Chapter 13: Colony

"Here are the rules," Mal said when he pulled Simon aside to the common area by the infirmary while Wash, Jayne and Kaylee loaded up the mule in the cargo bay. "One, you be diligent about your journaling. Two, you need anything, you tell me. No wondering, worrying or waiting, you tell me." Mal poked Simon in the chest enunciating the last three words. "Three, you use whatever resource you need, be it the Cortex, any of us for our know-how, that book you brought with you, anything. And four, if there's anything I forgot, I'm sure you're smart enough to bring it to my attention. Dong ma?"

Simon nodded. "Yes," he said.

Mal bit back a smile. The boy was finally dropping the 'sir' bit. "Good. Now, we're goin' to be landing in a place where folks might take kindly to any help you can offer. Think you're up to it?"

Again Simon nodded. "So is River," he said cautiously, "if that's all right?"

He thought about it for a moment. There still wasn't anything on the Cortex about her – description, disappearance or otherwise. Finally, he said, "Don't see why not - could do her some good, too." He got up to leave. "We'll be landing soon, so…."

"Are you still worried about him?" Inara asked when Mal stopped by her shuttle.

He shook his head. "Not as much. Think this stop will do him some good. It ain't like any of the folks have access to the bounties posted, so…" Mal paused. "River's not as quiet as he was in the beginning," he said. "Got any theories on that?"

Inara's smile confirmed it. "She's…curious, that's all. I've never had a frequent visitor like her. River doesn't ask questions, but you can see it in her eyes, the way they dance about drinking in everything. She's definitely the bolder of the two."

Mal nodded. Bold wasn't what he was after. Whole, maybe, but not bold. "She seems like a normal girl, so far," Mal said. "But, does she sleep?" Off of Inara's look, he added, "I knowed I gave her the room beside her brother's but, every time I go to check up on her, she ain't in it."

Inara shrugged her shoulders. "She's only slept in here a couple of times, Mal. Other than that, I don't know what to tell you." She folded some shawls and put them aside. "Do you know anything about 'fields of copper' Mal?"

He thought about it a spell. "That something she said?" he asked, pondering his response. She nodded. "Have you asked Simon?" Mal asked. He had an idea, but figured the brother would know for certain. She shook her head. "I'll ask him later, then," he said.

Mal turned to leave then stopped. "I know you don't kiss and tell, but…."

"And I won't tell you," Inara said, acknowledging the unasked question.

"Zoë, could I ask you a question?" Simon asked as she walked up the stairs. She slowed to let him catch up, traces of a limp still existing. "I've done some reading and there are some things I don't understand."

"Some?" she asked with a raised eyebrow. "I know I've seen more than you have and I'd say there's plenty not to understand." With a gentle smile she encouraged him to ask.

"I read the entries in the universal encyclopedia and I don't think they have everything in it, as far as truths and facts, I mean."

At this, Zoë bit her lip to keep from chuckling, not wanting to make fun of him. "That's the advantage of the winners, isn't it, to select what is and isn't included in texts?" She motioned him to sit at the dining room table while she prepared something to eat. "What's got you puzzled?"

Simon fingered the edge of the notebook carefully phrasing his question. "What…exactly happened in….?" He looked at her, pleading for her to understand the question he couldn't finish.

All seriousness, she sat at the corner of the table beside him, pushing the bowl towards him, her appetite lost. "Hell, pure and simple. The captain – a Sergeant then - kept us sane, kept us focused. I was the only one left of the original platoon, it was just the two of us. He commanded thousands, fortifying us with his faith…" She paused as she recalled the crushing blow that killed that faith, extinguished the light that had once burned brightly within.

Simon looked at her with sad eyes that flashed briefly with anger then compassion. "So, he's surrounded himself within this cocoon that…"

Zoë shook her head. "Mercy, trust and forgiveness he left there in the Valley. Here, there's an ember of hope within this firefly. With any luck, that ember will flourish into the bright flames it's meant to be." She noted the pensive look on his face then. "What is it?"

Simon said nothing at first. "Those things he left behind…they're things I never found at home. I feel selfish in taking…I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…"

Zoë put a hand on his arm. "Your place is here, Simon. You're one of the few who is becoming aware of the shroud that covered your eyes for years. Or maybe, a part of you has always known about it and can see that you weren't crazy in your beliefs. Your eyes are opened to the truth and there's no going back, unless you choose to."

"I haven't given much back, though," he said, "in exchange for-."

She gave him a quick smile. "There are some folks we'll be meeting that will prove you wrong soon enough. Now eat something. Can't have a doctor collapsing while he's tending to the needy."

River danced off with Kaylee as they walked about the colony, teaming with life that Simon hadn't seen before. What he had taken for granted, these people had treasured. He looked after his sister until she was no longer in his sight then allowed Shepherd Book to lead him elsewhere.

Inara introduced the new members of the crew to the one in charge. "Nandi, I'd like you to meet Shepherd Book and Simon."

The woman before them looked to be about Inara's age. Simon shook her hand then turned to look away. Beauty here had a definitely different definition here than at Osiris and he felt he had no place to enjoy it so.

"Bashful?" Nandi said bemused. "That's rare. Shepherd, I don't know how many will flock to you, but…"

"I'm here like the rest of the crew to offer help as needed. What would you like me to do?," he said with a gentlemanly bow.

Nandi smiled. "We've some rooms to repair, if you're up to swinging a hammer. Or there's the well that needs repair."

"Living waters are my specialty," Book said with a smile. "If you'll excuse me," he said, again with a bow.

Simon took in the scenery of the place, recognizing it for what it was and more. "How can I be of-?"

"You haven't told me what you can do," Nandi said taking him by the hand and leading him on a tour. "Are you a mechanic like Kaylee, a pilot like Wash, or a pain like Jayne?"

"I'm just a doctor," he said, struggling to still the tremor in the hand she held.

She tightened the hold of the hand and turned to him. "Somehow, I doubt that's all you are." She noted the other hand was empty. "No medical bag?"

Simon chided himself then quickly recovered. "I figured, if anyone might be in need of services in the infirmary…"

She smiled at him. "Relax, Simon. You won't find judgment here except for what you bring upon yourself." She patted his hand. "I do have a young girl, pregnant, who is in need of a checkup. Others might be interested in physicals."

Simon nodded. "I'm at your service," he said.

Nandi kissed him on the cheek. "And I intend to return the favor," she said softly.

Petaline was perhaps the most nerve-racked patient Simon had ever dealt with. In a soothing voice, he explained everything he was going to do, step-by-step before doing it. She had finally relaxed as Simon looked over the readings.

"You're set to deliver this child any day now," he said noting the unprofessional phrase in his mind for a fleeting second. "Do you want to know if it's a boy or a girl?"

Petaline bit her lower lip; nodded, shook, and then nodded her head again. "Alls I want, though is, will it be healthy?"

Simon smiled. "This baby girl will be as healthy and I'm sure as beautiful as her mother." The radiance he saw in her face filled him with joy he couldn't quite describe. "What brought you here, might I ask?"

Petaline caressed her pregnant belly. "Nandi is as close to a mother as I have since mine died. She has a heart of gold, Nandi does."

He believed her. Taking a breath, he got up to rummage through the cabinets. "I've some supplements you can take to strengthen your immune system, and the baby's. Is there anything else you'll need or want?"

She shook her head. "What you done told me is more than enough." She paused. "You'll be here long enough to see to her delivery?"

Simon wasn't sure. "Perhaps," he said, making note to ask the Captain about the timeframe. "May I walk you back to the house?"

"The Bordello," she corrected.

He smiled, "I figured you call it 'home.'" Off her look, he matched her smile, taking her by the hand. There were at least four other patients to see, one of them needing surgery. Part of him was hesitant about it. Once he saw Petaline back to the lobby, River snuck up on him and took him outside.

"You're more than just a doctor, Simon," she said leaning against his shoulder. "Have faith. You'll heal the broken ones just as you're meant to."

He wished he had her confidence. Right now, he was so relieved and happy to see her so close to whole. He had heard from some of the others that River had helped plant a garden or two and had offered some advice on how to get full yield from the existing and future crops.

"Not whole," she said. "Need the parchments for the fields of copper - mine and ours. After this, though. You need your focus, your confidence."

Simon turned to embrace her. "I have everything I need here." He rested his head against hers, wondering what was going through her mind since she woke up; since they had been on Serenity; now.

"Drink in strength, brother," she said. "Don't focus on the pain." From her skirt pocket, she took out a few berries. "Drink in sweetness," she said as she fed him a berry at a time.

He smiled at her, memories of playing in the garden coming to mind. As quickly as the happy memories came, shades of sadness fell. River took his face in both of her hands, looking at him intently, silently. Words weren't needed as Simon struggled to hold back the tears from his eyes.

For a moment, the siblings watched the prayer meeting Shepherd was holding with a few of the folk by the grove of trees. Simon couldn't hear what was said, but imagined the inspiration provided. River merely watched, probably fully aware of all that was said.

"His belief system is chaotic at best," she said, "systematic nonsense at worse. Too many contradictions, false logistics and misinterpretations exist."

Simon wasn't so sure he agreed, not saying his parents ever brought them to church, unless it was a gala of some sort. "Faith might not be a bad thing, River." Right now, his faith was in finding a secure place in Serenity's solid family, fortified with true affection, like what he saw here.

"Feelings aren't as reliably strong as they should be," she said, stilling his trembling hand. "You've patients to see, brother."

At dinner time, Kaylee snuck up on Simon and wrapped her arms around him. "This was a good day, wasn't it? I mean with all that's happened and such?"

He placed a hand over hers and smiled. "How did your day go?" he asked leaning in to her kiss on his cheek. Ordinarily, he would have pulled away, from the kiss, from her embrace, everything. Yet something drew him to stay.

"Well, Shepherd and I got that pump fixed for the well, and Wash and I found some junkie pieces to create stuff of. All in all, a good day." She sat down beside him. "I heard you done some good, too. Lots, actually."

Simon looked down. "I did what I could. Only thing left is to hopefully deliver Petaline's baby. I've not asked the Captain how long we're staying…"

"I'm sure it be long enough," Kaylee offered. She looked in the direction of the celebration of Nandi's people. "Have you ever… I mean, knowing you probably didn't with Inara, but…"

At this, Simon felt himself blush. "Um…I've not had time to think about such….things. I don't know if I could, though. Could you?"

Kaylee nodded then quickly stopped herself. "It's only natural, I mean it ain't like there's a relationship to be had like that on board Serenity, unless…." She leaned against his chest. "I'd be torn between staying in a place like this and staying with Serenity."

Simon looked at her. "Why is that?"

"This," she said gesturing to their surroundings, "is stable. Yet out in the Black, there's so many possibilities."

"There are possibilities," he said agreeing. His thoughts were focused on how to best keep River on the path of healing. Right now, however… "Can you imagine what the 'verse would be like if there were more people like Nandi or the Captain?" he asked her. He almost added, 'and you,' but thought better of it.

"There are," Kaylee said matter-of-fact. "You just got to knowed how to read people and see it."

Mal stood outside the door with the others as Simon and Petaline took care of what nature had control of. The cries of the newborn were music to his ears as the folk gathered with him let out cheers and laughs of joy. If it took one soul to start a ripple-effect of change for the good, well then let this child be one of them, he thought.

Inara caught his eye. He made his way over to her as they left the group behind them, their crew included.

"Think we got all the rest and relaxation we need," he said to her, squinting in the mid-day sun. "Time to move on and find some work proper."

"I'm glad you extended the stay, Mal," she said.

He shrugged. What else was he going to do? Between Shepherd offering guidance, Jayne being outta their hair for a spell, Zoë and Wash getting uninterrupted time alone together for a change and seeing the change in the kids as he hoped… "We needed it," he said.

Back on the ship, Simon and River sat on his bed in his room, she reading her letters, he watching her reaction. When she had finished, she took the last envelope and sat beside him. They removed the papers and read them together, River resting against Simon before pulling him against her. Unlike him, she didn't shed a tear.

She knew when it was time to say goodbye. This, sad to say, was more of one than he realized, yet one she knew he knew in the back of his mind. As far as the Tam estate family went, it was just the two of them now.

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