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Written for the second 20weeks challenge: Jealousy.

Title: The Statistics of Probability
Author: voleuse
Fandom: Firefly
Character: Simon Tam
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Errors cast distorted shadows on the wall.
Notes: Mostly pre-series, spoilers for "Safe" only

It's only afterwards that Simon thinks to treasure words, to collect them, keep them guarded. Before, he'd let them fall carelessly.

River taught him better, but he learned the lesson late.


Medical school is somewhat traumatic for Simon, a way of life he finds both ascetic and terrifyingly open. By choice, he opts for a small apartment near the medacad, a way to separate his past life from his future.

He buries himself in his studies, the promise of "brilliant doctor" always echoing in the back of his mind. It is complete immersion, his lecture notes his best companions, dissection sims his evening entertainment.

If he's lonely, he never realizes.

Aside from his studies, he marks time with his parents' waves, once a week at precisely seven in the evening. After the first month, he learns to sit by the screen before they call. It's simpler than having to abandon his texts and walk from the next room. Besides, they like to see the evidence of their hard work, the circles under his eyes and the datapad in his hands.

The conversations are short and formulaic, but sincere nonetheless. Simon considers it a nice change of pace from the quiet.

He does, sometimes, have a drink with his classmates, if the day's last lecture ends earlier than usual. He never stays long, out of ingrained responsibility, and awkwardness. He's never been adept at the bawdy humor that he always encounters in social settings.

Still, he thinks it's worth the effort. He'll have to work with these people someday. Though, he hopes, not with that idiot Franzen, whose admission to the program, it's widely known, is based on his family's stock holdings, rather than his test scores.

The rest of his classmates, he finds comforting, in a vague way. They're mostly older than him, but aside from frequent jibes at his evident inexperiences, they seem to welcome him into the fold.

He always feels guilty when he bids farewell, tosses a bit more coin on the bar than necessary.

And then it's back to his studies.


The first letter arrives a year after he left. It's sent directly to the medacad, as his own apartment is equipped only for digital communication.

His professor tosses it onto his desk before class. "Registrar said to give this to you."

Simon stares at the envelope without comprehension, only recognizing his name on the front, in River's handwriting.

Then class begins, so he focuses.

He's good at that.


He waves off an invitation to the bar that night, mumbling something about next week's exam. He makes a feeble joke about a hot date with a datapad, and the others laugh, leave off.

When he's finally home, he pulls the letter out of his pocket. One corner of the envelope is crinkled from the transport, and he smoothes it out carefully, first.

It's the first paper letter Simon's ever received. It's a little startling, actually, the luxurious waste of it. Money's not an object to them, not really, but an uplink's more convenient, more immediate, than taking the time to compose and write and route.

He pulls out the thin sheet of stationery. Happy Birthday, Simon! is scribbled, large, at the top.

Simon blinks, because he'd forgotten. It was a week ago, of course. His parents and River had sent him an obligatory wave, and an extra allowance had been transferred into his account.

He traces the block letters with his index finger.

River always knew exactly what he wanted. Even when he didn't.


The letters become routine as well, though they don't come frequently. Somehow, in a procedure involving a courier, an apartment manager, and the housekeeper, River's letters begin to appear on his kitchen table, instead of randomly in the lecture halls.

When Simon begins his internship, he treasures the letters even more. They're a breath of home, his schedule rarely permitting him a chance to fly back for a visit.

When he's named chief resident, however, Simon makes it a point to return home for the celebratory dinner, which the Tams would have held, with or without him.

River pulls him aside before dessert, presses a pamphlet into his hands. More paper, but glossy and bright with pictures.

He looks at the brochure briefly. "An academy?" Then more closely, under River's prompt. "It sounds...challenging." Daunting, even.

River stands on her tiptoes, twirls. "The very best." She slows her pirouette, then bends her knees and leaps. "In two weeks."

Simon looks up from the enrollment calendar. "You're going. Leaving home?"

"Of course, silly." She finally stands still. "Everybody leaves."

"Of course," he echoes.

She rolls her eyes. "I'll still write."

Chimes sound in the dining room. It's time for dessert.


There's a three-vehicle accident, and Simon isn't able to fly back home for River's farewell party.

Between a brain hemorrhage and a spinal reattachment, he attempts to call her at the academy. They won't let him speak to her, something about maintaining an intellectually-rigorous environment, but he's finally able to leave a message, after some negotiation.

Two weeks later, he receives another letter, mostly about an astrophysics seminar in which she's immersed, but also, a little bit, about how she misses him.

Simon smiles, and the next morning, he orders a few sheets of stationery, and an envelope.

And he writes back.


River's letters are, for the most part, very much the same. How are you, I miss you, the equations for the distances we've been calculating are faulty, but only because the premise in the text is assuming too many factors. And sometimes literature, sometimes philosophy, and usually a step beyond whatever Simon has studied.

He's used to River's precocity, but he still marvels at the way her language is evolving. Simple phrases have become complex, and the rhythm of her writing is coached in rhetoric. Before, she just talked like River, but now her writing is that of a scholar, something which earns respect more easily than simple brilliance. Simon thinks she could give his old professors a run for their money, now.

It's because of her changing narrative that he doesn't notice the underlying tension, at first. Any worry he notices is easily dismissed as homesickness, or teenage angst.

Then, one morning, he rereads a letter over breakfast, and something about the postscript catches his eye.

You should come to visit. Simply written, but inscribed deeply, the letters almost tearing through the paper.

It wiggles in his mind throughout the day, and when he returns home, he pulls out all her letters, kept in a box under his desk.

He lays them out, chronologically, and reads them again. Focuses on patterns, anomalies. They gather at the pit of his stomach, eat away like acid as he realizes.

Something's wrong.


He calls in sick the next day, goes over the letters again. And again. He sends his mother a wave, asks a few oblique questions, and cuts off the connection before she begins to frown.

He hooks his datapad into an uplink, tries to find more information on River's academy. The absence of information is more frightening than any theory he's been able to formulate.

He tacks a few queries up, then makes a few more calls. And he waits.

Information trickles in, grains of sand, mere fragments of facts. He catalogs everything precisely, recording them in a diary, the most innocuous-looking one he could find.

When his colleagues ask about the journal, he smiles tightly, tells them it's a gift for his little sister. Life as a surgeon, and all that.

It's not a lie, completely. In her last letter, River did ask him for more stories about the hospital.

The letters have continued to arrive, more fodder for his investigative scrutiny.

He highlights the irregularities. Misspelled words, skewed recollections. Misplaced phrases, and he thinks there's a code.


His parents don't believe him, so he finds other means of retrieval.

Money exchanges hands. Some will go toward bribes, so officials will look the other way. He doesn't ask what the rest will fund.

He made a vow to do no harm, but if he doesn't ask, he won't know.

He marks the sums in the diary, neat columns of figures. When the Alliance freezes his accounts, he makes note of that, too.

He starts to write a letter to his parents, then, but crumples the paper in his hands. Burns it.

Better not to incriminate them further, and besides, he's got an appointment to keep.


He meets them at the docks of Persephone, hands them their final payment in hard currency.

"It's all over the news," he mutters. "How many did you kill?"

They look away, and one man pockets the cash. "None that didn't deserve it," he replies.

"Is she all right?" Simon bends to the cryo-unit, checks the vitals.

The man's face softens. "She wasn't wounded. She'll transport safe."

"Okay." Simon straightens, lets the others load the unit onto a trolley. "What--Where do I go now?"

"Away." An alarm blares faintly in the distance. "Far away from here as possible."

The sun is rising higher in the sky, and the crowds are beginning to push in.

"If you're caught," the man says, "you never met us."

"You think I'll be caught?"

But they're already gone.


"Hey, Simon." Kaylee's voice breaks him out of a pen and paper reverie. "What're you writing?"

"Nothing." He shuts his book quickly, but with a smile. "Just jotting down a few thoughts."

River uncurls from the floor beside his seat. "Keeps them from getting too heavy. Otherwise they spill. Make a mess."

"Yes." Simon feels his cheeks warm. "I suppose--"

"S'okay," Kaylee interrupts. "I know exactly what you mean, River."

River tilts her head, eyes Kaylee like a specimen. "You do?"

"Sometimes I wish I could do something like that." Kaylee looks at her feet, scuffs the floor with her toe. "I'm not real good at writing, though. Can't ever get anything to sound pretty, y'know?"

"I..." Simon swallows. "I could help. If you'd like."

For a second, he'd lay even odds on Kaylee slapping him for condescending, but River jumps in.

"He likes to pretend he's smart," she says. "It helps him keep his balance. Out here."

"He is smart," Kaylee replies. Then she glances at him, blushes.

River doesn't notice, just smiles. "Only sometimes."

"How about a trade?" Simon cuts in, feeling a little desperate. "You can show me how the engine works."

Kaylee wrinkles her nose. "Everybody knows how an engine works."

River snorts, and Simon glares at her. "I have a vague idea," he says.

"Oh." Kaylee considers this, then grins. "Well, then." She stands up. "Follow me."


That night, after dinner, Simon takes out his diary and pen. He opens to a clean page, writes the date.

And he draws, very carefully, a diagram of Serenity's engine.


A/N: Title and summary adapted from Arlene Ang's The House of Correction. Link courtesy of breathe_poetry.

Originally linked here and linked on 20weeks.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 19th, 2005 03:21 am (UTC)
That is absolutely beautiful. Careful and tender, just like Simon. And every little bit, especially the ending, tugs at the heart. Really wonderful.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
Jun. 19th, 2005 03:45 am (UTC)

I love this. So good and so very Simon.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it!
Jun. 19th, 2005 10:27 am (UTC)
Perfect. Sophisticated, gentle, a little hesitant, a little clueless and wonderfully protective.

Simon at his best.

A marvellous story, dear.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you! *beams*
Jun. 20th, 2005 12:56 am (UTC)
I think that's the best thing I've read on this community yet. I LOVED Simon at med school, I loved River and the letters and every little detail.

Thank you for writing.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
Jun. 20th, 2005 02:12 am (UTC)
Lovely look into Simon, his love for River, and his own genius.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it!
Jun. 20th, 2005 05:53 am (UTC)
Oh my God, that's beautiful! You have absolutely captured Simon's inner voice. As with most really good stories, your last line is perfect!

Very nice work.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much!
Jun. 20th, 2005 11:37 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's lovely. The interaction between Simon, River and Kaylee at the end is particularly *right*.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Jun. 22nd, 2005 01:55 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this. Well done! :) Simon is such a woobie!
Jul. 5th, 2005 04:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Jun. 28th, 2005 04:38 am (UTC)
Impeccable. You truly captured Simon and also Kaylee in her brief appearance. Wonderful job.
Jul. 5th, 2005 04:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.
Nov. 1st, 2005 12:56 am (UTC)
Mmm. I really like the structure of this, and the development.
Nov. 28th, 2005 09:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Jul. 17th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this lovely story
I just found this story today, and you have captured Simon's voice really beautifully here - so careful and quiet and driven. The elegant, simple writing in this tale was very powerful. The memories of school life felt very real, and the closing scene on Serenity with Kaylee and River seemed bright and beautiful. Thanks so much for writing!
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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