Chapter 12: Serenity

"It ain't right," Jayne said finishing another set of lifting weights. "That boy gonna waste himself away doing that."

Book looked on agreeing. "What do you suggest? Brute force and tear him away from there?" He hadn't had much success in bringing the young man away from where he lay, either.

Jayne gave him a look. "Pickin' him up would suffice," the larger man said. He knew he could do it, too. The boy looked a fair sight lighter than the last time so Jayne knew he could pick him up single-handedly if he wanted to. Thing was, he didn't and knew he needed to, for the boy's own good.

"Has he eaten anything?" Book asked, taking Jayne's spot on the bench.

Jayne shook his head. "Even Kaylee offered to spoon-feed him herself. He hardily drunk anythin' and certainly ain't eatting nothun' since she first came back." Still looking at the sad sight, Jayne used one hand to spot the preacher. "It's like he's draining away, ya know?"

Book sat up at that. "Maybe we should get the captain down here." He mopped his brow. "Simon might listen to a direct order." He knew that was the course of action needed, but had a hard time reading how Simon's response would be.

Jayne ignored the comment, reaching Simon in a few easy strides. He bent down, wrapped one arm around the boy's waist and carried him off to Simon's quarters. Book was close on his heels, cautioning him on such a move, worried as Simon sway like a rag-doll.

Dropping him in the bed, Jayne leaned close and said tersely, "You gotta pull it together, you hear me? Ain't no ounce o' good her waking up and you being dead. You're a doctor. You need to get ready for your patient." Jayne paused, softening his tone as he added, "She needs you."

Zoë disagreed with how some of the others dealt with Simon's choices; not saying she agreed with the choices either, but still. She sat on the edge of his bed and watched him sleep. Didn't say anything, didn't hold his hand. She just sat there keeping watch over her adopted kid brother, ready to do battle with the dragons he'd face, that they'd face – together.

She had her theories about his gifts, the invisible ones Shepherd seemed to take in stride. While the captain pondered on Simon's behavior around most of the crew, Zoë couldn't help but observe his behaviors after the encounters. The only other person she shared her ideas about this were with her husband, who quite often, and sometimes annoyingly, agreed with her most of the time.

Zoë knew there were two key things that defined the young man in front of her – his former life as a surgeon, and his sister. A few more steps closer to recovering one and preparation on how to heal the other…those were in the back of Zoë's mind until she could sleep on it, devoting more attention to the problems.

Mal stood at the door of Simon's room debating whether to let the boy sleep or wake him up. Where Kaylee failed – a thought that boggled Mal to no end – Inara succeeded. Granted, Simon only ate a small bowl of protein mush once a day, but it was something.

He had the information set and organized in his bunk for quite some time, again debating. Was it good for Simon to read up on what happened to his sister while there at the Academy, or approach this problem with a clear slate, so to speak? Mal let everyone else who was interested to peruse the files, wondering if it was a much mangled mess of madness that he thought it was.

To the problem at hand, Mal knew the clothes packed for Simon long ago were larger on him now than before. The crew had stopped over at a market to get supplies. At one booth, Mal found something he long sought after. Right beside it, he found some clothes that were more suitable for the boy. Perhaps it was about time to fit him properly.

"Hey," Mal said giving the edge of the bed a slight kick. Simon's response was faster than Mal anticipated. "Well," Mal said in an attempt to cover his own surprise. "Got something for you," he said as he tossed a new outfit on the corner of the bed. If Simon was thinking of sleeping on the floor like that again, these might be a bit warmer.

Simon sat up slowly, not taking his eyes off of Mal as he inspected the material with his hands. "This… You… What about…" Simon finished none of the fractured arguments. "Thank you," he said softly.

Mal was a mite tickled by that. Leave it to the boy to be worried about others needs, Mal thought. "Well…you needed it."

Mal thought this day wouldn't come soon enough. Granted, it was a good thing they hailed their friendly 'family' doctor given as how he up and moved and all. But, Serenity finally docked at Zhi Ismat's clinic. The doctor wasn't too surprised to see Wash and Jayne wheel in the cryo box.

Mal had considered telling everyone else to stay aboard, then thought better of it. It wouldn't be fair to them if they couldn't be nearby for support. Besides, he didn't want to be the only one here with Simon when… whatever this was going to be.

"See, you folks know how to listen," Zhi said, turning some dials on the side. Before he removed the top, he looked up at Simon. "Are you ready for this?" he asked. Simon nodded, his eyes fixed on the box. To Mal, he said, "Hand me that robe over there. Child's liable to be cold." Simon, still staring ahead, took the robe from Mal.

Zhi said, "Do you have a trinket of some kind to give to her?"

Mal nodded, taking the charm out of his pocket. He hadn't meant to not give it back to the boy; it was just something he held on a spell longer than he meant to. This, he handed to Simon as well.

Zhi nodded to Simon who stood at the ready. The lid of the box was removed, revealing a naked form curled up in a fetal position. Zhi injected her with something and after a moment or two; the young girl woke up gradually, breathing rapidly.

Simon quickly wrapped the robe around her, hugging her at the same time. Into one of her hands, he pressed the charm then wrapped her fingers around it, whispering "Butterflies' Ballet." Both siblings held onto each other as if afraid to let go. River's body slackened and Simon strengthened his embrace.

Ismat tapped the young man on the shoulder, motioning him to carry River to one of the beds. Mal held back his crew members that were about to step in to do the carrying, having confidence in the boy, despite his fatigue. Simon refused to leave her side as Ismat conducted the examination. So far, everything was as Zhi expected, or at least what he could expect, he supposed.

River stirred a bit, agitated, disoriented and confused. She gripped Simon's hand so hard that Zhi thought he'd might have to deal with some more broken bones in a moment. River began talking – quickly – and in Chinese Mandarin no less. Zhi flipped a switch as the rambling continued. In time, she exhausted herself, closing her eyes as if asleep.

He glanced at Simon, gave him a reassuring smile as he took in the boy's anxious expression before he injected him with a soother.

"What you do that for?" Jayne said, advancing on the doctor. Mal held him back with an outstretched arm.

"The boy needed it," Zhi said laying him onto the next bed. "Zoë, help me with the hookups, please."

In the section of the station that served as Zhi's home, the crew sat around in the two rooms relaxing, talking, worrying and waiting. Mal sat across from Ismat, along with Book and Zoë.

"So, how'd you know there'd be a bounty out on him?" Mal asked.

Zhi leaned forward. "Because I know of Gabriel Tam. Because I already knew River was sent to the academy. Because I seen the similarities 'tween the two kids dead-on. It will be 'easier' for the father to kill the son than ensnare the daughter."

Zoë gave their host a warning look. "But, why Simon? He has a gift that can help-."

Zhi shook his head. "Gabriel doesn't see good or evil; only what he does and doesn't own, what he does and doesn't control. Believe me; he doesn't keep too many items in those latter categories. Simon, he could pay for in regards to a return. It's not beyond Gabe to place a high value for others to see and get a false impression, because once Simon's back in his grasp, he'll be just as you found him – worthless, meaningless, nothing, River's another story."

Zoë pressed on. "If Gabriel holds so little value for Simon, then why…? The Academy saw something in River, so isn't it possible that-?"

Zhi chuckled. "Of course the 'Academy' saw something valuable in River. It was Gabe's pride that made it possible to steal away such a pearl. Whether or not she'll fully recover from whatever was done to her, that's another story. Not impossible, mind you, but an interesting challenge none the less."

Mal leaned forward. "So far there hasn't been anything in the way of a news wave or law enforcement flag about River." He said it as a statement, but also as a question to see if Zhi would prove them wrong.

Chuckling, Zhi said, "Not likely. The Academy doesn't like to admit to 'lost' students. They take 'sabbaticals.' Most families are satisfied with that explanation."

"Sabbaticals?" Book asked raising an eyebrow.

"That's the generic term describing the disappeared, the destroyed and the dead, to name a few reasons." Zhi poured everyone another cup of tea. "No, you won't see anything about River. They'll take it as a loss for now, along with many others equally gifted as her. Unless there's something so vital that she has in her possession, they won't come for her anytime soon."

Book shook his head. "Not in an obvious fashion, you mean. I fail to see how the Alliance would allow subjects they've invested so much time and energy in to just slip away so easily."

"They're not subjects," Mal said, "They're children." Mal didn't find that explanation sitting well with him either, though. "How many would you say are there in all?"

"Who knows? It's still hard to pinpoint how many vanish by volunteering or working for Blue Sun; how many enter the Academy, or how many supposedly died during a Reaver raid." Zhi shook his head. "Since there are so many possible targets for the Alliance to take, there's no major flag." Looking at Book, he added, "The Alliance isn't as….frugal….with resources as most of us folks. If there are easy replacements out there, they'll replace. It's only when those supplies run short as well will they look at recovering what they see as theirs."

Zoë motioned back to where Simon was sleeping. The intravenous tubes force-feeding him – and his sister - broke her heart. "Is there a chance that he could hold on to his earlier life?"

Zhi frowned. "Not in an Alliance or Core planet setting, no. The moment he enters such a hospital, he's gone; back to the prison you broke him out of." To Mal he said, "Tell me everything about that facility and what you learned about River."

By the time the explanations were finished – Zhi offering advice on how the siblings Tam could help each other heal – Mal and his crew took the sleeping siblings, instructions and supplies back to the ship and set off for their next destination, hoping for the best.

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