By Juli

November 2002

I dimly heard Simon and Jayne's short exchange of words and braced myself as I listened to the sound of the doctor's footsteps as he approached. I was not looking forward to this. The doc might not be as physical as myself or Jayne... or, hell, even Kaylee... but the man could flay you alive with his words if he wanted.

Damn education of his had to be good for something, I s'ppose.

When I'd announced my decision to leave Simon and his sister behind in order to seek help for the Shepherd, I'd had to explain myself to the rest of the crew. Not that I think a captain should have to discuss, much less justify, such matters but these'd been special circumstances. Kaylee hadn't understood, I could tell by the look in her face. I knew she wouldn't; she's just too tender-hearted, even though she'd been raised on the frontier. Inara had taken it as another example of how uncivilized I am. She'd pinned my ears back for it later, but her words hadn't bothered me as much as Kaylee's expression had. Jayne had been all but doin' a dance at leaving the Tams behind but that's Jayne for you. Any sentimental bones the man'd ever possessed had long been broken by the day-to-day struggle to stay solvent. Zoe had understood perfectly, but she'd been on the same battlefields that I had. I'd heard her talkin' things over with Wash and I knew I'd get no trouble from that quarter.

Fighting against the Alliance, I'd seen a lot of soldiers bleed and die in front of me. Most of 'em hadn't had fatal injuries, either. It was the lack of care that killed 'em. Now, I haven't been on speakin' terms with God for years now, but I'd be damned if I'd let any man, even one of God's Shepherds, die when there was somethin' I could do about it. Not when so many had died when I couldn't do anything about it.

So, I'd left the two lost members of my crew behind. It had been necessary, if there was any hope of saving the injured man. To get help for the one bleedin' in front of me, I had to hope that the two that were beyond my reach would be safe for a spell. It'd been the only thing to do, but it hadn't been an easy decision to make and I was tired of defending it. As Simon rounded the corner, I was just happy it would be the last time I'd have to.

"I moved him to his quarters."

I'd been staring into the infirmary while I'd waited for Simon to reach me and I looked up at him when he spoke. He'd taken the time to clean himself up and change clothes, not that it was any surprise. The man was as fussy as a cat when it came to cleanliness. It was a disappointment, though. Simon Tam looked damn good when he was mussed. A small voice in my mind whispered to me that he'd look even better if I'd been the one doin' the mussing, but I ignored it.

"How's he faring?" I asked. Let the doc think my solemn expression was only due to concern over Book's condition.

"He's going to be fine," Simon assured me, looking earnest with his 'doctor mask' firmly in place. "They took good care of him."

There was a whole pile of things I could have said in response to that; about Alliance-types who'd only take care of those who's ID's indicate that they're special enough to warrant attention, but I held it back. "It's good to know."

"So, finally a decent wound on this ship and I miss out."

I didn't react to the statement, knowing that it wasn't meant like it sounded. I'd seen Simon's genuine compassion when the members of the Serenity'd been hurt and had been on the receiving end of his care more than once myself. It wasn't the arrogant statement of someone who wanted another to be injured just so he could show off. No, those were the awkward words of a man desperate to prove his worth to those he depended on.

"I'm sorry."

I could see the regret in Simon's face, that he hadn't been there to help when one of us had been injured. I shrugged. "You were busy trying to get yourself lit on fire," I said as I moved past him. Thinking of finding Simon hanging on to River, just waiting for the settlers to burn them, made me angry all over again. I didn't know if I was angry at the boy for just standing there and taking it, angry at the settlers for being so ignorant in the first place, or angry at myself for abandoning the Tams and leaving them vulnerable. I do know that the sight of a whole village of people threatening Simon made me more than a tad bit cranky. Frankly, it was an issue I didn't want to look at too closely, so I buried that anger with a slight smile. "It happens."


Damn. I'd kept on walking, thinking I was going to get away, when Simon's voice caused me to turn around to face him.

"Why did you come back for us?"

Of all the questions I'd expected Simon Tam to ask me, that would have been last on my list of predictions. I had thought that 'Why did you leave us?' would have been first on his lips. Then I looked at Simon's eyes and realized he'd understood perfectly. It shouldn't have surprised me. In his own way, Simon could be just as ruthless as I could. Just ask Kaylee.

"You're on my crew," I answered. I was relieved he hadn't gone all huffy on me and demanded an explanation of why he'd been left but neither did I want to get into a long discussion over why I'd brought the Serenity back. I turned again to leave, only to find that Simon's voice once more stopped me in my tracks.

"Yeah, but you don't even like me. Why'd you come back?" There's a wistful tone in his voice that I hadn't heard before.

"You're. On. My. Crew," I carefully enunciated. "Why are we still talking about this?"

To my surprise, the boy answered me. "Because when you say crew, I get the feeling you mean family." Before I can think of a response, he keeps talking. "My father, he said if I got into any more trouble because of River, that he would not come for me." Simon stops long enough to laugh bitterly. "Blood family refused to help me save River - their own daughter - and all I did was pull my father away from a dinner party so he could post my bail. But you, you put yourself, Jayne and Zoe, and the ship into danger because of us." He looked down and then quickly up again. "Do you have any idea how that contradicts everything I've been taught?"

There's a world of hurt in that question and I held back my first response - something witty and biting about prejudice. The boy's trying, I had to give him that much. Instead, I shrugged and simply said, "Then maybe you were taught wrong."

He nodded. "Yeah, maybe I was."

It wasn't an easy admission; I could tell by the way his shoulders slumped. For some odd reason, I was tempted to go to him, but I held my ground. "Good thing you found us; we'll larn you right." I deliberately played up my accent, hoping to make him smile.

I was successful. "Maybe you will," Simon responded softly. I turned to leave again, satisfied at that we'd found the end of the conversation, when he added something. "You wouldn't have gagged her, you know."

I immediately knew he was referring to my threat about River spooking the cows. "I wouldn't have? Do tell."

He either didn't hear or chose to ignore the challenge in my voice. "No. No more than you could turn away that Saffron woman." He grinned widely and suddenly I'm reminded of Jayne, the times when he's cornered a particularly juicy mark. "You're bark's worse than your bite. You come across as callous and occasionally heartless, but you're a softie inside. You care more than you want me - or the rest of the crew - to know."

Damn. I'd forgotten that Simon was almost as sharp as his sister.

"Don't put me up on a pedestal, Doc," I cautioned him. "Them things don't balance well. A body's likely to fall off."

He blushed... or maybe it was just that the color of his vest was reflecting up onto his cheeks. "I'll keep it in mind."

Those dark eyes of his seemed to bore right into me and I knew that this time, I really had to make my exit. "Chow's in ten," I said as I deliberately sauntered off. "No need to dress."

I heard Simon begin to say something behind me, but this time I ignored him and kept on going. I couldn't afford the emotion I saw building in his eyes... or the way something inside of me wanted to answer it. Instead, I'd made the usual Mal Reynold's flippant comment and used it to keep someone at bay. I'd lost too may folks to be easy lettin' another one in close. If that meant that sometimes I came across as a real son of a bitch, then that's what I'd be.

It was safer that way.

~ the end ~

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