Mal pounded on the front door, Jayne and Zoe standing directly behind him. They'd gotten plenty of looks from people passing by in the fancy neighborhood, but all had been ignored. He had raised his fist to pound again when it opened and Dr. Tam stood in its place. Tempted to let his fist fall anyhow, Mal lowered it without impact and snapped, "What news do you have?"

Scowling, Dr. Tam replied, "This is none of your affair, Reynolds, you will leave this instant!"

"No, I won't," Mal stated. "This is my world that you're dealing with and you're going to need my help to get him back. That's why River called me. Why you should have called me the minute Simon was kidnapped!"

Though he glared, the older man stepped back and motioned abruptly for them all to enter with, "I have an inventory of all my belongings. If anything goes missing, I'll know who to arrest."

"You can insult me and mine later. What information do you have?" Mal demanded.

"Simon was on his way home from work when it happened," Tam provided reluctantly. "He's taken to volunteering his services at a general hospital in the poor section of the city. Which, I'm sure, is all your fault."

Mal smirked. "Thank you."

Eyebrows furrowing together, Tam continued, "I warned him not to keep going there, but he seemed to think it was his duty. Then, three days ago, he was kidnapped. At first, we didn't realize anything was wrong. He sometimes can go for a couple of days without a break when he gets engrossed. Then we got the wave."

"Wave?" Mal prompted.

Tam motioned for them to follow and they did, through the foyer into a large, book-lined study. The doctor picked up a remote and pointed it at the screen on the wall.

Mal's breath hitched when Simon's bruised and bloodied face became visible. One eye had swollen completely shut and there were a couple of knife cuts along the cheeks. His head was lolled to the side because Simon was plainly unconscious. Jayne hissed in anger, but Zoe remained completely silent. Glancing over to her, Mal saw her about ready for violence.

A disembodied voice on the wave said, "If you want to keep your son alive, you will not call the feds. You will pay a ransom of five million square. There will be another wave with further instructions detailing when and where."

The screen went black and Mal took a second to get himself under control before turning to Tam. "You got that kind of cash?"

"I'm working on raising it," Tam evaded.

"How long until you do?" Zoe asked.

As though noticing her for the first time, Tam frowned and answered, "Another day at least. It's a bank holiday today, so there's nothing that I can do."


Mal jerked around in surprise at River's bitter declaration. The girl was wrapped in a robe and looked all kinds of fragile, except for her blazing eyes. "River? What's going on?"

Rushing across the room, River slammed into Mal and wrapped her arms around his waist, holding tight. Surprised, Mal hesitated, then put his hands around her shoulders and stroked her back, soothing. "What's wrong, mei mei?"

"He's not going to pay it, he's going to let Simon die!" River exclaimed, looking up at him. "That's why I called you. You love him, you can get him back for us!"

Uncomfortable at the suddenly knowing look on Jayne's face, shared as it was by the elder Tam and Zoe, Mal cleared his throat and answered, "No one's going to let Simon die, I promise. We're going to fix us a plan and it's gonna go smooth so that we get Simon back in one piece."

River nodded, showing every confidence that he'd keep that promise without breaking a sweat.

* * * *

Pain had become the center of his world. Simon was vaguely glad that his captors weren't interested in pursuing more intimate forms of bestowing pain, satisfied instead with making him beg for surcease of the infliction. He didn't have any idea how long he'd been held, didn't even remember getting kidnapped in the first place.

The main problem with kidnapping for ransom, in so far as Simon could tell, was that you had to pick a target who meant something to the person you were demanding the money from. It was hit or miss because what the public saw, like the loving Tam's reunion, was different from reality, which was the cold silence at the dinner table between father and son, and the incomprehension from his mother.

The kidnappers had discovered this the hard way and were taking their frustrations out on Simon's flesh. As though he was personally responsible for his father not caring. Which, after a fashion, he supposed that he was. It was almost too bad that River was so well suited to living at home because that meant that his father had another heir to produce for him. Although, the way the two of them had been getting on the last month or so since the birthday party, maybe River was the real heir anyhow.

There was no real earthly reason for Simon to think that he was going to get out of this alive and that sent his sense of irony into overdrive. Not only did he survive being on the run from the most feared set of feds around, but had gotten through dangerous situation after dangerous situation during illegal activities while on the run. Now, supposedly safe at home, Simon had been kidnapped and, because he was sure that his father wouldn't pay the ransom, he was going to die.

Irony really sucked.

* * * *

Zoe checked her new laser weapons one last time before nodding to Mal.

The Captain was lounging against the wall as though he didn't have a care in the world, though she knew that posture belied the tension hiding beneath. She glanced over at Jayne, who was waiting at the back door, and gave him a nod as well. Straightening, she knocked on the door that lead into the rat infested hideout of the kidnappers. Well, she assumed it was rat-infested considering the huge rodent that had scurried out of a basement window a few moments ago.

The door opened and a hard looking man in his mid-thirties glared at Zoe. "What?"

"I understand you got some electrical problems."

He frowned. "What're ya talkin' about?"

"Electrical problems. We're here about the electrical problems," Zoe replied.

"We ain't got no…" His voice trailed off when her gun was leveled at his face, the whine of electricity plainly audible as it powered up.

"You do now," Zoe informed him softly. "Any others in the house?"

Swallowing heavily, he nodded. "Three."

"Where are they? And be specific, or I'll fry you and find out for myself."

"D-downstairs, two are having a go at the doc. The third's sleeping in the back bedroom," the man answered.

Without warning, Zoe slammed the butt of the gun into the man's head, knocking him out. Fury battled at her control at the casual description of what Simon was going through, but she wrestled it back and stepped over the man. Mal followed her in while Jayne stood guard outside. They took care of the sleeping man first with an easy blow to the head, then turned towards the basement door.

"I'll get them up here," Zoe said, hand on the door.

Mal nodded, taking up position just on the other side, out of sight.

She was a little worried at the cold, hard look on his face, something she hadn't seen since the war, but there was nothing to be done about it. Zoe pushed the door opened, her jaw clenching at the sounds of a beating and Simon's low groans of pain. Taking a breath, she forced a coy note to her voice and called, "Oh, bo-oys, you're playtime is here and she's feeling very left out!"

The sounds stopped and there was muffled conversation before the two of them looked up the stairs. Flashing them a smile, Zoe ran her free hand over her breast and down her flat stomach. Her gun hand was hidden behind the wall where they couldn't see.

"Well hot damn," one of them exclaimed, heading up the stairs.

The other was right behind him, so Zoe stepped back to give them room and keep their attention on her so Mal could get them from behind. Kidnappers had no honor, so neither of them felt the least bit bad about the sneak-attack and deception; even less so than usual. When the two men were coming towards her, Zoe pointed her gun at them and said, "That's far enough."

"What the…?"

"Move, and you die," Mal said from behind.

It didn't take long to get them trussed up and neither protested at all when Jayne took a couple of cheap shots by kicking them when they were down. Leaving them in his rough care, Zoe and Mal headed for the basement and Simon.

She was a little afraid of what they were going to find.

* * * *

When the beating stopped, Simon knew better than the be grateful because it was only on hold. They'd be back as soon as they were done with the woman who sounded disturbingly like Zoe, and then take up where they'd left off. He took the breather for what it was, a brief respite in a life dedicated to pain.

At least half of his ribs were cracked on both sides, his vision was blurry, what little bit that he could open his eyes to see anyhow, and whenever he relieved himself, in his pants because he couldn't move very well, it burned from being kicked.

He was currently tied to a chair and that was the only reason that he was upright. Well, relatively speaking since he was sagged over the ropes, despite the pain that caused his ribs. He just didn't have the strength to keep himself in a less painful position.

"Son of a god damned fucking whore!"

Frowning, Simon turned blearily towards what sounded like Mal's voice, squinting to try and make out the dark shape looming over him. It was no use, so he closed his eyes again.

"Simon? Oh God, Zoe, call a medic!"

"On it, Sir."

A hand touched his shoulder and Simon flinched automatically, expecting it to hurt.

"Simon, it's me, it's okay. I'm just going to untie you and get you lyin' down," Mal soothed, his voice tender and strained all at once.

Falling forward when the ropes loosed, Simon was caught in strong, careful arms and lowered to the floor. He couldn't stop the groan as his ribs scraped against each other and his spine protested the change. How could he have forgotten the kicking-spree that one of his captors had gone on when he'd first been taken?

"Oh God, Simon, I'm sorry, I should've been here sooner, should've done more, should've…"

"Stop," Simon wheezed, reaching out blindly with his hand. It was taken and pressed to a stubbled cheek, and he continued in a voice nearly gone from screaming, "You're here…didn't expect…waiting to die."

There was something that sounded suspiciously like a suppressed sob, but when Mal spoke, his voice was steady. "You're too stubborn to die, Simon, that's one of the things I like about you."

Simon's chuckle ended in a gurgle as fluid in his lungs reminded him not to do anything other than breathe.

"Easy there, just rest, we're getting you help now, I swear," Mal promised, a finger brushing over Simon's forehead, then through his hair.

It really was too much effort to stay conscious with all the pain, but Simon desperately wanted to. He wanted to feel the gentle fingers sifting through his hair, wanted to listen to the soft murmur of Mal's voice. Unfortunately, his body had other ideas and he swirled down into the darkness.

* * * *

The doctors couldn't understand how Simon was still alive with the extent of his injuries, but Mal knew. It was just like he'd said to Simon; the other man was just too stubborn to die, even when it seemed hopeless. He'd known, too, on the first look at Simon that the kidnappers had been about to beat him to death, will of iron or not. If they'd been maybe a half-hour later, it would have been too late.

And that was something that kept echoing through Mal's head as he stared vacantly at the hospital bed. Monitors and machines beeped with reassuring regularity, telling him that Simon was on the mend. It had been too close of a call, though, and he knew it. Closer even than the burning the other man had almost gone through on account of his love for his sister, and that had been way the hell too damn close.

Feeling mildly out of control of everything, his life, his emotions, and his will, Mal thought about everything and nothing all at once. He didn't normally go for men. Really, he never had except once or twice before, and they'd been rough and tumble sorts like himself. It'd been fun and hot, nothing serious, just a bit of something different.

For the last couple of years, his mind and heart had been set on Inara. Her quiet fire and steadfast refusal to buckle into what conformity demanded of a woman had been more than enough to pique his interest. Even if she wasn't one of the most beautiful women that he'd ever known. They'd danced around each other at every opportunity until finally, she'd parted ways to find something, or someone, less 'complicated.'

That had been enough to send his already thorny barriers slamming into place around his heart. But then Simon had left too and Mal had realized just how much he cared for the younger man. He'd been right uneasy with the notion that maybe there was more than caring involved.

Still was, truth to tell.

Sighing, Mal rubbed tired eyes and yawned. He wasn't going to solve anything that night or the next. Probably wouldn't even figure the damned thing out until after he and Serenity had left Simon to the questionable care of his folks. Assuming they even did, because he wasn't at all pleased about the thought. Dr. Tam had, after all, hung his own son out to dry.

Something that Mal would be more than happy to demand an accounting for, if Simon didn't.

Leaning back and making himself as comfortable as the uncomfortable chair would allow, Mal grumbled silently about all the modern technology available and hospitals still not being a comfortin' place to wait.