their lovers, too.”

River patted the wall next to her. “Not so very far away.”

Simon smiled. “I suppose not.” He didn’t know how to breech the topic of conversation, but it had to be done – Kaylee’s scenario was too terrifying to ignore. And he could ask his sister, at least – after everything they’d gone through, all the parts of his mind that she’d seen – there really was no place for shyness, anymore, between them. “So, did you have good sex?”

“Amazing sex.”

“Did we disturb it? We were talking about some unpleasant things right after you left. We weren’t thinking. I’m sorry, Mei-mei.”

“It’s hard, you know. Because I can’t really ever completely shut the rest of you out. Ceres has more control… but most of the crew is so loud sometimes that she still hears a lot and I’m still learning. Learning not to eavesdrop, learning to block. So, we heard you… but then all we heard was each other. Walls – defences I never knew I had – gone in a moment of trust. And it’s mirrors reflecting mirrors and you’re everywhere – and the whole universe is you and your lover – and you are your lover, and your lover is you, and you are your lover being you being your lover… Simon, it’s amazing. It’s like sharing a soul.”

“Great sex, then.”

“Sort of like…” she touched his cheek, not because she really needed to, and focused not on just hearing his mind, but touching it. This.

Simon felt a swell of champagne-tipsy wonderment and joy, and he shared it. For the first time in years, he felt certain that his sister would truly know happiness again.


It was at breakfast the following morning that Jayne noticed it. Instinct took over, and he grabbed the prisoner’s wrist. Feeling her freeze under his grip, he remembered what he’d leaned the night before. “Imma gonna let go, but you’re not ta pull yer hand away, dong ma?” His tone was low, and warning – but not what Jayne himself would have regarded as threatening. At her tense nod, he did as he’d said. She didn’t move.

For a moment, nobody did.

But as Jayne reached for her sleeve, the Captain spoke, “Jayne, what’s this about?”

Jayne never took his eyes off of the girl. “Show ‘em.” She didn’t move, but she could feel Zoë tensing beside her. “Show ‘em, or I will. Just flip over that wrist and roll up that sleeve.” She did as she was told. Jayne pushed his chair back from the sight, and looked at Mal. “We found her in a room full a gorram Reavers and now she is ruttin’ cuttin’ on herself!” Jayne jabbed a finger across the table at her, and stood.

Zoë spoke first. “Jayne we don’t know that she made those cuts herself.”

“No? Then who do ya think did? Anybody want to step up and say that they did this?” Jayne’s tone was firm – he didn’t think even Zoë believed her own suggestion was possible.

“I do.” Ceres spoke. “I did this.”

Jayne pushed his chair back in with more than the strictly required amount of force. “See now? Anybody remember how the last Reaver ‘survivor’ we took in made out?”

For a moment, no one spoke. No one had to. It was clear that they all did remember the last time.

Ceres stated calmly, “I was cutting long before I set eyes on a Reaver, Jayne.”

Mal stood. “Jayne, take her to the infirmary.” Everyone looked at the Captain, mostly with expressions of disbelief. “Alright, forget I said that.” He looked around the table, trying to figure out who to send – couldn’t be Zoë, the danger was too great. Couldn’t be Jayne, because he wouldn’t do it, and if he would do it, it was only because he was going to end her. He needed the doctors, and ‘Nara for their training. Kaylee?

“Captain.” River spoke up. “I can take her.”

“You willin’ to lock her in?” Mal’s face was closed, guarded.


“Alright. Then you can take her. But lock her in there.” As River and Ceres stood Mal continued to issue instructions. He looked at Jayne. “Jayne, you go help Kaylee in the engine room.”

“Why we always gotta go to the engine room anytime somethin’ happens? Ya got two mechanics and a boat full a parts. Ain’t like there’s anything even a little bit broke!”

Mal just gave his mei-mei an exasperated expression. “Well, fine, then. Kaylee, you go help Jayne lift weights in the cargo bay.”

“Shiny.” Jayne liked this turn of events, and didn’t need to be told twice. Kaylee rolled her eyes but trailed off after him.

After the four of them had left, Mal looked at those remaining. Inara and Aren were sharing significant glances with each other, and Simon. No surprises there. But Mal was pretty sure he had seen a meaningful glance pass between Zoë and Simon a few moments earlier.

Inara spoke first. “Mal, it’s not what Jayne thinks. I mean, at least, it doesn’t have to be. People have been cutting for centuries – millennia probably – and it never had anything to do with Reavers.” Seeing that this wasn’t helping at all, Inara turned to the two doctors. “There’s probably plenty of old scars to prove what she said is true.”

Zoë bailed the doctors out. “There are, Sir. Kinda surprised you didn’t see ‘em yourself bringing her over here, seeing as she was naked and all, but then that was kinda a big day.”

Mal’s face remained guarded, his voice short. “That it was.” He turned to Aren. “You mentioned the possibility,” he paused and correct himself, “the likelihood of the girl having some psychological trauma. This what you were talking about?”

“It’s certainly possible.” Aren normally wouldn’t give this kind of information, but this was clearly no longer just a personal matter; to an extent, as well, she wasn’t Ceres’ doctor, but the ship’s. “Some of her scars are years old. It’s more than plausible that she has been doing this for years.”

“How many years?”

“Ten, maybe.”

Mal’s eyebrows hit his hairline. “Ten years? She’s been cutting on herself for ten gorram years?”

Aren clarified. “Not constantly, by any means – and I doubt she did anything while Blue Sun had her locked up – but on and off, given the state of the scars – ten year seems about right.”

“She’d a been what, alla ten, eleven?” Mal’s revulsion was marked with disbelief.

“I was twelve.” All heads turned toward Simon.

“You tellin’ me you do this too?” Mal didn’t even try to hide his disgust.

“I’m telling you that I did. I’ve been in recovery for nearly a year now. I haven’t cut since before I got River out of the Academy. I’d managed to stop in med school, but after I figured out River’s code, I started again.”

Inara was puzzled. “But you were in the hospital the whole time. How did no one notice?”

“I didn’t use my arms, Inara. I mean, I did, when I was younger, but those scars are mostly gone now.”

Mal wasn’t done with his interrogation. “So where are they? Kaylee seen ‘em?”

Simon ignored the first question. “Yes. And before you ask, yes, she knows what they are. She saw them, she asked me, and I told her. It’s not something I lie about. It’s not something I’m ashamed of.” At the Captain’s expression, Simon changed tack. “Have you ever met an alcoholic?”

“Known a few.”

“It’s like that. It’s an addictive behaviour, dangerous – self destructive – but it’s also a short term fix to a problem you don’t have the ability to deal with any other way. If you’re lucky, and determined enough, you eventually stop – go into recovery – make conscious decisions to fight the urge, and to learn a better way to solve your problems. But the lure of the bottle – or the blade – remains with you, ever after.”

Mal understood that, perhaps a little better than he’d prefer to admit. He turned his attention to his first mate. “You seen these scars, Zoë?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“You knew what they were?”

“I had a suspicion.” Zoë’s face and voice were calm.

“And you didn’t see fit to tell me?”

“Didn’t see as how it concerned anybody, Sir. Got more than few scars I ain’t keen on telling the story behind myself. I imagine most of us do.”

Mal nodded agreement. As the others looked on he took a deep breath and sat again. “This ain’t helping figure out to do with the prisoner.”

“There isn’t anything you can do, Mal.” Inara’s voice was gentle. “She’s coping with her problems as best she can, and unless we can figure out a way to address the problems themselves, taking away her method of coping…” Inara let her sentence trail off. Mal understood.

“Alright. Even that being the case, we oughtta address the fact that she’s been pilfering from the ship stores for this nasty habit.” Mal turned to Simon. “Thought you generally kept a pretty close eye on supplies.”

“I do. There’s nothing missing – not with regard to sharps at any rate – I don’t keep track of weaves, of course – but if she needed one, it hardly counts as theft.”

“Well, she ain’t got any money, and she ain’t been off the boat, so where the hell else would she be getting them, Simon?”

Simon just repeated himself. “Captain, none of my scalpels are missing.”

Elsewhere, the pieces feel into place. Almost in disbelief at her own words, Inara spoke up. “They wouldn’t be.”

Mal didn’t miss his fiancée’s tone. “What do you know, ‘Nara?”

“She didn’t steal anything, Mal. She didn’t need to. We gave her supplies to her. You paid for them. I handed them to her.”


“I’m serious, Mal. Kirigami box? Blades and paper tape. Body scent and witch hazel: antiseptics. Cotton balls. I just can’t believe I didn’t see it before.” Inara met Mal’s eyes. He’d stood right next to her as she bought the tools. “But hidden with every thing else – it just – well it was just cosmetics and toiletries.”

“Well, it was a clever ruse,” Simon offered. “She didn’t want anyone to know. Didn’t want anyone to stop her.”

“Or make it anyone else’s problem,” Zoë added, with a meaningful look at the Captain.


A crisp voice spoke. “We’re coming up on it now?”

“Yes Sir. That’s the Pandora, no doubt about it.” The young man indicated a mark on his screen.

“Very well. Take us in.”

Later, after they were done shifting through the evidence left on the boat – though it would have been easier to say that the entire boat was evidence – it became clear that all of the records were gone. Completely destroyed. There were backups, of course, stored elsewhere but the most recent data was gone, and all of the surveillance footage they’d hoped to have was gone as well.

Watching the two spooks wander around in mostly silent, very closed efficient fashion was beginning to wear thin on the young man temporarily assigned to be their aide. “Sir, do you think Ceres Swann got out, did this, escaped?”

One of them answered him casually. “She didn’t have the means – even if she did there wasn’t any place for her to go. She’d be here. No. This place was stormed. Looks like a team of about four people. Given the amount of damage, I’d say we’re looking at the handiwork of River Tam.”

The second added, “She would go to some lengths to get her brother back. We were counting on it, in fact.” He turned back to his partner. “I’m beginning to wonder, however, if perhaps we’ve underestimated him all this time.”

With a raised eyebrow, the first indicated to the ensign to leave them alone. When he did, the first spoke. “The closest generic sample of an organism is it’s full sibling. I take it that you think the program hasn’t been sufficiently ambitious with regard to it’s plans for Dr. Tam?”

“Yes.” The second regarded his partner with a long look. “He’s been quite the thorn in our side, but we’ve never really seen him as anything except peripheral.”

“We never did figure out what he was doing on the Skyplex, or how he got his sister away.”


“Finish it.” The first said. “Your line of thought.”

“I’m being to wonder – looking around here – if Simon Tam permitted himself to be caught. If that was his goal.”

The first understood. “Or to put it another way, the sole purpose of his mission.” At his partner’s nod, the first continued. “Interesting.”

*** *** *** Chapter 37 *** *** ***


Thursday, February 1, 2007 3:18 PM


Thank you to everyone who has read and commented, the support (private and public) is deeply appreciated.

Next chapter: Serenity arrives on Osiris, but nothing ever goes smooth.

Thursday, February 1, 2007 4:55 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER was just completely insane!

You went from a fairly lightweight moment concerning River's first time being intimate with someone to introducing Ceres' cutting habit - and Simon's as well! - to suggestion Simon went through all that torture and pain on purpose?!? Oh...this is some brilliant whacked-out shit, girlfan!


Thursday, February 1, 2007 10:50 PM


Kaylee's fretting about Ceres' privacy was wonderful.

Simon and Ceres being cutters - it fits into what we know of Simon's childhood (being beaten for pulling his sister's hair is more than excessive). It would be nice to learn more of Ceres' childhood. I wonder if Kaylee's overreactions to Simon in the earlier chapters were her trying to cope with learning Simon's a cutter?

And Blue Sun jump to the conclusion Simon is a spook just when our heroes are bound for Osiris - this is gonna get interesting!

Friday, February 2, 2007 5:41 AM



I'm just wondering how many people think that this was the introduction of Ceres' cutting? I ask because it seems to being coming across as a surprise - which, I guess I meant it to be a little - but it was kind of supposed to be the payoff for the scene in chapter 33 (and to some extent, a payoff for the scene in chapter 32 in Inara's shuttle).

Simon's cutting (hinted at through his relationship to Ceres cutting) was meant to be more discreet. What Simon is going through at the same time as Ceres is cutting ("Simon wished that he had something to throw, and something to throw it with. He settled for banging his head off of his pillow, and cursing.") is a frustrated attempt to deal with those same self-destructive urges.

I didn't expect it to be obvious (not the point at all), but I had hoped that in retrospect, the revelation would make sense.

Was I too subtle?

Saturday, February 3, 2007 1:24 PM


Hmm...while I didn't see it coming, in retrospect it makes perfect sense to me, especially for Simon. He's always so very controlled - rarely drinks, almost never loses his temper, always thinking of his "next move", even if that move is just how to keep River safe. It seems reasonable that he'd have a "quiet" self-destructive behavior.

Actually, I'd not be surprised if Zoe had similar patterns (which it seems you hinted at). Like Simon and Ceres, she's always very closed off, and with Wash gone I'd bet she needs some way to deal, as well.


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