Wounds from the Past

by Juli, nancy, Peach, sffan, Eleanor K., Karah Ross, Maggie, Rach, Ty Wiles, kirby crow, Dariclone, MidnightBlue0162, Cabiria, and skripka

Wounds from the Past

By: Juli, nancy, Peach, sffan, Eleanor K., Karah Ross, Maggie, Rach, Ty Wiles, kirby crow, Dariclone, MidnightBlue0162, Cabiria, and skripka.

Email: woundsfromthepast@yahoo.com (see each chapter for individual author email addresses)

Pairings: Simon/other, Simon/Jayne, Mal/other, Mal/Simon, Mal/Simon/Jayne

Rating: See individual chapters

Summary: What begins with an unpleasant dream soon changes into a living nightmare.

Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended.

Special Note: From June - December 2003, fourteen writers from the Firefly Slash list participated in a round robin. The resulting story lasted 34 chapters, 150+ pages (depending on how your format it) and has been compiled for you here. If you would like to send feedback to the group as a whole, please use the address listed at the archive or, if you prefer to send feedback to individual authors, look for the emails at the beginning of each chapter.

Special thanks to Eli for giving the round robin a home while it was in progress and to sffan for beta-reading the completed beast.


Chapter 1: Haunted by Juli
Chapter 2: Haunted part 2 by Nancy
Chapter 3: Understanding by Peach
Chapter 4: Protection by sffan
Chapter 5: The Direct Approach by Eleanor K. Chapter 6: The Devil Speaks by Karah Ross Chapter 7: Circular by Maggie
Chapter 8: The Future; The Past by Rach Chapter 9: The Discussion by Ty Wiles
Chapter 10: Turnabout by Kirby Crow
Chapter 11: Insight by Dariclone
Chapter 12: Timing by MidnightBlue0162
Chapter 13: Blood in the Water by Juli
Chapter 14: Turning the Tables by Nancy Chapter 15: Sharing Simon by Peach
Chapter 16: Into the Fire by Sffan
Chapter 17: The Coming Night by Eleanor K. Chapter 18: So Long as Love Shall Last by Karah Ross Chapter 19: Above and Below by MidnightBlue0162 Chapter 20: The Bitter Pill by Ty Wiles Chapter 21: Just My Imagination by Kirby Crow Chapter 22: Running Out of Time by Dariclone Chapter 23: Folded by Cabiria
Chapter 24: The Flying Dutchman by Skripka Chapter 25: Faith by Nancy
Chapter 26: Pulling the Fangs by Peach
Chapter 27: Breathing Space by Sffan
Chapter 28: An Ounce of Redemption by Eleanor K. Chapter 29: Twisted by Karah Ross
Chapter 30: Curveball by Midnightblue0162 Chapter 31: Frown in the Face of Danger by Ty Wiles Chapter 32: Out of Harm's Way by Sffan
Chapter 33: One Chance by Skripka
Chapter 34: Folded Sky by Juli


Chapter 1: Haunted

Author: Juli
Email: challisgal@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other
Rating: R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Many thanks to Unovis for a speedy and thorough beta read. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, utterly my fault.

Summary: Simon tries to cope with a nightmare.

+++

Simon's sleep was plagued by nightmares.

The young man twisted and turned on his bed, dreams invaded by large hands that squeezed too hard... mocking laughter that reverberated in his soul... and, above everything else, overwhelming feelings of humiliation and despair.

With a gasp, Simon woke, sitting straight up on his narrow mattress. His sheets were soaked with sweat and his bare chest heaved as he struggled to control himself. Control was important. He struggled to remember that as he tried to wrestle his consciousness from a tangle of restless, hagridden sleep. If there was one thing Simon had leaned from the Jubal Early debacle, it was that River was far more than a troubled teenager. He'd finally admitted to himself that his sister had abilities that she hadn't possessed before. That maybe no one had possessed before. If he didn't want her coming to find out what was wrong, he'd best contain himself and do it quick.

A soft noise at his door caught his attention. Simon was too late, River was already there. The girl padded across Simon's small quarters and gingerly perched on the edge of his bed, sitting carefully as though she was afraid of breaking something.

Simon was very much afraid that the something she was afraid of breaking was him.

"I'm sorry, mei mei, did I wake you?" Simon reached to tuck an errant lock of hair behind River's ear; as he raised his hand, he noticed it was shaking. Desperate, he aborted the motion and instead shoved it under the covers, hoping his sister hadn't seen.

River looked at him sadly. "Ghosts live in your eyes."

Simon saw her expression take that inward turning he'd come to associate with River doing... whatever it was that River did. The only thing that would make the nightmare worse would be having his baby sister share it, so Simon did something he'd never done before he shut River out.

Not knowing how his sister's abilities functioned or even what they exactly were didn't stop Simon from having a theory on how to block them. The doctor thought of bees, swarming and buzzing, little motes of energy flitting about in the summer sunshine. He thought of the molecular composition of the latest medicine that he'd used to treat River, tracing its "recipe" all the way back to the atomic table. He thought of Jayne and the little grunting noises the man made as he was chewing.

His sister's eyes crossed and she frowned at him in surprise. "That's cheating!"

Despite being shaken by his dreams, Simon grinned weakly. That pout was so very familiar, the closest to "normal" that he'd seen River in a long time.

"That's why I'm the older brother," he said. If he hadn't been so tired, his tone would have been smug. As it was, Simon just sounded emotionally drained. "Now, weren't you going to help Kaylee make pancakes this morning?"

"Yes..." the girl admitted reluctantly.

Simon pulled River close for a one-armed hug, kissing her tenderly on the forehead before shooing her on her way. "Go on, now. I'm fine."

Sighing heavily, she obediently plodded towards the door, turning for a last admonition before she left. "Ghosts don't just go `way, like bees do when the summer's over. Ghosts come back, over and over again, until you're a ghost too."

Simon waited until River was gone and the door shut behind her. Then, he calmly got up and pushed the button to extend his commode. Falling to his knees, he proceeded to vomit until his stomach felt as though it were turned inside out. He heaved until he was dry and then he pulled himself up in order to run some water in the sink. Cupping his hand, he brought water to his mouth and sipped greedily. Leaning heavily on the counter, he looked into the mirror. Haunted eyes looked back at him no wonder River spoke of ghosts.

Simon forced himself through the motions of getting ready for the day. As he did, he wondered at the nightmare that had caused him to start his morning more abruptly than he would have liked. Pritchard Smith it had been a long time since that man had plagued his sleep. It was odd that his psyche had come up with that particular demon to torment him with. Maybe it was because Mal, along with Zoe and Jayne, had disembarked the moment Serenity had touched down. No doubt it was about a contact for a job, but it didn't matter. Fact was, Serenity just didn't feel as safe to Simon when Mal wasn't aboard. The captain was a scoundrel but he'd proved time and again that he would protect the Tams, even if he didn't particularly like them. Mal was far nobler than he wanted to admit, a trait that Simon found strangely attractive.

Not wanting to pursue that line of thought, Simon shifted his attention back the man from his past. If Kaylee thought Simon an easy mark now, she should have seen him when he'd first begun his search for a way to free River. It had taken him to some dark and dangerous places places that Simon was very ill-equipped to deal with. That fateful night that his father had been called from dinner to bail him out had merely been the tip of the iceberg. Looking back, it wasn't a surprise to Simon that he'd been arrested, only that he'd survived his own stupidity. By all rights, Gabriel Tam should have been called to collect his son from the morgue, not a holding cell.

Pritchard Smith had seemed too good to be true, which should have been Simon's first clue. In his naivet, however, he'd mistaken the merc's confidence for nobility, confused Smith's athletic body with being a hero, and misidentified charisma for character. The mercenary had been the only person that Simon had found who would listen to him about freeing River. At first, Simon had been so overwhelmed by that fact that he'd babbled on and on about his plight. He was just sure that the injustice of his sister's situation would move the big, strapping man to help him. When Simon had finally finished pouring out his sad tale, Smith had leaned back in his chair, smiled his lazy, mocking smile, and told Simon that he would be glad to help for a price. Simon had been undaunted. As an up and coming doctor, he had plenty of money. It was at that point that Pritchard had explained that the price would be paid in services. Personal services.

Simon stopped in the process of tying his shoes, remembering that moment. His first reaction to Smith's statement had been laughter. The idea of trading sex for his sister's rescue had sounded absurd, like something out of a romance novel. To his dismay, however, he'd found that, smile or no smile, Smith had been utterly serious... and very convincing. Before he'd really been able to grasp what had happened, Simon had found himself in a dingy rented room, body being jolted as Pritchard Smith rode him mercilessly. A mirror had been across from the bed and Simon remembered looking at his own reflection, silently reassuring the shell-shocked young man looking back at him that it would be worth it. Once River was free, it would be worth it.

Once again, he'd been wrong.

When Smith had taken his pleasure of Simon, the young doctor had slowly drawn himself together, wrapping the threadbare sheet around him like a shroud. "So, now that you've... I mean, now that we've..." Simon had blushed when the merc had laughed at his stammering. "Now that you've received your payment, what's your plan?"

Simon would never forget the way Pritchard had finished buckling his belt before turning to answer. "Well, I'm gonna go back to the bar and have another drink or two before I hit the hay. I ship out with my new employers early in the morning, don't want to be late and give a bad impression."

"But, I'm not going anywhere," Simon had said, not realizing that Smith had just told him he'd been screwed literally and figuratively.

The mercenary's chuckle had been just as lazy and just as mocking as his grin. "That's right, darlin', you're not." He had taken the time to look around and find his hat, placing it on his head in a jaunty angle with practiced ease. "You've a lovely ass, baby doc, but it's not worth getting' my ass blown off bein' associated with you. Not by a long shot. `Fraid you're just gonna have to find another hero to help you."

Simon's mouth had opened and shut several times. "But we... you said if we... you would...."

"I lied," Smith had shrugged. "It happens." He had leaned down and patted Simon on the cheek. "Take care of yourself, baby doc. If you want some friendly advice, forget about that sister of yours." The mercenary had sauntered towards the door, leaving Simon with another sage piece of advice before he left. "Oh, yeah, and don't believe strangers when they tell you they'll help you for a quick tickle and thrust, they're probably just tryin' to get in your pants."

One last mocking smile and the man had disappeared. Simon had been left, shattered, on the bed. A large piece of his innocence had left with Smith.

The here-and-now Simon Tam looked at himself in the mirror, an echo of that trauma still in his eyes. Ghosts, as River had said. Or, rather, a ghost. A big one, Pritchard Smith, had taken up residence within him again. Shaking himself, the doctor resolved to drive the man's memory out. The rustle of cloth accompanying the movement startled him. Looking at his reflection again, he smiled bitterly. Getting dressed while in a miasma of memories, he'd automatically put on his formal black suit, complete with tie, vest, and spectacles. Armoring himself, he supposed, against the past.

Moments later, Simon made his way down the corridor, a few layers lighter. He'd removed the coat, tie, and spectacles but opted to let the vest remain. He'd taken to dressing more casually of late, but the vest was a comfort. Luckily, it was also still a common enough sight that it ought not rouse his companions' curiosity. He really didn't want anyone looking at him too closely this morning, especially Mal, should he be back. The captain had a few ghosts in his own eyes and would all too easily recognize them in someone else. Perhaps he wouldn't say anything, but Simon wasn't ready to take that chance.

As Simon walked, he reflected on the way the `verse worked. Being taken advantage of by Pritchard Smith had left Simon feeling dirty and disheartened. He'd used all of his courage to make himself begin his round of inquiries again, afraid that he would repeat his mistake. When a mysterious group of men had approached him about liberating his sister from the Academy, he'd reacted with hard-won skepticism. They'd offered proof, however, and Simon had begun to believe. Besides, he'd already lost his family and his self-respect; he just didn't have that much more to lose. Taking a chance, he'd been at the coordinates they'd given him and, miracle of miracles, the blue box containing his sister had been delivered into his care. The rest was history. Six months later and Simon still didn't quite believe it. He didn't even know who the men were or why they wanted to help him. Now, he supposed, he'd never know.

A burst of laughter came from the direction of the kitchen, Mal's voice easily heard with the rest. Heart lighter at the captain's return, Simon hurried his last few steps, a greeting on his lips as he entered the dining area.

His greeting died unvoiced when he saw who else was there.

Larger than life, Pritchard Smith sat comfortably at Serenity's big family-style table, Kaylee perched on his knee. The engineer's face was split with a wide grin and she had one arm thrown around the mercenary's neck in easy camaraderie. With the notable exception of Jayne, the others were looking on with expressions ranging from amusement to fond exasperation. No one noticed Simon's entrance at first. Ever watchful, it was Mal who first spied him in the doorway.

"There you are, Doc," Mal said with relief. "Come talk to this moon-pie sister of yours. She keeps saying our guest is a ghost." A muffled noise came from under the table, revealing River's location.

Smith looked over at Simon and grinned his lazy grin. "Boo."

The room rang with Kaylee's giggles. "Don't worry none, Simon. Pritch is family."

"The type you don't talk about much," Zoe said with her usual dry delivery. Her warm smile, though, showed that she was on good terms with the newcomer.

Mal noticed Simon's shocked expression. "Don't get your britches in a twist, Doc," the captain explained. "Ol' Pritch here has served with us before. He can keep his mouth shut; there's no worry that he'll turn you or your sister in to the Alliance."

"I'm well aware of Mr. Smith's character," Simon said in a strangled voice.

The captain frowned. "You two know each other?" The look on his face clearly showed that he had no idea where his sheltered burden of a doctor would have met someone like Pritchard Smith.

"Oh, me and the baby doc go `way back," Smith said, gently easing Kaylee from his lap before standing and approaching Simon. "Fact is, you know that job I said my current employers were looking to hire for?" His gaze ran appreciatively up and down the young doctor's form. Suddenly, Simon was wishing he had his coat back. "The pretty here's got everything to do with it."

"What?"

"What?"

Mal and Simon's twin exclamations of confusion set Smith to grinning. "Yeah, I know. Surprised the hell out of me too."

"I assure you," Simon said tightly, "that I would have nothing to do with any employers of yours."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Smith contradicted him. "These fellas arranged a package delivery to you." He looked meaningfully at the table, where River was just beginning to emerge. "A very special package."

Simon gulped, Mal was beginning to look angry, and the others just looked confused.

Pritchard just grinned even more broadly. "And now they want you to return the favor."

+++

End of Chapter 1


Chapter 2: Haunted Part 2

Author: nancy
Email: thetenthmuse1@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other
Rating: R
Warnings: violence and bad language...but then, that's Zoe. evil grin Disclaimers: not mine, never will be, not making any money off it. but then, no one is anymore, are they? cause gorram Fox killed it. bastards. Notes: thanks to sffan for the speedy look-see. and I know the official date due is weds, but hey. it was done. grin

Summary: Zoe's not happy about the affect Smith has on Simon.

+++

Zoe looked between Simon and Smith, not liking the ugly cast to Pritchard's face or the non-expression on Simon's. It was very much like when Simon had first come on board and hadn't trusted any of them. That he felt the need to withdraw so hard, so fast, told her that something really bad had gone down between them.

Glancing over at Wash, who was looking between Simon and Smith, she found a slightly puzzled expression on his face as well. Given how intuitive he was, Zoe was now positive that something had gone down. Something that would probably change her mostly good opinion of the merc.

Besides, the `baby doc' thing was seriously getting on her last nerve.

"Smith, are you sure?"

Zoe dragged her attention back to the conversation at Mal's somewhat incredulous question.

Smith shrugged and answered, "Yep."

Moving to stand beside him,, Kaylee asked, "What do they want Simon to do?"

Smith glanced down at her as he answered, "That's nothing you need to worry your pretty head about."

"Excuse me?" Kaylee demanded, grinning as she shoved an elbow into his ribs.

Grunting from the contact, Smith grinned back at her then said, "Well, it's for baby doc to say about whether he wants others to know."

"No one works alone here, Smith, you know that," Mal reminded easily. "Simon gets called for a job, we all do."

"Not this time," Smith replied regretfully. "This time, it's baby doc all on his own."

"What's the job?"

Zoe's gaze shifted to Simon at the quiet voice and didn't much like what she saw. Or, rather, what she didn't see. The careful non- expression had solidified into that disdainful Core look that Simon had worn a lot towards the beginning. It made her palms itch with an urge to muss his hair up and maybe tickle him for good measure; anything to get that boy smiling again.

"They want you to let yourself be captured while carrying some kind of virus. They know the base where you'll be taken and once there, you need to release the virus. Don't know what it's supposed to do, so don't ask me," Smith answered.

There was dead silence after the announcement and Zoe noted, with some measure of satisfaction, the almost instant refusal on Mal's face, even if he hadn't yet said the words.

Smith continued with, "And if you decide not to go ahead with it, then the implant they put in your sister when they had her will activate and she'll be captured by the Alliance in your place."

"Tell them you couldn't find him," Mal snapped.

Shaking his head, Smith said, "Can't do it, Mal. I'm being well paid."

Jayne's gun was out and at Pritchard's temple before the man was even finished speaking. "There's nothin' saying that you ever found us. No way they'd know you weren't kilt afore meetin' up with us."

"You don't want to do that, Cobb," Pritchard warned.

"Why not?"

"Because they'll just activate the transmitter in the girl if you do."

"What do I care? She ain't no use to us and `sides which, she's already tried to kill me once," Jayne informed the other merc.

"Twice," Simon corrected absently, a smile hovering on his face for the first time since entering the room.

Jayne nodded. "Right. So there you go."

Simon crossed the room and put his hand on Jayne's arm and looked up at the big man. "You're not going to kill him."

Jayne and Mal both glared at the doctor and demanded, simultaneously, "Why not?"

"So much for family," Smith muttered.

Zoe snorted, barely resisting the urge to smack them both upside the back of the head for their stupidity. "Because Simon will just go ahead with the job on his own anyhow."

Looking over at Zoe with gratitude, Simon then nodded and said, "That's right. You both know me well enough that I'd never let River be in danger."

"Not your place. Not your say-so. No business at all!"

Everyone looked over at River, who was hunched in on herself and staring accusingly at her brother. Zoe sighed as Simon left the men to go to his sister and pulled her into his arms, soothing her as only he could.

After a few moments, Simon looked back at Smith and stated, "We'll go over the details in a while. I need to straighten this out first."

Zoe could tell that the doctor's order, which is exactly what it was, surprised Smith, and not in a pleasant way from the tightening of the merc's jaw. It occurred to her that Simon must have grown up a lot since they'd last met and set her mind to wondering just how innocent the doctor had been when he'd started searching for River. They all knew he had more guts than sense and she was now suspecting that it had gotten him involved with the merc.

"Sure thing, baby doc. I'll see you `round," Smith answered easily, mocking as his eyes trailed after Simon leading his sister from the room.

Jayne put his gun away and shrugged towards Smith. "No hard feelings?"

With a brief grin, Pritchard replied easily, "Nah. I understand."

Wash joined Zoe and slipped an arm around her waist, leaning close as the others continued with the conversation that Simon had interrupted. "You going to keep an eye on Smith, or shall I?"

Zoe kissed his neck and murmured into his ear, "I will. I think Smith and I are going to have a nice, private chat about just what he did to Simon."

Wash arched an eyebrow at her and replied softly, "You're an evil woman and I love you for it."

Smiling at him with her eyes, Zoe murmured back, "Thank you, dear."

"So you know where the guest quarters are and can take your pick," Mal was saying.

Pritchard nodded and agreed, "Sounds good to me."

"I'll walk you there," Zoe offered, pushing off the wall and away from Wash.

With a curious look, Smith nodded and picked up his duffel, following her out of the room as the rest of the crew broke up and went back to their various duties.

They'd reached the next level before Zoe asked, "Where'd you meet Simon?"

"In a bar," Pritchard answered, smirking to himself.

"He was lookin' for his sister?"

"Yep."

"And I'm betting that you conned him into bed, knowin' how trusting Simon is," Zoe observed dryly, keeping her other, darker emotions under wrap.

Pritchard shrugged. "Might've done so. He was in my bed end of the night and that's a fact."

"I bet you saw his fancy Core clothes and figured him for an easy mark," Zoe continued easily. "Not only that, he's the kind you always went for, male or female, just a bit on the helpless side."

Now smirking openly, he laughed and conceded, "Okay, you got me, Zo. It was all that and more. The boy's virgin ass was mine before he even knew what hit him. Great ride, too."

Zoe nodded, having expected the crude answer, and allowed a cold smile of her own to surface. Her hand slipped down to the sheath that was snapped onto her belt and pulled it free. Pritchard almost got out of the way in time, but Zoe shoved him hard over the nearest rail and he fell the next floor down, landing heavy and hard on his back. She jumped nimbly over the same rail and landed on the catwalk beside him, knife to his throat.

Even hauling in the breath that had been forced from him, Pritchard was careful not to nick himself on the wickedly sharp blade. When he could talk, he gasped, "What the fuck, Zoe!?"

Zoe straddled his chest, sitting on him to make the breathing even harder. Cutting a thin red line into the man's neck, she spoke up with a hard edge, "One thing I never liked about you was the way you come this close to rape, Smith. This close and not quite over the line is the only thing that's saved your balls from my knife."

Licking his lips, eyes wide and fearful, Pritchard hissed, "What and who I do is none of your god damned business Zoe!"

"It is this time, because you fucked up by fucking with the wrong man," Zoe hissed back at him, cutting another sliver into the skin. "There's something you really should know, Smith."

Anger joined the fear and Smith ground out, "What's that?"

Leaning down, Zoe whispered into Pritchard's ear, "Simon's crew now. You're not. Anything happens to him, and we take it out on you. I take it out on you. And I'll be watching you...real close."

"What in hell is going on here!?"

+++

End of Chapter 2


Chapter 3: Understanding

Author: Peach
Email: peach1250@sbcglobal.net
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; stirrings of Simon/Jayne Rating: R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: The crew closes ranks.

+++

tamade diyu = fucking hell
gingwa cao de liumang = frog humping son of a bitch shi da koudai = sack of shit
dongwu = animal
shenjing hundan = screwed-up bastard

+++

The Captain's voice held more than surprise. Mal watched as Zoe rose slowly from her crouched position by Smith's side. He knew something was up. They had known Pritchard for some time, and while he had worked with them in the past something about the tension between him and the Doc hadn't set well. Mal couldn't quite put his finger on the problem, but he would. Now finding Zoe about to slit Smith's throat was all kinds of wrong.

"Just reaching an understandin', Captain."

Zoe looked at him with the look that he'd only seen in the past when she killed to protect him or another rebel. Add that to the tension in the kitchen, and River speak, which, tamade diyu, he was starting to understand, the switch in his head clicked.

Smith had hurt the Doc and Zoe had just drawn the line in the sand. Seemed like his killing quotient had gone up since the Doc and little River came onto his ship. Protecting them had become more than a habit; they had become part of the select group residing in his heart. If he found out that Pritchard had anything to do with that tracker in River, Smith would wish for death long before he achieved it.

Zoe read all that and more in Mal's eyes as Smith slowly hauled himself to his feet. They stood and watched as he went toward where his duffel had fallen. By the time he had it in hand, Mal's eyes no longer showed any sign of the thoughts running in combat boots through his mind.

It hadn't taken long for his mind to come up with how Smith had probably hurt the Doc.

"Zoe, why don't you go see how Simon is getting on with River. I'll see Pritchard settled."

He waited until Zoe was out of earshot shaking his head he feigned sympathy for Zoe's behavior. "Woman gets notional. You ok?"

"Not the first time a woman tried to slit my throat. I'm still here, ain't I?"

"Yep, go on and get settled. See you at dinner."

Mal waited until Smith entered the empty passenger compartment and then went in search of this first mate. He found her standing in the infirmary as Simon scanned River.

Simon pointed to a dark spot near the center of River's stomach. "It's right there. Far too deep for me to get it out without major surgery."

"Simon, he's bad. Can't go with him, Simon. He wants to do it harder this time, wants to hurt. Wants to feel your blood, hot on his..." her voice was rising with each word.

"Shush, River. I'll be fine, mei mei."

Simon rocked her and crooned to her. Mal's eyes met Zoe's and the promise was made between them. Pritchard Smith would die if he touched Simon.

Mal took two long strides to stand at the side of brother and sister. Touching River gently, he added his assurances to Simon's. "River, I ain't gonna let anyone hurt your brother. Do you believe me?"

"Mal, daddy."

"Not daddy, just a mean man who don't intend to lose his doctor. Now you calm yourself. We'll take care of this and keep you both safe."

She let go of Simon and threw her arms around Mal. He hugged her briefly and then handed her gently back to her brother. Signaling to Zoe to follow him, he left. Simon stared after them, with a bemused expression on his face. He barely heard River as she repeated, "Safe, love, family," turning the three words into a litany.

Zoe and Mal entered the bridge. Wash swung around to face them, a question in his eyes.

"What did you find out?" Wash's voice demanded agitated.

"First, where is Smith?"

"He was with Jayne in the cargo hold when I came up here."

Mal and Wash were both anxious to find out what she'd learned.

"He used Simon's need to find River to get him in bed. Bragged about what a great ride the virgin was."

The anger in her voice was mild compared to the swearing that Mal used to turn the air blue. "Gingwa cao de liumang shi da koudai dongwu!"

+++

Jayne looked pointedly at the stripes on Pritchard's throat when he joined him in the cargo bay. Pritchard shrugged. "Zoe took offence to me saying I fucked the baby doc. Since when did she start to care about anyone, other than Mal and Wash?"

Jayne stood looking at the man in front of him and wondered where the rage he was feeling came from. Hell, he didn't even like the doc or his moon-brain sister.

"Jayne, you okay?"

"Yeah, just wondering my ownself about Zoe. Maybe she's jealous."

Pritchard laughed then leered at Jayne. "You had him, yet?"

"The Doc? Nah, Mal'd skin me alive if I mussed up the Doc."

"Be worth it. He's one sweet ride. 'Course he was a virgin that night. Might be even better once he learns a thing or two."

Jayne's hands tightened into fists. With cunning that the others almost never saw, Jayne sought additional information. "Rather use that pretty mouth."

"I'll teach him that while we're taking care of business. Send him back to you well trained."

Kaylee's entrance to the cargo bay was the only thing that kept Pritchard from having his back broken against a bulkhead.

"Pritch, wanna see the modification I've been making to the engine?"

"Sure, sweet Kaylee. Lead the way."

Jayne stood perfectly still as they left, taking several deep breaths, before he went looking for the Cap'n and Zoe. He found them in deep conversation with Wash on the bridge.

"Mal, you won't believe what that ruttin' shenjing hundan Smith said he was gonna do ta Simon while he's out on this job with him. We can't let Simon go with him. We gotta do somethin'."

Three sets of eyes stared at him in disbelief. Defensive, he asked, "What?!"

"When did you start caring what happens to the Doc?" Mal looked at Jayne suspiciously. He still hadn't forgotten Ariel.

"Ain't no love lost 'tween me and the Doc, and that's a fact. But he ain't no whore and I wouldn't see him turned inta one lessen, he decided that was what he wanted."

"What are you talking about?"

"Smith was bragging ta me about popping the Doc's cherry. So I went along with it and said I'd rather have his pretty mouth. That's when the bastard said he'd send him back to me trained. The look in his eyes told me he'll hurt the Doc first chance he gets."

"River thinks the same thing. So we just have to make sure he doesn't get the chance."

"How do you plan to do that, Captain?"

The four of them jumped as Simon's cultured voice came from the hatchway.

+++

End of Chapter 3


Chapter 4: Protection

Author: sffan
Email: sffan2004@hotmail.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; hint of Simon/Jayne Rating: R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Thank you to: hcwoodward, taraljc, phil, betsy, anacondagirl, steelknight69, peach, and unovis for the advice on self-defence moves. And thanks to tenth_muse for the nifty beta.

Summary: Simon is determined to protect his sister. Jayne's determined to make sure he protects himself.

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shi da koudai = sack of shit

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Simon feels the weight of four sets of eyes as they turn to look at him. He crosses his arms and returns their stares, feeling sick with shame. As he looks at them each in turn, he is surprised that he can find no mockery or pity; there is only concern, even from Jayne.

"You're just not going to go, plain as that," Mal replies.

"That's not an option, Captain," Simon says with determination. "I'm not going to let River get taken by the Alliance. A little personal discomfort is worth keeping her safe."

"Personal discomfort?" Mal exclaims. "I don't think you quite understand here, boy. From what Zoe and Jayne just told me, Smith wants to hurt you, wants to hurt you real bad. There's no way I'm going to leave you alone on a mission with him. He can't be trusted."

Simon looks at Mal and smiles coldly, saying scathingly, "I thought he was an old friend of yours. Surely you can trust an old friend."

"Stop it, Simon. None of us here knew what he done to you before he came on board. Now that we know, I'm getting that shi da koudai off my boat." Mal straightens up from the rail he's leaning on and starts to move across the bridge.

"You can't do that, Captain," Simon protests desperately, grabbing Mal by the arms. "And you know it. You know he'll follow through on his threats. I won't let River be taken. I won't."

"Simon there's got to be another way," Wash says, concern in his eyes.

"Really? Do you have any bright ideas?" Simon's voice is harsh and he glares at Wash over Mal's shoulder.

Wash shakes his head.

"He'll rape you if he can," Zoe says quietly.

Simon turns to look at her, face pale, "You think I don't know that? It's not like I have a choice here. I'll just have to deal with whatever he does."

Mal can feel Simon's hands trembling on his arms. "I don't think you can, Doc. And you shouldn't have to. We'll find another way."

"There is no other way, Captain," Simon replies, releasing Mal's arms abruptly. "It's my body, my sister, my business, my decision. Thank you for your concern. But I AM going to do this."

He turns on his heel and leaves the bridge.

As soon as he's out of their line of sight, Simon runs back to his bunk. He barely makes it to the commode before he throws up for the second time that day. He rests his head against the cool surface and tries not to think about what Smith's going to do to him. It's worth it, he keeps telling himself. He'd do anything to save his sister, anything. Even this. His head jerks up and his heart starts hammering in his chest when he hears a sound at the doorway.

"What do you want, Jayne?" Simon asks roughly. "Come to laugh? Go ahead. Make all the crude remarks that I know are just burning a hole in that tiny little brain of yours."

Jayne grabs a towel and crouches down next to Simon. "I ain't here to laugh at ya, Simon. What Smith done was despicable. Even I wouldn'ta done nothin' like that and I've done some low-down dirty things in my time."

He holds the towel out to Simon.

Looking up at Jayne in confusion, Simon tentatively takes the towel and wipes his face with it. "Then why are you here? Why are you being so nice to me?"

"Well, it's obvious that yer not gonna be talked outta this, and I don't want to see you hurt." Jayne sees the disbelief in Simon's eyes and it cuts him deeply.

"Look. I know I done a dumb thing, turnin' you and River into the Feds, and I know we ain't exactly friends, but I wouldn't wish Smith on an enemy. No one deserves what that bastard wants to do to you."

A wave of rage flashes through Jayne just at the thought of Smith touching Simon. Jayne doesn't know why it bothers him so much, but it does and he doesn't intend to let anything happen to Simon if he can help it.

"I figured I could show you how to defend yerself," Jayne continues. "That way you can make sure Smith keeps to himself."

Simon sits up a bit straighter. "And how do you propose to do that? I can't suddenly start carrying a gun, he'll notice."

"No. No gun," Jayne replies, "But you could carry this."

Jayne whips Binky out of its holder and waves the knife under Simon's nose. "You could conceal him under all them fancy clothes you wear. Smith'll never suspect until it's too late. He gets too close to you and, well, let's just say that six inches of cold steel against his balls would soften any man."

Simon gives Jayne a small smile. He's confused as hell, but touched by Jayne's offer. He knows how special Jayne's weapons are to him and can't for the life of him figure out why Jayne's willing to part with one of them. He hates to burst the man's bubble, but.... "There's a small problem in your logic, Jayne. Smith's a lot bigger than me, he'll just over power me and take Binky away from me. And what'll stop him from pulling a gun on me?"

Jayne's shocked that Simon actually knows the name of his knife, he didn't think Simon paid any attention to him at all. He feels a stupid grin pulling at the corners of his mouth and he clears his throat before saying, "I can show you a few moves. We don't have time for nuthin' too fancy, but I figure I can show you a trick or two that'll keep him on his toes. Best thing, a course, is to not be alone with him. But that's bound to happen at some point."

Jayne gets up, resheathes the knife, and offers Simon his hand. Simon grips it and lets Jayne pull him up. "C'mon. There shouldn't be anyone in the cargo bay right now. We can get started right away."


Jayne is a surprisingly patient teacher, adjusting Simon's stance and movements with gentle hands as he shows him a few basic moves. Simon's training as a doctor makes him a quick study; he already knows a man's vulnerable spots, even the ones that aren't immediately obvious. Time passes in a blur and before they know it, several hours have passed.

Jayne leans against his workout bench drinking water from the squeeze bottle he keeps there. Simon is hot, sweaty, and exhausted, but he's learned a thing or two that may just keep him out of Smith's clutches. Just as he picks up a towel and starts wiping his face with it, Jayne grabs him from behind, wrapping an arm around his throat and waist and pulling him sharply back against him, holding him firmly.

Simon tries not to allow himself to be distracted by the feel of Jayne's strong body pressed against his, something that had been getting more and more difficult over the course of the session. The irony of it is not lost on Simon and he finds himself almost smiling at the thought that he's becoming aroused by the man teaching him ways to ward off unwanted attentions.

Thinking of Smith helps Simon focus. Taking a deep breath and ignoring the sudden flare of desire, Simon puts what he's learned into practice. He slams back an elbow, connecting solidly with Jayne's body, making the arms around him loosen. At the same time he shifts quickly to one side, grabbing Jayne's shirt with his free hand. Using Jayne's own weight against him, Simon twists and shifts, pulling the larger man off balance enough that with another fast shift, Simon throws Jayne off him. Jayne hits the deckplates with a solid thump that knocks the air out of him.

"Shit! Jayne are you okay?" Simon kneels down beside him.

Propping himself up on his elbows, Jayne grins at Simon, and says, "Yeah, Doc. I'm good."

He rubs his stomach where Simon's elbow landed. "Looks like you've finally learned to stop pullin' yer punches too. What were ya thinkin' about when ya hit me?"

"Smith," Simon states in a tight voice full of anger and disgust.

Jayne nods and pats Simon's thigh. "Good." He gets quickly to his feet. "I think we're done here, at least for today. I want you to meet me here every day around this time until you gotta leave, dong ma? Can never get enough practice at this kinda stuff."

Simon stands up, puts a hand on Jayne's arm, and looks up at him. "I still don't understand why you're doing this, but thank you."

As little waves of heat spread from Simon's hand on his arm and flood through his body, Jayne thinks he finally gets why the idea of Smith touching Simon bothers him so much. Jayne looks away from Simon's searching eyes before the smaller man sees the desire in his own, and says gruffly, "Told ya. Don't want ya to get hurt."

Mal stands in the shadows, hands unconsciously tightening on his gunbelt as he watches them.

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End of Chapter 4


Chapter 5: The Direct Approach

Author: Eleanor K.
Email: emungere@yahoo.com
Pairing: Simon/Other; slight Simon/Jayne; hint of Simon/Mal Rating: PG
Disclaimer: All hail Joss.
Notes: Many thanks to Cab for the speed-beta.

Summary: River and Mal do some thinking.

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Shuttle two is dark. The air is chilled by the vacuum just outside. Only tenuously connected to the light and warmth of Serenity's body, the shuttle is a forgotten appendage until needed.

It is needed now. River needs to hide.

She holds her head in both hands, pressing hard against the soft patches on her temples. She knows if she digs her fingers in just here, eventually she will touch her brain. Push deep enough, and it would all go away. No more voices that no one else can hear, no more chaos riding her mind, no more worry for Simon or for anyone else.

Slowly, she forces her hands to soften, to pet the skin rather than claw at it. If she could reach into her brain and fix what was done to her, she would, but she doesn't know how. Not now. Maybe someday. Hope is important.

She looks out through the forward windows, and one hand drifts down to her stomach. She can almost feel the implant, her blood flowing around it, her intestines shifted minutely to make room for it.

"Not without major surgery," Simon said. But he was thinking maybe. Maybe. It was in the back of his mind, even though he knew it could be--probably is--rigged. A poison, nanotech cutters, microbial explosives. It feels bad to River, but non-specific bad, so it might just be fear. So hard to tell.

Simon is afraid, too, afraid of this new ghost who has come to haunt Serenity, or he wouldn't even be thinking of taking it out.

She looks at her reflection in the glass.

"Tell him," she says to the other girl, pale and translucent. "Tell him to take it out."

"He won't do it," the other girl says.

"Make him."

"I can't. Not Simon. He loves too hard, and he won't see reason."

River stares hard, through this girl, herself, out into the black.

She can't lose Simon. This is the one thing she knows, and some days it is the only thing she knows. She can't lose Simon.

River stands and pushes her hair back from her face, opens the shuttle door and steps back into the blood-warmth of Serenity's body.


Mal watches Simon and Jayne leave the cargo bay. Or, to get technical about it, which Mal is inclined to do, he watches Simon leave the cargo bay with Jayne. With Jayne's hand on his shoulder, as a matter of fact.

Mal glances around the now-empty room and wonders, suddenly, how long he's been standing here. It seemed like hardly any time at all while he was watching Simon's self-defense lesson, but now he's getting the feeling that some serious time has passed. He looks at his watch. Near to an hour he's been standing here. Just watching.

He shakes his head, wants to head off in some purposeful direction, do something constructive, but can't think where to start. He's a little stuck on the part where he stood here for a gorram hour watching Simon get all sweaty.

It's not something he's used to seeing, but he's thinking maybe he could get used to it.

He hears a soft thump behind him and wheels around, hand on the butt of his gun. It's River, her hands raised, a serious look on her face.

He starts to ask where she came from, but she points up to the catwalk before he can get the question out.

"The stairs are there for a reason, you know," he tells her. He wonders how she made that jump so quietly. The girl's just uncanny sometimes.

"Sometimes the direct approach is better," she says.

Oh. This is going to be one of those conversations.

"And what direct approach are we talking about here, exactly? 'Cause I'm thinking we're not really talking about the stairs any more." He holds up a hand as she starts to speak. "And I don't know what's going on in that head of yours, but I'd take it as a kindness if you could say it plain, whatever it is."

River smiles thinly at him. "Captain Dummy talk?"

"That's the idea."

"You have to go with Simon."

"Well, that's plain enough."

"You've been thinking about it. You don't want him out of your sight."

Mal stares at her in silence for a beat before he can respond. "I don't think this is the kind of thing a man should have to be explicit about, but I'd rather you didn't go prying around in my head."

"Can't not. The choices keep narrowing down, until there's only one way left to go. Take Jayne. You'll need him."

She turns away.

"River--"

"No. Done talking. Time to do."

She runs from the room, and the tread of her heavy boots is louder than it should be with such a tiny girl inside them. Her hair streams out behind her, like she carries her own personal gravity with her.

Mal sits heavily on a crate, feeling like his own personal gravity just got ratcheted up a few notches.

He can't let Simon go alone.

But he doesn't see how he can go with him.

The base Simon will get taken to is, most likely, the same place Simon and River were bound for when they got captured on Ariel. And the one good piece of information Mal has on the people who came to get Simon and River is that they were not only willing to kill nearly everyone in that security substation, maybe everyone who came in contact with the Tams at all, but that they also had the power to cover it all up.

When the story hit the Cortex, it was reported as an outbreak of some Earth-that-was plague, quickly contained, no danger to the public. There was no film of the bodies, which had been destroyed long before the press arrived.

If Mal goes with Simon, he might very well find himself with a bad case of that plague, and Simon would go on to the base without him.

River was right, though. He has been thinking about it. And he doesn't want to let Simon out of his sight.

One more thing has occurred to him: They didn't kill Jayne. They had the Tams, so why keep Jayne alive? He's a bit curious about that, but the why doesn't matter that much, really. The point is that they did.

So there's a chance that they might do the same with Mal. There's a chance he'd still be around when they got to that base and that he'd be able to...do what?

Keep Simon safe. Whatever that turned out to mean.

He rubs a hand over his face. There's too much he doesn't know, too much left to chance.

Still, it's not hard to see which way his mind is leaning, even if there's something telling him it's not the wisest choice.

But take Jayne with him? No. There are a million reasons why Jayne should stay behind. A million good, logical reasons. None of which have anything to do with Jayne's hand on Simon's shoulder and Simon's grateful smile.


River stands still amid the steel reflections of the infirmary, feeling Mal's decision begin to crystallize out of the air like snowflakes falling to earth.

She smiles and turns back to what she was doing. It's good that Simon won't be alone, but it's not enough. She looks at the bottles arrayed in front of her. The mixture has to be right, the proportions exact, and it's hard to concentrate.

There is always, even with the drugs Simon gives her working their hardest, a pressure at the edges of her mind. It is afternoon now, and the drugs are fading, leaving her open.

She feels Simon coming long before she hears his voice, worried and cautious.

"River? What are you doing with...all that?"

"Helping."

"You're-- I really don't think you should be doing that."

He tries to move her away, but she stands firm.

"I'm not making mud pies, Simon. I know what I'm doing."

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End of Chapter 5


Chapter 6: The Devil Speaks

Author: Karah Ross
Email: chakotaykim@yahoo.com
Pairing: Simon/Other; hints of Simon/Jayne and Simon/Mal Rating: R
Warnings: I decided to delve into the dark for this part, and I don't mean space. There's sexual content but nothing that explicit. For me this is an incredibly gloomy piece, so be warned. Disclaimer: Not mine. Not ours. No money. No sue.

Summary: Pritch fantasizes about Simon

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"Fine. Just don't... break anything, okay?"

River suppressed a sigh. She nodded once tersely. Eventually she felt Simon's gaze and concern start to drift away and once both had retreated across the room, the various liquids before her could finally demand her full attention again.


Pritchard Smith settled back against the edge of the bunk he'd been given. The best thing about this ship had always been Mal's insistence that the crew stay small. A small crew meant no one shared quarters... unless they wanted to.

And oh, did he want to. The baby doc was looking even better than he'd remember in his fantasies and dreams.

Pritch had to snort at his own thought. He'd pretty much imagined the doc in every possible position so needless to say he was shocked when the doc was looking so fine.

Of course, he could think of only one thing that would be a better look on the pretty's face. Pain. He still remembered the slightly pained look that had passed Simon's face when he had told him he'd been lying.

How he wanted to spread that look. Not just a flicker but a full-fledged agony that stayed bright and razor sharp on his face. The brightness in his eyes would be dulled and dimmed as the pain elevated. He imagined tears streaking down those soft cheeks, dripping from his chin to land on his chest that would be heaving with sobs of pain. Moans and groans as the ache slowly built until the doc's own body betrayed him.

Oh, yes, pain would turn that pretty's face into the absolute picture of beauty. Pritch couldn't wait.

His mind ran though all the different ways he could make that beauty bloom. He could give it out in one sharp burst of pain with straight roughness and anger, or he could give it in tiniest bits. Pritch smiled, wondering if the baby doc would like to be spanked.

Visions of red hand prints on that alabaster skin bloomed on his mind. He'd never spanked any of his boys with his bare hand but for the baby doc, he'd have to change his ways. At least until he decided to take out the belt and then eventually, the whips and chains. Yes, the doc would be sweetest chained to his bed ready and willing to make all of his fantasies come true.

Pritch's hand slid down his chest to slide his hand inside his pants. Jerking off slowly he imagined all the things sweet Simon could do for him.

Yes, he couldn't wait to break that arrogant little boy's spirit until nothing remained but a big black ache and all his expressive eyes would ever show again was soul deep agony. It wouldn't even be hard. If there was on thing Pritch knew it was how to exploit weakness and baby doc was nothing but one big walking weakness.

Pritch closed his eyes and let his mind drift over it. A boy like that would break under physical pressure, but to get what he really wanted he would have to twist the boy's brain a little. Make him feel not so smart, vulnerable and exposed. Then, as his pleasure came to a peak, it hit him right between the eyes.

A smirk crossed his face. Zoe never said anything about hurting his freaky little sister, now did she?

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End of Chapter 6


Chapter 7: Circular

Author: Maggie
Email: TragicAntigone@aol.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; hints of Simon/Jayne; Simon/Mal Rating: PG? Yeah. I really kept it clean. Surprise, surprise. Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: I figured it was time to do some 'shippiness... only trouble was I couldn't decide on who. Thank God all of the boys on board have light eyes or I'd be screwed for descriptive words that didn't give away who was who. smiles prettily at the next author Tag, you're it :) Also, much thanks to Peach for the wonder-beta. Seriously, caught some stuff I wouldn't have. And I can't spell to save my sole sometimes. Get it... sole/soul... shakes head Well, it's funny if you're me.

Summary: Pritch gets a visit. Mal gets a visit. Simon gets a visit.

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Smith was settled back lazily on his bunk, legs stretched in front him of him, propped half-sitting on the few pillows he had scrounged up from the various compartments in the cabin. His thoughts drifted and rolled over the baby doc. Thing's he'd do, thing's he'd done. The corners of his lips twitched, drawing occasionally into a wicked smirk as he imaged the noises his pet would make. Damn fine, noises.

The soft grind of the rolling door to his temporary bunk sliding across the track drew him from his thoughts. Though he stirred, he showed no sign. The hand at his side itched to draw the revolver still slung there, but he waited, body still and tense, to see what this new arrival would do.

"Don't fool me, none, Pritchard Smith," Came the soft, almost scolding voice of Serenity's mechanic.

Pritchard Smith finally opened his eyes and pushed up to lean back on his elbows, quirking an almost-warm grin in her direction. The grin that had often charmed the girl into fits of giggles faded when he noticed her somberly staring at the bag of weapons he had stashed in the upper compartment above his bed. Now his eyes swept over her with a new expression; Calculation, wariness, and something Smith had become intimately accustomed to since returning to Serenity, a tinge of fear, "So, little Kaylee... what brings you here?"

Kaylee eyed the bag they both knew contained his arsenal for a lingering moment, before flicking her gaze to him. She ran a tongue carefully over pink lips and waited a beat longer than Smith would'a liked before she began speaking again, "I-I ain't so good at speakin' plain like an' you know it, Pritch," She darted another look up to the bag above his bed, and he reckoned something she saw there, or thought she saw there, steeled her next words. Because when she looked at him again her eyes were hard as nails and she had a voice to match, "So I'm jus' gonna out and say what needs t'be said."

Her steps, so often tentative, were utterly steadfast, and for the second time since returning to the ship, Pritchard Smith found himself on the wicked end of the blade, courtesy of one of the fine women of Serenity's crew. Didn't matter none he knew little Kaylee'd never harm a hair on his head, despite her next words. The simple fact she was willin' to threaten unnerved him somethin' awful.

"You know damn well where it was I grew up an' who my daddy was. So you know jus' as well I know how t'use this here knife," She paused, seeming to consider the shining edge and then him before continuing, "So, I'll tell you right now ... You touch Simon like I heard you done before, r'you hurt anyone a' my family," Though her eyes were shining, her chin jutted out stubbornly and her grip on the kitchen knife didn't waver, "I swear by all 'at's Holy in this 'verse I'll only be the first one ya' gotta deal with." She leveled the stare on him a moment longer before turning and rapidly exiting the quarters.

Pritchard stared after her in openmouthed shock, whispering, "Well, I'll be goddamned..." Kaylee'd gone and grown up after all. And it looked like she had more'n just a bit a' Jayne in her.


Mal sat at the tiny desk in his quarters, staring glumly down at the charts for where they were heading. He hated this. He hated this more than he'd hated anything in his whole damn life, and for a man his age? He had a lot of hate, so this wasn't a declaration to be taken lightly.

Dropping the flimsy printouts to rest on the already cluttered desktop, he raised his hands to rub at his eyes. This was gettin' him no where. They didn't have a solid plan; no one even knew his decision for himself and Jayne to accompany the doc on his "trip". Well, no one except that moon-brained sister of his. With all her cryptic talk and nonsense. Even with all the time he'd spent in her presence he didn't ever think he'd be used to all that mindreadin' the girl did.

He heard a couple short raps from the top of the bulkhead above his ladder.

Good, that was good. He needed to get this over with anyway. Shouldn't be no protestin', but one never could tell as far as he was involved, "C'mon down, Jayne," He called out wearily, turning in his seat to wait for the mercenary to descend.

He watched as large combat boots clomped down the rungs of the ladder until Jayne was in his cabin and no more than five feet from him. He tilted his head back and stared up at the big man and was hit with a sudden and unexpected wave of relief. This man had saved his ass more times than he'd like to admit. It'd be as near to comfortin' as it could get to have Jayne watchin' his back, and Simon's as well, while they were doin' this job.

Watching him fidget though, Mal frowned slightly. Somethin' was up here and he, as usual, had a feelin' he wasn't gonna be happy about it, "Well? Speak your mind," He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the nervous merc to tell him what was goin' on.

Jayne shifted from foot to foot and pushed his hands into his back pockets, looking all around the cabin, except for the area occupied by the captain, "Uh, Mal... See... I got t'thinkin'... Thinkin' about this, uh... Well, thinkin' about the job the doc's goin' on with Pritch an' all," He paused, raising a hand to scratch thoughtfully at the back of his head, "Well, see... here's the thing..."

He raised his eyes finally to meet Mal's neutral stare, "I'm goin' with 'em," He nodded with certainty, mouth setting in a determined line, "Ain't nothin' you can say that'll change that an' I'll quit the crew if I have to," His voice took a beseeching turn, "But if you were half as smart as you strut around so sure that ya're, you'd be goin' with 'em, too! An' if that's grounds fer spacin', well... Dammit, so's lettin' Simon go'n do this on 'is own. Pritch'll screw him six ways from Sunday before the shuttle finishes undockin' from Serenity, I fig're, an'..."

"Jayne," The captain's commanding bark resonated through the cabin and cut off the mercenary's nervous babble. He took a moment to let Jayne sweat, simply because that had always been fun, and then gave a casual shrug and turned back around in his seat, "Fine. We'll go with 'em. If that's all, I've got t'go over the charts."

Gaping at the back of Mal's head, Jayne's eyes narrowed and he took another step forward, looming over the seated man and peering over his shoulder, "You... You went and planned this since th'beginnin'!"

Perturbed, Mal turned in his seat again and pushed the hulking body back a few steps, standing himself, "I did not. I only just decided we'd be comin' with 'em, and that's the God's honest truth."

Jayne snorted. "God's honest truth? That means about as much comin' from you as swearin' t'the devil would t'Bo-" Jayne paused. Judging by the look on Mal's face, he'd do best to not finish what he was saying. Instead he cleared his throat, "Right. So... uh... whose gonna tell Simon?"


Simon turned and tossed in bed, rolling onto his side so he could face the wall. He puffed out a frustrated sigh of breath. He had been unable to stop "fluttering" around River as she carefully created one of her wonderful terrible concoctions. And then Kaylee had come into his infirmary and shooed him out. Shooed him out of his own infirmary. It was almost humiliating. He would've put up such a stink... if she hadn't been right about his being exhausted.

Though he didn't see how it could do much good, lying there, not sleeping, fidgeting in bed. He sighed again. If anything, it exhausted him more. Circular thoughts ran through his head every moment: He couldn't leave River, he had to find a way to take the implant out. The implant couldn't be removed, he would have to go or River would die. River would die without him; there was no way he could leave her here alone.

A small smile found its way to his lips at the last thought. She wouldn't be alone. She'd have Kaylee to fuss over her, and Mal and Jayne would look after her, and Book would be there when her thoughts got too big for her head, and Zoe would frown warningly at Mal when he was too hard on the her and Kaylee for playing, and Wash would make her laugh. River fit here.

And, oddly enough, following Pritchard Smith's arrival, he had begun to feel like he fit here as well. Like there was a place for him on Serenity that offered long-term asylum and that Serenity's crew would do anything to protect not only his baby sister, but him as well. Too bad, he thought wryly, that now he'd have to go to an Alliance encampment and more than likely die a horrible, agonizing death.

He was thankful for the almost imperceptible breeze of cooler air that swept into his quarters as the door slid open and then shut again. River must be done with her latest project in preparation for his departure, and that meant two things: One, he could return to his beloved infirmary. Two, he would almost assuredly receive a tight hug before he left. Both of these things lifted his spirits.

So distracted by his thoughts, Simon failed to realize that his visitor had yet to speak until a heavy weight settled on the mattress behind him. Startled and terrified, Simon scrambled to turn and push away the hulking body, a strangled cry tripping its way up his throat and out of his mouth.

"Hey, hey! Hey now!" Muscular arms came up and gripped his, stopping his struggles almost entirely, "Hey, calm down! Simon, it ain't who your thinkin' it is. Open your damn eyes, boy!"

Blinking in surprise at the familiar voice, Simon stared up into pale eyes and hated himself for the relieved whimper he made. All that time spent training in the cargo bay and when it came to actually protecting himself he had opted to curl up in a ball and fend his 'attacker' off with meek pushes that wouldn't dislodge a half-starved kitten.

The face in front of him hardened to painful sympathy and suppressed anger while the larger man pulled him near, tucking Simon's dark head under his chin.

"S'alright, Simon. He ain't gonna get anywhere near you. You have my word," The arm circling his waist ran a reassuring hand up and down his back.

When Simon finally did speak again, his voice was little more than a cracked whisper, "Wh-what are you doing here?"

The chin resting against the top of his head rubbed back and forth while his companion mulled over his answer for a minute, "Stopped by the infirmary to give you a heads up an' found Kaylee an' River there instead. They mentioned you were tryin' t'sleep. River mentioned you ain't been sleepin' so good of late," He paused, wondering if he should bother going on or if it might give too much away of what he'd been thinkin' lately. He reckoned Simon would spend too much time wonderin' and worryin' if he wasn't straight with him right now, "Didn't plan on a cuddle, but saw you lyin' there lookin' all... small, I guess. Didn't think it would hurt any." He was quiet for a moment, letting that sink in, before he continued, "'Sides, got some news for ya'."

Simon, mind still running a minute slower than the rest of the 'verse since his latest scare, pulled back slightly and peered up at the man who was still holding him, "Yes?"

"Well... See... Here's the thing... We decided we're goin' with you an' Pritch...."

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End of Chapter 7


Chapter 8: The Future; The Past

Author: Rach
Email: Slayerknight2@aol.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; hints of Simon/Jayne andSimon/Mal Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Big HUG to Maggie for leaving the space open on who's who in Simon's bunk. I hope I'm doing this right and not stepping on anyone's toes over anything. If I do, please tell and I will change. Oh, and this is not beta'd, so now we get to see my magnificent English skills.

Summary: Mal reminiscent while he speaks with Simon.

+++

Simon smiled at the words, spoken with such hesitation yet determination. Mal's grip on him loosened a little but he still continued to run his fingers through his hair. The slight sensation soothed his nerves and Mal's presence calmed his spirit.

"And just how exactly do you plan to explain this to Prichard?"

Mal shrugged. "It's a package deal or he gets nothing for Christmas."

"-Mal-"

"He'll take the deal, Simon. He thinks he's smarter than all of us. He'll probably enjoy the challenge of getting you away from us."

"And if he refuses?"

"Well, then we'll just make everyone happy and shoot him."

Simon smiled and shook his head. "We're dealing with my sister's life here."

"And yours." Mal corrected him.

He'd never thought of it that way. His own life had never been a factor as far as he was concerned. It has always been about River. Saving her and hiding her and making sure she was safe. His own life was always a far distant second.

Simon tucked his head under Mal's chin again, having felt secure there before. It was an ancient, animalistic need for human touch. He sure as hell hadn't learned that as he was becoming a surgeon but rather through a psychology class he'd taken as an extra credit. Smooth skin against smooth skin; hard muscle grinding against harder muscle. Groans of pleasure coming from both of the participants. Being so close to Mal was making his exhausted mind wander in more pleasurable directions.

After Smith, the thought of touching another man had become a terrifying one. But since getting close with Mal and Jayne through other things, talking and practicing, he felt safe around him and the stirrings were becoming stronger around them.

"Kiss me." Simon whispered, only half-sure he wanted this.

"What?" Mal pulled back slightly.

Simon leaned in close and kissed the Captain lightly on the lips but remaining close. That brief touch was enough to eliminate his doubts and quiet his fears for a bit. "Kiss me."

"No." Mal said, sternly, feeling his own arousal peek. He gazed hard into the ice-blue eyes. "Not now."

Simon kissed him harder, murmuring. "Kiss me. Kiss me..."

Mal kissed him back, surrendering. His arms tightened protectively around the body beside him. He would follow Simon's lead, however far the boy wanted this to go. His erection ground against Simon's, shooting a spark of pleasure up both their spines.

+++

End of Chapter 8


Chapter 9: The Discussion

Author: Ty Wiles
Email: tywiles@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; Simon/Mal; hints of Simon/Jayne Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Note: I may have just made this Round Robin AU. I couldn't remember (or find) exactly what Simon and River are wanted for so I went with what I could remember. If it's not right we'll just have to go with it.

Summary: The crew starts to question Simon's mission.

+++

It had been a long time since Mal had let himself enjoy simply touching and tasting another. It had been a long time since Mal had simply enjoyed the feel of another's lips and hands without impatience. It was an interesting change from what he was used to.

Instead of a quick burn and satisfaction, it was a slow smoldering. A single flick of fire with each touch was far more tantalizing than he had ever remembered it being. Mal smiled slightly against Simon's lips. He would have to relearn his old necking skills. With Simon, it would be a pleasure.

Even with slow and easy in the forefront of his mind, it didn't take long for touches to become rougher, lips more demanding. Without thinking, Mal rolled Simon onto his back. Only his leg rested on top of the younger man, but that didn't stop Simon from tensing ever so slightly. Even as he began to relax, Mal moved away.

"It's been a long day. Get some rest."

He left quickly, before Simon could protest. Mal took a long moment in the corridor to steady himself. Feeling someone else's, Simon's, terror that closely was unnerving, to say the least. The fact that men like Pritchard got off on that made his stomach roll.

That animal did not deserve to live. That in mind, Mal joined Book, Jayne, Zoe and Wash in the kitchen for a little strategy meeting.

"What took so long? Jayne was about to go in after you." Zoe had a knowing glint in her eyes. What she meant was she was about the send Jayne in after him.

"Doc needed some convincing."

Apparently Zoe wasn't the only one based on the look Book gave him, but he let it go. He jumped back to what he'd been saying when Mal walked in. "We can assume that whatever Simon is supposed to carry won't kill anyone."

"What makes you say that?" Jayne's question drew looks from both Zoe and Mal. For someone who was pretty slow on the uptake, Jayne was right on their wavelength. Maybe they'd been underestimating the big ape.

"These people helped Simon rescue River. So they must have something against the Alliance, but no one was killed. From what Simon and River have said, she was in a heavily guarded facility. They could have easily pinned murder on Simon or River. Why start killing people now?"

Mal nodded. Book had a point. Still there was no way to know for sure. "If only we knew more about this base where we'll be going."

Wash grinned. "I've been looking into the Cortex about where Pritch says they'll be going. The only thing I can find is not really a base. There's only a processing center for the Fonda Ridge Prison."

Fonda Ridge was for the worst of the worst when it came to Alliance criminals. No one wanted to get sent there. Even if a person didn't go in for life, anyone rarely made it out. It was also rumored that some of the surviving Independent leaders were doing time there.

Jayne's question filled an awkward silence. "So are they trying to knock out the center or break somebody outta jail?"

+++

End of Chapter 9


Chapter 10: Turnabout

Author: kirby crow
Email: kirbycrow@hotmail.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; Simon/Mal; Simon/Jayne Rating:R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Sorry to just barely squeeze in under the deadline here, but I'm anal that way. Thanks to everyone for leaving such lovely strings to pick up and play with. Hope I didn't step on any toes. :)

Summary: Good...Bad...We got the syringes.

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Ni tamade. Tianxia suoyoude ren dou gaisi =Fuck you. Damn everyone in the 'verse. wang bao dahn =dirty bastard sons-of
fong le = crazy
wo de tian ah = my god in heaven

+++

As it turned out, they had to wait six hours for their answer, when Simon woke up and stumbled into the galley, knuckling sleep out of his eyes. He nodded a greeting to Wash. "Hey," he sniffed.

Wash lifted his chin in greeting, smiling and talking with Zoe. Mal turned and gave him a gentle, searching look that he quickly cut short. He went back to discussing something in low tones with Jayne. Kaylee, Book, and Inara, Simon guessed, were sleeping. Spacing crews worked all kinds of odd shifts. Only River seemed happy to see him.

She bounced over and kissed his cheek, one hand hidden behind her back like a secret.

Jayne's voice rose. "Listen, you don't worry about me. All I need to know is who the target is at that center." Jayne turned to Simon. "What do you think, doc? Who are they after?"

Simon shrugged as he dropped a tea bag into a cup of boiling water. "First guess? Someone important at Fonda. A political prisoner or a high-profile Alliance dissident."

"What about the warden at the prison?" Zoe put in. "That would be a high-profile hit."

Mal rubbed his face tiredly. Simon doubted he had gotten any sleep at all. "So who is it we got to watch out for, the sheep or the wolves?"

"Neither."

Smith's voice was unexpected and unwelcome. Simon turned as Smith sauntered into the room with that same confident, low-slung slouch to his hips that had first attracted him. Seeing it now, knowing what he knew, made him feel sick.

"You really want to know what's at Fonda Ridge? I'll tell ya. It's--"

And then River slammed the business end of a filled syringe into Smith's neck. He yelped and crow-hopped a full two meters away from her, pulling at the long needle embedded close to his carotid artery.

"Ghost dance," she jeered.

The syringe came free with a thin, aborted spurt of blood and Smith stared in absolute rage at the willow-slender girl who smiled at him with infinite sweetness. The emptied syringe clattered to the deck, its contents now flowing through Smith's bloodstream.

Behind River, Wash goggled and sat very still in his should I run for help? mode. Mal folded his arms and leaned his hip against the counter, watching. Jayne just looked satisfied that River was picking on someone else for a change.

"Ni tamade! Tianxia suoyoude ren dou gaisi!" Smith shouted, his hand pressed to his bleeding neck.

Simon gaped at his sister. "River, what was in that?"

"Neurotol," she said matter-of-factly.

He remembered her intuitive tinkering session with the chemicals, but years of medical school shrieked truths at him he couldn't deny.

"You can't make homemade neurotol!"

"Just did." She shrugged her thin shoulders. "Five minutes, he'll tell you everything he knows, if he doesn't have an aneurism first."

Smith was wobbling on his feet. His voice shook with fresh alarm. "Aneu... what's that?"

Mal placed his thumb and forefinger next to his temple and mimed forcing something apart. "That's where a blood vessel in your brain just goes pop."

He enjoyed that too much, Simon thought.

Smith turned on River and spat thickly at her. "Brain-sick bitch!"

Simon slammed his fist into Smith's jaw. Smith tottered and fell and Simon looked sheepishly to Mal, shaking his fingers. "Sorry."

"For what?"

"Well... you called him family."

"Just pretend I said distant cousins."

"In that case." Simon drew back his foot and delivered a kick to Smith's ribs that made him double into a ball and utter a sickening, gagging croak. He kicked the knife that Smith had been reaching for away with his shoe, safely out of reach.

"I think you enjoyed that," Mal said mildly. "Did anyone else see Simon enjoying that?"

"Sure looked that way to me," Jayne sounded almost admiring. Smith's knife vanished into one of his endless pockets.

"I've been mulling it over for a while. I just haven't had the opportunity." Simon knelt beside the mercenary. "How are you feeling, Pritch?"

"Fucking gorram... when I get up from here," Smith wheezed.

"I don't think so." Simon consulted his watch. "If she processed that neurotol precisely - and my sister is always precise when it comes to these things - you're already beginning to lose sensation in your legs."

Smith whispered curses and he slowly sat up. "Doesn't mean I ... can't... blow your head... off."

Simon sighed, reached out and plucked the gun that Smith was pulling from his belt in extreme slow motion. He placed the flat of his palm in the center of Smith's chest and shoved, sending him sprawling on his back. "Relax."

He passed the gun to Jayne, who examined it greedily and tucked it into his belt with a pat.

Zoe hopped up on the table and sat beside Wash, who stared at her. "Honey, why are you drugging Pritch and kicking him?"

Zoe patted his shoulder. "Because he's a bad man, sweetie. Pritch hasn't been totally honest with us."

"Oh?" Wash swung his legs back and forth and watched Smith's discomfort with a certain level of glee. "Never liked him much. Who wants popcorn?"

Zoe snuggled up to him and curled her arm around his. "Ooh, my man has a sadistic streak."

"Only for torturing sadists," Wash solemnly vowed. "I draw the line at torturing non-sadistic, non-violent, people-type-people."

Zoe's dark brows drew together in a frown. "Do we even know anybody like that?"

"Why'd you have to... put that stuff in me?" Smith whined.

"So you won't feel it when we shoot you," Jayne snarled.

"Enough," Mal called out. Everyone hushed. "Let the doc work."

Simon looked from Smith to Mal and back again. "Help me get him up."

Together Mal, Jayne, and Simon maneuvered Smith up onto the table as Zoe and Wash shoved salt shakers and kitchen clutter away. Smith was limp and unresponsive, his head lolling back though his eyes stayed wide open, pupils dilated to make black spheres of his eyes, ringed with a thin cere of color.

"Should I get the really bright, hot lamp?" Wash enthused. Zoe shushed him.

"I'm not gifted like my sister is, Smith, but something tells me you were about to lie to us again." Simon rested his hands on the table and leaned over Smith. "What is that you like to call me... baby doc? I bet you think that's cute," he said softly. "Obviously, history is not your forte'. Old Earth, 21st Century. Ring a bell? Trust me, he wasn't a very cute man, and I'm not feeling very cute at the moment either." He leaned a little closer, far too close to Smith's slyly handsome face, and he was chagrined at how he could have ever mistaken that crafty charm for anything remotely noble or brave.

"Tell me about this virus," Simon urged softly, and watched Smith's eyes go misty with the drug's effects.

"Retro virus... not lethal. Rewrites certain non-active genes to mutate and mimic Hellinger Syndrome."

"What's that?" Mal asked sharply. He looked more worried than Simon had ever seen him.

"It's all right," Simon said aside to him. "Hellinger Syndrome isn't fatal, just highly infectious and debilitating for a short period."

"What good is it as a weapon then, other than short term?"

"I don't know," Simon said impatiently. "Wait." He pitched his voice low for Smith. "Who are these clients? What do they call themselves?"

"No... names."

"He's fighting it," River said. Simon looked over at her. She was sitting calmly in a chair by the hatchway, twirling her dark hair around one finger. "The drug might not be as strong as the weapons- grade quality," she admitted sorrowfully.

"Smith!" Simon barked. "Names."

"No individuals..." Smith muttered, then; "Zhe Shou..."

"Shadow Hand," Mal said. "What the hell does that mean?"

"Two by two," River whispered, loud enough for everyone to hear. Her eyes took on a wild glaze.

Simon wanted to go to her, but he firmly turned his attention back to the problem at hand. "Smith... is there someone in the processing center they want to infect? A prisoner or a guard?"

"The processing center doesn't matter, it's what's coming there."

He almost dreaded to know. "What's coming?"

"Same thing... that comes every quarter to transport criminals..."

He's still fighting it, Simon thought. "Tell me, Smith. Tell me now."

"Alliance Cruiser Nemesis."

Simon noted how Mal went still and cold beside him. "Captain Elliot still conning that tank?" Mal asked warily.

"He is."

Mal nearly shoved Simon out of the way in his eagerness to get to Smith. "And I guess me and him having a history had nothing to do with your clients sending you after Serenity?" He slammed his fist on the table, quite near Smith's upturned face. "Tell me, you son of a bitch!"

"Fortunate coincidence. They... always knew where Simon was."

"Coincidence," Jayne snorted. "Sounds damn fishy to me, Mal."

Mal rounded on him, his hands clenched. "Oh, ya think? Coincidence like Simon just happens to show up with his sister in an icebox and a marshal on his tail, just when I happened to be docking?"

Zoe looked grim. "You think it goes that far back?"

"I wouldn't put anything past these people," Simon cautioned. "I tried for six months to get River out of that academy, even longer for a way to contact her. I never came close. These clients of Smith's come along and they deliver her all very neatly bow tied before my credit slip has cooled off. If they told me they could turn back time, I might not believe it but I sure as hell would give it serious theoretical consideration."

"Maybe it's this Captain Elliot they want," Zoe guessed, her voice carefully bland.

"Simon goes to Fonda," Smith muttered, his eyes rolling. "A prisoner. Once he's aboard the Nemesis, he releases the virus and infects the crew."

Simon eyes grew very wide and he took a step back from Smith like he had suddenly gone radioactive.

"Wo de tian ah!"

Heads turned to stare at him. "Don't you get it? They mean to steal a warship from under the Alliance's nose!"


"Okay." Zoe held up her hand. "As exciting as that sounds, can't be done."

"It can," Smith wheezed. Zoe and Mal had moved him to a chair after Simon fetched a neutralizing agent from the medbay. He was coming around faster than Simon expected.

"No, it can't."

Smith laughed. "You ain't changed, Zoe, still the same stubborn, unimaginative, little"

Hey!" Wash yelled. "Shut up before I let Simon kick you again." He winked at Simon. Jayne snickered.

"Simmer down everyone," Mal called out, his voice pitched just loud enough to command. "Wash... can it be done?"

The pilot shrugged. "That depends on how many people are involved. A skeleton crew of maybe twenty could keep a cruiser running, but not for long."

"How long?"

When Wash hesitated, Mal relented. "I'll take a ballpark figure."

"A week," he finally said, then, in a rush; "But after that, captain, it's system failure all over the board. Those old buckets are still flying for one reason only; repeated routine adjustments and maintenance. Now, a skeleton crew can keep her together, keep her on- course with life support functioning, but without the skilled maintenance crew doing their magic every day..." he gave a low whistle illustrated by a thumbs-down sign.

Mal nodded. "Okay, I get the picture." He crooked a finger at Zoe. "Jayne, stay here and watch Smith. Zoe, Wash, you're with me."

"Yeah, I'll watch him." Jayne said ominously, eyeing Smith with something approaching predatory interest.

That didn't sound good. "Just keep an eye on him, nothing else. I mean it." He briefly locked eyes with Simon. "You'd best get back to quarters, doc. Take River, she looks rattled."

Simon nodded. "Mal, I"

"Later." He turned on his heel and left.


Zoe hurried to keep up as Mal's long stride ate up the corridor on the way to the bridge.

"Tell me about you and Captain Elliot."

"Rem Elliot," Mal snapped without looking at her. "Prime officer material. Alliance toady. Supreme jerk."

"Did you meet in the war?"

"Before the war, actually." Pause. "He used to be my best friend."

"Oh."

He felt, rather than saw, her look back at Wash. He steeled himself to answer the inevitable probing, but there was nothing but uncomfortable silence until they reached the bridge. It was chillier up there, cold and quiet as Zoe sealed the hatch and made sure all intercoms were switched off.

She turned to Mal and folded her arms. "Don't make me beg for it, sir."

"Yeah, she hates begging." Wash slid into the helm chair.

"Quiet, babycakes, let the Captain tell his tale."

Serenity thrummed around them and slipped quietly through the black as Mal ran a hand through his hair. "Not much of a bedtime story. Rem Elliot was an Independent. Land owner. Rich, too. Successful, respected. Until one day about three weeks after the first incursion, he vanished from his ranch. We thought he'd been kidnapped. His disappearance turned the whole colony on its ear. I looked everywhere and damn near bribed myself into the poorhouse trying to milk information from the few Alliance contacts we had."

"But," Wash broke in, one finger in the air and his voice lowered to a dramatic bass. "He wasn't kidnapped, was he?"

"No. It was over a year before I saw him again. Rem told me later that he just sat down and did the math and the Independents lost, so he very quietly went over to the other side before the war heated up. Turned his back on everything that meant anything, even his family. Joined the Alliance as an officer and began orchestrating attacks on Independent strongholds. It helped that he knew where they all were. He hurt us pretty bad on Shadow."

"Hwoon dahn!" Wash looked properly chastened for making fun. "I'm sorry, Mal."

"He sounds like *go se *," Zoe growled. "Also doesn't sound like it took much to make him turn."

Mal spread his hands and looked down on them as if there were answers written in the arcane lines of his palms. "What gets me is... he didn't even try. He just did the numbers and turned on us. No loyalty, no feeling, no remorse. If I didn't know better, I wouldn't even think he was human. He got his, though."

"Oh, so there's a happy ending after all?" Wash said.

Mal nodded. "There's a pretty hard and fast rule in espionage; never trust a traitor. Rem had sold out his own people, so when the war ended the Alliance was finished with him. Oh, they made him a captain and settled him with a nice paycheck, then they shipped him over to prison duty. Rousting criminals and busting heads, stuff he's good at. He's been captaining the Nemesis for about four years now. Guard dog duty on the fringe. Not much chance of ever rising in the ranks or entering polite society." Mal shrugged. "So you see, he ended up no different than me or Zoe. He could have resisted the Alliance and kept his self respect. Instead..."

"Instead," Zoe said. "He's gotten bitter and cruel. I've heard the stories, Mal."

Mal's thoughts seemed to visibly be drawing far away. "Ain't we all."


Smith was now unhappily ensconced in secure quarters with an encrypted lock that only Mal could open. He hadn't gone willingly.

"Hell no," Jayne grinned. "Once that homebrew your fong le sister cooked up wore off all the way, he was madder than a wet cat. Had to kind of cram him in that cell. Hope I didn't dent anything. "

Simon smiled. "The cell or his skull?"

Jayne shrugged as he wiped his rifle down with an oiled rag. His hands were smeared with gun oil and little streaks of dark gray grime, and he handled the gleaming weapon like it was made of glass. His very large hands, Simon thought.

"Little difference, either way."

"Sterling sensibility," Simon chuckled. "That's what I like about you." He sobered a little, then cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind his back. "By the way... that tiny brain comment I made..."

Jayne waved that away. "Forget it. Jokes about my brain are kind of standard around here. Besides," he winked "hard to stay mad at someone with a mouth like that."

"Well, anyway, I ... what?"

Jayne had to be either cagily ignoring Simon's astonishment or was oblivious to it. Surely the lower jaw resting on my shoes has given me away.

"Ain't there no mirrors on that fancy planet you come from?"

Simon turned the thought over in his mind, wondering why it felt so odd. "Are you trying to tell me I'm attractive?"

"More or less." Jayne checked the rifle a last time and put it carefully away.

Jayne thinks I'm attractive. He struggled to speak. "Why do I have the feeling that your head should be spinning around?"

Jayne threw down the cloth and grabbed Simon around the waist, yanking the shocked man very close to his body. "You know, you talk too ruttin' much."

Simon gasped and found nothing to say at all.

"Whoa!"

Then who said that?


Jayne barely glanced at Mal. "Howdy, Cap'n," he greeted easily.

Mal froze in mid-stride, his mouth open. He almost turned to go, then halted. Wait a gorram second, why am I leaving? If Jayne wants to make advances, let him do it on his own time, not mine.

AND NOT WITH SIMON, flared up in neon letters in his brain.

"Howdy," he got out. "Am I interrupting?"

Jayne did not relinquish his hold. All his attention was for Simon. "Nope."

"I should be getting back to the lab..." Simon began.

"What for?"

"Huh?"

Jayne looked down on Simon, his mouth curved in a languid smile. Mal saw with a flush of anger that Jayne's hand was moving in small circles on Simon's lower back, just above the waistband of his trousers.

"I said, what for? You ain't got no patients. Ain't nobody sick or hurt. Well, except for Smith feeling a little groggy. He don't count." Jayne's arm circled his waist tighter. "Stay and talk to me."

"The doc might not have work to do," Mal said tightly "but you certainly do."

Jayne's bright blue gaze slid lazily over to the captain. "You ordering or asking?"

It was a challenge if he ever heard one. And then there was Simon, looking flushed and embarrassed and altogether too small in Jayne's arms. He stared at Simon, noticing that he didn't return the look, instead fixed his eyes at a point beyond Mal's shoulder, like he was consulting some inner negotiator about the wisdom of saying or doing anything at all.

"I'm ordering, Jayne."

+++

End of Chapter 10


Chapter 11: Insight

Author: Dariclone
Email: minako@trondata.on.ca
Pairings: Simon/Other; Simon/Mal; Simon/Jayne Rating: R
Disclaimer: Firefly belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Fox. No one is making any profits from writing this fanfic.

Summary: River shares her insight with Simon

+++

Simon walked to his quarters in stunned silence. Why had he reacted in such a way to Jayne? Wasn't it Mal he wanted? When Simon entered his quarters, he found River sitting on her bed staring at him with a smile on her face.

"Mei mei, are you alright?" he questioned, softly.

"Yes, I'm alright, he couldn't hurt me. He might be able to bring pain, but I saw. I saw inside of him. Everything hidden inside; locked away for safe keeping. But I came along and unlocked the door and I could see it all."

She stooped and looked at Simon.

"You're different!" she accused.

"No, mei mei." he tried to reassure her.

"No!" She waved a finger accusingly. "You've changed, I can see it. You're all torn up inside. You don't know where you belong. You're lost and lonely but you cling to them and all the while you don't know who to choose."

Simon blinked, unnerved. He knew River had powers greater than most but it still scared him that she could know so much. Unsure of how to react to this, he just sat down next to her, trying to calm her. But still, he worried that maybe she wouldn't be the only one who could see what was going on.

+++

End of Chapter 11


Chapter 12: Timing

Author: midnightBlue0162
Email: nifflet@hotmail.com
Pairing: Simon/Other; Simon/Mal; Simon/Jayne; Mal/Simon/Jayne Rating: R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Many thanks to Max and Tiina and sffan for beta reading, and to Homie V for general encouragement and support.

Summary: There is no time for this.

+++

hundan= bastard
wo de tien ah= dear God in heaven
tamade= motherfucker

+++

River stood suddenly, and brought Simon's hand to her lips. "Don't forget. Don't forget what he taught you."

Simon reached for her but she drew away, fingers sliding out of his grip. Tears shone in her eyes, and a faint smile shadowed her mouth. "Ghosts won't be locked away forever," she whispered, and disappeared in a flurry of skirts and streaming hair.

Simon blew out an exasperated breath. Cryptic River-speak. Just what he needed after that little scene with Mal and Jayne in the kitchen. He could still feel Jayne's hand on his back, warm and insistent and more welcome than it should have been. And he could still feel Mal's eyes slicing through him as he ordered Jayne away.

"You ordering or asking?" Jayne had asked.

"I'm ordering, Jayne."

Simon's heart thumped hard in his chest when Mal spoke. Jayne's fingers slipped below his waistband for a brief, terrifying moment before the merc nudged him aside and stood up.

"Whatever you say, Captain," Jayne said. He gathered his guns and strolled out.

Mal stayed where he was, thumbs hooked on his gunbelt, studying Simon with casual disinterest.

"Mal, I--"

"Ain't got time for this, Doc. There's more important things need to be done. Go on now, get straightened up. Jayne and Zoe are bringing Pritch out again so's we can make a plan. Won't do for him to see you lookin' like... that."

Unsure of his voice, Simon shifted uncomfortably and moved towards the door. He waited for Mal to move aside and let him pass, then gave up and stepped one foot carefully past him. He gasped when Mal's arm shot out in front of his chest, blocking the way.

"I ain't one likes to share, even if no claim's been made. You think on that, and maybe when this job's done, we'll have us another chat." Mal's blazing eyes held him a moment longer, and then he dropped his arm and stomped off towards the bridge.

Alone now that River was gone, Simon closed his eyes and hugged himself. Mal was right. There was no time for this.

The comm suddenly crackled to life. "Come on up, Doc, we're ready."


Mal took the syringe from Simon and rolled it through his fingers. He tried not to smirk at the bright flare of panic that flashed in Pritchard's eyes. He tried.

"We figure your employers got some specific notions on when and where Simon gets picked up," Mal said as he circled the chair Smith was tied to. "And we figure you don't want them knowin' you let all that information slip out this morning. So." Mal grabbed Smith by the hair and yanked his head back. "Any time you're ready, Pritch."


He awoke from a bruise-colored dream to find himself locked in Serenity's underbelly again. He glared into the darkness, fists clenched ineffectually at his sides, a jumble of thoughts clashing in his head. Everything. He'd told them every rutting detail. Disgusted, he heaved himself up from the bed.

Pritchard paced his quarters like the caged animal he was, trying to rationalize. He had no chance of getting paid if the Doc didn't show up. He would have had to tell them about the arrest plan anyway, so maybe he still had a chance of getting out of this mess. And Reynolds wouldn't risk the girl. Or the Doc, come to think of it. They made quite an effective team. His pants were still shamefully damp.

He kicked his bunk in frustration. Reynolds was planning something. Something big. Hundan just couldn't leave the Alliance alone. And when Reynolds made his move, it'd be obvious where he got his intel. And then... well, not much would matter after that. Pritchard rubbed idly at the still-healing wound on his abdomen. River wasn't the only one with a hitchhiker on board.

He kicked the door this time, grunting in pain and then freezing in his tracks.

It was open.

He snatched his bag from the floor and was out of the room without a second thought.


Mal's lips were soft and pliant against his neck, and the lazy crawl of his tongue made Simon shiver. His hips swayed forward and his head fell back, and he let his body sag in Mal's arms.

"Yes," he whispered.

He rocked his hips slowly and was surprised at the rough texture of Mal's pants against his cock. He was naked. He was naked, and there were hands. Too many hands. One on his hip, gently petting. One just under his jaw, holding his head still as Mal kissed him. And two more behind him, dragging stripes down his back, cupping his ass and squeezing. Then there were lips, the scratch of a beard, and a tongue, a wet and pointed and searching and finding tongue, and he gasped into Mal's mouth as it lapped at him.

"Aaah, Jayne...god..."

And he was so hard between them, rocking and vibrating and needing, that when another hand pressed over his cock, he thrust against it blindly, not caring who it belonged to as long as it just kept moving like that.

"Wo de tien ah... please..."

A low rumble flowed over his ear. "Sorry, baby doc. No time. You save that for later though." Smith gave him a vicious squeeze. "Soon as we put some black between us and this wreck, you can show me all your new tricks."

Simon was barely awake before Pritchard knocked him unconscious.


Mal looked over the charts again as he got dressed the next morning. Wash had found the route schedule for the Nemesis, and everything Pritch had told them matched up. They were bound for Chronos, where Simon would be arrested less than twelve hours before the Nemesis entered that quadrant. After an overnight stop for maintenance and supplies, she'd depart for Fonda Ridge with a few new prisoners on board.

Two days. They had two days to come up with a plan before they reached Chronos. Mal shrugged into his suspenders and sighed. That left him about half an hour to stop seeing Simon in Jayne's arms every time he closed his eyes.

Zoe was just emerging from her bunk when he turned towards the bridge. "Morning, Sir," she mumbled. "Should I check on Pritch?"

"I s'pose. Take him some water, maybe. Or not." Mal managed a weak smile as she disappeared down the hall.

He stepped up to the bridge and scanned the console. They were still on course, and the Cortex was quiet. The light for shuttle two's docking mechanism was out again, though. Loose wire leftover from Saffron's brief stint as Serenity's mechanic. He tapped it a couple of times, frowning when it didn't blink back to life like it usually did.

"Sir," Zoe's voice was grim. Mal's stomach dropped. He willed the light to wink back on. "I think you should get down here. Pritch is gone."

He was down to the passenger dorms and outside Simon's room before she'd finished speaking. Cursing and pleading as his shaking hands slid the door open.

"No. No no no please--" But Simon's bunk was empty. The blood on the pillow was already dry. He slammed his fist into the wall. "Tamade! How the fuck... I locked that rutting bunk. Oh god, Simon! How--"

"My apologies, Captain," Book said from behind him. "Perhaps you'll allow me to explain."

+++

End of Chapter 12


Chapter 13: Blood in the Water

Author: Juli
Email: challisgal@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; Simon/Mal; Simon/Jayne Rating: R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Many thanks to sffan for a speedy and thorough beta read. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, utterly my fault.

Summary: Things go to hell in a hand basket.

+++

gou shi = dog shit
tamade hundan = mother-humping son of a bitch gou cao de = dog fucking
lese = garbage
zao gao = oh, crap

+++

Mesmerized by the blood stain, Mal didn't bother to look at him. "For your own sake, Preacher, I hope you're not gonna try and tell me this was an act of God."

"No, I'm afraid not," Book's voice sounded weary with disappointment. "Just a man who was all too susceptible to his own human frailty."

Mal whirled, glaring at the older man. "Just speak plain, Shepherd," he barked. "I ain't got no patience for religious double-talk."

"Forgive me, Captain," Book said calmly. "But your temper is somewhat legendary and I didn't want you to do anything rash.

"Oh, I'm contemplatin' something rash, all right," Mal said through his teeth, fists clenched at his sides.

Book sighed at the implied threat. "I found Jayne down by the shuttle area. Unconscious." He handed Mal a small black object. "He had this in his hand."

It didn't take Mal long to figure out what it was... and what its presence meant.

"Tamade hundan," the captain snarled. With long strides, he bolted for the shuttle area. With only a slight pause, Book followed.

"Jayne!" Mal bellowed as soon as he caught sight of the merc. "What did you do?"

Jayne was rather wobbly as he sat up, a bloody towel pressed to his head. Inara knelt next to him, serving as a nurse. The Companion kept looking towards the infirmary, as though waiting for Simon to arrive.

"Didn't do nuthin', Mal," Jayne whined. "Was on my way to the commons ta get me some grub an' somethin' hit me."

"You expect me to believe that gou she?" Mal growled. "When you got this?" He waved the black object at the mercenary. "After Ariel, you really expect me to believe that?"

By this time, the rest of the crew had been drawn by the sounds of shouting.

"What is that, sir?" Zoe asked. As usual, she was the bravest of them in the face of Mal's anger. "And what does Ariel have to do with it?"

Mal didn't take his eyes off Jayne. "This here's an electric ledger. Gives our Mr. Cobb access to some accounts and, from the numbers on the ledger, they're mighty hefty accounts too."

Wash and Kaylee looked at each other, confused.

"And access to lots of money is a bad thing because...?" Wash asked.

"Pritch is missing, dear," Zoe said quietly. Too quietly.

"And so is Simon," Mal added, his voice tight. "And I'm guessin' we're a shuttle short of what we should be too."

"Simon's gone?" Kaylee whispered, eyes big. "You think Pritch has somethin' to do with it?"

"Pritch and whoever let him out of his quarters," Mal said, eyes coming back to Jayne.

"Weren't me," the merc said firmly.

Mal stalked over the last few feet to where Jayne still sat on the floor and contemptuously tossed the electronic pad into his lap. "This says otherwise. Besides, you got a history of bein' bought off."

"Sir?" Zoe asked, fingers twitching towards where her gun would be hanging if she had her belt on.

The captain opened his mouth to explain, but a surprising voice beat him to it.

"It were on Ariel," Jayne said as he lurched to his feet. With a last dab at his forehead, he dropped the towel to the floor. "I got stupid; tried to turn the doc and his sister in t'the Alliance. It was the reward, it messed my head up some." He looked at the other members of the crew with surprising dignity. "When I saw Simon doctorin' on that fella at the hospital... I almost changed my mind about it, even before the Alliance screwed me over."

"Oh, Jayne," Inara said, voice quiet.

Her disappointment was echoed in the faces of the others. Jayne squared his shoulders and addressed them all. "I ain't much for regret, but that was one a' the most stupid-ass things I ever did. Mal learned me that... and I ain't forgot." He stared straight into Mal's eyes as he finished. "I didn't do this. I'd soon as kill that bastard Smith as let him go and I'd sure as hell never let him leave with Simon."

Mal remembered walking in on the other men several hours earlier and the possessive way Jayne had held Simon. Although his memory was colored by the haze of jealously, he couldn't deny there'd been real emotion there. That, more than anything else, convinced him of Jayne's innocence.

"No, I suppose you wouldn't at that," the captain reluctantly agreed.

"You want me to toss him out the air lock, sir?" Zoe asked. Her eyes were hard from the newly-discovered treachery. For her and the others, Ariel was as fresh as if it had just happened.

"No, we might need him," Mal said. He rubbed his eyes, fighting off a headache. Being angry at Jayne had been so much easier. Now that the first flush of rage was gone, his mind kept creeping back to the idea that Simon - Simon! - was alone with Pritchard Smith. The one thing Mal had been trying to avoid at all costs.

"Are you sure?" Zoe pressed. "We'd fly lighter without his carcass on board."

"Hey!" Jayne protested, but Mal cut him off.

"I have a feelin' we'll need every gun we got before we're though. Knowin' Pritch, he knocked Jayne out and left the ledger behind deliberately. The more time we spend fightin' amongst ourselves, the less time we spend chasin' him," Mal said, ignoring Jayne to address his second-in-command. "And, Zoe," Mal waited until she'd taken her gaze off Jayne and looked him straight in the eye. "Ariel's done been taken care of. It was between Jayne and me and I say it's finished. Dong ma?"

Zoe nodded.

"To hell with me," Jayne growled. "We should be worried about the doc. That gou cao de bastard's got him. We don't work fast, there might not be anything left to rescue." Jayne's voice stopped abruptly as the import of his own words sank in. He was surprised at how deeply the idea of Simon being hurt affected him.

"We can't let anything happen to him, Simon's already been through so much," Kaylee wailed. Although she'd come to realize he would never be her lover, Kaylee still had a soft spot for the young doctor. "What're we gonna do, Cap'n?"

Mal's eyes swept the group. "We go after him."

"Are you sure that's wise, Captain?" Book questioned. "I'm all for rescuing the boy, but we have his sister to consider. Simon would not thank us if that tracking device was activated and the Alliance was called down on her head."

"I understand your concern, Shepherd, but, thanks to River's concoction, we know all Smith knew," Mal reminded him. "We've got two days. We'll go fetch Simon, gut Pritch and strangle him with his own innards, and still get back in time for the rendezvous with the Zhe Shou."

"I don't know about that, Mal," Wash spoke up. "The black's not an easy place to follow somebody. Ships don't exactly leave footprints that I can trace. Not with this boat's lese equipment, anyway. I have no way to track them."

"I can."

The others all turned to look at River. Despite her brother being in deadly peril, the teen looked quite calm.

"The black is strewn with Simon's tears," she told them. "I can taste them. Follow the man who made them fall. I'll hunt the ghost into hell if I have to."

Mal smiled, but there was no joy in it. "There you go. River's our secret weapon. Ol' Pritch'll be takin' his time, thinkin' we got no way to find him. We'll be able to get Simon and still get back in time for the job." The captain made the effort to keep his tone light. He wanted to make it to seem simple, in the hopes that it would be simple. Above all else, he did not want to think of what was happening to Simon, alone with Pritchard Smith.

He looked around at the others. "Wash, what are you still doin' here? Take River with you to the cockpit and get goin'."

"Yes, sir!" Wash gave Mal a sloppy but sincere salute. "C'mon, River. We're gonna sniff the stars and look for your brother."

The two left and the rest of the group began ambling towards the kitchen. Despite the craziness of the plan, not a one questioned that River would be able to track her sibling. Not after what had happened with Jubal Early. Seeing her cook up a potion that had brought a man of Pritchard Smith's size to his knees had cemented her reputation with the rest of Serenity's crew.

"Thanks for believin' me, Mal," Jayne said quietly, walking beside the captain.

Mal's slid a sideways glance at the bigger man. "You've been on the up and up with me since Ariel, even if you are eyein' Simon." The captain cleared his throat and then continued. "Speakin' of Simon, once all this is done, we're gonna have to talk. I don't share."

Jayne's expression was determined. "Me neither."

"Men!" Inara exclaimed, having overheard them. "You'll just have to let Simon decide. Once we get him back, that is."

"What happens then?" Kaylee asked. "After we catch up to Pritch and Simon's all safe and sound?"

By this time, the weary crew had reached the eating area. Jayne sank down into a chair and Inara immediately moved to get a fresh towel. With Mal so preoccupied and Zoe still looking angry, the Companion figured it would be best if she saw to the mercenary's head wound.

Mal considered Kaylee's question. "I'm sorry, little Kaylee, I know you like Pritch, but what he done... what he done was bad." Mal steeled himself to endure her distress. "Pritch puts up any fight at all and we're gonna have hurt to him."

Kaylee waved him off. "Well, of course we'll hurt him! I just want to know who gets to hurt him first."

"Kaylee!" Inara protested.

The captain held up his hand. Inara did not take well to being shushed. "Mal, you can't just let her talk like that. It's bad enough when you and Zoe and Jayne speak that way...."

"Quiet," Mal ordered.

Zoe had been leaning against the wall but came to attention. "What is it, sir? What do you hear?"

"It's what I don't hear that worries me," Mal said. "Shouldn't there be some engine noises comin' along `bout now?"

Wash's agitated voice drifted down to them from the cockpit. "Zao gao, something's wrong! I can't get the propulsion to fire the right way."

"Oh, no," Kaylee said under her breath. Without being told, she scooted out of the kitchen and took off towards the engine room at a dead run.

No one dared speak until she returned, walking much slower and with slumped shoulders.

"Sorry, Cap'n," Kaylee said, a sniffle in her voice. "But we're at a dead stop."

Mal's voice was brittle with forced calm. "And why is that?"

"It must have been Pritch!" Kaylee wailed. "He done all sorts of wickedness to the engines." She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, leaving a smudge of dirt on her forehead. "I'm sorry, it's all my fault... I... I gave him a tour of the engine room when he first got here. I was so proud an' wanted to show him the new modifications...."

Surprisingly gentle, Mal took her by the shoulders and gave a her tender shake. "Ain't your fault, little Kaylee. We didn't know what kind of man Pritch was down deep - where it counts. Shouldn't have been no harm in showin' a friend around your home."

Kaylee kept her head low when Mal released her and Inara stepped away from Jayne in order to wrap an arm around the despondent girl's shoulders.

"What now?" Wash asked. He and River had left the useless cockpit to rejoin the group. The girl's eyes were shadowed and unfocused.

"How long `til we're movin'?" Mal asked Kaylee.

"I dunno," she bit her lip, knowing how important it was. "A day, maybe more. He done messed us up but good."

"That doesn't leave time to save Simon and be back for the rendezvous." Book said quietly.

"Ghosts can hurt you," River whispered hoarsely. "They put their red wet lips on your body and feast on your soul." She looked at Mal as though he understood her. "If a ghost gets too far inside, it'll never get come out."

Mal looked at River's desperate face to Kaylee's tear-stained one. Zoe and Jayne looked ready to kill something and even Wash seemed eager for action. Inara went so far as to have a forehead wrinkled with concern, while Book just gazed at him steadily.

"Sir?" Zoe asked.

"We fix the ship," Mal grated out, fists clenched. "And then we make for the Fonda Ridge rendezvous.

"What about Simon?" Kaylee asked.

"Are we going to leave him with that awful man?" Inara chimed in.

Zoe, however, had figured it out. "We're going to go after the Nemesis, aren't we, sir?"

Mal nodded curtly. "Only, we're not gonna hand it over to those damn bloodless Zhe Shou, we're gonna use it to rescue Simon."


Pritchard Smith was not a wise man. Cunning, yes. Crafty, without a doubt. Devious, absolutely. But wise? No.

A wise man would not have left Mal Reynolds alive behind him.

Smith's hair was the dark reddish brown color of yesterday's spilled blood. He ran his fingers through it, thinking. His first concern had been getting as far away from Serenity and Mal's wrath as he could. He didn't know if the number he'd done on their engines was good enough to keep them from following. When it was clear he'd made a clean getaway, Pritch finally took time to consider his options.

He was screwed, there was no doubt about it. Reynolds and that freakish little witch made sure Pritch had told all he knew about the Zhe Shou. Smith hadn't been lying when he said he didn't know who they were; he truly didn't. He knew enough, though, to know that they weren't a group to be crossed. It was a good bet they would not be willing to accept being forcibly drugged as an excuse for blabbering, either. No, they weren't going to be pleased and, with that little hitchhiking tracker they'd implanted in him, the Zhe Shou would easily be able to find him to voice that displeasure too.

A soft sound interrupted Smith's thoughts. He looked down to see Simon Tam stir. With a sigh, the doctor subsided, still unconscious. Smith grinned as his eyes raked over Simon's form. The shuttle was a smaller vessel than Serenity and having the pretty in the cockpit with him wasn't very comfortable. He could have tied Simon up in the back, but that would have meant that Pritch couldn't look at him as often and, really, where was the fun in that?

Leaving the baby doc behind had never been an option. Simon had been part of Pritch's pay and he never left a job without getting what was due him. So what if the virus hadn't been delivered to the Nemesis' crew yet? The Zhe Shou had another Tam they could have arrested and do their infecting for them.

Simon was his.

The doc's restless movements had caused his shirt to pull out from his pants, exposing a small strip of smooth skin. Pritch couldn't help it; one hand snaked of its own accord to slip under the cloth and caress his prize's flesh. He chuckled a bit as he remembered removing the knife that had been tucked down the back of the boy's pants. What was it with Serenity's crew and knives? First Zoe and then Kaylee had threatened to cut Smith, but that didn't surprise him as much as finding the pretty boy armed. Maybe Simon had done some growing up, after all.

Absently continuing the petting motion, Pritch weighed the choice of planets that the shuttle's fuel could get him to. There was no real competition - Tortuga was within reach and would have been his first choice, even if he didn't have fuel limitations to consider. Tortuga was a place a man could have some illicit surgery, to remove tracking devices, and no one would give it a second thought. No one would notice - or care - if his traveling companion was a little less than cooperative too.

Coordinates entered, Pritch was free to savor his companion. He didn't know what he was looking forward to more, breaking the boy's body or his spirit. Remembering the undulating Simon had been doing in the midst of his dream, Smith got up from his chair and straddled the doc where he lay on the floor. Lifting the shirt completely out of Simon's pants, Pritch let his fingers have free play over Simon's chest, mapping out patterns. He'd use the boy's own knife...

"Are you really so pathetic that you have to take your pleasure from someone who's unconscious?" Simon asked, not even bothering to open his eyes. Pritch hadn't even been aware that the pretty was awake. "What's next - necrophilia?"

Far from being offended, Pritch was delighted by his captive's sarcasm. The spirited ones were a lot of fun to play with. Grinning, he bent down and kissed Simon thoroughly, using one large hand to force the doctor's head still when Simon started squirming. When he pulled back, Simon's lower lip was bleeding.

"Just getting a feel for what's mine, baby doc," Pritch said smugly.

Simon looked at him calmly. "Mal will kill you."

Smith laughed heartily. "Oh, I don't think so, baby doc." He got up and turned the Nav-Com so Simon could see. "He's got to catch me first and look here, he ain't even trying." Pritch gloated a bit when he could see a frisson of doubt enter into Simon's eyes. Breaking Simon Tam physically was only a part of Pritchard's pleasure. "Don't look like he figures you're worth enough to bother with."

Simon squared his jaw and glared at him. "He'll come, just you see."

"If you say so, pretty," Pritch agreed amicably, stretching his large body on the floor next to Simon. Propping his head up on one hand, he surveyed his domain while the other hand made lazy exploration of his captive. "Until then, you and me are gonna have some fun. You've got some tricks to show me, remember?"

"You're evil," Simon said in disbelief. "How can someone who dangled Kaylee on his knee be evil?"

One handed, Pritchard's deft fingers started unbuttoning Simon's shirt. "Kaylee's easy. All it took to get her regard was to give her a pint of strawberries and let her blather on about her ma and pa." At Simon's outraged look, Smith laughed again. "Oh, I didn't mount her, pretty. No doubt she's a lusty little strumpet, but she's far too experienced and enthusiastic for me to find all that appealing. No inhibitions to break down," he leered before he left off with the shirt to grab Simon's crotch, squeezing it without regard to the doctor's comfort.

Simon grit his teeth and stayed silent. No matter what he said, Pritchard twisted it and made it come out wrong somehow. He was determined not to give the man any more opportunities.

Smith noticed his prisoner's seething and decided to poke him a little more. "Now, Mal Reynolds... there's a fine figure of a man."

His tactic worked. Simon's eyes widened and he lost his resolve not to speak. "Mal would never have... sexual relations... with a man like you."

Pritchard shrugged, keeping his grin to himself for a change. "If you say so, pretty. But, that rule of his about not getting intimate with the crew, it had to start somewhere."

He was lying, of course. Truth was, during his original tenure with Reynolds' crew, Smith had about worn out his welcome on Serenity by trying to lure Malcolm Reynolds into his bunk. That rule of Mal's, though, had been in place long before Pritch had arrived and, try as he might, Smith couldn't get Mal to budge.

Smith's hand paused as the big man remembered that stupid rule of Reynolds'... and why it really started. He smiled that lazy smile of his at the thought and left off groping his prisoner. Ignoring Simon's sigh of relief, he got up. While he was a firm believer in all work and no play making Pritch a very dull boy, he had a task to do.

Smith dug through the bag he'd been sure to take with him when he fled Serenity. Mal and the others had found the vial of Hellinger Syndrome and had removed it to their infirmary. What they hadn't found, and being smugglers themselves he was very disappointed in them that they hadn't, was the false bottom on the bag. It was his hidden stash and revealed that River Tam wasn't the only one with a flair for unusual pharmaceuticals.

Rubbing his hands together, Pritch was once again faced with a number of choices. He wanted something that would make Simon a little easier to control, but still fun to play with. He didn't want to break the doc with drugs, just enhance the experience a bit. Finally making up his mind, he loaded the injection gun and deliberately stalked over to the prone man.

"What's that?" Simon said, eyes all but rolling as he tried to see what was in Smith's hands.

"That's for me to know and you to find out, pretty," Pritchard said. Planting a knee on Simon's chest to control his squirming, Smith drew Simon's shirt up and injected the doctor in the stomach, ignoring the young man's cry of pain. "There you go, baby doc."

Simon's struggles continued but slowly ceased as the drug entered his system. Giving the boy's belly a proprietary pat, Pritchard stowed the injection device away before sitting down in front of the screen that would give him access to the Cortex.

Chatting with Simon about Mal's insipid policy for not getting romantically involved with his crew had reminded Smith of something. If he played his cards right, it might help keep at least Reynolds, and maybe the Zhe Shou, off his back. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and all that shit. Reynolds had come up with that rule because of a past relationship, one that had gone sour. Thanks to a drunken confession Mal had made during his annual Alliance Day pub crawl, Pritch just happened to be privy to the details.

Pritchard Smith was just betting that Rem Elliot, now captain of the Nemesis, would be very interested in learning about the plans his past love, one Malcolm Reynolds, had in mind for his ship. He'd just clue in Elliot on the whole virus hijacking plan, conveniently leaving out the Zhe Shou or that Smith's own escape might have scuttled the whole thing. Elliot would never sit still for it, if he even thought it was a possibility. He'd come after Mal loaded for bear and Reynolds would soon be too busy evading the Nemesis to come after Pritch.

Former lovers, they always said, made the best adversaries. Pritchard Smith was going to enjoy a ringside seat to find out if that old saying was true.


Book entered his quarters, choosing to keep the lights dim. It had been a long day, one filled with a plethora of reversals. He wasn't quite ready for more illumination. The preacher sat heavily in the chair at his desk, trying to collect himself before doing his last chore of the day.

Patience, that was what the `verse was lacking. He'd watched as Mal Reynolds had careened from one wildly conceived plan to another. Book acknowledged to himself that the captain was capable of waiting when he chose. The problem was that Mal chose patience so infrequently, preferring to work by the seat of his pants.

Book remembered a time before he wore a shepherd's collar. His son had been much the same as Mal. He'd tried to teach his only child patience, but the head-strong youngster had never listened, finally running off to make his own way in the world. Book had been sorry to hear of the boy's recent demise. Sorry, but not entirely surprised. The impatient often met an early death.

Unlike Book's son, Mal's lack of patience made him unpredictable. Book had been certain that Mal would space Jayne Cobb. As Book was all too aware, the evidence clearly pointed to Jayne as being the one to unlock Smith's door. Mal had surprised Book by reasoning past his anger to see Jayne's innocence. Book would have thought that Mal's lust for the young doctor would have interfered with his ability to assess a situation. He should have known better.

Mal Reynolds, when all was said and done, was predictable in his unpredictability.

Book sighed as he looked at his flesh-colored hands. He was only one man; there was only so much he could do. With the ease of ritual, Book opened the desk drawer and pulled out his equipment. Assembling seemingly unrelated bits and pieces, he soon had a Wave viewer of sorts flickering to life. Within moments, a cadaverous male face came to life on the screen, blue-gloved hands were clasped in front of him. Book nodded in a respectful greeting. In the background, another male figure could be dimly seen. Book knew without seeing that this man's hands were covered in blue as well.

River had been right all along, they always came in pairs.

"Commander Early," the face said, voice tinny due to distance. "We have been most eagerly anticipating your report."

Book felt something in him relax. It never ceased to amaze him how much he missed hearing his real name. Taking a deep breath, he gathered himself before speaking.

"Sir, I regret to report that the experiment is not proceeding entirely as planned."

+++

End of Chapter 13


Chapter 14: Turning the Tables
Author: Nancy
Email: thetenthmuse1@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Other; Simon/Mal; Mal/Simon/Jayne Rating: NC17
Warnings: violence and a wee bit of non-con, as well as the standard bad language. Disclaimer: not mine, never will be, not making any money from this!

Summary: Simon really isn't himself at the moment, and Jayne and Mal really join forces to figure out what the hell is going on.

+++

Simon felt the drugs coursing through him and knew things were going to take a bad turn. He could feel the vagueness creeping into his body even as he fought the effects. There was a general laziness and apathy running through him that was very hard to counter. He could hear Pritchard moving around the ship, but didn't bother opening his eyes to track the movements. Simon could feel the knife missing from where he'd put it, which would have dismayed him if he could have managed to care.

Of course, he was a doctor, which meant intimate knowledge of what could be used as a weapon against the other man. He supposed that an unexpected boon of the drugs was that he didn't care if and how badly he hurt Pritchard in the process of escape. Simon knew that the other man would be thinking there would be very little resistance to whatever it was that he had in mind. The mercenary would believe that he had the upper hand and, normally, he'd be right.

What he didn't know, or maybe hadn't taken into account, was that many residents built up a tolerance to drugs and alcohol during their residency because of the insanely long hours spent awake. Or, trying to stay awake. Simon had been no different from the other residents and had gone through quite a bit of the pharmacy register to keep sharp and keep awake without being edgy or out of control.

So now the drugs that Pritchard had used weren't quite having the effect that the mercenary was thinking they would. It was more like his conscience was missing than anything else. He had no desire to get raped by this man, wouldn't put up with even being touched by scum like Pritchard. He remembered all too well the pain of the man's large cock as it had quasi-raped him that other time. Only now, there would be no quasi-about it, Simon knew. Pritchard was promising him pain and was going to try and break him.

Simon cracked open an eye and saw that the other man was in the back of the shuttle doing something. His eyes slid around to see what could be used as a weapon and they lit on a loose shaft of metal in the vague shape of a blade. A very rough blade. Simon smirked a little as he thought, Thank God for Mal's tightfisted ways. If he kept this place up to date, I'd have nothing to work with.

"Awake are ya?"

Simon's eyes met Pritchard's and he almost laughed at the lust he saw there. As it was, he didn't bother to stop the grin from surfacing.

"Oh, yeah. We're gonna have some fun, baby doc."

Arching an eyebrow at the other man, Simon questioned, "Are we?"

Pritchard came closer and answered, "Sure are. Reynolds is going to have his hands full when Elliot catches up to him so I don't have to worry about Serenity anymore. And the Zhe Shou will never know about what your witch of a sister did to me. We're heading to Tortuga and there ain't no one going to care about what I do to you there."

"Tortuga? How interesting. A space port named after an Earth That Was place for a pirate's cove," Simon observed distantly.

"Yeah? Well, that fits then."

"Hey Pritchard?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you going to fuck me, or not?"

Taken aback, Pritchard didn't answer at first. Finally, he said, "Yeah."

"So what's taking you so long? Do you know how long it's been for me? Mal is such a tease, and Jayne wouldn't touch me because he was afraid of Mal. Forget Book, even if I'd wanted an old man to fuck me, which I don't. And Wash isn't the kind of man I like," Simon complained, shifting restlessly. "He's the kind that I like to fuck, not the kind I like to fuck me. Just not enough force in it."

Lips pursed, Pritchard eyed him for a second. "Interesting bit I didn't expect from the drugs."

Smirking, Simon answered, "That's not the only side effect of the drugs that I think you're going to find interesting?"

"Like what?"

"Like the fact that right now, I'd fuck anything. You could shove whatever you wanted up my ass and I'd ride it, I'm so Goddamn horny right now," Simon informed the other man, moving his hips for emphasis.

Pritchard blinked in surprise, then a slow grin crossed his face as he asked, "Oh yeah?"

"Try me."

Pritchard gazed at him another moment, then moved forward again and said, "Strip."

With another smirk, Simon got unsteadily to his feet, making a show of being more uncoordinated than he really was. "Didn't expect to be so woozy. Give me a moment."

Nodding, Pritchard motioned for him to go on.

Simon slowly pulled his shirt off, tangling himself in it `accidentally' on purpose, and started cursing before he finally got it off and threw it to the floor. He glared at it for a second, then reached for his pants and ran one hand over his cock while the other pinched a nipple. He imagined that it was Mal's hands on him and his cock began to fill, the drugs helping him along. Groaning slightly and biting his lip, Simon's heart sped a little as he pushed harder on his trapped shaft.

"Let me see it, baby doc, pull it out," Pritchard ordered harshly.

He did just that, undoing his pants and pulling out his cock, which was completely hard now. He whimpered, caught between his own fantasy and the drugs. Only it wasn't just Mal now, it was Jayne too, holding him up from behind while Mal jacked him, slow and sure. Simon could just about feel the big man's cock riding his cleft and moaned as he imagined Jayne pushing inside him as Mal went down on him.

Simon's breath hitched and his balls tightened as he thought about being taken by both men at once. About being pushed over a convenient surface for Jayne to fuck him hard and for Mal to shove his cock down Simon's throat. Panting now, almost feeling the cocks at both ends, Simon moaned and stroked himself harder, ignoring the sound of Pritchard doing the same a too short distance away. He had to come, he had to, knew that he wouldn't be able to do anything if he didn't.

Keeping his eyes closed, Simon imagined a different scene now.

Imagined Mal shoving him down onto his bunk and kissing the breath out of him while his cock pushed inside. He'd be slow and gentle, taking Simon with the love that he'd seen in the other man's eyes, despite the words that refused to cross either of their lips. Simon knew that they'd be making love in every form, knew that he'd be taken hard and fierce and that Mal would brand every inch of him with his touch and his kiss.

That did it. Simon bit his lip so hard that his teeth broke the skin as he came violently, shuddering and moaning. He dropped to his knees with a bruising impact that he didn't even feel because he was still coming. Falling forward onto one hand, Simon panted, his body shaking still from the drug-enhanced experience.

Rough hands grabbed his hips and pulled him back, Pritchard at his hole in a split second. Without thought, Simon kicked backward as hard as he could. His heel crushed the cock that had been trying to get into him and Pritchard howled with pain. Grabbing the makeshift blade, Simon rolled back around before Pritchard was even done getting his breath back.

He sliced instantly and without mercy, the ragged sliver of metal cutting deep and easy across Pritchard's throat.

Simon stared at the man still struggling in his death-throes. Covered in blood and semen, the young man looked like some pagan God from ancient Earth That Was as he got to his feet and observed dispassionately, "You've your own self to blame for this. If you hadn't drugged me, I'd never have been able to kill you."


"Come on down!"

Jayne slid down the ladder into Mal's quarters, landing lightly, and faced the captain.

Mal was sitting at the small desk, off to the side. The other man looked up from whatever he'd been studying and peered over the rim of his glasses at Jayne. "What?"

Shifting uncomfortably, Jayne pulled out the scanner he'd brought with him. He started scanning the room for recording or listening devices as he said belligerently, "I don't think it's right what you almost did to me back in the cargo bay, Mal. Always jumpin' down my throat an' thinkin' I'm the first one to double cross you."

Mal watched him curiously, a frown etched into his forehead as he answered, "Any particular reason I should rightly care what you think about it?"

The device he had was so powerful as to be illegal, well, unless you were a Fed. Jayne put it away when no bugs showed up on it. He pulled out an audio jammer this time, flicked it on and set it on the desk for Mal to see. Blunt, he stated, "Something ain't right here, Mal."

Mal snorted and asked, "You just now figuring that out?"

Blinking in surprise, Jayne answered, "Huh?"

"We got ourselves a double cross in the brew and yes, I know it ain't you." Pulling off his glasses, Mal rubbed his eyes and said, "I been thinking on this since before Pritchard came back. I been thinking about this since Early."

Confused, Jayne just looked at him.

"Someone had to tell Early where we were, Jayne, or fix it so's someone else could've told him," Mal explained. "We were distinctly in the middle of no and where. Not a chance of anyone tracking us through that kind of blackness, no matter how good or crazy they were."

Jayne frowned as he worked it out in his head. "Oh."

"Yeah. Now, I trust Zoe like myself, and I trust Wash like Zoe. But much as I hate to say it, Kaylee's the right age and temperament for it, and so's Inara, if after a different fashion. Book, well, we don't rightly know anything about him, except that he knows a lot about guns and shooting for a preacher."

"What about me?"

"What about you?"

"I wasn't on that list."

With a smirk, Mal said, "That's because we, means you and me."

An unexpected flush of near-happiness ran through him as Jayne took in Mal's meaning. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, not wanting to put his foot in it by speaking too fast.

"What is it?" Mal questioned, looking at him intently.

But Jayne was pushing and pulling all the thoughts round his head. He might not be as fast on his feet as others when it came to thinking, no doubt about it, but once he set his mind on something, it seldom escaped him. Something clicked and he looked up at Mal suddenly. "It's the Shepherd."

Startled, Mal demanded, "How'd you get that?"

"He was the one who found me with that credit thing, right? We both know I wouldn't do that, but he wouldn't. He didn't know what passed between us when you near about vented me. No one did. I bet he cold-cocked me, then unlocked Pritchard's door."

"Why would he do that?"

Jayne's mouth closed and he thought some more, mind going back over the last year or so of knowing the preacher. They worked out together regular-like and hung together in the mess most times. It'd almost been like having an uncle of some kind, even with the lectures.

"Jayne?"

"I'm thinkin,' leave me be a minute."


Mal waited patiently as Jayne struggled to find a reason why Book would betray them, the blank look on the mercenary's face a sure sign of deep thought. Funny how that worked out. The dumber Jayne looked, the more you had to watch out for him coming out of left field with something insane, but most times wickedly sharp, just like his blades.

He settled back with a heavy sigh. All this had been preying on him for months now. Mal had never liked how Early had not only found them in the first place, but also cut right through their defenses like they weren't nothing but child's play. As decrepit as Serenity might look, security wasn't something Mal would skimp on.

Ever.

Which meant that they had a traitor on board, and a crafty one at that. It wasn't that which disqualified Jayne, because he had a good mind. It was the thinking quick that did it. If there were only ten seconds to come up with a life-saving plan, Mal could count on Jayne to come up with a way to save their bacon ten minutes after the fact.

Well, unless it involved which target to shoot first, Mal allowed honestly. In a firefight, there wasn't anyone Mal trusted more than Jayne, not even Zoe.

"Ariel."

"Excuse me?"

Jayne nodded firmly as if cementing something in his mind, and repeated, "Ariel."

Frowning, Mal asked, "What about it?"

"Why'd the Feds keep me alive for transport with Simon and River?" Jayne demanded almost angrily. "Ain't never thought about it before, but that ain't normal. They should've just shot and dumped me. No reason to keep me alive, none at all. I'd done what they wanted, got them Simon and River, weren't no more use to them. Shouldn't'a been, anyhow."

Mal's frown grew as he thought about what Jayne was saying. Slowly, he agreed, "That's true enough. I was so ticked at what you did, that I never stopped to question it."

"Yeah, and that's probably what Book was counting on. I think he's been playing us from minute one. The reward didn't get big enough for me not to take until after him and me had some nice chat about what kind of temptation a man wouldn't pass up one day while we was workin' out. You have any conversations with him that suddenly turn out to be true?"

Mal didn't even have to think for Niska's torture came to mind, even though it hadn't strictly been him that'd had the talk with the preacher. Simon had told him about the weird conversation that the doc and Book had had about that damned philosopher who looked for the reality of a man through pain. Directly after, according to Simon, Mal had been in Niska's clutches. It had struck Simon as an odd enough happenstance to bring up to Mal one night when neither man had been able to sleep a few months back.

"That's what I thought," Jayne rumbled softly. "I bet we ask the others, they've all had a similar experience. Talk with Book and boom, you get what you ask for in some really twisted fucking way. It's like some kind of sick game for him."

"Or experiment," Mal whispered, everything suddenly making sense.

River had been part of an experiment and there was no way that the Feds would let something so expensive just walk out the front door. Simon had been worse than an amateur when he'd gone looking for his sister. There was no way that he'd accidentally meet the right people who could get her free. Add to that, Pritchard getting caught up with those very same people after meeting up with Simon, and coincidence went further and further down on the list.

Which meant that Book and the Tams showing up on the same day had also been anything but coincidence. Christ. How much of the last year had been perpetrated by the Feds that he'd thought himself so clever in evading? How much of all the shit that had gone down, had been planned? How much of their pain had been inflicted from a distance by those that they were trying to escape?

Feeling physically sick as he took in just how deep this thing went, Mal's hand went to his stomach as if to keep it in place. He'd trusted Book and the other man had repaid him by betraying him and those under his protection. Mal had to assume that Book was not only working for the Feds, but for the blue handed bastards personally responsible for River's condition. He jumped in shock when Jayne's hand gripped his shoulder and looked up into surprisingly sympathetic and commiserating eyes.

"We all trusted him, Mal."

Truer words.

It was right then that Mal remembered why he'd hired Jayne in the first place. It wasn't just because of the hard edge and quickness with a gun, but for the implacable, bloodthirsty nature now staring back at him. It seemed that he really did have Jayne's undying devotion and loyalty at long last, and those that hurt Mal, were going to get hurt by Jayne.

Mal was pretty sure that Book would enjoy the irony that the older man had fostered the emotions that were now going to kill him, unless Mal chose to stop it.

Which he wasn't all that sure he would do.


Wash hated not knowing what was going on, but it was something he'd almost gotten used to since signing on with Serenity. Zoe and Mal were practically one person when it came to scheming and Jayne, for all his thickness in other areas, had no trouble following their cues. Cues that somehow, Wash just couldn't seem to pick up, no matter how long he lived with them.

"You okay?"

Wash looked over at Kaylee and half-grinned. "Yeah. Just annoyed with myself."

"What for?" Kaylee asked curiously, holding out her hand for the wrench.

Handing it over, Wash answered, "Nothing much. Just wish I knew what was really going on here."

"We're fixing the engine. What else would be going on?"

With a smile, Wash shook his head ruefully at her innocence and agreed, "Nothing, Kaylee. Not a thing."


Book jumped in surprise when he became aware of Zoe leaning like a statue against the doorframe of the mess. She really could move like a ghost, appearing in the most unexpected of places. What a waste, that a woman of her talents was working in a place like this. Her intelligence, her cunning, and her bravery were all magnificent and could be used for so much more. "Zoe. You gave me a start."

She smiled and moved further into the room, heading for the cook area. "Sorry, Shepherd."

"How are the repairs going?" he asked.

She shrugged and replied, "They're going."

"Not finished yet? That's too bad. The longer Simon's in Pritchard's hands, the worse it'll be for him," Book stated softly, genuinely regretful of the pain that Simon was sure to be going through right at that moment. Doing his duty didn't mean he always enjoyed it.

Nodding, Zoe poured some tea and sipped at it, leaning against the counter. "Mind if I ask you something?"

"Go right ahead."

"What do you think about Pritch showing up like he did? Seems awfully convenient for him to find us out of the blue like that."

Book showed no reaction to her words, the act easy enough with the years of practice he had. She was fishing, but he wasn't sure for what, yet. "Well, we were hardly hiding from him."

Lips pursed, Zoe nodded slowly and agreed, "True enough. Still. Something bothers me."

"Like what?" Book questioned.

"Like how you thought you'd get away with fucking us over," Mal answered quietly from behind. "Did you really think we were that stupid? No, wait, don't answer that. Obviously, you did."

Book got to his feet with a faint smile and glanced at the Captain, who had Jayne standing behind him. Inclining his head, wry, he greeted, "We did win the war."

"That you did. Not through any brains on your part though. You won it through sheer brawn and numbers."

The other man was as expressionless as Book had ever seen. There was absolutely no emotion to be seen in those normally expressive blue eyes. This was the picture that he'd been shown when first given the assignment. A man with no soul and no compunction, a killer born. He'd been wondering how long it would take for this man to show up.

"So what's your real name?" Mal asked, not even mildly curious.

Not seeing the harm, Book answered, "Commander Michael Early."

Something flickered too fast across Mal's face to identify, and it made Book uneasy. He was very good at identifying things, and that included expressions. He knew this man, and this crew. Knew them better than they knew themselves, but none of the three facing him were acting at all like normal. Jayne should be blustering and threatening. Zoe should have a weapon in hand by now. And Mal should have already killed him.

This whole scene was making him quietly uneasy. He wasn't afraid of death, and torture was something he could disassociate his consciousness from. There was something else going on here, and he wasn't all that sure that he wanted to know what, all of a sudden.

"Can't rightly figure how you'd betray your oaths like this, Shepherd."

"I haven't."

Mal arched an eyebrow at him. "Sure you have. Your vows as a Shepherd. Do no harm. Turn the other cheek. Love your neighbor. Help those less fortunate. Well, of course. You're not a real Shepherd, are you? Why doesn't that surprise me?"

"Was there a point to this conversation, Captain?" Book asked, still trying to get a bead on what was going on.

"What's going on is that Kaylee's fixed Serenity and we're dropping you off," Mal answered. "We're in orbit now and will be landing in about five minutes."

Book frowned, confused by the statement. "That's it?"

Closing the distance between them, Mal gripped the back of the other man's neck tightly, hauling him so close that his breath was moist and hot on Book's face. The uneasiness surged into guilt as soul- wounded eyes burned into him.

"You're going to live, Book, because I don't play games. I don't run experiments. I don't torture. I don't take a young girl and slice her brain open, then send her brother into the lion's den to get raped and worse because he'd do anything to save her. I don't ruin people's lives, just to see what will happen. I don't betray those that take me in and give me a home. You're going to live with what you've done here.

"You're going to live with the knowledge that you're the worst kind of evil, Commander Michael Early, far worse than your son. He was honest about what he did and that I've got no problem with. You, on the other hand, are a liar and a coward. Zoe, get this filth out of my sight."

"Yes. Sir."

Book actually flinched when Mal released him and stepped back without laying another hand on him. He glanced back at the woman who was giving him the same dead look that Mal wore. Everything that the captain had said, had been said in a flat, emotionless tone of voice. There was no hatred, no betrayal, no anything. These were people who'd been through hell and survived the journey. Apparently, whatever he'd thought he'd done to them hadn't made nearly the mark that he'd thought.

Stopping at the door, Book looked back to find Mal and Jayne talking quietly about their location and where to go from there as though nothing had just happened. "Captain."

But Mal didn't stop talking, and Jayne didn't even glance at him.

"You're dead to him. To all of us," Zoe informed him. "You're a ghost, just like you must've wanted to be. I hope you're happy with what you've chosen."

Book wanted to refute what she'd said, what Mal had said. He wanted to deny the sick clench to his stomach and the sweat that gathered where Mal's hand had been. He could still feel the heat of the other man's palm as it had held him tight. It was like a brand that was somehow burning its way into his soul.

How often had he rationalized about what he'd been doing to these people all these long months? How many times had he told himself that it was for the greater good? Mal's simple, true words had put the lie to all those reasons and excuses he'd given himself.

The ship jolted slightly, telling him more certainly that they'd made landfall than if it had been announced over the comm system. He followed Zoe silently to the cargo area and stopped short when he found the rest of the crew there at the door.

Kaylee was holding his travel bag. She set it down with a tear- stained face then turned her back on him.

Wash pulled off the shirt that Book had given him a few months back for his birthday and tossed it onto the floor before also turning his back.

Inara dropped the copy of the bible that Book had given her and joined the other three in facing away from him.

River just stared at him with impossibly hurt eyes before turning her back.

It was a simple and somehow devastating justice. The hurt and pain he'd given these people was being overlooked in a manner that should have been completely beyond them all. With the rough code they all lived by, with the guns and sex and violence and smuggling, there should be no way that these people could be this, this...he couldn't even find the right word.

All Book knew was that when he'd contemplated discovery before now, it had always been with the self-assurance that he'd be dead within minutes of that discovery.

"One last thing."

Here it comes, he thought, bracing himself for pain as he turned to face her.

Regret showed briefly in her dark eyes as Zoe leaned in and gently kissed him on the lips. "Good bye, Old Father. May your death be worthier than your life."

Feeling sucker-punched when she turned from him, Book just stared at the round of backs and knew that he could kill them all with the gun that was always tucked into his boot. He could repay this dubious mercy by taking their lives and then hunting down Mal and Jayne easily enough.

But he couldn't, because he had barely enough strength to keep the shaking running through him from turning into violent shudders as he picked up his belongings and the returned gifts. Blackness was swallowing him. Blackness that he'd thought never to feel again when he'd taken up this life to fill the need for justice and a purpose.

He paused at the hatch and looked back, but no one had moved. He knew that they'd stay right where they were until he left, no matter how long that took. Swallowing against the dry, bitter pill of guilt, he said the only thing he possibly could, unable to keep his voice steady. "I'm sorry."

With that, Book left the ship that had been his only real home, and the people who'd been his own real family, since his son had murdered his wife.

Just before the hatch closed behind him, Book heard Mal shout, "Everyone get a move on! Just got a wave from Simon and he's gotten loose, but can't fly the damn ship!"

Then the iron was between them and Book had to move quickly away from the portal so he wouldn't get sucked into the engines, as Mal had done to others with less provocation. He stumbled into the crowd of a cityscape and watched as Serenity thrust from the ground with her traditional violence.

So, Simon had somehow escaped Pritchard. That was very interesting. The experiment was still going on, but had taken a completely unexpected turn. One that none of them had foreseen. Lips pursed thoughtfully, Book hitched his bag over his shoulder and started walking. His part in this was far from over, no matter what Malcolm Reynolds might think.

Of course, the direction he was going to take from here was suddenly unclear to him. To whom would he show his faith and loyalty? His Federal employers, or the motley crew that had somehow burrowed under his skin far more deeply than he'd realized?

Zoe's final words came back to him with haunting clarity; "May your death be worthier than your life."

Only time would tell.

+++

End of Chapter 14


Chapter 15: Sharing Simon

Author: Peach
Email: peach1250@sbcglobal.net
Pairing(s): Mal/Simon/Jayne
Rating: NC17
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: The boys get naked.

+++

feng pi = asshole
shenjing hundan= screwed-up bastard
gou shi = dog shit
tianna = god
zhangfu = husband
baobei = precious

+++

Wash maneuvered Serenity as close as possible to the shuttle. The small screen let them see Simon sitting quite naked at the controls. What they couldn't see was his raging erection.

His clothes were covered with Pritchard's blood, and he wasn't about to put them back on. He'd kicked them out of the way when he pulled Pritch's corpse over to the disposal tube, only to find that he wouldn't fit. So now part of the bastard was in the tube, the rest hanging out into the shuttle floor. Simon had kicked the body a few times in his frustration.

With the drug still floating through his system he felt no embarrassment that the crew would soon see him naked. They'd all seen Mal naked and River, why not him? Besides, maybe it would give Mal or Jayne or both, a nudge in the direction he really needed to go right now. With most of his blood pooled in his dick, he was having trouble following instructions.

"Damnit, Simon, listen to Wash's directions; we don't have any way to get you back on board without some help at your end."

"I can't help it, Mal, the feng piinjected me with drugs."

Pritch was dead, Simon had told them so, but Mal's forehead creased in worry. Had Pritch managed to rape Simon before he killed him?

"Simon, are you hurt?"

"No, Mal, I'm just incredibly horny."

Jayne snorted behind him; Mal turned to growl at him. Jayne just grinned back; "Think I'll go get ready to open the shuttle soon's he gets it docked."

"Jayne!" Mal yelled at the back of the man sprinting toward the shuttle bay.

Turning back to the screen, he frowned at Simon. Wash was struggling to hold in his laughter; Zoe had turned her back but her body was shaking.

"Gorram it, this ain't funny. We need to get him aboard."

Wash nodded and tried to focus on Simon. "Simon, see the lever on the right, down close to your knee?"

"Yes, Wash."

"Okay, I want you to..."

Mal didn't hear the rest; he was on his way to join Jayne by the shuttle bay. He got there in time to hear a scrape and a thud as Simon missed the connection on his first try. Mal made a mental note to give the boy docking lessons when they were safe again. He and Jayne waited in silence for the sounds that would signal that Simon had docked properly.

When the hiss of the seal finished, Mal pushed open the door. Jayne barely made it through the opening ahead of him. Simon rose from the pilot seat, his body streaked with dried blood and come, his dick sticking out from his body, straight and hard.

Simon grinned lopsidedly at him, "Permission to come aboard, Sir?"

Mal's mouth dropped open; River had once said the same words to him, but she didn't sound like a whore offering a business deal. Much as Mal wanted to act on the tightening of his pants, he had to get some information.

"Where's Pritch?"

"Over there, the gorram disposal tube was too small to space him."

Jayne and Mal turned to look and saw a hairy ass, two legs still tangled in a pair of pants, and a set of boots hanging from the opening. There was blood all over the compartment and sprayed on Simon. Mal catalogued the pattern and knew Simon had slit Pritch's throat.

"'Membered what I taught you, didn't ya?"

Simon moved toward Jayne, his still hard dick leading the way. "Sure did. Kicked him right in the crotch." Simon's hand slipped around Jayne's waist as he humped against Jayne's leg.

Mal saw red and in two steps had Simon by the arm. "Stop this, we got things to settle."

Simon pulled free, his arm slipping around Mal as he smiled seductively at the Captain. "You can share me, Mal. I'd like it if you shared me. I need it, Mal."

"What did that shenjing hundan give you?"

"He thought he was giving me something that would make me pliable. He didn't know the side effects; side effects that are even more intense with core-bred medical personnel. It's an interaction with of all the inoculations we're given."

"And this stuff turns you into a sex fiend?" Jayne's interest was piqued.

"That's part of it."

"How long?"

"How long, what, Mal?"

"How long before this gou shi wears off?"

Mal was trying to ignore the fact that Simon was now managing to rub against both him and Jayne. Simon's strong hands kneaded their ass cheeks.

"It'd wear off much quicker if I had some strenuous sexual activity to get my blood flowing better."

It suddenly occurred to Mal that none of the rest of the crew had come to check on Simon, not even River. Later, he would learn that River had kept them all away by saying that Jayne and Mal needed to mend Simon.

Simon tangled a hand in the longer portion of Mal's hair and pulled him into a deep kiss. Jayne moved as they kissed, guiding Simon so that he was pressed full-length front to front with Mal. Jayne curved himself along Simon's back, grinding his own hard-on in the cleft of Simon's ass.

When they came up for air, the liquid heat in Simon's eyes brought a moan from deep in Mal's chest.

"We need to get you cleaned up, I can't fuck you with Pritch's blood all over you." Mal glared at Jayne, "Don't think this means I intend to share him all the time."

"I think that's up to Simon, don't you, Mal?"

"Shower... fuck... argue later."

Simon grabbed them each by the hand, pushing at Jayne, then pulling Mal behind him. The shower wasn't large enough for all of them to get in, so Mal and Jayne waited impatiently as Simon took the fastest shower in the history of the `verse, then he pulled them along to his room.

They encountered no one on either leg of their trip. As soon as Simon's door closed, he pounced on Jayne, kissing him as he'd kissed Mal earlier. Much as Mal didn't want to admit it, they looked hot together. He eased his suspenders off his shoulders, when something occurred to him.

"Simon, come up for air. You got any supplies?"

Simon looked at him with slightly unfocused eyes. "What, Mal? What kind of supplies?"

"He means have ya got any lube? We can't fuck ya with nothin', don't want to rip ya up."

Simon pulled away and opened a drawer. Pulling out a small bottle, he tossed it on the bed, then reached for Mal again. Jayne, being the direct sort, stripped down as Mal sucked on Simon's tongue. When Jayne was naked, he stepped in close again, working a hand in between Mal and Simon to pinch a nipple.

Mal let Simon go and stepped back to get his own clothes out of the way. Jayne's big hands were spread out on Simon's body, one teasing a nipple as the other hefted the boy's balls. Simon panted softly as he was caressed, his eyes following Mal's movements with hunger.

"How do ya want to do this, Simon?" Jayne's voice was rough with lust.

"Tianna, every way possible."

Jayne chuckled, his warm breath causing Simon to shiver. Mal was naked by that point, so he reached out to cup Simon's face. The boy looked as if he was going to jump out of his skin if he didn't get release soon.

"Simon, do you want one after the other or both of us at once? Want to suck one of us while the other one fucks you?"

Simon's mind drifted back to the fantasy he'd had while jerking off in front of Pritch. Even with most of his blood pooled in his crotch, his brain still processed the fact that his decision now would influence his future with these two men.

"Jayne says I have a pretty mouth."

Jayne moaned; his cock flexed against Simon; Mal nodded.

"Jayne, get on the bed."

That was an order Jayne had no trouble following. He made himself comfortable against the wall as he watched Mal kiss Simon once more, then whisper softly to him. Simon nodded, then climbed onto the bed to kneel between Jayne's legs.

Jayne gasped as he watched the head of his generous cock slide past Simon's pretty lips. Mal picked up the bottle Simon had tossed on the bed earlier and used the contents to slick himself, wiping the extra between Simon's cheeks. Gripping lean hips, Mal pulled him back so that he could stand on the floor to enter Simon.

Jayne was in heaven. Simon wasn't the most skilled he'd ever had suck him, but the eager way the boy went at it more than made up for it. After hearing what Pritch had said, Jayne figured that Simon had little or no experience in this area.

He allowed his hands to caress the boy's head, making no move to guide him for fear of hurting Simon. He didn't want anything about their first time to remind Simon of what he had suffered at Pritch's hands. Besides, Jayne was in no hurry for this to end.

He closed his eyes to shut out the image of Simon's mouth opened wide to receive him. He let himself get lost in the feel of the hot wet mouth sucking at the crown as Simon gripped the base firmly in his fist. The music of Mal's body slapping against Simon's floated on the air as Mal panted. Simon's moans around the thick cock as Mal rode him, sent a delightful shiver through Jayne's body.

Simon was lost in the sensations, fantasy now made real. He reveled in the strong male scent of Jayne, just enough musk to spike his desire. Jayne was every bit as big as he'd expected. Simon didn't try to take in the whole thing, knew he couldn't, but in the back of his mind was the determination to practice until he could take it all.

Behind him, Mal grunted as he drove deep into Simon's body. Mal, too, had nothing to be ashamed of; he was nice and thick, opened up Simon's hole just shy of pain. He'd set an easy rhythm, like Jayne, he was in no hurry for this to be over.

Simon was tight and hot, and his hips rocked back to meet Mal as though made for that task alone. It had been a long time since Mal had enjoyed anyone the way he was enjoying the slender man he was riding. The muscles tightened around him, tissues clinging to him in spite of the generous amount of lube he'd used.

Simon lifted his head to look over his shoulder at his lover, "Mal, touch me, please. I need to come."

Mal gave a short nod and bent over Simon's back so he could grab the boy's beautiful cock. At the first touch of the callused hand Simon whimpered, little of the sound making it past the big dick in his mouth. Mal matched his strokes on Simon's cock with the ones in his ass.

Jayne opened his eyes and looked at Mal, a big grin splitting his face as he bucked up toward Simon. Mal allowed a smile to flit across his face before he increased his rhythm in that fine ass.

"Simon, I'm gonna come. Don't have ta drink it if'n ya don't wanna."

Simon made no move to pull away. Jayne growled as his balls pulled up and then he was shooting hard, harder than he could ever remember. Simon did his best to swallow it all, but there was too much and he'd had so little experience. Mal shifted behind him and pulled harder at his cock. Simon let Jayne's cock slide from his mouth as he arched his back and sprayed come on the bed and Jayne's legs. The tight spasms of Simon's ass brought an end to Mal's control and he made a sound reminiscent of a bull moose's bellow as he flooded Simon's innards with his seed.

Simon collapsed in slow motion to lie with his head on Jayne's belly. Mal pulled out of him tenderly and crawled onto the bed next to them. None of them remembered going to sleep.

Zoe's urgent but controlled voice woke them sometime later.

"Captain, we need you on the bridge, right away. We got company."

Mal was up and moving before the last word left her mouth; Jayne a heartbeat behind him. Simon followed wearing nothing but his robe, marveling at Mal's and Jayne's ability to get dressed while on the run. Wash moved to allow Mal to sit as soon as he entered the bridge. Simon ducked to the side so he wouldn't be in the camera angle.

A beautiful man smiled when Mal sat in front of the camera.

"Hello, Mal. You're still as handsome as ever, I see. Have you missed me, baobei zhangfu?"

+++

End of Chapter 15


Chapter 16: Into the Fire
Author: sffan
Email: sffan2004@hotmail.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Jayne
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Much thanks to skripka and J. for the Chinese translations

Summary: Jayne makes a move and Mal prepares to meet his husband

+++

wode reren xi ai = my sweet
qin ai de = darling
tianna = oh God
baobei = precious
chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo = animal fucking bastard

++++

Mal stands stunned, staring at the view screen. It has been over a decade since he'd last seen Rem and he had thought that all his old feelings for the man were dead and buried. But seeing him again makes Mal realize that he had just been fooling himself. His knees go weak and he casually grips the back of Wash's chair to steady himself. He tries to maintain a faade of calm, but he knows how he looks, his shirt half buttoned, his hair a mass of twists - he looks like he's been fucking and he knows that Rem's noticed too, from the quirked eyebrow and the slight smirk on his gorgeous face. He can feel the flush on his cheeks as he stares into knowing green eyes and tries desperately to order his thoughts.

"What? Nothing to say wode reren xi ai?" Rem says jovially. "Oh well, you'll get your chance in..." Rem trails off and looks quickly at a sensor by his hand, "...about three hours. Make yourself ready, qin ai de, I think we'll be conducting this conversation face to face." Rem's expression suddenly hardens and he says quietly, "Oh, and Mal? Don't even think about running. I'll catch you, and it won't go well for you or your crew if you make me chase after you."

Rem reaches down and flips a switch and the view screen goes dark.

Mal remains staring at the blank screen. He can feel the others' eyes on him, but he can't bring himself to turn and face them.

Wash cranes his head back and gives Mal a look of incredulity. "HUSBAND?!?" He exclaims. "I thought you said that you were best friends before he sold you out during the war? Sounds like you were a hell of a lot more than friends."

"You lied to us, Sir," Zoe says bleakly. "I think we deserve better than that, don't you?"

"Huh? You're married to that guy, Mal? Thought you hated purple bellies?" Jayne asks, his brow furrowed in confusion.

Their words flow around him, none of them fully registering. He knows they're expecting an answer, but he's not ready to tell them yet. Steeling himself, Mal looks away from the viewscreen and says in his coldest voice, "Don't you all have something better to do? The Feds are going to be crawling all over this place in three hours, and unless we all want to end up in prison for harbouring fugitives we'd better figure out somewhere to hide all traces of the Tams. I suggest you get to work."

Mal turns and stalks out of the cockpit.

"He's right," Zoe says. "We've got work to do. Simon, I suggest you go find your sister..." Zoe turns to Simon's hiding spot and sees that he's gone. "Damn, where'd he get off to? Jayne, go help him, make sure all traces of him and River are covered, dong ma?"

Jayne nods and heads out. He hurries down the corridor towards Simon's bunk and soon catches up to the shorter man. He grabs Simon around the waist and pulls him back hard against his body. Simon stumbles briefly and then stills in Jayne's arms.

"That drug still in your system?" Jayne growls in Simon's ear as his hand slips inside Simon's robe. "'Cause I'd really like to fuck you right now. I figure we got some time before hidin' you and your sister." Simon gasps when Jayne's fingers brush a light trail down his abdomen.

"Yes," Simon moans, arching back against Jayne.

"Yes to what?" Jayne asks facetiously, licking Simon's ear and running his fingers along the hard length of Simon's cock.

"To both," Simon gasps and grinds back against Jayne.

They make their way back to Simon's quarters quickly and as soon as the door is closed Simon is on Jayne, kissing him fiercely and humping against him. Jayne pulls back slightly, making some space between them and slowly slides his hands inside the V of Simon's robe, spreading it open. He slowly drags his hands down Simon's ribs and down to his hips. Jayne cups Simon's ass and gives it a gentle squeeze before he slides his hands up Simon's back. Simon arches against Jayne and moans into his mouth, his hands clutching at Jayne's shirt.

Jayne slides the robe off of Simon's shoulders and walks him backward towards the bunk. He lays Simon down on the bunk and pulls away to remove his clothing. Simon's hands travel all over his own body, touching, teasing, and stroking as he watches Jayne undress.

"Hurry Jayne," Simon gasps. "I want you, need you, tianna, so much."

Jayne finishes undressing and slides his hands up Simon's thighs. Simon spreads his legs wide and reaches for Jayne's cock. Jayne captures his hand and brings it to his lips. He plants a soft, gentle kiss in the palm of Simon's hand and then puts it back down on the bed firmly with a look that tells Simon not to try it again.

Jayne cups Simon's face in one large hand and leans forward to draw Simon's bottom lip into his mouth. Jayne sucks on it gently, running his tongue over and over the spot where Smith pierced the soft skin with his teeth. Simon moans and clutches at Jayne, arching upward, trying to rub their bodies together.

"Jaaaynnne..." Simon whines desperately bucking his hips upward. "Fuck me, gorramit. Fuck me. I need it. Need you. Please."

"Shhhh, baobei. I will. All in good time. Mal's gonna castrate me for comin' after you like this - I'm gonna make the best of it, gonna make it last." Jayne replies, gazing down at Simon, his eyes dark with desire.

Jayne pushes Simon back onto the bunk and runs his fingers over his body, caressing the bruises Smith's rough handling left behind on Simon's chest and sides. He leans down and kisses each one with an unexpected delicacy that shocks Simon and sends waves of heat pouring down his spine.

"I'm real proud of you," Jayne says, caressing the bruises again.

"What for?" Simon questions, body arching into Jayne's touch, his brow wrinkled in confusion, brain clouded by lust.

"For the way you took care of that chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo, Smith. I couldn't have done better myself, though I probably woulda made the fucker suffer a bit more," Jayne says grimly.

Oddly pleased at Jayne's words, Simon blushes and smiles and then pulls Jayne's head down for a long, wet kiss. Simon tongue fucks Jayne's mouth and begins rubbing his dripping cock against his hip.

Jayne pulls away again with a grin on his face. He starts by licking each of the bruises again and continues on to lick every inch of Simon's body. Simon loses track of how many times he comes - on Jayne's tongue, in his hand, against his hip, and again and again - with the drug still raging in his system, he's insatiable and unflagging - moments after coming, he's hard again, arching against Jayne, begging for more and more.

By the time Jayne flips him over and starts licking wet trails of fire down his spine, Simon barely has a voice left to moan his name. His whole body vibrates with need, shuddering and twisting under Jayne when the big man finally enters him in one long, steady push. Jayne lies flat against him, and begins long slow thrusts that brush up and down his prostate with every stroke. Simon gasps breathlessly and arches up against Jayne, pushing him in deep.

"Yes Jayne, oh please, feels so good," Simon whispers raggedly. "More. Tianna, Jayne. Harder, please."

Jayne growls and nips at the back of Simon's neck making the smaller man shudder. Jayne continues the languid pace, building his own orgasm slowly. He can feel it approaching closer and closer, but can't quite push himself over the edge.

"Think you can come for me again?" Jayne whispers in Simon's ear as he slides his hand under the smaller man's hip and down to grip his cock.

Simon gasps and starts to thrust into Jayne's hand. Jayne strokes the throbbing cock in his hand a few times and then runs his thumb over the head. With a silent scream, Simon comes one last time, convulsing under Jayne. Simon's body clenching around him is all Jayne needs. Moaning Simon's name, Jayne comes, his hips jerking hard against Simon's ass.

Shaking with after shocks, Jayne rests on his elbows to stop himself from crushing Simon. Still buried deep inside him, Jayne gathers the smaller man into his arms and rolls them onto their sides. Simon sighs quietly and pulls Jayne's arms tighter around him and instantly falls asleep. As he cradles Simon's limp body in his arms, Jayne knows he's going to fight Mal every step of the way for possession of this beautiful young man. There's no way he's going to walk away from this without a battle.

Fighting the sleep that threatens to pull him under too, Jayne kisses Simon's shoulder and strokes his chest gently. He glances at the clock and begins to swear under his breath. They only have 45 minutes before the Nemesis shows up.

"Simon. Simon, gorramit, wake up," Jayne says, shaking Simon by the shoulder. "We don't got much time left to hide you and that moon brain sister of yours." Simon doesn't move. He appears to have passed out completely. "Fuck. SIMON!"


Mal sits on his bunk with an ornate black lacquer box in his hands. He runs his fingers over the dragon design imbedded in the lid and then slowly opens it. Reaching inside, his hand pauses briefly on the silver cross necklace his mother gave him for his first Communion, before continuing on to pick up the simple gold band, gleaming against the deep red of the lining.

He puts the box down and holds the ring in the palm of his hand. Mal stares at it, remembering the simple ceremony in which he and Rem exchanged their vows and symbols of their supposed undying devotion. Mal picks up the ring and runs his fingers over the high Mandarin characters carved on the inside - Yours. Forever.

He sighs quietly and slips the ring onto his finger.

+++

End of Chapter 16


Chapter 17: The Coming Night

Author: Eleanor K.
Email: emungere@yahoo.com
Pairing: none in this chapter
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: All hail Joss.
Notes: Huge amounts of gratitude to Cab for the beta.

Summary: Book's been dumped on an unfamiliar planet. Now what?

+++

The spaceport was darkening into evening gloom, but people still hurried from place to place, food carts still filled the air with the smell of sizzling fat, and ships still rose and fell in patterns that seemed designed to guarantee a collision would take place sooner or later.

Book looked around at it all and found he was somewhat at a loss.

He rummaged through his bag, searching for the transmitter, and was unsurprised to find it missing. He would need to find a Cortex connection. The first thing to do was to report, of course.

Well, no. The first thing to do was to find out what planet the captain had dumped him on. Then find lodging, then get a decent meal, then report.

He looked over the plan in his mind and found it satisfactory, save for one thing: The captain. That was not how he should be thinking of Malcolm Reynolds. Reynolds was not his captain now, had in fact never been, and certainly wasn't the captain, even if Book would have to search his mind with a good degree of thoroughness to find someone who fit the word better.

And that was another thing--Book. The dance was over. He could drop that personality now. Should drop it, probably. Easy enough to get a new one if that became necessary.

He nodded to himself and started moving slowly through the crowd, bumping no one if he could help it, murmuring apologies when he couldn't. He stopped short. That was Book's politeness, not his. Book's behavior patterns.

He started out again, quickening his pace and deliberately shoving one man aside--a man chosen for his small stature and the fact that he was carrying a box large enough to impede any attempts at retribution.

Book-- Commander Early smiled at the cursing that got him and continued on his way.


"Yes, sir. One room left. You're lucky you got here when you did."

"How much?"

He paid, and the girl at the desk showed him up to the room herself.

"After all," she said. "It's not as if I'll be checking anyone else in tonight."

She opened the door and handed him the key. "Sink and facilities built right into the wall, as per usual, and the bed slides out if you just touch here--" She did, and the bed extended. "--and folds back into a sofa like so. Anything else I can do for you, Shepherd?"

He smiled at her. "No, child. This will do quite nicely, thank you."

She left, seemingly not expecting a tip, which was good, as he had little enough money to spare.

Shepherd. Well, of course there was the collar. He'd have to get rid of that. Only not quite yet. Shepherd one day and layman the next--it would look suspicious, and he couldn't afford that.

Just as well he'd given his name as Book. And why exactly had he done that?

No matter. He had a room, and he'd had a meal. Now it was time to report. He set his bag on the expanding bed/sofa and crossed slowly to the comm unit.

He'd been on this planet--Sunde--for nearly three hours. Three hours in which Serenity had been getting farther and farther away, and more and more difficult to trace.

He should have reported at once. They would want to know why he hadn't.

He wanted to know why he hadn't.

At the time...it had seemed so sensible. Get a room, get a meal, find out where the hell he was. No reason to rush the report--except that there was every reason to rush the report.

He let out a breath that wasn't quite a sigh and turned back to the bed. He'd have to think of an excuse. Meanwhile, he might as well unpack.

He only got as far as opening the bag. He'd thrown Inara's bible away the first chance he got, but his own copy was staring up at him now. He touched it. Smooth leather, worn pages. He picked it up and tilted it until he could see the irregular profile where River had patched in the pages she'd torn out.

She'd put it in his hand and placed his other hand on top of it and smiled at him. Told him that she was "sorry about the hair." He'd never been sure whether she meant her reaction to his hair, or the fact that he had it at all.

He should throw it away. He wasn't that person any more. He'd never been much of one for sermons, the listening to or the giving of. Never been much of one for religion at all. He could never figure out what place religion had in a 'verse where something like Serenity Valley could happen. That was maybe the only thing he and Reynolds had in common.

He opened the book at random. His eyes fell on an underlined verse.

John, chapter 9, verse 4: "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work."

He remembered the day-turned-to-night when that passage had spoken so strongly to him: the explosion, the eerie silence afterward as Serenity drifted through the black, River's assurance that they would die not of suffocation, but of the endless cold of the void. He shivered.

He remembered pouring over his bible, submerging himself in Book's persona as the only comfort he had, and for a time it had truly comforted him.

That passage, Christ's words, had seemed so clear. Do the work you were sent here to do. Do your master's bidding.

It was what he had done all his life, for one master or another. His father, the police force back on Tolon, the Home Guard, and finally the Alliance. All his life.

The night cometh, when no man can work.

He'd never read much of the Bible prior to taking on Book's character. He didn't know if the words had a specific connotation. He only knew the feeling they had produced in him that night and still produced now: despair, and an overwhelming sense of recognition.

As long as he could remember, he had watched the downward slide of civilization. He'd seen it in his son's eyes long before the boy left him, left home, left a butcher's knife in his mother's heart. He'd seen it over and over in the war, seen things that even he hadn't believed were possible for human beings to do to other human beings.

He remembered a day, the height of noon, bodies rotting in the sun.

He'd just joined Intelligence. They'd recruited him out of the blue, and he'd gone from over-the-hill sergeant-for-life to commissioned officer in the space of a week. The only orders he had to follow came from his superiors in Intelligence and the base C.O.

Back from a solo reconnaissance mission, he'd walked across a battle field that hadn't been there when he set out. Among the corpses, he'd found one man still alive. A boy, really. Seventeen, perhaps younger. The uniform had looked to be one of theirs, though it was really too shredded and stained to be sure.

He'd brought the boy back to have his wounds tended, carried him over his shoulder as the boy's blood oozed down his back and congealed on his uniform. In the hospital tent, the doctors had tended the boy's wounds, given him water, coaxed him to tell them what unit he was with so they could notify his C.O.--assuming his C.O. was still alive.

"Company A," the boy had gasped, barely conscious. "Foxtrot platoon."

The Alliance had no Foxtrot platoon on that planet. But the rebels did.

The base C.O. had ordered Early to return the boy to the battle field and leave him there.

"He could have information--"

"He'll be dead before morning without treatment, and I'm sure as hell not wasting medical supplies on him. Get him out of here before he croaks. I won't waste men digging a grave for him just so we don't have to smell his corpse."

If he'd been with Intelligence longer, he might have argued. But he was used to following orders.

It had been a far longer walk back to the battle field than Early had remembered. He'd dropped the boy more roughly than he'd intended.

The boy stirred. "Water, please..."

Early had reached for the canteen that hung from his belt--and stopped. Water was rationed. And there was a long, hot walk in front of him.

"Water..."

He turned away and started back to camp. The pleas grew fainter behind him. The boy would be dead by morning anyway.

He shut the bible with a snap. The heat of that day followed him as he came back to the present. He went to the sink and hung his mouth under the faucet, gulped without waiting to find a glass. The water was warm, and as he wiped it from his mouth he had to suppress the disquieting impression that it was blood he was wiping away.

He looked at the bible from across the small room.

The night cometh.

His night was already here. That boy, his son, River, Simon, the experiment... The list of his sins was too great to tally. If he were to go to confession he would literally not know where to start.

He sank down to sit on the floor. His fingers fumbled with the Shepherd's collar at his throat, but he could not get it off.


Lina Harper counted stairs as she climbed to the second floor. At ten, she felt with her foot for the flat surface of the floor. She strained and failed to see anything beyond the mound of towels in her arms, but that was not a problem. She was used to this. She edged over to the right--four sideways steps--and knocked on the first door. It was that nice old Shepherd's room. He wouldn't mind that she had her hands too full to lay the towel out for him like she was supposed to.

She knocked again. Maybe he was taking a nap.

She heard the sound of someone moving inside, shuffling footsteps coming toward the door. She shifted the pile of towels to her hip and braced it against the doorjamb so she'd be able to see him.

The door opened. Lina stared. It was the same man, wasn't it? His face was so pale, and his eyes... His eyes were empty. Just...empty. No one home.

"Shepherd Book? Are... Are you all right?"

He blinked. And smiled at her. His eyes twinkled, no longer empty.

"Of course, child. I'm fine."


He took a towel from the top of the pile, thanked her, and gently closed the door.

He looked at the clock. Two hours he'd been sitting there on the floor. Not a thought in his head. If the girl hadn't knocked he might have stayed there all night. His mind had been working so slowly by the time he answered the door that he could hardly remember his own name.

It was frightening how easily Book had come back to fill that void.

He had to do something. At this point, he wasn't sure it mattered what, but he needed to act.

He moved slowly until he stood before the comm unit. About to put in a scrambler code his employers had given him in case of emergencies, he paused.

Instead, he logged onto the Cortex using an old identity, one which he had reason to hope even his employers were unaware of, and requested a search. He entered search terms quickly: Rem Elliot, Alliance Cruiser Nemesis, Fonda Ridge Prison. After a moment's hesitation, he added 'Zhe Shou' and pressed the transmit button.

He had made no decisions, he told himself. He was only gathering information. Doing reconnaissance. It was what he'd been trained to do, after all.

And if there was one thing in the 'verse he was sure of, it was that, one way or another, he was still right in the middle of this mess, and he didn't know nearly enough about it.

He hadn't known Reynolds at all, it seemed. The man he thought he knew would surely have killed him. He didn't really know what had been done to River, not the specifics. He knew next to nothing about his employers.

He was a soldier. He would collect information, form a plan, and carry it out to the best of his ability. It was all he knew to do.

He sat down and waited for the search results, trying to ignore the confusion and despair still waiting for him, just beneath the surface of his mind.

+++

End of Chapter 17


Chapter 18: So Long As Love Shall Last

Author: Karah Ross
Email: chakotaykim@yahoo.com
Pairing: Mal/Other; Simon/Jayne
Rating: PG-13 with some bad language.
Disclaimer: All hail Joss.
Notes: Hope I got the years right. In this the war lasted 2 years with the 7 years since like midnightblue mentioned (thanks btw).

Summary: Mal has some explaining to do. And Jayne and Kaylee freak out for a while

+++

wo yu zhang = my beautiful husband

+++

"Husband, huh?"

Mal jerked to see Zoe standing at the base of the ladder. "Dammit Zoe! Don't sneak up on me!"

Zoe shook her head. "I think, sir, you owe me an explanation."

Mal nodded. "I s'pose I do."

Zoe waited for a moment and then came to sit next to him. "He was your best friend but it became more."

Mal nodded. "I still don't know exactly how we got from playing with sling shots in the fields to..."

"Playing with each other in the fields?"

Mal snorted, holding in hysterical laughter. "Something like that. We were always together and eventually we decided to make it official."

Zoe nodded. "He left you when he went Alliance. You were his husband and he left you. That's why you looked for him and why you didn't believe he was Alliance."

Mal didn't respond. His eyes held a far away look... as if he was still lost in the memory. "Ten years and a day," he muttered.

"Sir?"

"Ten years and a day."

"I don't understand, sir."

Mal smiled bitterly. "We were handfasted, not married."

"Never heard of it."

"It's an old tradition. A couple is in contract to live as if married for a period of time. It's usually a year and a day but Rem wanted it to last longer. So we picked ten years and day. The couples' hands are tied together-"

"Fastened? But you chose to wear rings instead."

Mal nodded. "And they're blessed. The contract can be renewed at anytime."

"So when did the contract lapse?"

"It hasn't. It's still in effect for another sixteen days."

"Shit, Mal! The Zhe Shou are playing us. All of it."

Mal nodded and stood. "I know."

Standing, Zoe straightened her spine. "So how do we play them?"

"I don't know. I just don't know."


"River!"

Jayne stuck his head out of Simon's room to see Kaylee chasing River. He sighed. With Simon out cold, they couldn't just sedate her.

"Must find. Must find," River chanted as she skipped into the infirmary.

Kaylee stopped short in front of Jayne. She panted slightly and then looked at Jayne. "How's Simon?"

"Out cold. I think the drug did it."

"Oh and you fucking him for two hours don't have nothing to do with it." Kaylee shook her head ruefully as her own fancying of Simon slipped away.

Jayne cleared his throat, not sure what to say to Kaylee. "How the hell are we going to hide them? We can't get all of his stuff outta there without his help and River..."

River floated back to Kaylee and handed her about thirty origami cranes. "Must find."

Kaylee tossed the cranes into her room. There was a growing pile of the paper birds. "Dammit, River, we don't have time to find all of your cranes!"

River stopped and looked at Jayne and Kaylee down her nose. "Mal said remove all traces of us. So unless one of you knows how to make them, we need to find them all." With that she promptly turned and headed for the cockpit.

"Shit! How the hell are we going to hide River, Simon, and a thousand fucking cranes!"

Kaylee laughed at Jayne's snarl. "Try thinking that with a `And get Jayne to quit fucking Simon'. I'm out of ideas myself but we've got to come up with something."

River returned with another handful of cranes. She pulled one from the top of the pile. She unfolded it and smiled.

QUARANTINE.

"Wha... Kaylee, do we have a sheet of metal we can weld up here?"

"Yeah but... oh, we can slap something up there, say it's quarantined because of an old passenger and it won't matter that it looks thrown together."

"Exactly. River, you got all the cranes?" She nodded. "Then get in there and keep your brother quiet when he wakes up. Kaylee, let's go get that metal."


Mal stood tall and arrow straight as the Nemesis docked with Serenity's only docking hatch. Briefly, he wished Zoe was there to back him up but she'd gone to make sure that Jayne and Kaylee had River and Simon all hidden.

So Mal was alone when he first saw his wayward husband after nearly eight years.

"Ah, Mal, how are you, wo yu zhang?"

Malcolm Reynolds looked into the eyes of Remzija Elliot and could only think of the vow he had once made to this man. So Long As Love Shall Last.

+++

End of Chapter 18


Chapter 19: Above and Below

Author: midnightBlue0162
Email: nifflet@hotmail.com
Pairing: Mal/Other
Rating: R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Huge thanks to skripka for holding my hand through this insanity, and telling me to stop fighting the muse. She couldn't have been more right. Also, thanks to Eli for distracting me when I needed it least ;). The name Sachiel is Greek for 'angel of water', thanks to Homie V for pointing out the obvious there.

Summary: What came before.

+++

..rising..

"Ha!! Gotcha!"

"Rutting hell, Mal! Father's gonna kill me. You ripped my shirt!"

Mal grinned down at the tiny hint of shoulder that showed through the tear in Rem's shirt. They'd been playing, chasing each other through Rem's father's fields, dodging horses and cattle along the way. When Mal got tired of running, he'd thrown himself on Rem, tackling him to the ground in a patch of tall grass. After a brief struggle he'd pinned Rem beneath him, but Rem stayed there on his own. Rem was stronger than he was.

"Barely," he panted. "My mama can fix it though, if you're worried." He rolled off Rem and lay flat on his back beside him, one arm folded under his head, the other resting over his still galloping heart. Shadow's sky was wide and endless above them, her soil rich and soft below. Mal saw the sliver of the first moon and wondered if he'd ever get to see one up close.

"Rem?"

"Mal."

"D'you reckon we'll ever leave Shadow?"

Rem shifted onto his side, propping his head up on one hand so he could face Mal. "Nope. You're stuck here, Reynolds, doomed to have cowshit on your boots for the rest of your miserable life."

"What about you?" Mal looked up into those flashing green eyes, ignoring the joke.

"What about me?"

Mal looked away, studying a fat purple cloud. "Think you'll ever leave? I mean, I know your pa's learnin' you the ranch business, and you're already rich, but smart as you are, ain't no reason for you to stay stuck on this--"

Rem's lips whispered across his like a breeze, a gentle touch and drag that gave him chills in the warm afternoon air. Rem's hand was heavy on his shoulder, fingers sweeping over his sweaty neck.

"I've got reasons, Mal."

And Rem was up, tearing across the field toward home. Mal licked his lips, still blinking from the happy shock of his first kiss. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and he leapt to his feet, taking two steps before skidding to a halt.

"Fuck!" Mal glared down at the sole of his boot. "Gorram cows!"


Rem's father died later that year. His baby sister Sachiel clung to Mal's neck during the funeral while he whispered love songs in her ear. That night, her brother cried himself to sleep with his head in Mal's lap.


They always met in the grass.

Rem had grown again, easing into sharper planes and angles, his golden hair darkening to a honeyed brown. Mal had turned from stocky to strapping over the last few months, and found he could pin Rem down more easily. But Rem was still stronger when he wanted to be. They were both nineteen, four years from that first kiss, and the grass hid them from everything but the sky.

Mal held back a whimper as Rem's tongue slipped behind his balls. He spread his knees wide and tilted his hips, fingers reaching for Rem's hair. They missed, curling into his own thighs instead. Mal tossed his head when he felt the first wet stab, and bit his bottom lip to keep from moaning.

"Don't." Rem's breath was a damp tease on his skin. "I like hearing you, Mal. Don't hold back with me."

Rem smiled at the breathless chuckle from above. Mal was vibrating under his touch, slick under his lips, filling his mouth and hands. He flattened his tongue and licked a broad path up from the base of Mal's cock, teasing the head before sucking it into his mouth. Mal's groan flowed like rain down his back, making him shiver in the late morning sun. He pulled off briefly, keeping his bottom lip against the throbbing head.

"That's better." He sucked at the slit, spreading the taste around his mouth as Mal's voice cracked on his name. "Everything, Mal. Give me everything."

Rem's world suddenly turned upside-down.

Mal was looming over him, a predatory gleam in his eyes. He held Rem's wrists to the ground and lowered his face until his lips just brushed the air over Rem's mouth. Rem moved to kiss him, but Mal dodged out of the way.

"You want everything, Remzija?" One rough hand stroked down the side of his torso and snuck under his thigh, lifting and spreading it to the side. "'Cause the way I see it..." Fingers dipped into the pool on his stomach, sliding down and down and finally circling, pressing, teasing him gently. "That only leaves us one option."

Rem held Mal's eyes, reading flickers of uncertainty behind the fire. He rocked his hips back against the fingers and watched the subtle play of emotions over Mal's face. The last one he caught before Mal leaned in to kiss him was so pure and hungry that he had to close his eyes. He'd asked for everything.

Mal didn't hold back.


..falling..

They found her floating face-down in the lake, her toffee-brown hair drifting on endless waves. Mal followed Rem into the water and carried them both out. He would never wish to be stronger than Rem again.

Rem's mother never quite recovered. Sascha had been barely seven years old. When Rem crawled in through his window at night after drugging his mother to sleep, Mal held him and kissed him and made love to him until Rem was too exhausted to dream.

They were married a year later.


The man pushed another button and the device retracted well before the screams died down. He nodded to his partner on the other side of the glass barrier, who spoke impassively in Rem's ear.

"I won't ask again, Mr. Elliott. The drugs we gave her prevent her from feeling the full effects. The cattle-herder's son will not have that advantage. The choice is yours."

Rem looked through the glass into his mother's tear-stained face and thought he saw blood seeping from her fingertips. He closed his eyes against her sobs and saw Mal looking stunned after their first kiss. Mal, slipping the ring on his finger a year ago and saying words he'd always kept secret. Mal rising above him, flushed and panting, their hands locked together above as their bodies joined below.

Mal. Oh God, Mal, forgive me.

"I'll do whatever you want."

His heart twisted painfully as he turned his back on his mother and followed the man into another room. Rem slipped the ring off his finger and dropped it in his pocket.

The pain vanished. There was nothing left to take its place.

+++

End of Chapter 19


Chapter 20: The Bitter Pill

Author: Ty Wiles
Email: tywiles@yahoo.com
Pairing: Mal/Other
Rating: R
Warning: vaguely non-con
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: This is a lot longer than the 500 word limit and the last is a little rushed, but that's the next guys problem now.

Summary: Rem and Mal face a little reality

+++

baobei = precious
tianna = oh god

+++

It wasn't the memories swirling around his head that made Rem Elliot's insides shake. It was the look on his husband's face that shook him. Half cold and guarded, half heartbroken; it was the same as when Mal had realized he'd betrayed them to the Alliance.

Voluntary or not, duress or not, it hadn't mattered to Mal then. He'd pushed Rem's reasons aside. Rem should have known that he had been willing to die for the cause. Mal had never understood that the cause was hopeless and not worth his life. Rem's demands that he let it go and forget independence hadn't helped. Mal had just seen it as another betrayal. For the first time he hadn't deferred to Rem's wishes. His sweet biddable Mal had hardened toward him in an instant and it didn't look like things had changed.

Still he had to try. He stepped forward. Mal tensed, but he stood his ground and his expression shifted to give away nothing. A smile tugged at Rem's lips. Mal's poker face had certainly developed over the years but he was oddly sexy when he was on the defensive. Rem raised his hand to touch that beautiful face only to have his husband jerk as if he'd been struck.

Anger burned though him. He hadn't even been close to touching Mal. Gorram it. This was his husband; he'd touch him any time he wanted to. His empty palm clasped the back of Mal's neck and pulled him forward into a rough kiss.

Despite Mal stiffening in his arms, Rem persisted. He's always been the stronger of the two and Mal's attempts to push him away were easy to ignore. His grip was enough to counter Mal's fists against his chest. Using his free hand Rem applied pressure on his jawbone until he could re-stake his claim on his husband's mouth. His gaze met Mal's cold, angry one but a few centimeters away.

It didn't change anything. He could see Mal's eyelids fluttering almost against his will. He finally pulled back. Mal's lips were bruised and slightly swollen, his face flushed. Rem didn't care if it was mostly anger and embarrassment; there was passion in there. It made his husband even more beautiful. "You are mine. You always have been."

Before Mal could respond he turned to bark at his men. "Round up the crew and bring them here. Then search this ship. Tear it apart if you have to, I want to know what they're up to."

He turned back to the man struggling against the hand on his neck. "Unless you want to tell me, baobei?"

If possible Mal's gaze turned even colder. Rem grinned. "I thought not."

He released Mal suddenly. He stumbled at the lack of resistance and a startled expression filtered over his face. Rem's grin turned feral as he made a nodding gesture toward his husband. Before he could offer a protest, Mal Reynolds was being marched off his own ship.

"You have you orders, hop to."

One young officer spoke up before Rem could leave Serenity's hold. "Um, where will you be sir when we've finished searching?"

Rem's lip twitched before he deadpanned, "I'll be debriefing this fine ship's Captain."


Mal Reynolds was pissed not just at Rem and the guards that had tied him naked to their captain's bed, but at himself. He'd thought he got over being tongue-tied around Rem Elliot when he was ten.

Rem had always had a strong presence. He still did. (Judging from the pain in Mal's neck he now had a grip to match.) The problem was that just as he could be charming and charismatic when he wanted to, he could also be viscous and cruel. There was just something about Rem that made people want to follow him. How else did anyone get two Core-grown jug-heads to strip a struggling man and tie him to a bed?

Mal sighed. At least it was warm in Rem's quarters. The halls certainly weren't. Then again Rem had always hated the cold. Or at least that had been his excuse when he wanted Mal to spend the night before they married.

Mal sighed again. He knew he was pretty much doomed. Rem knew him; knew how to push his buttons. There was no way he'd be able to remain cold toward him.

He also knew that Rem would try to get him to talk. Mal swore loudly into to empty room. He'd have to be careful. If he admitted to smuggling, Rem would impound Serenity and Simon and River would be found for sure. If he admitted to nothing then, Rem would probably keep searching until he found something. If he couldn't find anything and there was no proof they'd done anything wrong, there was a slight chance they might be let go.

Mal frowned at the ceiling. He'd just have to trust Zoe and Jayne to take care of things over there and not say one gorram word. Judging by the look on Rem's face as he entered the room it wasn't going to be easy.

Rem's predatory smile spelled bad news for Mal's peace of mind. As did Rem's slow deliberate perusal of his body. "Laid out and waiting for me just the way a husband should be."

Mal wanted to snap that he wouldn't be his husband for long. Instead he tightened his jaw. It was already sore but the pain kept him in focus.

Rem smiled wider as he began to remove his uniform. Mal's mouth went dry. Rem had always been strong and prided himself on his body, but the sheer amount of muscle on his chest was intimidating. He remembered only too well the feel of Rem's warm weight on him. This Rem would be hotter, heavier. His cock jumped.

Rem chuckled. "Don't worry, babe. I plan on making up for the years lost to your foolishness."

As he spoke, he'd eased the rest of his clothes off. His hand began to stroke the length of his erection drawing Mal's gaze. "Do you remember how it used to be?"

Mal moaned through clinched teeth. Tianna, yes, he remembered how good that hand could feel. He remembered just how skilled Rem was in using that cock to giving him pleasure. And it had been so long, not since Rem had he been with anyone that way. There was more than just a twitch of interest this time.

Rem left off playing with himself and crossed to the bed. The hand he'd touched himself with wrapped around Mal. His caress was rough and wild. Within a half dozen strokes he was rock hard and straining into Rem's touch. Mal closed his eyes and just let it happen.

Rem's other hand carded through Mal's hair. He tugged sharply pulling Mal's head back. His kiss was rougher and more possessive than the one in the hold. It set Mal's nerves on end and made his pulse jump. He took advantage of Mal's gasping breath. His tongue moved over Mal's in time with his hand.

Mal barely had time to moan as Rem let go of him and moved to straddle his chest. Breaking his kiss, Rem pulled a Mal's hair until he opened his eyes. Mal knew where this was leading, but he ignored that knowledge and looked up at Rem's face.

His grin sent tingles up his spine. Rem's hands slid up his arms to rest on the bindings. "If you're good I could be persuaded that these aren't necessary.

Mal's gaze left Rem's green eyes to wonder over the cock just centimeters from his chin. He'd never particularly liked this, but Rem seemed to think he was good at it. What the hell? He certainly couldn't spill the bean with his mouth full.

Rem must have seen his intent, as he slipped his fingers through Mal's and shifted forward. "That certainly wouldn't hurt."

Rem tasted the same as he remembered, but he wasn't passive anymore. Holding his head and moving it any way he pleased, Rem fucked Mal's mouth. It was almost as if he was trying to imprint his taste and feel on Mal's tongue.

Angrily he pulled away. "I don't like to share Mal, you know that. And yet you looked well fucked this afternoon."

He reached into the bedside table. Roughly Rem prepared him. The anger in his movements actually made Mal hotter. He closed his eyes to block out Rem's angry words.

"I should have known when I married you, you'd turn into a slut. Nothing but a stupid, fucking cow herder. Look at you. Slut."

As Rem entered him Mal was able to just pretend this wasn't some sort of punishment. He could just pretend that this was a game between him and a lover. He let the sensations roll over him. He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed being on the bottom. And gorram, even angry Rem was good at stimulating his prostate and sending lightning up his spine. It didn't take long before he felt his body tense.

Finally he couldn't keep his lips closed any longer. He screamed as his orgasm washed over him. "Jayne!"

+++

End of Chapter 20


Chapter 21: Just My Imagination
Author: kirby crow
Email: kirbycrow@hotmail.com
Pairing: Mal/Other
Rating: R
Warnings: references to violence.
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Authors Notes: After reading midnightblue's beautiful "Above and Below", Rem Elliot was in the corner of my eye, jumping up and down like a Jack Russel fucking terrier; "Hey, I got a story, too! I do! I'm not just a bad guy! Really!" So I sat down and listened to him. Talkative bastard, ent he?

Summary: And now for something totally different...

+++

tianna = oh god
baobei = precious

+++

Rem looked down on Mal with rage etched in every feature, hips slamming into him, his cock painfully hard, taking him like it was punishment. "Jayne?" he snarled in disbelief.

Then the hatch of Rem's cabin kicked open with a crash. Jayne stood there, filling the hatchway like an avenging angel, cradling Vera in his arms.

"Jayne?" Mal said in a daze.

The mercenary took aim and blew Rem's head apart. "Jayne!" he affirmed, grinning like a baboon.

At least... that's the way it happened in Mal's imagination.

In reality, the bindings on his wrists dug into his skin as Rem's hand gripped his jaw with bruising force. "Who the fuck is Jayne, you slut?"

Mal retreated deep into his mind, back into golden sunlight the color of wheat and a beloved smile he would have died for. He thought he might have seen the shadow-remnant of that smile on Rem's face now, but likely that was just his imagination.

After a long time, Rem's brutal thrusts slowed, then stopped. He barely noticed.


When Mal woke up, the cabin was quiet, dim. He was alone, which struck him as odd. Stranger still, his hands were untied and a soft blanket had been thrown over him to cover his nakedness.

The small kindness wasn't like Rem. Not the new Rem. Not the demon-bastard that had stolen his skin and wormed into his brain. That wasn't his Rem. That was... something else. Something even the devil couldn't name.

Whatever it was, he hoped Rem knew exactly what he had done to the people who trusted him, and if there was a Hell, he hoped Rem Elliot was holding an express ticket straight to the core.

Mal rolled out of the bed and stood up on shaky legs, ignoring the pain at the base of his spine and the other, deeper aches in more tender places. Talk about denial. At first, he had refused to believe that Rem would really do it, really bring him back to his bed and take him against his will, but he guessed lots of things changed in eight years.

His clothes were folded neatly over a metal chair; another surprise. Mal dressed, wincing as he bent to slide his feet into the trouser- legs. When he was done, he crossed the small expanse of the cabin and tried the hatch. Locked, of course.

He glanced around instinctively, searching for something he could use to pry open the hatch. Failing that, he wanted a weapon. Both would be ideal.

He didn't get the chance. The dim lights in the cabin suddenly went bright, and Mal froze.

"Hello, beautiful." Rem's voice.

Mal's nerves twisted up a notch further and his eyes darted to the corners, looking for surveillance devices.

"Don't bother. This isn't live, baobei. It's a recording. I'm not even on the ship. No one is."

That scared him. The muscles in Mal's arms started to tremble from repressed tension.

"You might as well sit down. My cabin is set to automatically unlock ten minutes after you begin listening this recording. When it opens, you'll find the ship deserted. Mind the bodies, now. They don't stink yet, but they make a hell of an obstacle in the corridors."

As Mal's heart began to triphammer in his chest, Rem snorted. "Oh, none of your compradre's are out there, Mal. You'll find them all locked safe and sound in the docking bay, far from any command ports or firing mechanisms. I left them with plenty of air, but if that was my crew, I wouldn't leave them down there too long."

Mal began to swear under his breath. Foully and deliberately, in two languages.

"Don't swear, it doesn't help anything."

Mal's breath hitched in his chest as a shaky laugh escaped. "Dirty, rotten, sonofa-"

"Now, since you're not going anywhere, you might as well hear me out."

The clipped, Core-planet tones had been fading from Rem's speech, and now his steady, measured voice, softened at the edges with the rustic accent he could never quite shed, filled the cabin. Mal closed his eyes...


Listen to me, Mal.

All stories begin the same way. The actual words don't matter. Whether it's "Once upon a time" or "Call me Ishmael", all the words that ever were in every story ever told are grafted from the same plea: Listen.

Listen.

I had better intentions than this. I swear it. A year after the last battle, I stood alone in the crater of Serenity Valley, beneath the shadow of that mountain of skulls and tried to remember that it had all started as a dream of a better world. My coat was too thin. It was cold and a heavy, sweet stench hung on the air like an evil thought. Or maybe the smell was just my imagination.

Alone, when Szuni should have been with me.

But let me back up a few... The war was over. The cease-fire had been announced months ago, but nobody knew about Serenity Valley. Not yet. Then - that week - the news leaked out. Our commander was dead. He died the morning we crossed into the `Zone, fleeing from the wave of vengeance your whipped soldier-boys were heaping on us. They'd left us there, you see. The Alliance. Four lone spy-ships so deep into enemy territory we didn't even dare to breathe loud in space. And the Independents were all around us, in every corner, every quadrant and moon, and mad as hornets over what had been done to them on Hera. We were fucked six ways to Sunday and we knew it.

There's no cease-fire in the Black, when it's just you and the hounds after you. They don't want to hear about treaties and peace accords. They want blood.

We lost two ships in the first day, another one the second, and then it was just me, Szuni, and a merc scout flying with a hole in his chest. I fired off a distress beacon before they hit my communications dish, but I knew it was hopeless. No one was going to come. The hell of it was, the closer we got to Alliance territory, the thicker the resistance was. It was like your boys had closed the borders to trap the few of us that were left inside their lines, moths caught in a jar, slowly suffocating.

Faced with that, was it any wonder the only sensible action we could see was to turn around? Yeah, you heard me. We dumped our computer memory core and headed back deeper into enemy land.

Once we were close to a planet with breathable atmo, I put the injured merc in an aircar and shot him out the bay. Risky. Damned aircars aren't designed for re-entry, but they'll pull it off nine times out of ten.

Unfortunately, this was one of the times it didn't. He burned like a cinder in the stratosphere.

Szuni was dead set against trying it twice, but... oh, I didn't tell you about Szuni yet.


Rem chuckled.

Mal opened his eyes, jarred out of the pure mode of hearing by Rem's laugh. It was almost him. Almost. His throat closed up and he swallowed hard. Damn him.

He groped his way to the metal chair, half-blinded by tears, and sat down, waiting for Rem's voice to resume.

"Tianna, what a firebrand!" Rem laughed again. "He was best pilot I'd ever seen, flew by the seat of his pants, reflexes so damned fast it was scary. No wonder the purple-bellies pegged him to pilot a spy ship. He reminded me of those ships; fast, quiet, a hundred tricks up his sleeve. Core brat, Alliance all the way, smart-mouthed like all young folk, but... gentle, ya know? You remember what we used to call the kids that came out from the Core during summer? They'd stomp all over the farms and put their noses in the air at the stink of cows and their mothers would just go wild over all the quaintness. So pastoral, they'd say."

Szuni Noh-Omori wasn't like that. He wasn't soft. He was like ice. Cold and competent and just as apt to bite you as steel.

Me and Szuni stared at the mercenary's ashes smeared across the horizon and knew it was stupid, but... what choice did we have? I kissed him for the first time then, Mal. My hands shaking and sweaty like a little kid. And - oh - it was sweet. Like strawberries on my tongue. I felt like I was sixteen again and suddenly I knew - I just knew - everything was going to be all right.

God couldn't kill someone as wonderful as Szuni. He just wouldn't stand for it.

And we made it. We did. Landed with our boots smoking, but we were on solid ground. We abandoned the aircar and started out on foot. Had to. The car was plastered with Alliance insignia. It would mean a firing squad or worse if we were found in it. Three million deaths hung around our necks like a millstone. No use claiming we didn't know what would happen. No use saying we didn't mean it to go this far. It was done and they would blame us. All of us.

So there we were, just the two of us in a pit of quicksand. We set the spy ship for a course to lead any trackers away, hatched a plan, split up what money we had, and said our goodbyes. I watched him go across the dry scrub of that armpit of a planet, telling myself how good he was in a scrap, how he always had an ace in the hole. He was going to make it.

I had hope, Mal. For the first times in years, I knew what that felt like again.

And then, predictably, it all went to shit. He tried, I know he did, but he was too obvious, too well-fed. Good health was a symbol of wealth and status, a silent reminder that Alliance citizens can afford doctors and decent food, and it became his death warrant. He was on a transport back to the border when the Independents intercepted it.

We Independents are gentlemen. Everyone says so. We always insisted it was true, you and I.

Then how do you explain what happened to Szuni?

I tried to tell you what happened on Shadow, how they threatened my mother, but I didn't tell you all of it. I didn't tell you how I almost let them kill her, almost spit in their faces and stood on my pride until it choked me, but they promised they'd come after you next.

Do you believe that? You should. I've always been at my most vulnerable when someone I love is in danger.

Szuni was... well, you and I had been apart for a long time and he reminded me of home. Reminded me of you a little, though you didn't look anything alike. He had pretty eyes like you do. I know, you hate it when I call you pretty, but... you were. Still are, I think. Do your lovers tell you that?

Anyway, I was telling you about Szuni, and about... about...


Mal's eyes widened as Rem's gently-ramblimg voice went hoarse and he audibly fought for control.

"Oh, tianna... Mal..." Rem hiccuped on a sob, and Mal's jaw clenched, a sturdy line of denial.

When Rem recovered, he came back spitting mad;

"That was when I realized. Alliance... Independent... what the fuck does it matter anymore! Do you honestly think anyone will give a shit two hundred years from now? Do you think they'll remember our names? Will anyone remember his? There's no more Us and Them. We're all just dumb, vicious animals trying to kill each other off as quickly and messily as possible.

Might as well give `em a hand.

He was in pieces. Did I tell you that, yet? Pieces. Your gentleman rebels took a seventeen year-old boy apart. They made sure we knew exactly what they'd done, too. Put it on a datastream straight to the Cortex. They recorded it all. Every kick and cut. Every scream. Every second of rape...


Mal held his breath, listening. The recording clicked and for a moment he thought it was over, that was all Rem was going to say. Then Rem came back, subdued and obviously tired. More than that.

He sounded old.

"There was a War Crimes tribunal about a year later. Szuni's name came up, along with the damned recording. That got plastered everywhere, you can be sure. But in the end, they decided it would be too much trouble to track down a handful of hayseed sadists on the outer rim. Probably dead by now, anyway. Starved out or burned out, or maybe just dead."

Was that justice, Mal? Maybe now you'll forgive me for never showing much sympathy for your fallen soldiers on Hera. As far as I'm concerned, they were paid back in their own coin, and you're all very welcome to it.

Well, time for me to go. People to see, genocide to commit. Sorry I had to borrow your ship, but an Alliance cruiser would be a little conspicuous at this point. And that virus? It's not Hellinger's Syndrome. Far from it. I had to take your doctor with me. I still need him if the plan's going to work. He'll die of course, but he'll have a lot of company. I'm sorry if that pains you.

I also had to bash the big merc a few times before I could drag him away from the doc. He seemed mighty intent on keeping him. For your sake, I hope he wasn't the man whose name you cried out in my bed. I think he's taken a fancy to someone else. Could have been my imagination. Too bad, but you should be used to getting your heart broken by now.

I know I am.

Signing off, baobei. I love you. Remember that.


On the bridge of Serenity, the Nemesis far in her wake, Rem Elliot stood over his captive and smiled faintly.

Black hair, pale skin, pretty eyes. Yeah, he was a ringer for Szuni. You could call it poetic justice, when you looked at it that way. Szuni's doppleganger killing a world.

Justice.

Of course, the doc may have other views, which was why he had his hands cuffed behind his back. The lump on his head was turning dark and crusted at the edges with matted blood, but he was starting to move around a bit. That was a good sign.

Speaking of signs; still none of the sister, but Rem figured she'd turn up in her own good time.

"Ohhhh," Simon moaned, his eyes fluttering open. "What happened? My head..."

"Feels like a moon landed on you?"

He stared at Rem incredulously, fury spreading in a rosy, mottled flush over his features. "You... kidnapped me."

"I kidnapped you."

Those pretty eyes turned to daggers. Nice.

"Get these cuffs off me."

"Oh, I don't think so, love."

On the deck of the bridge, Simon began to struggle. In fact, he began to struggle so fiercely that Rem feared he would injure himself. "Hey, take it easy!"

"I won't take it easy!" Simon spat. "I'm tired of being drugged and kidnapped and dragged off like a prize turkey, and I'm damned rutting tired of being the damsel in distress! Now get these gorram cuffs off me NOW!"

+++

End of Chapter 21


Chapter 22: Running Out of Time

Author: Dariclone
Email: minako@trondata.on.ca
Pairing: Simon/Other
Rating: R
Warnings: slight non-con
Disclaimer: Firefly belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. This is a story written for entertainment purposes and no money is being made. Author's Note: I'm really nervous about posting this chapter. I'm just hoping the wonderful quality of this story so far. Thanks to kirbycrow for leading me in this direction and for a portion of the text I used in this chapter.

Summary: Rem has Simon trapped

+++

Shit. Mal wondered how he ever could have been so blind. He'd only seen Rem's actions as a betrayal, he'd never thought there could be reasoning behind such a thing. Granted, Rem was still a crazy bastard but he had his reasons... Mal blinked as the doors unlocked. Now, he thought with resolve, to get to his crew.


"I won't take it easy!" Simon spat. "I'm tired of being drugged, kidnapped and dragged off like a prize turkey and I'm damned rutting tired of being the damsel in distress! Now get these gorram cuffs off me, NOW!"

"Temper, temper. If you don't cooperate with me I'll have to get rough with you, doc!"

Simon raised his head and managed to sink his teeth into Rem's arm... hard.

"Gorram it, boy. You don't get to play that way. Right now you're mine, ya hear?"

"Never..." growled Simon.

"Oh really? You expect your big strong captain to come save ya? Well I got news for ya doc, Mal's far away from here and so's all your other little friends, so it's just you and me."

"What did you do to them?" Simon demanded.

"Oh don't worry about them, they'll be fine, can't say the same for you though." Rem leered.

"What did you do to them?" Simon was yelling now and his throat felt like it was being torn apart by a knife.

"Ah ah, don't strain your throat, I've got more important activities planned for your mouth."

With that, Rem took Simon's mouth roughly in his.

Simon barely managed to keep from gagging as Rem's tongue moved rapidly through his mouth. As Rem's hands made their way down his body, Simon shivered.

He closed he eyes and wondered what Rem had done to the others. Mal... Jayne... God he loved them. He needed to know they were safe!

When Rem's tongue left his mouth, Simon decided to make a deal. "Tell me... where they are... and I'll give myself to you."

"No, I think I'd pretty much be havin' you anyway, seeing as how you're all tied up down here waitin' for me." Simon snorted with indignation. "But... what the hell.. you're never going to be able to get to your friends anyway and if it'll shut you the hell up, I'll tell you. Your little friends are aboard my ship. Most of them are taking a nice long nap."

"You son of a bitch!"

"Oh now don't worry, your captain is wide awake and he has the ability to wake everyone up at a moment's notice. Too bad he'll never catch up to us in time to save you from big bad me."

Simon glared at Rem with seething hatred.

"Now, now, I do believe we had a deal. Let's see if you're a man of you're word shall we?"

Simon braced himself as he felt Rem's body lowering on top of him. He felt as though he couldn't breathe. Despite the fact that he knew what was coming, Simon couldn't help wishing it wouldn't.

Not again, not again. He kept thinking it to himself like a mantra.

Rem's hands moved to cup Simon roughly, as he lowered his mouth to Simon's yet again. Rem probed Simon's mouth for what seemed like an eternity. Then finally, Rem abruptly stopped. However, he started biting along Simon's body. When he got to Simon's nipples he ran his tongue over them and suckled. Then he continued biting. Simon tried not to cry as he wished for Mal to come save him.

+++

End of Chapter 22


Chapter 23: Folded

Author: Cabiria
Email: lokisees@yahoo.com
Pairing: Simon/Other
Rating:
Warnings: Slight non-consensual activity Disclaimer: Just playing in the garden-we'll leave it nicer than when we came in, promise! Note: Thanks to Eli for a super-fast beta

Summary: River intervenes

+++

qingwa cao de liumang= frog humping son of a bitch wo tameda= my motherfucker
feng le hundan= crazy bastard
shenme= what?
tian xiaode= God knows what
Cai bu shi= wrong

+++

Simon blinked tears from his eyes, refusing to let them fall. This wasn't happening again, damn it! He shoved from his mind the pinpricks of pain along his chest and the man making them-or almost did, until Rem bit down viciously enough to make him yelp.

"Looks like you've been having a little excitement, hmm?" Rem ran light fingers across the deepening bruises on Simon's torso. "That merc we had to...sedate...looks like the rough type. Or, perhaps, you've introduced my husband to new vistas of pleasure?" He flicked the center of the largest bruise.

Pain spread in ripples through the abused body; Simon only grunted, stiffening. He tilted his head back, away from the other man, trying to focus. _My legs, my feet, they aren't bound, if I can get them out from under me I can sweep them under this qingwa cao de liumang, get moving, ah, wo tameda, they've gone to pins and needles, just shiny...okay, maybe I can arch my back and flip him off and roll out the door...or maybe just flop here like an eel and hope the feng le hundan hits himself in the head..._

A single paper crane landed gently on his upturned face.

"Not that I in fact mind, you understand," Rem continued, casually flicking another bruise. Simon jerked away, knocking the crane to the floor behind him. Did he see that?

"Malcolm and I took leave of each other some time ago." Apparently the Alliance captain's formidable concentration was entirely on Simon's battered chest. "But, as a doctor, you of all people would know how feelings...linger..."

Rem leaned forward and caught Simon's rigid lips with his own, while he reached far, far back, and then sucker-punched Simon in the left kidney. He swallowed the younger man's scream, savoring it like aged whiskey.

Another paper crane fell, bouncing off Rem's shoulder. He sat back on his heels, letting Simon fall to the deck, and frowned over his shoulder. The proximity alarm beeped shrilly to life.

Rem cursed and stood up. "Hold that thought," he muttered, absently shaking a finger in Simon's direction. One, two, three paper cranes fell behind Rem's back as he paced quickly to the control panel and began checking readouts.

Simon struggled to sit, blinking at the ceiling. Where are those coming from?

He couldn't see anything, even as two more drifted gently down to land on the back of the pilot's chair next to the distracted captain, but that might have been because the whole bridge was going sparkly. He recognized signs of a concussion, and thought vaguely that first of all, he shouldn't go to sleep, no matter how comfy the deck was starting to look, and second that he was likely imagining the pretty pieces of paper, even the one that just skimmed by his nose, and definitely the one that swooped around him in graceful circles before settling by one of Wash's dinosaurs on the side panel.

He felt a brush behind him, a momentary warmth, and the handcuffs fell from his wrists in a shower of cranes. He looked down at them, stupidly, and saw that his lap was buried in bright folded paper.

"Wha...?" he murmured, and picked up the cuffs, folding his fingers around one loop of them into a fist. A shadow slid around him and under the console just as Rem turned around.

"You...shenme?!"

Rem picked up his foot and stared at the crumpled paper underneath it. "What the tian xiaode...?"

A shower of cranes fell on them both. One blue-vine patterned crane caught in Simon's tangled, blood-clotted hair just next to his left eye. Rem batted at them, peering up to the ceiling. "What is all this?!" he roared, reaching for his sidearm.

The shadow under the console rose up, coalesced into the figure of a slight but enraged young woman, her face pulled into an ugly snarling rictus. She spun and jumped, kicking Rem viciously in the back of the knee and, when he stumbled, brought her knees up to his chin. Simon heard the crunching of enamel and wasn't surprised to see Rem spit out blood. The girl spun again and moved just out of reach.

"River!" Simon screamed, and Rem rounded on the girl, pulling out his gun. Simon surged to his feet and threw himself at the man, pushing through the sudden rush of dizziness. He swung and hit Rem in the adam's apple with his metal-edged fist, swung wildly again and punched him in the stomach. The gun fell and was lost in the litter of paper.

Rem clumsily brought his foot up into Simon's stomach and shoved him to the floor. Simon slipped and fell, rolling into Rem's legs, blindly punching at his thigh. He saw a blur of kicks around Rem's head, felt the man begin to stagger, and brought his fist straight up into Rem's exposed crotch.

Rem gave a strangled cry and pulled one foot back to kick Simon. River too two long steps and jumped, stomped with both feet on his chest, and landed nimbly back on the deck where she started, facing away. She didn't even watch as Rem fell back into the bulkhead, his head meeting metal with a resounding crack, and slumped to the deck.

Simon blinked, hard, through the sunbursts of light between his eyes and his sister. "Mei mei? Are you okay?" He coughed, and tasted blood.

River turned and held her arms out at her sides for a moment, showing Simon that, despite several scrapes along her elbows and knees, she was completely unharmed. Then she stooped next to him, the mask of her face finally cracking. "Simon? Simon, gege, where are you hurt?" She sniffled, gently touching the edge of one exposed bruise.

"How about we start with where I'm well," he half-smiled, pushing himself off the floor. "It would save time. Aie!"

River slid under his shoulder and walked him over to sit in the pilot's seat. Simon grunted as he fell. "Really, River, I'm fine." Sparkly dancing fairies all over the bridge notwithstanding he continued to himself.

"Cai bu shi," she snorted rudely. "And we'll all be carried to Tir Na Og tonight on the wings of beautiful blue dragons."

"To what?" he blinked.

"Just stay awake," his little sister ordered. "You've sustained many injuries in the past 24 hours, far too many of which impacted on the parts of your brain which control fine to gross motor skills and analytical cogitation, and if you sleep now, the spiders will cast strong webs throughout your caves and the bats will be trapped outside at dawn."

"Huh," he replied. "Don't remember that one. Must not have been in Greeve's anatomy of the amygdala, or in Spencer's, but Professor Wei may have covered it that one morning I skipped lecture because my roommate had been stealing my vests and I wanted to catch him, and did I ever tell you that story?"

"Yes," she replied sharply. "Stay awake, Simon."

"They didn't even fit him," Simon said petulantly.

River tapped her fingers on the console, then began to enter coordinates.

"Hey, what are you doing? Are we going back to the Alliance cruiser? Wash is gonna be so mad we played with his controls..." Simon gently shook his head, trying to make his thoughts line up. "We're getting everyone else? Jayne and Mal and Zoe and Kaylee and Inara? And Wash?"

River shook her head. "No time. They'll find us. We need to go to Sunde." She set the final coordinates-a route that would carefully take them around two nondescript areas of space that just happened to contain mobile Alliance space stations at the moment-and fired up the engines.

"Sunde?"

"We are wolves without a shepherd. He's a weapon without a holster. These two corners have got to come together for the final shape to be right." She plucked the battered crane out of his hair and shifted it from hand to hand. The handcuffs appeared in one palm. Simon automatically looked down at the spot he remembered them falling, saw nothing but slightly crumpled cranes.

"Put these on our friend? We'll need him again, but he'll come to before that."

Simon blinked at her sadly, covered her hand with his. "Mei mei...how do you know these things?"

The girl sighed and patted the head of the little bird before pulling the folds apart and smoothing out the paper. "Stay awake, Simon. For just a little while longer."

+++

End of Chapter 23


Chapter 24: The Flying Dutchman

Author: skripka
Email: skripka2@mac.com
Pairing: hint of Mal/Jayne; very slight Kaylee/Inara Rating: R for grossness and language.
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Thanks to chrissy, eli, dani, and laurie for the previewing and encouragement. Extra special thanks to chrissy for the beta. And as per usual, smooches to the lovely sf, because she always rocks

Summary: A ship of the dead and dying.

+++

guigong yu tiantang= Thank Heaven
hundan= Bastard
xiao mei mei = Dear little sister
tamade= Mother-fucking
gaisi= Shit
shenme shi=What is it
shenjing pengyou = Crazy friend
Zhe Shou= Shadow Hand

+++

Mal made his way through the eerie corridors of the Nemesis, picking his way around the dead bodies, wincing sometimes when he moved too quickly. He had given up on checking the bodies much earlier. It was exhausting him to kneel down, count, and scoot to the next one. And it had started giving him serious willies.

Not that he would use "willies" to actually describe what he felt. Or really, ever use the term to describe himself. He shouldn't have been so affected. Mal was a hardened veteran of war. He had seen thousands of dead bodies in his time. The only difference here was who had done the killing.

Rem.

How could he not have seen the monster? How could he have given his heart, body, and soul to such a creature?

Who was the monster, anyway?

Mal liked his enemies in neat little piles. Us versus them. Good versus not good. Independents and Alliance. Himself, Rem. It got confusing any other way. Not smooth.

Mal liked smooth. Mal was desperate for smooth. Damn Rem, anyway, for seeming almost human again.

Damn Rem for letting Mal identify with him.

The journey down unfamiliar corridors was taking on a dream-like quality. Mal had to stop every few minutes, remind himself that he was not dead, damnit, and that his crew was somewhere, still alive. He had to trust Rem that far, at least.

There was no other option.

Tears prickling at his eyes, he found himself at the docking bay doors. Guigong yu tiantang that all Alliance cruisers had a simple layout, and one he had memorized just in case all those years ago. Blurrily, he punched in an opening code, which he had found tucked into Rem's desk, and watched as the doors ground open.

Mal held back a choked sob when he saw his crew. They weren't exactly ambulatory, per se, but Wash's head was tucked under his arms, Zoe was kneeling over Jayne, and Kaylee and Inara huddled together for mutual comfort. They all looked up as the door opened.

Suddenly, his arms were full of crying Kaylee, and he stumbled a bit while trying to maintain his balance. "Oh, Cap'n! I'm so glad!" and the like, over and over again. Even Inara looked relieved to see him, a nice change from her cold looks of late. Zoe stood, gracefully, wiping her hands on her pants.

"Captain. Are you okay?" Only someone who had known Zoe for as many years as Mal had would have noted the strain in her voice.

"Been better. Been worse, though." Mal tried not to wince, as he extricated himself from Kaylee. He let her stay curled by his side. "You all look well. Except for Jayne there, perhaps." He nodded at the prone figure.

"Jayne got banged about a bit more than the rest of us," Zoe reported. "But his hard head is coming around. Slowly."

It was easy enough to guess why Jayne had been beaten. Rem's recording had told him why. Had almost provided a play-by-play of why Jayne had been so protective of Simon in the first place. It didn't take a top-three-percent brain to figure it out. A vengeful part of Mal's mind thought, too rutting bad, but he managed to squelch it early enough. "No sign of River, I take it?"

Zoe grinned, in her own cold way. "Nah. Guess that that Alliance hundan might be shocked to find himself an extra passenger over the manifest."

Mal grimaced. Not that he was that worried about River. Or Simon. Or damnit, Rem, even.

Definitely not worried about Rem.

Not thinking about Rem and his Szuni and Hera and Serenity Valley and trenches and one thousand odd dead Alliance soldiers in the labyrinthine corridors of the Nemesis...Damnit! He needed to focus.

"Listen up, folks." When he raised his voice, Wash looked up, and even Jayne struggled to a sitting position. "We got ourselves a definite situation. Seems like Captain Elliot's gone and stolen our ship and two of our crewmates." Mal indicated the docking bay. "Although he kindly lent us his ship, he also loaned us his crew. Problem is, he seems to have left them dead or dying."

Kaylee's hands flew to her mouth. "All...all of them?" she whispered, even as Inara came closer and comforted her.

Mal spared her a sympathetic look. "I'm afraid so, xiao mei mei." He turned back, noting the sick looks on everyone's face. Part of him still wanted to forgive Rem, but that part was getting quieter and drowned out by the sheer horror of the massacre that the man had perpetrated on his own crew. Mal felt ill.

"Way I see it, we got three things to do. Kaylee, you and Wash get up to the bridge and get this hulk moving. This is your chance to see if an Alliance cruiser will run with less than a skeleton crew." Kaylee looked at Wash, already calculating. "Zoe, Inara? See if you can't find us some weaponry. Jayne, you're with me. We gotta deal with these bodies, before they make us sick."

Jayne got to his feet, wobbly as hell, "Then we gotta rescue Simon, right? I saw that tamade piece of gaisi's face. Meant to hurt someone."

Flinching, Mal turned to the rest of the crew. "Already did. Anyway, we ain't going to be any use unless we get this cruiser going. So, hop to it, folks."

As the others filed gingerly out the door, Inara touched Mal's arm. "Are you okay, Mal?" He shrugged her hand off, brusquely.

"As okay as I need to be." Mal refused to look at the companion. "Both of us got work to do. We'd better get going."


It was much later. Mal and Jayne were working in dimly lit corridors, the grim mood only accentuated by the occasional flicker of lights as Wash and Kaylee tried to get the engines going. The process of shifting bodies was tedious, wearing on the body and tearing deep grooves on Mal's already damaged soul.

"Mal?" Jayne whispered, breaking the solemn silence. "Surely we ain't gotta move all these bodies?"

"You got a better idea?" Mal snapped. He was beyond sore, he was worn out, and seeing Jayne just reminded him of Simon. Who was trapped on Serenity. With...no. He refused to think the name.

Jayne continued. "We only move the bodies from the areas we gotta use. We can seal up the rest of the ship."

Pausing, Mal allowed that that was a good idea. He grunted in assent, lifting and dragging a second lieutenant into the nearest room. Jayne followed with his own grisly contribution. "Mal?" he asked again, a bit bolder, once the room was sealed, and the corridor cleared of all but the two of them. Jayne's eyes were glazed with a tinge of fear, possibly panic he was barely keeping under control. Mal felt his gut twitch.

"Yeah?" The two of them paused for breath, leaning against a bulkhead.

"What do you suppose that Elliot guy did?" Jayne swallowed.

Mal looked up, startled. His breathing slowed. Jayne wasn't talking about what Rem had done to him, but what he had done to the Nemesis' crew.

"No clue," he answered slowly. "Doubt it was the virus, but if it was, we're gonna to need ourselves a doctor sooner rather than later."

Jayne huffed. "Well, we're going to get Simon, soon, right? I mean, we're not going to leave him alone for long?"

"Well, he's not exactly alone," Mal began, then stopped. There. Right in the crease of Jayne's neck. A bruise.

A love bite that hadn't been there before.

Mal saw red. The next few seconds disappeared in a haze of anger. He found himself pushing Jayne against the wall, arm across the mercenary's throat.

"Wanna tell me exactly why Rem had to pry you off of Simon, Jayne?"

Jayne choked out, "Mal!"

"Yes, Jayne?" Mal smiled coldly. "And just where did you get this oh-so-lovely hickey?"

Eyes widening in fear, Jayne took a deep breath. "Uh..."

Mal interrupted him. "Exactly what part of 'hide Simon and River' translated to 'fuck Simon's brains out,' Jayne?" Mal pressed in closer, and felt Jayne's body begin to shake.

And felt his own body, battered as it was, begin to respond. Jayne's muscles fit along his body, strong and hard. Even in this death-filled corridor, the mercenary smelled like clean sweat, tobacco and gunpowder. Mal felt his breath catch.

Damnit, he was not turned on by Jayne.

Then what was this rising heat? Confused, he stepped back, letting go of Jayne's shirt. Jayne's eyes were still glazed, but with something deeper than the fear from before. They stood there, eyes locked, bodies frozen.

The tableau was shattered suddenly by the crackle of Wash's voice over the comms.

"Woohoo! Got it, Mal!" A brief rumble, and the lighting flared as power was restored. "Wanna come up to the bridge and tell me where to point this monstrosity?"


The six of them crowded onto the bridge. Not that there was much need to crowd: the bridge was quite a bit bigger than Serenity's. But they crowded together for comfort. As Zoe had pointed out, they were on a ghost ship.

"The Flying Dutchman," Inara had interjected, ominously, causing a shiver to run through little Kaylee. The two of them twined together, arms wrapped around each other's waist. Mal and Zoe were looking over Wash's shoulder. Jayne had found a nearby chair, and sat down gingerly.

"Wash, you got me a functional ship?"

"Well, we got something." Wash replied, dubiously.

"We can move, right?"

"Um..." Wash looked at Kaylee, flashed a quick glance to his wife, and then nodded at Mal. "We can move. Just not long, or fast."

Mal turned to his mechanic. "Sensors?"

Kaylee grinned, and punched a few buttons on a nearby console. "Got 'em. They're in pretty good shape. Oughta consider grabbing us some of the hardware when we catch up to Serenity."

Mal smiled briefly at Kaylee's hardware lust . "My ship anywhere nearby?

Wash answered. "Close enough." He frowned. "Now, that's odd."

Mal leaned down, reading over the blonde man's shoulder. "Shenme shi?"

Hands waving, Wash replied, spinning the chair to face Mal. "The heading...well, it ain't where I'd expect our shenjing pengyou to be going to."

Grip tightening on the back of the chair and console, Mal asked, "Where?"

"Sunde."

Shocked silence reigned for a few moments.

"Sunde? Not Hera?" Mal grabbed Wash's shirt, pulling the stunned pilot halfway out of his chair. "Are you sure?" Zoe's warm hand on his arm brought him back, and he released Wash.

Wash swallowed, gave Mal a cautious glance, and turned back to the array. "Unless they change course suddenly."

Leaning back, Mal took a shaky breath.

"Mal? Um, we could catch up with Serenity, or make it to Sunde. Not both." Wash said. "You gotta pick."

Kaylee blurted out, "But there ain't no choice, right? We find Serenity, rescue River and Simon. Right?"

Mal's eyes hardened, and his gut twisted. "I've been doing some thinking. I ain't one who rightly enjoys being manipulated. The Zhe Shou have been dogging us from step one. And I'm thinking that we might have been a bit rash dumping that shepherd, seeing as how he might have some answers."

He refused to look Jayne in the eye. This was the second time within the week that he had abandoned Simon. No wonder the boy had turned to Jayne. "No. Simon's just gonna have to deal with Rem on his own. Wash. Set course to Sunde."

+++

End of Chapter 24


Chapter 25: Faith

Author: nancy
Email: thetenthmuse1@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Mal/Simon/Jayne (sorta)
Rating: R
Warnings: angst and bad language, that's about it, believe it or not. ;o) Disclaimers: not mine, never will be, not making any gorram money at this, trust me! Notes: thanks to SF, Skrip, Bec and Chrissy for instant info because I am notoriously lazy when it comes to research. snicker

Summary: Faith is so hard to find.

+++

"Believe it or not, everyone, believe in something above. Could someone deliver us, and send us some kind of sign. So close to giving up, cause Faith is so hard to find." --- Believe it or not, Nickelback

+++

tamade= motherfucker
xiao baobei=little sweetheart

+++

Mal grinned to himself at the earnest expression on Simon's face as he was bent over the counter with a beaker between his fingers and stared at a bunch of papers. The younger man muttered to himself as his eyes scanned the pages and then returned to the small item in his fingers, eyeing it closely. The doctor didn't even notice when Mal slid up almost right behind him. "What's up, Doc?"

Yelping in surprise, Simon dropped the beaker, but Mal caught it expertly, without spilling a drop. Simon glared at him a moment then shook his head as he explained, "I'm studying River's blood chemistry. There's a perpetual residue that I can't pin down."

Mal handed over the beaker and stepped back. "Something bad?"

"I don't know," Simon admitted, setting the beaker with the others in a container. "It doesn't seem to be harming her, but for all I know it's this simple imbalance that's keeping her from returning to normal."

With a frown, Mal questioned, "I thought they cut up her brain?"

"They did. But the human brain is an amazing thing and will heal itself, if given time and help. Now, obviously not everything could be reversed with time, but I think a great deal of it could be. If I could only figure out this damned chemical disturbance!"

Mal gripped Simon's shoulder and squeezed it. "Easy there, Doc. You'll figure it out eventually."

Half-smiling, Simon replied, "Thank you, Mal, I appreciate the confidence. Now then. Was there something I could help you with?"

Suddenly realizing that his hand was still on Simon's shoulder, Mal gave another squeeze and withdrew it. "Nope. Just bein' nosy."

Chuckling, Simon accused, "You just wanted to scare me out of my wits, is all."

"That too."

Simon shook his head in amusement as he crossed the infirmary, and Mal watched the graceful movements avidly. It was getting harder and harder to maintain that `no crew involvement' rule of his, that was for gorram sure. His hands were itching to see if Simon's hair was as soft as it looked and he really wanted to test out those mobile lips, in oh so many fucking ways.

Shaking the thought from his head as he started to harden, Mal cleared his throat and asked, "You got some business on Wen-Hau, you said?"

Turning to him, Simon grimaced in answer. "Yes. There's a chemist there that I want to consult about this."

"You don't seem too happy about that."

"I'm not. He and I went to MedAcad together, so he knows me. He flunked out due to ethical reasons and took to creating his own drugs. He's one of the most talented I know, however, far more so than I. I want him to take a look at River's blood."

"Sounds a mite risky," Mal observed, neutral.

Simon shrugged helplessly and replied, "There's no help for it. I need him."

"Have you already contacted him?"

"Not yet."

"Then I'll do it."

Surprised, Simon asked, "You will?"

Mal nodded firmly. "I will. It'll keep him from knowing about you and River and your connection to Serenity. You can get your info and still be safe. It'll be, what, a morning's work?"

"Not even. You'd just drop it off and pick up the results whenever he says to come back," Simon explained. "He'll probably need a couple of days to work on it for the amount of detail I need. I'll give you written instructions to give to him to keep things simple."

"Simple is good," Mal agreed, smiling.

Simon gave him a sweet smile as he said, "Not that that's helped in the past, but we can try."

They were silent a moment and Mal was suddenly aware of how close they stood, of how Simon met his eyes direct, without hesitation. The younger man had always done that, he realized. Simon had never been afraid of him, or shy about dealing with him.

Part of the attraction, he thought. Someone who's an equal, but a mystery. Someone to challenge me. God do I want him to challenge me. In more ways than the obvious.

Mal snorted in dark amusement and Simon gave him a curious look. "Nothing. Just thinking that that's a true statement."

Shrugging minutely, Simon asked, "Do we have a job in the area, or will I have to pay for the detour?"

Opening his mouth to protest, Mal caught the glint of humor in Simon's eyes and growled, "I should dock your pay for that."

"What pay?"

"Oh, it's like that is it?" Mal questioned, stepping forward.

Simon's eyes widened in alarm and he held up a hand. "Mal, don't do anything hasty."

"Hasty? Just because you insulted my Captainy Captainness?"

"That's not even a word!"

"There! Did it again!"

"Mal," Simon protested, stopping when his back hit the wall.

Mal loomed close, then popped a grin and grabbed Simon, yanking him into a head lock and driving his knuckle into the other man's skull.

"Ow! Ow, Mal! Stop it! Stop!"

The laughter and squirming made it difficult for Mal not to laugh in response. He so rarely got to let loose with anyone like this. "Say Uncle!"

"No!"

"Say it!"

"Never!"

"Mal? Mal, c'mon, wake up! I gotta talk to you!"

Wondering where Jayne's voice was coming from, Mal let go of Simon and turned around, but the merc wasn't anywhere to be seen. When he looked back at Simon, Mal jerked in shock at the sight of the young man, half turned away from him. Simon's clothes were torn, his face a mass of bruises, and he was all huddled in on himself, rocking slightly. Mal could see blood on his trousers.

"Why didn't you come for me?" Simon whispered, agonized. "Do you...do you know what he did to me? Mal, why didn't you come? I needed you and you didn't save me. He's going to kill me, you know. The next time he, he...he's going to kill me the next time."

Shaking his head in horror, Mal tried to step forward, but was locked in place. Whimpering in denial, Mal exclaimed, "Simon! Simon, please, please, I'm sorry! Please forgive me."

But Simon turned away from him altogether, much as they had all done to Book, and Mal could see the bloody lash marks through the remains of the shirt. He saw the blood stains on the pants and keened deep in his chest that Simon had gone through what he just had, and at the same man's hands. "Simon, I'm sorry, I'm...Don't leave me, please, I need you."

"Mal! Gorram it, wake up!"

Mal shouted in fury and pain and betrayal and anguish and started swinging his fists, desperate to get loose.

"Ow! Son of a...!"

A hard, open-handed slap across the face brought Mal all the way out of the dream-turned-nightmare. Mal gasped in shock and pain, blinking his eyes open and forcing them to focus. Jayne sat on his ass a foot away, holding his nose shut and glaring at him.

"You awake now, gorram it?" Jayne demanded.

Pushing himself into a sitting position on the hard floor, Mal nodded, trying to banish that last part of the nightmare from his memory. Trust his subconscious to bludgeon him with his decision while he was most vulnerable. "Thanks for waking me."

Jayne shrugged and answered, "Didn't look like much fun. And we gotta talk anyhow."

"We got nothin' to talk about Jayne."

Stubborn, Jayne insisted, "We do!"

"About what, Jayne? Huh? About how you took advantage of Simon when he was out of his head? About how you took the first opportunity to go behind my back for it?" Mal snapped, getting to his feet.

Jayne stood as well, blocking the door.

"Get out of my way, Cobb."

Paling at Mal's tone, Jayne shook his head. "You gotta let me explain."

Mal could see that he wasn't going to get out of this without letting the merc speak, and so crossed his arms over his chest, ordering, "Explain, then."

Now that he had the chance, words seemed to desert the big man.

Practically growling in frustration and anger, Mal moved to walk around him, but Jayne grabbed his shoulder and exclaimed, "I love him!"

That rooted Mal to the spot as sure as if he was back in the nightmare. He finally managed to gasp, "You what?"

Flushing, Jayne straightened, jaw setting stubbornly. "I love him. Didn't know that's what I was feeling `til now, but that's what it is. Gotta be, right? Cause, all I want is to get him back safe so he can be all prissy and clean and talk down to me again. I just...I want him back, Mal. Is that so wrong?"

Mal sighed, abruptly bone-weary, and rubbed his eyes. He'd say it again. There was not-smooth and there was this, which didn't even come close.

"Mal?"

"No, it's not wrong," Mal finally admitted. "Just means we got a problem, cause I want the same thing. Without the talking-down part." Offering an awkward shrug, Jayne pointed out, "Doesn't have to be a problem. You know, uh, he didn't seem to mind the first time."

A flush of heat ran through Mal as he thought of how they'd both taken Simon, how the other man had begged them for it. Swallowing heavily, he said thickly, "He was drugged. Doesn't mean he's like that sober."

"Don't mean he's not, either," Jayne replied. "Just. You ain't hard on the eyes Mal, and I know you like what you see when you look at me, and when you look at me and him together. I think you're out of joint cause we did it without you around, last time. Which, you know, I can understand cause I'd be the same."

Mal could hardly believe they were talking about sharing Simon, or even starting a triad, without the other man even present. But he had to admit that the thought settled something deep inside him. He'd come to rely on Jayne since hiring him. Not like he relied on Zoe, since Jayne wasn't up to her level, but the merc was solid and dependable. And since his little snafu on Ariel, Jayne'd been almost rabidly loyal to Simon and River. If there was anyone he could trust with their safety, it was Jayne.

But the other part of him wanted Simon all to himself. He wanted Simon in his bed, and on his arm, and loving only him. "I don't know if I can share him, Jayne, I really don't."

Obviously disappointed, Jayne shrugged and answered, "Then you probably won't."

Guilt flared through Mal at the acceptance from the other man, but he shoved it down and forced a smile, weak though it was. "Let's worry about all of this after we get him back, okay?"

"Yeah. You really think the Preacher's still on Sunde?"

Mal was about to correct the title, but held back. Jayne'd been hit pretty hard by Book's deception and he didn't want to cause the other even more grief about it. He shrugged and answered, "We're about to find out."


Everyone looked at shadows, jumping at them in fright or peering closely with suspicion, depending on the time of day. The main reason that Book preferred hiding in plain sight. Shadows drew too much scrutiny.

He still wore the collar with which he felt most comfortable. Still pretended to be Shepherd Book. Still wondered if maybe he'd become Book when he wasn't looking. It seemed infinitely more preferable than his real self. Despite all that, he didn't know why he was standing in a church, something he hadn't done since his wife's funeral. It was built in an Earth That Was fashion, large and stone with gilt and colored glass windows. Things that he'd always sneered at before, the ostentation not sitting well with him.

"Something I can help you with?"

Book turned in surprise at the priest's question, not having heard the other man approach. It was an old man, stooped and wrinkled and almost hideously ugly with his watery eyes and age-marked skin. He leaned heavily on a cane and peered up at Book with a serene expression that instantly set Book's teeth on edge. Someone so close to death shouldn't be nearly that comfortable.

Shaking his head, Book replied, "I'm fine, thank you."

"Come to confession?"

Book stiffened and answered, "No."

The easy manner didn't change as the old man stated, "I know you."

"I'm afraid you're mistaken," Book countered.

Using the cane to tap Book's shin lightly, the old man repeated, "I know you. Come with me, young man, come with me. I'll show you what you need to know."

It flashed through Book's mind that perhaps the man was an agent, despite his age. The Alliance did have spies in the most unusual of places, after all. Shrugging to himself, Book followed, forcing himself to curb his impatience and trail the old man's slow pace. They moved further into the cool interior and Book watched in a bit of amazement as the Priest knelt before the altar and crucifix without any trouble at all.

Catching his look, the old man cackled and answered, "The Lord provides, son. I have rheumatism and arthritis everywhere except those joints."

Bemused, Book echoed the movement, aware of the other's eyes on him as he did. They moved into the Sacristy and through an open archway into a small creche filled with candles and a small, wooden stool for sitting. The Priest sat and pointed at the statue in the corner with his cane. It was a simple, stone carving, almost unskilled in its blunt features and chiseled exterior. The statue depicted Christ with the crown of thorns, looking down with an expression that conveyed betrayal and torment.

Book's breath caught and he stepped back from the statue. The priest chuckled, a rheumy sound that disgusted Book as soon as he heard it. Glaring at the old man, Book snapped, "I don't see anything funny."

"I do. Sit."

Startled by the commanding tone, Book obeyed automatically. He was now at the priest's feet and directly in sight of the statue. The statue that Book instinctively didn't want to see.

"Take a good look, son. Set-up and betrayed and tortured and thrown to the wolves. Terrible fate, isn't it?"

Book could only nod.

"I don't know you personally, but I know you. Lived too long not to recognize you on sight. You're the wolf in this particular situation. You're Judas. I don't know what you did, but the collar you wear is as disgraced from your actions as you are."

An embarrassed heat flushed through Book at the old man's condemning words, sparked in part by the non-judgmental way they were spoken. "If you want to keep wearing that collar, you got to earn it, son. You can't hide behind it, or in it, the way you are without risking serious trouble on your soul. It's a sin as sure as whatever you've done. Repentance and forgiveness are yours, but only if you embrace them."

"I don't believe that," Book whispered.

"Mmm."

They sat in silence for a while and Book continued to stare at the compelling and disturbing statue. He finally explained, halting and without really knowing why, "My son...he wasn't right in the head. I knew it, but I turned a blind eye. The pets that went missing. The way the other children were frightened of him. But, he was my son. I couldn't believe...and then..."

Book's voice faded as he remembered the day his soul had broken. When he'd come home to find his wife dead and Jubal responsible for it. Forcing himself to speak, Book whispered, "He killed her. His own mother, my wife, he murdered her. Tortured her first. I was away, on a mission, doing my duty while he was killing her."

Closing his eyes, Book forced the tears back, tears that he hadn't shed since that day when he hadn't been able to stop screaming. A gnarled hand rested on his shoulder with surprising strength, bringing him out of the horrible memory of blood and knives and an old-fashioned garrote.

"It's a terrible burden," the old man agreed simply. "Knowing that you could have prevented something like that. Maybe given him a shot at a real life if you'd let the doctors look at him. The sin of pride is one of the most insidious."

Nodding shakily, Book breathed deep and then released it. "After that, I turned to my duty. It was my God. I needed..."

"A false God who couldn't really see your sins. A false duty that would use you and give you a purpose to fulfill. Something to keep you from the knowledge that your sin caused your wife's death."

A shudder tore through Book and he stared back at the statue, anger rising. "He wasn't there. He's never been there when I needed Him. Never!"

Without thought, Book was on his feet. He grabbed the statue and yanked it off the pedestal, smashing it to the floor. To his surprise, the heavy thing didn't shatter as he'd wanted it to, it just lay there on the floor, face down. He met the kindly blue eyes of the priest and snapped, "I don't believe anymore! I don't!"

Heaving himself up on his feet, the priest answered, "If you didn't want to believe or have faith, you wouldn't be here. You'd have reported back to your masters and gone on your way. Something has changed your heart, though. Someone has touched you in a way that you didn't expect."

Book swallowed heavily, turning away from the old man's knowing gaze. A vision of River at the dinner table, going through the Bible and tearing out pages tightened his throat. "She didn't do anything, Father. Not a thing. The sweetest child I've ever known. And yet capable of astonishing violence because of what they did to her."

"Everyone is. Every last one of us damned with the violence and sin and pride of the devil."

"If you believe that, how...?"

"How do I do what I do?"

Nodding, Book looked back at the priest.

The old man half-smiled, showing most of his teeth gone, as he crossed over to Book. He used his free hand to grip Book's hand, holding it over the fallen statue. "Because faith is something you have to renew every day, son. It's not given to you. Just as repentance and forgiveness need to truly come from within, in order for your sins or perceived sins to be absolved. Do you?"

"I don't know if I can."

"Do you want to?"

A flood of longing smothered Book so heavily that he gasped, "Yes!"

The hand tightened on his. "It's a start, then. Come. I think now it's time for that confession, don't you, son?"

Not stopping the tears this time, Book nodded. "Yes, Father."


Simon opened his eyes when a soft cloth brushed his face. River stood above him, eyes solemn, expression sad. He'd pretty much collapsed in the shower once he'd turned off the water. His legs just wouldn't hold him. While he'd gone over himself in the infirmary to confirm that he didn't have a concussion, four of his ribs were pretty badly bruised. His back was killing him where Rem had sucker-punched him in the kidney, except for one agonizing, pinkish piss, there didn't appear to be any lasting damage.

He was so tired, so very tired, but there was no time for him to stop moving, not yet. They were almost to Sunde and he couldn't let River land Serenity all on her own, despite the fact that she was probably more qualified, thanks to the amount of time she spent with Wash in the cockpit.

She held out a shirt to him and Simon took it, staring at it stupidly when he saw it wasn't his, but Mal's. Frowning, he looked up and scolded, "You shouldn't go through other people's things, River."

Shrugging, River answered, "He holds you like this. It's a strong shirt."

Simon smiled a little, bringing the shirt up to put on and finding out that she meant it literally when he caught a whiff. It was slightly sour, even dry, and Simon realized that Mal must have worn it that last day before the insanity had broken out. It seemed so long ago, but had been less than a week. Feeling imbalanced, Simon pulled the shirt on and huddled around himself, burying his nose and mouth in the shirt.

The boxers that she held out were unfamiliar to Simon and he flushed. "River, I can't wear Mal's underwear, he wouldn't like it."

"Not Mal's."

Eyes widening as he figured out that she meant they were Jayne's, Simon pushed himself to his feet with a groan. He still felt every bruise and bite that Rem had dealt him, not to mention the injuries that Pritchard had bestowed before that. Shaking his head, Simon said, "I can't wear Jayne's either."

"Why not? You won't fit in his pants, you're too small," she pointed out easily. "And it's fair. Mal's shirt, Jayne's undies. Share."

A snicker escaped at hearing Jayne's boxers called undies. Giving in with a grin, he took the boxers and pulled them on. Thankfully, the pants that she held out were his own. Putting an arm around her shoulder, Simon walked back towards the cockpit. He wasn't looking forward to dealing with Rem, but worst came to worst, he'd simply gag the man. Simon was taking no chances. If they moved the captive, it would be with him knocked out. Simon knew better than to think that he was a match for the Alliance officer.

"How long until we reach Sunde?" he asked as they neared the room.

"A few hours. And we're going to find faith there, Simon, you wait and see."

Simon gave her a curious look. "What on earth are you talking about?"

She smiled mysteriously and answered, "Faith. It's hard to come by. Same's forgiveness. But you can't have one without the other."

"Sure you can."

They both glared at Rem, who'd overheard the last part of the conversation when they'd entered the cockpit. Simon said, "You can stay quiet, or I can gag you."

Rem smirked, eyes hard as he answered, "Why should I bother? What're you going to do with me?"

Simon looked to River.

The girl smirked back at Rem and replied, "We're going to leave you for the wolves to find. Did you know that when wolves hunt, they sometimes snap the spinal cord but leave the prey alive while they feed? It's really very interesting. The prey can see their insides getting eaten all up until the blood loss is too much or the heart gets eaten."

Though he paled a bit, Rem's icy expression didn't change. "You're insane."

"But very seldom wrong," Simon stated, smiling at his sister. He cupped her face with his hand and continued, "My sister is insanely smart, as a matter of fact. And the offer stands. Talk, and you'll be gagged."

Rem shrugged and closed his eyes.

Hoping that the other man would keep the way he was, Simon motioned River towards the pilot's seat, then sat beside her in the empty chair. Leaning back and closing his eyes, Simon finally allowed himself to sleep a little. They'd be at Sunde soon enough. He could only hope that they found whatever it was that River was looking for there.


Simon groaned as River dragged him single-mindedly through the crowd. They'd already moved through the space-port and market-place and his ribs were killing him. The looks that they were getting made him distinctly nervous, like people were wondering what he'd done to deserve the bruised face. Like perhaps they should call the law and let it sort out that way. Sunde was a fairly loyal rim planet and Simon could almost feel the manacles on his wrist.

River stopped abruptly. Simon didn't stop soon enough and crashed into her. Taking in her wide-eyed, solemn expression, he asked, "What is it, mei mei?"

Wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face against his chest. Her words were mumbled, "He's different. So sad. Worried. Ashamed. Pain, too much pain now!"

"Who, River?" Simon asked. He was about to ask something else, but forgot what, when Book walked out of the church a short distance ahead of them.

Book turned towards them and stopped, dead in his tracks on catching sight of them standing there. None of them moved for a few minutes, then Book seemed to straighten up and walked towards them. Simon saw that River was right as soon as Book stopped in front of them. Whatever demons the other man had faced in the last several days, they'd been dark and many. There were lines on Book's face that hadn't been there, and a deep sadness in the brown eyes.

"Simon, River, I can't believe..." Book's voice trailed off and he cleared his throat. "Simon, are you all right?"

"I'll be fine," Simon assured him gently.

"Where are the others?"

Simon's hand waved vaguely at the sky. "On Nemesis, somewhere. We were...separated."

"Taken!"

Both men looked at River in surprise as she peered out from the shelter of Simon's arms. Simon kissed the top of her head and amended, "Taken from them. They were left on Nemesis."

Book frowned. "Captain Remzija Elliot of the Alliance ship, Nemesis?"

"That's him," Simon confirmed. "After you left, ah, were, um, well. Anyhow, after, we were boarded by the Nemesis. Mal went on board, then we were all taken on board. Then he took me and brought me on Serenity. River, well, River rescued me from Rem."

Pain skittered across Book's already sad face as he said, "I'm so sorry, Simon. I know Captain Elliot well."

Out of everything that had happened, Simon wasn't really surprised to learn that. The `Verse was a small place and the Alliance sectors of it even smaller. Sighing, Simon asked, "Can we go somewhere so I can sit?"

"Of course!" Book exclaimed, flushing.

They walked slowly into the church and, halfway down the main aisle, were met by a very old man, stooped over with watery eyes. Book smiled briefly at the old priest and introduced, "Father Wu, this is Simon and River Tam."

Simon was uncomfortably aware of the old man's piercing look at River and his arms tightened protectively around his sister. River had other ideas, though, and pushed away from him, staring at the priest in fascination.

"Your Book is wrong, you know."

Amused, Father Wu glanced at Book and questioned, "Which one?"

"The written down one," River answered, smiling now. "Too many inconsistencies. False logistics. 11 inherent metaphoric parallels already there. Did you know that Noah's Ark is a big problem?"

"I expect so, for the ones who had to clean up after the animals," Father Wu replied, benignly.

The answer seemed to throw River. She blinked a few times then started laughing softly. "I didn't even take into account the refuse deposited by so many. If there were, the weight of the boat would..."

"River!" Simon interrupted.

She looked at him, curious.

"I think River and I can talk quite comfortably," Father Wu interceded, offering his free arm. "Come with me, young lady. You can explain the Bible to me."

Smiling brilliantly, River took his arm and started talking a mile a minute about all the issues she'd discovered.

Left alone with Book, Simon looked closely at the black man and asked, "Are you a real Shepherd now?"

Wincing, Book responded, "I have taken the actual vows, yes. Father Michael Early at your service, Simon. And I hope to begin to make up for all the pain and suffering that I've caused, at least to you and River."

"How can we trust you?" Simon questioned painfully. "I admired you. I thought you were someone I could ask advice from, to tell my burdens to, when I couldn't take anymore. All that time, you were reporting everything back to...where were you reporting back to?"

Book sighed heavily and motioned towards a pew.

Simon sat and shifted until he found a relatively comfortable position. "Go ahead."

"Two by two, hands of blue. She's not wrong about that," Book began, troubled. "They're emotionless, even soulless I would go so far to say, agents who do exactly as they're told without any qualms. Deadly automatons who are incredibly brilliant. Unlike myself, a regular agent who comes from the military or government service. I worked most recently for a Black Ops agency that doesn't exist. They created the virus. They created and ran the school that River went to. She's not the only one to have escaped, but she is the only one they managed to track down."

Feeling faint and sick, Simon had to grip the pew from falling over at the news. All his careful work, all his plans, worthless. He'd done something wrong, put them all in danger because he'd thought himself so clever!

As though sensing his thoughts, Book hastily reassured him, "It wasn't you, Simon, the group that got her out has a mole. The same one who planted the bomb inside her, I think, though I didn't know about that, I swear. My orders were simple. Keep an eye on the two of you and make sure she lived. It was rather like a grand experiment, to see how she would do out of the controlled environment of the grounds."

"A grand experiment," Simon whispered, turning horrified eyes to the older man.

Glancing away, Book whispered, "I am so sorry, Simon. You have no idea...I...she changed everything, you know. The first time I saw her...in any case, I never told them what ship we were on. They only know that it's a Firefly. And since they were sure of me, it never became an issue. There's a warrant out for me now as well, you know. When I didn't report in the third day, it was automatically generated. I am officially an Enemy of the State, same as you and River. Difference being that mine says, `shoot to kill, on sight.'"

Simon swallowed against a dry throat and asked, "What are you going to do?"

"I was hoping that you would all take me back," Book admitted.

Meeting the dark eyes that seemed completely without guile for the first time, Simon hesitated. There was something different about Book, it was palpable. Humility, Simon thought, finally placing the difference. He's shamed and humble. If this was 1000 years ago, he'd have fallen on his sword already.

"I don't expect it, of course, I can only pray that you find the forgiveness and trust that I haven't been able to find myself."

Simon glanced across the room at a whistle and met River's gaze. He smiled at her and she skipped forward to join them, dropping onto his lap and curling against him. Twining an arm around her waist, Simon whispered into her ear, "What do you think? Can we trust him?"

Kissing his cheek, River nodded and then snuggled and yawned, closing her eyes.

"We'd be happy to have you back, Book," Simon said.

Before Book could respond, more than the lighting up of his eyes and face, Mal shouted, "Simon!"

Simon jerked around so hard and fast that River squawked in protest. He set her on the pew and raced as fast as he could down the aisle, throwing himself into Mal's arms. Pain flashed through his midriff as Mal's strong arms clamped tight around him, but Simon ignored it. Face buried against Mal's throat, he exclaimed, "Oh, God, I thought you were dead, thought he'd killed you!"

"Baobei, Simon, you're alive," Mal breathed into his ear. "You're alive."

More arms surrounded them and Simon grunted in pained surprise at the additional pressure. Warm lips press against the back of his throat, stubble scratching his skin, and he knew it was Jayne. Shifting a bit to wrap an arm around the big man, Simon found himself literally monkey-in-the-middle and kissed the bare skin of Jayne's collarbone before sighing, "Jayne. Thank God. He said...I was so worried."

A large hand cupped his face as Jayne rumbled, "Stinkin' tamade lied through his teeth, Simon. I'm fine."

Noting the bruised face, far worse than his own, Simon just smiled at the fib and answered, "I'm glad. But, how'd you find me? Us?"

"Us?" Mal questioned, just as Kaylee shrieked, "River!"

The men broke apart to watch as Kaylee and River had their own ecstatic reunion. Feeling safe for the first time since the entire episode had begun, Simon leaned against Jayne, but kept hold of Mal's hand. He smiled broadly and nodding in greeting to Zoe and Wash and Inara, all of whom were standing a few feet away.

"River left us a note," Mal said suddenly. "Said to look in the House of Forgiveness. Kaylee figured she meant a church. And you have no idea how relieved I, we are that you're here. I thought Rem still had you."

Simon frowned. "Rem's handcuffed in Serenity, in the cockpit."

Freezing in place, Mal shook his head and countered, "No, he's not, Simon. We checked every part of Serenity and no one's on it."

Dread ran through Simon at the announcement.

Jayne's hand tightened protectively around him and he dipped down to murmur in Simon's ear, "Easy xiao baobei. No one's takin' you from us again. Ever."

Further conversation stilled as River dragged Book down the aisle and everyone realized who it was. Simon looked at the hard faces all around him and knew that it was going to take much, much more than River's say-so for them to understand that Book was a different man now. He pulled away from both Jayne and Mal to stand beside the older man. Placing his hand on Book's shoulder, he faced the others and said soberly, "Everyone, I'd like to introduce Father Michael Early."

Rage and betrayal in various levels were on everyone's face, though Simon didn't know if it was from seeing Book again, or the fact that he was standing with the priest that was responsible. Sighing, world- weary and feeling every single gorram bruise and pain, Simon wondered how on earth they were going to get past this. He couldn't let them leave Book on the planet, not knowing about the death warrant, not with a clear conscience.

But how to get them to accept the other man?

+++

End of Chapter 25


Chapter 26: Pulling the Fangs

Author: Peach
Email: peach1250@sbcglobal.net
Pairing(s): Simon/Mal; Mal/Simon/Jayne
Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: Simon operates and has a talk with Mal.

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It had taken a temper tantrum on the part of the Tams to get the others to listen and even then Mal had not been willing to let Book back on the ship...especially after learning his real name. He had agreed to let the preacher arrange the hospital facilities Simon needed to remove the tracker/bomb from River.

Mal, Jayne and Zoe had agreed that the operating room had to be guarded while Simon worked, and that it was imperative to track down Rem. In the end, Mal knew, and the others agreed, that he would be at a disadvantage in dealing with Rem. So as he stood guard, Zoe, Wash and Jayne went hunting.


The preacher was sitting in a corner where Mal could keep an eye on him. As Simon worked; his face revealed the stress. River was lying cut open as if Simon were performing an autopsy. He sighed heavily.

"What is it, Simon?" Mal stepped closer to look at River.

"It's going to take longer than I thought, Mal. They put in anchors."

Mal looked at the area Simon had exposed. The metallic device was easy to spot, lying alongside River's stomach and branching off from all sides were thin wires snaking off into other parts of her body. Pulling a machine closer, Simon looked at the display to determine where each wire terminated.

"Can you just take out the bomb and leave those?"

"I wouldn't advise that, Captain. Each of those is probably a small transmitter. They would have limited range but they would still be a liability." Book spoke from his seat in the corner.

"He's right, Mal. Besides, they contain atomic batteries; if I leave them they could leak and poison her."

"We don't know if we'll ever be able to get you another chance like this, so do it. Just try and make it fast."

Simon gave Mal a warm look before turning back to his sister. Mal moved back so he could watch the door as well as keep an eye on the room. Book moved forward to assist Simon. It took several hours to remove all the small transmitters.

As the last one was pulled free, Simon swayed. Mal moved forward quickly to offer Simon support. A grateful smile was turned his way and Mal dropped a quick kiss on Simon's cheek. As Simon closed the last incision, Mal gathered up all the bits and pieces, dumped them in the small vat of liquid nitrogen, then placed the frozen mass on the counter and shattered it.


Not too far away Zoe crouched, watching one of the doors to the hotel where they'd tracked Rem. She didn't think he'd be coming back, but it was their only lead. Jayne and Wash were in position to watch the other entrances. She just hoped he hadn't made contact with the Alliance yet.

Any doubts she might have had about Jayne in the past didn't apply in this situation. After seeing the reunion between Mal, Jayne, and Simon, she was sure the big merc had lost his heart to the doctor. So she knew that Jayne would have no qualms about killing the man who'd hurt them.

She wouldn't care who did the deed as long as it got done. She'd seen the marks Rem had left on Mal, and the pain in his eyes, so she wanted the man dead as well. Once that was accomplished, she'd need to worry about the next problem.

Mal and Jayne two alpha males in love with the same man.

Mal wasn't a man who shared, which is the reason Inara could never hope to have him. Jayne normally deferred to Mal, but he'd never been in love and he'd already defied Mal concerning Simon. She'd hate to kill Jayne, but she would if he threatened Mal.


Simon sat in Mal's lap, resting as they waited for River to come out from under the anesthetic so they could take her back to the ship. Book watched them in silence, genuinely pleased to see the love between them.

River stirred and Simon was instantly on his feet at her side.

"Mei mei, it's all over. I got it all out. We're going to get you back to the ship."

She smiled at him before drifting off again. Book and Mal carried the litter back to the ship, with Simon finding the energy to hover over them. Kaylee met them at the ramp, relief evident that at least one of their problems was taken care of.

"How'd it go, Simon?"

"She'll be fine. It's all out they won't be able to track her anymore, but it was more extensive than I thought. We just need to get her to the infirmary."

Kaylee followed them and Simon got her settled on the bed. "You look wore out."

"He is so will you sit with her, mei mei, so Simon can get some rest?"

"'Course, I will."

Mal then turned to look at Book and Simon spoke up quickly. "We can't leave him here, Mal. Just lock him up until we can talk about it, please."

"Alright, Simon."

Book led the way to the passenger quarters and allowed himself to be locked in without a fuss. Mal then led Simon to his room. Simon sat heavily on the bed and held out his hand to Mal. Mal sat next to him, meshing their fingers together.

"You should rest."

"We need to talk."

"It can wait."

"Why don't we get some of it said while it's quiet? Thank you for coming for us again."

"Didn't think I could leave you now, did you?"

"I wasn't sure. I mean he's your husband, do you have any idea how that made me feel? I really thought he'd killed you, even though he said he'd left you all alive. I saw part of what they did to Jayne, so I figured he wouldn't leave anyone alive."

"Jayne is one of the things we have to talk about."

"What about him?"

Mal looked down at their joined hands before he spoke softly. "He says he's in love with you." Looking back up, Mal saw Simon's eyes go all soft as a small smile raised the corners of his mouth.

Mal's back stiffened but he didn't pull his hand away. "Jayne thinks you might be willing to be with both of us. He thinks I was mad about him fucking you back on the ship just because I wasn't part of it."

Simon abruptly changed the subject. "Rem did a lot of talking about you. He asked me if I'd taught you new habits. Is there any part of the man you loved still there?"

"I thought so, at first. But my Rem is long gone. Hell, maybe he never really existed."

"I don't know how anyone could leave you."

"He didn't have a choice in the beginning. Later he came to hate, lost his mind. Then he..."

"You don't have to say it, River told me what he did to you."

"Simon, I was so worried about you. I though for sure Rem would... "

"River stopped him, I wish she could have stopped him with you. Do you think the others will find him?"

"I doubt it. Are you avoiding the subject we really need to talk about?"

"Jayne."

"Yes, Jayne. Or which one of us you want."

"Either or?"

"Simon, the decision is yours to make."

"Mal, just tell me how you feel."

"I don't like sharing, Simon. But Jayne is willing."

That soft look was back on Simon's face. "What about you, Mal? Have you been thinking about the possibility of the three of us together again?"

Mal let out a groan, "Just tell me how you want it, Simon."

Simon smiled gently as he realized that even though Mal had yet to say the words he was feeling them. Pulling Mal close he kissed him deeply.

"Simon, I need to know how's it going to be."

"I want you both. Together, one at a time, whatever works better for you."

Mal looked down at their joined hands before he spoke softly. "He made it clear he'd abide by what you decide."

"He did?"

"Yeah."

"How do you feel about that?"

"Simon the decision is yours."

"Mal, just tell me how you feel."

"I don't like sharing, Simon. But Jayne is willing. Even told me I'm not hard to look at."

"You think he wants to fuck you, too?"

"Seemed like. How you feel 'bout that?"

Simon gripped Mal's hand, pulled it to cover his crotch; Simon's hard- on gave him the answer.

"I think you need to have some private time with me like Jayne had."

"It wasn't just the drugs?"

"I don't need a drug to want the two sexiest men in the 'verse, Mal."

"You saying you want us to be a triad?"

"Think you can live with that?"

Mal pushed Simon back onto the bunk and draped himself over him. The kiss was deep, long and left both men panting. Conversation no longer seemed necessary.

+++

End of Chapter 26


Chapter 27: Breathing Space
Author: sffan
Email: sffan2004@hotmail.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Mal/Jayne
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Sorry about the melodramatic ending folks, but I couldn't let things wrap up too quickly - there's still a bunch of authors after me...

Summary: Simon, Mal and Jayne work out their situation

+++

tamade= motherfucker
chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo = animal fucking bastard

+++

Mal kneels and starts to undress Simon, slapping his hands away gently whenever the other man tries to help. He opens each button on Simon's shirt with methodical slowness, revealing the pale skin, one inch at a time. Simon lies still, watching him with luminous eyes. Gently tugging, Mal pulls Simon's shirt out from his pants and spreads it wide. For the first time, Mal sees the heavy bruising all over Simon's torso.

"Tamade!" he exclaims, running his fingers gently over the marks. "Oh, Simon," Mal says, his voice choked with emotion, knowing that most of them were caused by Rem, "I'm so sorry..."

Simon holds Mal's hand against his chest and sits up, "It's all right, Mal. I'm okay. There's no permanent damage, most of them will be gone by the end of the week." He leans in and kisses Mal passionately, trying to recapture the previous mood.

Mal responds and wraps his arms tightly around Simon, kissing him hard. Simon hisses sharply in pain. Mal lets go immediately and frowning at a sheepish Simon, pulls his shirt off and moves behind him, seeing the dark purple bruise over his kidney. "I don't suppose you were going to tell me about this, were you?"

Simon shifts so that he's facing Mal again. "No, I wasn't. You don't need anything else to feel guilty about. I told you, Mal. I'm FINE. It's a bit tender and I've had to take some pain meds, but I'm not pissing blood, so there's no real damage."

Mal cups Simon's face and says, "I don't think we should..."

Simon interrupts, "Mal, I NEED this, need you," he says softly. "I need you to wipe away the memory of his hands on me, hurting me..." Simon's voice cracks as he's overwhelmed by the memories of what Rem had done to him and thoughts of what could have happened.

Mal kisses him gently and strokes light fingers across his skin. He leans forward, pushing Simon slowly back onto the bed. Simon goes willingly, tangling his hands in Mal's shirt, pulling him down with him.

Mal is careful not to put his weight on Simon, moving off to the side. He strokes his hands down Simon's body until he reaches the waist band of Simon's pants.

"Yes, please, Mal," Simon whispers and watches Mal's hands as he unfastens his pants. Kneeling once again, Mal removes the remainder of Simon's clothes and then starts to work on his own. Mal can feel Simon's eyes on him like hands and he trembles in anticipation, fumbling at fastenings with fingers that feel twice their normal size. He glances at Simon and actually feels his heart stop in his chest when he's met with a look of raw, undisguised lust. When he's thrown the last of his clothes onto the floor, Simon reaches for him and pulls him down into a fierce, soul searing kiss.

Still conscious of keeping pressure off of Simon's wounds, Mal holds himself above Simon's body and slowly works his way down, stopping at each bruise and kissing it gently, in an unwitting imitation of Jayne. Inch by inch, Mal slides lower and lower until he reaches Simon's straining cock - hard and dripping, pulsing in time with Simon's ever increasing heart rate. He takes it into his mouth and swirls his tongue across the tip, gathering up the salty pre-come.

Simon moans and his hips buck as his hands twist in the sheets under him. Mal gently holds Simon by the hips and sucks hard. Simon's head tilts back and his legs twist against Mal's ribs. Still swirling his tongue, Mal works his way down Simon's cock until it hits the back of his throat. He's never mastered the art of deep-throating, but he still knows a trick or two. Taking a hand off Simon's hips, Mal fondles Simon's balls, brushing a finger on the thin skin behind them every now and again, stimulating Simon's prostate from the outside. Mal adds suction and undulates his tongue against the big vein on the underside of Simon's cock, all while bobbing his head in a steady rhythm. Simon gasps and pants and tries desperately to thrust into Mal's mouth. He clutches at Mal's head, his fingers twisting his hair, tugging almost painfully as his hands spasm open and closed.

With a breathless gasp, Simon's back arches up off the bed and Mal's mouth fills with hot, salty come. Simon's body relaxes under him and his laboured breathing becomes gradually deeper. By the time Mal's finished licking the last of the come off Simon's cock, the younger man is fast asleep, the exhaustion of the last few days catching up to him.

Mal lies down beside Simon and groans quietly in frustration. He's hard as steel and he knows he's not going to be able to relax until he takes care of the situation. He takes his cock in hand and starts to stroke. Mal closes his eyes, inhaling deeply, breathing in the scent of Simon and sex and imagines it's Simon's fine-boned, long-fingered hand on his cock instead of his own. Biting his lip to stop himself from moaning, Mal jerks himself off slowly, hips rocking gently as he thrusts into his own hand, which at that moment has become the soft, wet cave of Simon's mouth. With a shudder, Mal comes, spurting semen across his stomach in a hot wave.

He reaches down and grabs a shirt, his, and cleans himself off. He curls around Simon and lays his cheek against Simon's head and rests his hand lightly across his waist.

Mal's not sure how much later it is when Zoe's voice comes over the comm, startling him awake.

"Sir, we're back. Jayne's in the galley. Go talk to him." Her voice is devoid of all emotion and it worries Mal.

Mal tries to move away from Simon without waking him, but he has curled into Mal's side, wrapping an arm tightly around him, making it near impossible. Simon looks at Mal blearily, "Was that's Zoe's voice I just heard?" he asks sleepily.

"Yeah," Mal says. "They're back. I've got to go talk to Jayne. You stay here and get some more sleep."

"I'm coming with you. I want to hear this first-hand," Simon says scrubbing at his face.

Mal knows better than to argue with that stubborn tone. Sighing, he says, "All right, let's go then."

As Mal pulls out a fresh shirt, Simon slips up behind him and hugs him. Fingers stroking down Mal's chest, Simon presses his lips against Mal's back in a light kiss and says, "I'm sorry I fell asleep."

Mal turns in his loose embrace and rests his hands on Simon's hips. He leans down for a kiss and says, "Shhhh. Don't worry about it. You needed the rest. There will be plenty of other opportunities." Simon cups Mal's cheek and leans in and kisses him. The kiss is long and sweet, almost a farewell, both knowing this last part is a lie - after they start the triad with Jayne it is unlikely that either of them will ever let the other be with Simon alone again.

They part slowly, and finish getting dressed and make their way to the galley.


The second they walk into the galley, Simon knows that there's something wrong. Jayne is sitting at the table swigging what he's pretty sure is whiskey straight out of the bottle - a bottle that is currently about half empty. Jayne finishes a long swallow and then looks at them, his eyes full of anger.

"What happened?" Mal asks.

"He got away," Jayne says flatly.

Simon can feel his stomach twist as Mal goes very, very still.

"What do you mean he got away?" Mal says very quietly

"Just what I ruttin' said, Mal. That chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo got away," Jayne replies heatedly.

"How?" Mal asks, folding his arms across his chest.

"Haven't got a fuckin' clue," Jayne says and then takes another swig. "We HAD him, Mal. Had him pinned. We tracked him to some hotel, knew he was in the gorram building, but when we went in, he was gone. I nearly tore that fucking town apart looking for his trail. You know how good I am, Mal - he fuckin' disappeared. Like magic."

Jayne lets out a loud growl, standing suddenly, knocking his chair to the deck-plating and throws the bottle against the far wall. Whiskey and glass shards fly everywhere as Jayne stands there, hands clenching and unclenching.

Simon goes to Jayne and puts a hand on his arm to calm him. Jayne looks down at Simon and hesitantly touches his cheek, "When I think about what he did to you," he glances quickly over at Mal, "to the both of you, I can't think straight. I want him dead - long and slow and bloody. I'm sorry..."

Simon cups Jayne's hand against his cheek and turns his head to plant a soft kiss in the middle of his palm. It appears that his job today is to make reassurances, "It's okay, Jayne. We're here and we're fine - a little worse for wear, but we'll survive."

"Yeah, but for how long?" Jayne asks worriedly. "He may be a psychotic animal, but he's still Alliance - with all their power and authority. How the ruttin' hell are we gonna get away from him if he takes it in mind to come after you again?"

"You let me worry about that," Mal says moving towards them. "I'm sure our "friend" the Shepherd has all sorts of little insights on how to get our asses out of the fire."

"Does this mean you're not going to shove him out the airlock?" Simon asks half-seriously, turning to look at Mal. He wraps an arm around Jayne's waist and leans against his strong body. Jayne startles for a moment and shoots another look at Mal before putting his arm around Simon. Simon reaches out and takes Mal by the hand, pulling him closer.

Mal looks down into Simon's eyes and manages a tight smile. "Not just yet. Maybe later."

"Mal," Simon says warningly.

"Simon, don't push me on this. Let's see if he makes himself useful, then I'll decide what to do with him," Mal replies.

"Fine. That's another problem that can wait until later to be dealt with. But there's one problem that can be solved now," Simon says, tugging Mal even closer. He looks up at Jayne and says, "Mal told me about your proposal - that we become a triad - and I'm willing if you are." Simon smiles at the momentary look of shock on Jayne's face.

Jayne says with great seriousness, doubt written all over his face as he questions, "Is that what you want, Simon? Truly want?"

"Yes, Jayne, it's what I truly want. I love you both," he says looking at each of them in turn, registering the warm looks on both their faces at his declaration, "and I really don't want to have to choose. I don't think I could stand watching what would happen if I chose one of you over the other - it would destroy us all."

"What about you?" Jayne asks, looking at Mal. "You willing to share?"

Mal puts his arm around Simon, laying it along Jayne's and answers simply, "Yes."

Simon smiles and pulls each of them in for a gentle kiss. He finds himself surrounded by warmth as his lovers move to wrap themselves around him, sandwiching him between them as they did when they found him on Sunde. He closes his eyes and lets himself relax into their embrace, feeling totally safe and secure for the first time in months. When he opens his eyes he finds Mal and Jayne sharing a tentative first kiss - neither of them seeming quite sure what to make of it.

They pull back and try to read each other's reactions until they both notice Simon watching them avidly. Jayne grins and Mal quirks his mouth in a sexy half-smile that sends a little thrill through Simon.

He smiles and says, "As much as I'd love to move us all to somewhere more comfortable, I really ought to go check on River. She should be coming out of the anesthetic soon. I don't want her to be alone when she wakes up."

"Yeah, and I have a preacher to talk to," Mal says. "Jayne, would you go find Wash and Kaylee and tell them I want us deep in the Black double time?"

"Sure thing," Jayne replies.

They separate reluctantly, each heading off on their respective tasks.

Simon heads towards the infirmary and is half-way there when he hears his sister's voice raised in a primal scream that sends chills down his back.

"SIMON! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

He breaks into a run and finds River sitting bolt upright on the bed, her face pale and streaked with tears. When he takes her into his arms, she clutches at him and trembles.

"Shhh, meimei, I'm here, I'm all right, shhh," he says rocking her, his heart filling with dread at the thought of what his sister might be seeing in his future that would cause such a reaction.

+++

End Chapter 27


Chapter 28: An Ounce of Redemption

Author: Eleanor K.
Email: emungere@yahoo.com
Pairing: none in this chapter.
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: All hail Joss.
Notes: Xiexie to Chrissy for the beta and the word "pimp."

Summary: Book and Rem have something in common.

+++

Mal finds Book standing outside the ship. He's watching the people go by, hands clasped behind his back, the picture of calm control. Just as he has been ever since Mal met him.

That's what Mal finds hardest to take. They all trusted Book. Even after the discovery that the preacher had an ident card that worked like a magic wand on the Alliance, they all trusted him. Mal trusted him.

"You want to be part of this crew again?" Mal asks him abruptly.

Book turns to him slowly. "Yes, Captain. Yes, I do."

Mal regrets his words, but he can't take them back now, nor the sentiment behind them. He's made an offer, the beginnings of a bargain. Simon wants the preacher on board, too, and Mal hasn't overlooked that.

"Find Rem Elliot. Bring him to me. That's the price of your ticket."

Mal turns without waiting for an answer and goes back inside. Book will find him or not. He refuses to worry about it until he sees the pair of them in front of him.


Rem crouches in the twilight of an alley. The bulk of a dumpster blocks the light from the street, and the stench from it eats into all five of his senses. There is an acrid, biting quality to it that he can't pin down or blame on any hypothetical piece of refuse that his imagination can come up with. He's had plenty of time to try, too. He's been in this alley for just under two hours.

They had his hotel room staked out. He doesn't know why that should surprise him. He should have expected it. He saw Zoe there, too, but her presence didn't worry him much. Anything Mal did to him would be quick and relatively painless.

No, it was the two goons hovering in the stairwell that had him freaked out and running hard. It was only luck they didn't see him. He remembers the moment, him stopped dead in the doorway, them with their backs turned at just the right second. He let the door swing silently shut and left. Just left. He wasn't going to pay his bill. He was never going back.

They weren't the two glove-wearing bastards, but they were connected to them. These were the two who kidnapped him and his mother so many years ago. He's still not sure why they wanted him, of all people, in the Alliance.

He's not sure, but he has some guesses. He's seen things since then, things they didn't necessarily mean for him to see.

He's seen one or two of their pet psychics, and he's seen what they can do. The one he's thinking of, Lise, was a precog. She was inaccurate as hell, but her presence in his squad told him two things: One, they could see the future; two, they had someone much, much better than Lise or they never would have let her out of their sight.

So they knew what was coming.

They knew.

Forget whatever vision of the future prompted them to include him in their plans.

They knew Szuni would die. They knew how he would die. They knew what Rem would allow himself to become because of it. If he didn't have enough reason to hate them already, that would do fine.

He raped his husband. His love. He can't call it anything else, even if Mal did come. He looks at the gold band on his finger. All these years, all those battles. It's a fluke he still has it, really. A bone thrown to him by an otherwise uncaring universe, or a last grating ironic comment that he really doesn't need, thanks so much.

It hasn't been on his finger for years. He found it in his pocket while searching for money to pay for the hotel room. He doesn't remember putting it in his pocket at all, but there it was, and it slid onto his finger with as perfect a fit as ever.

It shines in the light that filters down through close-set buildings and washing hung out to dry. He doesn't deserve it.

He tugs it off. It fights him all the way. It's been bent a little over the years, and it's hard to get it over his knuckle. He sets it in his palm, tilting it back and forth in the dying light.

Then he sets it down in a relatively clean space under the dumpster. Better there than on his hand. He's the worst thing in this alley. The everyday garbage can't compare. Some bum will find it maybe, and hock it for booze, and someone in the pawn shop will take it home, and maybe their forever will last a little longer than his.

It twinkles at him from the shadows.

He looks away quickly and creeps toward the mouth of the alley.


Michael Early's tracking skills aren't quite as effective in the city. The quarry doesn't leave footprints on cement, and too many people pass by to cover what signs he may have left. Still, tracking is mostly about thinking like your prey, and that works in any environment.

He knows where Elliot's room is. He knows he never came back there. He suspects that he tried to go back and was warned off. Not by Zoe, who, positioned as she was, would certainly have seen him before he saw her. By someone else. It's not hard to guess who. There aren't that many players in this game.

Michael knows where he would be headed if his former employers were after him--the hell away from here. His first stop is the spaceport.

Maybe God really is on his side now, because he spots Elliot almost immediately. He drifts closer until he can hear what he's saying to the captain of the ship he's standing in front of.

"--can work it off. Anything you want, any planet you want to dump me on--"

"Forget it," the captain says. "No money, no transit. Get lost."

Michael sees Elliot's fists tighten at his sides, but knows he won't attack, no matter how much he wants to. The last thing Elliot wants right now is to draw attention to himself.

Michael tails him until he reaches another captain, another ship. He watches another encounter turn out like the first. He has a decision to make, and he's putting it off.

He's putting it off, because he already knows what it should be. He knows everything Elliot's done, but then he knows everything he's done himself. Elliot's crimes only increase his sense of kinship. Of obligation.

What he should do is hand the man over to Mal and be done with him. That's not what he's going to do.

He steps up behind Elliot and speaks quietly.

"You can come with me, or I can make a scene, attract a lot of attention you might not want attracted. Dong ma?"

"I get it," Elliot says stiffly. "But I'm not following you into any dark alleys."

"Just walk ahead of me, Mr. Elliot. I'll give you directions as we go. Walk and listen."


"Who the fuck are you?" Rem asks in a hiss.

"Up this street and turn right at the corner, please," the man behind him says.

Rem walks slowly, searching for a way out of this. He doesn't know who this man is, and he doesn't want to know. He wants out. Off this planet, out of the mess his life has turned into, away from this man who dresses like a priest but screams Alliance at him.

"We're not going to any dark alleys, by the way," the man says. "We're going to church. My name is Father Michael Early."

"Yeah. If you're a priest, I'm a princess. Tell me another one."

"Left here and across the street. I know a good deal about you, Mr. Elliot, and about your situation. Enough to forgive your bad manners. Hell of a life you've had."

"That's some language for a priest to be using."

"Appropriate in this case, I think. You never really wanted to serve the Alliance, did you? But they have people who can make it difficult to say no." The man paused. "Your mother is with God now. They can't do anything to her."

Rem's mind is working over-time. He doesn't know this man. Never seen him before; he's sure of that. But the guy knows him, or knows of him.

"Fuck you, asshole. You leave my mother out of this."

"Thankfully, she's out of it already. Ah, here we are. Go in the side door. It's just around the corner."

Rem bypasses the main doors of the church and pushes open the small side door. The man can't be leading him into a trap. He doesn't need to. All he would have had to do was make a call, and the goons would have been along in short order.

"What do you want from me?" he demands. "Whatever it is, I'm not giving it up for free. I want off this planet."

The man grips his shoulders and pushes him gently down into a pew.

"This isn't about what I want, Mr. Elliot. It's about what you want."

"I just told you what I want."

"You don't want safety." There is something about the look in the man's eyes that makes Rem keep his denial to himself. "You want redemption. And I can give it to you."

"I don't..." Rem shakes himself. "I don't give a fuck about redemption. Your god's been screwing with me my whole life. I've already been to hell. I can take it."

"I'm not talking about redemption in the eyes of the Lord, Mr. Elliot. I'm talking about redemption in your own eyes. We all have to pay for what we've done, one way or another." The man pauses. "They're here, you know. On Sunde."

"Who?" Rem demands. His hands draw into fists. He doesn't have to ask. He knows who, and he could swear that his heart stutters in his chest at the knowledge.

"Friends of yours, a matched set, poor taste in fashion accessories," the man says flatly.

Rem almost laughs. Those gloves. He never figured out what those were about. They looked like the rubber gloves his mother wore when she did the dishes.

"If you know who they are, I don't know how you can makes jokes about them."

"Familiarity breeds contempt. I'm going to give you two things, Mr. Elliot. What you do with them is up to you."

The man pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and a gun out of an ankle holster. Rem tenses at the sight of the gun, but the man lays it on the pew and nods for him to pick it up. He does, and pops the clip. Fully loaded. The man hands him the piece of paper. It has an address on it.

"What is this?"

"Don't be dense, Mr. Elliot."

He looks at the address again. He knows where this is. It's not far from here. His hand tightens on the gun involuntarily, just from the knowledge that they're so close.

"All right. I'm not stupid. It's pretty clear what you want. Also pretty clear it could get me killed. This is a nice weapon. I could probably hock it for the price of a ticket offworld."

"That's up to you." The man--the priest, as Rem is starting to believe he might actually be--steeples his fingers and looks at Rem over them. "A lot of people want a lot of things from you right now. Your husband wants you dead, or thinks he does. He wants to do the job himself. The men at that address want you back under their control. You're a loose cannon right now, and I imagine that's worrying them. The authorities want you bound by law."

"What do you want?"

"What I want isn't important. It's what I'm doing that concerns you. I'm giving you a chance--"

"Yeah, for redemption, I know. Whatever that's supposed to mean."

"It means different things to different people. I think, to you, it might mean a chance to rest easy at night."

Rem runs a damp palm over the metal of the gun. He swallows.

"What... What's a priest doing telling me to kill people?"

"My vocation is fairly recent. Maybe I haven't made the necessary attitude adjustment yet," the man says calmly. "The thing is, you hurt some friends of mine. But the men at that address hurt them more. I'm doing what I believe is best--for you and for them. That's all a man can do."

He stands and smoothes the creases in his trousers. He nods to Rem and leaves without another word through the door they'd entered.

Rem looks down at the gun still clenched in his hand. The metal is warm now under his skin. He turns it over and slides his finger back and forth against the trigger.


Michael watches from a shadowed doorway as Elliot leaves the church. He follows, always keeping half a block and a good many people between them. He doesn't want to influence Elliot's decision. Redemption is a personal thing, and even if God might not approve of this particular method, there is still enough of Commander Early's pragmatism in Michael's mind to believe that the sin will be outweighed by the end result.

Or, at least, he's trying to believe that. Guilt pricks at the corners of his conscience, but it's too late now. Those bastards have to die, and the opportunity is too good to pass up.

They had some reason for wanting to bring Elliot into the Alliance, and they might be slower to kill him because of that. They'll want to salvage him. That will give Elliot the edge he needs, an edge that Michael himself would not have.

They're moving through darker streets now. The sun is setting, and the buildings are closing in. Whores and pushers and junkies and the occasional pimp are the only people out in the open, though more faces look out from the windows. A good neighborhood to hide in if you don't want to draw attention to yourself. Not a good neighborhood to follow a man through if you happen to be wearing a shepherd's clothes. He slips off his collar and tucks it into his pocket.

Elliot stops and looks up at a building. It looks like all the others that line this street. The facade is grimy. Garbage has collected around the steps. An ancient eviction notice flaps in the breeze. Elliot walks up the steps and opens the door.

Michael watches him disappear inside and settles down to wait.


The stairs wail and creak under Rem's feet no matter how careful he is. He gives up on being quiet and takes them two at a time. If they don't already know he's coming, a few squeaky stairs won't make much difference.

Food wrappers and liquor bottles haunt the corners, along with a few wide-eyed children peering out of doors that are hastily shut as he passes by. The hall stinks of wood rot and old food.

He pauses outside apartment 42, seized with an insane urge to knock. He steps out of sight of the peephole and takes a deep breath. He can try the door first or shoot the lock out. Choice B is more likely to give him the element of surprise, but it also will give him one less bullet.

What the hell, he thinks. If you need the full clip to take them out, you're probably dead anyway.

He swings away from the wall and fires two shots at the lock. One foot planted in the middle of the door forces it open, and he throws himself into the room in a crouch.

Nothing. Silence. Darkness.

He hits the lights with one hand, still aiming with the other, using the table near the door for partial cover. With the lights on, he can see that the room is small and mostly bare. It is also uninhabited.

He stands and performs the kick-the-door-in procedure on the bathroom door. It too is empty, save for a grungy sink and a grungier toilet.

His heart is about ready to bust it's beating so fast. He squats on his heels in the middle of the empty room, head bent, gun hanging loosely in his hands. Air rushes into his lungs and back out without imparting any oxygen to his bloodstream whatsoever apparently, because he feels like he's about to pass out.

They're not here. After all that...they're just not here.

He goes down the stairs faster than he went up them and bursts onto the street. He spots the priest easily and drags him out of his doorway.

"How--"

"You think I got through the war by not knowing when some asshole was following me? They're not there! What is this, a set up? Talk!"

"Not there..." The priest's eyes fall to the ground. He doesn't resist Rem's grip. "I know they're not leaving without..." He looks up. Rem can see fear in his eyes. "The ship. Oh, God. River!"

He breaks Rem's hold and tears down the dim street with unexpected speed.

Rem watches him go for a shocked second and then runs after him. He knows that name, River, but he has no time to think about it. He can't lose the priest now. He's the only one Rem's ever met who's had the first idea about where to find these bastards. He's the only one, more importantly, who doesn't seem to be afraid of them.

He sees the priest turn a corner and follows blindly, gun clenched in his hand. Redemption is probably too much to ask. He'll settle for understanding. And maybe revenge.

+++

End of Chapter 28


Chapter 29: Twisted

Author: Karah Ross
Email: chakotaykim@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Mal/Simon/Jayne
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: All hail Joss.
Notes: Not betad.

Summary: River sees the path

+++

"Get it done," he growled before turning sharply on his heel.

"Who got his panties in a twist?" Wash asked as Jayne stalked away from the cockpit.

"Mal and Simon."

Wash giggled at Kaylee's response. He couldn't help the teasing, "Maybe they just untwist them for him."

"I wouldn't mind seeing that."

"Kaylee!"

Kaylee blushed but charged ahead. "What? Don't tell me you aren't curious."

"I am but not like that," Wash protested.

"Hey!" Pilot and engineer both whirled around towards the door.

"Stop gossiping about my sex life and get this ship ready to go!"

"Yes, Cap'n."


"Shh. Shh. Whatever you see, it's okay."

Jayne froze. He didn't know what had brought him to see Simon but he had. Maybe it was because that sleaze Elliot was still out there. Maybe it was because who knew what was really going on with the people after River. Whatever it was, he didn't want to let Simon out of his sight.

"She okay?"

Jayne looked over his shoulder at Mal. "She's upset but Simon's almost got her calmed down."

"She saw something didn't she?"

"Yeah."

Mal nodded and stepped up next to him. They watched Simon fiddle for a few moments before getting River back down.

"I'll do anything to keep him safe."

"I know that, Jayne. I'd do that same."

"What if that isn't enough?"

"It will be."

Jayne turned a serious face towards Mal. "They're playing us, Mal. They're pulling every one of the strings. Is it enough?"


Simon sighed. He'd only just gotten River calmed down when he'd felt the ship shudder. They were firing up the engines for a quick getaway. He hated these times because it usually meant that someone was going to be hurt.

"It won't be Jayne or Mal this time."

Simon's head came up. He'd thought River was sleeping. "You should be resting."

"Mal and Jayne won't be hurt. They'll be fine this time."

He walked over to the side of the bed and took his sister's hand. "You can't know that. And even if that is true, someone else could be hurt."

"Someone will die, Simon." Her gaze drifted from his face to just over his shoulder. Her voice was distant when she said, "For his redemption."

Simon paled. "Redemption? Not Book. River, tell me we didn't find Book for him to die."

"Sacrifice is Redemption."

+++

End of Chapter 29


Chapter 30: Curveball

Author: midnightBlue0162
Email: nifflet@hotmail.com
Pairing(s): Simon/Jayne
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: Love and thanks to skrip for the insta-beta and reassurance. And many thanks to those who put up with my whining as I wrote this. Also, hugs and pie to eli for smacking stuff :)

Summary: Surprises all around.

+++

zhangfu = husband

+++

The report was late. Protocol allowed up to two hours before any secondary action was taken. They waited three minutes.

Their resources on this planet were shamefully scarce. The tracking system only worked locally, so when there was no signal from the fugitive, it was assumed that her ship was already out of range. There was, however, a weak signal from the other target, which they followed immediately.

The two who had failed to acquire the target would be found and dealt with accordingly. Right now, the auxiliary plan was in effect, and moving briskly towards completion.

The device was activated as soon as they turned down the alley, a quiet click and hum that was barely felt through the gloves. They paused a moment, anticipating the telltale scream, frowning in unison when nothing rose to their ears. But the silent blinking dot insisted, so they continued down their path.

Twenty more synchronized steps, then two pairs of glossy shoes stopped beside a nondescript dumpster. Here, the dot said. And yet there was nothing.

A featureless hand pressed flat and pushed. The dumpster rolled. The dot flashed brighter.

There was a brief moment of something like disbelief, but nothing like surprise. A slight hesitation as the ramifications were calculated before they turned and strode out of the alley. Rem's abandoned ring winked after them, throwing starlight back at the sky.


Mal's thumb circled the button impatiently. Every part of his head was telling him to push the gorram button already, to close the cargo bay doors and let Wash take off. But apparently his heart still trusted the man he'd sent to find his husband.

"Come on, Preacher," he mumbled, and there was another shock. Familiar name, rolling off his tongue out of habit, no hesitation even as his mind tried to decide if it was the right one. Somehow, it just fit.

He shook his head and glared down at the control panel. Serenity hummed behind him, eager as his thumb to be airtight and spacebound. The din of the engine masked the sound of running feet until they were clattering up the ramp.

Mal looked up and froze. His world went suddenly, deathly silent. He didn't hear the new shepherd's breathless questions, and the man's face was a streak of brown and white in his narrowing vision. All he could see was the other shadow falling across the cargo bay.

His fist landed squarely on Rem's temple. The crack was the first thing he heard clearly, echoing through his arm and into his shoulder. He watched Rem fall, watched him crumple lifelessly to the floor, and stood over him vibrating with satisfaction and sorrow. It wasn't until later that he realized Rem hadn't tried to fight back. Hadn't even looked surprised, for that matter.

"Ready to take off now, Sir?"

He turned slowly and focused on the small fraction of his crew that had gathered behind him. Forced his hand to uncurl and avoided Zoe's eyes. Brushing past her, Mal jabbed the button and kept moving.

"Lock him up."


It wasn't the pain that woke him up, or the unfamiliar shudder and groan of an old ship breaking atmo in a hurry. He'd expected both. Welcomed them, really. It had been so long since he'd felt anything as keenly as the throbbing in his head, or the laws of physics twisting and holding firm around him.

So long since he'd felt alive in his skin.

He opened his eyes and blinked at the blurry room. Everything was sideways, filling half of his peripheral vision, the other half eclipsed by the floor. So they'd left him where he'd landed. That was also expected.

But the singing... that was a surprise.


She waited until he woke up before going through his pockets. Wouldn't be fair the other way, stealing death from the dead. But she kept singing even after he opened his eyes. It kept the pain away, for both of them.

It hurt to move. Crawling through the access door from the infirmary had threatened to undo all of Simon's tidy doctoring, but she knew she didn't have much time. So she sang, not sure where the words came from, not surprised when she knew them anyway. She'd had a moment to rest while she waited for him, so her own wounds had quieted. But then his eyes had fluttered open and she'd started pawing through all the pockets within reach, singing through the pain. When he lifted his head, she felt that too. Had to close her eyes as it stabbed through her skull, the soothing song-words finally fading away.

"You... you're..."

"Not hurting you this time. Roll over."

No hesitation. She smiled at that, and continued patting him down. "You're nicer like this. She's lucky she never met you the other way."

"Who?"

"Your floating angel. She wouldn't even recognize you now, would she, ge ge?"


Wash glanced up at Mal again with a furtive twist of his head. He really hated it when Mal stood over his shoulder like this, not talking, not captaining, just staring out at the black like it held all the answers. Wash squinted out the window, tilted his head a little, then shot another look back at Mal.

"S'matter, Wash?"

"Nothing, sir."

"You sure about that?"

"Sure as I ever am about anything."

"Well, that's a comfort."

In the silence that followed, Wash drummed his fingers on the console and scrubbed a hand through his hair. He picked up one of the paper cranes Kaylee had missed and started reshaping its head. Glanced at Mal again and reconsidered the wisdom of making pterodactyl noises before tossing it back on the floor and fiddling with the brightness controls on his screen. He looked over his shoulder again, quickly, hoping maybe Mal wouldn't--

"What?"

"It's nothing, sir. I just--"

"I don't know where we're going, Wash. Still trying to work out where the hell we've just been."

"Weird coupla days, huh?"

Mal just nodded, staring off into space again. Wash rolled his eyes and started flipping through the internal vid feeds. Kaylee's feet poked out from under the engine, and Zoe was in the kitchen keeping an eye on Book. Early. Whatever they were supposed to call him now. Jayne was sprawled across the couch and Simon was sprawled over Jayne, and Wash upgraded 'weird' to 'downright bizarre' when he saw the merc run his fingers through Simon's hair.

He flipped the feed again. River was crouched over Rem, looking through his pockets, while Inara was making her way down to the infirmary with a tray of tea. Flip. Cargo bay, empty in both views. Flip. Mal, still standing over his shoulder. Wash looked up at the cockpit's surveillance camera and made a face before realizing what he'd just seen. He switched back to the feed from Rem's room.

"Tzao gao... Mal! Look!"


"What... what did you call me?" Rem blinked again as the girl stood and pressed herself against the wall.

"Too late now. They're coming. You should get away from the door."

Rem barely had a chance to move before the door crashed inward. Mal stood in the doorway, gun drawn, while the doctor ran over to the girl.

"River, what are you doing in here?"

"Singing." She smiled down at Rem like she knew a secret or two. "And stealing. But I couldn't find it, Simon, I'm sorry."

"Find what?"

Rem's stomach dropped at the tone of Mal's voice. And then his heart stopped when he realized what the girl had been looking for.

"The virus," he whispered. "I ditched it on Sunde, but..."

Cold steel an inch from his forehead, even colder eyes blazing down at him from the stony mask of his husband's face.

"But what?"

"The ship. Serenity. She-- I programmed her to surrender nav control to the Zhe Shou as soon as they're within range. God, Mal, I'm sor--"

That buffering inch was gone in a flash, and he held Mal's eyes as the gun pressed into his skin.

"Your apologies don't mean shit to me, zhangfu. How long do we have?"

"I honestly don't know, Mal, I--"

The lights suddenly flickered and dimmed, and the steadily cycling engine began a slow whining descent into silence.

Rem swallowed and mumbled under his breath. "Not long, I'm guessing."

+++

End of Chapter 30


Chapter 31: Frown in the Face of Danger

Author: Ty Wiles
Email: tywiles@yahoo.com
Pairing: none
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: Four perspectives on waiting

+++

Book frowned at the flickering lights. The lack of power made him nervous and he followed Zoe's headlong rush to the cockpit. He could hear Wash screaming to Kaylee long before he could see the pilot. Neither knew what to do about the problem The comm. system flickering in time with the lights didn't help matters.

Then out of that racket he heard, as clear as church bells in the dead of right, River's voice. In that sing song way that always reminded him of children skipping to school, she spoke. "They're here. They're here. They're here. They're here. They're here...."

He craned his neck. River was no where to be seen. His frown deepened. In that instant, he voice still ringing in his head, Book knew what he had to do. It was time to earn his new place in this crew.

He pushed Zoe and Wash out of the way and crawled under the console.


Simon frowned at Jayne's retreating back. What the hell did he mean "stay here?"

Simon was not some child to be told to stay out of the way and from under foot. He was a gorram member of this gorram crew and he was gorram well going to do something to help. Not that he had a clue what yet, but he was not some gorram fragile doll.

That in mind he stomped off after Jayne. If nothing else, he'd have to get River into some sort of hiding spot, if he could find her. She'd taken off when the ship began to loose power Not that he thought hiding would do them much good against the Zhe Shou but it was a better than "stay here."


Mal frowned at the gun in his hand. River, Jayne and Simon had all fled the room as Serenity began to loose power. He however, didn't so much as breathe. Nor did the man at the end of his gun. How much more would he have to endure before the mistakes of his past went away? He could end it all so easily. No more betrayal, no more reminders. His finger tingled with the desire to pull the trigger.

"I can help, Mal."

Those words broke him from his reverie. NO, he was better than the man at the end of his gun. He'd made himself better than that. Murder was Rem's method, not his. He turned on his heels and left without a word.

Mal walked with no real destination in mind. He knew he'd only be in the way in the cock pit or the engine room. So he simply stopped in the corridor. He listened to Inara herd a shaking River down the corridor. At least, the girl seemed to understand the trouble they were all in. For half a second, he almost wished she'd have one of those off out of her head moments and come up with a way to save them all.

Serenity lurched, nearly knocking him off his feet. There wasn't a whole lot she'd be able to do for them. Hell, there wasn't even a whole lot he could do for his crew, besides trust them and hope that between them they could get themselves out of this jam, just like every other they'd faced.

Well, there was one other option, but he'd never go down that road again.


Rem Eliot frowned at the door to his cell. He was surprisingly calm. To die all because he'd broken his husband's trust to the point when there was no other option, Mal wouldn't even trust him enough to save his own skin. It was ironic in a way that appealed him.

+++

End of Chapter 31


Chapter 32: Out of Harm's Way

Author: sffan
Email: sffan2004@hotmail.com
Pairing(s): Mal/Simon/Jayne
Rating: G (no, your eyes aren't fooling you) Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Notes: I suck at remembering set layouts, so if I've fouled up Serenity's understand that it wasn't on purpose. Thanks to midnightblue for the title.

Summary: Jayne and Mal try to convince Simon to stay out of harm's way.

+++

xiao qin ai = little dear one

+++

The voices in the corridor draw Mal's attention - Jayne growling, Simon's steady, insistent tones. Mal lengthens his stride and turns a corner and takes in the scene before him: Jayne, a hand around Simon's arm, shaking him slightly; Simon standing there, arms crossed, with a stubborn look on his face.

"Gorramit, Simon. Go.to.your.room/!" Each word is punctuated by another shake and an increase in volume.

"Stop it, Jayne. Stop treating me like a child. I can help," Simon replies quietly.

"How?" Mal says, interrupting.

Simon and Jayne turn to look at him, startled by his sudden appearance.

Before Simon can answer, Mal turns to Jayne. "Jayne. Go find the preacher. I don't feel comfortable with him wandering about unsupervised in a time of crisis," Mal orders.

"Right. I'm on it," Jayne replies with an inward sigh of relief. He's sure Mal will figure out a way to get Simon to safety.

Mal watches Jayne disappear out of sight and then rounds on Simon. "Exactly how do you think you can help here, Simon?" Mal says viciously. "The best place you could be right now is with River, and she went that way." He continues, flipping a thumb over his shoulder towards the catwalk leading to Inara's shuttle.

Simon sputters for a moment and then concedes defeat. "Alright, I admit it. I have no idea how I can help, but you can't just send me away, Mal. I'm not a child, nor a doll. I won't break."

"Simon, xiao qin ai," Mal says quietly, his fingers gently brushing against the bruises on Simon's cheek. "I know how strong you are. But you can barely stand up straight right now. Go with River. For me. Please. I need to know you're safe. I can't afford to be distracted by concerns about your safety and neither can Jayne. We're going to need everything we've got to get out of this one alive. If the worst happens, Inara can provide you and River with some measure of safety. Even the Feds aren't crazy enough to take on the Companion's Guild," I hope Mal concludes silently.

Simon's not sure if it's the please or the totally unexpected endearment, but he finds himself wanting to do as Mal asks. He cups Mal's hand against his cheek and says, "Okay. I'll go. THIS time. But you, Jayne, and I are going to have a long talk after all this is over."

Mal cups the back of Simon's head and leans in and gives him a long, kiss. "Thank you. Now get going," Mal says, releasing him, "I have to figure out a way to haul our asses out of this fire."

Simon reaches for Mal's arm and squeezes it, "Be careful."

"Always," Mal replies seriously, looking down into Simon's worried gaze.

"Never," Simon says with a weak laugh.

"Well. Now I've got a reason to be." And with that, Mal kisses Simon once again and then pulls free, heading down to the cargo bay, to meet his uninvited guests, trusting Simon to seek the safety of Inara's shuttle.

+++

End of Chapter 32


Chapter 33: One Chance

Author: skripka
Email: skripka2@mac.com
Pairing: Mal/Other, Mal/Simon/Jayne implied Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Disclaimer: All hail the great Joss! I do this as homage only. And because I'm desperate for new stories with this crew. Notes: Pbthbhtbhthbt to sf for leaving me with plot threads. She should know better. Many thanks and much love to Chrissy for the sounding board, and Eli for the beta. And a great big smooch to llaras for giving me the idea for the horrific curse.

Summary: One last chance...for everyone.

+++

gaisi=shit
zhangfu=husband
hundan=bastard
Zhe Shou.=Shadow Hand
xingjiao ni wuquian ling wu zewen qugui, pantu=go screw 1,005 heckling turtles, traitor diyu=hell kuang=madman
cao=fuck

+++

Mal clattered down the stairs in the eerie illumination of flickering emergency lighting. Zoe, Jayne, and Book...Early...whoever...were waiting for him, armed and ready, at the front of the cargo bay. "Kaylee and Wash stowed in the engine room and cockpit?" he asked Zoe.

"Yes, sir."

"Any reason in particular you gave this...piece of gaisi a gun?" Mal nodded towards Book...Early...Michael...as he pulled his own weapon out of the locker.

"Excuse me, Captain," the older man interrupted. "I believe you'll need every hand you've got."

Mal grunted. "Got any information that could be of use here, Preacher?" What the hell, it made things easier to use the old title. As Early opened his mouth to speak, a loud clang echoed from overhead. Mal cursed as he saw Rem exiting the spare shuttle. "Jayne!" he barked, and the mercenary ran up to grab the man, surprising Rem with his quickness.

"Mal! Wait!" Rem yelped as Mal caught up to Jayne, Zoe at his heels. Jayne's face was a study in fury as he twisted Rem's arms behind him.

"Why, zhangfu?" Mal spat out the word like an imprecation. "What in gorram hell were you doin' up here?"

"You have to trust me!" Rem winced as Jayne twisted his arm.

"Ain't got no reason to trust a hundan like you," the mercenary growled.

"There is!" Rem pleaded. "Look, you're going up against the * Zhe Shou*. Ask the priest, there's no reason that they'll not leave every last one of your crew screaming in a pool of their own blood." Jayne blanched, remembering the screams on Ariel, and loosened his grip fractionally. Rem shrugged out of the hold.

Stepping closer to Mal, he whispered hoarsely, "One chance, Mal. Give me this one last chance." Mal weighed the pain in Rem's eyes.

Turning his back on his husband, Mal muttered, "Do what you want. I'm done with you," as he strode back down the stairs.

Serenity shuddered as the Zhe Shou's ship attached itself to the airlock. Mal stood brazenly in the center of the cargo bay, gun at the ready. No point in trying to bluff his way out of this one. He felt Rem's presence behind him, the weapon they had given him grudgingly a prickle on his neck. Jayne, Book, and Zoe were concealed, prepared to offer cover fire.

Mal took a deep breath as the airlock seal was popped from the outside. He was half-expecting some instantaneous death and couldn't help relaxing as the four heavily armed goons entered. Mal tensed right back up, however, when the two suits came in. Better dressed than Simon had ever been. Impeccably average. Except for the bright blue gloves, he would have never noticed them in the street.

Well, that and the downright unsettling way they moved together.

The two blue-gloved men glanced at each other. Eerie, was the thought that went through Mal's head. They even nodded in unison.

"Captain Renyolds?" the blonde one asked, smooth and menacing.

"That'd be me."

"Don't move."

Mal cursed as the barrel of a small pistol was pressed against his spine, and raised his hands. "Just wanted one chance, * zhangfu*?"

"Not my fault if you can't predict my actions. But then, I always did like to surprise you." Rem turned his head, and shouted at the others. "Come out and drop your weapons, or I shoot your captain right here and now." Mal stumbled forward a bit at the rough shove Rem gave him.

Zoe and Jayne were glaring daggers at Rem as they stepped out, but the look Book gave was one of disappointment. Somehow it seemed weightier than the condemnation.

The four of them were quickly disarmed by the muscle, before the gentleman spoke again. "Where is she?"

Mal affected an innocent look. "Who?"

Rem grimaced, and jabbed the gun against Mal. "She's upstairs, in the shuttle.

Only Jayne's hand, heavy on Mal's shoulder, kept him from strangling Rem right then and there. "Xingjiao ni wuquian ling wu zewen qugui, pantu," he hissed. "I hope you burn in hell, Remzija Elliot."

A brief flash crossed Rem's face. Mal couldn't read it. "I'm sure you do, Malcom Reynolds." He turned to the men with the gloves. "I'll take you to your girl. Just...promise to let me go."

They gave those eerie nods again, but with the tiniest bit of hesitation this time. Mal could barely see through the red haze of anger as Rem led the Zhe Shou up the stairs to the catwalk, leaving the four goons with their guns trained on Mal's crew.

His fury was so disorienting, Mal had to blink twice before he realized what Rem had done.

The hatch to shuttle two closed with finality. A wrench, then, as the shuttle disconnected violently from Serenity. Mal stumbled, and caught himself against Jayne for an all too brief, hot second. "The diyu?"

Mal whirled and elbowed a lunk in the ribs. Already off balance, he went down, Mal on top of him, shortly wrestling his gun away. A quick thump with the butt of the gun against the lunk's temple. As he stood up, he noticed that Jayne, Zoe and the preacher had already taken the other three guys down. Zoe was already at the comm.

"Wash! What's happening?"

"Dunno! Shuttle two just...ripped off." Wash's voice crackled.

"How?" Mal asked.

The puzzlement was clear in Wash's voice. "No clue! I thought we needed power to launch the shuttles."

Book answered them. "No power needed to blow the clamps with explosives," he said, grimly.

Mal glared at no one in particular. "What has that kuang done to my ship?"

Zoe's hand landed on Mal's arm. "Mal, that means there's no way for the shuttle to re-dock."

"I know." Mal was about to turn and go up to the cockpit, when he was stopped by a disembodied voice, hollow, and wracked with pain. Rem was speaking.

"I hope to hell this works. Not like I have any time." The barked laugh echoed through the cargo bay. "I don't know what these * Zhe Shou* are, but believe me, there's no other way. They're going to kill us all. I'm figuring, better just me than everyone else.

"Sorry about your shuttle, but again. Sacrifices. I'm dead, I'm sure. Once the shuttle is gone, I'm sure the blue-hands have got some horrific way to kill me. I'm sort of morbidly curious, frankly..." Rem's voice trailed off for a second.

"I'm sure you've cursed me to every single hell possible by now, Mal. Not as many as I've cursed myself to, though." A ragged sigh broke the stream of words. "That's all there is, isn't it? No glory left. No duty. Just sacrifice.

"I'm truly sorry, Mal. For...everything. Be well."

The recording clicked off. Silence collapsed over the room. Mal turned to the comm. "Wash, where's that shuttle! Can you bring us around?"

"Um."

"What?"

"It's gone." Wash's voice was stunned. "I think it decompressed. Explosively."

They stood staring in horrified shock, as Wash and Kaylee came down, and Inara brought Simon and River out of her shuttle.

"What the cao was that?" Wash asked, breaking the stunned silence.

"Sacrifice." Mal was still struggling with the concept.

"Pain," was River's answer.

"What is it, mei mei?" Simon was instantly at her side, arms wrapped around her frail shoulders.

"I thought those guys were psychic," Wash continued. "How come they couldn't suss out that guy's plan?"

River looked at Mal directly, eyes wide. "He felt nothing but pain."

Mal stared at River, and felt...nothing. The heavy, leaden hurt he had been carrying for the past two days was gone. Rem was gone. They were safe. He was free to be with Simon and even Jayne, to keep flying, to keep his crew safe. He should have felt relief.

He felt empty.

He spun on his heel, refused to look anyone in the eye, and ignored Simon's call, "Mal?" as he stalked back to his bunk.

+++

End of Chapter 33


Chapter 34: Folded Sky

Author: Juli
Email: challisgal@yahoo.com
Pairing(s): Mal/Simon/Jayne
Rating: R
Disclaimer: "Firefly" and its characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes. No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended. Summary: As our saga comes to a close, Mal gets advice from a most unlikely source.

+++

hundan = bastard
cao = fuck
Zhe Shou = Shadow Hand
gaisi = shit
kuang = madman
diyu = hell

+++

"Is that all you're going to do to the hundan, take his door off?"

The angry, bitter tone in Inara's voice bounced off the wall of ice that Malcolm Reynolds had built around himself. The captain had been supervising Kaylee and Wash as they removed the door to Book's quarters. Face wooden, he turned to face her criticism.

"I'm not inclined to make the man my boon companion," Mal said tersely, "but he's shown enough good faith to earn another chance."

"Cao." Inara snapped.

Mal's eyes narrowed. "You kiss your customers with that mouth?" The barb was delivered without its usual sting; even verbal sparring with Inara had lost its luster. Shrugging, he moved down the corridor. "He's earned a second chance."

Undaunted, Inara picked up her skirts and followed. "Second chance? That traitor?"

Mal's stride became longer as his temper got shorter. "Early or Book - or whatever's he's calling himself today - helped get the tracker device out of River. Used his contacts to clean up that mess with the Zhe Shou." Mal carefully didn't mention Rem Elliot and Book's involvement with finding him. "I'm not ready to trust him one hundred per cent and that's why his door is gone - to discourage any future sneakiness. Way I figure it, though, the man deserves a second chance."

"Second chance!" Inara all but spit out the words as she grabbed Mal by the arm. Her self-righteous anger gave her the strength to not only stop Mal in his tracks, but also yank the captain around to face her. "Michael Early is Jubal Early's father. Even if you can ignore the way he fooled and used all of us, he's still the man who fathered the monster who threatened to rape Kaylee. He doesn't deserve a second chance." Her words immediately took Mal back a few days. The cargo hold. Rem asking for another chance and then seemingly betraying it. The shuttle implosion - and Mal's last words to his husband before Rem sacrificed himself to save them all had been bitter.

He grabbed Inara by the shoulders and shook her. "Everyone deserves a second chance and, on my boat, gorram it, they're gonna get it!"

Abruptly, Mal realized he was shouting. Inara's words had finally pricked him, made him feel something besides the numbness that had descended when the shuttle had been destroyed. Sick, Mal raised his eyes to Inara, almost afraid of what he would find. He'd been known to take his anger out on other people before, knew it was a fault of his, but only ever verbally. Shaking wasn't hitting, but still....

She was smiling at him.

The captain dropped his hands as though he were gripping hot irons instead of the softest skin money could buy.

"The last thing I need," Mal grated out past clenched teeth, the ice back in his voice, "is a whore's reverse psychology."

Turning, he stalked down the corridor. Inara again trailed after him in a less than dignified manner.

"Mal, if you're willing to give Book another chance," the Companion asked, "Why not yourself?"

"Don't need no more chances," Mal said over his shoulder.

Still behind him, Inara flushed with fury. "You selfish hunan."

Mal just waved his hand at her and kept walking.

"What about Simon and Jayne?" Inara asked desperately. "If you won't give yourself a second chance for your own good, you should do it for theirs."

Mal stopped but wouldn't turn around. "Best thing I can do for them is just to let them be." Unseen by Inara, he raised a hand to brush up against this shirt pocket before letting it drop to his side, clenched in a fist.

"Oh, really," Inara replied, voice laden with sarcasm. "Tell that to Simon. Kidnapped twice, almost raped by two different men, beaten until he's black and blue. Since the shuttle, you won't come near him. Won't let him come near you. That's 'helped' him so much that he's lost weight and won't sleep. Jayne's beside himself trying to figure out what to do."

The Companion had stepped closer to Mal as she spoke and could see him flinch as she mentioned Jayne's name.

"Jayne'll take care of him," Mal answered, refusing to look at her.

"Jayne's trying," Inara admitted. "As odd as that sounds. But... Jayne wasn't the one hurt by what happened with Rem. You were. I think it's hard for Simon to accept comfort from Jayne because he feels too guilty."

Mal frowned. "Guilty? What for?"

Inara became tight-lipped. "You'll have to ask Simon."

Mal shook his head, resisting the automatic pull those words initiated. It was hard, even knowing Inara was using her Companion training to sway him.

"Like I said, best thing for me to do is to let Simon and Jayne be."

This time, when Mal walked away, Inara didn't attempt to follow.


Hours later, Mal was still fighting the inner call to go to Simon and Jayne. It was better now that they'd shaken the dust of Sunde off their heels and were back in the black. Unable to sleep in his solitary bunk, Mal had gone wandering through his ship, his errant steps eventually bringing him to the newly acquired shuttle.

The small craft was the same make and model of the one that Rem had sacrificed himself in. Somehow, it didn't seem right that it was there. It was as if it would have been more fitting for Serenity to have a shuttle-sized gap, the way there was a Rem-sized gap in Mal's soul.

"He was already dead, you know." A voice came floating down out of the shadows. "The heart is an organ that the human body cannot function without. They killed Remzija Elliot's when they made him leave his behind. You. You were his heart."

Mal sighed and pressed the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "River, ain't it a little late for you to be up? All good girls should be in bed by now."

River stepped into the light and smiled beatifically at him, something cradled close to her chest. Before Mal could see what it was, she straightened her arms, sending dozens of paper cranes fluttering around them. Laughing in delight, the girl twirled as they rained down on them both.

"Your brother know where you are?" Remembering what had happened earlier with Inara, Mal made a special effort to keep his voice even.

River's expression became petulant. "No. Too busy not eating, not listening to Jayne, not sleeping."

Mal kept himself from sighing. Reaching out, he gently grasped her arm. "Well, I think we better get you back to him, so he can get busy not worrying about you."

"No!" For the second time that day, one of Serenity's women had surprised him with her strength. Pulling out of his grasp, River danced out of Mal's reach.

"You're not listening either," she accused the captain. "Two by two, hands of blue. They killed him, that's what they do." Her hands moved in agitated gestures as the troubled girl paced. "Only, they cut up his soul instead of his brain." Her voice grew mournful. "Can live with a sutured brain. Not so the soul."

"River...."

"Remzija Elliot died, Captain," she said fiercely. "Died years ago. What was left was a shadow of the man you knew on Shadow. That's why he acted the way he did. It wasn't 'til he had his heart back in his bed that he remembered what it was like to be a living man, but it was too late." She wrapped her arms around herself. "Too late."

Hoping that River's tirade was done and trying hard not to think too much about her words, Mal reached for her again. "River...."

"He was happy," she whispered hoarsely. Lifting her eyes, she pinned Mal with an intense gaze. "He blocked the blue hands with his pain right up until his molecules spread out across the black and then he was happy. I felt him. He knew, at the end that he'd been killed years ago and all he had to do was stop breathing. He wanted to make things right and he did."

Mal's jaw tightened and, in spite of his better judgment, he was drawn in to the conversation. "How can that be right, a man killin' himself like that?" While, he didn't add, he endured his husband's misdirected hatred.

River shrugged. "He knew his soul was rotten, corrupt with death. Wanted his heart to live, pure. Only way to do it - blue hands can't be dissuaded. Have to be killed."

"Let's get you back to your brother," Mal said, wanting to end the uncomfortable conversation.

River had other ideas.

She opened her hand, revealing a last paper crane. "The crane is a symbol of peace, of honor and loyalty."

"That's nice," the captain responded absently, moving close to wrap an arm around her.

"The Alliance doesn't have any cranes," she pronounced seriously, as though she was uttering the answer to the 'verse's deepest riddle.

Mal snorted. "If those birds stand for honor, I can see why. It's been my experience that the Alliance is sorely lackin' in that regard."

"Simon's a crane." River said earnestly, letting herself be led away. "Jayne's learning to be. Isn't quite ready to fly on his own. He needs an example," she said slyly, elbowing Mal in the ribs. With a pointed look, she handed him the paper crane.

Mal immediately understood the hint but wasn't about to take it. "I'm not a rutting example for anybody." When River looked at him with hurt eyes, he was moved to explain. "The Alliance and their damn war, they took Shadow from me. Family. Land. Soldiers that looked to me. Now they took Rem too."

Mal crushed the crane and dropped it, no longer inclined to escort her back to her brother's side. Turning his back on the girl, he purposefully started to walk away.

"They can't take the sky from you."

Mal stopped and River daintily stooped to pick up the folded paper crane that he'd discarded. She stepped around to face Mal, re-folding the paper with skilled fingers.

"You were Rem's heart," she explained as she worked. "Simon and Jayne, they're your sky.

Fingers finished, she handed him a new origami creation - a miniature firefly. "And nobody can take the sky from you."

Giggling at Mal's dumbfounded expression, River reached up on tiptoe and kissed the captain gently on the cheek. Then, she slipped off into the dark recesses of Serenity.

Mal stood, stock still, for ten minutes after she left, thinking. Eventually, he smiled and, if it was a bit sheepish, at least there was no lingering sadness.

"Fine thing, Reynolds," Mal scolded himself, "When a mooncalf is brighter than you are."

He reverently touched the origami firefly with one finger, his smile deepening as he traced its edges and curves. Carefully cupping the fragile miniature with one hand, he used the other to dig into his shirt pocket. The small weight from the object nestled there had been tugging at him for days but he hadn't had the fortitude to look at it until bolstered by River's words.

Rem's wedding ring.

Book had presented it to him during the chaotic time following the shuttle implosion. Preacher Early had claimed that the tracking device implanted in it had been neutralized. After asking Kaylee to confirm that it had, Mal had dropped the ring into his pocket, not ready to deal with it but unwilling to discard it either. His own wedding ring was still on his finger. He slowly pulled it off and dropped it into the palm of his hand, where it clicked against Rem's. The two circles of gold nestled there, warm from their contact with his skin, like they belonged together.

Looking from the rings to the shuttle, Mal's smile broadened again. Carefully putting the paper firefly aside, he headed for the engine room.

Surely, little Kaylee had a blow torch tucked away in there somewhere.


"Lemme go over it one more time."

Mal smiled as he heard the frustration in Jayne's voice. The big lug was close to being adorable when he was trying to learn something and it sounded as though Mal had come in the middle of some sort of lesson. Leaning against the corridor wall, Mal hovered outside of Simon's quarters, eavesdropping shamelessly.

"All right, but I really do think you got it that last time."

Mal closed his eyes at the exhaustion in Simon's voice. Inara, it appeared, had been right to chide him.

"The Zhe Shou are the people who helped get yer crazy sister free, 'xcept they really were Alliance bastards all along."

"Right," Mal heard Simon agree. "But, technically, River's not insane. She's just tampered with."

"If you say so," Jayne's voice sounded doubtful but apparently he wasn't inclined to argue. "The Alliance bastards pretended to be this secret bunch but they were just playin' with yer crazy sister an' the rest of us, seein' what she could do in the real world with real folks."

"An experiment, yes," Mal could easily detect a note of disgust in Simon's voice at the thought.

"That's what I said."

Mal could hear the telltale sound of bodies shifting on a bed. Swallowing hard, he leaned forward but was unable to discern what was going on inside. Just as he was about to give up on his eavesdropping and go in to find out, Jayne spoke again.

"Like I was sayin', they gave River back to ya so they could play with her some more. And the chief player was the preacher."

"Yes."

"Book's name is Michael Early an' he's the father of that sick cao that broke in here an' tried to take you an' River."

"I'm afraid so, yes."

Mal heard a sound that was slightly moist and guessed that Jayne was kissing Simon. At least, that's what Mal would have done himself upon hearing the doctor's mournful tone.

"Sorry, 'bout that, Simon. Sleeping through the whole thing, I mean. Sure would have liked a piece of that Jubal Early."

"That's okay, Jayne. Actually, it turned out well the way it did. River was able to prove her worth to Mal and that was important."

"Next time, though, the hunan that tries to take you or even yer crazy sis gotta come through me first." Mal could almost see the dangerous glint in Jayne's eye and silently approved of the mercenary's attitude.

"Let's hope we don't have to worry about that," Simon reminded Jayne, before prompting, "Now, where were you?"

"Yeah, right," Jayne's voice picked up the saga. "Book tried ta frame me and Mal kicked his sorry ass off the boat. Only, somethin' happened an' he decided to be a preacher for real."

"I suppose men can find faith under all kinds of circumstances," Simon seemed to ponder. "I'm only grateful his conscience kicked in when it did."

"Yeah. Too bad, though. Wasted all them years with only his right hand for comp'ny an' now he's gotta be celibate for real."

Mal could hear Simon chuckle at Jayne's comment and had to smile himself. He was surprised; he would have thought he'd be jealous at the thought that someone else could inspire laughter in the doctor.

"So, the preacher's for real and findin' God on Sunde when this gaisi for brains husband of Mal's finds us."

Outside Simon's quarters, Mal's hands balled up into fists and then relaxed. He couldn't blame anyone for harboring bad feelings about Rem, not after what the man had done and what they'd thought he was going to do.

"Rem wasn't so bad," Simon echoed Mal's sentiment. "The Alliance got their hands on him, the same way they had River. He couldn't really be responsible for his actions."

"Now, that's a crock of gaisi if I ever heard of it. He was a kuang. Maybe what they did to him, maybe it made him grab you and beat you. But he raped Mal, no matter what Mal calls it. Weren't no Alliance bullies standin' behind him makin' him do it, either. Didn't get their job done any faster, Elliot did it just to get his rocks off - and nobody does that to Mal. Nobody. Only thing wrong about Elliot being dead is that I didn't get to do it myself."

Mal felt his throat tighten. Although they'd begun to explore an attraction to one another, he'd had no idea that Jayne felt so strongly about him. Simon, yes, but he hadn't been sure about Jayne's feelings.

Simon's voice was so soft when he answered that Mal almost missed what he had to say. "Don't let Mal hear you say that. The way Captain Elliot sacrificed himself for us, it really hit Mal hard. Besides, Rem redeemed himself, just like Book did."

"Yeah, I suppose he got rid of a problem for us." The reluctance to admit that Rem Elliot had done anything good was clear in Jayne's voice. "Book really covered our asses too. Told Mal what to do so the Alliance not only didn't bust us for what happened on the Nemesis, but also gave us the reward money for disposin' of the killer of the Nemesis' crew. Got us a new shuttle and a bit left over."

"And Book also managed to convince the Alliance that he died in the shuttle as well," Simon's voice held just a touch of awe at that feat.

"That's one less fugitive the bastards will be huntin' us for but I wish he coulda done the same for you and yer crazy sister."

"He did all he could," Simon sounded as though he was covering his own disappointment and Mal began to wish he was in the room with the younger man. He had an overwhelming urge to wrap Simon in his arms. "I'm glad Mal's giving him another chance - I just wish Mal would be easier on himself."

"Man's gotta work out his own demons," Mal heard Jayne respond. "Ain't used to having help."

"I suppose not," Simon's disappointment and worry were clear as a bell. "But he has us now to help with that. He's got to start sometime."

That was as good of an opening as Mal was likely to get. Pushing the door to Simon's quarters open, he stepped inside. "I suppose even an old space dog like me can learn new tricks. If I had the right teachers, that is."

It was a most welcome sight that met him. Jayne was spread out across Simon's bed, his upper body propped up by the wall. Simon was nestled between his legs and resting on his chest. Jayne had one arm wrapped around the doctor and the other hand was gently carding through Simon's dark hair. The latter had a pensive look on his face and his eyelids were half-closed with sleepiness. Half-closed, that was, until Mal walked into the room.

"Mal!" Simon's face brightened and he made to launch himself from the bed. Jayne's arm wrapped around him, however, and pulled him back flush against his chest.

"Jest wait a damn minute," Jayne growled, glaring at Mal. "I know you been hurt, but the way you cut us out, that hurt too." He nodded at Simon, who'd calmed in his arms. "Some of us more than others. How can we be sure you won't lock us out again when somethin' bad happens."

"Jayne!" Simon protested.

"No," Mal said, "the man's got a valid point."

Now that the captain looked closer, he could clearly see what Inara had been referring too. Simon looked thin, almost gaunt, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Even Jayne looked a little worse for wear. At least, Mal didn't remember the mercenary having worry lines around his eyes before. Both of the men before him were just wearing soft sleep pants; their chests were bare. Livid bruises could be seen marring each of their skin. Reminders that Rem Elliot, as noble as his sacrifice was, had been no saint.

The small part of his brain that wasn't busy feasting on the view thought it ironic. All three of them had been hurt by Rem Elliot, but only Simon and Jayne had the physical marks to prove it.

"I suppose," Mal drawled, "If you see me start to do it again, you could always hit me upside the head with a wrench. That seems to work."

"Don't be ridiculous," Simon said shortly.

Jayne, however, nodded. "That'd work."

Simon turned in Jayne's arms to glare at the bigger man. "Are you insane? That could give him a concussion or worse."

"Then that'd give him a reason not to do it, wouldn't it?" Jayne grinned evilly and kissed Simon on the nose. "Besides, it'd give you a reason to fuss over him and you know you like to do that."

The doctor just blinked at Jayne and then grinned impishly. "Well, all right then."

Mal let the banter wash over him, letting it take the rest of the ice over his heart away. "Well, now that we have that settled....." He looked at the other two expectantly.

Jayne made a rude noise. "Well, get over here."

Simon scooted over and patted the bed. "Please."

Mal slipped one suspender strap off his shoulder, observing with amazement as Simon and Jayne's eyes watched his every move. When he got the second strap off and began unbuttoning his pants, he became uncomfortable with the attention.

"Uh, fellas," he said hesitantly, "I'm not sure I'm ready for too much tonight."

Simon's eyes darkened with understanding. "No one expects you to," he said quietly, surreptitiously elbowing Jayne in the stomach before the mercenary could say anything. "Just come lay with us."

The doctor enlisted Jayne's help in getting the bed ready, giving Mal the space to undress on his own. When he'd stripped down to his underwear, Mal slipped in to the bed with them. Simon had moved to one side of Jayne, leaving an empty spot for Mal. The captain nestled against Jayne, facing Simon. He reached out to trace a livid bruise on Simon's jaw. Simon kissed Mal's fingertips, making the captain smile. Jayne's chest rumbled with an appreciative noise at the sight and Mal lifted his face to kiss the bigger man on the chin.

Those first tentative kisses lead to others and within short order, the three men's bodies were twining and gliding against one another. Tentative became ardent and ardent became passionate. Fabric was moved aside and moans filled the small room as flesh pressed against bare flesh. Simon ended up on his back with Mal above him, their bodies sliding together face-to-face. Jayne was poised over Mal, rubbing himself into the crack between Mal's cheeks. No one was ready for penetration yet, but neither was it necessary. Friction, need, and trust were more than sufficient, as the lovers' cries easily showed.

Afterwards, the lovers cuddled together, a satiated pile that filled the bed without crowding it.

"Diyu," Jayne eventually said languidly. "Shoulda done that ages ago."

"Agreed," Simon said, nuzzling a ripe nipple. At the moment, he couldn't quite tell whose it was and didn't have the energy to find out.

"I guess this thing's gonna work out," Mal said, cupping Simon's head and proving just whom the doctor was suckling on.

"Yup." Jayne said in shear contentment.

"Yup," Simon echoed, for once the common vernacular not sounded stilted coming from him. He sighed and closed his eyes. They popped open a moment later, however, when something occurred to him. "Jayne?"

"That's m'name," the mercenary replied, half asleep. "Don't wear it out."

Simon slapped him on the shoulder. "Wake up." When Jayne opened one eye, he asked him a question. "Pritchard Smith was a man from my past, just as Rem Elliot was a man from Mal's. Do you have anybody that might come back to haunt you?" Simon looked at Mal apologetically. "Forgive me, but after these last days, I'd prefer to be prepared."

"No offense," Mal assured him, giving Simon a soft kiss to prove it. "Well, Jayne, what do you say?"

"Well, lemme think," Jayne replied, scratching at one ass cheek while he considered. "Well there was Clem.... wait, no. I shot him. Then there was Linda... no, I shot her too." His face brightened. "Nope. I done shot anybody already who might cause us trouble."

Mal and Simon looked at each other, disbelief melting into laughter. Throwing his arms around his lovers, Mal relaxed for the first time in days. For almost ten years, he'd thought he'd made a huge mistake in trusting Rem Elliot and had been reluctant to trust ever since. Now... now, he had reason to trust again. Two reasons, actually. Simon Tam and Jayne Cobb.

River was right; they were his sky... and no one, absolutely no one, would take them from him.


In space, daytime and nighttime were arbitrary. On Serenity, the lights were dimmed to create an illusion of evening. Still, some light was necessary and a weary beam illuminated the door to the new shuttle. It was indeed the same make and model of its predecessor, similar in most ways. There was one important difference, however. This shuttle had been named. Recently too, because the paint was still damp and glistened in the soft light. The first three letters were done in all upper case letters and did more than glisten - they glimmered with a gold sheen, almost as if gilt had been applied to emphasis them.

Mal had christened her the REMembrance.

+++

The End


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