Back Stories II, Chapter 18
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kaylee and Simon finally have time to talk, and they work a few things out.


Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I'm just playing.

Many thanks: members: leiasky and nosadseven for beta-reading and mphillips for the artwork.

Links: Prequels: The Fish Job (FFF) (LJ), Easy Tickets (FFF) (LJ), and Book I (FFF) (LJ). Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

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House of Huāzhù, Highgate

Simon sat forward in his chair and stared at his hands, watching his fingers slide over each other. It’d been a long time since he got as much use out of his hands as he had in the past few days. True, much of it had been simple check-ups; he’d done nothing even approaching surgery. But still, it had been something to practice his trade in a real medical establishment. He’d had two full days of feeling useful rather than like a bumbling idiot, of receiving heart-felt words of gratitude and titles of respect rather than the usual dismissive and condescending slights he’d grown used to in the past year.

Not that he was wholly unappreciated on Serenity. Simon’d saved the lives of several members of the crew – and he knew that they knew it. They acquiesced to him without argument when the blood was pouring out and a life hung in the balance, and now and then they went so far as to thank him for the quick healing and minimal scars that followed his treatments.

But, on any average day when life and death wasn’t an immediate question, things were different. He just didn’t belong. There were rules that he could never work out, proper times for bizarre forms of humor that he rarely found funny, and other times for serious words when his own ill-timed jokes fell flat. He was constantly getting things wrong, and it was a rare day when his mistakes were allowed to slide by unnoticed and unridiculed.

Life on Serenity held times for violence too. Simon had figured out a few of those– when River was in danger, he never questioned his actions. He simply did what he could to defend her. Sometimes he couldn’t do enough; he couldn’t bring himself to use violence as easily as this crew did.

River, apparently, was having no problem with that. And therein lay the root of his dilemma: could he allow his sister to live like this? If his first priority was her well-being, shouldn’t he be looking for a more stable place? A way of life where a traumatized eighteen year old could heal and, as much as possible, grow into a healthy young woman?

He raised his head when the source of his worries suddenly sat up on the rose-colored bed in front of him.

“My hygienic state is questionable,” River announced. “Shower time.”

Kaylee hadn’t moved while the rest of the crew left the room – which had happened a few long minutes ago, Simon realized, minutes he’d spent lost in his own thoughts. Now the mechanic smiled brightly at River’s words, glancing at Simon to share her humor. That smile was something. Simon knew that Kaylee was well aware of his short-comings, but still she so often found a reason to smile at him like that, like she was offering a gift and expecting nothing in return.

River slid off the bed and stepped toward the door, and Simon finally roused himself and rose to his feet – she was about to go wandering through a whore house during peak business hours on a Saturday night, and he couldn’t allow that.

“I’ll help you,” he said.

River stopped and stared at him, her forehead wrinkled in confusion. Kaylee stared too.

“I mean… I’ll help you find the bathroom. And a towel. Not help with the… the showering.”

“Been here all day,” River said. “Sick. I know where the bathroom is.” She managed just enough of an eye-roll to express her full meaning before she slipped out the door: her brother was an idiot.

Kaylee laughed. “No matter how you try Simon, she just ain’t gonna let you baby her.”

“I don’t mean to baby her. I just…” He plopped back into his chair heavily. “Last night she broke into the clinic and injured a security guard, and tonight she’s wandering about a whorehouse on her own.” He looked toward the door, unsure. “Maybe I should go after her, just to make sure that she doesn’t get lost….”

“Simon Tam!” Kaylee’s sharp words snapped his attention back into the room. She was still sitting on the bed, but she wasn’t smiling anymore. She looked almost angry now, a sudden change of mood that he’d seen in her a few times lately, but usually when he did something to upset her she just huffed a few choice words and went off on her own. Not tonight. This time, she clearly meant to have her say.

“Simon Tam – your sister is not a little girl anymore! You are gonna have to quit actin’ like she is. No matter where you take her, she is gonna be in dark, scary places facing dark, scary things. Dangers and temptations and such. Those are gonna be there `cause that’s just how this `verse is, and you can’t change it. Nobody can. And you can’t be chasin’ her around, livin’ in her back pocket. It ain’t good for you and it ain’t good for her neither. She’s gotta learn how to deal with life how it really is, and she can’t do that with you gettin’ all in her way.”

Simon wasn’t sure what to say. She’d surprised him with her outburst. She may have surprised herself too; she'd punctuated a few choice words with slaps of her hand against the bedding, but when she finished she pulled her hands back in and clasped them together.

She looked away and blushed just a little. “I'm sorry, Simon. I don’t mean to be tellin’ you what to do with River. I was just meanin’ that – ”

“No, it’s all right. I see your point.”


He nodded. “Maybe I’m like one of those parents – the kind that can’t let go, that can’t let their children be independent.”

That made Kaylee come around to a more forgiving mood. “Well, it ain’t like you don’t have reason. River ain’t exactly a normal girl.”

“But being so overprotective can’t help. Maybe if I’d talked to her, told her exactly what was happening at the clinic these last few days, she wouldn’t have thought it necessary to go there last night. Especially with how she can read… She senses things, but she misinterprets them. She has so little experience with real, everyday life, and it’s easy for her to jump to conclusions. Maybe, instead of sheltering her, I should try to tell her more, let her take part and understand what’s really happening…”

He shook his head again, feeling overwhelmed. Had he been wrong all this time? Had his approach in treating River been wrong?

He realized that Kaylee had moved off the bed and was kneeling next to his chair. She reached up and stroked a hand over his cheek; it was just a small gesture, but her touch was warm and tender, and it affected him. Not sexually, exactly, though it could certainly go that way.

No, mostly it was comforting. It reminded him of how little personal human contact he’d had in the past year. The past several years, really. People in the Core didn’t touch as freely as Kaylee did. He found himself wanting her palm to stay where it was, sliding gently against his cheek and jaw, and had to fight off the urge to close his eyes like a little boy.

“You expect too much of yourself, Simon,” she said softly. “What you done with River is good work. You can’t go beatin’ yourself up over every little thing that ain’t perfect.”

He was in no place to judge whether that was true; he could only smile and nod. Kaylee shifted then, rising to slide onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around her waist and felt her hug him in return, one hand on his back and another gently winding in his hair. He leaned into her shoulder, and since she couldn’t see his face he let himself close his eyes.

He could sleep here, wrapped up like this. He could never move from this creaky wooden chair and that’d be fine.

Kaylee had other plans. “Simon,” she said hesitantly, “now may not be the best time but…”

He didn’t open his eyes, only sighed.

She went on. “I just wanna make sure of somethin’.”

“What?” he asked quietly, though he was more than ready to be done with the speaking and thinking and generally being awake part of the day.

“Well… ” She loosened her grip on him and pulled away a little. “You see, earlier today, right before we left the clinic, Tori told me some stuff.”

Of course it had to do with Tori. His school mate Victoria Zhou was proving herself to be quite a headache.

“What’d she say?”

Kaylee sat up more – she still had an arm over his shoulder, but it was just to balance herself. The time for comforting cuddles had passed; Kaylee’s mind was elsewhere.

“It was about River at first,” she said. “I asked Tori if she really wasn’t mad about River breakin’ in, cause we hadn’t said a word about it all day and that wasn’t right – it needed to be talked about, I thought. Tori said she wasn’t mad. But then she started wonderin’ how River could’a done such a thing, since she’s so tiny and all, and I said she couldn’t have meant to hurt the guard `cause River’s really a nice girl who don’t want to do no harm. So then Tori said that River must’a gotten some strange ideas from living on Serenity, ideas about how to go about doing things, and I said that was silly. And then… well…”

Simon sighed again. What else could he do but resign himself to hearing the whole story?


* * *

Clinic, five hours ago

Tori stepped onto the bottom rung of a stool and reached up to slide a voltage converter into a high cabinet. Then she turned to gave Kaylee a thoughtful look. After a long second, she sat down on the stool and patted another next to her.

“Kaylee, I think I ought to tell you something. Here, sit down.”

Kaylee looked over the room; it was late and the lab staff had left. Simon was still in the office up front, writing out his notes for the day, so the two women were alone. It didn’t comfort Kaylee – she didn’t fear Tori, but wasn’t exactly eager for a private heart-to-heart. But her time in the clinic was nearly over; the cap was done and they could send for the captain and Zoë and Book now. Zoë’d get the ship back, they’d leave Highgate, and Kaylee’d never see Dr. Victoria Zhou ever again.

So she sat down on the stool and nodded at the doctor to have her say.

Tori earnestly held Kaylee’s eye while she talked. “Look, I know how Simon is. He’s basically a good man and has all the best intentions, but he’s a little… unaware sometimes. He’s still not very good at communicating, is he?”

Kaylee couldn’t help but smile as she shook her head.

“So I’m sure he hasn’t told you, but I think you should know… Simon’s considering staying here.”

Kaylee couldn’t stop herself from gaping, but just for a quick second. “Stayin’ here? Like… on Highgate?”


Kaylee drew in a quick breath – that that was just silly. Simon wouldn’t do that. And certainly not without saying something.

“But why?”

“For River, mostly.” Tori looked around the lab. “There can’t be another place in the verse where he can have access to this kind of medical facility without being in danger of arrest.” Her eyes settled on Kaylee again. “And there’s a community here in the settlement. People River’s age. That girl doesn’t just need to heal, she needs to learn how to be a young woman. Simon knows that – River’s well-being is very important to him.”

“Oh, gee. Well… I guess….” Kaylee didn’t like the idea, but she could see the sense of it. River needed more than a doctor; she needed a life. She’d been wanting to date for some time, but there wasn’t a single option for her on Serenity. Kaylee understood well the importance of having a man, and knew how it must be a problem for River. Maybe Simon was beginning to understood too.

Tori went on. “And honestly, I think Simon likes working here. I think he’s missed being a practicing doctor. This clinic is a damned sight closer to the kind of life he’s trained for than a tiny cargo freighter wandering about in the Black.”

Kaylee straightened at the slight. “Hey – Serenity may be tiny, but she’s the best gorramned cargo freighter there is!”

Tori smiled apologetically, though Kaylee wasn’t sure she believed it. “I’m sure your ship is very special,” Tori said. “But it doesn’t provide a whole community. River needs friends, boys, a school….”

“Simon teaches her stuff on days when he can. When she’s well enough, you know. She’s worked with me on the engine – cōng míng rútóng yīgè zhăngjí, that girl is. Wash’ll let her sit in the co-pilot seat and look at how the controls work, and Inara – well she ain’t here no more, but she used to teach River about bein’ proper, wearing nice clothes and talkin’ polite.”

Tori opened her mouth to reply, but Kaylee didn’t let her.

“Look, I know I’m goin’ on, but I could say plenty more. River learns bunches on Serenity. We got us a community, and River and Simon are part of it. And I ain’t just saying that `cause Simon’s parts are the right size to push my kòu de lè qù just right – Simon and River are part of the crew, part of the family. They belong with us.”

Tori just tilted her head – a funny kind of shrug. “Well, you are very nice people and Simon thinks the `verse of you, there’s no doubt about that. He doesn’t want to leave. But, Kaylee, can you see that it’s not about Simon’s needs? It’s not even about Serenity’s needs. If you really care for him, and for River, you need to consider what’s best for them in the long run.”

The doctor reached out a hesitant hand and set it over Kaylee’s. “You’re a fine girl, and I know that you and he are… well, I know you’re close. But a man like Simon sets his priorities on more than his own desires. It’s a hard thing to consider, but I want you to be prepared. He may put River’s health before the good things he’s found on Serenity. I hope you can find it in yourself to support him in this very hard choice he has to make, and not punish him for being a good brother.”

* * *

House of Huāzhù

Simon shook his head at what Kaylee was telling him. “It’s like being back in MedAcad, having someone play a game like this.” He focused on Kaylee again. “She was manipulating you. She completely made it up. She and I didn’t talk about the possibility of my staying on Highgate until later, until we left the clinic.”

* * *

Four and a half hours ago, Outside Zhou’s Clinic

Simon stood next to Kaylee while Tori locked the clinic door. He had the Takara cap rolled up in a paper bag which he held gently in his right hand. He expected that he’d never come back to this place. Once Zoë got to Highgate, she’d get the ship back and they’d move on, leaving this world behind. And he’d finally have a chance to do right by Kaylee.

The thought made him look toward the mechanic, and he felt drawn toward her, as if her body exerted some kind of force on his. He shook his head: he was beyond tired.

Tori turned away from the door, but instead of walking with them toward the ship as he expected, she waved a hand at Kaylee, shooing her away as if she was nothing more than a stray dog.

“Tori…” Simon said, meaning to protest, but she grabbed his elbow and pulled him aside.

“This is important, Simon. And private.”

It didn’t seem to Simon that anything needed to be said in private at this point, but Kaylee had already turned her back and stepped out of hearing range.

“You can’t treat her like that – ” Simon started.

“This isn’t about Kaylee. This is about you and your sister.”

Simon blinked stupidly; his mind was sluggish after his long day. “River? I thought we went over this.”

“Look, Simon. I understand you’re doing your best with her, and what you’ve done so far… it’s damned near heroic. But you can’t stay with these people. Don’t you see what’s happening?”

“We settled this,” Simon said, trying to make his voice firm. “Serenity is the best place for us. The only place.”

“What about here?”

His mouth dropped open; he hadn’t even thought about that. He’d been too engrossed in his short term plans: get the cap, help Mal, move on.

“Think about it, Simon. River’s sick, she’s young, and she’s impressionable. She needs treatment, the kind you can provide for her here. And more than that – she needs stability. She needs to learn that attacking people and stealing what isn’t hers isn’t right. And you need a place yourself.”

Simon shook his head. “I have a place.”

“Doing what? Fixing wounds that these people deserve because they prey off the innocent?”

“They don’t…”

“They’re criminals – you know it. And they’re turning you and River into the same.”

He smiled wryly. “I’m a criminal in my own right; I don’t need their help.”

Tori didn’t share his amusement; she continued earnestly. “You know what I mean. You’re an honorable man, a skilled doctor, and there’s a place for you here. A safe place where you can be useful. You can help these miners – good, hard-working, honest people. That’s what you’ve always wanted. That’s what you spent all those years at school for. And honestly, Simon, what you’ve done in the past two days… I could never work as fast as you do. You excel at this. With you, I could expand, open another clinic. We could change lives. We could make a real difference.”

Simon glanced back at Kaylee, who was studying the night sky. “I’m still a fugitive,” he said. “That won’t change.”

“It doesn’t matter here. If you’d just quit being so damned neat, maybe grow a beard, you’d blend in. At least a little. Anyhow, it’s not a danger – the Alliance doesn’t have any presence on Highgate. I’ve thought about this: you can run a remote clinic, on the Western continent. I’ve been wanting to expand. There are four colonies there that you could serve, and I’d send any cases requiring surgery to you–”

“River’s a fugitive. Not just with the Alliance, but with local security.”

“I’ve talked to the young man who called them in last night. I explained. He’s willing to alter his description of her, just enough. And she can change her appearance easily. Cut that hair off, for a start.” She stepped closer and put her hand on Simon’s shoulder. “You don’t have to keep running, Simon. You can have a home, a purpose. That is, unless you can’t leave your pretty mechanic behind.”

Simon glanced at Kaylee again. Whatever it was he had with her, could he let it blind him to River’s needs? Or to his own needs?

Because, really, Tori was right. He could find a place here, and do a lot of good. In fact, this world could be a blessing, exactly what he’d been hoping to find when he first took River away from the Academy. A safe, hidden settlement where he could earn a living without doing crime. Modern medical facilities and medications for River, a stable environment, a home that stayed in one place, food that didn’t run out when pay was slow in coming.

He couldn’t deny that what River’d done frightened him. Defending Serenity and Kaylee from gunmen on Niska’s station was one thing, but he’d never thought his little sister capable of taking initiative in an act of crime and violence. Maybe it was because he hadn’t been paying enough attention to her. But he couldn’t dismiss the type of people she held up as role models. She clearly admired the captain, and that didn’t make Simon feel at ease.

He felt Tori’s hand sliding down his arm, and suddenly understood that there might be more than one message being passed, more than one offer given. It was unwelcome – his attraction to this woman had been short-lived and died out long ago. But he didn’t shake off her touch; he didn’t want to be ungrateful. Tori’d done him a favor these past few days, and she’d lied to protect River.

Besides, if he did end up staying, he didn’t want any hostility between them. But he had to be clear about where his interests lay.

“Look, Tori,” he said softly. “You raise some… valid points. But there’s nothing between you and me. There never was, really. If I stay here, it won’t be for that.”

He was surprised that she didn’t look even a bit offended. “That’s fine Simon. Whatever you want – as a friend, I hope you do what’s best for River. And for you.” She let her fingers catch his palm and held on as she stepped away from him, making his arm stretch out toward her.

“Just think about it,” she said, and she squeezed his hand before she turned away.

* * *

House of Huāzhù

“I’m telling you,” Simon insisted to Kaylee, “she brought it up. I swear! I hadn’t been thinking a thing about it until she made the suggestion.”

Kaylee held his eye, but she looked uncertain. “And you told her no.”

Simon dropped his eyes; he couldn’t answer.

“You told her no, didn’t you?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t say yes or no.”

Kaylee pushed off his lap and slid back onto the bed where stared at him, her jaw clenched angrily.

“I have to think about it. Look, Kaylee, I don’t like Tori and… I don’t like this world much, but I have to look at my situation rationally.”

“Ain’t no amount of rational can change the fact that she’s a liar. She set us up! I see it now – she thinks we don’t talk `cause of how you’re no good at talkin’ to women, and she figured she could split us up. Maybe even get me to talk you into stayin’, even though I don’t think it’d be a good thing for you at all. Not good for River either.”

“Wait – you don’t think this would be good for River?”

“Hell, no! Tori’s creepy, Simon. Downright creepy! I mean, she may have a point that Serenity ain’t sailing clean and pure above the law all the time, but at least when we do crime we’re honest about it. Tori, she’s just… Well, if you’re looking for folks got a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong – folks on Serenity know about that worlds better than Victoria Zhou! We may choose to walk the far side now and then, but we don’t try convincin’ anyone that we’re something we ain’t.”

Simon leaned forward on his elbows. Kaylee was right about Tori, but it didn’t make his situation any easier. He dropped his head in his hands, then felt a touch on his arm – Kaylee had slid back across the bed so she could reach out to him.

“I’m sorry, Simon. I shouldn’t be at you now `bout this, not when we’re both half dead tired. Let’s worry on it in the morning. Now – how `bout you take the bed? Get yourself some sleep.”

Simon understood – the direction their earlier hugging could have taken was completely lost now. Perhaps it was best that they just sleep, but he couldn’t take the bed, leaving Kaylee and River on the floor.


“It’s been a while,” he said.

“A while?”

“Since River went to shower. Shouldn’t she be back by now?”

Kaylee frowned at him.

“I know, I know. I’m overprotective. But… in this house and after last night…”

Kaylee sighed, but she nodded. “Go on.”

It didn’t take Simon long to locate his wayward sister. He went to the only part of the house he knew – the main lounge by the front door. He was hoping to get directions to the nearest shower room, but he found River curled up on a long, plump purple sofa. She was wearing a huge sky blue robe, had a green towel wound around her head, and her face was still pink from washing.

She was sitting next to a heavily made-up girl in a dark red gown so tight that it couldn’t have allowed her much room to breathe. The girl – the whore, Simon reminded himself – couldn’t have been much older than River, maybe a year or two, but River was staring at her with rapt attention. The girl was talking, describing something in detail, and she made a motion with her hands that Simon didn’t want to even try to interpret.

“River!” he called out.

His sister started and looked up at him. “Not tired,” she said.

“But it’s late. It’s time for bed.”

She gave her new friend an apologetic look, then jumped to her feet. She let the towel fall off her head and her wet hair uncoiled around her shoulders as she crossed the room.

“Not tired,” she repeated once she reached him. “Slept… I slept all day. I am rested. I want to make friends now.”

He lowered his voice. “Perhaps this isn’t the best time or place for that.”

“Simon, don’t be a snob. Go be with Kaylee. I will be fine here.” She stepped closer to him and lowered her voice to match his. “I know… I understand that I was wrong. Last night. I was wrong. I won’t do anything like that again. I will behave.” She looked down at the floor. “You… you don’t have to worry about me.”

He put a hand on her chin. She resisted, but he made her look him in the eye.

“I will always worry about you.”

This made her smile, and she let him hug her. Simon’s mind went back to Kaylee’s tirade, and he understood that this couldn’t go on forever. He may always worry about River, but he wouldn’t be able to solve her problems with a hug. Despite her stature, she wasn’t a little girl.

“Go,” she said, and she pushed him away. “Go be with Kaylee. And don’t worry. Whatever you do, it’ll get lost in the background.” She lifted her eyes to the ceiling, to the multitude of rooms on the upper floors. “Saturday. No work tomorrow. This House is full of that kind of thing.”

She turned and went back to her place on the sofa. As she sat down, she caught his eye for just a second and smiled. He took that smile with him and he walked down the hall, but he stopped a few meters short of the open door to the room where Kaylee waited for him. He had to think.

Simon didn’t believe in being rash. It was idiotic to make an important decision when he was so tired, and this was indeed an important decision. Tori had been right about his priorities. But Kaylee had been right about Tori’s short-comings. Which was the more important factor?

He shook his head. He should wait until morning – things might seem different when he could think clearly. But, even as he told himself that, he knew he’d decided already. In the pit of his stomach, he was sure, and no amount of arguing or rationalizing was going to change things. He was committed to his life on Serenity, more so than he’d realized. It would take a lot to make him leave. It would take more than Victoria Zhou and her modern, expensive clinic had to offer.

Simon smiled to himself and relaxed against the wall as a weight lifted off of him. This felt right, no matter what logic dictated. This felt good. Now, he could stop torturing himself with indecision and deal with some other unsettled business he had with Serenity’s mechanic.

* * *

Four and a half hours ago, en route to the House

For a second, Kaylee’s mouth pursed and she looked back down the street toward the clinic. Simon looked too, but all he saw was a woman huddled in the shadows of the next building down, just some local who’d gone out to take in the cool night air and found herself in the middle of a spat.

Kaylee muttered something Simon couldn’t hear: a few very bad words aimed at Tori, he guessed.

“I guess I should’a figured,” Kaylee said in a louder voice, and her shoulders relaxed. She blew out a frustrated breath and took another long look, this time at him. Simon had to turn his eyes away; she looked almost pleased, like some good opinion of him had been proven.

When they walked on, Kaylee leading and Simon following, it was at more relaxed pace.

“I really definitely should’a known,” she said after they’d covered some distance. “Tori told me something else about you – about you back in school – and I knew that was a lie.”

More lies? Simon wondered. “What? What’d she say?”

Kaylee glanced over her shoulder once to smile at him. “I can’t be sharin’ girl talk. There’s a kind’a code you know.”

Simon sighed in relief – her tone was teasing. Whatever this new matter was, it wasn’t serious. Maybe there was no more need for serious talk now, or serious thought.

He hurried a few steps to catch up with Kaylee. “If she’s telling lies about me, then there can’t be any kind of code involved.”

“Now, just cause she’s a big fat liar don’t mean I ain’t honorable myself.”

She tossed her head back, maybe doing her best to walk like an honorable woman with her chin lifted and shoulders thrown back. But a smile played at the corner of her mouth.

Simon smiled along with her. “You can at least give me a hint…”

“She was makin’ up slander about you, is what I think.”


“Yep. I know cause since we got to Highgate I’ve had a few experiences that make me kind’a an expert on the matter.”

A few experiences? Kaylee’s tone and the way her eyes cut sideways to him made it pretty clear what those experiences entailed, and it didn’t put Simon at ease. What could be worse than having his present and previous lovers comparing notes on his performance?

“So,” he said uncomfortably, “I guess you mean to say that these experiences you’ve had were… ”

“I don’t think I need to explain, since you were there too.”

“Oh.” He scratched his head. “Yes. But I was… you know, I was pretty tired. And distracted. There’s been a lot going on.”


“And when there’s so much going on, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything. So feedback is… well, it’s very important.”

Suddenly Kaylee stopped – he realized that they’d arrived at the House. “Well, doctor, I will give you all the feedback you’re needin’ just as soon as I get a chance. Meantime, we got a bit more important work to do.”

He sobered up immediately. “Yes. It’s time to get the captain.”

“You think Jayne got us a ship to use?” Kaylee asked.

“I certainly hope so.” He held up his hand and looked at the Takara cap, which was carefully wrapped in a paper bag. “I’ll be ready….”

* * *

House of Huāzhù

Now, as Simon leaned against the wall outside the Rose Room, he figured that it was time for the feedback Kaylee had promised. He wasn’t looking forward to hearing it. Kaylee wasn’t shy about sex talk, wasn’t one to sugarcoat criticism, and lord knows what awful things Tori had told her.

Yes, this had every sign of being an unpleasant conversation for Simon. But if he was going to stay on Serenity, and if he was going to continue this thing he had with Kaylee, it was best that he face the truth. That was how he’d done so well in school and as a doctor – he wasn’t afraid of hard work or honest feedback. Maybe relationships with women were no different.

He took a deep breath and entered the room.

“River?” Kaylee asked as soon as she saw him.

“Busy,” he explained. “Making friends.”

Kaylee’s face lit in a smile. “Well, good for her!”

Simon envied her joy. Only Kaylee could think of River socializing with employees of a rough mining town’s whorehouse without trepidation. He wished he had such faith in people.

“She says that she’s not tired, and I think she’ll be all right where she is, though she may be up half the night and I never, never, want to know what they’ll be talking about.” He shut the door behind him before adding, “Which leaves you and I free to work something out.”

Kaylee squinted at him, curious. “What’s that?”

“I believe… ” He hesitated, then took a seat on the edge of the bed. “I believe that a certain very annoying doctor gave you some information about me. Then there was the matter of your recent experiences….”

“Oh, that.” She gave him a close look. “You sure you wanna talk `bout it now? Ain’t ya tired?”

“Heavens, yes, I’m tired. Which is why I’d rather hear it. I don’t want to be lying awake imagining what horrible things she said.”

Kaylee pressed her lips together and for a second he saw worry on her face, then she covered it with a smile and reached out to touch his arm. “Simon, you got to consider the source.”

“What did she say?”

“It ain’t important.”

“That bad?”

Kaylee blew a heavy breath at his insistance, but didn’t give in and tell. Instead she brightened her smile and moved across the bed toward him. “Well, I guess you got to think of it this way. Some women just don’t know to handle certain things.”

“Some women?”

She didn’t answer right away; she was next to him now, and took deliberate care in putting one leg across his lap while wrapping the other behind him. Maybe it was his exhaustion, but again the warmth of her body had a strong effect on Simon. He wanted to wrap himself up in her and stay there as long as possible. But it was nearly impossible to relax and enjoy her touch when he was waiting to hear something unpleasant and possibly humiliating.

Despite how tense he was, Kaylee managed to pull his arm around her and snuggle up next to him. Her body pressed into his side, all soft curves; it reminded him that he knew exactly what was under her shirt.

Simon quickly turned his eyes forward, trying to shake the image from his mind. Knowing something like that didn’t give him automatic permission to expect a repeat. Kaylee might want nothing more than to be comforting; he had to respect that.

Although, if that’s all she was after, she probably wouldn’t be running a hand up over his stomach and chest in such a familiar way. She knew what he looked like under his shirt too. Maybe she was thinking about it as much as he was…

“Yeah,” she finally said, right into his ear. “I been thinking about it. There’s a woman hereabouts thinks she’s tough, but I’m guessing that she just ain’t up to handlin’ a man like you.”

Her breath warmed his neck in a heady way. He found that he had to force his words out. “A man like me?”

Her hair tickled him when she nodded.

“What exactly does that mean?” he asked.

She slid her hand from his chest up to his cheek and turned his head toward her. Her face was right in his, her hazel eyes only inches away.

“You’re a beast, Simon.”

That startled a snort out of him. “A beast?”

She nodded avidly and pressed herself closer. “In bed. You’re a wild man. You’re a – hey!”

Simon’d had to turn away and laugh. It was ridiculous. Doctor Simon Tam, who finished his internship in eight months, whose position at the top of his class owed much to his study habits and discipline, who made love only in well-established relationships, doing it quietly and neatly in a well made bed… this man was a beast?

“That’s a little much,” he said with a sidelong look at Kaylee.

She frowned and pulled back from him, then slapped him in the arm. “Now you gone and ruined the moment, Simon!”

“I don’t mean to. I’m just saying… it’s a little silly.”

“Ain’t silly Simon. Ain’t nothin’ like that at all. You `member that first night? That first time with you and me?”

He felt blood heat his cheeks and had to look away. “Yes. I was… That wasn’t really me. I was tired and worried and…”

“Wasn’t you? Sure looked and sounded like the Doctor Tam I know.”

“But I’m not usually so…”


He smiled. The word did fit.

Kaylee smiled too, and leaned close to him again. Her hand went back to his stomach, circling there lightly, as she spoke low in his ear. “You recall me complainin’ at all that night?”

He shook his head.

“You got anything to complain of for yourself?”

“No. I just… I felt… ”

“You liked it, didn’t you?”

He felt his face heat again.

“Come on, Simon. Tell me.”

“Yes,” he admitted in a soft voice. “Yes, I liked it very much.”

She was whispering now, her mouth close to his ear again. “That’s cause you’re more than some proper doctor, Simon. Hidden inside a’ here, deep down, is a wild, untamed shòu just waitin’ to come out.”

He couldn’t help smiling again. “Is that what Tori said?”

“Tori wouldn’t know a chāng pī zhì if he stomped her flat, and wouldn’t be able to handle one in any case.”

He wasn’t able to laugh at that, because she turned his head toward hers again. There was barely a touch of her lips brushing his, then another.

“But you know how?” he asked.

“How `bout you try me an’ see?”

And she kept her mouth there, close to his, teasing, until he did just that. He pulled her closer and kissed her. Hard. Deep and messy and wet and hurried. And then she was on his lap, just like she’d been that night in the galley, but this time he didn’t have to worry about anyone walking in. This time he could just let go and enjoy it.

“Out a’ control wild man,” Kaylee managed to say as he shifted her sideways and stretched out over her. “You sex me up just right, Simon...”

At another time, he might have found her words ridiculous, but right now she was clutching at his shoulders and pulling at his shirt and rolling her hips beneath him. Simon found his hand tangling in her hair, grabbing hold, and on a whim he pulled her head back to bare her throat to his lips.

She grunted, so he let go immediately. “Sorry,” he gasped. “I’m sorry!”

She slapped at his arm again. “Ruined moment, Simon.”


In answer, she guided his hand back to her hair. Simon took a more careful hold.

“Go on!” she told him.

He pulled again – though he was gentle, she arched up with nearly her whole body, offering her neck to him. Simon wasn’t about to refuse that.

A busy few moments later, Kaylee made a suggestion. “You ought’a tear my shirt off now.”

He lifted his head to catch her eye. “Tear your… ?”

She nodded vigorously. “Well, maybe not tear `xactly…. Careful a’ the buttons – just grab here and yank real quick… Like that… Yeah…”

* * *

Back in the settlement

Victoria Zhou folded her arms in front of her and leaned over the booth’s worn wooden table, moving carefully to avoid getting splinters in her arms. This place was a dump. She’d tried going home, but her mind was racing too much to handle solitude and quiet. She generally liked being alone, but at times like these she preferred being alone in the company of others, even if it was a bunch of rowdy drunken miners on a Saturday night in the Salty Tongue Saloon.

They left her alone. Folks around here knew who she was, and they knew better than to hassle her. And they knew that her clinic was closed Sundays – it did no harm to sip a few pints while she sorted her thoughts out.

She hoped she’d done the right thing with Simon. He was in a touchy situation, and would be easily frightened away. She’d taken a risk in being pushy with him, trying to set him at odds with the young mechanic. But it might work, and if it did…

What a boon it would be, to have a surgeon like Simon on her staff. There was no other way she could get a talent like him to work here, on this world, with these people.

She sipped her ale and glanced around the bar. They were like children, in a way. Hapless, clueless, helpless little children. They didn’t know how to take care of themselves, and no one else would do it. This was her cause, and hers alone. Tori knew exactly what she was – a true humanitarian. Not a single one of the highbrow elite she’d gone to school with were willing to sacrifice their own comfort and glory, to leave their home worlds and come to a coarse, rough-and-tumble place like this and help those whohad no other recourse.

As far as Tori was concerned, she was the only true hero of all those she’d known at MedAcad. Except possibly Simon. He may have been forced into it, but he’d found it in himself to make sacrifices for his sister. He had potential.

Tori’s thoughts were interrupted when a man approached her table. He didn’t look like the usual miner; he was better looking than most and far too clean. His skin – though naturally a dark shade that he must have inherited with his thick black hair and dark eyes – hadn’t been dried up and lined by the hot sun of the Flat. He was wearing all black, as if he was either a storybook villain or a good guy in disguise.

Her interest in his appearance turned to annoyance when he slid into the far side of her booth without even asking.

“Hi,” he said cheerfully. “Name’s Billy.”

“That’s nice, Billy,” she replied flatly. “Go away.”

His smile didn’t waver at all. “I know what you’re sayin’. I wouldn’t `xactly welcome the attentions of the kind of bums I’m seein’ here. But I ain’t like that. You see, I got some business to do, and I’d like to humbly ask a bit of a favor of you, Doctor.”

She sighed – she should have figured. The needs of these people could never be met. Which was why she needed Simon. “If it’s a medical emergency, out with it. Otherwise, I’m off the clock.”

“Nothing medical, no emergency of any sort. I just heard that a certain friend of mine is doing business hereabouts. Me and Malcolm Reynolds were close way back when, and I’d sure like to catch up with him.”

That name made her tense. What had Simon brought on her? First a little sister with talents for burglary, now what?

“Why do you ask me?”

“Well, I’ve been hoping to run into Mal, but all I’ve seen is a few of his crew. Just now I recognized a little lady who fine-tunes the workings of his ship. Kaylee. I saw you were talking to her and her doctor friend earlier tonight, and I thought maybe you could help out–”

“Why don’t you talk to them yourself?”

Billy sighed. “That is a tricky one. Kaylee… well… “ He dropped his eyes, like he was embarrassed, but Tori didn’t buy it. She’d guess that he was actually rather tickled over whatever he was about to say. “You see, I once spent some time on Mal’s ship, and Kaylee… well, she got a little sweet on me. She’s a pretty thing and nice as can be, but not my type. Thing was, she just wouldn’t take no. She kept leaving love letters for me, and crying all the time when I didn’t answer back how she wanted. I actually left the ship because I felt so bad for her. And just now, I saw her looking so happy, all smiles with the young doctor…”

He paused and she realized that he was watching her closely. She did her best to control her reaction, but couldn’t help wondering – were those two happy together after she talked to them? Had her plan failed so quickly?

Billy must have seen something in her face; he smiled and chuckled before he went on. “Well, if those two really are a pair of lovebirds, it warms my heart. I’d hate to mess that up for sweet little Kaylee. So you see my situation. I’d like to find Mal, and I figure he’s here, since his crew is walkin’ the streets, but I ain’t seen his ship anywhere.”

“You won’t. It’s been impounded.”

“Impounded?” The man’s mouth fell open in shock. “Why?”

She didn’t believe his shock. In fact, she had a strong feeling that he knew about this already. “I’m a doctor, not a police officer.”

“Well then, I bet Mal’s in need of some help, which I surely could offer.”

“You should. I’m sure his crew would appreciate that.” She drained her beer and started to slide out of the booth, but stopped when a strong hand grabbed her arm.

“It’d sure be easier if you’d tell me how to find them.”

“You seem the enterprising type, Billy. I think you can manage.”

“But I’m in a bit of a hurry. I can make it worth your while.”

“How’s that?”

“Let’s say I have powerful friends.”

She settled back into her seat, but gave the hand grasping her arm a hard look. She wasn’t about to be bullied by this creep, no matter how big he thought his friends were.

He let go of her.

“Clearly you aren’t out for a social visit, Billy.”

“You’re a smart woman.”

“You’re a terrible liar. And your speech has cleaned up quite a lot since you first sat down. You’re from the Core.”

He smiled. “Glad you noticed. I’d prefer dropping the act – I don’t enjoy playing an idiot just to blend in. Yes, I’m from the Core. But I like it better out here.” He looked around, then spread his arms in a stretch and grinned. “Freedom, you know. There’s nothing like it.”

“There is freedom, but there’s also long work days, which I’ve had plenty of this week. Let me be clear: I don’t care who your friends are. I don’t care why you’re after Malcolm Reynolds. My encounter with that crew is over, and it really didn’t amount to much. I had a visit with an old school friend, one I don’t even like very much and I doubt I’ll ever see again.”

Billy’s grin disappeared and he leaned toward her threateningly. “No, you won’t, because your school friend is traveling with a wanted man. They’ll all be in lock up before long. Now – do you want to benefit or risk being counted as an accomplice?”

Tori felt her face heat with alarm – could that actually happen? “I’m leaving,” she said firmly. “Don’t try to stop me again. People here know who I am, and they will defend me.”

He managed to squeeze in one more question as she stood up. “You say you don’t even like the doctor. Why protect him?”

She looked down at him. “I like you even less.”

But, as she walked out of the bar, she had to admit that the slippery Billy had given her much to think about. Tomorrow could be an interesting day...

* * *

Meanwhile, at the settlement landing pad…

Inara Serra sighed as she pulled the hatch of her transport closed behind her. Her first day on Highgate had been short and very nearly fruitless. She’d landed in the evening and gone straight to the local security office, registering her ship using the cover Mr. Universe had provided for her.

A plumber. She sighed again – that story had caused a few moments worry for her. But, luckily, the officers she’d met were more interested in how a pretty woman got into plumbing then in her proposed area of expertise. Inara could handle those questions; she could invent a character for herself, a background something similar to Kaylee’s, much more easily than she could talk pipe fittings. And she was easily able to use the men’s curiosity, to charm them into talking about their own daily business.

And so she’d found out that Serenity had indeed been impounded. It was being held on a lot a kilometer northwest of the settlement, and wouldn’t be released until the owner came forward to answer some questions.

So the owner was here. He must be. Inara had spent the night walking the town, trying to be invisible as she checked into the hot spots where locals gathered to celebrate their weekend. She hadn’t seen any sign of the crew.

But they were here, she was sure of it. Tomorrow morning she’d start fresh, and she’d find them.

* * *


huāzhù: style, as in female organ of flower
guài wu: monster; freak
cōng míng rútóng yīgè zhăngjí: smart as a slap
kòu de lè qù: joy button
shòu: beast; quadruped
chāng pī zhì: wild stallion
* * *

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Saturday, May 17, 2008 7:48 AM


In case you couldn’t tell, this is pretty much a chapter of loose ends being tied. All these scenes with Tori have been alluded to and I had to get them in before moving on. If I’d planned better I might have worked them into earlier chapters, but I think it worked out all right. I had to build a framework for the flashbacks, which forced me to write the discussion between Simon and Kaylee. I probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise (I find them very hard to write, probably because I’m not much like either of them) but I’m glad it got done. They needed to sort themselves out.

And now I am *so* ready to move on! Hence the little tacked on Inara scene – it may not really belong here, but I had to hint at what’s coming. Yes indeed, I am finally done catching you up with what’s happened while the crew was separated. The serious forward moving begins now!

Oh, and sorry about whining all over Steamer’s blog after my last post. I try not to get pouty over feedback, but it does happen from time to time. :)

Since I’m on the subject: Hey, I like feedback LOL! Even criticism! Really, I like critical comments best of all… shows you care enough to think about it.

Have a lovely weekend! Next chapter around the end of next week.

Saturday, May 17, 2008 9:16 AM


Tying up loose ends? Felt a lot more like seeding even more story lines to me. :D

The Kaylee/Simon storyline bits were nicely done - and I generally do not like stuff focussed on them. (a lack of power and a little too much whine are not too much to my tastes - something this pairing can bring out in droves.)

As for Tori, I can see she has some redeeming qualities. Her ego not one of them. :P

And River. River, River, River. Is she still planning, plotting and scheming? We still have no real idea why she thought she needed to make her move to acquire that thing. (Yes, "thing" is a technical term.)

Glad to read this and more importantly glad that you seem to be enjoying the writing of it more.

Saturday, May 17, 2008 2:14 PM



I didn't think you were whining, I just thought you were channeling Kaylee. You know, to get this chapter done faster.

Seriously though, patience can get short some time, and whinging helps to a point. There's nothing like another movie being announced that wouldn't stir up a lot of excitement.

I love this fic, I have since your very first chapter. There's a quality to your writing and your plot lines that many published authors never develop. And I have a bet with myself as to who gets to kill Bill. So I am so happy to know that more is on the way soon. Glad this chapter is out of the way and very eager to read more!

Saturday, May 17, 2008 8:35 PM


I love all the loose ends that you tie up in this chapter. River's determination to 'make friends' had me giggling. Kaylee trying to get Simon to ravish her again like their first time and his trying to work out that he really CAN give in to those kinds of desires was really well done and explained. Tori is a well rounded original character that has her faults and witty dialogue - 'I like you even less.'

And Inara - that wasn't a loose end you tied up . . . that one is all frayed and waiting to continue into Book III! :)

I took a look, and commented, in Steamer's blog as well.

Sunday, May 18, 2008 4:52 AM


I am liking you development of the River and Simon relationship, letting River grow up, want to do normal girl things, and Simon slowly coming to the realization (with help of course) that these are things she needs to do. It's good to see.

Should I say I got chills of excitment when 'Billy' sat down across from Tori? *bounces up and down* Seriously, it's not easy to make a villian really *scary*. So many times, villians are just over the top into silliness, but Will truly does chill me, and I love it. I just loved the way he twisted the truth to suit his purpose, about 'spending some time' on Serenity. Is it wrong of me to be excited about all the potential bad stuff he could get up to when they finally all meet up? There are just so manyt things that could happen, which will it be???!!! Yes, I'm excited.

And of course, wonderful to see Inara. Maybe doesn't quite fit here, but I like the teaser feel of it, because when we see her arrive just after we've seen Will, it's impossible not to think of the score he has to settle with Inara, and now she's here... ieee! :oDDDD

Anyway, I also peeked over at Steamer's blog and commented... I know I've been a bad one for feedback lately, here especially, but on LJ too. It's a habit that's too easy to fall into when I'm busy, and this month and the next are my busiest of the year, but I will endeavor to change that and take the time to post comments. Good writing deserves it!

Keep it up! We're out here :o)

Sunday, May 18, 2008 6:22 AM


OK, only for you, mal4prez, would I consider reading this much Kaylee/Simon. (lol)

You did succeed in giving Kaylee the ability to move beyond her excessive carnal desire for Simon (more than the show or movie ever did) and be able to offer him sound advice in regards to River's inevitable maturation. And, I like how she knew Tori was a weasel, nice job on all of them.

And, then we have the return of Inara and she finds Serenity...time to move on, like you say.

I know you are busy with your new teaching gig, but I have to ask, do you have a time line for III?

Monday, May 19, 2008 5:18 AM


I'm really worried about...wait, just about everything, here! River's unrequited affection, Mal's slipping chances at sanity, Tori's vindictiveness..and who the diyu is Billy?!

Excellent interweaving of multiple plotlines.


Friday, May 23, 2008 12:02 AM


I haven't been around the site for a while, but it was so fun to peek in in the middle of the night and find not one but two chapters of backstories. Its hard to find great fic sometimes.

This chapter left me wanting to know why Tori is so slimmy, what trouble River was going to get herself into, wanting to wack Will and cheer for Inara.

Ok on to chapter 19 yeah


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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.