by Juli

October 2002

Dr. Simon Tam's head hurt and, for once, it wasn't due to his sister's condition.

River's continued mental and emotional aberrations were, of course, a continued concern. He'd managed to rescue her from the mysterious Academy, for all the good it had done her. Whatever torments they'd inflicted on his younger sister in that place continued to haunt River, despite Simon's best efforts to heal her.

Who was he kidding? What hope did he have of curing River when he couldn't even determine what was wrong with himself?

His symptoms were, admittedly, vague. Restlessness... lack of appetite... fitful sleep... strange and disturbing dreams. Taken individually, none were of consequence. Add them together, however, and they took their toll. Even some of the others on the Serenity had begun to notice. Just the day before, Book had gently chided Simon for not taking care of himself. The preacher had invoked River's well-being, correctly pointing out that Simon couldn't care for her properly if he were unwell himself.

As if Simon didn't know that already.

After doing his duty to his shipmates and determining that he wasn't contagious, Simon hadn't actually spent much time on himself. Book's argument had failed to swayed. The younger man preferred concentrating on River's condition and so he simply ignored his own general feeling of malaise as best he could.

That strategy had worked fine until that morning, when Simon had awakened with a head pounding loud enough to wake the dead. The young doctor had staggered into the infirmary, feeling worse with every step. He'd finally floundered into a tray of medical equipment and totally lost his balance. Falling heavily to the floor, he panted, trying desperately to make the room stop spinning.

"It's okay, Simon," his sister's voice said. River came into view as the troubled teenager knelt by her older brother. "All grown up now. " A tentative hand reached out and patted him on the head. "It's hard to grow up, but it's safe now. You were right, we're safe here."

Simon didn't have time to appreciate the irony of his sister taking on the role of the care giver; blackness descended on him and he soon became unaware of everything around him. Several hours later, the others found them, River crooning lullabies as she cradled her brother's unconscious body to her and rocked him like a child.


"There's the little bugger that's been causing all the ruckus." The doctor turned towards the small but concerned crowd that had gathered around the infirmary window. The tweezers in her hand were holding a vaguely bug-like shaped object. It was black and sported tendrils that were currently dripping with blood. "An Inhibitor. Nasty piece of work."

"An Inhibitor?" Mal Reynolds repeated. The Serenity's captain had seen and heard of a lot of questionable devices during his time on the frontier, but he'd never heard of this one. "What the hell is that?"

Inara, the resident Companion, exchanged a knowing look with Book, the Shepherd. Each, in their own way, was a little more worldly than even the captain and knew what the implant meant.

"That explains a lot," Book murmured. Inara bit her lip and nodded in agreement, dark eyes brimming with concern. She kept an arm around River's shoulders, trying to offer comfort but being largely ignored. The girl's eyes were riveted on her brother's form as he was being worked on. A physician had been brought in to help and River was patently uncomfortable with a stranger caring for Simon.

Zoe, Reynolds' second in command, and her husband, Wash, stood closely together as they hung back. Zoe, in particular, was worried about the turn of events. Mal Reynolds had been her commanding officer for a long time and she well knew the effect it would have on the captain to lose a member of his crew, even one as reluctantly accepted as Simon. The last contingent of the Serenity's crew was Jayne, who watched the proceedings with a particular glee. The Serenity's doctor and the big mercenary had butted heads ever since they'd met. Jayne didn't mind seeing trouble come Simon's way, not one little bit.

The doctor finished tending for her patient, smoothing thick, dark hair back from a fevered forehead before leaving Simon to recover from the surgery. Once outside the treatment area, she blew a big sigh of relief and reached into her shirt pocket. Extracting a cigar, she lit it and puffed greedily, relaxing as she inhaled the pungent smoke.

"Is he gonna be all right?" Kaylee asked anxiously. The others waited tensely for an answer. Simon Tam was not universally liked on the Serenity but he'd won the grudging respect of the other passengers and crew for his unwavering devotion to his sister.

Dr. Molly Quinn blew a smoke ring before turning to answer the mechanic's question. "He'll be fine, sugar." The older woman ran an absent hand through her cap of greying red curls. "In fact," she laughed, "Some might say he'll be even better than all right." She looked at Mal. "Darlin', you are in for an interestin' time."

"Define 'interesting,' Molly," Mal stated flatly. He didn't like the mischievous twinkle in her eyes, not with Inara and Book looking so concerned.

"An Inhibitor," Molly answered, choosing to ignore Mal's second question in favor of the first, "is usually somethin' you only see used by hoity toity Alliance-types with more money than sense."

"That'd be our boy, right enough," Jayne muttered.

Quinn ignored the interruption. "Once implanted, it prevents someone from feelin' any sexual urges, blocks the body from bein' aroused a'tall. Hell, with this sucker in ya, ya wouldn't have a clue to what bein' aroused even was.

There was complete silence as the impact of her words sank in.

"Why would someone do something like that?" Kaylee asked in a choked voice. Unconsciously, the mechanic took a step closer to Inara.

"Power," Book answered. A bleak expression was on the Shepherd's face. "In the upper echelon of the very central Alliance worlds, arranged marriages are not unheard of. They're usually as much trade agreements as anything else." The preacher shrugged. "And what better way to make sure your promised fiancee doesn't stray before the ceremony than to take away the urge to do so."

"A disgusting practice," Inara interjected. "The Companion Guild has been trying for years to get it outlawed."

"Yeah, I bet you have - a bunch of sexless rich potential customers would really cut into the profits," Mal said, almost absently. The captain was too distracted to spare much attention for his usual verbal sparring match with his most "respectable" passenger.

Jayne's reaction precluded Inara from retorting.

"Whoo-hoo-hoo!" The mercenary hooted with laughter. "You mean that prissy fancy-boy doctor is a virgin? I always knew there was something wrong with him."

"Not only is he a virgin," Molly answered, "but he is as clueless as virgins come - but not for long." The doctor was almost enjoying the reaction her news was causing.

"What do you mean?" Mal was beginning to lose patience... and it showed. The captain had a way of tapping his fingers against his gun when he was testy and they were already beginning to twitch.

"'Member what I said about you were in for an interestin' time?" Molly didn't wait for an answer. "That boy's just been set free, so to speak. His juices have been stoppered up for a good long while, by the look of the Inhibitor. It was either put into him awful early or left in too long, either way, don't matter." Quinn took a deep breath, knowing she was getting to the part that was mostly likely to set Reynolds off. "It was actin' up, that's what made him sick. Now that the Inhibitor's out of him, let's just say the sap's gonna be runnin' high for a piece."

Mal rolled his eyes at her melodrama. Molly was an old friend but there was more than her cigar-smoking that had kept him from asking her to be a part of his crew. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

She shook her head. "It means that this boy has been denied feeling anythin' sexual AT ALL for his entire life and now that the barrier is gone, every bit of that pent up libidinous is gonna come oozin' out." Molly tilted her head, considering, and then corrected herself. "Forget oozin', it's gonna be a damn flood."

The captain looked at Simon, so innocent-looking as he lay unconscious on the table, then back up at the older woman. "You mean...."

"That's right," she nodded back at him. "Once he starts feelin' better from the surgery, he's gonna be hornier than hell and achin' to get his itch scratched."

Mal blinked as he considered what the affect would be of experiencing all the repressed sexuality from adolescence on up in one compressed dose. Thinking quickly, he turned to Inara, "You know how I feel about what you do for a living and especially about plying your trade amongst my crew, but this is a special case. Any chance you could service the boy, help him get past this...."

The Companion shot a brief glance at Kaylee, who nodded gravely. "Of course, I'll help any way I can," Inara responded, "But you have to consider, Mal, that Simon might not want me."

Six pairs of disbelieving eyes looked at her. Of the Serenity's crew, only River seemed disinclined to protest Inara's suggestion that anyone could refuse her. The teen sighed and leaned her head against the other woman's shoulder, still watching Simon intently.

"She's got a point," Molly agreed, chewing on her cigar. "Boy's just as likely to crave a stallion as he is a mare. More likely, in fact."

"More likely?" Wash spoke for the first time. "Why's that?"

The grizzled doctor smiled at him. "It's been my experience, son, that men are more likely t' insist on a spouse that comes to the marriage bed 'pure.' We gals are a little more practical. We want our studs disease free when we get 'em and we don't want 'em to stray once they're ours, but this virgin crap isn't a big deal. No self-respectin' woman wants a mate that needs to read the instruction manual before he can use the equipment."

Zoe snorted in laughter and Wash turned to her with a hurt expression.

"Don't worry, hon," the ex-soldier patted her husband on the arm as she reassured him. "You know how to use your equipment just fine."

"Simon... with a man?" Mal seemed uneasy with the idea.

"It does happen on occasion," Book said dryly.

"'Don't talk so loud, Simon,'" River said, eyes unfocused as her mind traveled a path that the others couldn't follow, "your husband wouldn't like it.' 'You can't be seen in public dressed like that, Simon, what would your husband think?'"

The others listened in an uncomfortable silence. Finally, Book cleared his throat." I guess that means Dr. Quinn is right. Simon will need a male to... help him with his problem."

The captain paced liked a caged animal, then stopped suddenly and pointed at the pilot. "Wash...."

Wash jumped. "Hey, don't look at me - I'm married," he protested. Zoe's face was impassive. She would not go so far as to condemn the captain in front of the others, but her flinty expression spoke volumes.

Jayne pushed himself off the wall he'd been leaning against. "I ain't."

"What?" Mal ignored Jayne but was confused at the couple's reaction. The slow and deliberate way Zoe pulled Wash to her made the issue clear. "Oh, no, that's not what I meant," Reynolds held up his hands as he explained, "I just wanted to know how far we are from Sogomra."

For a fleeting second, Wash looked disappointed but quickly recovered. "Right, Sogomra." He thought a moment. "About a week, give or take a day or two."

Reynolds nodded. "Good. That's where we're headed."

"Sogomra?" Zoe questioned. "Do we have a job there? Last I heard, it's nothing but a planet full of brothels... oh."

"Hey, I said, I ain't married." Jayne lumbered over to Mal and glared at the captain. "I can service the boy."

"But, Jayne, you don't even like him!" Kaylee objected.

Jayne didn't take his eyes off of Mal's. "I don't have to like him, to fuck him." He grinned slowly. "Hell, not likin' him makes it even better."

"I'm not in the habit of havin' one of my crew 'servicing' another, not when the feelin's not mutual," Mal said calmly. "Wash, what're you still doing here? Don't you have a course to lay in for Sogomra?"

"I'm gone," the pilot said, kissing his wife quickly before heading towards the cockpit.

Jayne's eyes darted from Mal's determined ones to where Simon lay sleeping in the infirmary. He shifted his stance a bit, hitching his pants up before wiping his nose. "Sogomra."

"Sogomra." Mal repeated, not breaking eye contact with his troublesome crew member.

The mercenary turned to go but then stopped. Eyes lit up with excitement, he offered a suggestion. "Say, you think we can drop him off in one of those brothels while he's all juiced up? I bet we could make arrangements to rent a room if we cut the madame in on a percent." Jayne leered. "A fancy piece of meat like that, all rarin' to go, bet we'd have them lined up fer blocks. Maybe make back a penny or two he and his sister have cost us."

Mal ignored the twin gasps of outrage from Kaylee and Inara and simply shook his head. Jayne took one look at the captain's determined face and stalked out of the room, leaving before he was ordered to go.

"Sogomra? Are you sure there isn't another alternative?" Book looked disgusted. "The Tams come from a more protected background than most folk around here. A brothel would be pretty rough for him."

Mal glared at the Shepherd. "Are you offering....?"

"Me? Heavens, no," the preacher seemed flustered. "My vows require me to be celibate."

"All right, then. Unless you're willing to do the servicing, don't take issue with my arrangements." Mal glanced up at the rest, daring them to protest. Inara shook her head sadly at him but didn't say a word. Kaylee opened her mouth and then closed it, deciding at the last moment that she preferred to live. Zoe just shrugged.

"That's settled," Mal said in satisfaction. Taking Molly Quinn by the arm, he pulled her aside. Molly didn't have a planetary base, preferring the freedom of her own ship. She kept flying by trading her medical services for supplies and other goods. Mal Reynolds was a long-time acquaintance and, before the Serenity had its own doctor, she'd been a frequent visitor to the ship.

"What can we expect from our patient?" The captain asked. "He gonna be all right?"

"He'll wake up in a few hours; be a mite uncomfortable for a while," she answered. "Then, his body will realize that it's free of the Inhibitor. After that, he'll be more than a mite uncomfortable but not in any danger."

The two were conversing in low voices, watching as the rest of the crew wandered off to their own pursuits. River pulled herself out of Inara's grasp and slipped into the infirmary, going immediately to her brother's side. The girl still moved more like a wild thing than a human, with eyes much too old for the rest of her.

"Uncomfortable's one thing, a body can stand that, but...." Mal didn't quite know how to phrase the question.

Molly did it for him. "Is he gonna explode? No. He might start doin' things he wouldn't normally but you said he's a doctor himself?" When Mal nodded, she continued. "Well, then at least he knows the theory behind findin' temporary relief. Necessity'll take care of the rest, but only for a while...." She dropped her cigar to the floor and ground it under her heel. "Look, Mal, I've known you a long time - you sure about this Sogomra idea?"

Mal smiled thinly at her. "What? You gone soft in your old age?"

"Me, hell no! If I thought he'd take a mare, I'd be the first one sayin' howdy to him when he woke up." Her smile faded. "I'll quit this pussy footin' around and be blunt - why not service him yourself? He's a pretty thing and I know you, you've noticed how attractive he is. Why not, no one would blame you."

Her companion shrugged. "I would."

The doctor blew out an exasperated sigh. "You and that damn sense of honor of yours. I'm sure your hand will be cold comfort later when just a few yards away is a man that's gonna be achin' for relief."

"Relief, huh?" Mal said bitterly. "Is that what they call it now?"

Molly threw her hands up. "All right, all right, I know when I've been beat."

Mal began to walk away and she grabbed him by the arm. "Just one last thing - I don't know who this young doctor of yours is or what kind of gal his sister is, but I suggest you be real choosy about the whorehouse you take him to. Boy like that sticks out in these parts and I get the feelin' that you don't want a lot of attention brought to him... or the girl either.

"I'll take that under advisement," the captain said. Molly nodded and went back into the infirmary to gather her gear.

One thing about coming aboard the Serenity, the work was livelier than most. Mal Reynolds' crew had the most interesting ways of getting injured. But this visit, this one had been the most interesting of all. Molly was almost sorry she'd be gone by the time her patient woke up....

.... because then the true fun would begin.


Simon woke to see Shepherd Book's dusk-colored face peering gently down at him.

"Welcome back, son," the older man said kindly.

Simon let Book help him sit up, gratefully accepting the glass of water the preacher offered. The young man was groggy and it took him a moment to remember his responsibility.

"River!" Simon cried out, knocking over the glass in an attempt to get up. He felt oddly feeble but the vague memories of his sister's worried expression spurred him on.

"She's just fine," Book reassured him, pressing down on both of Simon's shoulders to keep the doctor in place. "Let's just worry about you for a minute."

Simon allowed himself to be settled back down against his pillow and watched dispassionately as the other man cleaned up the mess. He felt detached from the action as he searched his memory, trying to remember what had happened. "I've been ill?"

Book left off fussing with the damp blanket and came to sit on the edge of the bed. "Something like that." He dropped a small item onto Simon's lap, watching carefully as the younger man picked it up and started turning it around in his fingers. "Did they teach you about these in that Medacad you graduated from?"

Puzzled, Simon didn't look at Book while he answered, focused intently on the device in his hand. "No. Is it medical in nature?"

The preacher smiled bitterly, tempted to say that it's only nature was evil. Instead, he gathered himself to explain. It was, after all, why he was the one present when Simon awoke. Inara had offered, but they figured Simon would take the news better from another man.

"It's called an Inhibitor, son. It's an implant designed to suppress the body's natural sexual urges..."

Simon frowned. "I've heard about those, they were developed for controlling sexual predators. But they were deemed inhumane a long time ago. What are you doing with one?"

Book shook his head. Someone had left an obvious gap in Simon's otherwise faultless education. "You're right, they're not used for criminals anymore but they have been modified for more... virtuous... purposes." When his companion looked at him in confusion, the preacher gently asked, "Simon, why didn't you ever tell us about your Intended?"

Simon dropped his head and shrugged. "Because it wasn't relevant..." Suddenly, the Shepherd's meaning hit him and he met Book's gaze, eyes blazing. "Never! My Intended is an honorable man, he'd never stoop to such a thing. Nor would my parents let him."

The older man looked at him compassionately. "Let me tell you about your Intended, son. He's older than you and has a lot of money. Enough to buy your parents several times over. He's not used to losing - at anything - and he contracted to marry you when you were still very young. Probably when you were a child. Am I right?"

"I can't really remember a time when Lawrence wasn't my Intended," Simon admitted in amazement. "How did you know all of that?"

Book shrugged. "It fits the profile of the type of creature that would put one of these into a child."

Simon set his jaw stubbornly. "Maybe so, but my parents would not have let him. They loved me."

"I'm not saying they didn't," the Shepherd replied. "Look, son, I'm not trying to belittle your parents at all. I'm sure they had very good reasons for binding you to marry a man old enough to be your father when you were too young to protest. But you can't dispute the fact that the Inhibitor was implanted into you, by someone, and your Intended stood to reap all the benefits. Somehow, he arranged everything so he was guaranteed a virgin husband... and one hell of a honeymoon."

The latter comment caught Simon's attention, diffusing some of his building anger. "What do you mean, about the honeymoon?"

"You're the physician, you tell me," Book challenged. "A device that's been blocking the body's sex drive, what happens when it's removed?"

Simon's blush answered for him.

"All right, that's what I thought," the preacher said. "Let's put aside for the moment why this thing was put inside you and concentrate on how to help you now that it's off."

"I don't need any help," Simon answered, edging away from the Shepherd. "I'm a civilized man; there will be no rutting around like a dog in heat...."

Book ignored the younger man's protest but took pity on him and got up. "You're a doctor, you know the mechanics of self gratification. That will have to hold you until we reach Sogomra."

"What's in Sogomra?" The doctor asked suspiciously.

The Shepherd stifled a sigh, liking this part of the situation least off all. "You're going to be desperately in need of satisfaction, son. The rush you'll get now that the Inhibitor is off will be too much for you to handle on your own. You're going to need help and the captain's decided that the... facilities... on Sogomra will be the best place for you to get it."

Simon looked him in disbelief, the younger man's expression hardening as he reacted to the explanation. "Get out."

"Simon, there's nothing for you to be ashamed of. This was done to you, son, we all know that-"

"Get out." This time, Simon punctuated the statement by throwing the glass at the preacher.

Book didn't bother to hold back his sigh as he turned and left. Simon Tam had been forced to make a lot of adjustments since he'd rescued his sister. He'd left his wealth and his known existence far behind and been forced to hide with people that most of society would consider ruffians. He'd adapted a bit awkwardly, to be sure, wrapping his civility around him like a protective cloak, but the young man had managed, barely, to accept his new existence.

Book didn't know if Simon would be able to accept this.

The Shepherd stumbled as River swept by him, reaching for the girl to stop her from going into her brother's room. "River, wait, I think Simon wants to be alone right now."

The teenager looked at him sadly. "Simon's always alone," she said and darted inside.

Inara stopped Book from following her. "Let her be. She was taking a nap and then just snapped awake. Nothing would calm her, she just insisted that Simon needed her."

Book rubbed at the back of his neck. "Maybe she's right."

The Companion sighed. "It didn't go well, then." Her comment wasn't a question; it was obvious from the preacher's expression.

"Sometimes we forget that Simon isn't all that much older than his sister," Book said quietly. "Remember, he said he was gifted and went through his schooling quick, he just wasn't as gifted as she was." He spread his hands helplessly. "That young man has such a sense of responsibility for River and that maturity makes him seem older than his years. I'm afraid of what this mess will do to him - he's not ready for this."

"Who would be?" Inara asked gently. "Still, the captain may have the right idea. If Simon eases his urges with strangers, it won't be so embarrassing for him when he comes back to the Serenity."

"If it doesn't destroy him," Book countered. "And I'm very much afraid that it will."

The two of them stood in silence, both afraid that Book's statement had the ring of prophecy.


~continued in Part 2~


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