A Lonely Road: part four
Thursday, January 5, 2006

After the wave Mal has received, the long journey through the black makes everyone go a little bit stir-crazy, Simon not in the least...


Part four: where the journey through the black makes everyone go a bit stir-crazy

Mal sat motionless in the pilot’s seat and stared at the screen.

Gabriel Tam? Does that mean…

He didn’t even have the time to finish the thought before all of his doubts were taken away when Gabriel Tam appeared in front on-screen. There was a striking family resemblance -- in the dark hair, even if it was streaked with grey, the handsome features and the reserved demeanour. Gabriel Tam looked a lot more self-confident than his son, though.

“Ni hao. Good afternoon, Captain Reynolds. Or, at least I gather it’s afternoon where you are? Persephone, am I right? You’re not an easy man to track down.”

“Wouldn’t know, I haven’t looked out the window yet.” Mal made sure his face betrayed no emotion. Simon and River’s father or not, he was Alliance, after all. Mal had no proof that he could trust this man, and Gabriel Tam seemed to realize this. He smiled a smile that made perfectly clear he wasn’t happy.

“I can see that you’re a man of action, Captain, and not of words. Let me cut right to the chase. For some time now, I have been trying to find my children, Simon and River Tam. I’m a rather influential man, and since a lot of people are looking to get into my good graces, I have received plenty of information regarding their whereabouts. Most of these clues are rubbish of course… but the funny thing is that your name keeps popping up wherever I look. Malcolm Reynolds, captain of the Firefly-class ship ‘Serenity’. An odd coincidence, isn’t it?”

Mal flashed the man his most charming smile. “Odd, not uncommon. There are those who have taken an irrational dislike towards me. Could just be their way of settling the score…” he said.

The man on the other end of the line seemed to be getting impatient. “Captain, I have exactly no time for games. Have you seen my children? Are they currently on your ship?”

“Can’t say that I have, but I’ll keep an eye out for them and let you know if I see them, sir,” Mal said as politely as he could force himself to be. Then he shut down the connection briskly, and just in time because the next moment, Simon was storming onto the bridge, looking furious.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re planning to sell us out to our father, aren’t you?” he shouted.

“So, that was in fact your father? I figured as much… Man could’ve been an impostor, of course. You can’t ever trust the Alliance,” Mal said, trying very hard not to lose his calm.

“Oh please, as if you didn’t know!” Simon spat. “You’re the one who can’t be trusted -- you’ve probably been planning this for weeks!”

That’s it, Mal thought as he lost his temper. “I thought I made it abundantly clear that you and your sister are safe on my boat, and I don’t much feel like getting into it again.”

“Right,” Simon said, his eyes narrowing in disbelief, “so how was my father able to track us to your so-called ‘safe’ boat? Especially since he made it very clear he wouldn’t come for us again!”

Mal blinked. He didn’t know anything about Simon and River’s youth, mainly because his own past kept him more than busy enough, but apparently the Tam family wasn’t as picture perfect as Mal had assumed they were.

“I don’t know, son, but I think you oughta ask him that instead of me. Now, why don’t you just calm yourself down and -- ”

“Stop talking to me like I’m a kid!” Simon interrupted, his teeth gritted in anger. “I’m more than capable of making my own decisions. I decided to stay on this ship, but if we’ve outstayed our welcome all you have to do is say so, and we’re gone.” The young doctor stared at Mal defiantly, his eyes blazing.

Mal pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Just this once, I’d want -- ”

“You don’t know what you want,” Simon spat before Mal could finish his sentence. With that he stalked off, leaving a baffled Mal in his wake and nearly knocking over Wash and Zoe as they walked onto the bridge.

“Whoa.” Wash barely managed to avoid Simon by quickly pressing himself against the wall. He gave his wife a questioning frown, mouthing, “What in the tyen shiao duh?”, but Zoe just shrugged.

“Finally. Took you long enough,” Mal snapped when he saw them.

Zoe raised an eyebrow. “Seems the doctor’s good mood is infectious,” she said dryly.

Mal gave her a look, then he jerked his thumb at the monitor. “That call… was from the good doctor’s father.”

“Tamade!” Wash said. “Ouch. So um, I guess Simon didn’t want to be found?” Wash grimaced as he rubbed his right shoulder, which he’d smacked against the wall to avoid Simon, and sat down in his chair.

“So, what happens now?” Zoe asked.

Mal sighed. “Don’t know yet, but if this means the Alliance has tracked us down and has an idea of the doc and his sister bein’ on board… then we need a plan.”

“Oh good,” Zoe said with a sarcastic smile. “Something new and different for us.”

“Wash, stay on course for Paquin. Alliance or no, Badger will have our hides if we don’t do this job right,” Mal told him while he signalled Zoe to follow him.

“Can do!”


“… 48… 49… 50!” Jayne grunted as he pulled himself up for the last time before letting himself drop back onto the metal floor of the cargo bay. A giggle came from above. Book and Jayne both looked up to see River sitting on the catwalk, her legs dangling from the side.

“You cheated! 49 and counting.” She giggled even though her chin was perched on the handrail. “Have to do it over in front of the class,” she added solemnly and gave Jayne an I’m-not-joking-with-you look. Book chuckled.

“She seems to have taken quite an interest in you lately,” he said, giving Jayne an enquiring glance.

“Hoe tze, an interest in pissing me off, more like,” Jayne answered. He was fighting back a grin though. No point in denying that it was flattering, actually... Still, even though he had learned to get along with the fong luh girl, that didn’t mean he trusted her one little bit.

“Go on girl, don’t you got better things to do?” he said, looking up at her like he picked up his weights; but River just gave him a sweet smile and didn’t move a muscle. Jayne sighed. “Hell with it, I’m gonna go clean my guns.”


Nearly everyone was already in the kitchen when Mal and Zoe walked in. Book was helping Kaylee prepare dinner while she was apparently talking his ear off. Jayne was sitting at the table with a bunch of his guns laid out, cleaning them with tender care. River was sitting next to him, watching the guns and apparently drinking coffee by the gallon.

“… And I was laughing somethin’ fierce! Oh hi cap, Zoe! Chow’s ready in fifteen minutes,” Kaylee said cheerfully. Her bad mood seemed to have melted away completely, and Mal really couldn’t be happier about that. Kaylee was the sunshine they all needed to survive out here in the black…

“Hi Kaylee. Seen the doc, by any chance?” he asked as he looked around the room.

“Stampeded past us,” Jayne answered for her without even looking up.

Mal nodded and started heading for the passenger dorms when he felt a warm hand close tightly around his wrist.

“Not yet,” River said calmly, tilting her head back so she could look into the captain’s eyes. “You have to let him sulk until he gets bored and comes back out again. He always does that.” She sighed deeply. “He really can be very tiresome.” Then she let go of Mal’s wrist and, ignoring the looks she was getting from everyone, went back to studying the guns on the table.

Mal turned to Kaylee and Book with a frown. “I’m not rightly sure it’s such a good idea to give her all that coffee,” he said, rubbing his wrist which had the imprints of River’s fingers on it. Kaylee giggled.

“Now this here is a real thing o’ beauty,” Jayne was saying as he picked up one of the hand rifles. “This is a .42 calibre…”

“54-R sniper rifle. Customized trigger, double cartridge…” River added, stroking the barrel thoughtfully. “Can blow a hole right through a wall.”

“Damn straight!” Jayne answered with an appreciative look that took in both the rifle and River.

Mal rolled his eyes. “I don’t mean to interrupt anything here, but we really should discuss what it is we’re gonna do about -- ” He paused and glanced at River, unsure if he ought to tell her. It turned out he shouldn’t have been.

“My dad?” River asked, watching him intently. “Because we don’t know why he’s looking for us and how he found us?”

For the second time in a matter of minutes, everyone stared at River. Mal wasn’t even surprised anymore, so he just nodded. “That’s pretty much it, yeah.” He should’ve known she was already in the loop on everything. The girl always was.

“Wait, that call was from Simon and River’s dad?” Kaylee looked from River to Mal, wide-eyed. “Cai bu shi! How was he even able to find ‘em?”

“Technically he hasn’t found ‘em yet, since I didn’t admit to him that they’re on this boat. The man seemed pretty sure of his case, though… Still, I better go fetch the doctor, we can’t very well make any decisions without him, can we?” Mal said.



Simon looked up. Mal entered his room just as he was brushing the creases out of his shirts. Before all of this, he’d never have thought that he would one day miss their old servants. Doesn’t matter, I’d rather die before I go back there, he thought to himself.

“Looking spiffy as usual, doc. No need to primp on my behalf.” Mal flashed him a cheeky grin.

Trying his very best to stay angry at Mal, Simon rolled his eyes and said, “What do you want?”

Mal frowned. “Everyone’s waiting in the galley to make a proper decision about what to do about that father o’ yours. As for me, I’d very much like to know why you exploded in my face just now. I thought I made it clear I’m not one who’s prone to back-stabbing,” he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

Simon sighed. “I know, I just -- wait, what happened to your wrist?” He took hold of Mal’s arm and looked carefully at his wrist, where the marks River’s fingers had made were quickly turning into bruises.

“Huh? Oh, that’s just your darling sister’s idea or persuading me not to come and see you. Stronger than she looks, ain’t she?” Mal answered with a smirk.

Simon took a step back -- even though he didn’t let go of Mal’s wrist -- and stared at the captain with near-panic. “Mal, I’m sorry. I -- I’ll tell her to calm down, I promise…”

Mal chuckled and shook his head. “You’re a piece of work, anyone ever tell you that? How many times do I have to tell you? You’re part of my crew, and I’m not gonna sell you out to the Alliance. Not now. Not ever. Dong ma? And I’m not planning on throwing you and your sister off the ship either -- unless o’course you keep yammering on like you are,” he added, his blue eyes twinkling.

Simon was doing his very best to focus on the matter at hand instead of Mal’s eyes, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. “I, um, I know. I just… can’t help worrying about her. And you did say that you’d kick us off the ship if she couldn’t be controlled.”

“Yeah, but I meant if she got us all killed or some such. Hell, I’m not gonna toss her out the airlock for bruising my arm! There wouldn’t be anyone left on my boat.” He flashed Simon yet another charming smile and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Come on now, Kaylee and the Shepherd made us dinner,” he added as he turned to leave.

“Mal, wait.” Simon still hadn’t let go of Mal’s arm, and he doubted if Mal had even noticed until now. He knew he was blushing but he had to get this off his chest before he imploded. “There’s something you don’t know. Or, at least, I think that you don’t know…” he trailed off nervously.

Mal raised his eyebrows impatiently. “Well, get on with it son, I ain’t got all day. There’s business that needs attendin’, you know.”

Simon glared at Mal. Fine, if he was going to be like that… He let go of Mal’s wrist brusquely. “Fine, what’s keeping you? It’s probably not important anyway! If you would just take the time to listen to the people around you for five minutes, you might actually get more out of life than just living from one job to the next!” he said loudly.

Simon could hardly believe he was saying all of this, especially to the captain. He wasn’t usually so prone to stand up to someone who had any kind of control over him -- unless it was something that really mattered to him. And there was just something about Mal that got under Simon’s skin. Nobody pushed his buttons like the captain did, not even Jayne…

And so Simon just couldn’t stop yelling. “You keep hiding in the past. The war is over for everyone else, but you still use it as an excuse to avoid all human contact!” He stared Mal right in the eyes. “And that makes you a coward.”

For a moment, Mal hesitated, although Simon could see his fingers twitch, and he was sure Mal was going to hit him.

The next thing he knew, Simon felt himself getting pushed against the wall by Mal and kissed fiercely.

Even though he was still furious with Mal -- or maybe because he was furious with him -- Simon couldn’t suppress a low moan when he felt Mal’s lips crush his own. Before he could stop himself, he’d pressed his body up against Mal’s, but pulled away immediately when he felt him wince with pain.

“Oh God, Mal, I’m sorry,” Simon stammered. “I completely forgot.”

Mal grimaced. “Don’t worry, I’ll live.” Then reality seemed to hit him and he stared at Simon, whose face was still only inches away from his own. “Right. Huh. Can’t say I’ve ever done that before…” he mumbled awkwardly.

Her took a step back and scratched his head, obviously embarrassed; which Simon found incredibly charming. Fighting the urge to kiss Mal again, Simon took a deep breath and decided that now was as good a time as any. “Actually, that’s not entirely true.”

Mal blinked. “What now?”

“It’s not true. That’s what I wanted to say just now. And it’s partly why I got so upset before. You, um,” he said nervously, fiddling with a button on his vest, “you kissed me yesterday, too. In the infirmary.”

He looked up at Mal, who was just staring at him in wide-eyed disbelief, and swallowed hard before he continued. “You were very drunk, and I’m sure you couldn’t be held responsible and that you probably don’t even remember it. But… But I guess that’s why I got so angry before. For a moment, I thought that maybe you contacted my father because you wanted me off the ship. Because things had gotten too complicated…” he finished in a small voice. Then he took another deep breath and finally shut up. He could still feel himself glowing a deep red, but he couldn’t be sure if it was because he was embarrassed or because of that kiss…

Mal seemed to be just as mortified, staring at the floor and continuing to scratch his head. Then he seemed to recompose himself and looked up with a casual smile. “Why would it be complicated?” he said with a shrug. “Like you said, I was drunk. Couldn’t be held accountable, right?”

Simon stared back at him in disbelief. “Yes, but you weren’t drunk just now!” he said, getting worked up again. Mal just chuckled, which only infuriated him more.

“Must not be completely sober yet then, huh,” he said, turning on his heel. “Chow’s ready, we better get over there or Kaylee’ll throw a fit.” And with that he strolled out of the room, leaving a stunned Simon behind.


Dinner would have been more comfortable in the fires of hell, Simon thought to himself. The whole crew knew he’d been upset about his father’s message and they all seemed determined to avoid bringing up the subject. Or maybe they were just waiting for Mal to start discussing a plan.

Mal however was doing everything he possibly could to ignore Simon, making jokes and asking Kaylee or Zoe questions. He never met Simon’s eye, no matter how many furtive or downright spiteful looks Simon shot at him.

One by one, the crew went back to work or said goodnight. Mal was the first to go, saying he had business on the bridge.

He seems to be in a big hurry to be out of the room, Simon thought bitterly.

Soon enough Wash and Zoe went to their bunk, Book and River went to bed, and Jayne decided to do another spot of training before heading to his bunk. It wasn’t before long that Simon found himself alone in the room with Kaylee.

“Let me give you a hand with the dishes,” he said with a smile. He felt a bit bad for neglecting her over the past couple of days, even though so much had been going on that he didn’t know where he could have found time to spend with her. He grabbed a dishcloth and clumsily began to dry a mug.

Kaylee laughed. “Wow, you really haven’t ever done much o’ this, huh?” she giggled. “It’s nice of you to offer though. I don’t mind doin’ these on my own, but it’s always nicer if you have someone to talk to, ain’t it?” she said. Simon noticed her expression had become a bit sad. “I don’t have anyone I can really talk to anymore, now that ‘Nara left…”

“You can talk to me,” Simon said with a smile, and she smiled back, even though there was still an air of sadness about her. “You really miss her, don’t you?” he added tentatively.

“Well yeah… Well, not as much as the cap’n!” she added with a wink and a wave of her hand that made bits of foam land on Simon’s shirt. “Ai ya, those two…” She whistled. “They really loved each other, I could tell.”

Simon breathed deeply, not wanting to betray his emotions. He talked with Kaylee as she finished rinsing out the cups, and laughed, and tried very hard not to think about Mal and Inara. He’d been doing that a lot…Simon had tried to dislike Inara, but she of course had made that simply impossible. From then on, complete denial had been his only option.

When the dishes were done, Simon told Kaylee goodnight and headed down the stairs to the infirmary. He had grown to love this ship but if Mal was going to continue playing games with his head, then ‘Serenity’ would be far too small for the both of them -- and it was still days before they’d reach Paquin.

Simon sighed. He really didn’t know what to think. Part of him wanted to jump for joy over that kiss, another part was utterly confused about Mal’s reaction, but for the greatest part he was just bitter and angry and felt like hitting someone. Where was Jayne when you needed him?


Jayne carefully put his weights out of harm’s way and walked up the stairs that led out of the cargo bay. He wasn’t even past the infirmary yet, when he heard screams and wails coming from River’s room.

“What’s that ruttin’ girl up to now? She’ll wake up the entire ship,” he said, half aloud. Still, he felt a mite curious about what was going on, and he opened the door to see her trashing about, struggling with her blanket and lost in what looked like a horrible nightmare.

“River? You’re dreamin’!” he said as he rushed to the bed and held her tightly as her arms and legs were flailing around wildly. “Gorramit girl, hold still!”

River sobbed and ranted incoherently as she slowly woke up. She gasped for breath and he could feel her heart pound against every inch of her skin. Her small fists clawed into Jayne’s shirt in a reflex, as if trying to assure herself that he was real.

Burying her head against his shoulder and flinging her arms around his neck, she cried uncontrollably. He could feel her warm breath through the fabric and it made his hair stand on end.

He waited patiently for her to calm down and patted her awkwardly on the back. “It’s, um… it’s okay,” he mumbled. He had to say something comforting, didn’t he? “It’s just a dream, nuthin’ to get all worked up about.”

River looked up at him, her eyes wild and panicked. “They going to take me away! Please, please don’t let them take me back,” she sobbed, burying her face in Jayne’s t-shirt again. “Please…”

She pulled back and looked at him, her hair clinging to her wet cheeks and her big brown eyes seeking his, begging for help.

He swallowed hard. “’Course I won’t,” he said hoarsely, squeezing her shoulder and attempting a little comforting smile. She looked back, letting the moment linger on… River didn’t move a muscle; she just stared at him, her face inches from his own.

“Called me River…”

“What?” Jayne frowned. He was trying very hard to concentrate…

“Before -- you called me River. Never called me River before.” She stared at him with a pensive frown. “Call your weapons names, because they matter. Like the ancient Babylonians on Earth-That-Was, things only have meaning if they have a name. If it doesn’t have a name, it doesn’t exist. Doesn’t matter.” She wiped her cheeks dry. “Do I matter?”

Slowly, she brought her hand up to his face. Jayne frowned. He’d never really thought about it. Hell, it wasn’t like anyone had ever asked him that before… He barely understood what the hell she was talking about in the first place.

It all sounds like a bunch of fei hua to me, but does it really matter? She’s usually right, anyway… Jayne drew in a sharp breath as his body was making some decisions for him…

Before River’s fingers could touch his face, he took her hand in his own and slowly started to pull her closer until their noses almost brushed together…

“Never kiss on the lips. Why not? Because it shows feelings, a connection -- shows that you care?” she asked suddenly.


She hadn’t even sensed Simon entering her room. All she’d felt was Jayne’s desire, crashing like waves on a cliff in a summer storm, pounding in her ears like a war drum. Now even the waves were drowned out by Simon’s rage, burning inside him with the deafening roar of a forest fire.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”




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Tumbling -- Act Three
Inara flirts with a stranger in a bar, and then things start to get weird. M/I and some S/K. Act three of three.

Tumbling -- Act Two
Inara flirts with a stranger in a bar, and then things start to get weird. M/I and some S/K. Act two of three.

Tumbling -- Act One
Inara flirts with a stranger in a bar, and then things start to get weird. M/I and some S/K. Act one of three.

A Lonely Road: part 9
The boys blow hot and cold, Kaylee gets all the good gossip, and the crew goes after River.
(M/S slash).

A Lonely Road: part eight
Things heat up, Kaylee hits Jayne, Badger gets a mite tetchy, and the crew prepares for their hardest job ever.

A Lonely Road: part seven
The Companion does what she does best, escape and rescue ops are set in motion, and hiding in a cave during a snow storm is a Great Plan.

A Lonely Road: part six
The crew has trust issues regarding Jayne, Simon and River get into a peck of trouble, and Mal has to get help from the last person he wants to see...

A Lonely Road: part five
Part five: in which River and Jayne face the inevitable, the cargo is, well... different and Simon makes a very stupid decision. Again.

A Lonely Road: part four
After the wave Mal has received, the long journey through the black makes everyone go a little bit stir-crazy, Simon not in the least...

A Lonely Road: part three
Part three: where Inara leaves, the crewmembers drown their sorrows and things somehow get even worse…