Testing the Fabric

(A Firefly AU--What if Mal threw Simon and River off the ship at the end of the pilot episode.

Timeline: Takes place during the pilot episode of Firefly: Serenity


Everything seemed to happen at once. Wash announced that Reavers were on their way, the engines were adjusted for takeoff outside, and Simon's attention veered for an instant.

The Lawman, Dobson, took advantage of his distraction and grabbed the gun from the floor, shooting at Simon. He jumped out of the way then rolled to his feet, but it was enough time for Dobson to grab River and hold a gun to her head.

"I'm not playing anymore. Anybody makes so much as…" Dobson began.

Simon barely had time to register the return of the Captain and his people when he jumped from the sound of a gun going off behind him. Dobson fell to the floor, a bullet through his head, his threats unfinished.

The full stride passed Simon by, and Captain Reynolds bent over the lawman, making sure he was well and truly dead. "Jayne!" the Captain called out to the big mercenary.

Too stunned to move, Simon continued to hold the gun pointed uselessly at Dobson. Watching the Captain and Jayne pick up the corpse and carry it out of the cargo bay got him moving again. He shifted toward River even as he heard Zoe telling Wash that they were on.

River's distressed noises made him realize that he was still holding the gun and he placed it on the floor, reaching for his sister again.

"It's okay, River. See? I've put it down," he tried to soothe her. Still skittish, she allowed him to wrap her in his arms. "Hush, mei mei, it's okay."

His arms tightened and he started to lead her back to the infirmary before being stopped by a large presence. The Captain loomed in front of them blocking their way.

"Where do you think you're going, Doctor? I told you you're getting off at Whitefall."

"What?" Simon replied blankly, glancing over his shoulder to the desert outside the cargo bay ramp.

Behind him he could hear Jayne crow, "About rutting time!"

There wasn't even a town out there!

"I don't have time for this. Get off my boat, son."

"Mal!" Simon could hear Inara exclaim from the catwalk above their heads.

"But…." Simon never got to finish before the barrel of a gun was shoved under his ear from behind and Jayne's large hand grabbed his upper arm, yanking him toward the open ramp.

"We're out of bullets," River mumbled to herself as Simon drew her away with him, "But we have plenty of Patience."

The Captain gave her a hard look and Simon pulled her tighter to his side. Jayne gave him another yank and he was nearly pulled off his feet.

"Mal, you can't do this!" Inara yelled down.

"Stay out of this, Inara, and get in your shuttle!"

Shepherd Book, who was struggling to stand against the inside doorway called out, "My God, Captain, they're just children!"

"Children with a habit of bringing bad luck down on us," Mal said as he paced Jayne, Simon, and River to the exit, steely eyes never leaving Simon's.

"The Reavers were hardly their fault, Mal!" Inara pleaded.

In a whirl they passed the First Officer, but Zoe said nothing, silent but troubled.

"I said I was putting them off and they're going." Mal jerked his chin toward the gangway. "Step off, boy."

Jayne dragged them a few paces beyond the end of the ramp and let them go. He gave Simon a smack to the back of the head in passing, then turned and headed back up the ramp. "Don't let the vultures peck out those pretty eyes, boy!" he called cheerily as he left.

Slack-jawed and in shock, Simon watched the Captain hit the button to raise the ramp, shutting the crew of Serenity from his sight, even as he heard the captain yell, "Wash, take us out of the world."

He stepped backwards, drawing River away with him, the large engines roaring to life and raising a tsunami of dust in its wake. He glanced up the great neck of the ship and could barely make out the pale, puzzled face of the pilot looking back at him. A moment later the Captain's face appeared too and he saw the pilot and the captain exchange words.

The Firefly's engines flared and the ship lifted off. Dust flew everywhere and Simon tried to cover both his and River's heads, then it was gone, returning to the sky at full burn.

The dust barely settled when he saw another ship, a much larger ship, come into view, hot on the heels of the Firefly. Then they were both gone, disappearing over the horizon.

Simon clutched his sister to him and looked around. They were in the middle of nowhere. No food. No water. No transportation. And no idea where the nearest town was. He hadn't even been allowed to take the possessions that he's brought with him from Persphone.

They were going to die.

An hour later, aboard Serenity:

"Alright! Now that we've managed to lose the Reavers, would someone like to tell me why the Doctor and his sister didn't take off with us?" Wash said to the room in general, his wife and the Captain in particular.

Even the rush of successfully evading Reavers didn't erase the terrified look he's seen on the young Doctor's face as they'd lifted off.

Everyone but Kaylee had gathered in the cockpit, even the Shepherd, so Wash just looked from face to face.

Zoe wouldn't meet his eyes.

The Captain's face looked hard and determined.

Jayne wore a sneering little grin.

The Shepherd's face held censure and Inara… Inara was glaring at the Captain like she'd like to boil him in oil -- with or without all his parts attached.

"He threw them off!" Inara finally answered Wash's question, white-hot anger lacing her words.

"On Whitefall?" Wash asked in disbelief. "In the desert?"

"He threw them off without anything! Just how do you think they are going to survive out there?" she demanded of Mal.

"Patience's town ain't that far off."

"And did you bother to inform him which direction that might be?" Inara spat back.

"Don't recall the boy asking," Mal replied evenly.

Inara simmered at him.

"Might have been doing both of them a favor. If we'd been boarded by Reavers…" He didn't finish the sentence, but then, he didn't have to. Reavers were everyone's worse nightmare.

"They're barely more than children, Captain," Shepherd Book intoned. "And those Reavers could be headed right for them."

"Well then, being children, they can play hide and seek," Mal answered flippantly.

"The girl doesn't even have shoes, Mal!" Inara said.

Wash watched the Captain's mouth tighten. Zoe stepped over and slipped her hand into her husband's.

"Pretty rich boy can buy his sister a new pair," Jayne put in.

Wash cocked his head and looked up at the big merc in disbelief. "Who from, Jayne? The lizards?"

Jayne sneered down at him before Zoe stepped between them.

"Doc don't even have all his stuff. No clothes, no money, no supplies," Zoe added quietly.

Zoe's quiet condemnation unsettled the Captain and he swallowed hard and held her stare. He never could take Wash's wife's disapproval.

"The Reavers could still be there."

"Or not," Wash added hopefully. He'd promised to worry about the young doctor and this situation certainly made that easy. "I think we knocked them right out of the sky. That was a hell of a blowback.

The Captain looked less sure.

"If you don't go back, I'll go myself," Inara stated.

"Plus," Wash's lovely wife added thoughtfully, "That was quite a bit of jostling we had to put Kaylee through. Anyone check on her to make sure nothing got reopened?

Wash nearly grinned. Gosh, his wife fought dirty. Kaylee was the Captain's weak spot.

Everyone on the bridge seemed to be holding their breaths.

"You think she'll be okay?" Mal asked, his stance weakening.

Zoe held his stare. Steady as a rock, his wife. "Don't rightly know, Sir. I ain't a doctor."

Mal frowned at her and huffed in exasperation.

"Lawman said Alliance wouldn't give up looking for the girl," Jayne said. "Said her brain was special. She'll put us in all manner of danger if'n she stays."

Now Jayne had the whole room's attention and he shifted uncomfortably.

"So the boy wasn't lying," Shepherd Book gathered all their thoughts. "They did hurt her."

"And we just set them down with nothing, like lambs to the slaughter," Inara added softly, tears heavy in her eyes.

Mal's features tightened again and Wash repressed the urge to grin. Of all of them, Inara was Mal's conscience and sometimes Mal resented the hell out of her for it. But he always listened. Even when he chose to ignore it, he listened.

"Be a hell of a trick to play on the Alliance, Sir. Holding something that they wanted so bad," Zoe said, the beginnings of a grin tugging at her full lips. Zoe and Mal held rebellion in common. That was why they'd both fought for the Independents in the war.

Mal stared at her, almost asking with his eyes. "We'd be taking on a great burden."

"Wouldn't be the first battle we ever fought, Capt'n," Zoe replied evenly.

Mal's answering grin was rueful and he took a deep breath and exhaled it noisily. "Wash, you said we needed to refuel. Let's do that. It'll give me a chance to sit and think about this for a while. I ain't making any promises. Now scatter, all of ya!"


Simon stood clutching his sister to him and looking around. There wasn't a building as far as the eye could see. There wasn't even a column of smoke from cook fires to lead them in the right direction. Simply said, there wasn't another living soul around for miles.

Simon glanced down at the corpse at their feet.


"Alliance verses the Independents," River murmured in his ear.

Simon pulled back and held his sister at arm's length. "I don't… I don't understand, River."

"We used to play at war."

Simon just stared, the idea turning over in his head. Triage. Threat assessment. What do we have; what do we need.

He said it aloud and River smiled.

"No dinosaurs," she stated seriously.

"No," he smiled. "No dinosaurs."

"Good. Not enough supplies to feed them anyway."



"Well, that would definitely go in the 'what do we need' category."

"No," River replied insistently, then raised her finger and pointed, stating firmly. "Horses."

Simon followed her finger. "Oh. Horses!" he said astonished.

Several hundred yards away, three horses, all saddled and bridled, were serenely munching away on the brush.

Simon looked at his sister. "How… Where…"

"Left over from crime."

"Uh huh." He didn't have a clue as to what she was talking about.

"So, we have horses. We still need water, food, clothing, and shelter."

"Got clothes. Just not mine."

Simon looked at the long flowing housecoat that the companion had given his sister to cover her nakedness. "Yes, Inara was very kind."

River practically rolled her eyes at him. "He's got boots." She pointed to the ground.

The dead lawman that lay at their feet was fully clothed. Including boots.

Untapped resources. Simon bent down and quickly stripped the body of shoes, socks, belt, pants, and shirt, tossing the clothes to River. Dobson had died so quickly he'd hardly bled at all.

By the time he turned around River had tied the hems of Dobson's shirt at her waist, and cinched the pants as far as the belt would go.

"Want your boots," River told him distractedly.

Simon frowned. "Why? You have his."

"Too, too big. Fall off my feet on horseback. Yours are only too big. Not too, too big."

"Shouldn't one of us have shoes that fit right? To catch the horses?"

River gave him a knowing smile. "You don't run after horses. You make them come to you."

Simon sat down on the ground next to her and pulled off his boots. "Did you learn that when Mother and Father sent you to Hartell's Riding Academy?"

She handed him the lawman's boots and pulled his boots on her feet. She stood over him and shook her head; saying smugly, "Catch more flies with honey."

He smiled at her from the ground. "You seem much better here than when you were on the ship. Are you okay now?"

"Not as many voices. The lizards don't think too loud."

Simon blinked. So… not okay. He pulled on Dobson's boots. The man had really big feet.

River had taken off the housecoat that Inara had given her when she changed to the lawman's oversized clothes. Now she picked it up again and tore one-inch strips from the hem.

"What are you doing?"


Simon watched as she bent down at his feet using the strips to wrap around the outside of the boots and tighten them to his feet.

He looked up at her grinning widely. "I would never have thought of that."

"You're not in the rodeo."

He laughed quietly. "No. I guess not. Does this mean I leave the bronco busting to you?"

She finished one foot and moved to bind the other. "Barrel races," she stated firmly and he grinned.

She sat down next to him and proceeded to bind his boots to her own feet. "The Captain will be back."

Simon's smile disappeared. "No, mei mei, I don't think so. We're on our own here."

"He has no patience. Because we have it all."

He sighed heavily and looked away, disappointed despite himself in the Captain's actions. "He definitely has no patience."

"Ours has bullets and a broken leg."

Simon opened his mouth to respond but closed it again when he had no idea what to say. Instead, he got to his feet and held out his hand, pulling River to her feet when she clasped it. "Let's go get us some horses."

She laughed and raced away from him, clomping through the brush in her oversized boots. "Don't scare them," he called out to her. She merely laughed in response.


Mal walked into the commons area hoping for a quiet moment and a hot cup of coffee. He was lucky on both counts. No one else was there and the coffee was still hot. He poured himself a cup and sat down at the large oak table.

After what had happened in the last few days, it could be argued that his ship could use a medic. And the Doctor was good at his job, if a pain in the ass personally.

And the girl. Now there was an unknown factor if ever there was one.

Mal sighed and took another sip of coffee.

The up side was having a well trained doctor on board who wouldn't voice an objection to Serenity's need to be a bit shady to keep flying. Doctor Tam would never rat them out to the Alliance, that's for sure. The down side was that their mere presence on his ship could put the rest of the crew in danger.

The doc wasn't weak; he'd give him that. But he did seem to have an unerring ability to piss Mal off. Hell, he'd slugged the kid twice since he'd been on the ship. Not that sometimes hitting someone with a closed fist wasn't hilarious, but still. Boy seemed to have a talent for getting under his skin. And under his fist.

And Jayne. He wasn't sure what had been happening between Jayne and the Doctor. Jayne seemed particularly gleeful to throw the boy off the ship. Than again, Jayne, as crude as he was, tended to be a bit protective of Kaylee, and her obvious attraction to the young man didn't work in his favor.

Mind you, the thought of leaving the boy and his damaged sister to the Alliance or Reavers didn't sit particularly well. For that matter, handing a gift like that to Patience didn't either. If the old woman didn't sell the boy out, she'd probably break him. Or turn the sister over to the Alliance; then sell the doc into indentured servitude. If she didn't decide to peddle his pretty ass in one of her whorehouses first. Crap. Kid was too naive for his own good.

A slight noise brought him out his reverie.

Zoe quietly came into the commons and headed straight for the coffee, pouring herself a cup and joining him at the table.

"Wash says we'll be at the refueling station in ten minutes."

Mal grunted softly in response.

Zoe stared down into her cup for a moment, then moved it to her mouth, and took another sip.

Mal watched her set it down again without saying a word and rolled his eyes. "Go ahead and say it."

"Ain't said a thing, Sir."

"Yeah, and it's all kinds of irritatin'."

A ghost of a smile touched her lips, but disappeared when she turned to face him. Her chin came up and Mal steeled himself for a dressing down.

"Don't think we should have left them, Sir."

Frankly he'd expected much worse.

"I've been thinking hard on it," he replied.

She was quiet again and Mal waited.

"Kind of wish the doc was on board now," she said after a beat.

Mal frowned, his voice anxious. "You hurt, Zoey?"

"Bit bruised, Sir," she murmured in response. Reaching to her shirt, she pulled back an edge until she revealed a spot just an inch above her left breast. An ugly black and blue bruise showed there where the armor had managed to stop a bullet.

His eyes flicked up to her face, and she let the shirt slip back into place almost before he saw it. He gulped hard, panicking inside at the thought of losing her.

"You should…" he trailed off.

"What, Sir? Have a doctor look at it?"

He gave her a mild glare then relented. "Yeah, maybe you should."

Zoe's answering grin was full blown and Mal had to chuckle as he got to his feet.

"Boy's going to be a pain in the ass," he said over his shoulder as he went to put his cup in the sink.

"He'll fit right in, Sir. Frankly, I like him."

Mal rinsed the cup and put it on the rack to dry. He turned and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms, and meeting her eyes again. "Do ya now? And why is that?"

"Anyone who can get both you and Jayne riled up like that? I'm putting my money on the kid."

"Funny, Zoe. Real funny." He tried the glare again. Ineffectual. He was losing his edge.

"Seriously though. He's loyal. Family is important to him. He's willing to take chances. He'll stand up to anyone who puts his sister in danger. He's smart. He got his self this far. He's skilled and if we can smooth down some of those prickly edges, I think he'd be a real asset.

"What does your husband think?"

"He'd rather there was someone around who could do some doctoring if the need arose. You know how Wash worries when I go out on a job, Sir."

"I already know what little Kaylee will say."

"Not even a question, Sir."

Mal grunted in agreement. "Jayne won't be happy."

"And the problem with that, Sir?"

Mal chuckled. He pushed away from the counter and headed toward the infirmary. "Go tell your husband to get us fueled up, then we're heading back to Whitefall," he called over his shoulder.

"Yes, Sir."


River amazed him. Within an hour she had managed to coo, lure, and sweet talk the three horses within rein-grabbing distance. Simon had checked through the saddles and discovered that at least now they had minimal supplies. Hard tack, rough bedding, a rifle, rope, and two canteens full of water.

Now all they needed to do was figure out where the hell they were.

"Easy as pie," River assured him without his asking.


"Let a horse go. Goes to water or home."

"So then we can just follow it into town." Simon methodically transferred all their booty to the two horses they would be keeping.

"Can you ride alone, or should we share a horse?"

River stuck her tongue out at him in response. "You didn't go to Hartell."


Simon stood holding the reins of all three horses as his sister gracefully leaped into the saddle. She took two sets of reins from his hand and he mounted his own horse. Like most everything else, River was better at this than he was. When he settled, she let go of the reins of the third horse, then flicked her own reins toward its rear. The horse shot off and they pursued it.

Half an hour later, they followed the horse into a small valley. Simon grabbed River's reins at the top of the hill; not sure what to make of what was below them.

There had been a shootout. Half a dozen bodies lay on the ground. There was even a body on a transport mule that had crashed and dumped its cargo, but the engine was still running.

"I don't think we should go down there."

"The Queen fell to the White King," River replied. "The game is over."

"There could still be people willing to shoot us down there."

River frowned at him. "Captain needed Patience. Now patients need us."


"Time to doctor."

Simon wasn't happy. He didn't like the idea of them deliberately riding down into danger. Than again, he was a doctor and if anyone was still alive, he could offer them help.

"Stay close, okay?"

They followed a narrow trail down the hill and when they were close to any of the bodies, Simon dismounted.

"Stay on your horse, mei mei."

Of course, River didn't listen to him.

He checked the bodies. One man had been shot in the leg, and had nearly bled out. Simon applied a tourniquet to stanch the flow, then moved onto another man, then another. The rest that he'd found were dead.

"River!" he called out when he noticed that she had dismounted and was standing over someone who had been pinned under a falling horse.

The person under the dead horse turned out to be an elderly woman. When the horse had fallen, it had landed on her leg, most likely breaking it.

"I'll get the rope," River said, standing and walking back to the horses.

Simon assessed the situation. They would have to move the dead horse off the woman before he could treat her. And he wouldn't be able to lift it by himself. And that would be why River went to get the rope and the horse, Simon mentally chided himself. River was two steps ahead of him.

He reached down toward the woman's neck, attempting to take her pulse, but was startled when bony fingers grabbed his hand in a death grip. She glared up at him, then glanced away when a shadow fell over them.

"Your patients," River said, leading her horse and holding the rope.

"River, see if you can right the transport mule and bring it back over here. I can't tell yet if her hip is broken, and it would be easier moving her with the mule than on horseback."

River nodded and drifted away.

Simon turned his attention back to the woman. "Can you tell me your name?"

"Patience; just like the girl said. Who the hell are you?" the woman replied in irritation.

"My name is Simon, and I'm a doctor. You may have broken your leg when the horse fell on you. We're going to have to move it before I can treat you."

"Where in the rutting hell did you come from?"

"We were on a transport ship, the Serenity."

"Malcolm did this and then he sent me a doctor?" Patience said in disbelief.

"You know Captain Reynolds?"

"Look around you, boy! He just killed about half my crew!"

"This… was… the drop?" Simon asked hesitantly, looking around. "The medical supplies he was supposed to be dropping off at Whitefall?"

"Medical supplies? What? Son, if you really are a doctor and you came off of Malcolm Reynolds' ship, than you're the only medical supplies that got dropped."

"I thought…"

Patience shook her head. "Foodstuff. Alliance stamped. Probably illegal salvage."

Simon blinked. "Oh."

He didn't get the chance to say anymore. River drove up with the transport mule and backed it up. She tied one end of the rope to the transport and the other to one leg of the dead horse.

"This is probably going to hurt," Simon warned Patience.

Simon lifted as much of the dead horse off of Patience as he could, not wanting it to drag her too as it was hauled off of her. River gunned the engine and dragged the dead horse ten feet away.

Patience cried out once, then settled down to swearing a blue streak.

Simon knelt down beside his patient and assessed her condition. She slapped his hands away when his fingers touched her waist.

"I'm trying to see if your hip is broke."

"Thought you were getting a might fresh!"

Simon couldn't help the grin from breaking out on his face. "This isn't how I usually pick up women."

"Smart ass," Patience replied, then yelped when he touched her thigh.

"Found it."

Patience took up swearing again.

"River, could you find me some sticks to make a splint?" Simon called out.

Almost before the words left his mouth River dumped a pile of sticks beside him.

He looked up and smiled at her. "Thanks, mei mei."

Simon efficiently immobilized the limb; then he and River lifted Patience to the mule. Simon gathered up the horses that were still alive and tied them to the back of the transport, then they drove to his other patient and lifted him onto the transport, too.

Patience swore at the unconscious man and nearly shoved him back off the mule. "Incompetent jackasses. Let a guy like Malcolm get the drop on them. Ain't worth the coin it would take to shoot them."

"If you don't settle down, I'll have to sedate you, Patience."

"With what, boy? Neither one of us have a rutting thing to drink or dope up with!"

"There's always a right cross," River offered helpfully.

Patience scowled at her, but fell quiet.

"Which way?"

Patience pointed to the opposite end of the valley from where they had entered. "About two miles west. Just head straight out."


They made good time back to Whitefall. Wash burned it a bit hot, but Mal didn't chastise him. The pilot was obviously worried about the Tams.

Mal stood over his shoulder, while Zoe peered at the instruments on Wash's other side.

"Any sign of the ship?"

Zoe cursed softly to herself in frustration. Beside her, her husband reached out a hand and tapped a few buttons for her.

Zoe's head came up at the change in instrument reading. "We got 'em!"

"Where?" Mal demanded.

"They must have turned around. They're about fifty miles outside of Patience's town."

"They in the air?"

"No. Looks like we really did knock them out of the sky. They're grounded."

Mal looked over his shoulder. "Jayne, gear up. As soon as we touch down, we're going to go look for the Doc and his sister."

Jayne glared at the back of the Captain's head. "This is all kinds of wrong, Mal. We don't need to be going anywhere near Reavers. Let them fugies hide by themselves."

"That wasn't a request, Jayne."

Jayne's frown deepened, but he turned around and left the bridge.

Zoe straightened. "I'll go and get my stuff, too."

"No. You're staying."


Mal turned and fully faced her, raising a hand to halt her protests. "Jayne and I are going in alone. I'm leaving you with the ship. If anything happens, I'll need you to watch out for everyone. Make sure everyone is armed. We'll keep in touch by radio, but I want you to backtrack them. Make sure they made it out of the desert. And if I call, you get here double quick time. It means either we've found them, or the Reavers have arrived. Dong ma?"

"And if you run into Patience?"

"I'll be the least of her worries."


They trundled into town on their small transport mule and Simon thought that Wash had seriously given this town too much credit. 'Not exactly civilized' was a generous overestimation of the windblown, bustling town on the fourth moon of Athens. Most of the town was made of roughhewn board. A decent hot fire and the whole place would go up like a tinderbox. Just to offset the wood, there were a few homes made of brick. Maybe one in ten could afford the upgrade.

Simon turned and checked his patients again. The cowboy was still passed out, likely needing a transfusion. Patience was awake, small birdlike eyes darting everywhere; making sure her town was still in order.

"Do you have an infirmary?"

Patience nodded once and pointed out a small door sitting between the saloon and the sheriff's office.

Simon inwardly cringed. Maybe he would get lucky and they wouldn't actually have a sheriff. His hope died a moment later when the sheriff's door opened and a tall, rugged man stepped out, pistol strapped to his hip.

River drove the mule to the infirmary and parked. The sheriff stepped off the walkway and called out to Patience.

"What the hell happened?" he said to Patience.

"That go se got the drop on us. Shot Big Blue, too. Stupid horse fell over and broke my leg."

Simon hopped off the transport and turned to assist his patient into the infirmary, keeping his head down the whole while.

The big sheriff stepped up to the other side of Patience and helped him lift her to the table inside. Simon settled her, ignoring her complaints and headed outside again.

"River, can you get his feet?" Simon asked, getting his hands under the unconscious man.

"I've got it, son." The big sheriff had followed him outside.

Simon merely nodded, and backed his way into the infirmary, settling the man on another flat surface. He started opening cupboards, checking supplies.

"Patience, how well equipped are you here?"

"Don't rightly know, boy. Painkillers and at least enough to lay a splint."

"I need something for a blood transfusion. Do you have plasma?"

Patience shrugged. "Don't know that I'd waste them on that dhu pee-goo your trying to treat."

Simon turned enough to send her a glare and she had the grace to flush.

"Try over there," she said, pointing to a different side of the room.

Simon found most of what he needed and scrubbed down, quickly setting up an IV drip.

River made herself useful, taking off her golden jacket, and rolling up her sleeves. She now stood beside him while he worked, acting as his nurse. The sheriff never left the doorway.

"And who is this, Patience?"

Simon tensed but didn't divert his attention from his task. The sheriff's voice held all kinds of suspicion.

"Boy came off of Malcolm Reynolds' ship. Says he's a doctor."

"Seems a might young."

Simon shot a quick glance at the sheriff then turned back to his work.

"Young or not, he seems to know what he's doing. And he's got that doctory attitude."

Simon grinned and caught River's eye. She was grinning, too.

"And the girl?"

"This is my sister, Sheriff," Simon said, not glancing up again.

"Brooke," River said, and then Simon did glance up and snuck her a small grin.

"Thought you called her River out there?"

Simon froze for a moment, but River punched him in muscle in his upper arm. Hard. "Silly nickname," she said sweetly. Simon silently 'ow'd' to himself.

The Sheriff turned away and addressed Patience again. "They came off Serenity?"

Behind them, Patience snorted. "Like angels in the wilderness, Tom. There was a fuss with Reynolds and when the shooting was over and done, these two showed up to help. Seems Malcolm threw them off the ship."

"Out there? And what happened to your shoes?"

"The Captain was in a bit of a hurry," Simon said. "It seems there were Reavers following hot on their heels. They had to lift off quickly."

"Reavers?" the sheriff demanded.

"You didn't say anything about that, boy," Patience scolded.

"Didn't have time before." Simon glanced away from his work, nimble fingers almost done. The look on the sheriff's face gave him pause. "I saw the other ship. It passed overhead, following Serenity."

"Shit," said the sheriff, and Patience began to swear. Again.

Simon finished his sewing and carefully packed the wound. The sheriff had moved close to Patience's bed and they were having an intense discussion.

"I'll get the boys out to warn the town. Arm everyone up. I'll have Michaels get on the horn and warn the other villages."

"Tell Buckworth to get stocked and ready the caves."

Simon placed a fresh bandage over the wound and secured it. He stripped off his bloody gloves and checked the plasma flow. His patient began to stir and he decided to give him a mild sedative while he transfused him.

When he turned, the sheriff was gone and Patience was watching him. Simon almost squirmed under the intense gaze.

"You've got the luck, boy."

"Do I?" Simon said mildly.

"If you have to come up against Reavers, there ain't a better town in the whole 'verse to hold them off. Could be Malcolm Reynolds did you a favor sending you on to us."

Simon looked away and began to search the cabinets for plaster to set her bones, not wanting her to see the hurt that lingered from the Captain's abandonment. "Didn't feel like it at the time," he said, his back still to her.

"Imagine not. Might not want to hold it against old Mal too much. He tends to be a bit too noble for his own good."

"Noble?" Simon looked over his shoulder at her as his eyebrows reached for his hairline.

"He might have been thinking that they'd chase his ship and not notice anyone left on the ground. Plus he tends to be a bit overprotective of his crew."

Simon returned to her side, slipping on a fresh pair of gloves, and began to cut away the leg of her denims. "Of which I wasn't one."

"That's the part that has me confused. There's a story here, son, and you ain't told it yet."

"Ah," he said, avoiding her gaze. "Perhaps it's a story better kept to myself."

"And why is that?" Patience gave a little gasp and Simon reached for the dose gun, giving her a shot of painkiller.


"Much, but you're avoiding the question."

"The last time I told this story I got thrown off a ship."

Patience smiled at him. "Not likely I'll throw you off the moon, boy."

"Perhaps it would be better not to take the chance. We're a bit dependent on your good will at the moment. We left the ship with nothing."

"And if I demand that you tell me?"

"I could dope you," he joked.

Patience merely glared at him.

Simon shrugged, and considered his options. "My sister and I… are fugitives."

Patience's stare became even more intense. "Who did you kill?"

He stared her in the eye. "I don't kill people."

Patience gave him a wry grin and her gaze softened. "Well, thank god for that." She swept her hand around, indicating her own infirmed condition.

"It's a very long story." Simon shook his head. "Complicated."

"Apparently I have a few spare minutes."

Simon began to set the leg and cast it, thinking over how much to say. "Some people kidnapped my sister. I got her back. They were hurting her. Now they're after us."

Patience's eyes narrowed, and she glanced at River, who stayed silent for a change.

"She does seem a bit off."

Simon looked at his sister and gave her a fond smile. She smiled back and said, "Patient Patience."

"They were playing with her brain."

"Wo de tien ah! Why?"

"I'm not sure. But I won't let them have her again," he said ferociously.

"So you headed here?"

"Actually, we booked passage to Boros."

"I'd say Mal owes you a refund."

Simon smiled, then let it slip from his face. "I don't think I'll be seeing the captain again."

Patience smiled warmly at him. "I didn't think I would either, son. Not after the last time I shot him."

Simon blinked at her in surprise, then chuckled, astonished. "You shot him?"

Patience just bounced her eyebrows at him. Flirtatiously. The thought almost scared the crap out of Simon.


"Malcolm tends to be a might protective of those he feels can't protect themselves. I didn't think it was any of his business. He disagreed. Had to shoot him to get him to see my way of thinking."

Simon paused his hands. "So… Does that mean he felt we, R… er, Brooke and I, could protect ourselves?"

"Now, see, that's the part that has me confused. That don't sound like Mal Reynolds at all."

Simon resumed his work. "He may have felt that we were putting his crew in danger."

"How'd he know you were wanted? Tell me you didn't just say it out loud like you just done?"

Simon's lips twitched. "Actually, I didn't quite know it myself. Not until we discovered that there was a lawman on the ship."

"Tah-mah-duh hwun-dan! And Malcolm carrying illegal salvage? No wonder he threw you off his boat!"

"Well, I didn't know that at the time, did I? I thought someone might be looking for us, but it all happened much sooner than I thought it would. I thought we'd have time to disappear first."

"Well, here is as good a place to disappear as any, son. This is the ass end of the galaxy."

Simon finished his work and stripped off the gloves. "That needs a bit of time to set. I don't want you trying to walk on it for at least a week."

"May have to move a might sooner. You said we might have Reavers in the area."

"Are the stories as bad as they say?"

"Ran into Reavers once since I landed on this rock. Killed everyone they touched. Didn't matter if they were grown men, women or children, neither. Had to put a bullet in the head of every last one of them to stop it."

Simon's worried eyes flicked to his sister.

Patience patted his hand reassuringly. "Don't worry yourself none. Once we figure out just where they are, we'll be fine. There will be plenty of time to get to the caves and hide."


"Whitefall is covered with natural cave formations. Some as big as a core world senate chamber. Whole town can hide for months there and nary a hint as to where they went. That's one of the reason's the town got started here. Right close to the main cavern."

"You'll have room for us?" he asked anxiously.

"Town wouldn't mind owning a doctor."

Simon's eyes flicked to her face. "Owning?"

"Well, you really can't leave now, can you?"

Simon swallowed hard and didn't say anything. He glanced up at River.

"Daddy's coming," River said.

Simon's heart ached for the hopeful smile on her face.

Patience interrupted his thoughts. "Daddy? You got kin looking for you, boy?"

"No." His voice was soft but final, no room for mistakes.

Something Simon couldn't place passed through her eyes, but if he had to guess, he would have named it avarice.

Disturbed, Simon covered it. "If we're going to be hiding for a while, maybe we should be taking some of the infirmary's supplies with us."

"That's a good idea, son. Why don't you go next door to the saloon and see what we can use to pack stuff. Bring back a bottle of whiskey. The girl can stay here and look after Pete and me.

"I don't know…" Simon began before Patience cut him off.

"Go. She'll look after me; I'll look after her. We're practically family now."

Now that was a might unsettling. He couldn't think up a good excuse not to do as she asked. He stepped over to his sister. "Mei mei, I'm going to be gone for a few minutes. Stay here, okay. I'll be back in just a little bit."

"Watch out for Tigger."

Puzzled, he kissed her on the forehead and left.


Shepherd Book came out of the infirmary at the feel of the Firefly setting down. He was feeling better, grateful to hear that the Captain had decided to do the right thing and go after the Tams.

He entered the cargo bay just as the big mercenary, Jayne, and Captain Reynolds were kiting up.

He watched them a moment, then made an observation.

"If you don't mind my saying so, Captain, are you and Jayne the best choice to go out there after the boy?"

"You volunteering, Preacher?"

"As a matter of fact, I am."

The Captain spared him a glance. "We've got it."

"It's not that I don't think you can't find Simon and River, Captain. It's that I'm not sure that they'd be willing to come with you if you did."

The Captain's movements stilled for a moment and he gave Book a piercing look. "You think he'd choose to stay on Whitefall?"

"I think he'd run if he saw you and Jayne come after him dressed like that. You'd scare the go se out of him."

Jayne gave a wolfish smile. "Can't say the doc is dumb!"

Reynolds gave his mercenary a sour look. "But we don't need him running from us as fast as he can either. Not if we've got to worry about Reavers, too." The Captain shot Book another hard look. "You think you can handle it if we run into Reavers?"

"Not looking forward to it, Captain; but I think I'll be able to keep my head."

"Not if Reavers catch up with you, you won't," Jayne put in.

Book nodded and the Captain tossed him a rifle.

"If you're coming, gear up."


Simon stepped out of the office and noticed that the whole town was a beehive of activity. Everywhere he looked people were gearing up and packing up.

He slipped next door and was soon successful in finding what he needed. The bartender was already packing up stuff in anticipation of the attack. He passed along several cloth bags for Simon to use and the bottle that Patience requested. Simon hurried back next door to the infirmary.

All was as he left it, so he started going through cupboards and loading up. Within twenty minutes he was ready.

He checked Pete, finding that the plasma had finished flowing into the man's veins. The man's vitals looked good. He started a saline drip, just to be safe.

He went back over to Patience and checked the plaster. It had hardened enough to be able to move her. It would take longer before she would be able to walk on it.

Patience had fallen into a light doze and Simon's movements woke her. She snuffled a bit then glared at him, bleary-eyed.

"Time to go," Simon said, helping her sit up.

She grumbled and fussed, but went willingly, as both Simon and River assisted her back outside and settled her on the mechanical mule.

The Tams went back inside and lifted Pete, taking him outside and putting him on the mule as well. Simon gave River instructions to hold the saline bag, and this time he drove.

"Do we take the horses?" The horses that they'd ridden on were still tied to the transport.

Patience nodded. "There's room enough for them, too."

"Which way?"

Patience pointed to his left. "North."

Jayne, Book and the Captain came to the edge of town and settled themselves in a quiet corner to watch.

The town was a bustle of activity. Everyone seemed intent on moving.

"They know, Capt'n. They know about the Reavers. They's leaving town."

Book studied the town. "That can only mean one of two things. Either the Reavers have already made themselves known, which seems unlikely as no one is in a panic; or Simon has warned the town of their imminent arrival; which means the two of them made it to town."

"We find ourselves a good spot to wait then. If the town is moving, then Simon and River will be moving with it. We ain't leaving them to the dangers of this place. Reavers or not, they'll still be in trouble, even if they don't know it."

"If not Reavers, Captain, then what are they in danger from?"

"Patience. That woman's a shark. She's the witch what owns this town. And half this moon, come to that."

"If'n she's still alive, Mal," Jayne pointed out. "Given the fact that you shot her horse dead on top of her the last time we saw her."

Book gave them both a curious look.

"Zoe said she didn't see Simon in the desert. She didn't see the horses we left there either. When she passed over the drop, she didn't see Patience there. All put together, I'm hoping that the doc and his sister found Patience and brought her back here."

"That's a lot of 'didn't see' to that story," Jayne muttered.

The Captain gave him a hard look.

"I'm just saying…"

"There's an old cowboy adage, Jayne. 'The best way to find a lost stray is to go to the place you would go if you were a lost stray.'"

"Perhaps we should be following the good folks out of town," the Preacher interrupted smoothly.

The Captain's attention turned away from his mercenary. "Good point, Preacher. Let's be low key though. What with Reavers on their way, this town might not be very welcoming to strangers at the moment. And I sure as hell don't want Patience to know we are here."

"Didn't she shoot you once?" Jayne asked.

Mal scowled at him in response, then lifted his arm where he had another flesh wound. "Twice."

They had just risen when they noticed a transport mule pass them with four people on it. They had found the doc, but the mule was surrounded by a whole passel of people, all armed to the teeth. No way were they going to get close.


Wash had settled Serenity in a small gorge not far from the town and he and Zoe were keeping a sharp eye on the monitors.

"You think they'll be alright?" Inara asked from behind them.

"Captain knows what he's doing," Zoe answered, not looking up.

"If he knew what he was doing, he would never have thrown those two off the ship in the first place."

Zoe did look up then and glared at Inara. Wash wisely said nothing, not wanting to draw the attention of either of these two strong women.

"You know it's true, Zoe. In fact, him going after them now is what really doesn't make sense. Not for Mal. Why now when it could put us all in danger? We would have all been fine if he'd left the young doctor on the ship in the first place."

"You saying that he shouldn't go after them?"

Inara stepped closer to the slender black woman. "No, that's not what I'm saying. It's noble and generous of Mal to go after them; it just doesn't make any sense. If he was that worried about them, he never should have shoved them off the ship. But he did. So why go after them now?"

"Maybe the Captain feels guilty," Wash put in.

Inara glanced at him, then looked back at Zoe. "Maybe, but that isn't like Mal either."

Zoe looked uncomfortable. "Maybe we just all managed to convince him."

"Also a maybe," Inara replied, "But the truth is, Mal doesn't let himself be convinced of something that he doesn't want to be convinced of either. So why did he really throw them off the ship? And, why so callously? Not even letting Simon take his things, or the girl without shoes. Not even a canteen of water. It just doesn't make any sense."

"Unless he really did set them down so that the Reavers wouldn't find them if they boarded us," Wash said.

"The same way he told you to get in your shuttle and get ready to take off if we were boarded," Zoe added.

"At least my shuttle has supplies. Unless your telling me that he wanted to be able to go back to that exact spot and be able to find them, making sure that they wouldn't leave. Couldn't leave. If that were true, what would he have done if Reavers had caught Serenity? Who would have gone back for the Tams?"

At that, Zoe straightened up and stared her straight in the eyes. "You."

Inara's breath caught in sudden understanding, and she swallowed hard. She had been Mal's backup plan all along. She nodded to the first mate and left the cockpit.


"We could maybe follow them," said Jayne. "See if we can't snatch the doc on the way."

"With that much firepower there ain't no way we could get close enough to snatch him," Mal replied.

Jayne grumbled but shut up. They followed the people down to a depression in the ground, surrounded by low hills. At the bottom of the ravine lay an opening into the ground.

"They've got caves!" Jayne said.

"Patience don't miss a trick," Mal muttered.

The three settled down atop one of the low hills and watched the townspeople disappear into the hole.

"So, we just going to wait them out?"

"Gorramit, why doesn't a plan ever go smooth?" Mal asked no one in particular.

Jayne fidgeted next to Mal. "If we was just going to go after them, why did you even bother to throw them off the ship in the first place?"

"I've been wondering about that myself, Captain," Book said.

Mal scowled at them as they both turned to look at him. "Don't strain your brain trying to figure it out, Jayne. Not sure my own self why."

"If I may speculate, Captain," Book began.

"I'd rather you didn't, Preacher," Mal said, hoping to put a stop to it.

"I think you threw them off because the boy was ready to shoot Dobson."

"What?" Jayne said, and swung his head to look at Book. "That don't make any kind of sense. Captain told him he'd have to talk care of the lawman his own self, didn't ya, Capt'n?"

Mal's mouth was tight.

"And he was going to, wasn't he, Captain? Is that why you threw them off?"

"I threw them off because… because I was pissed! Dong ma?"

"But why were you pissed, Cap? You told the boy it was his to settle and he was going to. I don't understand." Jayne scratched his head at the mystery.

Grudgingly Mal answered, his voice tight. "The boy said he didn't kill people."

Jayne looked confused but Book's head came up in sudden understanding.

"It's a great burden taking away someone's innocence, isn't it, Captain?"

Mal gave Book a glare, then sighed heavily.

"Seen too much of it in the war. It scars a man to kill another. No matter the reason." Mal said quietly.

"That's crap! I've done more than a few and it don't bother me none," said Jayne.

Mal assessed him with a critical eye. "Yes, it does, Jayne. It changes you. Makes you harder. The first time I had to kill a man, I lost my stomach. I'll end those that need ending, but I don't enjoy it. And if you DID, I wouldn't have you on my ship."

"Sometimes it's part of the job," Jayne said, quieter this time.

"Agreed. But it ain't something we seek out."

"And you wouldn't let Simon do his own killing because of what it would do to him. And you were pissed off at yourself because you were pushing him to kill," said Shepherd.

"I wanted to know that the boy was prepared to kill the lawman if he had to. That he would do what he had to do to protect his own. I didn't actually want him to do it, just… he needed to be ready to do what was needed to survive out in the black."

"So you did it for him."

Mal just turned and gave the Preacher a grim look, eyes bleak.

"Inara was right, Captain. You are a mystery."

Simon settled his charges at the back end of the cave, making sure they were comfortable. Someone had provided bedrolls and blankets, so he laid out Patience and Pete, then went off to help River find a place for the horses.

That all settled, they discovered that one of the women had started a cook fire and the stew was ready.

Simon ushered River through the food line, helping themselves to bowls, stew, and fresh bread. The two of them found a place out of the way and sat on the ground, proceeding to devour everything they had been given. It had been a good long while since the dinner meal that Simon had shared with Serenity's crew. And who knew how long it had been for River.

They finished quickly, then Simon went through the line again to get something for his patients.

River carried the rolls and he the bowls as they made their way back.

When they arrived, Pete was finally awake and wolfed down the offering almost as quickly as Simon had, with the exception of a complete and utter lack of manners.

In the time that they had been gone, Patience had called some of her people to her to make sure that they knew what was needed and what she wanted done. Patience took the stew gratefully, taking a break from informing her lieutenants of their duties.

Now that his stomach was full, Simon began to feel sleepy. He pulled two of the bedrolls close together and tugged River down next to him.

"It's been a long day, mei mei. Time to go to sleep."

River obediently tucked herself in next to him and closed her eyes, for which he was grateful. Thinking on it, he realized that between picking up River's cryo-chamber, Reavers, surgery, lawmen, and getting himself stranded in the middle of the desert, it had been somewhere between twenty-four and thirty-six hours since his head had last hit a pillow.

Within minutes he was asleep.

Once his breathing had evened out, River's eyes opened and she smiled. "Daddy," was all she said before she rose to her feet and headed for the cave's entrance.

Most of the town had cleared out and Jayne was getting more and more impatient.

"How long are we gonna sit here waiting for them Reavers to come by and cut us up for kibble?"

Mal shot him a sour look. "Long as I say, Jayne."

"Makes no damn sense. We ought to just cut those two loose and take off."

Mal turned and gave him a long measuring look and Jayne began to squirm. "Since we seem to be visiting everyone's intentions today, tell me why you have such a problem with Simon?"

"Why wouldn't I? He got Kaylee shot!"

"Actually," Book interrupted, "The lawman shot her, not the young doctor."

"I know that," Jayne said testily. "Lawman wouldn't have been on board at all if not for the doc."

Book cocked his head. "Dobson was on board before Simon. I wonder why he waited until we were in the air before he called for the Alliance cruiser to come get them. Don't you think it would have been a might easier while we were still on Persephone, Captain?"

Mal looked over at the Preacher and nodded. "Easy enough to get Port Authority to land-lock us."

"Lawman kept calling her 'the package'. 'The package that boy is carrying.' Don't think he knew it was a girl. Or didn't think we did and was trying to hide it," Jayne said.

"I wonder how long they'd been following Simon," Book said.

"Doc said he picked up the chamber on Persephone," Mal said.

"Ever wonder who helped him get her out?" Book asked.

Mal looked at him. "Don't think the doc knew."

"Way I figure it, it was someone on the inside," Book speculated. "Otherwise she'd never have gotten out."

"Just what we need," Jayne complained, "Another mystery."

"I think this is a mystery I'd rather not think too hard on."

"Why's that, Captain?" the Preacher asked.

"They played with her brain. Who's to say they wouldn't do the same thing to us if we figure out too much."

"Ah, hell, Capt'n, are you really sure we should risk bringing those fugies back on board? I don't know that I want anyone playing with my brain."

Mal buried his face in his hands and couldn't help himself from chuckling. Still snorting, he looked up at the big merc and said, "I'm pretty sure your brain is safe where it is, Jayne."

Quietly the Preacher added, "Where ever that may be."

Mal had to bury his head again to muffle the laughter. Jayne glowered at both of them for half a minute, before grinning too.

Shaking his head, Mal looked up just in time to see someone come out of the cave entrance. "That's River!"


Zoe looked down at her screen and started to swear. Her husband looked up in surprise, then down at the screen she was staring at.

"They're coming," she said, and reached for the mike.

Wash felt a shiver go down his spine. It was time.


The three men loped down the small hill trying to catch up with River, but the girl was light on her feet and made it back to town before any of them.

Mal didn't risk calling out to her, not knowing just how close the Reavers were yet. A moment later his radio crackled to life and he had an idea.

Zoe's voice filled his ear, edgy with urgency. "Captain. They're right at the edge of town! You have to pull back now."

Mal keyed his mike. "Can't do it, Zoe. We just spotted River. She's headed back into town."

Mal almost pulled the small speaker from his ear when Zoe swore enough to peel the hide of an antelope.

"There's no time, Sir. They are coming in and coming in fast!"

"Understood, Zoey. We're going radio silent unless we get into trouble, dong ma?"

"Yes, Sir."

Mal could tell it was all she could do not to reach right through the radio and strangle him.

They reached the edge of the town's buildings and Mal motioned Jayne to him. "I want you to find the highest spot in town and take a position. Book and I are going to search for the girl, but I want you in position to pick off whoever we need you to cap, got it?"

Jayne nodded once and disappeared.

"Preacher, did you see where she went?"

Book was hugging the side of a building, restless eyes scouring over the street. "That way, I think. That door next to the saloon."

Mal nodded once and they headed there.

River dashed back into the infirmary, graceful despite Simon's oversized shoes on her feet.

Once inside she reached for the item she had forgotten, the golden jacket (once a long house coat, now with frayed edges) that the beautiful lady had given to her. She would need it back if she were going to return it to her.

Inside Whitefall's main cavern, Simon Tam came awake abruptly. Sitting up, he looked around himself, trying to get his bearings. Cave, people, Whitefall, River. River. Where was River?

Yawning widely, he got to his feet, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.


"Your sister took off," Patience's voice scratched its way into his awareness.

He looked over at her. "Do you know where?"

"Headed for the front, I think."

"And you didn't stop her?"

Patience gave him a surprised look. "Not like I could get up and chase after her, son."

Simon apologized and rubbed his hands over his face, trying to force the bone tiredness away.

He peered around the large cavern; still generally dim despite the numerous lanterns that sat along the edges of the main room.

He began to ask around, concern building to frantic, frantic building to panic. River had left, gone back to town, and that was the last anyone had seen of her.

Mal and Book ducked their way around the edges of the buildings, keeping to the shadows. They burst through the door the girl had gone.

River stood there, happily clutching the remnants of the housecoat that Inara had given her.


Mal smiled at her. "Glad to see you again, girl."

"Are we going home now?"

Mal nodded and reached for her elbow and pulled her close. "Let's go find your brother."

Book opened the door again, shotgun in the ready, checking out the street.

"The dragons stopped flying and the dinosaurs ate all the supplies. They've had to resort to cannibalism."

Mal gave her a worried look and even Book glanced back at them.

"Right," Mal said, ushering her ahead of them. "Best we hurry then."

Simon headed for the entrance, getting stopped when he tried to exit.

"Can't let you out, son," said the big sheriff. "Radar says those Reavers are in the town now. No one goes in or out."

"My sister is out there!"

"I'm sorry, boy. Can't let you do it. They might spot you going in and you'd give away where everyone else is hiding."

"I can't leave her out there!" Simon attempted again to leave, but a couple of deputies grabbed his arms and restrained him.

"Sorry, doc."

"No!" Simon struggled harder in their grip. "I have to find her!" He struggled even harder, almost managing to loose himself from the larger men.

The butt of the sheriff's rifle swung out and connected with his jaw. Simon saw stars for a moment before slumping in the deputies' hold.

The sheriff looked down at him and shook his head. "Not gonna happen."

Mal had almost cleared the saloon when a shot rang out. He jumped back, pulling River with him as a Reaver fell out of the saloon's swinging doors, dead at their feet. Looking up, he spotted Jayne atop a roof on the far side of the street, and nodded his thanks.

Mal grabbed the girl and headed for the edge of town at a dead run, Book hot on his heels.

Reavers started to pour out of the buildings. Jayne's rifle cracked again and again as he picked off his targets.

Mal realized that they would never make it all the way back to Serenity. It was time to call for backup.

Mal keyed his mike. "Wash, get in the air! We need you now!"

Zoe's voice promptly responded. "We're on our way, Captain."

River screamed as a Reaver grabbed for her. Mal's weapon blew a hole in his middle.

"We need to get the hell out of here now, Preacher!"

The Shepherd's gun exploded and another Reaver went down. "Agreed, Captain."

Between them, they blasted a hole big enough for them to run. It wouldn't take long before they were surrounded again.

Simon shook his head and sat up, rubbing his jaw. When his eyes could focus, he got to his feet, hoping to slip by the sheriff and his flank of deputies.

He got his chance when he saw the men step out of the edge of the cave, looking up into the air. A ship was rising from the distance, passing overhead fast. A very distinctive ship, Firefly class.

Serenity was back.

Simon dashed for the opening, ignoring the yells of the men behind him and headed in the same direction that the ship had taken. Back to town.

Simon heard a gun shot and felt fire along his right side. He put a hand down and it came away bloody, but he didn't stop. They'd have to kill him to do that.

He topped the rise, focusing on the town and airborne rescue before him.

Mal ducked another Reaver, blocking the man's knife with his forearm. His sidearm came up and exploded in the Reaver's face, knocking him away.

Another started to reach for him, but the man stopped in surprise when a bullet from Jayne's gun exploded out of the back of his head.

This was getting downright messy.

River ducked down as a Reaver came sailing through the air at them. Book's rifle fired and the man landed beside her, clutching what was left of his leg.

A large group of Reavers were coming up on them fast.

Just as Mal was starting to seriously worry about their firepower, his favorite girl passed overhead. Serenity had arrived.

He looked up to see Zoe strapped in and leaning out the cargo bay door.

A minute later the large group of Reavers were flying in all directions as Zoe dropped a grenade in their midst.

He could hear Jayne's roar of approval from the ground.

Mal grabbed River and headed for the edge of town.

"Set down when it's clear, Wash, and we'll jump on!" he yelled into the mike.

"You'd best plan on jumping fast!" Wash replied.


He glanced back at the detonations as Zoe dropped three more grenades in quick succession. Then Serenity roared over their heads and settled down on the ground. The three of them dashed up the ramp, barely inside before Wash lifted off again.

The three collapsed to the deck, gasping for air.

"You alright, Captain?"

Mal hugged his beloved ship, and had enough strength to lift a triumphant thumb in victory.

"Book, get the girl back to the infirmary. We don't want anyone slipping out the door by accident," Mal ordered as he got up.

The Shepherd rose to his feet, helping River.

She stopped before the Captain, meeting his eyes. "Simon," she said.

"Get on, young'un. We'll get your brother."

River resisted Book's tug on her elbow. "Simon," she insisted, pointing out the cargo bay doors.

Both Book and Mal turned to see a small figure step away from the side of the building, heading dead center for the Reavers.

"Crap!" Mal cursed. "Book, get her out of here!"

Simon had almost managed to catch up to the ship as it maneuvered around the middle of the wide street. He watched as the Captain and the Shepherd guided River aboard and the ship lifted again.

He raced for them, but too late to gain access to the ship with his sister.

Suddenly he was tackled from the side, going down in a tangle of limbs with a Reaver. The man's countenance was frightening, deliberately disfigured. Simon felt a terrified scream claw its way up his throat, but clamped down on it. The Reaver raised a knife, and they struggled for it. The Reaver sliced across his arm, a mere five inches below his wrist and Simon gasped in pain. Unable to hold the knife off, the Reaver managed to plunge it into his shoulder. Then Simon did scream.

Simon gasped again as the Reaver grasped the handle of the knife, preparing to pull it out and stab it into his heart, when the man's head exploded in a spray of blood. Simon blinked blood out of his eyes. Two more Reavers fell in quick succession beside him and Simon looked around wildly to see who was doing the killing.

"Get your ass up here, boy!" Jayne called down from the roof.

Shakily Simon got to his feet, and gritting his teeth, pulled the knife from his shoulder.

Blood poured down his injured arm, but he forced himself to ignore it and race to the building where Jayne was.

Half a dozen Reavers pursued him.

Simon grunted in pain as his shoulder connected with the wall as he careened up the stairs attached to the outside of the building.

He rounded the bend to the second floor when he was nearly pulled off his feet and slammed into the wall just inside a doorway. Stars swam in his vision and he blinked to clear them, knife coming up clumsily in his hand.

Jayne had met him halfway down, and even now was pressing a small pistol into Simon's numb fingers, casually knocking the knife away to the floor. The three Reavers that had managed to follow him up the stairs went down in a pile as Jayne stepped back out the door and fired noisily.

Jayne stepped back in, shutting the door behind him and locking it. Jayne gave him a hard look, and grabbed his collar, pulling him along with him as he headed for another set of stairs inside the building. Simon yelped at the pressure it put on his torn shoulder.

"Stupid idiot, you trying to get yourself killed?"

Simon didn't have to strength to argue, simply letting himself be gathered up and dragged to the roof by the big man.

Wash had raised the ship and was lifting it above the building where Jayne sat on the roof, when the mercenary suddenly got up and disappeared inside.

"What the hell is he doing?" Wash asked the air.

Watching out the view port, Wash watched the young doctor race across the street and up the stairs to Jayne's building.

"Come on, come on, Simon," he whispered to himself.

Suddenly the doctor disappeared inside and Wash watched as Jayne stepped out, firing at the young man's pursuers.

"Yeah!" he cheered.

Less than a minute later, Jayne and Simon appeared on the roof, making Wash smile. He noticed that Jayne hadn't taken his hands off the boy, dragging him along with him.

"Time for the Calvary, boys," he said as he maneuvered the ship so that it hovered just above the roof. Gently he let the lip of the cargo bay doors touch the flat surface.

"He's got him, Sir," Zoe called out to Mal.

Mal could see that for himself but he didn't begrudge Zoe's pleased smile. He had one himself.

He watched as Jayne and the doc raced for Serenity, clearing the landing and coming into the bay. Jayne looked triumphant, and the doc…. The doc looked bruised and bloody. And a bit glassy-eyed.

Zoe hit the button and the cargo bay doors began to rise.

Jayne released the boy and Mal thought the kid would fall to the floor without the support. He put out a steadying hand, and Simon leaned heavily into him. One of Jayne's small guns slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor.

Wash's voice suddenly came over the speaker system. "Captain. You'd better get up here. You're gonna wanna see this."

Mal looked up and caught Zoe's eye. Damn, if those Reavers managed to get their ship going….

Mal raced up the stairs to the cockpit, dragging Simon along with him, depositing him in the extra bridge chair.

He barely noticed River race onto the bridge, collapsing at her brother's knees, and using a tattered gold cloth to stanch the flow of blood from his shoulder.

Mal looked instead out the window at what Wash was pointing at.

"Looks like the villagers followed Simon out of the cave."

Below the steadily rising Firefly were a couple of dozen men who had followed Simon and Serenity back into town. Well armed, they had more than enough firepower to finish off the Reavers, which from the flashes of muzzle fire that could be seen, they were doing. The people of Whitefall were taking back their moon.

Serenity rose higher and higher, when the radio suddenly crackled to life.

"Malcolm Reynolds, what the hell do you think you're going with my doctor?"

Mal collapsed into a chair and almost laughed himself silly.

When he looked up, Patience's face was glaring at him from the cortex screen.

Before he could answer it, Simon spoke up.


"Hold on a minute, Patience. We got something to settle here first." Mal hit the mute button on the console and turned back to Simon.

The boy looked as pale as a ghost, bleeding from both his shoulder and his side.

"What is it, son?"

"I appreciate that you came back for us, but if you're just going to dump us off somewhere else…. Well, Patience had offered me a place here."

Mal glanced over to Zoe, not liking what he was hearing. Not after everything they had gone through to get the boy back. "You might be better off on the move. And we never stop moving."

"Are you offering to let us stay?" He almost seemed hopeful.

"Would you rather be with Patience?" Mal was going to be seriously pissed; he just knew it.

"Her offer included the words, 'the town owning a doctor.' It didn't sit very well when she said it."

Mal smiled in relief. "Well, son, you don't know us well, but just so you do; know that Zoe and I both fought for the Independents. I won't carry slavers on my ship, and we're not fond of the Alliance. Everyone here works for a fair share."

"And what about the Alliance? They won't give up."

"They'll have to catch you first. We tend to fly under the radar. A lot."

Quiet snickering could be heard around the bridge.

"Illegal salvage?"

Mal's eyes widened in surprise and Simon grinned, pink tongue slipping out to lick his split lip. "Patience mentioned it."

"Whatever keeps us flying. That's all that's important."

Simon smiled slowly and tiredly. "Tell Patience that I'm staying."

Mal's smile got bigger and he turned back to an impatient Patience. "Sorry, Patience, but the boy's staying with us."

"Gorammit, Mal. You can't just dangle a prize like that in front of me then snatch it back!"

Mal was ready to argue with her, when a hand lightly touched his shoulder. He looked up to see Simon swaying at his side.

"Captain, if I may?"

Mal curiously watched him as he let Simon have his seat before the cortex.

"Patience, this is Simon. I've chosen to stay with Serenity, but if you promise not to double-cross the Captain again, perhaps we can work out a deal. Semi-regular haulage for a few days of doctoring when we're in port."

Mal watched Simon's face turn up to him, eyes meeting his own, asking without words if that was okay. Sounded like a good deal, actually. Mal nodded once in agreement.

Patience looked irritated but resigned. "That the only way I'm going to get you?"

"The only way."

Patience huffed. "Done."

"And, Patience?"

"What is it, Doctor?"

"You also have to promise not to shoot the Captain anymore. Seems he's getting a might irritated with it."

Patience glanced away from the screen and sighed. "If you insist."

"'Fraid, I do. After all, I'm the one that will have to patch him up. I don't want to waste my supplies."

"Hey!" Mal said beside him, but was ignored.

"See ya on the turnaround, Doctor Simon. And Mal? Take care of my boy! I'll send up a shout when I need a run. Patience out." And her face disappeared off the screen.

"That's a neat piece of maneuvering, Doc." Mal almost clapped him on the back when Simon began to tilt in his chair.


Mal and his first officer grabbed the boy by the arms and hauled him to his feet. The doc had passed out completely and hung like a dead weight between them.

Jayne stepped up, saying, "Move." Then he leaned over and picked up the young doctor in a fireman's carry.

Zoe hurried off before them, getting what she needed ready, and Mal trailed behind Jayne to make sure the boy didn't get bounced around too badly.

They settled Simon on the extra bed in the infirmary; Kaylee still occupying the main stretcher.

"What happened to Simon, Captain?" Kaylee asked.

"Looks like he got himself a bit banged up is all. Don't you worry yourself, Little Kaylee," Mal assured her.

River had followed them down and stationed herself out of the way on Kaylee's other side. Kaylee's hand slipped into hers for support. Book and Jayne stationed themselves by the infirmary door, out of the way.

Zoe quickly stripped the doctor out of his vest and pushed his shirt aside.

"I got a bullet hole here, Sir. Deep graze. Took out a bit of flesh. Lots of blood, but it doesn't look too bad."

"Boy took a knife to the shoulder," Jayne supplied.

Mal passed her gauze and antiseptic then went back for stitching thread and the dope gun.

"Shoulder looks pretty deep, too," Zoe continued. She began methodically cleaning each wound and bandaging them. The shoulder she packed well, wanting the doc to look at it before she stitched it. The forearm got ten stitches, and the bullet wound got another ten.

Mal gave him a shot of painkiller, then gently turned the boy's head so he was facing them. "Looks like he got another good smack to the jaw. People do seem to like to mess up that pretty face."

"Two of those are from you, Captain," Zoe pointed out distractedly.

"Least I only used my fist."

"I'm sure that will be a comfort to him, Sir."

Inara had entered the infirmary and stood next to River, holding her shoulders in support.

"Doc looks kind of nice without a shirt," Kaylee observed.

"Kaylee!" Inara scolded.

"It's true!" Kaylee defended herself.

"I'm starting to think you're feeling well enough to recuperate in your bunk," Mal observed.

"But… but those steps. And the ladder! I'd probably bust all the doc's pretty stitches trying to go down the ladder! I think I'd best stay here and help look after Simon."

Mal rolled his eyes, caught Zoe's amused look and grinned.

"Don't be ogling the doc while he's naked, Kaylee girl!" Mal said, mock scolding.

"Why am I naked?" a groggy voice asked.

"Hush, Simon," Mal soothed. "Kaylee's just polishing up her crush."



River giggled.

Zoe pulled back the gauze from Simon's shoulder. "Think we need stitches there, Doc?"

"Any bleeders?"

"No. It's clean."

Simon peered down myopically. "Just pack it for now. We'll change out the bandages twice a day and give it a chance to close from the inside first."

"You're making him doctor himself?" Kaylee asked, outraged.

"Just getting a second opinion, Kaylee," Mal said.

"The arm got stitches. Ten. So did the bullet wound. Not as pretty as yours," Zoe said.

"Yes. Good."

"Simon, what happened to your shoes?" Kaylee asked.

Mal looked down at the boy's feet; oversized boots tied on with stripes of gold brocade cloth.

"River's wearing them," Simon mumbled.

Mal looked over at the girl's feet. Again, oversized boots with gold brocade cloth tied around them.

"This a fashion statement?" Mal asked aloud.

River replied for her brother. "Simon's boots only too big. Not too, too big."

Mal was confused. "She's wearing yours? Whose are you wearing?"


Oh. Mal's head snapped around and that's when Mal really looked at what River was wearing. It was Dobson's clothes. Except for Simon's boots. A wave of guilt washed over him.

"Is that…?" Inara started to ask, but quickly cut herself off.

Simon's eyes blinked open, suddenly more alert; and he looked over at Inara. One hand raised the bloody torn cloth that was all that was left of her elegant housecoat. "Sorry."

Inara looked shocked, but quickly covered it. One look into Simon's eyes and her face softened. "A good fabric only shows its true quality in its durability and strength. I'm glad it was of use to you."

Simon's eyes were even more stricken. "We ruined it."

Inara smiled warmly at him. "No, dear. You proved its worth. Don't worry about it. Please."

Sometimes Mal forgot that Inara was more than a Companion; she was a lady. It was at times like this that he remembered clearly. No one but a true lady would be so gracious.

Zoe finished her work, and Simon seemed to visibly wilt. Zoe brushed the hair off his forehead in a fond gesture. "Just relax and get some sleep. We'll see to River."

Simon's eyes opened momentarily. "Thank you."

Suddenly the intercom crackled to life.

"Captain! We just got hailed from an Alliance cruiser! They'll be here in ten minutes."

Simon's eyes blinked back open in panic as Mal started to swear.

"Jayne, you run and get the stretcher in the cargo bay. Inara, take Kaylee to your shuttle. If anyone asks, she's got female trouble, not a bullet wound. Book, go to Simon's room and hide his stuff. Now, people!"

Simon struggled to sit up. "Where…"

Mal put a restraining hand on his chest. "Stay. Wait for the stretcher." Mal moved about the infirmary hiding the evidence of any violent encounters. Bloody cloths got tossed at Simon's feet. They'd hide them with the Tams.

Zoe moved over to River's side and took charge of the girl.

Jayne returned a moment later with the stretcher, and he and Mal loaded Simon on it.

"Zoe, get to the lawman's room. We're dumping his stuff out the cargo bay doors. It should all burn up in atmo."

"Go with them, honey," Zoe directed River.

"Where to, Capt'n?" Jayne asked.

"Cargo bay."

"You're going to give us up?" Simon asked quietly, too wrung out to be outraged.

"You're going under the floor, boy. They'll never see you if they're walking over you."

They got to the cargo bay, and set Simon down on the floor. Mal rushed over and pressed a button on a panel on the wall. Two large panels lifted up from the floor of the bay, opening up to reveal a small maintenance access area. Jayne and Mal lowered the stretcher down into it. Mal turned to River to urge her down with her brother, but she gracefully jumped down beside him, making herself comfortable in the small space.

"Captain!" Simon said urgently.

"You'll be fine, Doc," Mal reassured him.

"The cryo-chamber," Simon insisted. "Toss it out the airlock, too."

Mal glanced over and spotted the big silver box. "Shit! Almost forgot about that. Come on, Jayne."

Mal closed the maintenance access panels, and Jayne tossed the old skid rug over it. Together they strong-armed the cryo-chamber to the airlock. A second later, Zoe ran in with the remains of Dobson's luggage.

Mal reached for the intercom button. "Wash, swing us on the edge of the atmosphere so this stuff gets caught up fast and burns on its way down."

"Got it, Captain!"

Mal opened the airlock and watched as the goods were sucked out into space and then pulled toward Whitefall, becoming small meteors of bright light that quickly vanished. As soon as it was all cleared, he closed the outer lock again.

"Everyone else, I want you out here!"

Book hurried out from the passenger rooms. "We're ready here. It's all stored with mine or hidden."

Inara came out of her shuttle. "Kaylee's good."

"Good. Get down here. We want to put on a nice face for the Purple Bellies. Wash, we're ready."

The small Firefly shuddered. "They're pulling us in," Wash announced.

Serenity shuddered again as ships docked. A few minutes later Alliance soldiers swarmed the cargo bay, armed and ready.

Behind them strode an officer, looking polished and superior. Just like every other Alliance officer Mal had ever seen. The officer signaled for his men to search the ship.

"Can we help you, Officer?"

The officer would have looked down his nose at Mal if Mal hadn't physically towered over the man by a foot.


Mal produced them, letting one of the soldiers gather them and bring them from the great distance of five feet to the little man.

"Where are you coming from?"

"As you can see, Officer, we've just broke atmo from Whitefall."

"Your papers have no passage stamp."

"That's because we had to leave in a bit of a hurry, Sir. Whitefall was having a problem with Reavers."

"Reeeeverrrrss," the man drawled out, tone dismissive. "It's always Reavers with you people."

"If you doubt us, Officer, please feel free to call down to the planet and talk to the authorities. A woman named Patience owns half this moon and we had business with her… that is, before it was broken up by Reavers. After that we scooted out of there pretty fast."

"Perhaps I'll do that, Captain…" he looked down at the papers again as if he couldn't be bothered to remember Mal's name, "Reynolds."

The officer said nothing more and Mal began to fidget. "Was there anything else, Sir?"

"Yes. We had a transmission from a Federal Officer two days ago. When we responded, the transport he was traveling on choose to run. We believe it was a Firefly class transport."

Mal schooled his features to look expectant.

When he made no answer, the officer continued impatiently. "You wouldn't be that transport, would you… Captain Reynolds?"

"No, Sir."

"We believe the transport had just come from Persephone. Where were you before you came to Whitefall?"

"Boros, Sir. Picked up the Shepherd there."

The officer swung his gaze away from Mal and took in the dog collar of the man standing behind him. "You're a Shepherd?"

"Yes, Sir. Headed for Southdown Abbey. On Persephone, as it happens. I'm afraid you've caught us going in the wrong direction, Lieutenant."

One of the soldiers walked up to the officer and whispered in his ear. The officer glanced up toward Inara's shuttle.

"And who is the girl, Captain?"

"She's with me, Lieutenant," Inara replied. "A young Companion in training. I apologize for her not joining us, Lieutenant, but she was experiencing… well, female troubles, and we felt it best not to move her at this time."

"And your name, Madame?"

"Inara Serra, Sir."

"And you are headed…?"

"As the Shepherd said, we'll be making a stop at Persephone and then traveling on to Georgia."

"What's at Georgia?"

"The girl's family is waiting for her there. With her… illness… she is being allowed to spend her last few months with them."

The Lieutenant glanced once again toward Inara's shuttle, discomforted by the information. He turned to the soldier who had brought him the information. "Leave the girl alone. Just search the rest."

"We believe the Federal Marshall was following a pair of fugitives. You wouldn't have happened upon a brother and sister traveling together, would you, Captain?"

Mal looked around the cargo hold with a surprised look on his face. "You can clearly see by our papers, Lieutenant, that we've taken no kids aboard." He said it as though he was stating the obvious.

"I didn't say children, Captain. These two were adults."

"My apologies, Sir. I misunderstood. They were on Persephone?"

"Yes, but they seemed to have disappeared."

"I believe that we were the only passengers who boarded the ship on Boros, Lieutenant," Inara said, indicating herself and Book.

The officer harumphed to himself, displeased by their answers. He opened his mouth to speak when Wash's voice over the intercom system interrupted him.

"Captain, we've got Reavers! They're back! And coming fast!"

Mal wanted to leap towards the intercom, but held his place.

The Lieutenant's eyes narrowed. "Is this some kind of trick, Captain Reynolds?"

"No, Sir."

"Mal, their core containment is even worse than before. They're leaking everywhere!"

"I won't let you…"

"If you don't believe us, Lieutenant, then call your ship. They'll confirm what my pilot is saying."

The officer nodded to one of his men, who immediately communicated back to the Alliance vessel. After a quick discussion, he nodded back to the officer. "They've caught a ship on the beams. Coming in fast. Leaking radiation. They're guessing a core containment breach."

"Looks like you were telling the truth, Captain Reynolds. Have your pilot undock and get the hell out of my sight! We'll take care of this matter."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you."

The soldiers headed for the exit and Mal headed for the intercom. "Wash, get us the hell out of here."

"On it!"

They could all feel the pull of the ship as Serenity pulled away from the larger ship and then pushed it's engines, fleeing as fast as they could.

Mal raced up to the cockpit. "Talk to me, Wash! What does it look like?"

"Those crazy bastards are headed right for the Alliance cruiser. They're going to hit it dead on!"

"Get us the hell out of here!"

"Doing it now, Sir!"

They crowded around the view port watching the confrontation unfold. They didn't have to wait long to see the victor. The Reavers got closer and closer, but just before they would have impacted with the Alliance cruiser, twin beams of power flashed out from the huge ship, slicing the Reavers' ship in half. It exploded silently, debris going in every direction.

"Oh my god," someone whispered and then they were gone, hard burn leaving the horror behind.

"So the Alliance decided not to hold us up?" Wash asked.

"Not once the Reavers showed up, honey," Zoe responded.

"Think maybe we should unearth the doc and his crazy sister now?" Jayne asked from the doorway.

"Oh, shit!"

They raced down the stairs and as they neared the hidey hole, Mal heard the faint sound of singing. He ripped back the skid rug as Zoe reached for the operating panel and pressed the button.

As the doors opened the singing got louder, not clearer or more coherent, but louder. Once their fugitives came into view, Simon waved and greeted Mal with, "It's the Dread Pirate Captain!"

And then he giggled.

"Now that's downright disturbing," Jayne observed.

Mal stood looking down at them with his hands on his hips, utterly bemused expression on his face.

Nimbly, River leaped up out of the maintenance area, and stood beside Mal, looking down at her brother.

Mal blinked and glanced over at Zoe. "What the hell did you give him?"

"Ha! I think I'm having reaction. Low tolerance for ooooopiatesssssssss," Simon slurred.

"You mean what did you give him, don't you, Sir?"


"Just painkillers, Sir. I'm pretty sure it was just painkillers."

"The doc's kind of funny when he's drunk!" Jayne said, brow beetled in thought as he considered the young man.

"Fifteen men on a dead man's chhhhesttttt! Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!"

"Simon's drunk?" said Kaylee from the shuttle doorway.

"Kaylee, get yourself back into Inara's shuttle and lay down."

"No way, Captain. Not if Simon is naked AND drunk!"

Mal put his face in his hands. "I've completely lost control of my ship."

"You had control once?" Wash asked.

Mal raised his head and glared at him. Wash gave him a wide grin in return. Damn glare still wasn't effective.

"Yo ho, yo ho, it's the pirates life for me!"

Zoe snorted and came to stand by Mal, looking down at Simon. "What do you want to do with him, Sir?"

"We should get a parrot for the captain! One that talks!"

"Pieces of eight," River added softly from beside Mal.

"Don't encourage him any, girl," Mal ordered. River giggled at him.

"I thought it was only the sister that was crazy," said Jayne.

Mal sighed heavily. "Jayne, get the other end of the stretcher. Let's get Long John Silver here back to infirmary."

"I wanna go, too!"

Mal rolled his eyes and reached for the stretcher. "Zoe, go help Kaylee."

Mal and Jayne gathered up the boy and brought him the short distance to the infirmary, depositing him on the infirmary bed.

"We should get Jayne an eye patch! Then he could be One-eyed Jayne!"

"Captain, make him stop," Jayne whined.

Mal stood at the foot of Simon's bed, arms crossed, studying the boy.

Zoe walked in a few minutes later with Inara, Kaylee supported between them. They led her to the other bed and settled her in.

Mal turned to Zoe. "I think we should dope him again."

"Not sure that's a good idea, sir. The effects could be even worse."

"He's calling me a pirate!"

Zoe bit her lip to keep from grinning, but it was a struggle. "At least he wants to give you a parrot, Sir."

Glare. Still not working. Check.

Mal clenched his fist and raised it into the air. "If he starts to wax poetical, I'm knocking him out one way or the other."


"Uh, just kidding, Kaylee."

"You'd better be. He's had enough people smack him around lately. Poor thing."

"Maybe that's the problem," Mal mused. "Maybe they knocked something loose."

"Hang him from the yardarm!"

"Keep it up, son, and I just might," Mal threatened.

"Ah, he don't mean it, Simon," Kaylee said. "I love my captain."

"Oh Captain, my Captain! I love my Captainnnnnn," Simon sang.

Zoe covered her mouth to stop her laughter. The other women in the room weren't so restrained.

"Zoey, make him stop!" Mal demanded.

"Why don't you men get out of here, Captain. We'll take care of him," Zoe suggested.

Mal nodded in agreement, then turned on his heel and dragged Jayne out the door with him.

The sound of feminine laughter followed their exit.

Outside the infirmary, Jayne turned to him. "Now that ain't right."

"What's that, Jayne? That we just got run out of the infirmary by a drunken pretty boy? Or that all the women aboard this ship thought it was funny as all hell."

"Well, that, too. But, he's stoned out of his head and he still got all the women!"

Mal pulled up short. "Damn! I knew that boy was going to be trouble the moment I laid eyes on him."


----and we'redone.