When Heroes Fall by MonkeyAbu
Story Notes:
Just a new little something that popped into my head and demanded to be written thanks to my ever annoying muse that works on its own schedule. Been at it for a bit and figured I would post it here, as well as where it's posted on FF.net and AO3. And whooticus for being the first and only Firefly story on AC! I'm a rebel! *cheese* Reviews are love. All feedback is welcome.

1. Prologue by MonkeyAbu

2. Chapter 1 by MonkeyAbu

3. Chapter 2 by MonkeyAbu

4. Chapter 3 by MonkeyAbu

5. Chapter 4 by MonkeyAbu

6. Chapter 5 by MonkeyAbu

7. Chapter 6 by MonkeyAbu

8. Chapter 7 by MonkeyAbu

9. Chapter 8 by MonkeyAbu

10. Chapter 9 by MonkeyAbu

11. Chapter 10 by MonkeyAbu

12. Chapter 11 by MonkeyAbu

Prologue by MonkeyAbu

He should have listened to Jayne.

It was the only time Simon had ever decided listening to something Jayne had to say would be beneficial to him, but right then as he lay on the cold damp and dirty floor with a musty smell lingering in the air around him, he wished with every fiber of his being that he HAD listened to Jayne. He wished he had swallowed his pride and his annoyance and gave Jayne the benefit of the doubt that maybe just maybe that crazy tah mah duh hwoon dawn [mother humping son of a bitch] had been speaking logic after all. Simon wished he had paid heed to Jayne's persistent disapproval towards his decision to venture off the ship mere hours before they were due to break atmo. Even Mal voiced his opinion on the matter, called the idea absurd, and threatened to leave Simon on that Gorram rock if the doctor stepped even one foot off of Serenity. Simon had called the captain's bluff though and knew the threat was empty. Mal would never leave Simon behind, especially not with Kaylee's current condition. Their resident mechanic would have the captain's head on a platter for that betrayal alone.

Simon should have listened to Mal if no one else, but now he knew he should have listened to Jayne most of all. That foul-mouthed, pride-filled hwun dan [bastard] was smart. In fact, Jayne was very smart, smarter than most gave him credit for, but he brought that upon himself. He'd been dumbing himself down for so long that Simon suspected Jayne had truly begun to believe it also, forgotten the capacity of intelligence his brain actually held. That's why it didn't pass Simon to even give his griping a second thought. He didn't like to admit when Jayne was right, but if only he could see him right now, Simon would tell him how much he wished he WOULD have listened.

There was a flare of pain that started at the end of Simon's tail bone and spread without mercy up his spine and he curled in on himself. His eyes clenched shut, as if the darkness of no sight would somehow dim the consequences of his injuries. Foolish thinking that was. If anything, seeing nothing but a black void only heightened Simon's senses even more. It took all he had within him to swallow the groan of authentic hurt that was bubbling up his throat and even so, the faintest of whimpers passed his lips, just loud enough for his ears to register. Simon wasn't one to vocally or visually express pain. He prided himself in being strong that way. But now, now he couldn't stop the bitter tears of agony from springing to the corners of his eyes.

Simon's arms curled delicately around his bruised abdomen as he pried his eyes open with considerable effort. There was no getting comfortable on the cold, hard ground. His prison. Sleep wasn't a willing option either. He would lay there until his body gave out and finally succumbed to exhaustion, just as he had every night since being thrown into this living Hell. It would be useless though because they would come to claim Simon, his captors, and torture him until he was certain he could withstand the abuse no more. Their laughter and heartless statements would haunt him long after they had tossed him like a rag doll back into his crude cell. Day in and day out, the routine was the same. They were just as cruel from one day to the next and Simon could tell by looking into their eyes that they had no intentions of stopping.

Ruthless is what many would call them and it seemed they openly embraced that title with pride. Thugs of the worst kind, bandits who took pleasure in their crimes and sought the pay out simply in the pain they afflicted on others. Simon's pleas for them to let him go went unheard, or rather ignored in the most blatant way. At first, he tried reasoning with them. He had a sister that needed looking after and a fiance ready to give birth to his first child at any moment. Those confessions only made them beat him more and harder too, if that were possible. Even offers of monetary value (something Simon had no way of paying since the Alliance had locked him out of access to his funds ages ago) were disregarded. Simon's captors simply didn't care. They wanted to see him bleed. They wanted to hear him cry out for mercy and see the recognition in his eyes that that mercy would never come.

It was only a matter of time before they returned.

The air in the cell was cold and felt as if it were getting colder by the minute. Simon couldn't stop his teeth from chattering as the moments passed. The ripped shirt and pants he wore did very little to keep the dropping temperature from clawing at his insides. If only he had thought to dress a little warmer before leaving Serenity. That was a ridiculous thought though. The weather on Jirah had been stifling and unseasonably warm for the Outer rim planet, so much so that Simon had felt uncomfortably over dressed when he stepped off the ship in a pair of neatly pressed trousers and an ironed long sleeve button down. Some of Simon's finer clothing that he wore on occasion and Mal hadn't failed to claim a good five minutes of making fun at Simon's expense.

If only Simon had known.

If only Simon had bothered to listen when it mattered most.

An image of Kaylee's sweet smile flashed through Simon's mind and he closed his eyes again in a grappling attempt to grasp hold of the image. The thought of Kaylee caused the fading swell of hope to flutter to life in him again. Sweet, sweet Kaylee, the only one Simon had ever known who had been able to make him weak in the knees with an innocent glance. She had from the first moment Simon had laid eyes on her back on that fateful day on Persephone, even if it took him far too long to admit such a fact to himself.

And their relationship had been strained from the start. Kaylee was too eager and Simon was...well, he was stiff just as Kaylee had accurately put it. Put off and intimidated was accurate as well. But more so, Simon had been so occupied with River and staying out from under the radar of the Alliance (which proved to be down right impossible regardless of who he was in the company of), that he'd unintentionally ignored the natural attraction of polar opposites between doctor and mechanic. Not to mention that Simon had never been an expert when it came to talking to girls. Kaylee proved to be no expection to the rule and it only made Simon fall for the woman harder.

Simon's heart lept into his throat and he swallowed thickly at the thoughts. 'Oh God, Kaylee' he thought as his shoulders began to quake with silent sobs that only brought him more physical pain. 'I'm so sorry. Forgive me. I never should have left you. I should have listened to Jayne.'

Kaylee would be devastated right now. She would be stricken with panic and grief from Simon's absence and it was the last thing she needed in her fragile state when she was so close to giving birth. It was supposed to be a joyous time for them both and Simon had managed to screw that up in the most royal way. Simon may be a genius, but he had proved himself to be the biggest idiot of them all.

Simon's eyes became heavier and he found it more difficult to keep them open. It wasn't sleep that was taking him. The pain was too much. How much more would he actually be able to take? He needed the crew of Serenity more than ever in that moment, he need a miracle, and he was losing hope that salvation for him was nothing more than a fleeting thought. Simon wanted to believe that Mal and the others were looking for him. He wanted to believe that they were compiling a grand scheme to rescue him from his biggest mistake, but as his eyes finally fluttered shut and the darkness swallowed him whole, even Simon couldn't find it in himself to believe that.

'I'm sorry I didn't listen...'
Chapter 1 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter One

*Three days prior*

River awoke with a scream so shattering that it echoed through the walls of Serenity and awoke the whole of the crew right along with her. Simon catapulted from the bed he shared with Kaylee before his senses quite caught up with his actions and he half stumbled-half raced out of their living quarters across the way to River's quarters where his sister was sitting upright stiff as a board in her bed.

Simon approached her with quick caution, his hands slightly raised, his heart racing in his chest. "River?" he called out with well deserved apprehension. River's body jolted at the sound of Simon's voice and she released a scream even more startling than the first. Simon wasted no time closing the distance between them and climbed onto her bed. He took her hands in his, trying to grab her attentoon, but she immediately began to fight him off. "Mei Mei, calm down! It's just me! It's Simon!"

River's eyes snapped to his as her body stopped thrashing and for a moment she stared at him with an utterly terrified gaze. Then she began to shake her head vehemently and tears of distress sprang from her eyes. "S-Simon?" she stuttered as if in disbelief and she yanked her hands from his, only to throw her arms around his neck urgently. She clung to him and Simon could feel her trembling in his embrace.

"Mei Mei, it's okay. You're okay," Simon assured her as he delicately rubbed her back. "Whatever it was, it was just a nightmare."

"No!" River's voice quaked as she responded to him. "Simon, no, you can't-"

"What's all this Gorram ruckus?!" Jayne's voice bellowed from elsewhere on the ship. Simon frowned when he heard him and looked back over his shoulder towards the doorway as if expecting Jayne to burst into the room at any moment. "That kwong-juh duh [nuts] girl is gonna wake this whole Gorram rock if she keeps screaming like that!"

Mal's voice could be heard firmly silencing Jayne, but Simon couldn't make out the muffled words. His attention had already returned to River who had now pulled away from him and had her face pressed tightly to her hands. She was mumbling incoherently and her mannerisms were nervous, a tell all sign that she was far from okay in that moment, but Simon didn't understand it. It was never easy to understand his sister when she slipped into these mindsets. He sighed and placed a gentle hand on River's shoulder, waiting for her to work through the moment, prepared to sit there as long as it took or until Mal or Jayne came barging in with a demand for an explanation...whichever came first.

"Simon?" Kaylee's tired voice called out to him from the doorway. "Is she okay?"

Simon looked in her direction to find her wrapping a silk robe around her swollen stomach as she leaned against the door frame. Kaylee's hair was mussed and her cheeks tinted red from sleep and she couldn't hide her exhaustion these days even if she wanted to. But Simon couldn't help thinking in all her pregnant glory, Kaylee had never looked so beautiful to him. He tried telling her that too, but she was easily moody and quick to tell him how biased he was, like he HAD to tell her that. Of course, it never helped his argument when he chuckled at her disposition. That was HIS Kaylee...

"Catastrophe," River muttered. She wrenched away from Simon's touch, wincing. "I'm fine."

"Oh, sweetie...did you have a nightmare?" Kaylee questioned with genuine concern. She flit her eyes from Simon to River as she pushed away from the door frame and stepped into the room. Simon noticed how she waddled more in her steps these days with the extra weight she carried.

River moved further away from Simon and laid down on her side with her back to the two of them. She yanked the blankets up over her head and mumbled something that sounded like a mix between a distressed cry and an angry curse in Chinese. Simon didn't know whether to chuckle at his sister's antics right then or be more concerned.

"Are you sure she's okay?" Kaylee asked Simon again, only quieter this time.

'When is River ever okay?' Simon thought but he nodded nonetheless and rose from the bed. "She's fine. Just...a nightmare, I suppose. She'll be okay in a moment. You should go back to bed and lay down."

Kaylee frowned, her hand resting on the swell of her stomach. "I can stand on my own two feet, Simon," she replied to him defiantly. "Ain't hurt. Been laying down enough."

"Your condition though-" Simon tried to reason with her.

"My condition?" Kaylee looked offended. She always looked offended when he brought it up this way. "It isn't a condition. I'm pregnant. I'm not...I'm not dying."

"No, no, of course not. I didn't mean it like that." Simon shook his head and reached out a hand to place it against Kaylee's stomach, but she swatted it away.

"I think you did," Kaylee spoke indignantly. "You sure look at me like you meant it that way." Frowning, Kaylee turned from Simon and swiftly left the room, disappearing across the way into their quarters once more.

"Death can't carry life," River mumbled beneath the blankets. "You're such a boob."

Simon released a shallow sigh beneath his breath and running a hand through his hair, he began to leave River's room. Zoe interjected him just outside with a knowing glance and he felt the heat ignite in his cheeks immediately.

"Strike out again, doctor?" Zoe guessed. There was a faint smile toying at the corners of her mouth, but she wouldn't laugh at Simon for the mishap and he appreciated her for that.

Simon sort of shrugged. "I, um..."

Zoe patted his shoulder. "A war of words with a pregnant woman is no easy feat," she replied.

"I suspect I am losing," Simon said as the heat in his cheeks intensified.

"Hormones, doctor. She'll be over it before you know it," Zoe answered and stepped past him to continue on her way to the kitchen. She stopped a bit of ways away and turned back to face him, a fleeting glance of apprehension passing over her face. It wasn't something the crew was used to seeing, but Simon had noticed it a lot more since Wash had been gone. Zoe bit her bottom lip for a moment. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble...would you mind taking a look at Emma when she wakes up? She had a rough night last night and I think she has a bit of a temperature."

Simon's expression relaxed at the request as Zoe spoke of her daughter with uncertainty. As a woman of war who was typically so strong in demeanor, the Washburne toddler had softened the woman dramatically. Of course, Simon thought a lot of that had to do with the untimely death of Zoe's husband and the prospect of raising their child on her own, but she filled the shoes of both mother and father wonderfully. Emma was never lacking a pair of caring hands and she had more love surrounding her than any child would know what to do with. It would never make up for the fact that Emma would never know her father, but she would be alright. The crew of Serenity, especially Mal, saw to that.

"I'm probably overreacting, but I just want to make sure," Zoe continued.

"She's teething. You can expect her temperature to spike sporadically," Simon explained, if anything to put Zoe's mind at ease. "Bring her to the infirmary once we break atmo. I'll be happy to examine her."

Zoe nodded firmly, pleased with answer. "Thank you," she said and she was gone from sight within seconds.

Simon turned to the closed door of his quarters and sighed again. Kaylee was clearly angry at him and rightfully so. He worried too much about her and the baby, but he couldn't help it. Their lifestyle didn't allow him to relax though and his and River's history of running from the Alliance left no room for error. It would kill Simon if something ever happened to Kaylee and their child. Inhaling deeply, Simon opened the door to step inside the room, silently preparing an apology he hoped Kaylee would find suitable.

Just the start to another typical day on board Serenity...


"Wuh de ma [Mother of God], are you out of your mind?!" Jayne shouted in annoyance as he sat heavily at one end of the table in the kitchen. Gripping an apple in one hand, he dramatically stabbed his knife into the center of it and narrowed his eyes at Simon where the doctor was standing at the other end of the table, rolling the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows. "Ain't you learned a Gorram thing yet?"

Zoe shot him a warning glance, but it went unnoticed. She looked at Simon as well, her face stoic. "I hate to admit it, doctor, but Jayne has a point. Venturing off on your own in this place isn't your smartest idea. I wouldn't recommend it."

"More like pretty boy here asking to get himself jumped by a band of no-gooders looking for an easy target," Jayne gruffed. "You looking to get yourself killed? Especially dressed like that? Ain't you supposed to be smart or somethin'?"

"Don't be dramatic," Simon calmly responded without so much as affording a glance in Jayne's direction.

"Dramatic," Jayne scuffed and rolled his eyes. "I'm not the one who's talking all crazy-like."

"Crazy is a perspective," River murmured. She lingered nearby, absently running the tips of her fingers along the edge of the counter. "You wouldn't understand."

Jayne snapped his attention to her, glaring. "Don't think I asked for your opinion."

"Jayne..." Zoe warned.

"You're being a ruttin' fool," Jayne snapped as he hastily cut a slice off the apple and shoved it in his mouth. He talked around it as he chewed. "Gonna get yourself into a load of trouble."

"Catastrophe," River spoke up again. Simon looked to her to see the familiar glaze of concern in her eyes and it made him think back to when she had awoken screaming from her nightmare. "Jayne is crazy, but it is a catastrophe."

Jayne growled. "Thought I said I didn't ask for your opinion!"

Simon opened his mouth with a sharp rebuttal, but Mal strolled into the kitchen at that moment before he could get the words to project. The captain looked at all of them with a brow raised as he tucked his shirt into his pants. "We got a problem in here?"

Jayne sat up straighter, clearly hoping to take hold of the opportunity to bring Mal onto his side of the matter. "Yeah, we got us a ruttin' problem, alright. Doc here is actin' all fong luh [loopy in the head]."

"Don't think much I understand what you're running your mouth about, Jayne," Mal said with a casual shrug of his shoulders. "Someone wanna give me an explanation that I can actually make some sense of?"

"I'm trying to tell you!" Jayne snapped again. "Doc's got the grand idea-"

"I'm not looking for your approval," Simon interrupted him.

Jayne rose to his feet as he slammed the apple and knife on the table. "I ain't giving it to you!"

"This is what you walked into, sir," Zoe provided.

"You ain't leaving this Gorram ship!" Jayne looked determined in his statement. It was almost comical the way he squared his shoulders, but it didn't phase Simon any. If anything, it only made the tension rise even further between everyone else.

Mal stepped forward quickly between them, less than amused. "Ta ma de! Nimen de bizui [Everybody shut the Hell up!]!" His sharp voice echoed around the kitchen, causing the silence to fall over the area just as fast as it had risen. "Ain't nobody leaving this ship."

"Actually..." Simon inhaled deeply. He grabbed a brown leather satchel Inara had given to him months back and draped the strap diagonally across his chest. "I am."

Mal blinked. "Come again?"

Simon's posture straightened both visually and diplomatically, even though staring Mal down was not only unpleasant but also at the bottom of a list of his best interests. "I have a run I need to make. It won't take me long."

"That ain't gonna happen, Doc," Mal answered him plainly. "We break atmo in just over two hours. Plenty of preparation still left to do. Don't need anyone running off right now. Least of all you." Mal turned to where Inara, who had yet to speak up, was standing behind the counter fixing herself a cup of tea. He snatched it from her without second thought and swallowed a sip, only to choke and cough as his eyes bulged. "Aiya [Damn!]! That's hot!"

"Next time you'll keep your thieving hands to yourself," Inara told him and took the cup back. She muttered to herself and turned her back to him, dumping the liquid out in the sink to prepare a fresh cup.

Mal watched her for a moment before returning his attention to Simon who was still staring at him pointedly. "Now, don't you go looking at me like that. I don't have any plans to stick around on this go se [crap] planet any longer than I need to. You all have your jobs and I expect you to do them. Dong ma [Understand?]?"

"My job right now is to see to it that Kaylee is happy and provided for," Simon told him. "And that's what I intend to do, whether you like it or not. Like I said, I won't be gone long. I just need to get a few things." His eyes flit to River who was watching him nervously. He offered her an awkward smile. "I'll be back soon, Mei Mei. You don't need to worry. Be good while I'm gone and I'll bring you back something." He gently pat her shoulder and proceeded to leave the kitchen.

Mal stared after Simon in disbelief. "Gwai-gwai long duh dong [What the hell!]!" he exclaimed, motioning with his hands to Zoe. "Was he arguing with me? He was just arguing with me."

Zoe slowly rose to her feet, fighting a small grin of amusement towards Mal's bewildered expression. "I do believe he's also about to step off this ship." She cleared her throat and forced her face to become more serious. "Sir."

"Don't much like being put in your place," River snickered as she brushed past Mal and skipped off to disappear elsewhere on the ship.

Mal stormed towards the cargo bay, releasing a sharp string of curses in Chinese under his breath. By the time he reached the area, Simon was already in the process of opening the air lock door. Mal wasted no time closing the distance between them. "This is absurd," he said. "You set one foot off this ship, doctor, and I will leave you here on this Gorram rock."

"Juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan... [This is a happy development...]" Jayne chuckled as he lingered a few feet behind with Zoe at his side.

Simon turned to face Mal. "No, I don't think you will," he answered calmly. He crossed his arms over his chest, challenging the captain's authority. There was no doubt in his mind that the threat on Mal's part was an empty one. Mal wouldn't chance enduring Kaylee's wrath if Simon got left behind, nonetheless for something so trivial. Simon knew it as much as Mal knew it as well.

Mal appeared taken aback for the briefest of seconds. "I don't think you much wanna test that theory."

"And I don't think you want to breach that betrayal with Kaylee. You leave me behind, Captain, and she will have your head on a platter." Simon had to fight his lips wanting to curl up in a smirk with the way the flash of realization spread across Mal's eyes. The argument was already won and it wasn't in the captain's favor. "I'll be back in an hour."

Jayne huffed when Simon began to depart from Serenity. He wanted to wipe that proud little smirk off the doctor's face. "Zhu yi [Watch your back!]!" Jayne yelled after him. Then he stepped up to Mal and together, they watched Simon's retreating form. "Y'know, for someone bein' jen duh sh tyen tsai [an absolute genius], he's actin' like a ruttin' fool right now. I warned him. You heard me, I warned him."

Mal shook his head. "Go do your job, Jayne," he spoke as he shifted his attention to the mercenary. "We leave in an hour, with or without the doctor."
Chapter End Notes:
Reviews are love! All feedback is welcome! :)
Chapter 2 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Two

By the time Kaylee had begun to lull into a peaceful daze that was just this side of actual sleeping, her irrational anger towards Simon had waned to the point that she almost felt guilty about the bitterness she had expressed to him when he returned to their quarters earlier to dress for the day. The encounter had been less than pleasant, that was for sure. But even so, Simon had been just as patient with her as always, caring and delicate despite the way she attempted to brush him off. Kaylee had done all of the talking, even went so far as to tell him how ridiculous he was and that she was getting fed up with it some. Told him she wasn't River and didn't need looking after in that way. Kaylee could tell that last one had hurt Simon, honestly stung him in a way he hadn't deserved, but he didn't admit to it. Instead, Simon had simply leaned over the bed, told Kaylee he loved her (he said it a lot these days), and kissed her on the forehead before leaving the room.

Now, as Kaylee lay in the middle of their bed with Simon's familiar scent surrounding her, she knew she owed him an apology for her behavior. Simon had always confounded Kaylee in some way. It had been that way since their first encounter and maybe that was part of the reason she had fallen head over heels for the doctor in the first place. He kept Kaylee guessing at every turn and it was downright frustrating at times; she just didn't understand how someone who was so brilliant could be so ignorant to what was right in front of him. Of course, Kaylee's eagerness was hard to contain. Perhaps that had worked against her favor in some ways.

But then, after the events brought about by what had been discovered on Miranda, Simon had changed, at least towards Kaylee. He was still stiff, overly proper, and typically awkward in every other way when it came to the rest of the crew. But when it came to Kaylee, Simon was a completely different person. Through his honesty, she saw him in a new light. She understood more now than she thought she used to before. Kaylee realized she knew very little about Simon before. He may have been ignorant, but she had been naive and too eager.

Their relationship and intimacy had developed quickly, but it was welcomed and everything they both were in need of. Kaylee was Simon's escape, the one thing that kept him sane in their turbulent life. For Kaylee though, Simon became the piece of her existence she'd never realized she'd been missing. They taught each other what love was. They completed what was incomplete. They just...fit.

A soft smile curled Kaylee's lips as she pushed the blankets away from her body and gazed longingly down at the swell of her stomach. It wouldn't be much longer now before the arrival of their little one. A fluttering of anticipation and excitement had been nestling itself at Kaylee's core for weeks now, but she was nervous and even a little bit terrified at the idea of actually becoming a mother. Not to mention the whole act of giving birth was something she tried not to think about as it made her insides turn. Zoe tries to put the younger woman's concerns at ease and sure, Kaylee had spent her fair share of time around little Emma Washburne, but still, she had her doubts. What if she wasn't cut out to be a mother? She was haphazard sometimes and covered in engine grease more often than not. She knew engine parts and tools and how to keep Serenity running. Kaylee really didn't know the first thing about taking care of a baby.

Her and Simon's baby.

Kaylee's mind drifted in thought and she began to hum a quiet tune familiar only to herself as she gently caressed her stomach. Simon was confident in their abilities to parent their child together, but there was no denying that he was nervous too. A baby was a Hell of a lot more different than what Simon was used to with taking care of River. There was a lot more at stake. Less room for error and so much more that could go wrong. Kaylee needed Simon just as much as he needed her. They were in this together.

A quiet knock on the door drew Kaylee out of her reverie and with her eyes still intently focused on her stomach, she called out in response to her visitor. "Qing jin [Come in.]."

Inara let herself into the room, carefully balancing a silver tray of various lotions and oils in both hands. "I was hoping you wouldn't be sleeping," she greeted with a polite smile. She glided in her steps towards the bed. "Simon mentioned you were tired."

"Simon overreacts," Kaylee dismissed with a small sigh and started to push herself up into an upright position.

Inara stopped her with a gentle hand on her shoulder as she sat on the edge of the bed. "Don't sit up," she told her with a small laugh. Setting the tray carefully beside her, Inara focused her attention on Kaylee. "You know his intentions are pure."

Kaylee settled herself back against her pillow and absentmindedly pulled Simon's pillow closer to her. "He's just so overbearing, 'Nara. And he doesn't listen when I tell him I'm fine and shiny. It just...frustrates me some."

"Oh, bao bay... [sweetheart...]," Inara laughed softly. She reached out to brush some stray hair away from Kaylee's face. "He means well. He just doesn't react to you being stubborn very good."

Kaylee huffed under her breath, even though she knew Inara's point was valid. "He's just as stubborn at times."

"Yes," Inara nodded with a humored glint in her eyes. "One cannot deny that about the doctor. But you also can't deny that you would still be up to your elbows in engine grease at this very moment if you knew Simon and Mal wouldn't pitch so much as a fit about it."

Kaylee looked ready to argue her case, but she fumbled silently over her words and her cheeks warmed with a crimson glow. "It's what I'm good at."

"It's not the only thing you're good at, Mei Mei." Inara lifted one of the bottles of lotion from the tray and unscrewed the cap, lifting it to her nose to inhale the scent of it fondly. It was one of Kaylee's favorites - lavender and chamomile with just a hint of a honey undertone. "How is the little one today?" she asked.

"Sleeping right now, I think," Kaylee murmured in thought as her gaze focused on her stomach again. Her smile grew and was radiant for a moment. "It wouldn't stop moving around earlier when Simon was here. S'always like that, y'know? Whenever Simon is near or speaks, it just gets so crazy. Moves around like it's doing a fancy dance or something."

"That's endearing," Inara smiled. She carefully lifted Kaylee's shirt to expose her stomach and applied some of the lotion, then began to gently massage it into her skin.

Kaylee's eyes lit up with wonder and even a bit of hope. "Do you think it knows?" she asked and bit sheepishly on her bottom lip. "That Simon is its father, I mean, and that's why it goes so crazy when he's near."

Inara always enjoyed listening to Kaylee speak in this manner. Sometimes Kaylee needed the moment to speak freely of the matter and revel in the pride that shown true in her eyes. Like right then, which was a clear cover up for the inner guilt she was dealing with. It truly was endearing. "What do you think?"

Kaylee's expression relaxed and her eyes sparkled as she stared up at Inara. "I believe it knows," she whispered.

Inara continued to massage the lotion into Kaylee's stomach. "He or she will be very lucky to have you and Simon for parents," she told her. "A little less lucky to have a shiong-mung duh kwong-run [violent lunatic] like Jayne for a surrogate uncle, but..." Inara laughed as she cracked a smile. "There's always Mal. He has his good days."

Kaylee pondered the thought. "Captain has a softer heart than he much cares to portray."

Inara nodded. "He does."

A heavy sigh passed Kaylee's lips and she allowed her eyes to flutter shut. "Oh, 'Nara, I was so horrible to Simon this morning," she frowned to herself. "He's just been so...so...uppity. Won't relax for nothin'. Keeps callin' this baby a condition, like I'm dyin' or somethin'. I didn't mean what I said to him though. And I feel horrible."

Inara's hands came to a stand still on Kaylee's stomach in hopes of feeling the infant move from within. "Does he know that?"

Kaylee shook her head. "I don't suppose he does. I wasn't exactly inviting."

"I'm sure he understands, Kaylee," Inara assured her. "Talk to Simon about it when he gets back-"

Kaylee's eyes snapped open. "When he gets back?" she repeated. "He left?"

Inara slowly withdrew her hands. "I'm sorry. I thought he told you..."

Grunting, Kaylee pushed herself to sit upright, hastily pulling her shirt down over her stomach. "He didn't tell me anything. Where did Simon go, Inara?"

"I assume to the little block of shops about a quarter of a mile from here. He said something about needing to get something for you."

"Tell me he didn't go alone..."

Inara looked away from Kaylee as she replaced the cap on the bottle of lotion and set it back onto the tray. "He wouldn't take no for an answer. Mal and Jayne tried to stop him." She took the woman's hands in her own to prevent her from bolting off the bed. "You need to remain calm. Simon said he would only be gone an hour. We expect his return any moment now."

Kaylee appeared flustered as she braced a hand against her forehead. "I think I need to lay down again..."

Inara helped her get comfortable and draped the blankets over her. She didn't move from the bed though. Even when Kaylee closed her eyes, she remained dutifully perched at her side, understanding the sudden rise in the woman's anxiety. Kaylee didn't need to be alone in the moment and Inara had some choice words for Simon when he finally returned.


Simon didn't think to bring a bigger more sufficient bag when he chose to use the satchel before leaving Serenity. Now it hung uncomfortably at his side, weighed down to capacity with more than he had anticipated on purchasing during his venture out. And he was late returning to the ship. The hour Simon had initially planned on had passed quickly when he found himself distracted in several of the shops, but he figured he could squeeze in a little extra time to spare. According to Simon's mental calculations, they weren't due to break atmo for another forty five minutes. Mal would be angry he was late getting back, but the captain would get over it. Simon was confident.

He had managed to find a little something for everyone on board Serenity, even Jayne, mostly as a peace offering. The shops didn't provide much to offer and the trinkets weren't of much monetary value to most, but it meant something to Simon. What mattered most to Simon though were his provisions for Kaylee and River. His sister would be happy with anything he presented her with and Simon made sure it was something that would keep her distracted, at least for a short while. It was something to make her think, a puzzle of sorts, and it wouldn't take her long to figure it out, but it would be worth the amusement in the end when she decided to "fix" it.

Kaylee, however, was someone Simon had spared no expense on. Most of the trinkets in the satchel were for her. She had her collection that she was always adding to, something that irritated Mal to no end because he referred to Kaylee's priceless treasures as nothing but unnecessary clutter. Kaylee always just laughed the captain off when he griped about it. It's not like Mal ever made her get rid of anything. Simon had seen to it that she would have plenty more. And he was especially pleased with the bundle of multi-colored glass roses gripped in his right hand. Kaylee would adore them...at least he hoped she would.

Simon's mind kept wandering back to Kaylee's anger that morning and his guilt for bringing it on. Lately it seemed like he didn't think enough before he spoke and he did more harm than good for Kaylee's mood. She was miserable, feeling horrible, and there wasn't much Simon could do to change that. His intentions were good. He only meant the best for her. Still, he managed to make things worse. Simon just wanted to make it up to her. He wanted everything to be okay. So he hoped this would be a sufficeable start at the very least. The glass roses WERE attractive...

Before his confidence could diminish, Simon came upon the tiny market he'd taken notice of when first reaching the block of shops. Kaylee had been craving strawberries like mad for months now and the crew had been coming up empty handed on each run made. Simon was really hoping, more than anything, that he could change that streak of bad luck right now. A batch of Kaylee's favorite fruit would be sure to get him back on the right track with her. And then maybe, just maybe, they'd be able to talk and Simon would be able to adequately apologize.

'You're such a boob' River's voice chided Simon in his mind as he swiped his free hand against the sweat accumulating on his forehead and made the short trek up the set of wooden steps. A bell over the door chimed to announce his arrival as he opened it and a blast of cold refreshing air hit him square in the face. Simon sighed in relief and took a moment to inhale the delectable aromas of the fresh produce surrounding him. It was a bit surprising, really. He hadn't expected this much just from the appearance of the shop on the outside.

Stepping further inside, Simon stopped at a display of bright red apples and lifted one for closer inspection. It was free of blemishes and nicer than any of the apples he and the rest of the crew had been procuring recently. It wouldn't hurt to purchase a few of them to take back to the ship for everyone to enjoy. Who knew when the next opportunity would arrive for them to have such a treat. Not to mention the kitchen on board Serenity had certainly been lacking. Simon's stomach rumbled at the thought.

"Those are some mighty fine apples you're looking at," an old woman's voice spoke up from Simon's right. He looked at her and smiled politely; she had kind grayish-blue eyes, silver hair that flowed out of control down her back, and weathered skin littered wrinkles. She was frail too and seemed harmless enough. Lonely, even.

"They do look very nice," Simon agreed with a nod.

"Best ones you're gonna find in this here part of the verse," the woman stated proudly. "Don't care much what anyone else has to say about it."

Simon cracked a small smile. "Perhaps I can bother you for a basket of some sorts to hold these in for now? I would like to purchase some."

"Of course," the woman answered eagerly. She turned and disappeared through a doorway nearby, returning with a small wicker basket. "This should do. Folk like to run off with these. Keep 'em hidden 'til they're needed."

Simon took the basket from her and placed enough apples in it to share evenly with the others.

"What's a young man like yourself doing in the area?" the woman asked. "I don't believe I've seen you in these parts before."

"I'm just passing through," Simon answered her simply. He knew never to indulge too much information in others, something he'd learned on his own and something Mal had made it a point to drill into Simon's head as well.

"Fancy clothes like you're wearing must mean you're far from home," the woman guessed.

Simon wasn't sure how to answer that one. Nothing he had to say about it was anything he wanted the old woman to know, so when she continued to stare at him waiting for a response, he instead bypassed the question all together with a question of his own. "I am looking for strawberries for my fiancee. She's a mite pregnant and she's been craving them for months now. Would you happen to have any?"

The old woman's eyes lit up and she grabbed hold of Simon's arm, pulling him across the shop. "Over here. Best in all the verse. Even better than those apples you're getting."

This time, Simon's lips curled into an honest grin. "Kaylee will be very happy," he thought out loud and he knew without a doubt that was true when he saw the display of fresh strawberries. The old lady wasn't lying. They were some of plumpest most juicy sweet looking strawberries Simon had laid his eyes on in a long time.

The old woman plucked one of the strawberries from the pile and held it out to Simon. "Try it. On the house."

Simon brought the strawberry to his mouth and took a careful bite, savoring the sweet flavor as it washed through his mouth. Swallowing, he nodded. "These are perfect. How much?"

"For you, young man, I will cut you a deal. With fine glass roses like those and these strawberries, you must really be trying to impress your lady. She is very lucky," the woman approved with a smile.

"She is very important to me," Simon chuckled sheepishly.

The old woman carefully bent down and grabbed a medium sized rectangular wooden box from beneath the strawberry display. "I'll fill this here box up with as many of these strawberries as it'll hold. Only charge you half the cost I normally would. Won't find a better deal, young man."

A short time later, Simon stood at the counter with the old woman as he handed her the cost of his purchase. The box of strawberries and bag of apples would take a lot of effort to carry back to the ship, but Simon had no regrets. It would be worth it. Kaylee's smile alone would be worth it. He thanked the old woman and promptly left the shop with all of his belongings, grunting under the added weight.

Frowning as the box began to slip from beneath his arm, Simon stopped in mid-step off to the side of the shop and set everything on the ground, rethinking how he was going to haul everything back to the ship. And the heat was definitely going to make it even more of a task to accomplish. The old woman had packed that box full of those strawberries, to the point that Simon tried to tell her she was providing him with too much, but she would hear none of it. 'Fei hau [Nonsense]' she had told him, leaving no further room for argument.

"'Ey! You there!"

Simon looked up at the sound of the gruff voice calling out for attention. It was thick with an accent Simon didn't recognize and seeing no one else around, he turned with the assumption the voice was talking to him. "Duibuqi? [I'm sorry?]" he said and bit back a frown when he took notice of two burly in stature men approaching him. One was a tad bit shorter than the other, but both had a certain menacing quality about them with the same stringy black hair hanging against the sides of their faces. Simon didn't trust them immediately.

The taller of the two nodded to Simon's belongings on the ground. "Yeh need a helping hand there, lad," he smirked.

"No, I can manage on my own. Thank you," Simon answered shortly and started to gather everything off the ground once more.

"Aye, Jethro. Good help these days is under'preciated," the other man spoke up with a menacing smirk that matched the first. "Pretty boy like 'imself don't want our help."

"Aye," the man now known as Jethro nodded. "S'bad manners."

Simon looked between the two of them, keeping his face calm. "I mean no disrespect, gentlemen. I must be on my way."

Jethro took a step closer. "Don't trust the local folk, do yeh, lad," he continued to smirk. "Think yer a mite better than 'em. Fancy get up like that. Big purchases. Rich lad from the core?"

Simon shook his head, avoiding the eye contact. "I really must be going," he murmured and started to step away from the two of them.

"'Ey, we ain't done talkin' to yeh," Jethro snapped and sent his booted foot sharply into Simon's backside, knocking him off his feet.

The box of strawberries and bag of apples sailed from Simon's hands along with the glass roses as his knees impacted the ground hard, sending a shockwave of pain radiated through his knees and up his legs. "You're fahng-tzong fung-kwong duh jeh! [a knot of self-indulgent lunacy!" he shouted before he could stop himself and tried to scramble to his feet, but the second man already yanked him up and pinned his arms behind his back. "Let me go!"

Jethro stepped in front of Simon, his glance menacing. "Not the way to be talkin' now, lad," he growled.

Simon wheezed as the breath left his lungs when Jethro's fist connected roughly with his stomach. The man holding his arms in place threw him to the ground and Simon gasped as he landed. He cursed, watching as Jethro's boot came slamming down on one of the glass roses, smashing it. "Are you out of your mind?!"

"Pretty boy don't know how to keep his mouth shut," the second one chuckled. "Needs a good lesson in manners."

"Aye," Jethro chuckled as well and crouched down, yanking Simon's head back by his hair. "Don't like yeh much now, lad. Bad mistake on yer part."

Simon's eyes locked with Jethro's as he fumbled over his words. Before he could make his voice project though, darkness over took him as the man's fist slammed into Simon's temple and he slumped to the ground without another sound.
Chapter 3 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Three

"Little Albatross. Trust you ain't doing anything in here you ain't supposed to be doing."

River kept her eyes trained on the control panel as Mal walked into the cockpit. She had heard him coming before he even headed her way, so his arrival was no less than anticipated, even if he thought he had caught her by surprise. They never took River by surprise. She just never told them that much. Let them think what they want. Makes them feel better. "Albatross is doing her job," River answered casually.

Mal eyed her for a moment, but her demeanor was unreadable, much like it always was. He cleared his throat and stepped over to lean against his side of the control panels. "Right, because that is what you're supposed to be doing and that's what I expect you to do," he said and crossed his arms over his chest. "...What are you doing?"

River offered him a glance that was on the border of disbelief and exasperation. It only lasted a moment before she shifted her eyes back to the control panel to dismiss the question. Stupid questions didn't warrant answers and River didn't have the patience for stupid questions right then. Her mind was crowded; everyone was thinking too loud and thinking nothing at the same time. Everyone but Simon. Her brother was quiet and it made River nervous, more nervous than she normally was. It made her head hurt the more she listened and the more his silence closed in on her. Simon was rarely ever quiet. It made no sense for Simon to be quiet right now. He had been so loud earlier. "The silence is too quiet. It isn't right."

"I reckon silence is meant to be quiet," Mal replied with a simple shrug of his shoulders. He'd caught sight of the barely noticeable change in River's demeanor, not that he was quite sure what to make of it. Mal usually left the figuring out to Simon when it came to the younger Tam. It just wasn't Mal's area of expertise and he didn't much care for it to be either. "I like the quiet. Don't get much of it around here."

"Jayne is loud," River said. "Even when he is sleeping. A big child, he is. He didn't learn to grow."

Mal afforded a small half grin that curled the left corner of his mouth. "Now if that ain't as accurate a description as any I've ever heard..."

Zoe entered the cockpit with Emma perched tightly on her right hip. Motherhood seemed to come so natural to her at times, that Mal still found it weird and hard to believe in some moments that the strong hardened by war woman was indeed a mother now, like that moment for instance. But there wasn't a trace of relaxation on her face. It was business as usual and serious business at that by the looks of it. Zoe glanced briefly at River before returning her attention to Mal. "Sir. No sign of him yet."

Even Mal couldn't fight the frown he felt surfacing at the mention of Simon's continued absence. Truth be told, Mal was still just as pissed that the doctor had defied his orders and walked right off the ship despite their impending departure. He'd spent a good deal of time right after storming around Serenity and cursing under his breath and at first he'd had every intention of holding true to his threat of leaving Simon behind if he wasn't back within the hour. Let him crap his britches and then come back around to pick him up. The doctor needed a good lesson. Of course, Mal knew he wouldn't have actually gone through with that, because Simon was right. Kaylee would have his head on a platter if they left the good doctor behind, even only temporarily. That pissed him off even more; damn know it all.

Then the first hour had come and gone and when Simon hadn't shown up, it was Zoe who reasoned that he'd probably gotten himself distracted in the block of shops. Probably was enjoying the fresh air as well; Simon was one who had been cooped up on Serenity for a long period of time now, so it made sense he'd want a little extra time. 'Give him the benefit of the doubt, sir' Zoe had said and Mal gave him another hour, called it charity and held steady that he wouldn't allow Simon a minute more.

That hour had also come and gone.

It had been just over three hours since Simon's departure.

"Sir?" Zoe called out when Mal didn't respond to her.

River looked out the front end of Serenity just as a spark of lightning flashed across the sky. The weather on Jirah had taken a drastic turn from sunny and sweltering to cool and overcast with a storm suddenly moving in. Seconds later, rain began to splat against the window, slowly and sporadically at first and then more steadily. "Simon's not coming," she murmured, her forehead creasing. "Can't."

"That ain't something I wanna be hearing right now," Mal muttered. He looked between River, the now downpour of rain outside, and Zoe's raised brows. "I wanna hear his proper self is walking on board my ship right now so we can get off this Gorram rock."

"'Fraid that ain't the case, sir," Zoe answered him and lifted Emma to cradle her against her chest when the toddler began to whine quietly.

Mal gruffed to himself. "Well, who let him off the ship in first place?" he scowled.

"Actually...that was you," Zoe answered again with a hardened stare.

River brought her hands up to the sides of her head, frowning harder. "Not right. It ain't right."

"Now ain't the time to be losing your marbles even more," Mal stated pointedly at her. His eyes snapped to the window at the loud Crack of thunder and winced when the sound caused Emma to cry out in fright. "Ta ma de... [Damnit...]"

"What's moonbrain girl going on about now?" Jayne rasped as he strolled into the cockpit. He appeared annoyed and distracted more than normal, something that wasn't much of a surprise. He looked at Zoe and Emma. "Aiya! [Damn!] The kid's cryin' again. This party ain't lookin' like much fun. Why didn't I get an invite?"

Mal ignored him and walked over to the intercom mounted on the wall. He connected to the intercom in Kaylee and Simon's room where he last remembered Inara being. "Inara."

It took a second before Inara's voice filtered through the speaker. "Keep your voice down. Kaylee doesn't need to be awake right now."

Mal bit back a curse. "That's all shiny and everything, but I need you in the cockpit for a word, dong ma? [understand?]"

Inara sighed and answered him, "I'll be right there."

Turning back to the others, Mal crossed his arms over his chest again. "Clearly we got ourselves a problem right now."

"Ya think?" Jayne snapped. He pointed at Emma whose whines had turned into full-blown wails of distress to which Zoe was having sufficient difficulty calming her down from. "That kid is making my ears bleed, Mal."

"Ain't nothing you don't do to me every time you run your mouth," Mal told him stiffly.

River drew her knees up to her chest on the seat and gripped her head tighter, her fingers tangling in her hair. "It's not okay. I told him it was a catastrophe. No no no. It's too quiet."

"With all due respect, sir..." Zoe interjected as she bounced Emma in her arms to soothe the child, but it did little good and her voice fell short.

Inara arrived in the cockpit soon after, flustered and breathless. "Tell me this is not about Simon still being gone," she said.

Jayne rolled his eyes at her. "Why? Mal interrupt one of your little tea parties or something? Guess I didn't get an invite to that either."

Inara narrowed her eyes at him. "Would it pain you to act human for five seconds, you liou coe shway duh biao-tze duh ur-tze? [stupid son of a drooling whore and a monkey?]"

"Huh..." Mal cocked his head to the side, a little taken aback. "Didn't see that one coming..."

Jayne grumbled under his breath and leaned back against the wall.

Inara stepped closer to Mal. "Something's not right with Kaylee. You can tell just by looking at her. She's in pain. Where's Simon?"

"Don't seem anyone knows where the doctor's at at the current," Mal told her.

"This is not the time to be joking-"

"I ain't jokin', Inara."

They stared at each other for a long moment while Emma's wails finally began to cease before Inara pulled the silk shawl she wore closer around her shoulders. "Then why are we just standing here? Clearly he's been gone too long. And if something happened-"

"Nobody's saying anything happened-" Mal started to say.

Inara narrowed her gaze at him and hushed her voice. "I can see it in your eyes that you believe otherwise."

Mal's shoulders dropped under the weight of Inara's stare. It took him a moment before he spoke up again. "You and Zoe keep Kaylee calm if she wakes up. Lie to her if you have to. Jayne and I will head into town, find Simon, and drag him home. Until then, it's business as usual. Do I make myself clear?"

"Hey, I hate to be the bearer of bad news," Jayne piped up and nodded to the window. "But it's really raining outside. I don't wanna go out in the rain, Mal. This is a solo run."

Mal's glance turned steely in Jayne's direction. "I'll make this a solo run for you if I hear that come out of your mouth again. Now go armor up. Keep it small. I don't anticipate we'll need use unless it's an absolute necessity."

"This is a new Gorram shirt," Jayne muttered as he stormed out of the cockpit.

"It smells like sweat and liquor! You'll be doing it and us a service!" Mal called after him.

"You sure this is such a good plan?" Zoe asked and handed Emma over to Inara. "I should go with."

"I need you here this time, Zoe," Mal said with a firm shake of his head. "Help Inara with Kaylee. She's the one who needs lookin' after." He turned to find River looking at him with a knowing glance. It bothered him more than he could express and he sure as Hell wasn't going to admit to it. "And don't you worry either, Little Albatross. I know that look."

"Albatross already knows," River whispered in return.

"That's the problem," Mal grunted and turned swiftly to leave the cockpit.


The sound of distant voices yanked Simon abruptly out of a dark safe place where nothing worse could happen. At first, he couldn't make sense of anything; the pain that swarmed his body from head to toe, the air around him that chilled him to the core, or why everything was still so dark. Then he pried his eyes open and inhaled a shallow breath. The act made his chest and stomach hurt. Bruising, it felt like bruising both internal and external, but why? It didn't make sense. Nothing made sense right then.

Simon grimaced and shifted his eyes sporadically to take in his surroundings. It was almost as dark as it had been when his eyes were shut, but as his vision slowly began to adjust to the lack of lighting, so did his awareness. He was surrounded on all sides, as far as he could tell, by crudely constructed stone walls that lead up to a wooden ceiling not too far above him. It was maybe just high enough for him to be able to stand up right without hitting his head, though Simon couldn't be sure about the accuracy of that assumption. He was too disoriented to tell. His head was killing him with a dizzying throbbing pulse.

Clenching his eyes shut, Simon swallowed thickly and rolled from his back over onto his hands and knees. The movement left him breathless for a moment and he nearly toppled over as the room swayed around him. It felt like the worst intoxication spell he could imagine, but that wasn't right. Simon hadn't had a drop of liquor in his system for weeks now. He wasn't drunk. He was in pain, a great deal of pain. And probably suffering from a highly likely concussion sustained from the blow to his temple.

The thought had the breath catching in Simon's lungs. Images flashed through his mind like a cinematic feature, blending one into the other. The faces of the crew of Serenity...Kaylee...his sister River. She didn't want Simon to go. And then faces Simon didn't recognize brought him back to the events that led him to where he was. Those accents he couldn't recognize. The mistake he had made. The trouble he was now in.

Simon tried to push himself up onto his feet, but his knees hit the ground again in seconds and he found himself retching, spewing bile as the nausea over took him. His throat burned the more he gasped for breath and his arms quaked under his weight, threatening to give out at a moment's notice.

'Catastrophe...' River's warning echoed in Simon's head. He brought a hand up to slowly swipe it against his mouth. His face stung to the touch and when Simon withdrew his hand, he noticed the streaks of blood marking his skin. There was no pinpointing where it came from without seeing a reflection of himself, but there was also no mistaking it was from him.

The voices could be heard again, the ones that had brought Simon back into a state of consciousness, and the more he listened, the better he was able to tell where they were coming from. Directly over head. Those unfamiliar accents and a couple of other voices Simon didn't remember from before. Their footsteps were heavy and echoed across the ceiling, giving Simon a better idea of where they were, not that it made him feel the least bit better. They were close by and they meant no good.

He needed a way out. He needed to get back to Serenity.

Simon needed the room to stop spinning around him.

Swallowing thickly again, Simon summoned as much energy as he could muster and slowly rose to his feet. He quickly braced a hand against the closest wall as he teetered and turned just as slowly, looking for a doorway, a window, anything that served as a means of escape. Across the room, he caught sight of a small door with tiny slivers of golden light seeping into the room beneath it. The only in and out as far as Simon could tell, which left him with very limited options, if there were even any to begin with.

Simon kept his hand braced against the wall as he carefully crept forward, placing a good deal of his concentration on his steps alone. It was hard to walk; his legs trembled and threatened to give out just like his arms had. They tempted him to lay down and close his eyes again to shut out the world. He couldn't do that though. He wouldnt. Simon had to get out. He had to get back to Kaylee and River like he promised he would.

Reaching the door, he fumbled to grab hold of the handle and when he finally managed to tug on it, the door didn't budge. Had he really been expecting it to? Simon's captors obviously weren't idiots; they wouldn't just toss him in and walk away with the door unlocked. It didn't stop him from yanking on it again and then again before a curse of frustration and even desperation passed Simon's lips.

The voices and footsteps above Simon ceased, causing him to freeze as well. He held his breath and strained his ears to listen and it seemed like the hammering sound of his heart in his chest only grew louder in his ears. It wasn't long before he heard their footsteps again and this time, the sound quickly traveled across the ceiling. Simon's hand dropped away from the door handle, his eyes drawn upward.

"A mouthy lad he is," Simon heard one of them say as the foot steps steadily approached the door. Jethro, the only name Simon remembered. He took a few unsteady steps back from the door, searching his foggy mind for a plan of action. There was no doubt they were coming for him right then and if only he could figure out a way to take them off guard and get out the door...

"Don't reckon we could get our hands on a good ransom for him, do ya?" another voice, this one deeper and raspier than Jethro's, spoke up.

"Alone, he was," Jethro answered. "Dressed fancy. Looks made a'money. Little on him though. Not from around here."

They stopped outside the door at that point and Simon took another step back.

"Got ourselves a fancy feather on our hands. Could have fun with that, money or not," the second voice chuckled. The sound sent a chill down Simon's spine.

A key was slipped into the lock on the other side of the door and the handle jiggled. Simon pressed his back against the wall, bracing himself as he watched with bated breath.

"Bleeds easy, this one," Jethro spoke again. He started to open the door. "Knocked 'im out cold with one blow to the head. Easy target, aye."

The door opened further, sending a flood of light washing into the room. Simon pressed back into the shadows as the two men stepped inside, looking around for him. They were clearly baffled when they didn't see him sprawled out on the floor like they expected. Jethro turned to the other, scowling.

"Left 'im right there!" he stated in annoyance as he jabbed a finger at the ground.

"Then where is he?" the other one asked. "Didn't lock the door all the way, did ya."

Jethro cursed sharply. "Go and get Titus. See what he knows about it. Grimy bastard better not have been down here unattended and let the lad a way out."

The second man mumbled something under his breath that Simon wasn't able to make out before leaving the room. Jethro remained standing in place for another moment before turning to follow him out and Simon took the opportunity without further thought to lunge out of the shadows at him.

He collided roughly with Jethro, taking him off guard, and the two of them fell through the doorway onto the ground outside of the room. Jethro shouted a loud curse as Simon's fist connected with his head before he managed to throw the doctor off of him. But with the adrenaline surging through Simon's veins, he scrambled to his feet and turned to dash down the small hallway leading towards a set of stairs.

Simon never saw the swinging rock coming towards his head, or the second man on the other end of it who had never gone up the stairs after all. Fiery pain exploded behind Simon's eyes and he slumped to the ground limply. It was River's voice he heard in his head before the darkness took over him once again.

'Catastrophe...' she said.
Chapter 4 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Four

"This rain is really starting to damage my calm, Mal. Doc better be laying somewhere bleeding to get us out like this."

Mal ignored Jayne as the man continued to grumble about his displeasure and focused on the ground ahead of them. Serenity was a slight distance behind them and the block of shops was a bit of ways ahead. Seemed a lot further the more the mercenary opened his mouth though, but Mal couldn't blame him. Not really. Mal, himself, had expected them to be long gone by now, soaring through the Black towards their next destination, wherever that might be.

Of course, the doctor had to go and muddle those plans right up and put them all behind schedule. This wasn't how Mal liked to do things and he sure as Hell didn't like his authority being challenged, which is exactly what Simon managed to do by defying direct orders. That proper hwun dan [bastard] was really beginning to grate on the captain's last nerves again. And he was putting them all in a bad position if he'd gotten himself in a troubled situation, especially Kaylee. Mal wasn't sure which he was more annoyed about, the fact that Simon had actually left or the fact that Simon had left Kaylee knowing she needed him there every possible moment right now.

The sound of a gun cocking drew Mal's attention to the mercenary and he found him scowling as he handled one of his favorite guns fondly. Their clothes were both soaked through already from the downpour as they trudged along the sodden ground. It made the terrain a little more difficult to traverse and Mal had caught sight of Jayne scrambling to keep from losing his footing more than once. The two of them looked like a couple of miserable stragglers right about then, which was another something that struck a chord in Mal's annoyance.

He returned his attention forward as they came upon a dense patch of trees, separating them and the final stretch of ground that led to the block of shops. "What part of keep it small didn't you understand, Jayne?" Mal asked blandly. His foot caught in a small dip in the ground and he cursed sharply as he righted himself.

"Ah, c'mon, Mal," Jayne answered him and held the gun up with a stern glance. "This one here ain't even my biggest."

"But you're packing it heavy." Mal was talking about the two other guns and the knife he knew Jayne had undoubtedly hidden beneath his jacket. He grimaced at the way the rain methodically rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, making it irritatingly more difficult for him to see. "This isn't a job run. We go in, find the doctor, and we get out. Don't expect us to find no trouble. Don't think much I have the patience to deal with trouble right now."

Jayne snorted inwardly and slipped the gun back into the holster on his hip. "Trying telling that to the doc. His ruttin' fault that we're out here like a bunch of...a bunch of..." He huffed. "A bunch of something, that's what."

Mal exhaled a hard breath through his nose. "Yeah, well...I got me a word or two for the doctor when we find him," he muttered.

They stepped into the patch of trees which allowed some for the rain to ease up on them. Mal lifted a hand to wipe the water from his eyes, looking around them in case there was any unwanted company wandering about. It was quiet, save for the occasional crack of thunder, but as far as he could tell, they were alone.

"Gorram fool," Jayne growled and kicked a fallen branch out of his way. "Don't listen good for nothin'."

"Think we already came to that conclusion a long time ago," Mal said. "Ain't no use in wasting your breath running the point into the ground."

"Why you trying to be the voice of reason?" Jayne looked at him pointedly. He swiped a hand out to keep a tree branch from smacking him in the face. "Hasn't changed one bit. Been trouble from the start. Shoulda seen the doc and his moonbrain sister off a long time ago. Been telling you that since they took up residence."

"It's my Gorram ship, Jayne. Do you good to keep remembering that," Mal answered him with patience that had begun to wear thinner than it already was.

Jayne was quiet for a moment. "...I'm just saying. We coulda done with a lot less of their trouble, Mal. Got enough of our own without them adding to it."

"Are you still talking? Cause the pain in my head says you're still talking."

They walked in silence until they finally stepped out of the patch of trees. The rain attacked them immediately once again, but this time Mal didn't pay it much attention. Instead, his gaze was now focused on the block of shops directly ahead of them. He hadn't anticipated coming back into the area once they'd finished their run the previous day. Hell, he hadn't planned on spending any more time on this go se [crap] planet than they needed to.

Damn troublesome doctor.

Kaylee was gonna have Mal's head...

Jayne stepped up beside Mal where the captain had stopped in place. The mercenary surveyed the area just as intently. "Looks a mite dead, don't it?" he mentioned. "Expected a few more folk about. Ain't seein' a one of 'em."

"Expect that has something to do with the weather," Mal muttered.

"Probably all keeping shelter 'til it blows over," Jayne suggested. "Probably what the doc's doing. We should just head back to the ship."

Mal continued on ahead of them without answering. Jayne would follow because Jayne knew better than to not follow. It didn't take them long before they reached the block of shops and Mal studied the first one with a fair but of scrutiny while Jayne wandered off around the side of the building. "Retha's Fresh Goods" the crudely hand painted sign on the front post of the building read. He remembered seeing it during their first jaunt through the town, but hadn't really given it much thought at the time...they weren't there for goods or a pleasure run, even if Serenity was lacking a bit in supplies.

'Where did you go, doc...' Mal wondered in thought as his eyes flit around their surroundings.

"Mal!" Jayne suddenly called out urgently. "I found something!"

The captain snapped his head in the direction he heard Jayne's voice come from and hurried that way. When he reached him, he saw the mercenary crouched low to the ground, surrounded by an overturned box of strawberries and a bag of apples scattered about. Broken glass was littered at his feet. "What in the..." Mal started to say.

Jayne held up a brown leather satchel and shook it upside down. "Doc's bag. Not a Gorram thing left in it."

Mal stepped forward and yanked the satchel out of Jayne's hand, looking it over. That's when he took notice of the various trinkets littering the ground as well. He released a low string of curses under his breath and joined Jayne in a crouching position. "Don't figure Simon just abandoned this stuff here on his own will."

"Hell, even I know that," Jayne stated as a matter of fact. He lifted a broken glass rose for close inspection, but it was the streaks of muddied red on the bottom of the strawberry box that stole his attention instead. "If I ain't blind, that there's not juice from those ruttin' strawberries. That's blood."

That was the last thing Mal wanted to hear and see in that moment. But even with the force of the rain having washed the streaks of red into a faint trace, he knew Jayne was right. "Things just got a lot more complicated," he said.

"You thinking the doc went and got himself taken?" Jayne asked.

"I'm thinking we got more than just a problem on our hands." Mal stood straight again. "He was here. Dunno how long ago. Dunno how bad it was either."

"This is exactly what I warned him about," Jayne gruffed. "Thinks he can just walk into a hostile area looking like he don't belong and not find trouble." He looked up to find Mal walking away from him and stood sharply. "Hey! Where you going?"

Mal didn't falter in his steps as he continued forward towards the front of the building. Gripping the leather satchel tightly in his hand, he transcended the stairs in two steps and pulled the door open to move inside. The cool air that hit him made him shiver involuntarily at first as he looked around at the various displays of produce, something more impressive than Mal was initially expecting. The bell above the door jingled again when Jayne joined him a moment later and Mal held a hand up to keep him silent.

"Can I help the two of you?" an apprehensive voice called out to them. "I'm afraid we're not open for business. Closed because of the weather."

Mal looked towards the source of the voice, a frail old woman behind the counter who was staring at them with distrustful eyes. He took a step forward. "We ain't here for that kinda business."

"Well then you'll just have to see to it that you seek shelter elsewhere," the old woman replied. "Kindly see yourselves on your way gentleman."

Jayne stood a step behind Mal. "I don't like her, Mal. She's old and cranky. Probably don't even know who Simon is."

Mal had to fight inwardly to keep from rolling his eyes at Jayne's remark as he approached the counter. There was no missing the way the old woman shrunk back from him and when he set the leather satchel on the surface of the counter, she looked at it nervously, but there was a hint of recognition in her eyes. "See, we got ourselves a problem and I'm thinking you may be able to help us." The sound of a gun cocking behind him had his irritation rising and it was all he had in him not to turn around and give the mercenary a steady glare when the old woman gasped. "Put the gun away, Jayne. I don't reckon any shooting to take place."

"Please, I don't want any trouble," the old woman told him fearfully. "You can have what you want, just go."

"He's not gonna shoot you," Mal assured her. "You're not gonna shoot her, are you Jayne."

"Not unless I find reason to," Jayne muttered. He didn't return the gun to its holster, only kept it pointed at the floor and nodded towards the display of red apples. "How much for one of them apples? Got me a mite bit of hunger right now."

Mal pointed at the satchel on the counter. "That there belongs to a friend of mine. I suspect he may have been in here earlier. Spark a recognition?"

The old woman looked at it again, wringing her hands together. "Nice looking young man came in here a few hours back with a bag like that," she answered with a small nod.

"About this tall?" Mal questioned again and motioned with his hand. "Dark hair. Talks all proper like."

"Came in and purchased a bag of apples and a box of strawberries. Said the strawberries were for his pregnant fiancee," the old woman told him. Her grayish-blue eyes shifted back to Mal. "Kaylee? He said the name Kaylee, but I didn't pry. Don't care none to pry with folk who ain't from around here."

"Simon," Mal pressed. "His name is Simon."

"He didn't tell me his name and I didn't see no reason to ask for it," she said.

Jayne plucked an apple from the display and stared at it intently. "People gonna rob you blind if you don't pay better attention," he said before taking a large bite from the apple.

"Did he say where he was going when he left here?" Mal interjected.

The old woman watched Jayne wearily. "Didn't say a word about that. Just paid for his purchases and left. He was polite."

"Imagine that," Jayne said around a mouthful.

"Something happened?" the old woman asked Mal.

"Could be. Found his bag and other things littering the ground outside your shop," Mal answered. "Don't concern you none though. Just trying to figure out where he may be."

"Oh dear..." The old woman looked genuinely concerned. "Such a nice boy. These parts ain't safe for those who ain't local folk."

Mal grabbed the satchel off of the counter. "I suggest you lock your door if you're not open," he mustered and turned to make his way towards the door, no less frustrated than he was before walking into the shop.

Jayne plucked another apple from the display and gave the old woman a hasty stare. "I'll be taking this," he stated and turned to follow the captain out.

The rain was still falling just as heavily as it had been when they'd gone inside the shop. Mal stopped on the top step of the porch, just under the overhang, and looked out over the sodden ground. He didn't speak until Jayne joined him. "This was his last stop. He wouldn't have had all that junk on him if he wasn't fixing to head back to Serenity."

Jayne looked at him, chewing obnoxiously. "And that helps us how?"

"It doesn't," Mal told him. "That's the problem."

Jayne threw the finished apple core away from him. "What do you suggest?"

"We get wet again, for starters." Mal stepped down off the porch without waiting for a response. Behind him, he could hear Jayne grumbling about the rain once again before the man started following him. The old shop keep had been no help, not that Mal had really been expecting her to be. Still, knowing what he DID know didn't make him any less anxious about the situation. Mal wouldn't vocalize it, but something told him Simon had gotten himself into a whole heap of ruttin' trouble that wasn't going to leave the crew much time to get him out of.

And that was another problem all on its own.


"How is she?"

Zoe looked away from the scene before her when Inara spoke to her and she focused her attention on the classy dignified companion as she approached. On all surface levels, Inara looked calm and composed as she carefully grasped a cup of tea in her hands, but one look into her dark eyes told Zoe otherwise. She was concerned and that concern was steadily mounting. Not just for Kaylee, but for Simon as well, and rightfully so it seemed. There had been no word from Mal or Jayne yet. No sign of the doctor either.

"She's calm now," Zoe answered her as her eyes shifted back into Kaylee and Simon's room where River had diligently perched herself at Kaylee's side and was singing softly to her. "Stopped crying. River has her distracted pretty well. For now, at least."

"That is good," Inara said with a gentle nod of her head. "She needs to remain calm, for her and the baby."

"River's doing a good job seeing to that," Zoe affirmed and it was true. It was the first time Zoe had ever seen the young girl so lucid and attentive and for a lack of better words...sane.

Inara stepped up beside Zoe in the quarter's doorway and looked in on the two, taking note of every detail she could. River sat beside Kaylee on the bed with her hand tenderly massaging the swell of the woman's stomach. It was hard to tell what River was singing, but whatever it was, it had captivated Kaylee and lulled her into a comfortable daze. "I made her a cup of tea," Inara mentioned a moment later. "To sooth her stomach. She needs to stay hydrated."

"The issue is whether or not she can keep it down," Zoe murmured with a hardened frown. "The pain is making her sick. Doc didn't say anything about what he's been giving her."

"And no word from Mal yet?" Inara knew the answer even as she asked the question, but she couldn't help herself from saying it.

Zoe shook her head. "Radio silence."

"They've been gone a long time. Too long," Inara murmured before she eased her way into the room. River looked up at her as the song came to a fading end and smiled. Inara offered a small smile in return and lowered herself to take a careful seat on the bed on the other side of Kaylee. The tired woman's eyes turned to her and Inara gently pat her arm. "I brought you some tea, Mei Mei. It should help ease your stomach. Just sip it slowly."

Kaylee sighed quietly as she took the cup from Inara, staring down at the liquid contents dismally. "Thanks, 'Nara..." she whispered, but she made no move to sip it as she'd been told.

Inara stared at her with sympathy; not only was Kaylee feeling miserable physically, but her concerns for Simon's well being was beginning to take its toll. Lying to her had done no good. Kaylee had refused to believe what she was told and she knew better, knew something was not right about the fact that Simon had yet to return. And she had demanded they tell her the truth until they finally obliged. Her demeanor became withdrawn after that and the sound of her guilty sobs were more than painful to listen to.

Offering Kaylee a tight smile, Inara looked at River who was just as attentively seeing to it that the blankets were straightened out and adequately covering Kaylee's lower half. "That was a very beautiful song, River," she told her. "Where did you learn it?"

"Simon," River answered simply. It didn't show on her face, but there was a fluctuation of concern for her brother in her voice. "Used to sing it to me when we were little. He doesn't sing it well though."

Inara swallowed a quiet chuckle as she reached out to brush sweaty hair out of Kaylee's face. "Some people were not born to sing," she noted in amusement. "That is why Simon's talents lay elsewhere. You sing it beautifully, though."

River resumed rubbing Kaylee's stomach, her gaze intently focused. "The baby loves it. It calms him."

"Him?" Inara questioned in surprise. She looked to Kaylee for confirmation, but the mechanic shrugged. "I apologize. I just thought that you and Simon agreed to not know what the baby was until the birth."

Kaylee broke her gaze from Inara. "We don't know. It's just what River is insisting..."

"Males have one Y chromosome and one X chromosome, while females have two X chromosomes," River stated casually. "You should drink your tea."

Inara noticed the anxiety that passed over Kaylee's face. She looked to the younger Tam calmly. "River, will you give Kaylee and I a moment alone?"

River stood from the bed wordlessly and left the room, passing Zoe in the door way without a glance. Inara waited until they were alone before focusing her attention on Kaylee again. "She only means well," she started. "River is just worried too."

"He's been gone too long," Kaylee said and her voice trembled as she spoke. "And the captain ain't callin'."

Inara took the cup of tea from Kaylee when it was obvious she had no interest in it and set it on the nightstand. "Sometimes no news is good news, Mei Mei."

Kaylee rest her hand on the peak of her stomach, grimacing. "Something just ain't right. I know it."

"How is the pain right now?" Inara asked as her hand came to rest beside Kaylee's.

"It's getting worse," Kaylee answered. "Comes and goes in these horrible waves."

'Contractions' Inara thought. She wasn't an expert in child bearing, but she had listened to Simon enough over the months to have learned a thing or two and knew that it was only a matter of time before those contractions Kaylee was experiencing would usher in the arrival of her child, which meant that they were all in even more desperate of a need for Simon to come back. It didn't matter how much the doctor had been preparing Kaylee for what was to come...she needed him there when it happened, medically and emotionally.

"Do you think he's okay?" Kaylee asked as she shifted in the bed in an attempt to get comfortable. It didn't appear to be working. "Captain's gonna find him, right? And bring him back?"

"Mal and Jayne are doing everything they can," Inara assured her.

"That don't mean they'll bring him back," Kaylee whispered as her voice broke. "Or that they'll even be able to find him."

Inara gently caressed Kaylee's cheek as their eyes locked. "They will find Simon, Mei Mei."

"I was so mean to him, Inara," Kaylee suddenly choked. "I was so stupid. I know he's only trying. I wasn't being thankful. I was being mean. How could I be so stupid."

"Oh bao bay... [sweetheart...]" Inara murmured. She shifted on the bed and wrapped Kaylee in a tender embrace. "It will be okay. I promise. The captain will have him back before you know it."

"It just hurts so much." Kaylee sunk into Inara's embrace. "I don't know what to do."

"Relax," Inara soothed. "Think of the baby and relax. It is the best thing you can do right now."

It didn't take long before Kaylee was comfortably resting and Inara felt safe enough leaving her be. Besides, she knew River would return to Kaylee's side before long and she was thankful for that. Affording a final glance in the sleeping woman's direction, Inara left the room and made her way to the galley where Zoe was sitting at the table. She took a seat across from her and stared at her hands. "Anything?"

Before Zoe could speak up, the radio on the table crackled to life and Mal's voice came over the speaker. "Zoe."

Zoe snatched the radio off the table and brought it up to her mouth. "Read you loud and clear, sir."

"Heading your way," Mal stated.

"An update, sir?" Zoe asked.

It took a moment before Mal spoke again and it was the opposite of what Zoe and Inara wanted to hear. "No update to give."
Chapter 5 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Five


River's voice was innocent and playful as it called out to him. She sounded so far away and yet right there with him at the same time and he couldn't see her, but he could feel her near. Still, Simon had a hard time focusing on the sound of his sister's voice with the way the exhaustion weighed him down like a heavy comforting blanket. He wanted to sleep, to ignore everything that was around him and just...forget.

'Simon...' she called out to him again. This time it was as if she was right there next to him, her familiar presence beckoning him to pay attention. It was hard though, so hard, and try as he might, Simon felt himself slipping further away. The black void surrounding him was overwhelming and impossible to ignore. Something told Simon to turn away and seek River out, but the temptation of the unaware was difficult to fight. There was no pain in the dark, no trouble to be faced with, nothing at all.

It was tempting and Simon didn't want to feel anymore.

'Simon!' River spoke more urgently this time and if Simon thought about it hard enough, he could almost feel his sister shaking his shoulder in annoyance as she demanded his attention.

'Not now, River...' he answered her quietly. His voice barely projected. It sounded off and unlike him, distorted. 'I'm so tired...'

'We're in trouble, Simon,' River insisted with a laughter like quality to her voice. 'We got cut off.'

A faint smile curled Simon's lips as his focus caught onto what River was saying. Of course she had a way of drawing him in to whatever her imagination was cooking up, and this scenario was nothing out of the ordinary. It warmed Simon from the inside out, made him feel safe and began to beckon him more than the dark did. 'Cut off from what?' he humored her.

'Our platoon, Simon,' River answered him with a barely audible giggle of delight now that she had caught Simon's attention. 'We got outflanked by the independent squad, and we're never gonna make it back to our platoon.' She paused briefly before adding in a rather serious matter-of-fact tone, 'We need to resort to cannibalism.'

'That was fast,' Simon chuckled in response out of habit. He searched through the dark for any trace of his sister and found none. The exhaustion began to creep in on him again and he tried harder this time to fight it off. 'Don't we have rations or anything?'

'They got lost. We're gonna have to eat the men.'

Simon gasped awake suddenly and felt the wash of pain flood back into his body from head to toe. He tried to curl in on himself, but the attempt was a bitter mistake and a quiet groan of distress passed his lips. To say he felt awful was an understatement and it left him reeling with a shortness of breath, his lungs on fire and aching from a lack of sufficient oxygen. Simon clenched his teeth together and willed the flare of pain to pass him.

"River..." he murmured, but she was no where to be found. The sound of his sister's voice, nothing more than a memory in that moment, had faded away into the darkest recesses of Simon's mind. It had been nothing more than a dream. River wasn't there; she was nowhere near and that one sliver of safety Simon could rely on in his sister was something just out of his grasp.

It took Simon a bit to finally be able to pry his eyes open and regain his bearings and when he did, it made him sick to his stomach to see the crudely constructed stone walls still surrounding him. The air was chilled, colder than he remembered, and it penetrated every inch of him. His clothing did little good, even without the tears now littering the material. How much time had passed? How long had Simon been stuck in this Hell?

The room teetered around Simon as he tried to push himself to sit upright. His body wouldn't cooperate though. The energy he needed to do so just wasn't there. So he laid there on the damp ground in a loose fetal position and attempted to take stock of everything he could assess was wrong with him. His head, for starters, felt like it was splitting open from the base of his skull in the back to the front point of his forehead. That thought alone made it a wonder that Simon was even conscious. A concussion of that magnitude was dangerous almost more so than any other injury he had sustained. And then there was the fiery pain spreading through his mid section. Bruising with the possibility of internal hemorrhaging. Damage to his organs was a fear becoming reality. If that happened, Simon would be in real trouble and the time he would have would be cut considerably short.

Simon swallowed thickly and tried to pull his wits about him. He remembered trying to escape when two of his captors had come into the room, but that had quickly turned against Simon's favor. He'd never even made it to the stairs before they'd over taken him and the last thing Simon remembered was the splitting pain exploding in his head that had brought him right back to where he was laying in his cold dark cell. It was then he realized there wasn't a way out, not on his own.

Where was the crew of Serenity? Had they even started looking for Simon yet? Certainly they wouldn't just let his absence go and move on. Kaylee would never allow that and River...Simon suspected his sister would set out on her own to seek him out if the others didn't do something. She had tried to warn Simon that morning; he should have known better. And he should have listened to Jayne. Why didn't he just listen to Jayne?

Foot steps approached the cell and the sound was like an ominous echo around him. Simon tensed as he listened; they were coming for him again and he feared their arrival unlike anything he had ever feared before. Seeing them would bring more pain. Simon was sure of it. And then the lock on the door jiggled and the door was thrown open roughly, causing Simon to jolt out of reflex as Jethro stepped into the room with a sinister smirk.

"Our little rebel lad is awake," Jethro spoke as he moved forward, his steps very calculated. Another man stepped into the room behind him and Simon recognized him as the one who had been accompanying Jethro when they'd taken him from outside the produce shop.

"Thinks he a smart one," the second man spoke. He came over to Simon and yanked him harshly off the ground. "Yer not too smart, are yeh?"

Simon grimaced as the man pinned his arms behind his back, immobilizing him to the point that he couldn't even struggle against the hold. "Please..." he croaked as his eyes lifted to meet Jethro's. "Please don't do this. Let me go."

"Let yeh go?" Jethro repeated. A corner of his mouth slowly curled upwards. "Why would we do that?" Simon tried to look away from him, but Jethro gripped his chin and yanked his attention back. "'Ey! I'm talkin' to yeh!"

Simon felt his legs quaking and wanting to give out and the smell of the man's breath - a heavy mixture of stale tobacco and cheap whiskey - made his stomach churn and threaten to rise at any given moment. He stared wearily back at Jethro, pleading with his captor silently. "...Please, I am begging you," Simon started to reason. "My fiancee is waiting for me. She...she is about to give birth to our first child...at any moment. And my sister...she needs looking after. They need me. Please...let me go."

Jethro chuckled and slammed his fist into Simon's stomach harder than he had before. It left the doctor wheezing for breath with bulging eyes of discomfort. "Pathetic," he hissed at him. "Don' care much who is waiting for yeh."

The second man kneed Simon hard in the back side, making his knees buckle. He held the sagging doctor upright. "Aye, none that now."

Jethro gripped Simon's hair and yanked his head up, snarling at him. "Yer a fool teh think we will let you go, lad. Can't have that now, can we? Don't know who yeh run with. Don't need that trouble."

"I...I can give you money," Simon sputtered as he gasped. "Any price."

"Now yeh done angered meh," Jethro growled. He tugged Simon out of the second man's grip and threw the ragged doctor into the closest wall. Stepping over to Simon, he crouched low to his crumpled form. "Don't want yer bloody money. Yeh rich folk think yer money can buy yer way outta anythin'. Not with ol' Jethro. We're gonna have us some fun and yer gonna realize help won't be comin' for yeh by the time I'm done with yeh, lad. Course, yeh'll be good and dead by then."

Simon shook his head sluggishly as his vision swam in and out of focus. "Stop...I...I'm begging you..."

"S'not in my vocabulary."

The first few blows left Simon reeling from the excruciating pain until finally his body began to numb towards the offensive hits. The cruel words and laughter from his captors was nothing more than jumbled background noise the more they continued. Eventually, Simon ceased from crying out and prayed for the darkness to take over him again, hoping he would find River waiting there for him once more. And maybe Kaylee would be there as well.


Mal had lost track of the time he'd spent pacing the corridors of Serenity, but he hadn't slept since returning to the ship late the night before and the lack of sleep was really beginning to have its effect on the captain. Zoe and Inara had cornered him the moment he stepped foot back on board despite the fact that he had told them over the radio that there was nothing he could tell. And even more curious to them was why Jayne hadn't returned as well. But it had been the mercenary who had insisted on staying behind to keep searching for their missing ship mate and Mal hadn't been able to find it in himself to argue. Part of Mal suspected that Jayne felt guilty Simon was even missing, which was unusual for the normally gruff and hardened man, so Mal had given him the permission to do so, welcomed it even.

At one point, Inara had approached Mal and insisted he needed to go sit with Kaylee. He was avoiding her, Inara said, and it wasn't going to do any of them any good if he continued to do so. Kaylee would want to talk to Mal and maybe he would be able to put the poor woman at ease, but if anything, Inara also said, it was Mal's job. His responsibility. Kaylee had questions needing answered that the rest of them couldn't or didn't know how to answer. Maybe they were just avoiding it too. Mal grudgingly knew that Inara was right though. Kaylee had always looked to him and he knew he owed her this much.

It had taken Mal time yet to build up the nerve to even venture to the passenger quarters where Kaylee had been sharing a room with Simon. When he arrived, Mal found River obediently close to the mechanic's side as the woman slept. The younger Tam, however, was wide awake and no closer to sleeping than Mal was. She didn't mention it, but River was troubled over the situation with her brother in her own particular way. It took a great deal of convincing for Mal to dismiss her from the room, but he was thankful when she finally crept away to seek refuge elsewhere on the ship, probably in the cockpit if he didn't know any better. Mal was glad when River was gone; he didn't have the patience for her odd quirks at the moment.

Sometime in the early morning hours, Zoe came by the room to check on the two of them on her way to the galley with Emma for breakfast, but Mal had sent her away quickly, told her to wait on word from Jayne. Whether that word would ever come, Mal couldn't be sure. He just didn't need Zoe breathing down his neck when there was nothing else he could do and he sure as Hell could make do with much less distraction from the toddler. Thankfully enough, Zoe didn't argue with him either.

So Mal spent his time pacing the small living quarters and the space just outside the room with only his sullen thoughts to keep him company. It was weird to consider how lonely it actually made Mal feel while Kaylee fitfully slept when it was supposed to be HIM comforting her. There would be no avoiding their talk once she finally awoke and he knew she would have questions. He knew she would demand answers. That's because everyone looked to Mal when it came to needing answers. But how was he supposed to give Kaylee any Gorram answers when he didn't know the answers himself?

Mal wanted to curse the doctor for being stupid, just like he had been since that first hour had come and gone. Guy was supposed to be a self-proclaimed tyen tsai [genius], but his recent decisions sure didn't make him seem like it. Simon was too damn ignorant, Mal decided. He didn't think like the rest of them did and that only brought more trouble his way. Still, Simon had been with the crew long enough that he should have known better.

Mal cursed under his breath and stood from the chair beside Kaylee's bed to resume pacing the room. It surprised him enough that she slept through out the night, but it was a restless slumber and on several occasions, Kaylee had whimpered in pain and quietly cried out for Simon. She never awoke though and had saved Mal from a whole lot of awkward moments when he took it upon himself to sit beside her on the bed and try to comfort her while she slept. The acts of kindness may have sufficed for the time being, but it wasn't really what Kaylee needed. Not by a long shot.


Mal stopped in mid step and slowly turned to find Kaylee's tired eyes open and staring at him wearily. He offered her a small calm smile, just enough that the expression surfaced and she was able to see it. "Hey there, Little Kaylee," Mal greeted her quietly and stepped back over to bed. He sat carefully on the edge and reached out to pat her hand, albeit awkwardly. "How ya doin'?"

"Not so shiny," Kaylee answered him and her voice sounded so feeble. Her eyes were bloodshot and her skin held a certain palor appearance that had her looking even worse for wear. "Can't say I'm A-OK right now."

"Now that's not what I like to hear," Mal told her. He covered her hand with his and gave it a small squeeze. "...You're not looking so well."

"Just hurts some, that's all," Kaylee murmured, but Mal could tell it was more than that. The mechanic just didn't want to admit to it. Still, her eyes said more than her voice actually did. It bothered Mal some the way she disregarded her current state, yet at the same time he couldn't really blame her. It was Kaylee's way of coping, even if it wasn't the right way.

"I want you to be honest with me," Mal told her. "I know I ain't much for comfortin', but I want you to tell me how much it really hurts."

Kaylee's frown was undeniable and the sadness flashed across her eyes. "It hurts real bad, captain. Something don't feel right and the baby ain't been moving none."

"You been taking it easy?" he asked her expectantly. He attempted to crack a small grin. "Don't wanna hear about you busying yourself in the engine room. Ain't proper to be covered in engine grease when your mini comes."

Kaylee didn't smile in return. If anything, she looked more withdrawn and run down. "Don't much think I can do anything else but lay here," she replied. "Don't have the energy and...'Nara wouldn't be happy if I tried to get up."

"No," Mal agreed with a firm shake of his head. "Inara is right. You're doing what you're supposed to be doing right now."

"...Where is he, captain?" Kaylee asked with a quake in her voice. She gripped Mal's hand in hers, her eyes pleading with him for an answer.

Mal looked away to keep her from seeing the anxiety in his glance, but he kept his voice calm. "Jayne's still looking."

"Something happened to him," Kaylee said. "He's hurt, ain't he. Someone did something to him and...and that's why he hasn't come back. Captain, he's not okay-"

"Hey," Mal interrupted her as her voice rose with urgency. He clasped her hand in both of his, his eyes returning to hers and locking. "No talking like that, dong ma? [understand?] Now, I know you're worried about Simon and rightfully so. But he's a well to do adult and he can handle himself. May be a few screws short of hairbrained at times, but...he's gonna be fine. And even if that ain't the case, Kaylee, well we'll get him back. Don't matter none if he's banged up a bit. Point is, we'll get him back."

Kaylee stared up at Mal for a long while before a tear of distress made the long trek down her cheek. "What if he doesn't come back?" she whispered brokenly.

"Doc can't stay away from you for too long. Figure that's on account of how crazy he is about ya," Mal replied. He reached out to gently brush the tear from Kaylee's cheek. "Besides, he knows I'd hunt him down to the end of the Verse if I had to if he broke your heart. Wouldn't have let this little arrangement proceed if he didn't understand that much."

Kaylee sniffled. "You wouldn't have been able to stop us."

Mal chuckled sheepishly. "I suppose you're right. Don't stop me none from hoping though."

"You still don't like him..." Kaylee's eyes flit away from Mal as she spoke.

"I like the doc just fine," Mal huffed inwardly. "He just has a fine way of irking me some. Always has."

"And you've always been too hard on Simon, ever since him and River took up residence on Serenity. It ain't right," Kaylee told him pointedly.

"Yeah, well...guess I'm just a kuh-ooh duh lao bao jurn... [horrible old tyrant...]" Mal mustered with a crooked smile.

Kaylee managed a faint smile this time. "You just don't like to admit that you're soft."

"Me? Soft?" Mal made a face and shook his head. "I'm not soft, Kaylee. Calloused is more like. Heartless even."

"You're not heartless, captain..." Kaylee murmured. She grimaced and brought a hand to her stomach, her forehead creasing as she whimpered. A quick string of curses passed her lips. "Ow. Captain..."

Mal studied Kaylee carefully, feeling the way her hand tensed in his. "Tzuh muh luh? [What's going on?]" he asked.

Kaylee cried out sharply this time and brought both hands to her stomach as a flood of warm fluid flushed between her legs beneath the blankets. Her eyes widened in honest fear and she looked to Mal when a stronger wave of pain came over her. "My...my water...I think it just broke-"

Mal blinked at her stupidly. "You're what?"

"My-" Kaylee couldn't finish the statement before she cried out again. "The baby-"

"Wuh de tyen, ah... [Dear God in Heaven...]" Mal muttered as he jumped up from the bed. "Okay, uh...EE-chee shung-hoo-shee! [Let's take a deep breath!] Don't move." He turned quickly from the bed and hurried over to the intercom mounted on the wall, jabbing at the screen. "Zoe! Get Inara. All hands in the infirmary. Now."

"Captain-" Kaylee panicked.

Mal turned back to her and returned to her side, yanking the blankets away from her body. "Don't you worry, Little Kaylee," he assured her as he lifted her from the bed into his arms. "Everything's gonna be just fine." Not wasting another moment, he turned and swiftly carried Kaylee out of the room towards the infirmary.
Chapter 6 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Six

The burn of the cheap whiskey should have worked to put Jayne to sleep as it filtered through his blood stream, but it proved to have the opposite effect. Instead, it woke him up and made his senses sharper. Might of had something to do with the fact that it was a piss poor excuse for whiskey, though not much more could be expected for quality on an outer rim planet. Still, Jayne was in desperate need for a pick-me-up after he'd spent the better part of the previous night and the current day staking out multiple areas of the town in his quest to locate the missing doctor. So far, he'd come up empty handed and it was really running his patience thin. How many Gorram places could one person possibly be?

Jayne grumbled to himself as he lifted the rim of the glass to his lips. The tavern was crowded for the hour, dimly lit, and smelt overwhelmingly like body odor. Even for someone like Jayne who didn't give a damn where he got a cold drink normally, it was low class. It was loud, too. Obnoxious, even. And to put it lightly, Jayne didn't trust a single one of the rowdy patrons just by looking at them. But who was he to complain at the moment. As long as he got a break, regrouped himself, and got back out to continue looking.

Not to mention no harm done if Mal didn't find out, right?

Swallowing the rest of the liquor in the glass, he slammed it down on the bar top and nodded to the bar keep for another round when the bar keep looked in his direction. Jayne's mind wandered as he waited for the refill. Simon had been missing going on two days now. Two days was a Hell of a long time, especially when it came to their lifestyle. Then again, going missing for any length of time never meant good news, not for anyone. Part of Jayne, the negative part, wanted to automatically jump to less than happy conclusions. The other side of him, though, was Hell bent on finding the hwun dans [bastards] who'd been stupid enough to take the doctor in the first place. And if Jayne got his hands on them, well...

The bar keep set a full glass of whiskey in front of Jayne on the bar top and turned away without so much as a word. Jayne snorted under his breath and drew the glass closer, his mind wandering further as he stared down at the amber liquor. He sometimes had an imagination that liked to run wild, but something told Jayne that Simon's disappearance was more than just simple and that if he or any of the other crew members managed to locate him, there was a good chance that Simon would be in incredibly bad shape or worst case, not all in one piece.

Jayne actually shivered at the thought. He may have liked to get under the doctor's skin and annoy him as much as possible, and true to fact they had gone rounds and never really seen eye to eye, but Jayne wasn't so heartless that he wanted something like this to happen. Not to mention the loss. Losing Serenity's resident medic would be damaging enough, but for Kaylee, Jayne was no fool to know that the loss would be devastating. And it had been hard enough watching the aftermath of losing Wash following the Miranda events as it was.

The whiskey burned Jayne's throat as he swallowed a sip and surveyed his surroundings. Seemed the later it got, the more people that ushered into the establishment. A local favorite, maybe? Not like they had many other choices, anyway. Actually, it looked a lot like the kind of place him and Mal would be privy to starting a fight in, though that was the last thing Jayne needed at that moment, even if THAT thought made him chuckle a little. 'Sorry, Mal...I WAS looking for the doc, but then the local watering hole called my name and well, I ain't planned none for a fight, but you know what we plan and what happens ain't ever similar...'

The fact of the matter was that Jayne was just as lost as him and Mal had been when they were searching together. Going back to corner the old lady who owned the produce shop proved useless when she damn near had a heart attack at the sight of Jayne's gun. Visiting every shop the mercenary figured Simon would have an interest in and then some produced no results as well. Either they hadn't seen the doctor, thought Jayne was out of his mind, or just didn't care. The people of the town were shady too and they seemed apt to avoid ones that weren't their own, so it was no wonder Jayne was having no luck.

He shot the whiskey back quickly and swallowed it in one large gulp, swiping a calloused hand across his mouth. Jayne's eyes shifted momentarily to the radio fastened to his hip but it hadn't crackled to life in hours and the last one to contact him had been Inara hoping for an update. He hadn't been able to tell her anything then just like he wouldn't be able to tell her or any of them anything now. Jayne was especially glad that it hadn't been Kaylee contacting him; there wasn't a part of him that was sure he could front that conversation.

The door to the tavern slammed open and a small group of burly men shoved their way inside, their bellowing voices cutting through everything around them. Jayne looked in their direction and decided he hated them upon first glance; by appearance alone, they were the type he would brawl with. They were the kind that made Jayne's blood boil and the kind that Mal said would one day get Jayne into trouble he might not be able to get himself out of. Of course that had never stopped Jayne in the past from swinging his fist. No shame in a little fist swinging fun.

The tallest of them pushed through the throng of people to make his way up to the bar. He stood directly to Jayne's right and slammed his hand down on the bar top. "Aye, bar keep!" the man bellowed with a cocky smirk. "A round'a cold ones for the gang, ol' lad!"

It took the bar keep a bit before he came over, but when he did, he set four frothing metal mugs on the bar top and looked at the man with a fair bit of recognition passing over his face. "Didn't reckon I'd see you in here tonight, Jethro."

"Missing ol' Jethro, are yeh?" the man assumed as he took two of the mugs in each of his hands.

The bar keep looked less than amused. "Get that big head of yours outta your ass," he answered with a hard scowl. "I look forward to the less trouble that occurs when you ain't around."

Jethro chuckled and tipped his head in a nod. "Keep 'em coming and there be no trouble to be had."

The bar keep grumbled under his breath and turned to walk away.

Jethro turned to find Jayne looking at him. "What are yeh looking at, lad?"

"Hard to tell from where I'm sitting," Jayne told him with a stiff stare.

"Watch yer mouth," Jethro hissed and brushed past Jayne, knocking into him on purpose.

"Yu bun duh, hwun dan, [Stupid bastard]," Jayne muttered to himself. He squared his shoulders and lifted his glass to get the bar keep's attention again. Didn't figure one more drink would hurt none and then he'd get back to the job. Like looking for a needle in a damn haystack.

This wasn't Jayne's idea of a good, proper job. A job of crime was his thing. Making runs was his thing. Not bleeding too much was his thing. Running around in circles looking for their doctor was not Jayne's thing. He didn't sign on to be no babysitter. So maybe he was a little more bitter about all of it than he originally assessed. And he had every right to be. They should have been off this Gorram planet a long time ago. Hell, they should have ditched the doctor and his moonbrained sister a long time ago too.

"What're we gonna do with 'im, Jethro? S'only so much one can take 'fore the body gives out. He's already a bloody mess as it is."

"Keep yer voice down, yeh bloody idiot!"

Jayne didn't glance over his shoulder when he heard the bickering, but his ears perked up at what was being said. It seemed Jethro and his gang had commandeered a table not too far from where Jayne, himself, was sitting and it made it easy to over hear. He hunched over on his stool, leaning against the edge of the bar top, and feigned deep interest in the glass of whiskey set before him.

"I'm telling yeh, I'll do whatever I damn well please," Jethro continued. "For however long I want to."

"Poor bastard don't have much life left in 'im if you keep up the way yeh are," another voice at the table said.

"Don't suppose I care for that, no," Jethro answered nonchalantly.

"If yer gonna kill 'im, then just kill 'im already, yeh crazy idiot," a third voice said.

"Bite yer tongue, Titus, 'fore I cut it outta yer mouth," Jethro snapped at him.

The second voice chuckled. "Aye, Titus has a point, Jethro. The three of us are wondering if yeh kidnapped the poor bastard just to make 'im yer play toy. Not that we haven't enjoyed beating 'im ourselves or anything."

"Didn't have enough bloody money on 'im for two pots to shit in," Jethro gruffed. "Didn't have no use for that fruit of his either. Stupid glass roses. Crap. Can't be picky for pleasure."

"A stroke of bad luck for 'im, then," Titus said.

"Aye," Jethro agreed, his voice smug. "He's as good as dead in a day or two when I'm done with 'im."

Jayne's posture tensed as he listened intently, but it was quickly after that that he lost focus on what else was said. Without saying a word to the bar keep, he slid off the stool and made his way stiffly towards the tavern door. The cool night air greeted him as he stepped outside and he hurried away from the building with more than a turbulent twist in the pit of his stomach that couldn't be attributed to only the cheap whiskey.

There wasn't a doubt in Jayne's mind at that moment that those tyen-sah duh UH-muo [Goddamn monsters] were talking about the doctor and by the sounds of it, Simon was in pretty bad shape. Would be in even worse shape soon if Jayne or the others didn't get to him, which was exactly the last thing Jayne had wanted to hear. It would have been easier to deal with the local lawman having taken Simon some where. That break out would be easy. But this was looking more and more like a full-fledged rescue effort.

Jayne looked around him and ducked into the shadows against the next building over. Crouching low to the ground to wait, he unclipped the radio from his hip and brought it quickly to his mouth. "Mal, come in," he spoke as he kept his eyes glued on the tavern.

His brows furled as several moments passed by with nothing but silence as his answer. "Mal, come in. I got a lead on the doc." Jayne watched as the door to the tavern burst open and a couple of intoxicated individuals stumbled out, jovially singing as they continued on their way. He waited until they were gone and their drunken voices had faded in the distance before he looked back to the tavern and spoke again. "Gorramit, is anybody listening to me right now? Mal? Zoe? I got a lead on the doc. Over heard a couple of hwun dans [bastards] at the local tavern braggin' about what they done. Dunno how bad it is, but it don't sound good. I'm staking out the tavern right now. Waiting for 'em to leave, then I'm gonna follow 'em."

Jayne paused and when he still received no response, he reclipped the radio to his hip and press his back against the wall, prepared to wait however long he needed to.


Mal found himself pacing again, this time just outside of the ship's infirmary. The sound of Kaylee's whimpers of distress from inside the room had him on edge and he hadn't been able to sit still even if he wanted to...not that he wanted to anyway. Moving kept him busy and in that moment, Mal needed to stay busy. He had too much on his mind and not enough brain space to think about all of it.

He had learned a whole new level of respect for Zoe when she quickly took control of the situation the moment she'd arrived at the infirmary. It's not something Mal could have expected. None of them truly knew what to do in this situation because they hadn't forseen the event of Simon's absence. But having gone through the birth of her daughter Emma, Zoe was the closest one qualified to take the doctor's place and she hadn't left room for argument before doing so. Mal was thankful; he couldn't help Kaylee and it more than just bothered him some.

Hours had passed since the natural breaking of Kaylee's water (whatever that meant, because Mal still wasn't sure he understood it) and she had since gone into what Zoe had referred to as active labor. The woman had rattled off a whole bunch of medical jargon Mal assumed she had memorized from Simon during her birthing experience and did what she could to ease Kaylee's discomfort. It just wasn't quite enough, though. Even despite the fact that Simon had prepared the infirmary in advance for the birth of his child, Mal could tell Zoe was on the border of running out of resources and it was testing her calm. Zoe was determined to help, but how much could they really expect her to do?

Kaylee, on the other hand, was an utter mess. She was inconsolable and the stress of it all was really beginning to takes its toll on her, not just mentally, but physically as well. Mal might not have been an expert and he certainly hadn't been prepared for this to occur as such, but he suspected it wasn't supposed to be like this. The weight of Kaylee's stress was too much and it showed the closer she got to actually ushering that baby into life. Mal hated the idea of it. He'd spent more than enough time silently cursing the circumstances and the fact that it felt like he was losing control of his entire crew.

It never showed outright on his face though.

On the outside, Mal appeared eerily calm. Inara had even questioned how he could be so collected in the moment when she herself couldn't hide her concern if her life depended on it. Mal just didn't know what to tell her. He couldn't help matters either. He couldn't do a Gorram thing.

Stopping a few feet away from the infirmary entrance, Mal turned to face what was going on inside. Zoe had just finished "examining" Kaylee to assess her progress and now stood at her right side while River stood a bit of ways to Kaylee's left. The younger Tam was ghastly quiet and had been for a while, which under any other circumstances could have been considered normal. Now, however, Mal knew different. He could see the problem in River's eyes and he knew it was directly related to her brother. There was a storm brewing in River just beneath the surface and it was only a matter of time before that storm exploded.

"Mal..." Inara called out to him softly. He turned to face her and found her slowly approaching with some of her softest sheets folded delicately in her hands. Inara was the epitome of poise in the way she carried herself, but there was no mistaking the creases of anxiety at the corners of her eyes. "What are you doing?"

Mal fumbled over his answer at first. There was a deep swelling urge in him to reach out and pull Inara close, although he wasn't sure whose benefit it would be for, his or hers. So he kept his arms firmly planted at his sides. "Keeping myself busy," he muttered.

"You keep pacing like that," Inara started to reply as she smoothed her hand over the top sheet, "And you'll be sure to wear a new hole in the floor."

"She's sustained worse," Mal spoke absently of the ship. He looked away from Inara and paced a few steps to the side of her.

"...We're all worried, Mal," Inara spoke up again.

"This ain't worried," he told her.

Inara looked at the floor around her feet. "No...of course not," she murmured.

Mal ran a hand through his hair and felt the frustration surge through him. It wasn't Inara's fault, but by God if she wasn't testing his patience right then. Didn't matter to Mal that deep inside he knew she only meant well. "Shouldn't you be in the infirmary with Kaylee?" he asked.

"Zoe asked me to gather some sheets," Inara answered him. Her eyes lifted from the floor to watch as he continued to pace. "I thought...well, I thought perhaps..."

Mal looked at her expectantly when she didn't finish her statement. Their eyes locked briefly and his shoulders sank just enough that Inara noticed it. "Good...that's good."

Inara looked back over her shoulder into the infirmary with thought. "...You should be in there with her too."

"Place ain't big enough for a gathering, Inara," Mal mustered. "Kaylee don't need me smothering her either."

"What Kaylee wants and what Kaylee needs are two very different things," Inara said. When she looked at Mal again, a frown had surfaced on her delicate features. "Kaylee may not be able to have what she wants right now...but she can and should have what she needs."

Mal cowered inwardly under the weight of Inara's stare. Outwardly, he squared his shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you know about it, huh? There's not a Gorram thing I can say or do in there that will make her feel any better."

Inara stared back at him indignantly. "You could start by having a heart," she replied and turned to calmly enter the infirmary.

Mal watched her retreating form, his forehead creasing in a frown, and then slowly followed her into the infirmary. At first, he lingered near the doorway, uncertain of what exactly he could really do. He wasn't good for comforting and everyone knew he was no good with words when it really mattered. Not to mention doctoring was out of the question too, so Zoe was on her own with that. Yet, when Kaylee called out to him wearily, Mal's feet carried him to her side without hesitation.

"Captain..." Kaylee's hand fumbled to grab hold of Mal's. Her tired eyes were wide with anxiety and glistened along the edges, but they were vacant of their normal exuberant hue.

Mal offered Kaylee a crooked smile for her benefit, his thumb brushing across the back of her hand. "How're you feeling, Kaylee?"

"I'm scared," Kaylee whispered only to choke on a muffled sob before she had spoken completely.

"I reckon I'd be worried some if you weren't," Mal told her calmly. He squeezed her hand. "That's what we're here for though. So you don't have to worry none about being scared. You just do what you have to, Kaylee. We'll take care of the rest."

"Won't be much longer, sir," Zoe mentioned.

Kaylee cursed sharply as another apparent contraction came over her. Inara dabbed a damp cloth gently against the mechanic's forehead. "Deep breaths, Mei Mei," she encouraged her softly.

"It hurts, 'Nara," Kaylee whimpered breathlessly.

River stepped wordlessly around to Kaylee's feet and slowly bent over at the waist as she lifted the sheet that was covering Kaylee's lower half. Her forehead was creased in concentration and deep curiosity and she tilted her head to the side. Mal watched her with growing uncertainty. "Uh...what is she doing?" he asked Zoe.

"The baby moves down the birth canal and he is stressed," River said before Zoe could form an answer. "I am looking for him."

"River, honey..." Zoe started. She approached River and tried to pull her back. "Let's give Kaylee a little more space."

"It's invasive," River told her. "He doesn't like it."

Kaylee cried out again, her face flushing red with sudden heat of exertion. "Zoe!"

Zoe didn't give River a chance to argue as she nudged her out of the way and sat down on the stool she'd left at the foot of the examining table. "Steady breaths, Kaylee," she instructed the mechanic and pushed the sheet up, draping it above Kaylee's knees so her lower half was exposed.

"God, I don't need to see that!" Mal exclaimed as his eyes grew wide. He tried to yank his hand away so he could back up, but Kaylee refused to let go of it.

"Now is not the time to be worrying about indecency, sir," Zoe told him distractedly. She grabbed a pair of exam gloves and slipped her hands into them. "Try to relax, Kaylee. I'm going to examine you again."

"The baby is impatient," River murmured as she paced behind Zoe. "He wants to find Simon. He needs Simon. Doesn't understand why Simon isn't here."

"What is she going on about?" Mal demanded.

"R-River, stop, please-" Kaylee whimpered again before clenching her eyes shut. Her face turned a deeper shade of crimson as she suddenly beared down, crying out.

Zoe withdrew her hand quickly from the examination and flit her eyes to the captain. "She's fully dilated, sir."

Mal furled his brows, fighting to keep from wincing when Kaylee's hand clenched around his with strength he hadn't anticipated. "In English, Zoe!"

"It means the baby is coming," Inara interjected sharply. She gently caressed her hand against Kaylee's forehead, murmuring to her soothingly.

"Now?" Mal asked, only to curse loudly when Kaylee yanked on his hand. "Ta ma de! [Damnit!]"

"C-Captain, I can't-" Kaylee stuttered fearfully as her eyes jumped to him.

Mal struggled to keep from grimacing as their eyes locked. "I know otherwise, kid. You can do this."

"I need you to focus, Kaylee," Zoe instructed her with a firmly focused gaze on the task at hand. "Deep breath and push."

Kaylee's scream as she did what she was told was shattering and echoed around the infirmary. Mal hated the sound of it, didn't think it sounded natural at all. Then again, he wasn't sure what he had been expecting. He'd chosen not to be present for Emma's birth and in fact had steered clear of the infirmary during that time, taking refuge in his bunk until the process was complete. Mal had no plans of being present this time either, but he also hadn't counted on Simon not being present as well.

"There's only so much pain the human body can endure," River announced. She had taken to cowering back against one of the counters, her face contorted uncomfortably. "The body screams but the pain has nowhere to go."

"Really don't think that talk like is helping, darlin'," Mal snapped at her.

"You're doing real good, Kaylee," Zoe spoke above him. "Give me another push."

Kaylee panted as she beared down again and released another shattering scream of distress. Sweat accumulated along her forehead, heating her skin and making her appear sickly despite the circumstances. Inara gently dabbed at Kaylee's forehead with the damp cloth and spoke to her encouragingly, but it seemed to do little good because it wasn't long before the mechanic was sobbing.

"Okay, okay...relax," Zoe said urgently as she looked up at Kaylee's face, swallowing her frown of concern.

Kaylee gasped for breath, her eyes relatively unfocused and glistening with tears. "I can't do this!" she pleaded desperately. "I need Simon! He...he's supposed to be here!"

"You can't be focusing on that right now," Zoe told her sternly. "Simon ain't here and there's nothing we can do about that. I need you to focus on this baby and work with me on getting it out."

"Listen to her, Mei Mei," Inara encouraged. "You have to do this."

"Another push," Zoe instructed again. "Ma-shong! [Now!]"

The more Kaylee pushed and the more she screamed in response, the more light-headed Mal felt himself become. His hand had since grown numb to the pain of Kaylee squeezing it and he'd stopped focusing on anything that was being said. For a moment, everything around him became muted and Mal found himself wondering just when his ship and crew had gone from a life of crime to missing doctors and giving birth to babies. God, he was starting to feel dizzy and it was becoming stifling hot in the infirmary...

"That's it, Kaylee!" Zoe approved as she nodded her head. Her hands were poised and ready and suddenly all sound rushed back into Mal's ear. "The baby's head is starting to crown. I can see it. Give me another big push."

Inara moved to stand at Kaylee's side across from Mal, taking hold of the woman's other hand. "You are doing very well, Kaylee. It will not be much longer now."

Kaylee was breathless and sweating profusely. "I...I don't know if I can," she stuttered with a weak shake of her head. She pushed again before she could say another word when the urge came over her, a startling scream tearing from her throat.

"Good! The baby's head is out," Zoe encouraged and looked up at Kaylee another time. "You're almost there. Another big push."

"Wuh de tyen, ah... [Dear God in Heaven...]" Mal muttered when he glanced down just as the infant's shoulders came into view. It was another moment more before Zoe was carefully sliding the baby the rest of the way out and a sharp startled cry filled the whole of the infirmary.

"Oh dear..." Inara murmured in awe.

"We have a boy!" Zoe announced as she reached for the suctioner on the tray near by. She worked carefully to suction the infant's nostrils and mouth, struggling internally to remember everything Simon had ever told her about the process. Her heart had yet to cease from racing when she looked quickly to Mal. "Cut the chord, sir. Inara, get a sheet ready."

It took Mal a moment to realize that Kaylee had released his hand as she slumped back against the examining table and he stumbled back as Zoe fastened a clamp onto the infant's umbilical chord and held a pair of surgical scissors out to him. He couldn't keep his eyes off of the wailing infant or even wrap his mind around the fact that his talented resident mechanic had indeed just given birth. Missing doctors and babies...when did this happen?

"Sir!" Zoe called out to him and Mal snapped to attention. He took the surgical scissors and without second thought, sliced right through the umbilical chord.

Everything happened in a blur after that. Kaylee's sobs of relief were drowned out beneath the hammering of the captain's heart as she protectively held her son to her chest. Zoe and Inara were both quick to take control of the situation, allowing Mal to finally step back into the background as River nervously spoke about the baby not looking good in red. And then, unable to handle the intensity of the moment any longer, Mal turned sharply and promptly left the room.
Chapter 7 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Seven

Kaylee was unable to recall a time in her life when she had ever felt so exhausted. It was hard to keep her heavy eyes open and yet, she found herself unable to peel her gaze away from the soundly sleeping infant tucked safely in her arms. Awe and pride didn't accurately describe the emotions swelling within her and disbelief kept her from completely wrapping her mind around the fact that that baby she held was hers...her son. Not just her son, but Simon's son as well.

Little Sebastian Oliver Tam...

Sebastian was a gorgeous baby, unlike any Kaylee had ever been able to imagine. He had a mop of soft dark hair - so dark it was almost black - atop his head that she couldn't seem to run her fingers through enough and his facial features were so incredibly like his father's, that it made Kaylee's heart ache with sadness. Simon had no idea about any of it. They were supposed to have shared in these joyous moments together and there Kaylee was, alone and broken hearted. She had spent so much time dreaming of this moment and now it was nothing like how she thought it would be.

Kaylee was angry at Simon, no matter how irrational that sounded. She was angry that Simon hadn't been there to help her through the birth of their son like he had promised he would be. She was angry that she felt so empty inside when she knew she had one solid reason to still feel happy. And she was angry that Sebastian had been born without the skilled and carefully guiding hands of his father to usher him into life. But mostly, Kaylee was angry that she didn't know if Sebastian would ever have the chance to meet his father.

The captain and the others were confident they would get Simon back. But Kaylee suspected they were doing nothing more than avoiding reality and ignoring what felt more like the inevitable. It made Kaylee's confidence wane and life around her seem so much darker. Simon's absence wasn't just a void...it was a literal piece of Kaylee that was missing. It didn't matter how much the others were confident; they would never understand. Well, nobody but Zoe...

Kaylee shivered a little as she brushed the pad of her thumb delicately across Sebastian's brows. It was cold in the infirmary now, unlike how it had been earlier. Of course, everything had been so crazy then and she had felt feverish through the exertion it took to give birth. Not to mention everyone crowded around her. Now it felt as if she couldn't retain an ounce of body heat. Not Sebastian though. Inara had tightly swaddled him in a soft blanket to assure he was warm and cozy after cleaning him up. He'd been soundly asleep ever since and Kaylee was more than thankful for that. The event had been just as stressful for him as it had been for her.

Zoe insisted that Kaylee and Sebastian remain in the infirmary for the time being, at least to give her body a chance to begin recuperating before she attempted to move herself. Kaylee didn't have the strength to argue that, even if it pained her being in the infirmary any longer than she wanted to be where there were too many memories of Simon haunting her. It was his space, his corner of Serenity that provided him with a little taste of what his life had been like before coming into their lives. It didn't feel right now, knowing he was gone.

Kaylee sighed quietly and caressed Sebastian's cheek with the tips of her fingers. The silence in the room felt like a suffocating weight pressing in on her and part of her vaguely wondered where everyone had run off too. Sometime after Sebastian's birth, Zoe had sternly ushered everyone out of the infirmary to give the mechanic the chance to rest. She had even brought the bassinet in for Sebastian to sleep in, but Kaylee refused to put him down. Maybe there was more comfort from having Sebastian in her arms than she realized or even cared to admit.

Was it really possible to love someone so much already? Kaylee pondered it as she stared down at the sleeping infant in her arms. Of course she'd fallen in love with her child the moment she found out she was pregnant, but that was natural. And she had spent the entirety of her pregnancy bonding with the baby she carried on an emotional level. But now it felt so completely different. Sebastian was only a few hours old and already Kaylee vowed she would go to the ends of the Verse for him and die for him in an instant if she had to.

She was a mother now.

"May I come in?" Inara's soft voice called out to her, drawing Kaylee from the depths of her thoughts. She pulled her attention away from the infant long enough to look up at the companion and give her permission to enter with a nod of her head. Inara stepped into the infirmary and approached the examining table with a warm smile. "How is he?" she asked curiously.

Kaylee's gaze was focused on Sebastian again, and despite her inner turmoil, she managed a small smile. "He's perfect," she murmured as she once again caressed Sebastian's cheek. "Been sleeping soundly since he's been in my arms."

Inara stopped at Kaylee's side and gazed down at the infant. "He's content," she noted. "And so gorgeous. I am very happy for you, Mei Mei."

"He looks just like his daddy," Kaylee whispered as she inhaled a shallow breath in an attempt to keep herself calm. "I knew he would. Simon has such strong features. I knew this baby would look just like him."

"And I am certain Simon will feel the same way when he sees him," Inara tried to encourage but she could tell even as she said it that it did little good. Kaylee was grieving and Inara couldn't change that.

"Don't say that," Kaylee told her with a tight shake of her head. "I mean...you can't, because you don't know. Captain don't know either."

Inara reached a hand out to gently brush her fingers against the baby's cheek. His skin was so soft and delicate; it awed her. "I can only have faith in saying it."

"Faith isn't gonna bring Simon back, 'Nara," Kaylee sniffled.

Inara shifted her attention to the tired mechanic's face, her expression calm for Kaylee's sake. "Faith keeps hope alive."

"It just ain't right," Kaylee told her tearfully. "I didn't think it would be like this. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He wouldn't have left if I hadn't been so mean to him, making him think I was...I was so mad at him."

"It was a misunderstanding, bao bay [sweetheart]," Inara consoled. "I am certain Simon knows that, too."

Kaylee looked away from her. "It doesn't matter. He's not here because of me."

Sebastian wriggled in Kaylee's arms, letting loose a quiet whine before settling again, his face returning to peaceful. Inara smoothed the hair back from Kaylee's face with a soft sigh, knowing there was no way she could possibly begin to understand the woman's inner torment. Kaylee was gonna feel guilty regardless of what any of them said and it was destroying her joy when she should have been celebrating and enjoying being a new mother. "What did you name him?" Inara finally asked a moment later in an effort to draw the mechanic's mind elsewhere.

Kaylee sniffled again as she studied the infant's innocent facial features. So peaceful without any idea of what was going on around him. "...Sebastian Oliver Tam," she answered quietly. "S'what Simon wanted to name him if he was a boy."

"It is a strong and elegant name befitting of a perfect little prince," Inara nodded her head in approval. "May I hold him?"

Kaylee hesitated at first as she pursed her lips together but she eventually nodded and slowly transferred Sebastian into Inara's awaiting arms. Bitter cold flooded her body as soon as her arms were empty and she fidgeted nervously with the blanket covering her lap. "Captain was hoping for a namesake if it was a boy," she spoke in an unsteady voice.

Inara smiled down at the sleeping infant as she cradled him carefully. "That buffoon would have the entire Verse revolve around him if it were possible," she mused. "I suspect Jayne would want the same. But the name you and Simon chose for this little one is perfect. You should be very proud."

"Oh, 'Nara..." Kaylee sighed with a frown. "I am. I don't mean to make like I'm not."

"I know," Inara replied. She pressed a tender kiss to Sebastian's forehead. "No one is blaming you for how you feel."

Silence fell over the infirmary as Kaylee's mind wandered and Inara saw to the care of little Sebastian. It wasn't a comfortable silence either, but instead filled with tension neither of them wanted to speak of. Even with Inara and Sebastian in the room with her, Kaylee couldn't ignore how alone she truly felt. It was hard to breathe and the more she thought about it, the tighter her chest began to feel. Kaylee's eyes eventually returned to the companion, glistening again. "Where's River? Is she okay?"

Inara looked at Kaylee in question, but moved her gaze away quickly again. "River has been keeping to herself. I believe she was a bit distraught when Zoe would not allow her to return to be with you."

The creases of concern at the corners of Kaylee's eyes became more pronounced. "She must be so upset right now, with Simon being gone and ain't no one paying attention to that. Someone needs to see to her too, 'Nara."

"Can't hear him..." River's meek voice called out from the infirmary doorway, announcing her sudden presence. Inara and Kaylee looked to find the young woman lingering just within the doorway as she tugged lightly at the material of her faded powder blue dress. The frock had been a hand-me-down from Kaylee the year prior and was more grayish than blue with age. River's eyes were glossed over and unfocused with a far-away glance. "I call out to him and he doesn't answer. The silence is loud. It's too cold."

Kaylee sat up a little more, holding the blanket on her lap to keep it from slipping off. "River?" she called out to her.

River winced at the sound of her name. Her breath was shallow and she looked on the verge of another one of her infamous meltdowns. "He's never this silent. They make you quiet and they laugh. Think it's funny what they done."

Kaylee looked to Inara in confusion. "I...I don't understand."

"It hurts," River insisted in a voice that trembled and threatened to give out. "It's too much darkness. They come and they go. Over and over. It never ends until they end it."

"Here..." Inara murmured to Kaylee. She carefully returned Sebastian to the mechanic's arms and turned to River to approach her. "Sweetie, come with me. We will go make some tea so Kaylee and Sebastian can rest."

River half heartedly fought Inara as the companion started to lead her from the infirmary. Her stormy eyes tried to keep sight of Kaylee and the infant. "Simon's name. It's Simon's name."

A muffled sob bubbled up Kaylee's throat as soon as she was alone in the infirmary once again. She could hear River arguing frantically a distance away, desperate for Inara to understand her, and then there was silence. Thick suffocating silence that settled over the infirmary and had hot tears of distress making long tracks down Kaylee's cheeks. She looked down at Sebastian to find his tired eyes peeking open at her and felt the tug on her heart, which only made her cry harder.

"I...I'm so sorry, Sebastian," she stuttered. "This is all my fault."

Chapter 8 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Eight

At first, Jayne jumped to the assumption that nobody had heard his call once again and he'd be damned if that didn't work to irritate him some. This was a time he honestly needed someone to answer him; Jayne had lost count of the hours he'd spent staking out the tavern while waiting for Jethro and his crooks to finally emerge. Not to mention when the rain began to fall once more, it had made Jayne feel like he'd waited even longer. To say he was the slightest bit grumpy didn't even begin to cover it.

"Jayne!" Mal's voiced snapped at him through the speaker of the radio. The captain sounded more than a little annoyed and Jayne was glad the captain wasn't there to see the mercenary rolling his eyes in response. "Where the Hell have you been? I allowed you to stay behind for a Gorram reason, not to drop off the face of the Verse!"

"Ta ma de [Damnit], Mal! Would you lower your voice?" Jayne growled out in return. His eyes held a steady gaze on the building in front of him with a fair deal of contempt. "Been doing my damn job, just like you said to do."

There was a prolonged pause on Mal's end as if the captain was contemplating his response. "You ain't been answering my calls. Now I don't recall that being part of the agreement."

"Had the radio off," Jayne answered him simply.

"Jayne," Zoe's voice cut in sharply and impatiently. He could hear Mal muttering a curse in the background and a startled cry from Emma who was clearly nearby her mother. "We don't have time for games. What's your update?"

"Been trailing a small group of hwun dans [bastards] for the last couple hours. Four of them, far as I can tell," Jayne answered her. "Ran into them at the local tavern."

Mal was on the radio again in a split second. To say he was angry and frustrated put it lightly and Jayne actually winced. "Coulda sworn I just heard you say you was in a tavern."

"Yeah, y'know..." Jayne stumbled over his response and huffed out his chest, his shoulders rigid in defense towards the verbal reprimand. "Been walking around for a fair 'mount of hours and I thought I'd check- Well, Hell, Mal...I was thirsty. And there ain't been no sight of the doc. I was just checkin' my options. Like to keep my options open."

"What part of those options included drinking the time away?" Mal demanded. "Time that we DON'T have, Jayne!"

The button on the radio must have stuck because Jayne could hear Zoe snap at the captain that he was currently wasting just as much time as Jayne had by arguing with him. Not that he had appreciated that assertion much. But Zoe did have a point when she reiterated just what little time they had and Jayne felt smug when she noted that maybe Jayne's visit to the tavern was as good an option as any other. He waited until the radio fell silent before speaking. "Zoe's got her a point, Mal. The whiskey was cheap and more like shiong mao niao [panda urine]."

"Get to the point," Mal barked impatiently.

"There was four of 'em," Jayne started to explain. "Overheard thems braggin' 'bout what they done. Took a poor bastard captive. Buncha low life crooks. Laughin' 'bout how they're beatin' him to a bloody mess. 'Specially the one named Jethro. Think that was his name, anyway. It's the doc, I'm tellin' ya. Described him to a tee. Don't reckon they needed to say his name for me to know they was talking about him. Not that they know his name. Don't think much they bothered to ask him."

"You're sure about this?" Zoe interrogated.

"'Course I'm sure 'bout it," Jayne gruffed in return. "I'm no ruttin' fool."

"Where are you now?" she pressed.

That was a good question and not one Jayne could easily answer. He swept his eyes over his surroundings. "Far end of the shopping district," he assessed. "Dunno much more than that. It's run down. Buildings are thin. I followed 'em to some house like. It ain't much for braggin' though. Two levels. Made'a wood. They went inside a bit ago. Been deciding my options since."

Mal came on the radio again with an authoritative tone. "Stand back, Jayne. Zoe and I are heading your way."

Jayne's brows furled. "I don't need no reinforcements, Mal. Fancy myself goin' in alone. I'll get the doc out and we can finally blast off this piece of luh suh [garbage] rock."

The sound of Emma's whining faded and it became evident that Zoe had left Mal to his own. "You're gonna wait for us and that's an order. Dong ma, [understand,] Jayne? Last thing I need right now is you taking on a buncha savages all hot headed and such 'cause you have a guilty conscious."

Jayne grunted under his breath and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Mal didn't have the slightest about what Jayne really wanted to do at that moment and it sure didn't include nothing about a fair fight. He squared his shoulders and narrowed his gaze at the derelict house. "This is a buncha yuh bun duh fei hau [stupid nonsense]," he gritted out. "Gonna get the doc back before Kaylee pops that kid of his out. Ain't gonna wait around for you and Zoe just to do it."

"Kaylee had the baby hours ago," Mal all but shouted. His words were almost jumbled with movement and Jayne suspected the captain was making his way through Serenity to keep good on his promise to join Jayne in his rescue efforts. "Doc missed that ride."

"Kaylee had the baby?" Jayne stuttered.

"Few hours back," Mal told him.

"And?" Jayne pressed as he looked away from the house.

Mal paused. "...And what?"

There was a flickering of unusual concern within Jayne before his gruff tone returned. "Well, are they okay?"

"The kid is fine. Zoe delivered him. Kaylee's a different story."

Jayne muttered a string of unintelligible curses under his breath in response to Mal's cryptic answer. He didn't have the patience to question him though or the patience to stand around any longer. "I'm turning off the radio now," he muttered.

"Jayne? Gorramit, Jayne, if you-"

Jayne quickly switched the radio off before Mal could say another word and clipped it back onto his hip. There was no doubt in his mind that the captain would be pissed about it, but that was the least of Jayne's worries at the moment. They'd all wasted enough time as it was and Jayne would be damned if he just stood around any longer and didn't actually do something about it.

He started to move forward steadily without another thought and kept his gaze firmly focused on the house in front of him. Jayne couldn't really say he had a plan of action, because he didn't, and he figured with the way their lack of cards were stacking up, storming in guns blazing would be just as conducive to the cause as it would be if he waited around for Mal and Zoe to show up. He'd spent plenty of time sizing up the building from the outside and that gave him a vague idea of what he was looking at. It was once inside that could pose the potential problem. Of course there was always the chance that Jayne was off his knocker by suspecting Simon was anywhere inside anyway. Damned if he did anything and damned if he didn't. Jayne wanted real crime, not this. Give him a heist any day.

Jayne listened closely as he reached the house, but didn't hear a thing coming from inside. There was a faint golden glow eminating from several of the rickety windows, one on the lower level and two on the upper level, though no signs of movement or life as far as he could see. He stepped up onto the porch and inched his way along the front of the house, attempting to assess his best point of entry, but already Jayne could tell his options weren't many.

Eventually, he came upon some uneven siding that was littered with wild weeds growing uncontrollably up the contours of the house. Truth be told, it didn't look like it would take much to destroy the unstable structure. There was no telling how old it was either. Such was the typical hideout for a band of bushwhackers. Affording it a brief thought, Jayne tugged lightly on the siding to assure it wouldn't give way and braced a foot on one of the edges to hoist himself up.

The second landing -a crudely constructed half deck- was approximately eight feet above Jayne's head and he maneuvered his way upwards toward it. It didn't take him long to reach the top and by the time he hoisted himself up over the railing, he could feel the burn in his muscles from the strain of the climb. Jayne took a moment to roll his shoulders before pulling one of his guns from its holster and stepped slowly towards a solitary door that appeared to be the only entry point from the second floor.

Jayne paused just to the side of it and cautiously peered around the edge of the little glass window that was fixed towards the top of the door. It lead into a vacant open room scattered with a few crates, but there was nobody inside it. Gripping the door handle, Jayne found it locked and gruffed quietly as he reached for his knife. It took a little effort to pop the lock on the door before he was able to quietly push it open and slip inside the house.

Leaving the door ajar, Jayne strained his ears to listen as he crouched low to the floor. It took some time for his eyes to adequately adjust to the poor lighting and the longer he stayed in that position, he begun to hear the echoes of several voices coming from a different room. It sounded like they were on the second floor also or at least near by, even if Jayne couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. He didn’t care much to, at that.

Jayne crept silently over the floor to the open doorway across the room. It lead out to a short narrow hallway with one door on each side; both doors were closed. Exiting the room, he listened more intensely and came to the conclusion there were at least two other people behind the door to the right and they were speaking in a language Jayne himself didn't recognize. He passed by the room without thought and when he reached an even narrower staircase, he started to descend it.

The house smelt strongly and oddly of mold and decay, a sure sign that it was rarely ever clean or never had been. It made Jayne appreciate how tidy Kaylee tried to keep Serenity, especially ever since Emma's arrival and once she learned of conceiving a child of her own. Not that cleanliness had ever been a strong suit of Jayne's, but this even had him turning his nose up at the disgusting nature of the house. The quicker he was in and out, the better.

The stairs creaked under each of Jayne's steps, making him cringe and slow his pace. When he finally reached the bottom, he paused long enough to take a good look around, noting every detail he could. The flooring was littered with trash and the air smelt even worse than it had upstairs. Who the Hell were these tyen-sah duh UH-muo [goddamn monsters]? They sure didn't seem to give a damn about their living environment, which shouldn't have come as a surprise given their unsightly appearance.

Jayne muttered his annoyance under his breath as he passed carefully through the next uninhabited room and then came upon what his best guess was the kitchen or really a sorry excuse for a kitchen that he'd ever seen. That room was even trashier than any other part of the house Jayne had seen so far. There was over turned cups and empty bottles of liquor littering the table and counter space and abandoned half-eaten food hanging off of chipped plates. Lazy sonsofbitches these guys were. Jayne shook his head and swept his eyes around the room.

There was a closed door on the opposite side of the kitchen that beckoned his attention and he moved towards it, keeping his ears tuned into any possible movement around him. Jayne heard nothing though and considered the idea that it had been almost too easy to slip into the house as unnoticed as he did. If they had heard Jayne, they certainly weren't making it known, which only made him want to finish scoping the place and get out of there even faster.

Opening the door when he reached it, Jayne's eyes fell upon a steep stone staircase that led down into a thick consuming darkness. Jayne narrowed his eyes and unclipped a small flashlight from his belt. The thin beam of light barely penetrated the black before him, but Jayne pressed forward into it. It was easier to move down them without making any sound this time. The air grew considerably colder the further down he went with a heavier dank stench that lingered in the air. It made Jayne's stomach turn a bit.

The dirt ground was damp when Jayne's boots landed on it after stepping off the bottom stair. He swept the beam of the flashlight around him, surveying his newest surroundings distastefully. There wasn't much to see, just a narrow hallway with stone walls and a few broken wood crates pushed up against one of the walls. About half way down the walk way, Jayne caught sight of a heavy-looking wooden door and crossed the distance to it. It had to be some sort of storage cellar or something of the sorts given the location, but there was also that nagging little voice in the back of Jayne's mind that said it was the perfect place to hide the battered body of a Core doctor who'd gone and gotten himself kidnapped after Jayne had warned him. Not that Jayne was much for kidnapping, not like this.

He gripped the handle of the door when he came upon it, but one solid tug found it securely locked. The door barely budged and the sound of it echoed around him. Jayne cringed and shifted his eyes to the ground around his feet. That's when he noticed the streaks of crimson mixing in with the dirt and leading under the bottom crack of the door. It appeared fresh too, like it hadn't been there that long. The doctor. Had to be. There wasn't a doubt in Jayne's mind, except his determination that he was right about following Jethro and his crooks back to this place. He wanted to be right about it.

"Doc?" Jayne hissed as he pressed close to the door and listened for any response. "You in there?"

An explosive pain in his head like none other came over Jayne at a moment he least expected it and he slumped to the ground in a crumpled heap, never seeing the burly man that had snuck up behind him.


Inara decided there was something extra peculiar and disturbing about River's current behavior as she moved calmly about her shuttle, immersing herself in the endeavor to light some soothing incense. It was all Inara could really do to keep herself focused and in the moment when the last thing she really felt was collected and not on the verge of falling apart. River, on the other hand, sat rigidly on the foot of Inara's bed and had taken to rocking back and forth as she mumbled incoherently to herself. The nature of her speech was indecipherable and made no sense and the poor girl refused to let the companion come anywhere near her. And to make matters worse, the captain had rushed in moments before, staying just long enough to bark a few orders that let Inara know she was in charge until he and Zoe returned, hopefully with Jayne and Simon in tow. There wasn't much more than that that Inara had been able to get out of him. Mal didn't stick around to answer any of her questions either.

She was about at her wits end and that didn't even begin to cover it. What had started out as stupid decision making had turned into panic and then turned into desperate cluelessness. Of course it didn't help matters any that Mal was proving to be of no use and Inara just couldn't seem to wrap her mind around what had come over the captain to cause him to think letting Jayne handle the situation on his own would be a grand idea. Nothing about knowing Jayne was out there on his own still looking for the doctor set Inara's mind at ease. That was almost as bad as letting little Emma sit in the pilot seat and man Serenity while they were in mid-flight. As far as Inara was concerned, Mal was out of his God forsaken mind.

Sighing, Inara lit another stick of incense and inhaled the sweet scent of vanilla and lavender, willing it to calm her nerves if even just a little. There was no telling how long she could expect Mal and Zoe to be gone. Part of her had been hoping Jayne would have returned long before this point, but that hope had been quickly dashed as the hours passed. That left Inara with her caring abilities tested to the limit and wondering how exactly she was going to handle the situation when Kaylee called for her again. There was only so much she could do for the new mother and only so much she could offer when it came to caring for baby Sebastian. They would need to be moved out of the infirmary soon, though. Inara couldn't imagine Kaylee and the infant would remain very comfortable in the med bay for long. But would Kaylee even desire returning to the room she shared with Simon, knowing he wasn't there to welcome her? Perhaps it would be a better idea if Inara convinced her to take up residence in her shuttle for the time being, at least until other decisions could be made...

Inara pursed her lips tightly together in an effort to keep her dwindling reserve in tact before her increasing concerns could shatter it beyond repair. She was tired too, beyond exhausted actually, and that didn't help matters any. None of them had managed to sleep much over the past few days since Simon had gone missing. It went without saying that the troublesome parallel to their routine weighed heavily on the heart of Serenity and affected each of them differently, yet all the same at the same time. There was no way things would smooth out until things were back in working order with all pieces in place and if that weren't possible, well...

Inara shut the box of incense she held in one hand and turned to carry it back to its storage case. However, a tight gasp left her lips when she turned and she jumped upon seeing River standing stiffly before her. The young girl's stare was blank, void of all expression and it didn't appear like she was even looking at Inara. It was eery on account that Inara hadn't even heard her rise from the bed, let alone cross the distance separating them. Inara inhaled deeply, waiting for the surprised hammering of her heart to subside. "River...?" she questioned with uncertainty.

For a moment, River continued to stare emotionless and unblinking. Then her eyes slowly shifted to focus on the companion. "They lead him to a trap like they lead a mouse to a trap with cheese," she spoke crypticly in an even, unwavering voice. "He didn't listen. Thought he knows, but he doesn't know anything. Thought he can, but he can't."

It was hard to fight the frown that immediately wanted to surface. Inara tightened her grip on the box of incense. "I'm not certain what you mean..."

River fidgeted in spot and looked down at the floor. "Lure him in with the promise of a prize," she told Inara. "It's not a prize. It's a trap and he didn't listen."

Hesitantly, Inara reached a hand out to place it on River's shoulder, but the girl flinched away from the touch. "River...perhaps we should sit down again."

"It's just more darkness!" River insisted sharply as she began to pace back and forth. "Over and over! It hurts! They come two by two! Can't breathe! They like red!"

"Who likes red?" Inara asked. Carefully, she set the box of incense down without taking her eyes off of River.

River tugged her loose fitting sweater tighter around her thin frame, shaking her head anxiously. "Can't breathe. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to move. Dig a grave. Say goodbye."

Inara removed the silk shawl from around her shoulders and carefully draped it over River's shoulders, hoping to provide her with a slight resemblance of comfort. "Honey, what you are saying right now is not making much sense," she replied calmly and turned River to lead her over to the bed. She carefully made River sit and took a seat beside her. "Take a deep breath."

"Tick tock. The clock slows down." River drew her feet up onto the bed and hugged her knees to her chest. She clenched her eyes shut, grimacing as she pressed her face to her knees. "What am I saying? I don't know what I'm saying."

Inara gently rubbed River's back, much in the same way she would to sooth a client, but this was far different. "Is this...about Simon?" she questioned her quietly. "River...are you able to feel him?"

"It's too much pain. Red from the inside out," River cried out. Her body trembled with the words she spoke and she hugged her knees tighter to her chest. "No way out. Another one in. Trapped."

"Jayne is looking," Inara tried to assure her. "The captain and Zoe are doing the same. Jayne may have found Simon."

"Jayne can't find himself," River insisted. "His ego gets him in trouble. Sees red now too. Won't talk. Too quiet. It's too quiet."

Inara wrapped her arms securely around the trembling girl and was surprised when River sank into her embrace willingly. "Do you know where they are, River?"

River clung to her. "Jayne is with Simon. He looks asleep, but...but he's not sleeping."

"Jayne found him?" Inara clarified as her lips curled into a frown.

River lifted her head to look up at the companion. "Jayne wanted to be the hero. Now he needs a hero too."

Mal's vague explanation of his actions with Zoe replayed in Inara's mind and now they made a little more sense. Jayne HAD found the missing doctor, but more troublesome was River's view on the matter. And just like that, River's incessant mutterings started to make more sense too. It should have come as no surprise that the young girl would see more into it, but it seemed even her insights were limited this time, which didn't make Inara feel any better. It didn't sound good. It COULDN'T be good. River's reaction told her that.

River pulled away from Inara and fiddled with the silk shawl that was draped around her shoulders. Her eyes were squinted with anxiety and she appeared to do her best to look anywhere but at the companion. "There's no time," she mumbled. "Won't last long. Too much hurt."

"I'm choosing to believe in a different outcome, River," Inara answered her as she stared down at her hands for a moment. "The captain will see to it."

"Captain is determined," River huffed, but her voice quivered all the same. "But Simon's too tired. I can't hear him. I can always hear him, but now I can't."

Inara's mouth opened to respond, but her words failed her and she sighed quietly. What could she possibly say to express her sympathy when there was no way for her to comprehend what it was that River was experiencing? Without being able to see into River's thoughts? Slowly, Inara rose to her feet and paced away from the bed, losing herself to her thoughts.

"Baby..." River murmured absently before she curled onto her side in the middle of the bed and threaded the material of the shawl between her fingers.

Inara looked back at her, distracted. "I'm sorry?"

River pointed to the intercom on the wall across the shuttle just as it came to life and the sound of Sebastian's wails filtered through with Kaylee's distressed voice calling out for Inara. Inara nodded at the young and turned swiftly to leave the shuttle with her troubled thoughts.

'Wuh de tyen ah, Mal, [Dear God in Heaven, Mal],' she thought as she left. 'May you return with the doctor soon.'
Chapter 9 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Nine

Jayne wasn't sure what brought him back into a state of consciousness, but he awoke with such a sharp jolt that he nearly jumped off the cold hard ground he was sprawled upon. If it wasn't for the fact that he was considerably disoriented, he probably would have too, but instead he remained stretched out on his back and blinked groggily at whatever was above him. Jayne couldn't see much though and he had a Hell of a time getting his eyes to adjust to the poor lighting surrounding him. Not to mention that his mind was one big jumbled mess of foggy memories that didn't make a lick of sense. What in the name of all things holy had happened?

Lifting his head slightly off the ground, Jayne brought a hand around back to tenderly prod at the noticeable knot that had formed, the epicenter of where the excruciating pain in his head originated from. Come to think of it, Jayne realized the whole of his body hurt and it felt like he'd tumbled head first down an entire flight of stairs. Almost as if he'd managed to get himself into a drunken stupor, but Jayne couldn't recall drinking THAT much at the tavern. He may have lost count of how many piss poor whiskeys he'd imbibed, but this...this felt like something completely different.

Jayne carefully eased his head back upon the ground again. The movement sent a shockwave of pulsing pain spreading through his skull and he grimaced as his body tensed in response. 'Think, Jayne...' his mind coaxed him but he could come up with very little as far as comprehensive thoughts went. But something he did know was this, his current predicament, was far from right and normal and-

Jayne's mind snapped to attention and he immediately reached for one of his guns, only to find it missing from the holster on his hip. Flipping over onto his stomach, Jayne grappled for the other two guns and knife fastened to his back, but they were missing as well. A hissing curse left his lips and he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, wildly surveying the darkness around him. Those Gorram bushwhackers had- He could hardly control his thoughts at that moment as he came to a full realization. This had definitely not been a part of Jayne's plans.

"Doc?" Jayne croaked out as he turned in a full circle on the ground. His eyes were more adjusted to the darkness now, but he could tell he was alone in the room. Another curse slipped past his lips. "Ta ma de! [Damnit!]" he growled. His voice echoed around him briefly and he took a moment to study the crudely constructed stone walls surrounding him. It had to be that room he'd come upon, right before the surprise onslaught of pain had taken over him and ushered in the darkness. And by the looks of it, Jayne was trapped.

Oh yeah...Mal was really gonna love this one...

Jayne stumbled onto his feet and braced a hand against the nearest wall to give himself a moment to gather his bearings, just long enough until the room stopped teetering from one side to the other. This was definitely not what he'd had in mind. He'd seen things playing out just a little differently, maybe with a bit of gun slinging and a hooray for Jayne saving the day. Jayne figured he could probably not count on either of those things now on account that he was weapon less and by the looks of it would need saving himself.

He sure as Hell wouldn't be admitting to that last one though. He'd go down swinging if he had to and when Mal finally burst in, IF Mal managed to find the place, Jayne would insist until he was blue in the face that it was all part of his master plan. Jayne ALWAYS had a master plan...or so he would say. Scowling at the thought, he reached a hand up to prod at the knot on the back of his head again.

Just his luck, things had gone gone from pretty bad to even worse. Jayne was no amateur, but this was messed up even for him. It wasn't exactly something he was proud of either. He could already imagine what Mal would have to say about it, the lectures, the berating, the general poking fun of. Zoe would probably have something to say about it too, but she had a way of saying it that cut a lot deeper with less words involved.

The sound of footsteps approaching the room caught Jayne's attention and he stiffened in defense as he turned towards the sound. There was a door across the room and within moments, it was yanked open with a thunderous boom before a large burly man entered and Jayne immediately recognized him as Jethro from the tavern. But that wasn't what had the breath catching in the mercenary's throat. It was the fact that Jethro had dragged in the limp body of Serenity's resident doctor and tossed him carelessly onto the ground. The sound of Simon's body hitting the ground heavily echoed around the room, but he didn't move. He was clearly unconscious and Jayne couldn't tell if the doctor was even breathing.

Jethro sneered in Jayne's direction as he sent a sharp kick into Simon's side. "What are yeh bloody lookin' at?" he demanded with a snort of annoyance. "Can't mind yer own business, now can yeh. Knew yeh was trouble in the tavern."

Jayne's eyes shifted between Simon's crumpled form and the bastard towering over him. "Gotta problem picking on someone your own size?" he gruffed as his hands clenched at his sides.

Jethro's head tilted to the side, his stringy onyx hair dangling and catching reflection of the golden light just outside the room. "Like yerself, lad?" he chortled and stepped around Simon to move closer. "Got a mouth on yeh, do yeh?"

"Don't reckon it matters much right now," Jayne told him pointedly. "Don't reckon you care, either."

"Aye," Jethro nodded, sneering again. "More reason for me to ignore yer little friend for a bit and focus on yeh. S'why yer here, yes? Snoopin' around where yeh don' belong."

Jayne clenched his jaw for a moment, nearly grimacing from the stench of stale tobacco and cheap whiskey that wafted through the air when Jethro drew closer. "Now you listen here, you monkeyshittin' sonofabitch," he growled. "You took what's not yours and I'm taking it back."

"Are yeh..." Jethro drawled. He took a final step closer and swiftly sent a clenched fist colliding with Jayne's stomach. "I don't think yeh are."

Jayne doubled over as the breath left his lungs and dropped quickly to his knees, gasping. "You Gorram yu bun duh [stupid] ugly-" he choked out.

Jethro shoved his boot into Jayne's side, knocking him over. He crouched low to him and yanked his head off the ground by his hair. "I don't take kindly to the likes of yeh," he snarled. "That smart mouth of yers will only kill yeh faster, like yer friend over there. I'm gonna enjoy that."

"Piss off," Jayne grit through clenched teeth.

The corner of Jethro's mouth curled up into a sharper smirk. "Don't get too comfortable. I'll be back for yeh soon enough."

Jayne gasped again as Jethro slammed his head back to the ground. His vision swam around him with the return of the disorientation and he laid there rigidly while the man finally backed away, seemingly pleased with the small infliction of pain. It also seemed to suffice enough that Jethro ignored Simon as he stepped over his still unmoving body and left the room, chuckling to himself. When the door finally slammed shut once more, Jayne struggled to sit upright, ignoring the way the room spun around him.

"Doc?" he called out to Simon and blinked rapidly to clear his vision. Jayne heard nothing but silence in response and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness yet again, he could see that Simon hadn't moved an inch.

Simon's face appeared so badly beaten that at first Jayne had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that the man laying before him was indeed their missing doctor and the same one Jayne went out of his way to annoy and give a hard time at all costs. Simon's usually well kept hair was matted to his head with dried and freshly oozing blood and his right eye was blatantly swollen shut. A deep gash extended from the edge of his right brow down to the crest of his cheek bone and coupled with the other multiple facial lacerations, even Jayne couldn't deny how grotesque Simon's appearance was. The guilt that spread through Jayne was surprising.

Ignoring the dizziness, Jayne shifted onto his hands and knees and crawled over to the doctor. "Hey, doc?" he called out hesitantly. When he still received no response, he pressed two fingers lightly to the pulse point on Simon's neck, hoping above all other that he'd feel something, anything that told him Jethro was wrong about Simon's apparent demise. Simon's pulse was faint and sluggish, but Jayne felt it almost immediately. A still beating heart was at least something. It meant he was breathing too. "Gorammit, doc. What kinda ruttin' fool are ya?"

Jayne started to roll Simon over onto his back but stopped with uncertainty. There was no telling just how badly injured Simon really was and Jayne wasn't a fool enough to not know that moving the doctor could hurt him even more. Holding the tips of his fingers under Simon's nose, he could feel the soft puffs of warm breaths. They were weak and shallow. Jayne placed a hand on Simon's shoulder. "You in there? I know ya are. Won't be thinking I came here for nothing, doc. I know we ain't friends or the like, but this is ridiculous. I told ya to listen to me."

The silence that answered Jayne was thick and heavy and he found himself frowning. He looked around them for a moment, searching for a way out, but found none other than the door Jethro had entered and exited through. It would be locked, that was for sure, which left Jayne with no Gorram options. He returned his attention to Simon. "Need you to open your eyes or say something," he said. "Don't know much what I'm supposed to do right now."

Simon's hand flexed slightly beside his head and his good eye fluttered beneath his closed lid. Jayne took notice of it and gently squeezed the doctor's shoulder. It took a bit before Simon's eye barely parted open, but it was unfocused and Jayne wasn't sure just how much he really saw. He watched him closer. "Can't have you checkin' out just yet, doc. Kaylee done had the baby and kinda needs you to come back and that moonbrained sister of yours is gonna drive everyone across the Verse crazy if we don't bring you back. Or if you die or something. You hear me?"

Simon's hand flexed again, but it was even weaker this time. His eye started to flutter shut until Jayne suddenly grabbed his hand to keep his attention. Simon's lips, split and swollen, parted as if to speak, but the only sound that emitted was a barely heard wet rattling breath. His pain was evident on his face and it appeared difficult to inhale and exhale each breath he took. Too much blood, Jayne decided. There was too much blood coming from the doctor and there was no telling just how much beating his insides had taken.

"I ain't no babysitter," Jayne growled when Simon's eye finally shut again. He kept the man's hand clutched in his own without giving it any thought. "You die on my watch and that's blood on my hands. I don't want that sorta messy."

Simon didn't respond and Jayne sat back on the ground as the dizziness washed over him. The pounding in his head intensified and made it difficult to remain upright; laying down and shutting himself off was tempting, but Jayne wouldn't do that. So he closed his eyes and mentally willed the pain away. "Mal and Zoe are on their way, doc. We're gonna get ya outta this..." he muttered.


"Do we have a plan or are we going in this blind, sir?"

Mal kept his attention firmly focused ahead when Zoe's voice broke through the wind whipping around them as the mule drew closer to the block of shops. They hadn't spoken a word to each other since leaving Serenity, but Mal figured there wasn't much that needed said at the current. Frustrated didn't accurately describe how Mal was truly feeling right then and the explosive anger festering within him was barely contained just below the surface. He was more than ready to wring Jayne's neck the moment he saw the mercenary and put the man in his place for having defied direct orders. Jayne had a penchant for ignoring things Mal had to say, that was for sure and it grated on Mal's nerves to no end, but this was testing limits none of them could afford to test. They all knew there was no room for error and Mal's renewed determination wasn't a force to be reckoned with. This would end now and Mal refused to return to the ship until he saw to that and his crew was fully intact.

"A little insight would do us both some good." Gripping the controls of the mule tightly, Zoe glanced in Mal's direction in hopes of grabbing his attention. She had no such luck when she found him sufficiently stuck in his own mindset, his forehead creased in that tell-all way that he was thinking too hard and his anger was starting to get the better of him. That in itself wouldn't be pleasant, but Zoe least of all had the patience for it. She was just as frustrated as the captain was and more than ready to get this taken care of so they could break atmo and blast far away from the piece of luh suh [garbage] rock they'd been stuck on, but Mal's silence wouldn't do either of them any good and it wouldn't help Zoe grasp a better handle on the matter. "SIR!"

"WHAT?!" Mal's voice was a little more snappish than he'd intended for it to be and when his eyes locked with Zoe's, he cowered back a bit. Their eye contact didn't last long before Mal returned his attention forward. His expression softened just enough that Zoe noticed it and he grunted under his breath. "When do we ever have a plan?"

"Most times," Zoe answered him stiffly.

Mal released a short sarcastic chuckle. "When do we ever have a plan that goes according to plan?"

"...That would be never, sir."

"Right." Mal cleared his throat and looked around them. "And on account that Jayne went and muddled up any chance of us having a plan, we can count on it not going smoothly. Well not that anything ever goes smoothly, but-"

"Trap?" Zoe interrupted him. She looked at Mal again just as she began to slow the mule down.

"Anything involving Jayne on his own is a trap," Mal conceded. "Being as he don't listen, I don't see this as any different."

Zoe brought the mule to a complete stop at the edge of the block of shops. "Not that I make it a habit to defend Jayne, sir, but in his defense-" she started to say.

Mal grumbled and couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes openly. "Any statement that starts out with in Jayne's defense is sure to make my ears bleed," he said. "Ain't really something I wanna hear either."

"With all due respect, what were you expecting?" Zoe asked with brows raised. There was almost a hint of disbelieving laughter around the edges of her voice, but it never showed on her face. Her gaze surveyed the area, searching for possible trouble. "I'm just saying, you left Jayne to his own devices. Couldn't have expected that to turn out well. Except he found the doctor."

"He THINKS he found the doc," Mal countered. "What Jayne thinks and what Jayne knows are two completely different things. Would have done him good to wait for us to show up and..."

"And what?"

"Well I'm still working on that part."

Zoe shook her head and sent the mule lurching forward, only slower this time. The street was deserted with very few lights on in the buildings on both sides, but given the late hour, Zoe had been expecting as much. Preferred it that way, really. Less distractions and easier to navigate. And given how much they were up against, Zoe didn't figure they had time for distractions. They had little to work on and even less time to work on it, so it was an absolute necessity that they got in and got out. Simon's life, Zoe suspected, depended on that very fact alone and that was banking on Jayne's hunch being correct. Of course, that was if her and Mal could even locate the two of them. It had been radio silence on Jayne's end since he'd called them earlier.

"Take us to that tavern we passed by the other day," Mal spoke up a few moments later. His tone was gruff and evident that he was thinking along the same lines Zoe was. "Don't suspect it's too far from the end of the shopping district. Best bet is to go in, get our insight, and be on our merry."

Zoe nodded. "Expecting them to tell us what direction Jayne went?"

"I don't expect they'll wanna tell us much of anything," Mal answered her. "But...nothing a little ensuing violence and force can't rectify."

"Of course, sir," Zoe replied. "Let us stir up more than we already have."

Mal felt his patience wane further. "If you got yourself a finer idea, now would be the time to speak it, Zoe."

Zoe didn't answer him. Truth was that she didn't have any better well thought out plans of action to offer. Far as she figured, they were already grasping at straws as it was. So she continued to creep the mule along, keeping her eye out until they eventually saw the sign for the tavern approaching ahead of them. When they reached it, Zoe brought the mule to a stop and looked at Mal. "This is the place."

Mal nodded and hopped out of the mule. His booted feet hit the ground with a loud thud, but he paid it no attention as he swiftly moved towards the door of the tavern. Zoe was quick to follow close behind and they entered the building one after the other.

Inside, the lighting was dimmer than Mal and Zoe had expected and there were very few people inside, just a few drunken patrons slouched over some of the tables while the bar keep busied himself disinterestedly behind the bar. Mal nodded in his direction and began to make his way over. The bar keep glanced up at them as they approached and scowled a bit as he half heartedly wiped clean a metal beer mug.

"We ain't open for serving," the bar keep told them.

"We ain't here for serving," Mal answered. He stepped up to the bar and placed his hand on the counter. "Just have us a few questions needing asked and we'll be on our way."

The bar keep gruffed and started to turn his back to them. "I ain't interested. Now get out."

Mal pulled his gun from its holster, cocked it, and set it on the counter with an expression that remained deadly calm. "Afraid that's not gonna work," he casually said. The bar keep turned back to them, glanced briefly at the gun, and then narrowed his eyes at Mal. "Way I see it is you don't want any trouble and neither do we. We ask the questions, you answer those questions, and there won't be any said trouble."

"Quite the business man, are ya?" the bar keep sarcastically asked as he set the beer mug down and draped the rag over his shoulder.

"Stubborn and reckless is more accurate," Zoe interjected. "Don't care much for pleasantries either."

Mal shrugged and kept his hand firmly on top of his gun. "We happen to be looking for someone."

The bar keep raised a brow. "It's slim pickin', but..." He motioned to the drunken patrons lingering in the tavern. "What you see is what you get."

Zoe's face stiffened in annoyance and she nudged Mal out of the way. "We don't have patience to be tested," she said in a tone that was harsh in her own steady way. Mal looked at her, almost surprised, but he appreciated her for it. That was the Zoe he preferred. "Now unless one of these yu bun duh hwun dans [stupid bastards] go by the name of Jethro, then we ain't interested in them."

"Jethro?" the bar keep repeated in surprise. "What do the two of you want with the likes of Jethro?"

"You know him?" Mal asked.

"Do I know him?" the bar keep responded indignantly. "Whole town knows him. A waste of breathing space he is. Causes more trouble than we care to deal with."

"Now we're on the same page," Mal nodded. He flexed his hand on the gun just to get his point across. "We need to know where to find him."

The bar keep narrowed his eyes at him. "You're asking me to tell you where you can find Jethro?"

Zoe quickly pulled her gun out and leveled it with the bar keep's head. "We're not ASKING you to."

Mal snorted and leaned against the edge of the counter. "She's a feisty lady."

"Jethro ain't here," the bar keep scowled. "And I prefer it that way."

"But he was here earlier," Mal pressed. "Know it for a fact."

The bar keep narrowed his eyes again with distrust. "I don't recall you being in here earlier to know that."

"We weren't," Mal continued. Keeping his eyes focused on the bar keep, he reached over and forced Zoe to lower her gun. "But a friend of ours was. Over heard Jethro running his mouth about some guy he took captive a few days back. That guy happens to be another friend of ours."

"Heard Jethro saying something about it," the bar keep nodded. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked back and forth between Mal and Zoe. "Didn't give it much thought. Jethro likes to run his mouth. Couldn't get the tavern to listen to him either. Figured it was another one of his tales. Got that gang of his he runs around with."

"Tale or not, we think it's worthy looking in to," Mal told him pointedly. "Both of 'em are missing now and that poses me and mine a problem. That's two of my crew I can't rightfully have gone."

"Man should keep his house in order," the bar keep dismissed. "S'not my problem."

Zoe lifted her gun again, cocking it. "I can and will make it your problem. Won't bother me none."

Mal offered the bar keep a sarcastic smile. "She has no sense of humor. Can't control what she does either. I'd listen to her if I were you."

The bar keep appeared to stumble over his words at first and not very confident that Zoe wouldn't end up shooting him regardless of what he told them. Finally, he shook his head and relented. "Jethro and his gang shack up in a run down house at the far end of the shopping district. Can't really miss the place. Looks like it's on its last leg. Brown. Two story."

"Just like Jayne said," Mal muttered to Zoe.

"This ain't the first time Jethro done ran his mouth about something of the sorts," the bar keep continued. "But if it's true and he's done what he said he has, your friends are already as good as dead."

"Not on my watch." Mal swiped his gun off the counter and returned it to its holster. "Not unless I conjure they are."

"That way of thinking is considered foolish in these parts," the bar keep said.

Mal turned from the counter and started to make his way towards the door without another word spoken. He slammed the door open when he reached it, stepping back out into the cold night air with a muttering of curses beneath his breath. Zoe was soon to join him as she still brandished her gun. "What happened to no violence or force?" he asked her.

"Just playing the part, sir," she answered.

"Thinking we got ourselves an even bigger problem on our hands now."

"More violence and force?"

"...My favorite thing, next to crime."

"Try not to rip Jayne apart until we're back on the ship."

"You don't give me enough credit-" Mal started to say, but Zoe had already stepped past him to climb back into the mule. Making a face, he followed her without argument. Mal was really beginning to hate this Gorram planet.
Chapter 10 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Ten

The dark was even blacker than the deep of the Verse and all consuming. It felt like it had swallowed Simon whole, merciless in its captivation, and unrelenting in its strong hold. Simon tried to fight it. He clawed and grasped at nothing and cried out for someone to hear his pleas, but silence was his only companion. Like an entity all in its own, the silence mocked Simon and made it clear that it had no intentions of letting him go. The more he fought it, the tighter it grabbed hold of him and the more tired Simon became. The darkness laughed at his determination to break free and yet soothed him at the same time, telling him it would all be okay if he just stopped...fighting.

Every inch of his being told Simon to just let go. The fight wasn't worth the pain. Give up and give in, the darkness insisted. Your time is done; this isn't a battle you can win. You're no hero and you have no hero to save you now. It was cruel and haunting in its torment. How easy it would be to stop struggling to reach the surface he wasn't even sure still existed. But there was a fire still in him, a fire that burned with small flames of hope. Simon didn't want to give up. Something at the core of his soul told him to keep fighting. He had to.


Simon grappled for the surface again only to feel as if he were sinking further. The despair welled within him as he tried to picture their faces, but the darkness closed in more. It was them he kept searching for, them he needed to reach, and they only seemed to get further and further away. How could he do this to them? And his child. Simon needed to get to his child. Everything just hurt too much. So easy it would be give up and stop fighting...

'Simon...' River's voice called out to him. It echoed through the darkness and stirred the pain. 'I wanna help you.'

'River?' Simon tried to call back to her. 'River...I...I can't...' He stopped moving and attempted to curl in on himself, begged the dark to leave him be. Sleep. Peaceful, unfeeling sleep. Nothing would be able to hurt him anymore if Simon allowed himself to let go. No more pain, the darkness assured him. 'River, I'm sorry. Tell Kaylee I'm sorry.'

An image of Kaylee's sweet face flashed through Simon's mind suddenly and her expression of sorrow jolted him with regret. It happened so quickly and then he saw nothing more once again. 'Kaylee?' he choked out desperately, needing her more than he ever thought he could possibly need someone. 'Forgive me. I'm so sorry.'

'Simon, you're gonna be okay,' River told him. Her voice sounded like it was circling around him, echoing on all sides. 'Have to be okay. Come home.'

Simon curled in on himself more and clenched his eyes shut. The darkness was no different now than it had been before. 'I'm so tired, River...' he told her weakly. 'It hurts. I didn't mean for this to happen.'

'Serenity is hurting, too,' River insisted. There was a fretful quality to her voice and Simon wanted to make sense of it, but he couldn't. He didn't understand why his sister sounded as if she were so far away. It was the unending torture of the darkness, the mind games it liked to play, giving Simon that taste of hope before yanking it back from him.

'R-River?' His voice trembled and the sound of it barely projected. 'I can't...I can't do this.'

'Have to,' River answered him sternly. 'Have to because I had to.'

This was all Simon's fault and maybe in the end it was truly what he deserved. He had managed to mess so much up, even though his intentions had never been to do so in the first place. Simon's perception had become clouded, though he'd just wanted to make everything better. That's all he ever wanted to do, make things better. Simon wanted to fix what was broken. That had started with River when he'd rescued her from the Academy and now had ended with Kaylee all because Simon had proven just how foolish he really was. He couldn't fix anything after all.

'You're wrong,' River's voice broke through Simon's thoughts once more. Simon could only imagine her stubborn nature had she actually been beside him in that moment. It was almost bittersweet. 'Can't always be right. Not this time.'

'Mei Mei...' he whispered. It was harder to form clear thoughts and try as he might to continue listening for her, Simon began to slip deeper into the defeaning weight of the darkness. 'I...I love you. I'm sorry I failed.'

'No, Simon,' River answered him urgently. 'Still need you. Sebastian needs you.'

Simon's unswollen eye pried part way open abruptly as the sound of River's voice faded completely. The name spoken remained at the forefront of his mind and tugged at his heart, ushering in the overwhelming guilt. Simon knew that name but his sluggish mind couldn't wrap around it. Inhaling a shallow breath, a muffled groan passed his lips, accompanied by the pain that flared through out his body. He tried to speak, but he couldn't get his voice to project and the next breath he took hurt so bad, it felt like his chest was on fire.

A hand gripped Simon's shoulder and he summoned just enough energy to shift his blurred gaze upward. Jayne was kneeling beside him and the sight of him confused the doctor. The mercenary couldn't possibly be there with him. Simon had long since resigned to the idea that the crew of Serenity wouldn't be coming for him like he hoped. The image of Jayne had to be nothing more than a delusional vision, which made no sense because Jayne was the last one Simon suspected would ever come to his rescue. The captain and Zoe maybe, but Jayne...

The mercenary looked worse for wear too as his lips moved in silent speech that Simon was unable to hear. A dried stream of crimson seeped from his nose and his bottom lip was busted. Simon couldn't clear his vision enough to make an adequate assessment, but it also appeared that there was some bruising discoloration to Jayne's left temple. He looked tired and hurt and Simon couldn't recall many times he remembered seeing Jayne in a state of vulnerability, but this was one of those moments.

A vision of Jayne was not who Simon wanted to see when he was knocking on death's door...

"You listenin' to me, doc?" Jayne's voice suddenly became unmuted and was too loud, too gruff. It hurt Simon's ears. "Can't have you checkin' out. Ain't taken a beating for you for nothin'. Understand?"

No, Simon didn't understand and he couldn't find his voice to question what Jayne meant either. It didn't matter though. Soon enough, nothing would matter. The vision of Jayne would fade and Simon knew he would no longer have the energy to keep fighting. The darkness would beckon him again and this time he wouldn't be able to turn back from it.

"You ain't listenin'!" Jayne spoke sharply. "Just like you didn't listen before. You're supposed to be some gorram genius, but if you give up now, that just makes you a ruttin' fool. And I don't fight for no ruttin' fools."

Jayne's attention snapped in a direction Simon was unable to see just as it sounded like a door was slammed open. Simon recognized that sound and knew what it meant. It always ushered in more pain and brought the reality of death that much closer. He wanted to warn Jayne, tell him that he needed to do something to protect himself, but Simon couldn't get his voice to project. No, that wasn't right, because any moment now, the vision of Jayne would disappear and he would be left to face the torture again on his own.

"Well ain't you relentless," Jayne growled as the corner of his mouth curled up in annoyance. He pulled away from Simon and started to rise to his feet. "I'll take me a fair fight."

Simon watched through fading vision as Jayne hit the ground hard and a pair of black muddied boots moved towards him. "Still don't know how to keep that mouth of yer's shut," a heavily accented voice spoke up. Thick hands reached down to yank Jayne off the ground by the collar of his shirt.

"Ma reckoned I was born stubborn," Jayne snorted in return. He struggled to dislodge the man's hands from his shirt. "Pretty sure I said a fair fight."

"If yeh consider killin' yeh a fair fight," the voice snarled.

"I do fancy me a challenge," Jayne returned, only to double over in clear pain when a knee roughly connected with his stomach. He cursed in an unintelligible manner as he was knocked back to the ground. "Not what I had in mind."

"Aye, lad," the man replied and Simon finally placed the voice as belonging to Jethro, the one who had reigned plenty of terror upon him. "Guttin' yeh is more of what I have in mind."

Jayne spat at the ground. "Dirty play. I can handle that." He groaned when Jethro kicked him over again.

Jethro pulled a gun from the holster on his hip and pointed it in Simon's direction as his eyes turned dark with sinister intention. "Don't figure yeh have words for yer friend now, do yeh?"

"Now wait just a gorram minute!" Jayne growled as he tried to push himself upward. "Why you wanna be shootin' him for?"

"That's simple," Jethro answered as he leveled the gun with Simon's head. "He ain't dead."

Jayne struggled to keep the anxious fear from showing on his face. "He'll be dead soon enough! You wanna put a bullet in someone, you put a bullet in me!"

Jethro shook his head. "'Fraid you ain't the one giving the orders 'round here, lad. Say goodbye."

Simon knew what was about to happen and he eased his good eye shut to prepare for the blow when the bullet pierced him. It would be a fatal shot; he had no doubt about that and there was not a thing him or the vision of Jayne could do to stop it. All he could hope was that it would be quick. As he heard the sound of the gun cocking, he inhaled a final shallow breath and allowed his mind to drift to one last peaceful thought of Kaylee and River. 'I love you both,' Simon thought. 'I'm sorry this happened. Forgive me.'

The last thing Simon heard was the sound of River's terrified screaming in his head.


Mal wasted no time jumping out of the mule when Zoe brought it to a stop outside of the rickety run down house just on the far edge of the shopping district. Just as both Jayne and the bar keep had described, it hadn't taken him and Zoe long to locate it. Now it was a matter of getting in, finding Jayne and Simon, and getting them both out and back to the ship. Didn't help matters none that they would have very little time to do that and who knew what kind of trouble they would find themselves faced with when they made it inside.

Zoe's feet hit the ground with a thud as she hopped out of the mule and came around to join Mal at the front of it just as he was pulling his gun out of its holster and checking it over. "How many are we looking at, sir?" she asked as she focused her gaze on the house.

"Three or four," Mal answered her distractedly before looking at the house also. "No telling really. Jayne mentioned four. So at a minimum, that's what we're looking at."

"Should be an easy take down," Zoe nodded.

"We've managed worse," Mal agreed. "Expecting bullets to fly if necessary, so you keep yourself covered."

"Don't think you need to be worrying about me, sir," Zoe told him and it took all she had not to roll her eyes at his statement. "Just consider this routine. We get in and we get out. Don't be making any stupid moves."

"Me? Make stupid moves?" Mal scuffed inwardly. "Have a little more faith."

"That's what worries me," Zoe chuckled dryly. She checked the gun fastened to her hip and the back up knife she'd brought with her. She didn't anticipate needing it, but she wasn't about to take any chances going in unprepared and something told her there was a chance of needing more than one option if Mal went in all hot headed like he seemed to be ready to do.

Mal gripped his gun tightly in his hand and nodded towards the house. "Don't figure sneaking in is an option. Seems to be very few entry points just by looking at it."

"Bust in through the front unannounced?" Zoe suggested.

"Surprise factor," Mal grinned. "I like your way of thinking, Zoe."

Zoe shook her head. "Just said what you were thinking, sir."

Mal squared his shoulders and gave a firm nod. He lips parted to speak, but the sound of a gun firing from within the house cut him off before he could get a word to project. His eyes snapped back to Zoe briefly and he quickly started to move towards the house without further hesitation. Mal didn't wait for Zoe to follow. He knew she would be quick in his wake and she was damn near at the front door of the house before he was. When they reached it, Mal lifted a foot and roughly kicked the door open, paying no heed to the way the intrusive sound echoed loudly and the door frame splintered from the force.

Zoe shoved herself past him into the house and held her gun up, poised and ready for use. It wasn't long before a thundering of foot steps could be heard racing down the stairs from the upper floor and another shot was fired from down below them. Three stocky dirty looking men stormed into the room where Mal and Zoe were at and shouted in surprise upon seeing them.

Mal aimed his gun at the men as Zoe did the same. "Hey there, fellas. Are we late for the party?"

"Jethro!" one of them yelled out in a voice that was heavily laden with an accent. The other two scrambled to grab guns from the waistband of their pants.

Zoe cocked her gun threateningly. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

The first bullet that rang out came so close to hitting Mal that he felt the buzz of it as it flew past his face. He fired his gun out of reflex, which quickly ignited an explosion of chaos. Within moments, bullets were flying on both sides and both Mal and Zoe found themselves taking cover behind a wooden bench that had clearly seen better days. Mal looked at her. "Friendly bunch," he gruffed and lifted his gun to fire a haphazard shot over the top of the bench.

Zoe scowled as the men shouted at them. "First shot we heard came from below. My guess is a cellar. Could be where Jayne and Simon are."

Mal fired another shot over the top of the bench, his face flustered. "Problem posed is getting past these kwong-juh duh [crazy] idiots."

"Go and I'll cover your back," Zoe told him before peering around the edge of the bench and firing a calculated shot. The bullet pierced the chest of one of the men creeping towards the bench and he dropped to the ground unmoving. The other two started cursing in an unfamiliar language, giving Zoe the opportunity to glare at Mal. "I said go, sir!"

Mal hesitated for only a second before he scrambled to his feet and raced towards the closest open doorway, narrowly dodging a bullet that flew in his direction. It ricocheted off the door frame he passed through and he whipped around to fire his own gun defensively in return. He didn't wait around to see if it did any good though as he caught sight of another open doorway across what appeared to be a cluttered kitchen in disarray.

Gripping his gun even tighter, Mal crossed the kitchen and stepped through the slanted doorway. His boots echoed against the stone stairs leading downward and he moved slowly in effort to quiet his approach, but it did little good even with the periodic gun fire coming from above in the living room. The air dropped in temperature the further down Mal went. However, it wasn't until he reached the very bottom that he realized there was no sound coming from the area like he'd initially expected. No gun fire. No chaos. Just utterly odd stillness.

Keeping his posture defensive, Mal crept along the hallway, looking behind him once to assure he wasn't being followed by one of the men from upstairs. Mal didn't trust the silence or the stillness surrounding him or why nobody had followed him down. Eventually he came upon a partially opened heavy doorway and poising his gun ready for action, Mal reached out and gripped the handle to yank the door all the way open. He nearly stumbled over the body sprawled out on the ground in front of him as he whipped into the room, prepared to start firing if the need arose. Mal afforded one glance down at the man whose vacant eyes stared up at the ceiling, dead from a single gun shot to the forehead.

"'Bout gorram time you showed up," Jayne's familiar voice called out to him. Mal turned to find the mercenary on the ground not too far away, leaning against the stone wall as he gripped his left bicep with a grimace. "Sonofabitch shot me, Mal."

Mal was at his side within moments and crouched down next to Jayne to look him over. "I don't suspect he shot himself afterwards."

Jayne managed to smirk lightly within his grimace. "He was gonna shoot the doc. Couldn't rightfully have that happen on my watch. Too damn messy."

"Where's the doc, Jayne?" Mal demanded.

The mercenary nodded to a spot behind Mal. "Over there...if he ain't dead yet."

Slowly standing straight, Mal turned again to search where Jayne had motioned to. Sure enough, it didn't take long for his eyes to fall upon the crumpled form of the ship's resident doctor and from where Mal stood, he couldn't help but question how true Jayne's ending statement really was. Simon wasn't moving and there was no way of telling from where Mal stood if the doctor was even breathing. Mal cursed under his breath and approached him. "How bad is it?" he questioned back over his shoulder.

"He wasn't doing good when I found him," Jayne answered and slumped a bit against the wall. A single gun shot fired on the floor above them and then heavy silence fell. Jayne looked towards the ceiling. "Zoe up there?"

"She's taking care of it," Mal muttered as he kneeled down next to Simon. "Doc?"

"You left her up there?" Jayne hissed in disbelief.

"I did what I had to do. Zoe can handle her own," Mal dismissed him. He pressed two fingers to the pulse point on Simon's neck and frowned openly when he couldn't register a pulse of any kind. Mal shook his head, pressing his fingers a little harder against Simon's pulse point. "C'mon, doc..." he muttered.

"Is he breathin'?" Jayne called out to him.

Mal withdrew his hand and carefully rolled Simon over onto his back, taking in the extent of his appearance. Simon was so badly bruised and bloodied, that the captain barely recognized him. There wasn't much that shocked Mal these days, but this proved more than an exception. It made his stomach clench as he pressed his fingers to the pulse point on Simon's neck again.

"Gorramnit, Mal! Is he breathin'?" Jayne shouted at him.

Mal leaned his head in close to Simon's mouth, searching for evidence of any kind of life, but the more the seconds passed, the more he realized he wasn't feeling the soft puffs of breaths coming from Simon's mouth or nose. Simon had no pulse and it was clear he wasn't breathing, which was exactly what Mal had feared he would find. "Doc ain't breathing-"

Zoe stepped into the room at that moment, breathless from exertion. "Sir?" she questioned when she saw Mal kneeling beside Simon.

Mal looked at her knowingly and shook his head.

Zoe's face became unreadable as she came over and kneeled on the the ground opposite of Mal. She gently placed her hand against Simon's cheek. "He ain't cold yet," she noted before she positioned her hands against the doctor's chest in determination. Mal immediately recognized the look in her eyes. He'd seen it many times before and for plenty of reasons, but this time felt different and Mal couldn't blame her, nor could he tell Zoe to stop when she began to perform a series of chest compressions on the doctor.

"Is the doc dead?" Jayne timidly asked.

Mal scowled, keeping his back to the mercenary as he watched Zoe work. "I'm not losing another one of my crew."

"Go fire up the mule, Jayne," Zoe commanded. She leaned down, closed off the airway to Simon's nose, and blew a breath into his mouth.

"Do what she said, Jayne!" Mal growled when Jayne began to argue about the order. The mercenary looked ready to argue some more, but he struggled to his feet and hobbled out of the room.

Blowing another breath into Simon's mouth, Zoe resumed the chest compressions with continued determination. "C'mon, doctor, I know you're in there," she mustered and pursed her lips tightly together with each compression. "You're not leaving this crew. You're not leaving Kaylee and that baby either. I won't allow it. They're not gonna go through what Emma and I had to go through."

Mal watched the confliction pass over his first mate's face. "Zoe-"

Simon released a sudden gasp for breath and Zoe stopped the chest compressions to press her fingers to his neck. "He's got a pulse, sir. It's weak," she stated and finally looked at Mal. "There's a shot of adrenaline in his med bag on the mule. I brought it with. We need to get him back to the ship."

Mal wanted to ask Zoe if she was okay, but he stopped the words from projecting and followed suit when Zoe began to lift Simon's body carefully off the ground. There was no time to be wasted on unnecessary conversation. Something told Mal that Simon didn't have that time to spare.
Chapter 11 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Eleven

When River began screaming hysterically, Inara assumed the young girl had yet again slipped into another one of her psychotic fits. But there was something different about it this time that Inara hadn't been able to pinpoint exactly. Something about the way River abruptly dropped to the floor screaming and crying out for Simon as she gripped her head. Panicked and inconsolable didn't even begin to describe River's state of being and nothing Inara had tried to say to her calmed the poor girl. It had sent Kaylee into a state of panic as well. The mechanic had begged the younger Tam to calm down and tell her what was wrong, but River only screamed louder and Little Sebastian's resulting wails of distress nearly drove Kaylee right over the edge of her sanity. It had taken all that Inara had to grasp hold of her own calm and control the situation. By the time she convinced Kaylee to remain in her bed in the shuttle, Inara had managed to soothe Sebastian back into a peaceful state of sleep, all the while River remained on the floor, rocking back and forth in a near catatonic state as she mumbled to herself.

It was quiet now, as quiet as Inara could expect the near deserted ship to be. River hadn't spoken a word for some time and Kaylee had taken to curling up against the pillows on Inara's bed in a numb fashion. Periodically, Inara heard her begin to cry softly, but she didn't question it and she knew that Kaylee needed the outlet to freely release her worries without holding back. Sebastian was soundly asleep in Inara's arms, which she was more than thankful for and in some ways, Inara had found comfort in cradling the infant, focusing on him when there was nothing else she could productively focus on.

Inara paced the shuttle slowly, her gaze set on Sebastian as she hummed to him quietly. He couldn't hear her from within his sleep of course, but it gave Inara the peace she sought and Kaylee had yet to voice her opposition of not having her son tucked safely in her own arms. How much time had passed, Inara couldn't be sure, and her mind kept drifting to Mal and Zoe and whether or not they had been able to successfully locate Jayne and Simon. It was the not knowing what was going on that bothered Inara the most. The situation was dire and had been since Simon first went missing, but there was no ignoring how much worse it had become.

Pressing a tender kiss to Sebastian's forehead, Inara turned to look over at Kaylee and found the mechanic staring back at her dismally. They exchanged a silent gaze for a few moments before Inara slowly approached the bed and sat beside her on the edge of it. "Sebastian will need to be nursed when he wakes up," she noted softly in hopes of drawing Kaylee into a conversation that would lift her mood slightly. "I am certain he would love for his mother to hold him as well."

Kaylee's eyes were bloodshot shot from a lack of sleep and the tears she had shed and she glanced over in River's direction where the young girl was huddled in a corner, keeping to herself. "He didn't nurse much earlier," she replied quietly and pushed herself to sit upright. "Didn't seem interested in it none."

Inara carefully transferred Sebastian to Kaylee's arms without waking him and made sure the blanket he was wrapped in was tight enough to keep him warm. "It will take him a while, Mei Mei," she assured and brushed the tips of her fingers against Sebastian's cheek. "As long as you try and he feels safe with you, he will be fine."

"It's not enough," Kaylee murmured in return. She shifted Sebastian to cradle him against her chest and rested her cheek against the top of his head. "It won't be enough, 'Nara."

"You are more than enough for Sebastian right now," Inara countered.

Kaylee's brows furled as she delicately rubbed Sebastian's back through the blanket. "I don't mean right now," she whispered dully.

Inara smoothed the messy hair back from Kaylee's face and tucked it behind her ear. "The future is not what you should be focusing on," she told her gently. "It is the here and now that matters the most. For you and for Sebastian."

"How can I not think about the future?" Kaylee questioned. Her voice trembled and threatened to break and once again the bitter tears surfaced to her eyes. "It's cruel, what's happened. And it ain't right."

Inara sighed quietly enough that she hoped Kaylee couldn't hear it. "That will change soon. You just have to be patient for a little while longer."

"What am I gonna do, 'Nara?" Kaylee sniffled. "I ain't strong like Zoe. I can't do this on my own. Serenity is my home and the captain won't wanna keep me around no more with Sebastian if Simon ain't here with us."

"Fei hau [Nonsense]," Inara said as she shook her head. She reached out to brush away the tear that began to slide down the mechanic's cheek. "You are the one that keeps Serenity running the way Mal needs it to. He can't afford to lose you."

Kaylee exhaled a shallow breath. "There's plenty'a other mechanics in the Verse. Ones that don't have a baby and...and..."

Inara drew Kaylee close to her as the woman began to sob just audibly. The sound of it pained the companion because it wasn't like the Kaylee she was used to. Granted, Kaylee had always been a bit on the sensitive side but fairly easy going and only temperamental when she felt it necessary. But this was something completely different. Inara recognized how real the fear was for Kaylee, even if she couldn't relate and couldn't completely understand it herself. The fear of losing Simon and losing her home on Serenity which meant so much. It was more than Kaylee needed to deal with; it was too much for her to handle.

"Mei Mei..." Inara spoke up as she tightened her embrace around the mechanic. "I promise you that you will always have a home here on Serenity and I am confident Mal would tell you the same. You are no more a liability than the rest of us are."

"It don't feel that way right now," Kaylee swallowed thickly in response. She kissed the top of Sebastian's head in an effort to calm herself. "Captain would be right to send me back home to my folks."

"You must stop thinking that way," Inara reasoned with her. "Mal is unpredictably cold at times and unforgiving, but he would not see to you leaving. He does have a heart and I refuse to believe he would allow it."

Kaylee shifted her gaze with uncertainty to River, the anxiety passing over her face. "But River..." she whispered and quickly looked back to Inara again. "What will happen to her? She'll have no one, 'Nara."

Inara's expression was calmly stern. "She has us, Mei Mei," she answered and afforded a small encouraging smile. "And she will still have Simon as well."

"But..." Kaylee started to shake her head as another tear slipped down her cheek.

"No," Inara interrupted her firmly. "River will still have Simon, just like you and Sebastian will still have Simon."

Little Sebastian released a tiny whine and wriggled a bit against Kaylee's chest, signaling his awakening. Kaylee frowned as she looked down at him. "He sounds so sad..."

"He is probably hungry," Inara suggested.

Kaylee exhaled a soft sigh through her nose and started to adjust her shirt, speaking absently. "Simon was insistent that breastfeedin' was the healthiest option for the baby," she explained as Inara respectfully draped a solid colored shawl over Sebastian and Kaylee's chest. "Even got this pump thing, like what Zoe had, so he could help with the feedings. He had so many things he wanted to do."

Inara smiled politely and propped the pillows up behind Kaylee. "Simon is very thoughtful."

Feeling Sebastian latch onto her, Kaylee allowed herself to gradually relax back against the pillows. Her tired distraught eyes drooped slightly, expressing her exhaustion. "He always has been, 'Nara..."

"You are very lucky to have him, Mei Mei," Inara agreed with a nod. "And he is even luckier to have you."

River rose to her feet rather abruptly and turned to move towards the shuttle doorway, muttering under her breath. Inara caught sight of the movement and watched her with a glance of increasing concern. "River?" she called out to her. "Where are you-"

"Simon," River cut her off without so much as a glance back over her shoulder before she hurried out of the shuttle.

Kaylee stared up at Inara in confusion. "What is she talking about?"

"I don't know," Inara answered and returned her attention to Kaylee with a calm smile. "I am going to go check on her. Just stay here and relax with Sebastian. I will not be gone long."

By the time Inara made it out of her shuttle, River was already racing across the cargo bay towards the air lock door with a renewed streak of determination. Inara hurried after her, the beads on her dress clinking against the metal stairs as she flew down them. "River, wait!" she called after her in confusion. "What is going on?"

River stopped at the control for the air lock door and looked back at Inara calmly. "Simon," she answered and pressed her hand against the button to cause the door to open.

Inara slowed her pace considerably as the air lock door opened and approached River with apprehension. The darkness outside was daunting and it made her want to grab River protectively and pull the young girl back, but by River's posture alone, Inara knew that would be impossible. River stood there, staring hard out into the darkness with anticipation and maybe even a little bit of hope. Inara couldn't be sure. She didn't know what River was looking for or what had caused her to dart down to the cargo bay so quickly.

River took a step closer to the opening of the ship, her wide eyes shifting back and forth as she searched the darkness. "The captain's anxious," she said. "Zoe's scared. Doesn't show it, but she's scared."

Inara stepped up beside River, frowning. "Are they coming?"

"Jayne sees his own red," River answered.

The familiar sound of the mule approaching drew Inara's attention out into the darkness just as the lights broke through up ahead. She quickly pulled her and River out of the way, watching as a disheveled Jayne directed the mule haphazardly inside and brought it to a stop before it could crash into the far end of the cargo bay. River tore out of Inara's grasp before she could protest the action and slapped the button for the air lock door. "River, wait-"

"Need to get him to the infirmary!" Mal ordered as he and Zoe began to lift Simon's battered limp body out of the mule. "You too Jayne!"

Inara rose a hand to her mouth in shock at the sight. "Oh God..."

"Simon!" River cried out. She tried to get to her brother once Mal and Zoe were on their feet, but Jayne blocked her path.

"Get my gorram ship in the air!" Mal demanded.

"What's going on?" Kaylee's voice rang out from above them. She cradled Sebastian protectively against her chest as she stepped out into the open, her eyes wide with fear and concern. And then her gaze fell on what was happening in the cargo bay below and she froze in spot. "Simon?!"

Mal's attention shifted to her sharply while he and Zoe began to maneuver their way in the direction of the infirmary. "Get Kaylee out of here, Inara!"

"Is he okay?!" Kaylee panicked as she started to stumble down the first set of stairs, her fretful eyes glued to the doctor. "Is he breathin'?! Is he alive?!"

"Ta ma de [Damnit], Inara!" Mal shouted. "I said get Kaylee out of here! Ma-shong! [Now!]"

Inara turned swiftly and met Kaylee when she was half way down the stairs. She turned the mechanic to keep her from proceeding further. "Bao bay [Sweetheart], c'mon...the captain and Zoe are going to take care of him."

Kaylee struggled against her, her voice trembling on the verge of tears. "He's bleedin'! Why's he bleedin'?!"

"Sir!" Zoe urged.

Jayne grimaced as he pushed an emotionally unstable River towards the cockpit. "Gorramit, girl. You wanna help your brother, then get to the bridge like Mal said. Get us in the air."

"T-there's so much blood!" Kaylee stuttered as Inara ushered her back up the stairs. She kept looking back over her shoulder, trying to keep sight of Simon before Mal and Zoe carried him away, but they were already gone and Jayne was forcing River to the cockpit. "I have to see him, Inara!"

Inara didn't answer her, only continued to hurry Kaylee back to her shuttle where she could shelter them both from the horror of what they'd seen.


Jayne cursed so harshly and quickly that Mal had no honest idea what the mercenary said. He didn't figure much that it was important and it was pretty colorful just by the sound of it, but it made the task at hand all the more difficult. Jayne wouldn't sit still where he and Mal were at just outside of the infirmary and despite the considerable amount of pain he was in, his attention remained focused past Mal inside the infirmary. The captain couldn't blame him. He caught himself periodically glancing back over his shoulder where Zoe was diligently working on stabilizing their resident doctor, but even that did little to calm Mal's nerves. He knew there was only so much Zoe would be able to do and he knew even more that unless they got Simon the help he actually needed, what Zoe could do would be too limited and not enough.

"Gorramit, Mal!" Jayne hissed as he jumped from a fiery sting of pain that raced the entire length of his arm. He grit his teeth together, inhaling and exhaling dramatically through his nose. His nostrils flared from the action as he attempted to yank his arm away, but Mal gripped it tightly to keep it in place. "You're trying to tear my arm up!"

"I'm trying to keep you from bleeding out all over the place!" Mal growled in annoyance. He reached for another piece of medical gauze and dabbed it against the seeping bullet wound on Jayne's bicep.

Jayne gripped a flask of liquor tighter in his good hand and brought it up to his mouth for a hasty drink. "Can't you give me a smoother or something?"

"I already gave you one, Jayne," Mal answered stiffly before pulling the gauze away and discarding it on the metal tray beside him.

"Well it ain't enough!" Jayne insisted and released another sharp string of curses.

"What ain't enough is the fact that my Gorram ship keeps falling apart!" Mal's eyes met Jayne's and they glared hard at each other, but it didn't take long for the expression to break. As his shoulders slumped a bit, Mal looked everywhere but at Jayne's face and then gradually refocused his attention on tending to the mercenary's injury. "You did an honorable thing for the Doc and I recognize that. I ain't too tickled you defied my direct orders to do it, but...reckon the Doc would thank you himself if he could."

"Don't need no thanks for it," Jayne muttered. He swallowed another hasty sip from the flask and once again tried to peer into the infirmary.

"Fine, but Simon would be sure as dead right now if you hadn't intervened," Mal continued. He lifted the roll of medical gauze from the tray and began to carefully wrap it around Jayne's bicep; the injury would require actual trained medical attention to remove the bullet embedded in the muscle, but there was nothing Mal could do about that at the moment. "And I've already lost enough crew members. Can't afford to lose another one."

Jayne clenched his jaw from a flare of pain. "Ain't gonna do him a lick of good if we don't get him somewhere. Zoe ain't a doctor."

Mal sat back from Jayne when he finished securing the gauze in place. "I don't need reminding of that," he said and removed the protective gloves from his hands. He rose to his feet and turned towards the infirmary. "It's plenty troubling that the doctor needs doctoring."

"It ain't just that," Jayne grunted as he pushed himself onto his feet. The mercenary swayed in spot momentarily, his hand darting out to grab hold of something to right himself with. "Doc dies and Kaylee'll go bat shit crazy, Mal. Not to mention his moonbrained sister ain't so sound either."

Mal exhaled a hard breath through his nose. "She got us in the air without crashing my ship. That's a start I'll take."

Jayne collapsed back onto the couch as the room teetered around him and it became apparent just how pale he was right then. Mal hadn't given it much notice before, but Jayne didn't look to be doing so well. His skin was clammy and his eyes were relatively unfocused, all things considered, and the longer he sat there, the more he started to slump over. "Could really use another smoother, Mal..." Jayne slurred.

"Keep drinking from that flask and you'll smooth yourself over just fine," Mal told him before making his way into the infirmary. Zoe's back was to him as she hovered over Simon's body on the exam table and as he slowly approached, he couldn't mistaken the stress she was under. He cleared his throat quietly. "Zoe. Update."

It took a bit before Zoe withdrew from the task at hand and when she turned to Mal, she was holding a bloodied rag she'd been using to clean up the lacerations on Simon's face. The doctor still looked ghastly though and if it were possible, worse than when they'd first found him in the cellar of that house back on Jirah. He was paler than Jayne even, something Mal supposed was attributed to the trauma and blood loss Simon sustained and now that he was shirtless, Mal could see just how extensive the damage really was. Didn't look like there was very much surface area on Simon's body that wasn't discolored from some sort of bruising or injury. Mal would be damned if he didn't actually feel bad about it too.

Zoe looked back down at Simon and adjusted the IV tubing she had connected to him, keeping it from tangling with the wires that were hooked up to the machine monitoring Simon's vitals. "I got him stabilized best I could," she answered and set the rag aside. "It isn't enough though, sir. Simon's blood pressure isn't holding steady, pulse is weak, his oxygen levels are low, and there's signs of internal bleeding that need tending to. Head trauma that could be causing swelling. He needs help that I can't give him.”

"That's not the answer I want," Mal gruffed as he stepped to the other side of the exam table. Crossing his arms over his chest, he stared down at Simon, wincing.

"It's the answer I have, Sir," Zoe affirmed.

"Can you keep him alive for one more day?" Inara's voice questioned from the doorway as she stepped into the infirmary. She pursed her lips tightly together, looking between Mal and Zoe with hope.

Mal's gaze shifted to the companion. "Zoe ain't making it sound like Simon has another day to spare."

"That's not what I asked," Inara told him pointedly. She avoided his gaze as she stepped up to Simon's side and lightly placed her hand on top of his.

"Unless you have a grand idea, Inara, I'm not interested in hearing what you have to say right now."

"Let her talk, sir," Zoe interjected with a hard frown of disapproval.

Inara gently squeezed Simon's hand, studying his battered features. Zoe had done a fair job cleaning him up, but it was still difficult to look at him and see him so broken and vulnerable. This wasn't the Simon Tam that Inara had come to respect and admire. "We are a day's ride from Sheydra's training house, maybe less if we burn hard," she started to explain. She caressed the back of Simon's hand as she spoke, swallowing the sickness in her stomach.

Mal scowled at her. "Time's get hard and you're looking to jump ship again?"

Inara inhaled a deep breath to keep her calm before her piercing eyes moved to set upon the captain. "There is a medical facility that is located nearby the training house," she returned steadily, mentally willing him to just listen to her without judgment for once. "If we set course now, I can send a wave ahead to Sheydra and she can contact the facility for us. She can pull some strings to get Simon the treatment he needs."

"You're asking me to set course for a place that gives me no guarantee we'll even find help at," Mal responded. "That's a mite bit of fuel to be wasting too, fuel I might add that we can't afford to be wasting right now."

"I am asking you to have faith, Mal!" Inara snapped at him. "Look at Simon and tell me he's not dying right now."

"She's right, sir," Zoe interjected.

"It's a hunch," Mal argued. "Especially when it comes to a companion medical facility. Doc's life won't sustain on a hunch."

"I'm still bleedin'!" Jayne's slurred voice called to them from just outside of the infirmary.

Mal motioned in that direction. "And he won't stop running his mouth. It's a minor bullet wound. He's overreacting."

Zoe stepped over to the captain, her face more authoritative than it had been in a long time. "Simon WILL die without proper medical care, sir. There's only so much I can do here and you know that," she stated in a harsh lowered tone. "And right now we don't have many other options and even less time to decide on what option we're going to take. So if there is even a SMALL chance that the medical facility near Sheydra's training house can help us out, then we need to take that chance...whether it's a hunch or not."

Mal tried to stare her down because he didn't care much for his authority being challenged, but there was something in Zoe's eyes that had his shoulders sinking in defeat. He knew both Zoe and Inara were right; Simon wouldn't live much longer if he wasn't tended to properly. Even if they did set course for the training house, there was no guarantee the doctor would live long enough for them to reach it. Slowly, Mal nodded as he focused his attention on Simon in troubled thought. "Send the wave, Inara," he muttered.

Inara opened her mouth to respond, but thought against it and turned to swiftly leave the infirmary.

"We don't have any other choice right now, sir," Zoe said to him, calmer this time.

Mal ignored her statement. "Make sure the doc's stable and go see your daughter," he said. "I'll sit with him once we're on course for the training house." Affording Zoe a glance that told her a lot more than his words could, Mal turned from the exam table to make his way to the cockpit.

This story archived at http://absolutechaos.net/viewstory.php?sid=11394