GENIUS SERIES: 9. "Reality Bites"
Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Simon and River refuse to return to their childhood home but not all questions are answered and that unsettles the Captain most of all."



SUMMARY: "Simon and River refuse to return to their childhood home but not all questions are answered and that unsettles the Captain most of all." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The silence was almost a physical thing. Heavy and filled with such a volatile mix of emotions that Inara wondered that the very air did not ignite. Gabriel Tam looked as if the last remnant of sanity in his head had vaporised along with what little sense the man had ever had. By contrast his wife looked calm and composed until you looked deep into her eyes. Inara had been a Companion for too long not to read what was written there and the information did nothing to reassure her that all was well or would ever be so again. As Kaylee would say, sometimes a thing got broke and couldn't be fixed.

Next to the Companion the Captain sat mute and immobile, his face a blank mask, eyes distant and haunted. His breathing too much on the ragged side of good. Inara frowned slightly, unable to put aside her concern though she did not want to say or do anything to make things worse. Electric. Combustible. The atmosphere thick enough to cut with a knife. At least the ranting between father and psuedo son had stopped. A movement caught Inara's eyes and she watched as River moved to the Captain's chair and knelt beside him. Gently the girl took the Captain's hands between her own and cradled them, her head tilting to one side as she gazed intently into the barely focused eyes. River did not say anything, just waited patiently. It took a few moments for Mal to become aware of her. His gaze met hers in confusion if Zoe was any judge. "River? What the good gorram you doin', *nu haizi*?"

"Putting you back together."

"I ain't fallin' apart."

"That's because we each hold a piece of you."

Mal caught his breath and wondered at the depth of her. The uncanny and creepifying insights that were somehow as much a part of her as her sweet nature and unintended grace. The knowing of things she should not know. River's eyes softened, aware of every thought running through her Captain's cotton filled head.

"I have a piece too." She said softly, a little mysterious smile dancing in her eyes as if she was conferring on him a great secret.

For a split second it was as if no one else was in the gorram room. "That a fact?"

River nodded then sight, sound and movement crashed in all around the Captain. He gasped softly as the 'verse came back into focus. His senses assaulted in such a rush that his numb mind had pins and needles as feelings and emotions returned to him in full measure. In that instant memory slotted back into place and the agility of his mind began to kick back into high gear. It felt good to feel control flood back bringing a relief that was palpable. Didn't like feeling helpless even if it was only an illusion. He leaned forward just enough for his whisper to carry to her waiting ears. "*Xie xie ni*, River."

"Good luck charm." She responded with a smile.

"Ain't you just."

If the Captain sounded a mite smug River forgave him. "Yours."

Mal looked up to find Simon frowning at him and held back a sigh. When would the boy learn to trust him? Mind, having Gabriel Tam as an excuse of a father explained a lot. Not that Regan was much better as a parent but the Captain at least had some sympathy for her. Not enough to let the kids go back to them though. The Captain turned a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth look on Gabriel Tam. A look that made even Preachers check their wallets.

"Seems to me you got nothin' here that belongs to you."

Gabriel Tam stiffened, his expression dark and seeped in fury. "Do you think I don't know what you're doing, *Captain*?"

The Captain rose carefully to his feet still feeling more than a mite unsteady. Jayne moved closer, the better to step in if the *tamade hundan* took a swing at Mal. The mercenary's hands all kinds of itching to rip the man apart at the slightest excuse. Gabriel's eyes were dark and did not leave the Captain's face. "I should have killed you!"

"You might notice you're on my boat. Not the smartest threat to make in front of my crew but then I'm thinkin' you ain't all that smart."

"I'm not afraid of your bunch of criminal misfits, Captain."

"*Wei*!" Growled Jayne. "Who ya callin' misfits?"

Gabriel stared hard at the Captain and ignored Jayne, then seemed to deflate as if all the energy and resolve was draining away. Zoe's eyes narrowed, expecting some trick. She saw Jayne tense and was glad that he was staying alert. Even more happy to see as the Captain still seemed to be a mite off his game. Not that he wasn't rallying but the sharpness was not there yet. A baffled look came into Gabriel Tam's eyes as he looked from Simon to River and saw the same resolve on both faces, neither of them in the least inclined to return to the Tam Estate. He tried to approach the problem from a different angle. "I don't see why you should be so concerned, Captain Reynolds. They're not your children."

The Captain smiled almost pleasantly, but there was no warmth or humour in it and the look in his eyes was cold. "Not yours neither. May not be any offspring of mine but they're on my ship - crew. Makes 'em family you could say. Some might say better than."

A cruel twist distorted Gabriel Tam's lips. "They left your ship, Captain. I'd hardly call that any kind of ringing endorsement."

"Yes," Said Simon moving to align himself with the Captain and Jayne, a physical cue not lost on his father. "And now we're back. Our brief bout of madness is over. We should celebrate."

"Simon, you can't! Think of what you're throwing away."

"*Shenme*? Oh, you mean a life of lies? My whole life has been a LIE thanks to you. And what about River? Did you ever give a thought about what you were doing to her? No, of course you didn't. You were too busy being selfish and..."

Simon never got to finish his diatribe as Gabriel launched himself at the young doctor. His fist connecting with Simon's jaw just as the Captain cut in with a right hook. Jayne grabbed Gabriel Tam before he could stumble to the floor and lifted him clean off his feet, shaking the man fiercely until Inara was sure she could hear his teeth rattle. Kaylee went to Simon and gave him a hug. Suddenly weary beyond words the Captain looked at Jayne. "Best put him down Jayne, we got some leavin' to do."

"We have?"

"Yeah. Wanna kick the filth of this world off my boots before it rots the gorram leather, *dong ma*?"

"I could kill him. Wouldn't be no trouble, Mal."

Shepherd Book shook his head. He knew the look of a beaten man when he saw one. For all his money and position, Gabriel Tam was nothing but a hollow man. Nothing of substance left in him but hot air. He wondered that Jayne could not see that. "He's not worth it, Jayne. Let the man be."

Digusted, Jayne opened his hands and let the man fall. Zoe looked at the Captain but when Mal remained silent voiced what she was thinking. "We just gonna go, sir?"

"Seems like the thing to do." He said wearily.


Mal turned at the tentative sound in Kaylee's voice. "*Shenme shi*, little Kaylee?"

"Don't wanna worry ya none, Cap'n, but we need fuel."

"Yeah, Mal," Said Wash apologetically. "We used the last we had to get here."

The Captain looked nonplussed. "Huh?"

It was Regan Tam who stunned them all with her offer. "We have plenty of fuel Captain Reynolds, you can fill your ship right here."

Wash and Kaylee exchanged a look, the only ones not surprised at the information. The Captain frowned and tried to respond through the sudden sharp stab of pain in his head. The throbbing was so intense it felt like his gorram head was about to split in two. The crazy pattern of lights forming before his eyes wasn't helping either. Made it all kinds of hard to think.

"I could give you something for that, Captain."

Mal squinted at Simon. Mayhap it wasn't only River that read minds. "*Fang xin, wode hen hao*." He lied. The Captain paused to drag a deep breath into aching lungs and tried to block out the pain, resisting the urge to rub his head. He didn't want anything delaying the elder Tams' departure. "Now I suggest you get the *diyu* off my boat, *dong ma*?"

Regan Tam nodded. "After you refuel, Captain. Call it part compensation for everything that has happened." She hesitated as if trying to hold back strong emotions. "And *xie xie ni* for looking after my children."

Her husband was beside himself with rage, his mouth flapping a time or two before he could form words. "I refuse to allow....!"

The formerly biddable and quiessent wife spun round and glared at Gabriel. The bruise upon her face oddly enough reminding River of nothing so much as a warrior's mark denoting the right of passage from child to adult. To see a mirror of it on Regan Tam's aristocratic face showed all too clearly that the woman was no longer going to tolerant her husband's bullying. If she had stood up to him earlier she might have saved Simon and River from much of the misery that had befallen them. But no one could go back and rewrite their past. That only happened in the history books. 'To the victor the spoils' did not simply refer to wealth, privilege, power and position. "*Bizui*, Gabriel Tam, before I call the authorities myself and have you thrown in a cell until you rot!"

Simon's jaw dropped. Everyone stared at Regan. Only River did not look surprised. Something akin to pleasure and pride shone out of eyes that glimmered with the hint of tears. She caught Simon's eye and he closed his mouth and smiled, the siblings once more in perfect agreement with each other. While Regan Tam instructed Wash where to refuel, Simon's smile turned into a full blow grin. A grin which was echoed upon his sister's glowing face.

* * * * *

It was later. Days had blended one into the other in the Black once the danger was over. Life aboard Serenity appeared to resume its' haphazzard pace, the crew settling back into the comfort of being together again. Only Simon knew it was a lie. A pretence. A make believe notion of peace where none would be found. Yet when he looked at River's face his resolve would weaken, his heart moved by the happiness so clearly radiating from his younger sibling. River. Gifted. A gift. His thoughts derailed, stuck on the notion. Recalling everything his mad embittered 'father' had said. And River's words that he was 'free' and she was the 'price'. It made him feel sick to his stomach because she was wrong. Oh so wrong. Even the parents who had raised them in that cuckoo nest did not suspect the truth. If River was a gift he was the curse destined to undermine everything she was intended to accomplish.

Simon's hands began to shake again. It had not happened for a while now but every now and then he had to reinforce his resolve. Not allow himself to let these people get too close. Even Kaylee needed to be kept at arm's length. Especially Kaylee. Not because the mechanic had grown so close to his heart but because River loved Kaylee. Loved this whole rag tag family in the Black. Loved the grubby little ship with the awkward outline and the man whose will kept them flying. But Simon could turn anything to his advantage. Love could become hate, trust turn to anger and distaste, content turn to bitter accusation. The Captain was the perfect foil to his weakness. He knew all the buttons to press to enrage the man whose ship and crew had saved him and his sister time and time again. Yet he did it not to bite the hand that fed them or betray those who sheltered them but because it was necessary. A hard trade for the bitter fruit that was all the harvest his quest would gain.

The instruments rattled beneath unsteady fingers. Simon paused, took a deep breath and stilled the movement of his hands. Gripping the edge of the work surface in Serenity's infirmary. He came here so often because the others didn't, only poking their noses in when they needed their hurts attending or to call him to table. The rest of the time this was his sanctuary. A reminder of what he was not what he had become. It was useful though the knowledge burned him. Because the truth was something else and this was not even camoflage. It was hiding.

* * * * *

Zoe smiled down at her husband. It was months later and the crew had finally settled again. The on-off spats between the Captain and Inara had become fewer but the edge was less playful banter and more skirting on the hurtful and bitter. Zoe thought it would end badly.

"She won't leave, *bao bei*."

"I'm not so sure, *zhangfu*. The arguments seem colder."

"But the passion's hot."

Zoe blinked at him then circled an arm around his neck, eyes locked on his. Wash coded in the autopilot and slipped his arms around her waist. "Not sure hot is the word I'd use."

"Sure you can." Wash murmured as he leaned in to kiss the exotic column of her neck. "You can see it in their eyes. It's everythin' they're not sayin' that tells you they want each other. An' did I mention Inara's still here? That has to count for somethin'."

"It means," Said Zoe as she settled on his lap. "That the Cap'n's stayin' even further from suitable planets than he was before."

"Yeah," Wash grinned. "An' it's drivin' Inara crazy. Think she'll hit him?"

"*Bu qu*, I think she'll leave. Means it this time."

"You worry too much, *bao bei*."

"An' you don't worry enough, *zhangfu*." The pilot cocked his head thoughtfully. "You thinkin' about that wave?"

"It was a handsome offer. Cap'n knows it too. Teaching could be just what Inara needs."

"Needs not wants?"

Zoe smiled and looked like nothing but a big lazy panther after it had just been fed. "Not everyone gets what they want, dear."

"An' us?"

She chuckled, rich and dark, the chuckle devolving into a throaty purr before letting her hands do the talking for her, a wicked gleam in her eye. He had his answer long before he got his breath back.

* * * * *

"You sure 'bout this?"

Inara nodded. Her expression fixed, her trunks packed, all the pretties put away. The stark bare walls of her shuttle looked ugly to Mal. An echo of how he felt inside, all empty and stripped of anything of value. It hurt more than he would admit to and deeper than he could have fathomed. Her beautiful lush lips were firmed in determination. He knew that look, hated it more than words could say. "It's been long overdue, Captain."

Captain. Not Mal. Line had been drawn then. Friendship erased or had it even been that? Was Inara's calm soothing presence no more than another mask? Her sometimes kindness to him no more than throwing pennies to a beggar, scraps from the table of the high and mighty to the lowly peasants toiling at her feet? "What? I thought you just got the wave?"

"Not that." She paused and allowed her pretty eyes to roam around the shuttle and settle on the pile of belongings all gathered up for the leaving. "This."

Mal fiddled with the catch on one of her big trunks. Not trying to open it just avoiding her eyes. "You know the Shepherd wants to leave?"

Inara nodded. It was unfortunate timing and she had to push down a tiny stab of guilt. Knowing that her leaving had just nudged Book that bit closer to making a decision of his own. At least she had waited until the Captain was healed. To see him up and about no one would have guessed at what had happened to him at Gabriel Tam's hands. That was another thing that chilled Inara. How many other horrors would she have to live through if she stayed? And how long would it take her anger and frustration with the Captain to turn to hate? She didn't want to hate him any more than Book did. It was why they had both come separately to the same decision. It was a pity though that the two partings would be coming so close together. No chance for the Captain and crew to reel from one loss before being hit by the second one.

*Ai ya*, what could she do? The Captain had been growing harder and more bitter even before all that ugliness with Simon and River's legal guardians. It didn't matter a good gorram that Gabriel and Regan Tam were not the siblings' parents, a simple blood test had shown that Simon and River shared the same DNA. As far as the Alliance was concerned the siblings had been adopted at birth. The Tams even had the shiny papers to prove it. Fortunately both Simon and River were old enough to determine their own destinies. Their choice, for now, being to remain on Serenity but Inara could see the signs. The way Simon and the Captain were around each other, the distance widening while the crew looked helplessly on. Both Inara and Book had tried to reason with Mal but he acted as if it was Simon's doing.

All of which underlined why Inara could not afford to stay. No matter how much the man drew her to him it was a weakness she could no longer afford. She only had to remember Nandi to know that. In the long run Mal might even come to look back on this day as a kindness.

Inara Serrra watched the Captain raise soul wounded eyes and found herself caught in those depths, unable to look away. And in that magnetic gaze she knew one thing for certain. The day would never come when Malcolm Reynolds would thank her for leaving.

"So," Said the Captain trying hard to swallow all nonchalent-like and appear unaffected. Wash's voice announcing planetfall. "Next stop Haven."

Before Inara could speak the Captain had turned and walked out of the shuttle. Inara would never have admitted it to anyone but this was why it was always a mistake for a Companion to fall in love. Too many complications. They needed distance from each other so that sanity could be restored yet the truthsome part of Inara's soul knew that no matter how long she lived or where she went part of her would always miss the crazy giddyness of being part of this crew. This ship. This family. Yes, she was leaving. But she would be leaving her heart behind her.

"Where do you think you are going? You with your hand on the door? Just where do you think you're going, my friend? My fine feathered friend. One cold winter's day when it's snowing You'll wake up to find you were wrong So get back in my arms Get back in my arms, Get back in my arms Where you belong..."

"Where Do You Think You Are Going?" sung by Johnny Mathis

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*nu haizi* = girl *xie xie ni* = thank you *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wei* = hey! *shenme* = what? *dong ma* = understand? *diyu* = hell *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wode hen hao* = I'm very good *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *zhangfu* = husband *bao bei* = precious/treasure *ai ya* = damn!


Saturday, January 21, 2006 7:42 AM


This is such a great story, and a perfect bridge to explain what happened in the interval between the end of Firefly and the start of Serenity.

I hope this isn't the end of the story..the adoption theme was very unexpected, and a really compelling twist...will we find out more about Simon and River's parentage?

And what is happening with Simon? He's obviously not well...

Please write more Alison

Thank you

Saturday, January 21, 2006 7:53 AM


Yay! Another great installment, I like the fact it's still building to something despite the fact that there has already been a major revelation!

Saturday, January 21, 2006 7:59 AM

MANICGIRAFFE whatever plan Simon had isn't done yet. Simon never struck me as overly devious. He'll lie, cheat and steal for River, but not out of malice. But now he seems to be just biding his time.

This is interesting.

Sunday, February 12, 2006 7:47 AM


I just want to slap her and possibly Mal also... Is that wrong?


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.