TRAUMA MEDICINE; Chapter 19. Sometimes when a thing's broke ...
Sunday, May 29, 2005

Mal would like to put things right with Simon but has other things to deal with. Things which end up with him losing one of his crew.


WARNING Just in case you didn't already know - this story is more'n a mite SLASHY. There is nothing graphic in this chapter – other than a bit of mind-reading by River. But if slashfic squicks you out, read no further.

RATING – R because River's kinda precise!

Thanks again to wedjat for beta-ing.

* * * * * *

TRAUMA MEDICINE: Chapter 19. Sometimes, when a thing's broke ...

* * * * * *

To Mal's ears the proximity alarm sounds like a beast in pain. Reminds him of that summer long ago back on Shadow when the rains never came an' almost all Momma's herd died. Such a mournful, desolate sound those steers made. Felt like his whole world was fallin' apart an' there wa'n't nothin' he could do to stop it.

Feels like his world's fallin' apart now too – only this time, he's the one destroyin' it. This carefully patched together little life of broken pieces that don't quite fit ain't holdin' together an' it's all his fault.

His head hurts, his heart hurts, he's still achingly hard an' he ain't sure he's got anythin' left in him to fight this new danger with.

Simon ... What in the suoyou de dou shidang did he do to Simon? And what in diyu was he gonna do to him? He shou'n't never have weakened. Shou'n't never have let Simon persuade him. Gorram stupid boy! He had to keep pushin'. Askin'. Offerin'.

The sudden upsurge of regret and self-recrimination is damn near overwhelmin'. Mal grits his teeth an' swallows it back down, pressin' a hand to Serenity's walls for support till the bile recedes

Can't be thinkin' on it now, he tells himself firmly. His crew's in danger. They need him. He's gotta pull himself together. Gotta carry on.

He takes a deep breath an' starts runnin' again.

* * * * *

Zoe emerges from her bunk, fully dressed and armed, to see Mal racin' up the crew dorm hallway.

Not really surprisin', seein' as how they've got themselves another emergency to deal with.

'Ceptin' the Captain ain't wearin' his boots. Durin' the war, Sergeant Reynolds woulda put a man on a charge for that.

Mal's running up the hallway, not climbing up out of his bunk, and he ain't wearin' his boots.

If Wash hadn't made it sound like they're in trouble of the serious variety, Zoe'd be worryin' about what that means. As it is, she bites her tongue and follows Mal up the ladder that leads onto the bridge, noting the way his neatly darned socks slip on the rungs.

More than once she fears he might fall.

* * * * * *

River presses a dampened cloth to her brother's mouth, making him flinch. She shakes her head wearily at him. “Too soon. Doctors have no patience.”

A sad little laugh is all Simon can manage. His lip is throbbing and his mouth hurts more than it should. Far more than the wound in his thigh.

River reaches down and picks up one of Mal's abandoned boots.

Simon stares at it. Mal left his boots behind. Which means he'll be coming back - and soon - and Simon's not sure if he can handle that ...

River runs her hands over the boot's worn leather upper and turns it over to examine the sole carefully. A crease appears on her brow as if she's discovered something troubling but then her eyes open wide with delight and she laughs.

“River ..?”

“Walk a mile,” she replies in a matter-of-fact tone and tries to force the boot onto Simon's foot, slapping his hands away when he tries to stop her. “Only for a little while,” she wheedles.

But there is no way in this 'verse or any other than Simon is going to let her put that boot on his foot. “No, River. Please. I don't think Ma- ...I don't think the Captain would like it.”

Mal,” River pouts, dropping the boot and folding her arms sulkily over her chest. “ He had his hand wrapped around your penis, Simon. Silly not to call him by his name when-”

Simon's mouth falls open. “What?!”

“When you were going to let him pen-... insert- ...” Dissatisfied with the clinical terms that spring easiest to mind, she frowns, searching for a word that's earthier, more visceral.

“Okay – Mal,” Simon concedes hastily before she finds one and makes him die of embarrassment. “Mal wouldn't like it.”

Oh God, she knows. How can she? She can't, she couldn't and yet ... Simon can feel his cheeks burning and sweat prickling at his armpits.

Oblivious to his discomfort, River starts pulling Mal's boots onto her own feet. She stands up and takes a few ungainly steps. “Can't dance in these,” she says sadly.

“No you can't, “ Simon agrees. “They're not meant for dancing, mei-mei. Now, please - why don't you take them off?”

“Forgotten how,” she says, gazing down at them.

“River,” Simon tries again, putting as much stern brotherly command into his voice as he can. “Take them off.”

She smiles sweetly at him. “Okay. He needs them anyway.” She pulls them swiftly off and goes scampering out of the room, taking Mal's boots with her.

* * * * *

“What we got?” Mal asks, neatly side-stepping the toolbox which for some reason Kaylee's left on the floor of the bridge – Mal'll have to speak to her 'bout that - to lean over Wash's shoulder and peer anxiously out into the Black.

“Alliance,” the pilot replies grimly.

Mal frowns. Ain't no Alliance vessel near enough to see let alone set off the gorram proximity alarm. He pulls his suspenders back up onto his shoulders. “Where, Wash? Cos I ain't seein' 'em.”

“There!” Wash indicates a point of light that might just about be large enough to be a ship rather than a star. “Half a click out and closing.”

“Half a click?!!” Mal is incredulous. “I ain't interested in boats half a click out.” He directs a glower at Zoe that says her husband is an idiot an' she's a bigger one for ever havin' married the jackass in the first place. “An' how come all of a sudden our proximity alarm is?”

Wash looks a bit sheepish. “I reset the parameters Mal. Thought you might appreciate a bit more warning next time we get visitors come a-calling. You know – so you can bake a cake and get the nice china out.”

“Good thinkin', honey,” Zoe purrs at him, lookin' pointedly at Mal. “Wasn't that good thinkin', Sir?”

Mal ignores the question and continues starin' out of the viewports. That point of light is gettin' larger. Which means it's gettin' nearer. “How d'you know it's Alliance?”

Wash beams triumphantly and indicates Kaylee's toolbox with a nod. “Got our genius mechanic to tweak the radar. Seems by adding an extra antenna you can up your dish feed and if you put a PID loop ..” One look at Mal's face tells Wash he's lost the Captain so he decides to cut a long story short. “Well, it means you can get a whole new view of the 'verse. Look.” He flicks on the nav screen and the sleek outline of a ship appears. “There she is.”

Zoe gives her husband an admiring smile and places a proprietorial hand on his shoulder as Mal studies the screen.

“Looks fast,” Mal observes with a growin' sense of doom.

“She is,” Wash tells him. “I checked her out on the Cortex. One of the latest high speed pursuit ships. The boat that can outrun that thing hasn't been built.”

“Who says we gotta outrun it?” Mal asks. “ Don't even know if they're followin' us.”

“Outrun what?” Jayne demands breathlessly, as he appears at the top of the ladder. “Who's followin' us? It ain't Reavers, is it?”

“Alliance,” Zoe mouths silently.

“Actually, Mal, we do know.” Wash pulls a face. “I changed our trajectory as soon as the alarm sounded. They changed course too.”

“They're after them fugees, I bet!” Jayne growls. “Again. Only just got rid of one bounty hunter an' now we got more of 'em on our tail. Oughta be us gettin' that reward, not some gorram Alliance hundan.”

“Jayne- ” Mal begins, all quiet an' dangerous, but he's interrupted by a crackle over the comm.

“Firefly class vessel Serenity, this is the Alliance Nimrod Diana. You are ordered to cut thrust immediately.”

Wash glances at Mal who shakes his head and leans into the mic. “Uh ... we're ain't readin' you so well. Problem with our comm system. Could you repeat that message?” Mal knows his attempt at stallin' them is pathetic, but it's the best he can come up with for now.

“Firefly ... class ...vessel ...Serenity,” the voice repeats, slowly and more crisply. “This ... is ....”

“How manoeuvrable are they?” Mal asks Wash urgently.

“You mean, can they do a crazy Ivan? Yeah, Mal, they can. And better than us.”

Ni tamade tian xia suoyou de ren dou gaisi!” Mal curses. It's worse than he thought. He leans into the mic again. “How can we be of service, Alliance Nimrod Diana?”

The voice that answers is different from the first. More imperious and less like someone making a routine request. More like the voice of someone who doesn't make requests at all. “You can cut thrust, Captain Reynolds. And get ready to hand over River Tam and her brother. We know you have them on board. If you give us your full cooperation, you might even earn a share of the reward money for capturing them.”

Jayne's eyes light up.

A muscle twitches in Mal cheek. “We in range of their weaponry?” he asks Wash under his breath.

Wash consults the instrument panel. “Not yet. Another half an hour. Could be a bit longer if we're lucky.”

Mal sighs and rubs the back of his neck where the tendons are beginnin' to tighten. “Least we got a bit of a breathin' space. Maybe time to come up with a plan ...”

Shepherd Book's head pops into view. “Trouble, Captain?”

“Shit, Mal! We don't wan' 'em firin' on us,” Jayne explodes before Mal can answer. “Let's just hand the Doc an' his sis over, collect the money an' be on our way.”

Mal rounds on the mercenary furiously. “We ain't handin' 'em over, Jayne. Best get used to that.”

Anticipating violence, Book attempts to get between the two men but his quiet “Might help if everybody calmed down some” goes unheeded as Jayne shoves him aside.

“Why the hell not?” Jayne yells. “Someone's gonna catch up with 'em some day an' at least this way we don't come away empty-handed.”

Mal's hands bunch into tight fists. “Why you still arguin' with me, Jayne?”

“Cos somebody gotta! What the hell's so important about keepin' that moonbrain an' her brother anyway?”

“Brought your boots, Captain!” River says brightly, the unexpected sound of her voice making everyone jump. With a flourish she presents the boots to Mal who snatches them quickly away. She watches with quiet approval as he puts them on before deciding to explain “You left them in Simon's room.”

Jayne narrows his eyes. “So that's it!” he sneers. “The Doc's turned whore to pay for -”

He doesn't get to the end of his sentence because Mal's fist catches him high on the left cheekbone. Jayne's strong - used to takin' blows - but this punch has all Mal's weight and anger behind it. It twists the mercenary's head round an' his body can't help but follow. Tryin' to compensate by changin' stance only throws him further off balance an' with a grunt he pitches forward, the bulk of his torso crashin' like a felled tree onto Kaylee's toolbox.

It feels to Jayne like he's been kicked in the chest by a spooked horse. Like all the air's been knocked out of him an' he don't know how to get any back in. Gou shi! He can't remember how to breathe. Just can't remember. He's gonna die ... But then his body takes over an' his lungs go crazy, suckin' in breath after breath an' forgettin' to let it out again. Light-headed an' nauseous, he rolls off the box an' onto his back.

Standin' over him, Mal is shakin'. An' not jus' from rage at Jayne neither. Sometimes the violence inside frightens him.

Book helps the gasping mercenary to his feet and casts a reproving look at the Captain. Surprised once again to find he cares what the Shepherd thinks, Mal hopes it's for the smitin' an' not the other thing.

“D'I hear the proximity alarm?” a sleepy-eyed and tousled-haired Kaylee asks as she pulls herself up the final rung of the ladder. She registers the tension in the air and frowns, lookin' at each of the others in turn. “Wha's goin' on?”

“Jayne lost his balance,” Zoe says, stone-cold eyes darin' the big man to contradict her. She's worried about Mal. More worried than she's been in a long time. He oughta be happier if, after all this time, he really has finally taken to bed with Simon. But he ain't - he's twitchier than ever. An' Zoe's got a good idea as to why.

“Oh, you poor thing!” Kaylee sympathizes, touchin' the bruise developin' on Jayne's cheeks with gentle fingertips. She rubs his arm affectionately an' it suddenly dawns on Jayne that maybe everythin's workin' out for the best after all. When Kaylee finds out her precious doctor is ruttin' with Mal, she's gonna be in need of comfort. Comfort that only a real man can provide.

“I'm all right,” he grunts with a shrug. “Wa'n't lookin' where I was goin'.”

“Better be more careful in future,” Mal warns him with an icy glare. “Don't want you fallin' an' breakin' your neck next time.”

Jayne recognizes a threat when he hears one. He looks away. “Won't be no next time.”

Mal turns to Kaylee. “Get that toolbox stowed away, Kaylee. Don't want any more accidents.” The mechanic covers her mouth with her hands when she realizes she might have been the cause of Jayne's injuries and starts to apologize, but Mal silences her with a shake of his head. “Just you go get yourself up to the engine room, xiao mei-mei. Might be somethin' we can do to shake those purple bellies yet.”

Glad to have some way of making amends, Kaylee nods and climbs back down the ladder, followed by River who is singing softly to herself something about kings, horses and a wall.

Jayne rubs his chest an' coughs. Mal darts him a quick glance to see if this is further insubordination, but Jayne's expression speaks more of pain than mutiny.

“Jayne - you an' Shepherd Book go see to it that we got plenty of fire power down in the cargo bay,” he orders, still with no solid idea of how they're gonna get out of this one but wantin' to keep everyone busy. He turns back to consider the console. “Wash-”

“Uh- Captain!” Book's polite tone turns urgent in a heartbeat and then into a groan when Jayne slumps against him. “Think we may have a more pressing problem.”

Jayne has gone a funny colour an' seems to be havin' difficulty standin'. Zoe is already at his side, helpin' the Shepherd to support him. She places three fingers against his throat and her brows knit together. “He's hurt, Sir,” she tells Mal, not likin' the sound of the mercenary's breathin'. It's too fast, too shallow. “Hurt bad.”

“Best we get him to the infirmary ma shang,” Book says, forgettin' his place for a moment. “Looks like we need the doctor.”

Mal snorts. “Uh-huh. 's'what I've been tryin' to tell him only he's too much of a dumbass to comprehend. Anyway – the Doc's injured too, remember? Me an' Zoe'll deal with it.”

“No offence, Captain,” Book replies, mildly enough to mute the edge of steel in his voice, “but might be better if I assisted Zoe.” Mal knows the preacher's thinkin' he ain't to be trusted around Jayne right now – an' mayhap he's right - but Book offers another reason. “Think you're needed here on the bridge, Captain.”

They hold each other's gaze for a few seconds, like it's some sort of showdown. At length Mal nods. “Could be you're right-”

However at that precise moment Jayne's knees give way completely and he sinks unconscious to the ground. Between them Mal, Wash, Zoe an' Book half-drag, half-carry their patient to the infirmary an' with effort get him up onto the exam table.

“We can take it from here, Sir,” Zoe reassures Mal, who's beginnin' to look pretty pale an' anxious himself. “We'll let you know ...”

Mal backs reluctantly out of the room, followed by Wash.

As soon as they're gone, Book turns to Zoe. “This is serious. He needs the doctor.”

Zoe presses her lips together and nods. “I ain't arguin' with you, Preacher. You gonna fetch him or shall I?”

* * * * *

“What happened?” Simon asks as, with Book's help, he limps into the infirmary.

Zoe's relief at his arrival is tempered by unease when she sees the medic's split lip and the darkening patch of skin around his mouth. It must be rememberin' how that feels that makes the words “You okay?” tumble out unchecked. A spot of pink appears on Simon's cheeks. Gorramit, she didn't mean to embarrass him. “Sure you can stand on that leg?” she adds hastily.

“I'll manage,” he replies tersely, irritated by her obvious pity. “What happened?”

Zoe and Book exchange a look. “He fell,” Zoe says flatly.

Simon's about to ask if Jayne hit his head at all when he notices the bruising on his face. “How did he fall?” he asks, slipping a pulse oximonitor onto the mercenary's forefinger. Almost immediately there's a beep from the infirmary computer, alerting Simon to the fact that his patient's blood oxygen levels are low. “How?” Simon asks again, only this time in a tone that demands a full answer because Jayne's lips are blue.

Simon gestures for Zoe to pass him the stethoscope lying on the counter, inserts the earpieces quickly and checks Jayne's heartbeat. It's faint and at 120 bpm far too rapid for a man in such good physical condition. The pain in Simon's thigh starts up again in earnest when he stretches over to slap the sphygmomanometer cuff onto Jayne's considerable biceps. One push on a button has it inflating automatically whilst Simon snaps on a pair of new surgical gloves. Another beep sounds. The mercenary's blood pressure is low too.

“Jumped in with both feet and couldn't swallow them,” River sing-songs from the doorway. “Now his heart hurts too. Knows how it feels.”

She catches Book's eye and the Shepherd goes cold. There's no question in his mind that the girl is a Reader. And she's just confirmed his worst fears. If he wants to Jayne to live, he'd better tell the Doctor the truth. Or at least some of it. “He tripped and fell. Landed on that big toolbox of Kaylee's. Looked like his chest took most of the impact.”

Simon rips Jayne's shirt open to reveal a contusion and minor lacerations to the skin. He runs expert fingers down Jayne's ribcage but finds no obvious signs of fracture. But it's not all good news. The veins in Jayne's neck are distended.

Simon hobbles round the exam table and lifts a tube from the counter. A quick squeeze and he rubs a blob of lubricant over Jayne's chest. “That!” He gestures for Zoe to pass him the ultrasound transducer.

“Blood,” River announces.

Zoe can't tell much about what's going on inside Jayne's body from the image that appears on the screen Simon is scanning, but she can tell a lot from the look on his face. This is serious.


“Blood,” River repeats.

“My sister's right,” Simon tells Zoe and the Shepherd. “He has a haemopericardium – that means there's blood building up around his heart so it can't pump properly.”

“You have to save him!” River cries, suddenly beginning to panic. “Too much pressure. The shell only protects you when the danger's outside. Save him, Simon. No-one else can.”

“Third drawer along,” Simon tells Book. “Pass me a syringe. The biggest one. Yes – and one of the blue needles.”

“Won't let anyone else,” River continues in a whisper because although Simon can hear her, he's stopped listening.

All her brother's attention is on the patient in front of him, not the one in his heart. He passes a sterile wipe over the bottom of Jayne's ribcage and, as Book offers up a silent prayer, he angles the needle and inserts it into a point just below Jayne's sternum.

The others stand in silence as Simon feeds the needle up, feeling for the resistance that indicates he's found the pericardium. There! A little extra pressure and he's through. Biting his bottom lip in concentration he slowly pulls back the syringe plunger. At first nothing ... and then, to his immense relief, a spurt of dark red fluid. Thank every God in the 'verse for that!

“Blood,” River says for the third time.

This time Simon smiles at her and nods. “Yes, mei-mei, but he should be all-”

“Not him. You.”

Simon looks down and realizes his wound has reopened and that blood is seeping into the soft flannel of his sleep pants.

“We oughta have somethin' to stop that,” Zoe says, hunting through cabinets.

“No, we don't. I used it all on Mal and your husband, after we got them back from Niska.” Simon has to close his eyes for a second to shut out pain that's not entirely physical. “There's none left.”

“Boob!” River laughs and rushes out of the room.

Simon casts an eye over the monitors. Jayne's blood pressure and blood oxygen are coming back up. He's not out of the woods yet – there could be more bleeding – but for now, everything looks good. Simon accepts the wound dressing Zoe offers him and takes a seat so that he can apply it. He's just ripped off the packaging when River reappears, followed by Inara.

The Companion holds out an open box, containing a preloaded syringe. “River thought you might need this, Doctor,” she says. “Anahaemofluxin. It should staunch the bleeding and alleviate any pain ...” Her voice trails off as she too notices the injuries to Simon's face but she quickly composes herself. “Please, take it. I have more.”

Simon accepts the proffered box with a stiff little nod. “Thank you.” He wonders what she's feeling towards him right now. Concern? Pity? Envy? “Thank you,” he repeats quietly because he can't apologize – not for any of it.

Bu ke qi,” Inara replies with a perfect, serene smile, even though her heart is breaking.

* * * * *

“They ain't gonna fire on us,” Mal tells Wash. “Not till they've got the Doc an' his sis in custody.”

Wash's eyes widen as he grasps the Captain's meaning. “But they will after ..?”

Mal nods grimly. “Reckon so. Neater that way. No complications.”

Gao yang zhong de gu yang!” Wash explodes. “What in the good gorram are we gonna do, Mal?”

Unaware of their predicament Inara steps up onto the bridge and suggests “Probably something indescribably stupid, if the Captain's previous record is anything to go by” with a sweet, false smile. “Mal-” she continues, before he can respond to the jibe, “I need to know when we'll be making planetfall on New Melbourne. As I told you earlier, I have arrangements to make.”

Mal's expression of annoyance turns to one of triumph. “Might have to put those arrangements on hold, 'Nara. Mayhaps for some time. See that?” he asks, pointing at the now greeny-blue circle of light visible through the viewports. “We got company. Again. Feds wanting their toy back.”

Inara gasps. “River?”

Mal nods.

“River and Simon?”

Mal bites his lip and nods again.

“Serenity's fast ...” Inara begins, because she hates to see him hurting like this – even if it is over the prospect of losing Simon - but Mal shakes his head. “What about a cry-baby, then?”

“Won't work,” Wash says sadly. “Not with the kind of scanners they're equipped with. Certainly not at this range. With their scanners, they can not only tell how many people we've got on board, they can make get readings on height and weight. Makes target identification easier.”

For a moment they all gaze helplessly at the radar screen, hoping in vain that the rotating arc will sweep away that gorram blip. It doesn't.

“You'd think they'd send more than one ship if River's so important to them,” Inara remarks at last, breaking the silence.

Mal does a double-take. “'Nara! You're a genius!” he grins.

“I am?”

“You most certainly are. Wash – m'I right in thinking Alliance hunters don't carry shuttles?”

“Yeah. I mean no. They're designed for speed, not routine transport.”

“Brilliant. Inara – need you to do me a favour. Get your shuttle prepped, will ya?”

Inara nods, but doesn't understand. “My shuttle isn't fast enough, Mal. They'll catch us in no time.”

“Hope they do,” Mal answer cryptically, snapping his suspenders decisively. “Now, where'd that preacher go?”

* * * * *

A groan tells Simon that Jayne's coming back round. He moves over to the medcot and puts a hand on his patient's shoulder to keep him lying down. “Try not to move. Everything's all right. You're in the infirmary. You had an accident, but you're fine now.”

“I am?” Jayne grunts. “I did?”

“Yes, son,” Book smiles down at him from the other side of the bed. “It was touch and go there for a while. Might not have made it, were it not for this young man.” He inclines his head towards Simon. “Saved your life.”

“He did?”

“He did.”

Jayne lets his head roll to one side so he can take a good look at his saviour. Simon ruttin' Tam. Seems to Jayne like the 'verse is mockin' him, havin' one almighty laugh at his expense. He sighs and is about to grind out a word of grudgin' thanks when the Doc's attention is suddenly diverted elsewhere. Jayne sees him catch a breath and flush. He turns his head in the direction of the medic's gaze and sees Mal's entered the room, followed by Inara.

Simon's stomach contracts at the sight of him. When River solved the problem of Mal's boots, Simon had hoped a few days would elapse before he had to see Mal again. Days in which he planned to compose himself. After all, it wasn't as if he hadn't been warned. Even Mal had tried to warn him. What happened was as much Simon's fault as Mal's. But Simon needs time to feel that in his heart as well as know it in his head. Because right now he's still feeling hurt and ashamed. And – stupidly - he still wants this man.

Well, at least they're in the infirmary – the only place on Serenity where Simon feels secure and in control. It could have been worse.

“What's all this?” Mal demands of Zoe, deliberately avoiding eye contact with Simon and thereby immediately making it worse. Simon isn't expecting an apology but he does want to see that Mal hasn't just shrugged it off and forgotten about it.

“Thought you an' Book was seein' to Jayne?” Mal presses his First Mate. Truth is, he's all manner of uncomfortable at havin' run into the Doc in here. Was hopin' the next time he saw him it'd be in private where he could try to explain, try to smooth things over. This unexpected public encounter is makin' him tetchy.

“There were complications,” Simon answers, in an attempt to get Mal to at least acknowledge his presence. He needssomething from him, some reassurance that the gap that has opened up between them isn't unbridgeable. But Mal completely ignores him and Simon fears that whatever might have been between them is now irretrievably lost.

Jayne drags himself up into a sitting position. “Nothin' to worry about, Mal. Doc reckons I'm fixed.”

Mal regards him stonily for a second. “Right. Good. Okay – as some of you already know, we got another situation in front of us. Feds wanting us to hand River and the Doc over. Now, we ain't got a lot of options. In fact, we only got one.”

“What?” Simon snaps. Mal's coldness is suddenly starting to make sense.

This time Mal has to look at him an' when he does he sees the boy's eyes are blazin' with fury. Aiya! Why does he always have to jump to the wrong conclusion? Why can't he ever keep that smart mouth shut long enough to hear Mal out?

“You can't! You know what they did to her. What they'll do to her again if ... “ Simon is striding as best he can over to confront Mal face to face. “I won't let you, you tamade hundan!” He grabs Mal by the elbow and lowers his voice. “I'll kill you first.”

Mal knows he oughta keep calm cos this misunderstanding could be easily resolved but Simon Tam gets under his skin like no-one else ever has and instead of explainin' the plan, he roughly prises Simon's hand off and shoves him back against the counter. “Don't make threats you ain't man enough to carry through, boy,” he snarls, leanin' in a bit too close.

Simon's nostrils flare and his pupils dilate as he glares defiantly back at him.

Sometimes Inara wishes she didn't read people so well. Times like this. Times when the attraction between these two men is so very, very obvious.

“Stop calling me that!” Simon spits, slamming both hands flat against Mal's chest. Bracing himself against the counter for leverage he pushes hard and Mal stumbles backwards a couple of paces. The Captain blinks in surprise a couple of times before invading Simon's personal space once again.

Jayne's eyes flick from one to the other and he grins to himself sure Mal's gonna kick the Doc's ass again.

“Mal!” Inara cries, “Please – don't.”

“I got a plan, Doctor Tam,” the Captain says, smilin' brightly as he brushes his hands lightly over Simon's shoulders as if to smarten him up – a patronizing gesture that makes the medic grind his teeth. “Wanna shut up long enough to hear it?”

* * * * *

“Not happy about this, Sir,” Zoe tells Mal. “You sure you want Kaylee doin' this? I could-”

“No. Can't be you,” he tells her. “They'd arrest you for sure. Or shoot you.”

“Still don't like it.”

“Ain't a question of likin' it. 's gotta be done, is all.”


Zoe watches Mal paste a confident smile on his face as Kaylee squeezes River's hand. “Don't worry, sweetie. Cap'n's plan'll work. You'll see. He's zhen de shi tian cai when it comes to plans.”

River smiles and kisses her cheek before turning to Book. “Fly away Paul.”

The Shepherd suppresses an involuntary shudder and follows Kaylee into Inara's shuttle.

“Fly straight, no fancy stuff an' you'll be able to land before they catch up with you,” Mal tells Inara again. “When they board, you act all nice as pie. Ain't nothin' they can charge you with. Not with your credentials. An' the preacher's. Between you, you oughta get off with a warnin'.”

“I know, Mal. Don't fuss. We'll be okay.”

“Inara ...”

“It's all right, Mal. Really,” she lies. “Now go.”

Fire and ice, River thinks, wishing everything were different, that someone didn't have to lose.

As soon as the airlock is sealed, Mal hurries up to the bridge where Wash and Zoe are standing by.

“Now,” he orders into the comms. “Shi a,” Inara's voice responds and Zoe flicks a switch.

Down in the infirmary, Simon holds his breath, waiting for confirmation that the Alliance ship has taken the bait. Looks so damn scared, Jayne feels almost sorry for him. Ain't a life he'd choose – always havin' to be lookin' over his shoulder, tryin' to take care of that moonbrain – all that an' beddin' Mal too. Zao cao! Poor bastard. “Ain't a bad plan,” he finds himself sayin' by way of comfort.

Simon gives him a weak, grateful smile. “I hope you're right.”

Meanwhile Mal is concentratin' hard on the radar screen. “Come on, come on,” he urges. “Wash – they're still after us. Di'n't we oughta be acceleratin'? Or changin' course?”

“We do that Mal and they'll know for sure that we've still got the Tams aboard.”

“Yeah, but we ain't ever tried that heat flux trick before. How'd we know it ain't work too good? Could be we did it so good they di'n't even notice Inara's shuttle.”

“They noticed, Sir,” Zoe interrupts, relaxing visibly. “They're changing course.”

* * * * *

Captain Reyes enters the shuttle flanked by two armed men in uniform. “Search it. Thoroughly,” he tells them, although he already knows the fugitives have evaded him. The Diana's scanners detected three people on board – just three – and here they are: a Registered Companion, a Shepherd and a young woman of no importance in greasy overalls and close to tears.

“Ident cards,” Reyes orders without preamble when his men return shaking their heads.

Inara produces a large leather wallet, containing her Guild Registration Certificate and House licensing agreement.

Reyes sniffs. Everything would seem to be in order. One of his men scans her registration code into his handheld and when a list of names appears he passes it to the Captain. Inara Serra has the highest security clearing and an impressive list of high-ranking clients. Detaining her would mean endless paperwork, with little possibility of a conviction. It would also inconvenience some very powerful men and women.

With a heavy sigh, Reyes turns to the man in clerical garb. His ident card proves even more interesting. The reader gives no details but instead flashes a simple code: 03. Ex-military, continuing operations. The Tam situation is clearly already under control.

Reyes returns the card with a smart salute. Damn his luck! He really thought he was in with a chance of earning that reward money when the Diana's scanners picked up that Firefly's identifier code. Should have known someone would have beaten him to it. When brass turned this into a competition, he was bound to lose.

Kaylee is chewing the skin around her thumbnail nervously. Her papers ain't exactly in order – hasn't had 'em stamped in over a year. Well, not by no-one official. River did her best, but Kaylee ain't sure even her beautiful forgergy's gonna fool the Feds.

But the Feds aren't interested in Kaylee. Reyes allows himself the luxury of a quick glance around the shuttle. Married for seventeen years with four children and a large bank loan to repay, he's never engaged the services of a Companion but that doesn't stop him being curious. He wonders what those sharply pointed brass things on the cabinet are for ...

“Sir?” The polite enquiry brings Reyes' mind sharply back to the task at hand.

“Everything is in order here, Private. Please accept my apologies for having detained you, Miss Serra - Shepherd.”

“Not at all,” Inara smiles a warm professional smile.

“You have your orders to follow,” Book adds, leaning ever so slightly on the word 'your'.

Reyes thinks he understands.

* * * * *

Aboard the IAV Unity, Gaunt and Ginger receive Reyes' report with a mixture of frustration and disbelief. The Tams have eluded them once again. Their seemingly brilliant plan to allow a third party to apprehend the fugitives in order to obscure the Corporation's involvement in the affair has failed. More than once. It is time to take matters into their own hands.

“ After all, if you want a job doing well ...” Ginger smiles.

Gaunt nods. “ ... do it yourself.”

* * * * *

Simon's wound has begun to hurt again, but he's too anxious to lie down. He needs to keep busy. That way he won't be racked with guilt about Kaylee, Inara and Book having put themselves at risk for his sake. Well – not as racked with guilt as he would be if he were just sitting in his bunk waiting. So he sets about tidying the infirmary again, resetting instruments and wiping down surfaces.

The metal deckplate creaks and Simon raises his eyes to see Mal standing in the doorway, looking like he's waiting for permission to come in.

“Hey,” the Captain says, a touch hesitantly, looking round. “Jayne not here?”

“Apparently not.”

Mal flinches at Simon's frosty tone, but then grins. “Di'n't kill him, did ya? Seem to recall you was in a bit of a murderin' mood earlier ...”

Simon doesn't appreciate being made fun of. “He insisted on going back to his bunk,” he explains, ignoring Mal's clumsy attempt at easing the tension between them, “and as all his stats were back to normal, I thought he'd be more comfortable there. I have him on a radio monitor, to be on the safe side, but that medcot is hardly big enough for me, let alone Jayne.”

“Yeah, Doc –I heard you the first time. We need a new one, next time we're some place civilized. We'll get one.”



Simon smiles and relaxes a little, which Mal takes as his cue to come into the room and close the infirmary door. There's things need sayin'. Best get it over with. He clears his throat and folds his arms over his chest. “Doc – uh – Simon – I – it –.” Zao cao, this ain't easy. Mal takes a deep breath and starts again. “Last night – well, shou'n't never have let you persuade me -”

Simon's eyes narrow and he crosses his arms too, shielding himself from Mal's attempt to put the blame onto him.

“Not that I'm sayin' it was your fault-” Mal adds quickly.


“Jus' want you to know that it'll never happen again,” Mal suddenly promises. “Never.” He drops his gaze to the floor for a second. “Ship still needs a medic but if you wanna leave -”

There are so many things Simon wants to say right now that he doesn't know where to start. Things like he knows it wasn't his fault but he's not sure it was entirely Mal's either. And he doesn't want to go, he wants to stay. Not because Serenity needs a doctor but because Mal's here. Because he wants to stay with Mal. Try again.

But then Wash's voice comes over the comm system. “Mal – they've waved us. All clear. Congratulations - your gamble on the ID cards paid off. I'm laying in a course to pick them up now.”

Mal walks over to the comm speaker. “Wait up, Wash – where's the Diana?”

“Heading off on a one-eighty, Mal. At full speed too. By the time we complete our orbit, they'll be long gone.”

Mal closes his eyes and sighs with relief.

* * * * *

Now that Simon knows the others are safe, he decides to go to his bunk and take the weight off his leg. As he's opening his door, River arrives with a bowl of what she insists is a chocolate frosting flavoured helping of reconstituted protein.

“... gotta land? There a problem with Inara's engine? Kaylee's there, ain't she?”

It takes a while for Simon to realize that Mal's voice is coming over the comm. Wash must have forgotten to switch it from full-ship broadcast.

“It's not the engine, Mal,” Simon hears Wash reply. “It's ...” Even though the pilot's voice is tinny there's no mistaking the hesitation in it. “Kaylee? Tell Mal what she said.”

Kaylee's voice is fuzzier still and Simon can't really make out what she's saying. Especially as she's obviously crying. At the end of her tale, he does manage to distinguish the word “Cap'n?” and waits for Mal to reply.

Silence. A silence that goes on and on and on. And then at last Mal's voice – hard, cold, distant. “No, Kaylee. She's gone. Forget it.”

Gone? Simon frowns. Who's gone?

“Jolly Roger's down, Simon,” River says sadly, knees clasped to her chest as she rocks backwards and forwards, “Yellow flag instead. Sickness aboard. And you're the doctor.”

He stares at her, uncomprehending. “What?”

“He's bleeding inside, Simon. Feels like he can't breathe. Feels like he's dying,” she whispers, a far-away look in her eyes. “Faint heart ...”

“Jayne? Jayne's fine, me-mei. Don't worry.”

“Not Jayne, stupid! Mal. She cut herself free and made him bleed.”

Oh God. Now he understands. Inara has gone. Simon's throat clenches and his chest hurts because now he knows for certain that Mal's still in love with her. How stupid he was to ever think otherwise.

“Going to die if you don't save him.” River jabs a sharp finger into her brother's arm.

He shrugs, palms turned upwards. Tears prick at the back of his eyes. “What can I do, River? He doesn't want me.”

River tips her head to one side and rolls her eyes. “Gorram stupid boy!”

Simon sighs. “Exactly. He thinks I'm a gorram stupid boy.”

“Stupid boy,” she agrees. “Stupid, smart-mouthed, shuai, smart an' strong. Worth killin' for. Ask Jayne, if you don't believe me.”


“Nearly killed him. Twice. Because of you. You're in his heart, Simon. Just like she is.”

* * * * *

Chapter Twenty


Sunday, May 29, 2005 8:36 AM


I love where you appear to be going with this and your River is superb. I hope Simon takes her advice and heals Mal, they could be so good for each other if they can just get past the stubborn part they each have and let their emotions and desire show the way. I also love the way Jayne is thinking that this could all turn out very good for his chances with Kaylee. Oh yeah, very shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, May 29, 2005 8:12 PM


I am utterly enthralled by this tangled web you weave. I echo Ali's sentiments about your portrait of River being dead-on. The Mal-Simon-Inara dynamic has shed an interesting light on this series, and I enjoy it immensely. I wait with baited breath for the next installment.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 5:44 AM


River is just brilliantly written in this. With the boots, the comments... everything. The other characters are beautifully done too--Jayne's expressions show so vividly and I loved his internal thoughts. It feels like Zoe is on the verge of taking matters in hand again; hope so.

Just wonderful, every bit, and leads so smoothly and naturally off the end of the series episodes you've done.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005 8:07 AM


Well damn! This here warrents some consideration!

This is so shexningly rocking it's not even funny! The rockingness is almost painful (in a good way, after all it is rockingness!). Keep it up, party hard, have good sex!

All that jazz!


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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.