Chapter 9: Serenity
"All things considered, Sir, I think you ought to let the boy be," Zoë said after pulling Mal aside towards the common area.
He kept looking in the direction of the infirmary then back at his crew. "Excuse me? That boy is barely standing, barely walking, barely making progress and-."
"And he knows his trade," Zoë said continuing her argument. "Took care of my wounds quick and clean."
Wash smiled, glad that his wife spoke up and agreed with him. "Nothing personal, captain, but he does a better job than you or my wife." Zoë gave him a look. "Of course, careless comments like this could have me paying Simon another visit sooner than I'd like."
Book nodded, having joined the trio. "It has been quite some time since he's been in a medical room on his preferred side of the setting."
"I'll ask if Inara can contribute any supplies, then, to give him something to do," Mal said. "Other than that, it will be a while before we get to Boros where we'd have a decent chance of buying goods." He couldn't justify asking for credit from Zhi given the generosity of the surgery in the first place.
"Assuming we have money to buy with, right?" Wash asked.
Mal gave him a look. "Don't go getting bad wishes over a job we've still got. Patience-."
"She'll shoot you, won't she?" Zoë asked.
Wash added, "But this time, it's not so bad, since Simon can sew you up and-."
"It was a long time ago," Mal said. "We need this job and it will pay a mite more than weak tea, too, I might add." He jerked a thumb in the direction of the other room. "Why don't you two help me lug the lug back to his bunk? Preacher, get him to bed for some rest." Mal knew he wanted to have a long talk with the boy this time.
Mal stood at the door for a while, watching the boy leaning against the counter, a steady hand taking inventory. Suddenly, a seizure seemed to overtake the boy's right hand.
"Want to add this to your collection?" Mal said, walking towards him. He was impressed at how quickly the boy forced his hand still. "See if anything here might help you?"
"Th-Thank you, sir."
"Don't 'sir' me," Mal said. It unnerved him to watch the boy wince at what Mal thought was not an unkind tone. "Sorry about earlier." Mal set the collection Inara gave him on the counter next to the doctor's hand, watching it for any signs of tremors. A flicker of one gave way.
"It was my fault. I'm sorry. I didn't ask permission and-."
Mal interrupted him, stopping the flooding of apologies that would irritate him later. "You're right. Coulda asked. I coulda offered. That's then. Now I need you to tell me what you need. We ain't got much more than basics and I reckon you'd know more of what we need or what you want."
"Th-this will be fine, s-. I-."
Mal couldn't make up his mind what angered him more – the boy's apologizing all the time or the scared stammering. "You gotta learn to relax. Let your guard down some and give your body a chance to heal. Stay tense like that all the time and, well…you won't be helping yourself none."
The doctor nodded silently.
"You're kinda young for a doctor, ain't ya?" Mal asked, leaning back against the counter, facing the boy.
Again, he nodded silently.
Mal added one-sided conversations to list of pet peeves. "Betcha got a damn fine education at an Alliance Academy, huh?" Another nod. "So, why ain't you working in some fancy hospital?"
Mal expected another silent nod instead of the long silence that followed.
"Not worth it," Simon said softly.
"Huh." Mal nodded. Three words more and no apology. That was a start. "Yeah, who needs them ritzy places no how, right?"
Simon looked at the collection of medicines Mal brought, but didn't reach for any of them. 'What?' Mal wondered. 'Was the boy afraid of being hit or something?'
"Want me to help you put these away? Or want help in cleaning out the cupboards?" Simon shook his head, stopped, nodded, then stopped again.
"Gotta make up your mind, son. I can do one or t'other but not both at once."
Still not looking him in the eye, Simon said, "Whatever you wish…."
Mal noted the minor victory of no 'sir' or start of one this time. One heckuva small step. "This is your territory, doc. You tell me what you need when you need it, all right?" Simon nodded.
"All right, then," Mal said, feeling the exact opposite. He'd have to bug that preacher or Inara on how to help the boy. Or better yet, maybe Kaylee… "All right," he said again, patting the boy on the shoulder. To heck with Wash's argument. As far as Mal was concerned, Simon was still a boy, and a damn frightened one at that. Given time, Mal might make a man of him yet.
"I think I made the captain angry," Simon said, helping Book set the table for common meal.
Book looked at him from the stove. The room was still empty, so of course the young man would talk now. He knew that would end as soon as the first person walked in however, and that would be too soon – as always. "Why do you say that, son?"
"The infirmary. I…I didn't ask first." Simon frowned. "I'm always supposed to ask first…"
Book turned back to the stove and smiled. If that was all that it was… "Son, you needed to find a comfortable place. The captain knows that now and you're fine. I wouldn't worry much about it."
"It's just that... Sometimes, I think, he'll return me to my father and…"
Book set two hot dishes on the table and gestured Simon to finish preparations. "He isn't the one to fear and you know it. Cobb, on the other hand-."
"That's the silly thing, too," Simon said, interrupting unexpectedly. "I know the captain can protect me from him, and yet…I don't want to make him mad. I don't want to, and yet, I don't know what he expects of me. It's…It's like starting all over with Father again."
Book regarded him. In some respects the Shepard could see similarities between Gabriel Tam and Malcolm Reynolds – strong authoritative figures. That's as far as the comparisons went, though. In looking at that comparison, Book wondered how to explain the relationship between Simon and himself. "You're not afraid of me, son."
"You saved me," Simon said, quickly looking down and fiddling with a pair of chopsticks. "You risked everything for me, and I don't know why. I don't know how to repay you or-."
Book laughed kindheartedly. "Simon, you saved me, remember? As far as risks, I have nothing to lose. You, on the other hand, have so much to gain."
As often as Book told the tale of how Simon stopped the ambush in the alley, he suspected that the captain knew the truth and never challenged it – yet. "Call the others for supper, would you?"
Kaylee sat on one of the stools and swung her legs back and forth, a bottle in her hand. "So, this medicine is pretty rare, right? I mean, I ain't never seen it in here before and never known Inara to have it neither."
"It's fairly common in some places," Simon said, pointing to where it should go. "Or at least, that's what I thought. Could be wrong."
Kaylee made a noise. "Oh, no! I doubt you be ever wrong, Simon. A smart doctor like you got a lotta learning and such, so… You'd know lots of stuff I don't."
Simon stopped writing. "I could say the same about you. Being out here, in the Black. I've never left Osiris until… You'd be the one I'd need to teach me so much."
This time, Kaylee laughed. "Only if you want to learn about machines and the like. Not much else I knowed about that I can teach you."
"You're so wrong," he said softly. "I can learn… if you wanted to teach me, that is."
Book entered Simon's room and sat down at the end of the bed. "How do you feel today, son?"
Simon looked up from the book he was reading and sighed. "Good. I mean…the infirmary, you finding my med kit among the other things… I feel good."
Book matched his smile then pursed his lips as he moved closer to Simon. "I found these at the bottom of the med kit. Please don't think I've been trying to keep anything from you or such…" Book handed him three sealed envelopes.
He remained where he was as Simon opened the first one slowly. Tears welled up in his eyes as he read the first page, then the second, and finally the third. He drew his knees up to his chest, rested his head atop of them and cried.
With one hand, Book moved the other envelopes aside; with the other, he drew Simon close to him as Simon continued sobbing. It was going to be a difficult night, Book thought. He wasn't about to pry the pages from Simon. If and when he wanted to talk about them, Book would be there to listen.
"I don't get it, Inara," Mal said pacing back and forth in her shuttle. "The boy's a mite jumpy around practically anyone and damn near scared of me all the time. Why is that?"
"Mal, if you knew what happened to him, then-."
Mal shook his head. "That's just it. I knowed what you told me and that ain't much more than what the preacher told me. I want him," pointing in the direction of the passenger rooms, "to tell me. And as far as I can tell, he don't talk to anyone outside of the preacher."
"Kaylee's had a long talk with him when she helped with supplies. Wash and Zoë say the same thing."
"I didn't see that when I went." He didn't want to share the one-sided, apologetic so-called conversation he had.
Inara smiled. "Were you hurt?"
"Damn right I was," Mal said, seeing a chance for sad humor. "I wanted to go home and cry to my momma it hurt me so."
Inara's smile grew into a light chuckle. "I meant, as a patient. He seems inclined to calm a patient with casual conversation while he works on small things."
"Oh." Mal felt silly then. And then again, there were probably a whole lotta things to feel silly about lately. "So, I should go and get myself sick or shot, that it?"
Inara deadpanned. "Patience will help with that last one, I'm sure."
Mal ran onto the loading ramp of Serenity and let out a whoop. "Told you! I told you that'd we'd do all right!" He spread his arms out and spun about. "And, I didn't get shot! So, all in favor of taking off for-."
Simon stepped out to join them. "You're back."
Mal turned around. "Of course, we're back! And, we've platinum and we have…" Something about the expression on the boy's face was hard to read at the moment. "We've something to celebrate!" He watched as Kaylee took Simon with her towards the engine room.
"Wash, how about aiming for the bazaar. I want to see if we got any mail to add to our good news," Mal said. He looked at Zoë wondering if she picked up on the same thing he did.