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Speak softly and carry a big stick

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"Seems like the dandy ain't gettin' the money this time!"

The echoed words hit him like a ton of bricks seconds before the fist that doubled him over and stole his breath. A sudden kick to the chest sent him catapulting backwards into the wooden stands. Knees buckling, he felt arms in the stands snatch his shoulders and heft him up, opening his body up to the next hit, a solid gut punch. He retched, collapsing to his knees but failed at getting relief as a calloused hand twisted his hair and dragged him, barely resisting, to the centre of the ring. A kick to the back and he fell to the floor, the roaring of the crowd becoming muffled and far off. He gagged and breathed heavily, trying to push himself up on shaking arms. They were swept harshly and he went crashing back to the sandy floor, coughing harshly as cracked, probably broken ribs, screamed in protest. Moaning painfully, he turned onto his back, chest rising and falling quickly. He tried to raise his right hand into the sign of surrender but grimaced as he felt them bring grinded into the floor. Looking up fearfully, he found himself staring wide eyed into evil eyes. A devilish smirk played across his opponents face an instant before a boot came down hard on his face.


2 Weeks early

"It'll be fine, Simon! Don't worry Simon! It's all totally legit and-"

"Doc, nobody's laughing."

"Oh that's good. Somebody might actually solve this then."

Mal wanted to reach round and slap the doctor - boy didn't have enough fear or respect for his captain. In his current position however, such an act was, well, impossible. The current position, he internally remarked, was definitely not a beneficial one. Tied back to back, hanging by their feet, slowly swinging and turning while being uproariously laughed at by Patience and her goons. Again, not beneficial in any way. At least there was a justified reason for this one: Got a job from Badger, travel to planet-that-isn't-Whitefall, get stitched up, handed to Patience on a hog-tied platter. Okay, maybe not 'justified' but...

"Oh Hey! Doc I know its been a while but I don't think now's the time to be feelin' people up."

The younger man sighed and (unseen by Mal) closed his eyes in exasperation. Sometimes the Captain was useful in a jam but this obviously wasn't one of those times. Ignoring the man, Simon continued to wiggle his bound hands for a minute more before letting out a harsh breath of air.

"tiān líng líng, dì líng líng! What a gorram surprise!"

Mal gasped in mock shock - successfully dodging a thrown something- and twisted his head so he could just see the black hair of the doctor out the corner of his left eye. "Is the good doctor angry! Oh my!"

"Goddamn Mal, stop messing about! How the hell-"

Simon's question was answered rather abruptly when the ropes securing them to the ceiling were cut and they fell, hard, to the floor with a loud 'thump'. With the two of them occupied by groaning in pain, men rushed forward and untied them, stepping back quickly and upholstering their guns, fingers a mite too twitchy for Mal.  Casting each other a cautious look, they pushed themselves slowly to their feet, painfully aware of the large number of weapons pointed in their general direction. As soon as they managed to stand straight, the men, without a word of command, parted in front of them to let Patience through. She was sauntering slowly towards them, caressing her gun as though it were a babe. Simon would have laughed but at this rate a sneeze alone could fill him full of at least six bullets.

"Malcom Reynolds. I warned you this would happen."

"That you did Patience" Mal made to move forward but the sudden raising of guns stopped him before he'd even taken a step. He gulped nervously. "Now how about just lettin' me and mine on our merry way."

She smiled predatorily. "No can do Mal. See, when you shot me and my boys, you lost me a lot of respect. That isn't good for a business woman." She paused and moved to the side, making way for four quite large men. Reaching the edge of the human circle, they cracked various parts of themselves, growling and grunting in an imitation of an ape (or Jayne); even Simon felt his knees wobble a little.

"Now. These boys were quite close to those you and Zoe shot up. I'm aware that ain't Zoe beside you-"

"How'd you know. Maybe she wanted a change?"

Patience smiled to humour him. "However the boy will have to do. I ain't one to give long speeches so, boys, if you would like to begin."

The crowd around them spread out slightly, forming what looked liked the place for a Secondary School fight. A great noise arose as the men chanted in excitement, watching with bloody glee as the four giants approached leisurely, obviously savouring the moment. Mal leaned in close to the, surprisingly, unmoving doctor.

"Hey Doc?"

"Yes Captain?"

"You thinkin' of doin' any of that kung-fu stuff at this time."

The Doctor looked at him with an eyebrow raised. He crossed his arms and took a step back, eyeing the still approaching men. "Um, nah, don't think I will."

"Doc wha-aaaaa!" Mal cried out as his shirt was suddenly seized and hoisted into the air, leaving his legs kicking wildly. He turned his head and looked straight at one of the ugliest smiling faces he had ever seen. He gave it a grin.

"Hey there! You folks seen my ship anywhere?"

The man snorted then, letting out a groan of exertion, he threw Mal across the room, sending him sliding a few inches along the floor; Mal groaned and drew himself to his feet slowly.

"I'll take that as a no."

Looking over, he saw Simon casually chatting to some of the goons at the edge of the circle, completely unconcerned with the danger he and the captain were in. Aware of the oncoming danger, he called out, hoping to get some actual aid.

"Hey Doc!"

The man in question looked over and waved. Son of a bitch. Still holding his attention, Mal gestured to the four men and tilted his head, clearly asking if Simon was interested on getting involved. Simon had the gall to shake his head. Before he could protest Mal was picked up and thrown, to the other side of the circle, once again. Raising a hand to his pounding head, Mal had to admit he was unsurprised when he was, once again, picked up and thrown. Evidently they were just as bored as he was because the next time he was picked up, he found himself staring at a drawn back fist. Well, this was the end.

"As a doctor, I say that's highly dangerous for your health."

The man holding him, obviously confused, turned and suddenly found himself flat on the floor, stunned, with the vague recollection of a fist flying towards his face. The three others, staring first at their downed comrade, slowly swivelled their gaze to the well dressed, small man glaring at them. The entire room had gone silent in shock.

"Thanks Doc. Knew I could count on ya." He managed to get out.

With a roar, one of the three giants, wearing a dingy bow tie, launched himself at Simon. The doctor, seeing it from a mile away, weaved and hit out with a jab to the liver as the man flew past. Gasping in pain, he stumbled and fell to his knees, one arm wrapped around his waist. Seeing their friend in pain, the other two decided to act and began swinging wildely. Simon, laughing gaily, seemed to dance out of the way and managed to grab the right arm of the man closest to him with his left hand. In one fluid step, Simon managed to get to the back of the man, whose arm was being twisted tightly. Hating the feeling but understanding the importance of timing, Simon wrapped an arm around his chest then pulled his left hand up, disocating the shoulder at the joint. As the man sqwarked, Simon kicked the back of his knee, sending him crashing to the floor, curled in pain.

By this time the bow tie guy had gotten back to his feet and was glaring venomously at Simon. From the side, Mal watched in fascination as all hint of amusement fell away from the doctor and he dropped into his fighting stance, left side forward,  body tense and ready to attack. Bow tie went first, coming at Simon with a powerful swinging punch that Simon deflected with an outer block. Sliding in, he punched him in the diaphragm, winding him, and then trapped the stretch out arm against his body. Moving the left leg quickly behind the giant, Simon pulled it back with lightening speed while at the same time pushing his right shoulder, sending him crashing to the floor and dust flying everywhere. Seeing the final man coming at him, Simon quickly finished him off with a punch to the throat before pushing himself to his feet. Barely missing a beat, he ran a step then, launching himself high in the air off his back (left) leg, Simon shot his right foot forward, connecting solidly with the final giants face. He paused, stumbled, then fell to the floor as if pole axed.

Mal stared. The crowd stared. Everything was awkwardly silent. Then the men stared shouting in rage. Not happy with their defeat, the men began letting bullets fly into the ceiling, some even aiming them at Simon's feet. The young doctor didn't seem to care though, too focused on making sure that non of his opponents got back to their feet. Mal was wary though, and edged closer to Simon, trying to find a way out of their current predicament.

As per usual, it required a bit of thrilling heroics.

A sudden explosion rocked the room, the shockwave sending most of them to their feet. From the cloud of dust strode forth Zoe and Jayne, each pointing a rather large and rather threatening gun at the downed form of Patience. The older woman, dazedly looking at them, groaned in annoyance and rested her head back on the floor.

"Zoe, this is getting mighty boring, what you pointing a gun at me."

The soldier didn't even miss a step as she cocked her mare's leg for emphasis. "Sure is Patience. Why don't we make sure it don't happen again?"

Patience, defeated, just closed her eyes. Mal and Simon on the other hand, couldn't help but grin at the sight of their crewmates and stumbled towards them, both covered from head to toe in white powder. Jayne snorted when he saw them, then, catching sight of the four moaning bodies on the floor, grinned near manically and slapped Simon on the back, almost making him create a new person-sized hole in the wall.

"Well doc, I didn't know you were having fun; I wouldn't have interrupted if that were the case."

"Well Jayne," he replied, trying fruitlessly to brush off the dust. "I would rather you had."

They began walking out, Mal and Zoe staring incredulously at them as they passed. They caught each other gaze then shrugged, too confused to question the sudden friendliness. Zoe set off but Mal, suddenly remembering something, moved much faster, chasing after the strange pair. Simon turned around as Mal called to him in his I'm-the -Captain voice.

"Hey doc. Doc!"

"Yes Captain?"

"What was that back there? When you just ignored me and stuff."

Simon's lips turned up at the corner as he shook his head to the side, playfully tilting it and smacking his ear to try and remove some of the dust that had settled in there. Mal glared at him but the doctor didn't seem to notice it, making Mal glare even harder.

"What did you say Captain? I'm afraid I can't hear you. Dust in my ears-"

"Come of it doc, you know perfectly well what I mean."

"Probable concussion as well. Ask me later or something."

Jayne smirked and wrapped an arm around Simon's shoulders, steering him away. Rotating his head in mock concern, he said to Mal: "A concussion's pretty serious business, cap. Guess you're gonna have to talk later, yeah?"

Watching them walk away, now on the streets of some non-descript town, he barely noticed the arrival of his second in command, too busy muttering under his breath.

 "Guay Toh Guay Nown!"

From the distance he heard: "Hwo Gai"

Returning to the ship moments later, Simon smiled earnestly at the sight of his sister on the ramp. Detangling himself from the mercenary's arm, he moved quickly towards her, wanting to assure himself that she was okay. He reached her and began to draw her into a hug.

"Mei-mei, I-"

She slapped him. Hard. Then she hugged him, wrapping herself around him and giggling as his mouth dropped open in shock. He heard Jayne chortling in the background, hand slapping on his knee.

"Silly brother. Not good to make fun of others. Wrong."

Sighing in resignation, he returned the embrace, trying to ignore his stinging cheek. It still was strange that she was a reader but he guessed that, before long, he would get used to it, one way or the other.

"No mei-mei, you're right, its not good to make fun of others."

She pulled back, smiling at him cheekily. "It's funny though."

"Oh great." Mal bemoaned, reaching the top of the ramp and pushing the button for it to close. "Now I got both of 'em conspiring against me. Zoe, what's happening."

She looked at him, face as stoic as usual. "I don't know sir, must be mutiny. Hell, I might even join up, girl makes a good point."

Staring at her in shock, Mal rubbed a hand across his chest and began uttering to himself.

"Gorram Feng-le crew. Don't know how good they got it. Should leave them to a Ba Wong Captain. Watch how quick they all come back."

He stopped when he realised nobody was paying any attention: Zoe had disappeared to the bridge, no doubt to see her husband, Jayne was doing one of too many things Mal didn't want to know about, and Simon was being distracted by the arrival of Kaylee. Man was absolutely besotted with her and, since the Jubal Early incident, the two had really worked hard at it, both sides spurred on by the traumatic experience. He wanted to be sick at the sight of goo-goo eyes but managed to refrain.

Dignity intact, he set off with the intention of reaching the kitchen but, like most of his plans, nothing ever went smooth. Just as he reached the doorway, he heard Wash paging him on the comm system . The audible worry in the usually euphoric pilot instantly put him on edge and he instantly turned and ran the second he heard Wash answer his call.

"You're gonna wanna see this Mal. There's something really wrong."