TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 16. See what's inside.
Friday, March 18, 2005

Set against "The Message" (and full of spoilers for the episode), in this chapter Inara tells Simon something he doesn't want to hear. And then River tells him something he *really* doesn't want to hear.


Disclaimer: Firefly – not mine. Joss Whedon's your man.

WARNING Spoilers for “The Message”

RATING – I'd go for R because there's a non-graphic date-rape.

* * * * *

Trauma Medicine: Chapter 16 See what's inside.

* * * * *

Inara wishes she could share Mal's good mood but with Zoe's revelation still ringing in her ears it's impossible. He smiles at her and again she's surprised by how young he looks when he's relaxed. Then she reminds herself he is young – he's just seen too much and it's left him broken. Twisted. What he must have gone through during the war she can only imagine. It's not his fault he couldn't take it. Her heart could break for him. For both of them.

Wine's nice, Simon decides draining the second – third? - glass Kaylee pours for him. It blurs the edges. Dulls the pain, like an anaesthetic. Even so, it still hurts to see Mal dancing with Inara. To know it's her he really wants. But who can blame him? She is so very lovely. Even Simon can see that. He can't compete. He's not even going to try. Instead he's going to let Kaylee take care of him. Let her wrap him up in her warmth and sweetness. She tugs at his hand, drawing him up for another dance and he has to admit that she really is very pretty. His breath may not catch in his throat when he bumps into her unexpectedly and she may not make his pulse race, but she is pretty and sweet and good. He wonders if he ever could ..? With Kaylee? Simon has never had sex with a woman. Well, to be honest, he's not had sex with many men either. Maybe it would be just as good with Kaylee – it might even be better.

Inara makes an excuse about it having been a long and exciting day and retires to her shuttle. Mal takes a seat next to Jayne and accepts a refill of his drink. He leans back in his chair and surveys the party contentedly. Maybe it's jus' the effects of the alcohol but he feels real mellow tonight. 's good to see his crew enjoyin' themselves. Don't get nearly enough opportunity.

Kaylee realizes Simon is studying her face intently. “Whatcha thinkin'?” she asks.

He blushes. “Nothing ... Just that you're pretty.”

Mal's too far away to hear what they're sayin' but he finds hisself watchin' the Doc's hands. An' not for the first time. It's kinda hypnotic the way they move, the way they nearly touch his face but don't. Mal takes another mouthful of wine and then Simon is doin' that thing – that thing where his little finger finds its way into the corner of his mouth an' the point of his tongue flicks out to lick the tip. Mal crosses his legs an' uncrosses them again. Ain't neither position comfortable. Determinedly he drags his eyes away and his gaze falls on Zoe an' Wash. Which ain't much better, seein' as how they're tangled tightly in each other's arms, swayin' in time to the music. Wash whispers somethin' into his wife's ear an' she makes a sound like honey simmerin'. “Hope you can back that claim up, husband,” she chuckles. He don't reply – jus' takes her by the hand an' leads her off to their bunk.

“Whoa there, Simon!” Kaylee's cry has Mal lookin' back at her an' the boy whose legs seems to've suddenly given way. “Help Cap'n! He's heavy.”

“Sorry. I'm sorry,” Simon mumbles into her hair.

Mal peels him off Kaylee and slips an arm under his shoulders to support him. “Think we better get you to bed Doc.”

Simon allows his head to flop against Mal's arm. “Think that's a very good idea,” he agrees, his face totally serious.

“Need a hand?” Book asks – partly because he likes to help and partly because dancing with River is exhausting.

“Nah,” Mal replies. “I got him.”

“All the same -” The Shepherd takes Simon's other side. “Easier with two.”

Between them it doesn't take long to get Simon down to the passenger dorm. River skips on ahead and opens the door to her brother's room. Kaylee follows behind, cluckin' at them to be careful.

“In you go, Doc,” Mal says. “You go sleep it off.”

Simon slumps against the door frame. “I think I may be drunk ...”

Mal laughs. “Yep. I think you ain't wrong.”

A pair of unfocused blue eyes meet his. “Like you.”

“No,” Mal corrects him. “More than me.” Because ... well, jus' because ...

Simon snorts out a laugh. His head wobbles from side to side. “Like you,” he repeats, tapping Mal's chest with a finger. He takes a few unsteady steps into his room and stops, rubbing the back of his neck. “Forgot my 'cyclopaedia.”

“You'd forget you're head if it wasn't screwed on,” River says in the sharp tone of a critical parent, forcin' Mal to review his assumptions about the Tams' privileged upbringing.

“Mmm,” he brother nods. “Lost my vest too.”

Mal slants a glance at Book and is alarmed to see he's lookin' in his direction. It's only for a second and then the Shepherd steps forward to help Simon make it to his bed, where he simply collapses in a heap of sprawled legs an' arms, head thrown back, hair all over the gorram place. His shirt's unbuttoned an' no longer tucked neatly into his pants. Tamade. He looks ... what's the word? ... well, he don't look appropriate all mussed up like that. Wanton - that's the word. Book removes the medic's shoes an' Mal's afraid he might not stop there. Feels an' urgent need to get out of here. An' a pressin' need to stay. Mayhaps he's drunker than he thought.

“Thou shalt not covet,” River whispers, making Mal start. “Thou shalt not steal.”

Creepifyin'. Feelin' cornered, Mal glares at Book as if he's to blame for the girl's sudden religiosity. The Shepherd's eyes twinkle back at him but then River is fixin' him with a penetrating stare. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Book blanches. It was so long ago. But she can see it, hanging around his neck like an albatross. He coughs. “We are all sinners, child.” Mal quirks an eyebrow but he continues, “Doubt there's man alive without a few regrets. Not many dead ones either, I'd wager.” He closes Simon's door quietly. “Think even your brother might have a few come morning.”

The girl gazes at the door as if she can see right through it. “Not tomorrow. But some day.”

* * * * *

Delete. Enter new number? Yes. Enter. Two hundred thousand . Return. Page updated.

That's all it takes. A few keystrokes and it's done. From this screen to the furthest outposts of the 'verse with a Cortex link, reaching vast numbers of people. And amongst those vast numbers there are probably scores who are loyal, enterprising or greedy enough to want to earn the reward for the safe return to Alliance hands of River Tam and her brother.

* * * * *

“Please, Simon!” River begs, dancing about with excitement.

Her brother shakes his head regretfully. “I'm sorry, River, but I think we should stay put. Space bazaars are busy places – we might get seen. Our pictures have been on every news bulletin since we left Persephone. We should definitely stay on the ship.”

Kaylee's face falls. She'd been lookin' forward to spendin' some fun time with Simon. An' possibly some alone time with him.

“Seems to me, son,” Book says thoughtfully, “Most folks who might be interested in you will be looking for a brother and sister. Might be you'd be less noticeable apart.”

River grabs the Shepherd's hand. “I'll go with him,” she declares. “You go with Kaylee.”

“I don't know ...”

“You're right, Simon – bazaars is busy,” Kaylee agrees. “So busy, nobody pays anybody else no mind. Ain't that so, Cap'n?”

Mal looks up from securin' the Lassiter into a scan-resistant case. Kaylee's eagerness to have Simon to herself for a while is written all over her face. Boy don't look so keen, but could be all he needs is a gentle shove in her direction. An' even if Mal can't do it with an entirely happy heart, he's got no right ... “Yep. Go on, Doc. Let the Shepherd take care of River. Go take in some of the 'verse's more unsavoury sights. Jus' keep your hand on your wallet.”

* * * * *

“Seriously, Badger,” Saffron pleads. “You gotta help me out!”

He ain't really listenin'. Far too interested in the new bulletin on the desk before him. Two hundred thousand credits. He sucks in a breath. Knew the girl was special. Only wishes 'e'd known 'ow special. An' 'e coulda sworn she was from the old 'omestead ...

Saffron tries again. “Badger. Peaches. All I'm asking for is a tinsy little loan. Just fifty platinum. I'll pay you back.” Her voice drops to a more seductive pitch. “With interest.”

Badger puts another apple in 'is peeler an' starts skinnin' it slow an' deliberate. “Seems to me, little girl, we 'ad us a deal,” he reminds her. “You an' that 'usband o' yours was gonna get me the Lassiter, I was gonna find us a buyer an' we was all gonna get 'orribly rich. Now, I kept up my end of the deal. You, on the other 'and ...”

He's interrupted by Saffron sitting down on his lap. She puts one arm around his shoulders and rubs a hand against his chest. “Badger. Honey ...”

Now a man got needs. Everybody knows that. But i's all a matter of priorities – of timin', innit? Right now what Badger needs is to hang onto 'is 'ard-earned coin. You don't play a player. He pushes Saffron roughly away into the hard edge of his desk. As she tries to steady herself, she notices the headline on the news bulletin. And recognizes the two faces below it. That's when she sees the number. Two hundred thousand. Thanks to years of training, none of what she's thinking shows on her face.

“I could be really useful to you,” she purrs, tipping her head from side to side coyly. She runs her hands suggestively over the curve of her hips. “Wouldn't you like that?”

Badger's mouth smiles but his eyes are flinty. “What I'd like,” he says coldly, “Is for you to get the 'ell out of 'ere 'fore I 'ave to call the Feds.”

Saffron tosses her head defiantly and lifts her chin. It's a convincing enough portrayal of anger. “All right, all right, you sad little man! I'm going!”

Because what's fifty platinum compared with two hundred thousand credits?

* * * * *

“Behind this curtain lies the very secret they don't want you to see ...”

Mal watches Simon an' Kaylee wander over to the barker's stall. Not hard to know what each of 'em's thinkin' – Mal can see it on their faces. Simon's wonderin' what kind of ruttin' gou shi his money's gonna get him access to an' Kaylee's thinkin' the Doc's the prettiest thing she ever laid eyes on.

Mal's face is giving away a lot too.

“Mal?” Inara emerges from a tailor's booth and her perfect brow creases with concern at his expression. “What is it?”

He realizes he mus' be frownin'.

Inara spots Kaylee and Simon and gasps in alarm. “Are the police here? Is Simon in danger of being arrested?” She looks quickly around for signs of Federal agents but finds none.

Mal's attempt at a nonchalant grin is not entirely successful. “In danger of bein' robbed more like.” He indicates the freak show booth with a tilt of his head. “Aliens – pah!”

Oh. Of course. The line on Inara's forehead deepens for an instant. Mal never was very good at hiding his emotions. She decides to change the subject. “How much did you get for the Lassiter.”

He shrugs.

“Struck out again, did you?”

“It's like somethin' from a fable!”

* * * * *

Simon bites his lip and looks sheepish. “I really know how to show a girl a ... disgusting time.”

Kaylee continues staring at the mutated foetus. “Oh, it's sweet,” she smiles. “Poor little thing – never even saw the light of day, now it's in show business!”

Simon turns to look at her. She shines. Brighter than any star. She's pretty and sweet and good. “You manage to find the bright side of every single thing,” he marvels with both envy and admiration.

She inches closer to him. “Also ...” - talkin' 'bout findin' the bright side, Simon Tam - “ ... we've got this booth to ourselves for five whole minutes ...”

He can't meet her eyes. Not when he sees what's in them. The desire to be kissed. Slightly panicked, he glances at the foetus. “We are not alone, remember?”

“He won't squawk,” Kaylee promises, taking his hands in hers. The skin on them is work-roughened but the bones beneath are small, delicate. “Tell me more good stuff about me.”

Her hunger for compliments reminds Simon of River as a small child and the comparison makes her less scary. He smiles. “Well, you're kind of a genius when it comes to machines ... you always say what you mean ... and your eyes ...” She has lovely eyes. Open, honest, true.

“Yeah? Eyes, yeah?” she presses, craving more.

His panic returns. “I don't know how to ... “ He never knows how to. That's what makes him flippant. Or smart-mouthed, as Mal calls it. Whatever. All Simon can do at times like these is try to be funny, say something amusing. “Plus – every other girl I know is either married, professional or closely related to me, so you are more or less literally the only girl in the world.”

As soon as the words are out he knows he shouldn't have said them. It's like Higgins' Moon all over again. Except this time it's worse. Because he's trying.

“That's a hell of a thing to say,” she comments icily.

“I was joking ...” he tries to explain.

“No, no – I get it!” Kaylee snaps. “Back on Osiris you probably had nurses and debutantes crawlin' all over you. But down here at the bottom of the barrels, it's jus' me.”

“That is not even ...” He can't even apologize without hurting her feelings. What he wants to say is that she's the only girl he could ever imagine being with. Sexually. The only one he's ever even thought about that way. The only one he'd want to try with ...

“Well, I'm glad I rated higher than dead Bessie here!”

He watches as she storms off, with a muttered parting shot of “Ni gaosu na nui ta you shuang meimu?” He couldn't feel worse if she'd slapped his face.

“Oh my God, it's grotesque!” Wash exclaims. A beat. “Oh – and there's something in a jar.” How come Wash can always pull off flippant?

Something warm comes to rest on Simon's shoulder and amazingly it's Zoe's hand. “Scared her away again, did you?”

Simon nods. “This may come as a shock,” he says, irony being more his style anyway, “but I'm actually not very good at talking to girls.”

Zoe raises her eyebrows. “Why – is there someone you are good at talkin' to?” She smiles kindly at him, feelin' all manner of sorry for the boy. An' kinda reassured at the same time. He ain't gonna be sweepin' Mal off his feet with fancy words, that's for sure. An' if Mal meant what he said about keepin' his distance from the Doc, everythin'll be shiny.

* * * * *

The clerk, Amnon, is an old acquaintance. Not exactly a friend, but not an enemy neither. Mal takes the form he hands him an' starts fillin' it in. Book an' River materialize out of the throng, the Preacher seemin' to think there might be post for him and the mind-readin' genius losin' her battle to conquer an ice-planet. Whilst Amnon fetches their stuff, Jayne reports back with the ammo Mal sent him for. He even admits to havin' scared a discount out of the storekeeper. Maybe he's learnin' about bein' part of a team. Although it does take a glower from Mal to make him part with it, so maybe not.

“This one's addressed to you and Zoe, Mal,” Amnon announces, wheeling in a large crate. “The little one's for Cobb.”

“I got post?!” Jayne's face is like a kid's – especially when he sees the label. A package from home. Still misses his folks somethin' fierce at times. “It's from my mother.”

He starts reading his letter aloud and Inara takes advantage of the opportunity to slip a slightly larger parcel addressed to her into the folds of her robe unnoticed by the others. Thank Buddha! Her supplies are nearly exhausted. She glances across at Mal and promises herself she will use this batch more sparingly.

“You order any parts?” Mal asks Zoe when she and Wash return.

“No Sir.”

She helps him prise the lid off the crate as Jayne entertains the others by modelling what is frankly the most ludicrous hat they have ever seen. He's enormously proud of it. Made with love, it was. That makes a thing valuable.

Mal rolls his eyes at the mercenary's misshapen orange headgear as the lid finally gives way. “Well, let's hope we get some funny hats too.”

No-one answers. Because inside the crate there's a coffin. And inside the coffin, there's the body of a young man ...

Mal don't need to look at Zoe to know she's rememberin' the Battle of DuKhang. Crazy time that. Between the two of 'em they saved this boy – this ex-soldier's – life not once, but twice. But Mal's thinkin' back further. To a worse time ...


“You shot him!” Tracey was white as a ghost and his lips were quiverin' like he was about to cry. Beside the young private lay a crumpled an' bleedin' body and behind him was a grey-haired Chinese man, tied to a chair an' gagged. He was bleedin' too but still breathin'. “You shot him!”

Sergeant Reynolds strode across the room. The dead soldier's eyes were still open but Mal knew he'd throw up if he bent down to close them. Instead he glared at Tracey and the other new recruits, frozen behind the shop counter, caught in the act of stealin' liquor an' smokes.

Tracey was the only one who dared say a word. “You shot him,” he repeated. “You shot a corporal.”

“No, son,” Mal replied grimly. “I shot a bully an' a thief.” The old man groaned and Mal ground his teeth. “You boy,” he turned to the dumb-struck private at his right. “Go an' untie him. Ma shang,” he barked as the kid hesitated and the boy skittered off as if his life depended on it. Mal shook his head sadly. These kids. Why'd they keep sendin' him kids?

“But Sarge – he was one of us,” Tracey protested. “This town – nobody here wants to help up.”

Mal's hand was round the boy's throat before he'd had time to think about it. “An' you reckon beatin' up men old enough to be your grandfather's gonna change that, do ya?” Then you're even stupider than you look!” Tracey stumbled backwards, arms flailing, as Mal pushed him away in disgust. Mal's eyes blazed and if he'da thought for a minute any of his men had helped the corporal torture a defenceless old man, he'da shot them in a heartbeat. Tracey was close enough but Mal hoped he was just a bystander. He kicked the corporal's body over onto its back and coins spilled from the now limp hand. Mal prayed he'd taken out the bad apple before it'd had chance to turn the whole barrel rotten. “Listen to me – all of you,” he shouted. “Out cause is just an' we will prevail. We got God on our side. We're fighting for honour an' glory. Freedom an' independence. Not so we can go round terrifyin' an' robbin' old men. You don't win wars by force alone. You gotta win hearts an' minds as well. Dong ma?” He felt tired. “We play fair. Take what we need. No more. Usin' no more force than's necessary.”

Tracey eyed his sergeant warily. “Yes, sir,” he said, looking to his fellows for support. They all nodded hastily. “Yes, sir.”

* * * * *

The crew gathers round the open coffin in sombre mood. Jayne ain't happy about haulin' a non-payin' passenger on board one little bit. Even a dead one. Still - least him being a goner means he ain't gonna be vying for Kaylee's affections. “How d'we know he ain't plague-ridden or some such?” he asks, stayin' well back.

“We know,” Zoe answers firmly. Even though she don't. Can't. He's one of theirs – that's all that matters. Mal's loyalty to his men stretches beyond the grave.

“He's so young,” Kaylee says wistfully.

This is hard for Mal, Simon can tell. Painful in all sorts of ways he can't even imagine. So he offers to help in the only way he can think of. “If you want me to do a proper autopsy ...”

Kaylee's eyes fly open in horror. “Cut him up?”

Mal can't believe this. Tracey ain't got no right being dead. How old is he? Twenty-three? Twenty-four? Just a kid. The Captain shakes his head. “Not just yet, thank you Doctor.”

Kaylee glares at Simon. “Robot.”

The accusation stings. He's been called that before.

OSIRIS – December 2513

“I'm not really sure you've ever felt anything for me at all. Or if you're even capable of normal human feelings. Sometimes I think you're some kind of robot. A medical robot!”

Simon's stomach felt like he imagined it would had he been kicked. He stared uncomprehendingly at Theo, his lover of the past six months. He'd thought Theo realized his difficulty in expressing emotions didn't mean he didn't have any. He'd hoped actions spoke louder than words.

“And you're always so prissy about everything. You're so gorram neat - “ Theo picked up a handful of Simon's notes and flung them in all directions. “And you're such a control freak!” He was on a roll now as his frustration with Simon's self-contained, proper ways bubbled up and spilt over. “We never have any fun. You're so ruttin' tight-wound it's a wonder you don't snap!”

“So – you're breaking up with me? Just like that?” Simon's voice was calmer than he felt. Further proof of his undemonstrative nature.

“Yes! At last - the genius medic catches on. I. Am. Breaking. Up. With. You.”

Simon couldn't believe his ears. Theo had pursued him for weeks - leaving roses in his locker, sending him cards and little gifts – until Simon finally agreed to a date. And now, just when he was finally getting used to the idea of being in a relationship, Theo was dumping him. And on Christmas Eve. “Why?” he asked weakly.

“Because, my dear Dr Tam, you are boring. B-O-R-I-N-G, boring!”

* * * * *

“Now I need you to carry me just a little bit further. If you can. Tell my folks I'm at peace an' all. When you can't run any more, you crawl, an' when you can't do that ...”

It's eerie, Wash thinks, listening to his wife's dead army buddy's disembodied voice whilst staring at his corpse. Zoe's taking this hard. Mal too. As soon as the tape stops playing, the pilot heads for the bridge. “St Albans ain't but two days ride, we burn hard enough,” he explains to Mal, anticipating the Captian's decision to take the boy home.

Mal nods gratefully and turns to Inara. “This might make you schedule a little ...”

“It's all right,” she interrupts, sharply reminded of all that is good about Mal. His unwavering devotion to his people, his chivalry. She's not wrong to love him. And as long as they stay out here in the light, she can maybe learn to forget about that dark corner of his soul.

She tells herself the same thing a few hours later when she's sitting at the dining table with Mal and Zoe, toasting the memory of their departed friend. This time Mal isn't being devoted or chivalrous – he's being hilarious. He can be such fun to be with sometimes. How did Zoe describe the twenty-something Mal? 'So up - always goofin' around, laughin''. At this precise moment Inara can picture that young man with utter clarity.

“The colonel was dead drunk. Three hours pissin' on about the enlisted men – they're scum, they're not fighters – an' he passes right out. Boom!” Mal can scarcely get the words out he's laughing so hard.

“We couldn't even move him,” Zoe continues. “So Tracey just snipped it right off his face!”

Mal shakes his head at the ridiculous memory. “And you never seen a man more proud of his moustache than Colonel Orbrin. In all my life, I will never love a woman the way this officer loved that lip ferret.”

Zoe and Inara exchange a fleeting glance but they're not thinking the same thing. Inara is thinking how sad and lonely this extraordinary man's future will probably be whereas Zoe is repeating the words 'never love a woman' to herself. Does that mean she ought to warn Simon too? Would it be better for Mal if she didn't? But they both keep laughing anyway, unwilling to spoil the mood.

“Giant walrussy thing,” Zoe remembers with distaste. “All waxed up ..”

“Did he find out?” Inara asks Mal and he resumes his story.

Until Serenity is rocked by an explosion and the time for reminiscing about the past is definitely over.

* * * * *

Womack means business. Mal ain't under no illusions about that. An' his stallin' time is rapidly runnin' out. There's not a damn thing worth takin' in this gorram crate nor the coffin neither. Apart from Tracey's body. Which leads Mal to the unpalatable conclusion that for some reason that's what the Feds are after.

Mal turns to Simon. “Well doctor, I guess you are doing an autopsy.”

Jayne an' Zoe lug the coffin to the infirmary and Simon sets about his task. “He's been opened up before,” he remarks, noticing a neat white scar barely a hair's width in breadth running down the thin chest.

“How's that?” Mal sounds surprised.

“It's good work,” Simon tells him, admiring the neatness. “The scar's nearly invisible but ...” He traces it with his finger an' there's somethin' about that that Mal finds unsettlin'.

“Well, let's see what's in there,” the Captain says briskly.

Simon picks up a small scalpel and makes an incision a couple of inches down the area over the sternum. Boy's a damn sight better at professional detachment than Mal is. Can't watch.

Then there's a piercin' scream an' Tracey is lungin' at Simon tryin' to kill him. He seizes the medic, bellowin' with rage.

Simon struggles against being held powerless like this. It's never been a sensation he was comfortable with. Particularly since the night he broke up with Theo ...

CHRISTMAS EVE 2513 – later

The bar was noisy, packed with people celebrating the holiday together. And with people looking for someone to celebrate with. At first Simon felt nervous, but he was determined to prove Theo wrong. He wasn't averse to having fun and he certainly wasn't prissy. He ordered a large cocktail and took it to a dark, relatively uncrowded corner in order to watch his fellow drinkers.

Two cocktails later he was approached by someone. The man was tall and built like what Simon believed was referred to as an outbuilding of stone construct. His forearms were like girders and his legs like tree trunks. Handsome in an uncompromisingly masculine way. And he was certainly very interested in Simon. A couple of formal exchanges about jobs and interests were swiftly followed by teasing and flirting and Simon was having fun. Not being prissy. The man invited him back to his appartment and it seemed like a good idea.

His new friend kissed him hard on the mouth as soon as the front door was closed and it was nice. Then he spun him round, and holding him tight with one arm around his chest, started undoing his pants. Simon was a little unsure but it was still not unpleasant.

Until he saw the other one. And heard him laugh.

Simon would have tried to get away if he'd known how. But the grip he was in was just too tight. In the end he just had to let it happen. And think about something else. He settled on advanced surgical techniques for the knees, ankle and wrist replacements.

It was beyond strange to be offered a beer afterwards, adding to the feeling of unreality. Simon declined as politely as he might have done at a restaurant or dinner party and thankfully his announcement that he was ready to go home was met with indifference.

It was only once he got back to his family that the full horror of it sank in. He bundled his clothes into his medical bag and stood in the shower shaking. Blaming himself for being stupid.

Then he got dressed, found River's Christmas present and went downstairs. And never spoke to anyone about it. He just became a little more tight wound. And a little less willing to engage in small talk.


Mal yanks Tracey off Simon, thereby rescuing him for the fifth time. At least. Swab trays go clattering to the floor and drug trays get knocked over. Simon backs up against the counter. The struggle goes on until Mal manages to pin the now very alive corpse to the floor by holding his wrists and sitting on his thighs. “Settle!” he orders. “That's enough!”

Tracey speaks for the first time. “He was cuttin' on me, Sarge!”

Simon watches as Mal forces the agitated young man to quieten down, using a combination of physical force and calm reason, and his admiration for the Captain grows.

“Sarge?” Tracey says, his voice finally even.


“I think I'm nekkid.”

He is at that, Mal realizes.

Simon noticed a while back.

Right about the time Mal straddled him.

* * * * *

“So your innards ain't you innards?” Mal asks once the excitement of Tracey's non-existent heart attack is over and they're all gathered in the commons to hear him explain exactly what's going on.

“Mine got scooped out,” Tracey confirms. “They replaced every bit.”

Mal considers the kid he thought he knew. Well, guess none of us ain't exactly what we seem on the outside. All of us is carryin' around things not of our makin', things that got forced on us and into us. Trust Tracey to not leave it at the poetical.

“Why'd ya wanna go an' do that?” Jayne asks, morbidly curious.

“For the money,” Tracey explains to the mercenary's great approval. “They're paying me to transport what they stuck in.”

Only it ain't that simple. Never is, Mal thinks to hisself. Tracey got greedy. Double-crossed the first lot of organ smugglers and then the second lot died on him. Got killed more like. This story's not likely to have a happy endin', Mal fears. Organ smugglers. The term don't exactly got a cuddly ring to it. An' Tracey's first employers don't sound like the types to forgive an' forget.

“So you 'died' and figured then they'd stop lookin' for you?”

Tracey nods. “Yeah.”

Serenity shakes as she's hit by another explosion.

Mal grabs an overhead support in order to stay upright. “Think maybe you figured wrong.”

* * * * *

Hidin' from Womack don't do 'em any good. Even at the bottom of a snow-filled canyon on a rock civilization forgot. Can't ignore 'em neither. Depth charges got a way of grabbin' a fella's attention. Just as well the Preacher's every bit as devious as he looks.

“It's the only way,” Book says solemnly, eyes speakin' volumes.

Mal studies the older man's face. You can tell a lot from the way a man meets your gaze. Book does it steady, unflinchin' and Mal knows he's right. “Wash,” he orders, “Call the cops. Tell 'em we give up.”

“NO!” It's Tracey. Against orders on the bridge an' brandishin' a weapon. Mal'd kill him where he stands if'n he di'n't still responsible for the boy.

“Tracey, what are you ..?”

“I said NO! Those bastards up there are gonna pull this million-dollar meat out of me an' leave me bleedin'.” He levels the gun in his hand at Wash who's turned the radio on. “Turn it off. We have to run. NOW!”

Sounds like Simon, that first day on Serenity. Only Simon wa'n't military. He di'n't know no better than to challenge the chain of command. Tracey got battle experience. Oughta know better. Oughta trust Mal to know better. “Wash. Call the cops,” Mal repeats.

“I'll kill him. I'll put a hole right through him!” Tracey promises an' Mal's got no notion to argue with him. He don't need to explain hisself. His order gotta be obeyed, no questions asked. He ain't always gonna have the time to give his reasons for 'em.

“Wash – call 'em up. Tell 'em we'll meet 'em topside.”

“No!” A shot rings out, then another. Wash is bleedin' from his temple an' Tracey from his chest. “You sh... You shot me,” he says in amazement to Zoe.

“Damn right I did,” she replies, ready to fire again. Because Wash is her husband an' she's not about to lose him to a bullet from some yu ben mei yong de kid on the make.

* * * * *

Simon hears the sound of gunshot and runs out into the cargo bay. Above him he can see Tracey dragging a petrified Kaylee this way and that. Mal appears with his pistol drawn and Simon is rooted to the spot. Scared and hopeful at the same time.

“See there? Hear that quiet?” Mal demands. “Means the call's already been made.” Boy'll surely drop his weapon now ...

Instead he bursts into tears. “You ... That call ... “ His gun is pointin' right at li'l Kaylee's head. “That call means you just murdered me.”

Bracin' hisself for a showdown, Jayne cocks his gun. Tracey whirls round an' Kaylee manages to get away from him. For the time bein'. He's still got a gun. Mal fires and Simon covers his mouth with his hand. “No, son,” the Captain says wearily. “You murdered yourself. I jus' carried the bullet for a while.”

* * * * *

Womack's probably less interested in his stolen goods now he's found out about the shippin' problem. All the same, it takes Shepherd Book to get him to leave without 'em. Not that Mal ain't all manner of grateful for that, but one day, he reckons, he's gonna have to have a chat with the Preacher about it. Right now, he got bigger, sadder things on his mind.

Tracey's dyin'. Mal already knew but now the resignation in Simon's eyes confirms it. The Doc ain't one to give up easy. Mal crouches down beside Tracey to offer what comfort he can.

“You weren't that far off about me bein' stupid,” Tracey splutters.

Mal's eyes swim with tenderness. He pats the young man's shoulder and holds on, rubbing a soothing thumb along his collar bone. Simon thinks that if he hadn't already fallen in love with this man, he would certainly be doing so right now.

“Never could get my life runnin' right – not once after the war. Kaylee, I'm so sorry. I didn't... Sarge...

“Right here,” Mal answers softly..

“That stupid message of mine ... I was tryin' to play you guys an' now you'll do it, right? You'll get me home?”

“Yes.” Zoe vows.

“Well, you know the old sayin',” Mal reminds him.

“When you can't run, you crawl,” Tracey recites with a bitter laugh. “An' when you can't crawl ... when you can't do that ...”

Zoe finishes for him. “You find someone to carry you.”

Tracey nods, his eyes close and his heart stops and Mal wonders why he's always the one left behind to watch others die.

* * * * *

The funeral is a wretched affair. Even the warmth of Kaylee's hand and her presence beside him isn't enough to keep the cold from Simon's heart. Mal is so still, so silent - as though he daren't give an inch for fear of collapsing under the weight of pain he's carrying. Simon can hardly bear to look at him.

They're invited back to the wake but Mal's anxious to get back onboard and away in case Book was wrong about Womack and his cronies workin' a black market scam and maybe the Alliance have finally managed to track the Tams down after all.

Simon is waiting for him outside the infirmary. “That was a bad business, Captain,” he begins. “Are you okay?”

Mal's expression is stony. “Shiny.”

The medic nods, unconvinced. “I'm sure you are. But if you have any trouble sleepin' tonight ... “

Mal looks at him sharply but a small container of pills is pushed into his hand. “Don't need no drugs,” he grumbles.

“No, I don't suppose you do. But humour me. Just take them up to your bunk. That way, they'll be there if you need them.” Mal glowers a touch and Simon adds quickly, “That way, at least I'll be able to sleep.”

The Captain grunts and slips the bottle into the pocket of his pants.

Above them on the stairs, Inara turns to Zoe. “I have to tell him. You know that, don't you?”

Zoe purses her lips together. “Guess I do at that.”

* * * * *


The tap at Inara's door is soft, polite. Simon. Who else? She closes her eyes, steels herself and rises to let him in.

He's clutching his red doctor's back in front of him nervously like a shield. She would spare him this is she could. Spare them both. But there's no shield against love, no refuge from its arrows. “Qing jin, Doctor.”

He accepts the invitation of a seat but sits stiff-backed, as if ready to leap up in an instant. “Kaylee said you wanted to see me,” he says. “Are you unwell?”

Inara smiles and shakes her head. “No, nothing like that. But there's something I have to ...” She hesitates and Simon wonders if he's ever heard her do so before. It's unnerving. Her expression becomes more resolute and she tries again. “I need to speak to you about the Captain.”

The medic's posture becomes even more rigid, even as his eyes grow a little wild. “I'm afraid I don't discuss my patients with anyone,” he tells her in the most formal tone he can muster over the rapid beating of his heart. What does she want to know? What does she want to say? Nothing he wants to hear, he's pretty sure of that. He stands up. “I'd better go.”

“Simon, please, sit down,” the Companion urges. “I'm not asking you to break doctor/patient confidentiality. I just want you to listen. Will you take some tea?”

Somehow he's sitting down again. Frozen, with something like fear tickling the back of his brain. He opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes out.

Inara lifts the ornate teapot from its tray and starts to pour. There's a slight tremor in her hands and Simon knows she must be fighting to control her emotions too. She looks up suddenly. “Simon – you know I respect you greatly, don't you? And that I've grown very fond of you over these past few months. I hope I can call you a friend.”

She's in deadly earnest and that makes the doctor even more nervous. No-one with good news to share ever starts a conversation this way. He nods. They're both Core born and bred. They have similar interests and backgrounds. They are both reserved and correct. Polite. Appropriate. Sometimes Simon thinks Inara is the only person on this ship who understands him. And she's never been anything other than kind to him and River. “I hope so too,” he replies carefully.

“Good.” Her smile is sad he realizes. “Because I want you to know I'm not telling you this out of anything other than friendship. Simon – I don't want to see you get hurt.”

He doesn't answer. Just waits. Waits for her to tell him to forget about Mal. For his own good. Waits for her to tell him that his ridiculous crush on the Captain will only make him miserable because the Captain's in love with someone else. Inara. Well, he already knows all that. He is very smart, after all.

“He's sick, Simon.”

“What?” Surprise gives way to horror then disbelief and sadness until his brain finally kicks in and reminds him that he's Mal's medic and if the Captain were ill he'd know about it. “I can assure you he's ... “ he starts and then remembers that rule about confidentiality.

Inara touches his arm gently. “Not physically sick. “ She takes a deep breath. “He's ... well, he has a problem. With intimacy.”

Simon's cheeks start to burn and the heat just keeps right on going. Down his neck, onto his chest. “What kind of problem?”

Inara's face is too composed, too serene. Her veneer of tranquillity is wafer-thin and Simon glimpses the maelstrom below it. He watches it swirl as she searches for suitably bland words and fails to find them. “He beats up his lovers. Badly.”

For a minute or two they don't speak. Lost in their separate worlds. Then Inara laughs – a hollow, mirthless sound. She takes a sip from the delicate cup in her hand. “Don't you think it's ironic? That the two people on this ship qualified to help the Captain – given their professions – are the very last ones who should try?”

“I don't understand.”

“Yes you do. Doctors are supposed to remain emotionally detached from their patients just as Companions are required to maintain a certain distance from their clients. I don't think either of us could claim indifference where Mal is concerned.

As is his wont, Simon seeks sanctuary from the tidal wave of shock, revulsion and sadness that threatens to engulf him on the solid ground of scientific enquiry. “Has he always ..? I mean I understand some men ... well, they find it ... um ...” He doesn't know how to put it. The whole idea is so completely absurd. Horrifyingly absurd.

“I don't think so.” Her eyes are so full of pain a terrible thought suddenly occurs to Simon.

“How do you know?” he asks slowly, not sure if he wants to hear her answer.

Briefly Inara considers whether she should tell him. She decides it's too late to worry about things like that now. “Zoe told me. From what she said, he was fine before the war. And during it. It was afterwards ...”

Post traumatic stress disorder, Simon thinks.

“And did Zoe say ... I mean ... was there more than one incident because if it was just the once it could have been for any number of ...” He's babbling, trying to find excuses, reasons. Trying to make this be Not True.

Inara cuts him off. “It happened on more than one occasion.”

Obsessive, compulsive disorder? Wasn't that one of the conditions Simon diagnosed River as suffering from because of the way she only wants to draw nesting dolls? He remembers what he said to Kaylee about the pictures the mechanic was so impressed with.

“It's a compulsion. Caused by whatever they did to her at that school. Mostly probably something she associates with some kind of traumatic event. She doesn't like these dolls, Kaylee. She's just compelled to keep drawing them. She can't stop.”

And he remembers Kaylee's reply. “Well - that the case – you ever think maybe someone should do it for her? Stop her, I mean.”

Ni tamade de tain xia suoyou de ren dou gaishi! Now he has two patients with psychiatric disorders and he's out of his depth. And those two patients are the most import people in his 'verse. It's like a Greek tragedy. He rises from his seat. “Thank you for telling me,” he says quietly. “Now if you'll excuse me ...”

“Certainly.” They both need to be alone and Simon needs time to get absorb all of this. “Simon ..?”


“I'm very sorry.”

“So am I.”

He steps out onto the catwalk as if in a trance. Tracey died up here and now Simon feels like he might be doing the same.

“You are such a boob.” River is standing in front of him, rolling her eyes impatiently. “Don't you remember the old saying?”

What? What in the 'verse is she talking about? “Old saying?”

“He can't crawl Simon.”

He stares at her. She knows. How can she possibly know? He sighs. “I'm not sure I can carry him, mei-mei. I don't think I'm strong enough.”

She laughs brightly. “Well, you ain't weak. An' that's not nothin'.”

Simon goes cold. She sounds just like Mal.

* * * * *

Chapter Seventeen


Friday, March 18, 2005 8:01 AM


Wow, that was shattering on multiple levels. I need time to process all the emotions and reactions this installment produced. All I can say for now is shiny . . . dark, depressing, but in a shiny way.

Friday, March 18, 2005 8:41 AM


Absolutely brilliant, and I just loved that end line from River! But odd as this may sound I have this faint feeling of hope stirring. As if the only one who can fix Mal is Simon. Very shiny with some creepy thrown in. And that Saffron does keep cropping up, don't she? Kudos, Ali D :~)
Um, can you write faster please?

Friday, March 18, 2005 8:02 PM


This chapter was, to me, like a dance, with the interplay and interactions of the characters. And, if like a dance, I loved the choreography of it!

I particularly liked what you did with River and the Preacher, and also with Kaylee and the way he's looking at Simon. I found it both convincing and compelling. Liked Simon going immediately clinical about Mal when Inara spills the story, and River's bit at the end was just inspired.

"Because what's fifty platinum compared with two hundred thousand credits?" --you know, I just have a feeling you've done the conversion rate! ;-)

"“I think I'm nekkid.” He is at that, Mal realizes. Simon noticed a while back. Right about the time Mal straddled him." That was a LOL one for me.

Saturday, March 19, 2005 6:16 AM


I really enjoyed this chapter. The interactions between the characters was great. Especially the scene with Inara and Simon. And I agree with Ali, the end line from River was the perfect.

Keep up the good work! I'm looking forward to part 17!


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HOLDING ON: Ch 2 - Tangential
Much to his annoyance, Sanzo's urgent quest to find Goku gets diverted. Meanwhile Mal meets someone from Inara's past. WARNING - slashy but not graphic

The Wheel Never Stops Turning
Mal meets a blonde in a bar. Violence ensues. And Mal discovers religion has its uses.

This is primariy a <i>Firefly</i> fic, but the character Mal ends up doing a job for is from the manga/anime <i>Saiyuki</i>. It's also <b>PG-13 nothing-explicit SLASH</b>. Because that's who I am!

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 7: 'til the day you die.
Inara leaves Serenity for a new life. Mal gets a job with a couple of new employers, but sinks further into despair.
Slash so lite you'll probably scarcely notice it.

MAKE ME A STONE: Chapter 6: You just learn to live there.
Another job goes less than smoothly. Meanwhile River takes matters into her own hands and Mal has a brainwave.

SLASHFIC. SPOILERS for the comics, novelization and movie.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 5: Chickens come home to roost.
Mal has to accept Badger's offer of a job. Meanwhile old enemies seek to take advantge.
Spoilers for the comics. Very light slash.

Make Me A Stone: Chapter 4. Some residual heat.
SPOILERS for the comics/BDM. Mal has to accept Badger's job offer. Not much else in his life is going right either.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 3: It's complicated.
Mal decides to pull a job of his own. Simon offers to help. It doesn't go smooth - but that's not entirely Simon's fault.

Non-graphic SLASH.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 2: And who exactly could fix you?
Simon'a altruism leads to a job going wrong. Mal's not happy.

MAKE ME A STONE: Ch 1: Pray there ain't any more surprises.
Warning: SLASH, but not graphic. Mal and Simon both find that the other has hidden talents. It kinda piques their interest ... *g*

TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 23. Two by two.
Four years have past since Mal was forced to blow up Serenity and Simon disappeared with River and Book. A lot has changed since then. But a lot has stayed the same. The CONCLUSION to this series.