Ever Get the Feeling

by inalasahl

Summary: In the wake of "Objects in Space" Simon thinks he and River should leave Serenity. The crew must convince him he's wrong.

Rated PG-13: Contains mild violence, non-sexual nudity and innuendo.

Acknowledgements: First and foremost, thanks skripka2 for the excellent, excellent beta. Any mistakes that remain are my own. Thanks also to skripka2 for posting the original link to Zompist, to Shanna Marie for proposing a fic challenge and Ailine for assigning me my line. The line "shut up and deal" is taken from "The Apartment" (1961) by Billy Wilder and "Ni xiang zhuan qian ma?" is from the Chinese phrasebook at Zompist. The transliteration of qingwa cao de liumang is courtesy hcwoodward. All other Chinese phrases are from the transcripts at "Whoa. Good Myth."

Author's Note: I wrote this for a challenge. My challenge was for Mal to say "Ni xiang zhuan qian ma?" (Do you want to make money fast?)

Disclaimer: The characters and world of Firefly belong to Mutant Enemy, Twentieth Century FOX, Universal Studios, Joss Whedon and a bunch of other people I don't know.

Tah-mah-duh hundan: fucking bastard
bao-bei: baby, sweetheart
luh suh: crap
Go se: shit
qingwa cao de liumang: frog humping son of a bitch
Ni xiang zhuan qian ma?: Do you want to make money fast?
dong ma: understand
Hundan: bastard

Simon drifted on the edge of sleep, his exhaustion finally starting to overcome his thoughts. "... spend some time violatin' the little mechanic I got trussed-up in the engine room."

He startled fully awake. Just my leg, he thought. The medication has worn off. Simon rose from the bed and stood, stumbling when his left leg refused to bear its share of the weight. Hobbling towards the counter, he whispered a prayer of thanks for the ghostly blue backup lighting in the infirmary. The light switch was not only far away, but in the opposite direction from the acetaminophen. He swallowed the medication, knowing it would be awhile before the throbbing stopped. He frowned. Throbbing could be a sign of infection. Supporting himself against the counter, he peeled his bandages back slowly. Though there was a little redness around the stitches it was nothing his body couldn't fight off on its own given adequate rest. Simon looked at the infirmary with distaste. He ought to stay where he could easily get to his supplies if necessary. Yet, Simon knew he'd be more comfortable in his own bed.

His own bed. How had it become "his" so quickly? Simon had meant it when he told Kaylee that the hospital was home. But to save River he had left Capital City without a backward glance. At the thought of leaving Serenity, a wave of nausea swept through him. He gasped and leaned against the counter, resting his weight on his hands. It's just my wound, he thought. "She will die weeping if you cross me." He heard Early's voice echo in his head again. More than a bullet hole was bothering him. He took a deep breath and straightened. He didn't want to leave Serenity. But he would. Simon always did the right thing. He grabbed some more doses of medication. For as long as he could he was going to sleep in his own bed. Bracing himself against the wall, he began to limp slowly along the corridor.

"Doc," Mal said. "I thought I'd find you in the infirmary." Simon lifted his head, cracking it against a rather hard object. "Ow," two voices exclaimed together.

Simon blinked and blearily opened his eyes. Mal was standing next to the bed, holding his head. Simon sat up, gasping at the pain in his leg and head. "Is it River?" he asked.

Mal reached out and firmly pushed Simon back onto the bed. "River's fine. Shepherd made some breakfast. Thought you might want some. Didn't mean to startle you." He sat a tray down. Simon yawned and lifted the bandages over his wound. The redness was already almost gone. "Shouldn't you be in the infirmary?" Mal asked. Simon shrugged, not knowing how to explain. Mal eyed him for a moment. "You look to be in pretty good shape," he said. "I expect you're a fast healer."

Simon followed Mal's eyeline and blushed. He'd forgotten he was in his underwear. He grabbed a blanket and pulled it over his lap. "Thank you," he said. Mal cocked one eyebrow. "For breakfast, I mean."

"You're welcome." Mal started to leave.

"Mal?" The captain turned back around. "That moon we're headed to: Is it a good place to drop off River and me?"

Mal ran his fingers through his hair. "I should have said something yesterday," he muttered. "I'm not planning on making you leave."

Simon picked up a pair of chopsticks. "I know," he said. He remembered to smile up at Mal. "I knew that." He took a bite of protein, chewed, swallowed. "I'm grateful for everything you've done for us, but it's time to move on."

Mal shifted uneasily, finally crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Are you worried that we can't protect you?"

Simon laughed. It didn't sound quite right, but he hoped Mal wouldn't notice. "I don't think we're the ones who need protecting. Since we've been here Kaylee's been shot, Book's been knocked unconscious twice and Jayne's been arrested."

"Well that ain't exactly ..."

Simon wasn't listening. His chopsticks jabbed at the breakfast. "He tied her up, Mal, and he told me that if I didn't help him, he'd go back and rape her."

"Tah-mah-duh hundan." Mal's hands clenched and a muscle in his jaw twitched. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. He sat down on the bed next to Simon. "Still and all, he's dead."

"He won't be the last." Simon gave up the pretence of eating and put his chopsticks down. "You said we were a danger."

"Might," Mal said. "I said might and I was talking about River. I was wrong, anyhow."

"No," Simon said. He couldn't look into Mal's eyes, only inches from his own. "You were right. I couldn't take it if someone got hurt, really hurt, because of us. It's time for us to go." He reached next to the bed for his pants. He couldn't keep conversing like this. "We'll be fine. Nothing's changed. I always knew that we'd be on our own."

Mal stood and hooked his thumbs in his belt. "You're better off staying," he said. "And we're better off with you here. It wasn't you that cut my ear off, but it was you that put it back. It wasn't River that had Kaylee pinned down either, but it sure was River that saved her."

Simon willed his body to behave and stood. He looked straight into Mal's eyes with all the weight of the Tams behind him. "Is it a good place, Mal?"

Mal looked back, hard. Simon met his gaze. "No," Mal said finally. "That moon we're heading to ain't no place for you to be dropped off. After this job is over, we can go somewhere decent, if you haven't changed your mind."

"I won't change it, Mal," Simon said.

Mal nodded and headed toward the door. "Get some rest ... Simon."

"Hey, Simon. How's the leg?" Kaylee bounded into his room.

He didn't want to look at her. Didn't want to be reminded of things he couldn't have. "It's fine." Simon picked up a few more books and packed them away.

"You're packing?" She grabbed his hand. Trapped. He couldn't avoid seeing her. "Don't do that," she exclaimed. "I'll talk to Mal. He'll see—"

"It wasn't Mal," Simon explained. Her face was so full of light. "He would have let us stay." He shook himself. He was packing for a reason. Simon pulled his hand away.

Kaylee stepped back. "Then why?"

He heard it again. "... violatin' the little mechanic I got trussed-up ..." Simon swallowed and turned away. "It's not safe." He thumped the bag in frustration. Why wasn't his stuff fitting?

Kaylee flinched. "Because I told Early where River was?" Simon turned toward her. Kaylee's eyes shimmered. He reached out to comfort her, but drew his hand back. He was leaving. He didn't have the right to touch her.

"No, bao-bei," he said. He leaned forward and held her gaze. "This is not your fault. You did the right thing." Kaylee bit her lip and Simon could tell she wasn't convinced. "If one bounty hunter can figure out that we're on Serenity so can another," he said.

Kaylee stepped forward, wrapping her arms around him. Simon didn't have the will to pull away so he let himself stand unmoving in her embrace. She laid her head against his chest. "We can help," she said. "We did help. If you were on another ship, River'd be in alliance hands. Would have been for a long time now. They'd turn you in." Simon had no answer to that so he returned the hug, holding her close while he could. Kaylee looked up at him, her impossibly wide eyes pleading as tears cascaded down her cheeks. "Don't you want to stay?"

It would be easy to say yes, Simon thought, but he wasn't that far gone. He still knew what was appropriate. Holding her wasn't fair. He let her go gently and stepped back. Incisions should be clean and sharp and final. "River and I don't belong here," he said. "We don't belong on this piece of luh suh."

Kaylee jerked. "Luh suh?" she said. She straightened her shoulders and wiped her tears. "I got work to do. Sorry I disturbed your packing."

Simon stood there for a long time after she was gone. There was a damp spot on his shirt from her tears. He pulled a vest on to cover it. He could use the extra layer. There seemed to be something wrong with the temperature controls. He was cold.

River had not been happy. She had fallen to a floor with a thump. Simon was sure she intended to stay there until he gave up the idea of leaving. He had been firm even when she told him that he couldn't make decisions for her. She had argued, cursed, threatened, called him a coward, a liar. In the end, he played the guilt card. "I've been shot once," he said. "I'd prefer not to be ever again." She had been eerily quiet for a long time. Long enough for Simon to contemplate changing his mind.

Finally, she looked up at him. "You found me broken," she said. "And now you're breaking too." She got up and ran out.

He knew he should go after her. Look after her. Who knew what she would do in this frame of mind? But he was tired, too tired. So he just kept packing.

"It seems to be my day for visitors," Simon said when Inara knocked softly on the doorway. Everything that wouldn't be needed over the next few days was packed. He sat on the bed, listening to nothing.

"River has crawled into one of the cargo-hides and is refusing to come out." Simon started to get up. "Stay," Inara commanded. "Zoe's dealing with it." Simon felt stretched too thin to argue. Inara noticed. "Is your leg still in pain?" Simon nodded. It was as good an excuse as any for the sick feeling in his stomach. "Good." Simon's eyes widened. "Mal is stomping around snapping at everyone, Kaylee is sobbing in the engine room and the only thing I can get out of either of them is that you've decided to leave." Simon put a hand to his head. He just wanted to sleep. Without dreams. "Simon, what's going on?" Inara said.

"It's safer," he said. He realized he had forgotten to make the bed.

"Go se," Inara spat. Simon paused. "River is better off on this ship and you know it."

Why couldn't everyone just leave him alone? He yanked at the bedclothes, but they refused to settle into wrinkle-free perfection. "That bounty hunter could have killed someone. I don't know what information is out there, but that bounty hunter was pretty confident. It wasn't stupidity or recklessness either. He knew enough about the kind of trouble he could get into messing with a companion that he waited to check your shuttle until last. Then he hit you without a second of hesitation." Inara flinched, touching her lip. It was still a little tender. "I went with him because he said he'd rape Kaylee if I didn't, and I believed him. It was easy to choose Kaylee's safety, because getting myself killed and Kaylee raped wasn't going to help River. But the next time ..." His voice broke. Giving up on the bed, he leaned against the wall, tilting his head back. "The next time somebody comes along and makes me choose, it won't be that easy. If I ever really had to choose between Kaylee and River, I'd have to choose River. I made my choice when I took her out of that place."

Inara shook her head. "Simon, you can't keep everyone safe. You don't have that kind of power. You certainly can't control the actions of others. If something had happened, it wouldn't have been your fault."

"Have you seen the way Kaylee looks at me? I'll hurt her," Simon gritted bitterly. "I won't mean to, but I'll have to. This is my last chance to do what's right for Kaylee ... for all of you. I'm taking it. Even if it makes things a little harder on me and River."

"It's not your place to keep us safe. You can't make decisions for other people."

"You sound like River."

"She's a sensible young woman."

"No. She's a paranoid schizophrenic, possibly as a side effect of being made into a psychic assasin." He gestured to the door. "I've got things to do," he said.

The latest job had gone well. All that was left was getting paid. Wash, Zoe, Mal, Jayne and Book celebrated in a bar by playing pool while Simon watched. Tomorrow, Serenity was heading for Beaumonde, which Mal said was a good place to find another ship. Simon would rather be back on Serenity but Inara, Kaylee and River had made it clear that his presence would not be welcome. Wash clapped him on the back with forced jocularity. "They just want some girl time," he'd said. The smell in the bar was making Simon nauseous and his leg was hurting again. He fished in his pocket for some more pills. Over the rim of his glass, he saw Zoe frowning at him. He ignored her. It wasn't any of her business.

There were few things to do on Lida moon and Zechariah disliked almost all of them. There were only two things he enjoyed: getting drunk and watching the crime bulletins on the cortex. He was in a bar taking care of the first when the second paid off. Over the rim of his glass he glared at a group laughing and carrying on at the pool table. Ruttin' tourists. He finished drinking and was about to turn back to the bar for another when his eyes narrowed. There was something familiar about that one. The cup slipped from his hand and landed on the floor with a thud. Zechariah picked it up with a shaking hand. He'd seen the man on an alert. He was a wanted criminal.

The hairs on the back of Mal's neck stood up. He turned to see a man staring over at them in recognition. Suddenly the man turned to the bar, paid and hustled out. Mal made his way over to Simon. "There was a man staring," he said quietly. "I think you'd best return to the ship." Mal hesitated. "I gotta stay to collect our money. Someone should probably go with you in case there's trouble."

"I'll go," Jayne volunteered. "Between apples and ransoms I've blown enough of my pay. Don't plan on spendin' the rest in a bar." A look passed between the two men that Simon couldn't read. Finally, Mal nodded. "The rest of us will catch up when we can."

Simon and Jayne left the bar. They failed to notice the two men trailing behind them, whispering. "That the one?"


Jayne was more drunk than Simon had realized ... a fact that became readily apparent when the large man stumbled. Simon reached out to steady Jayne and found himself gripped in a bone-crushing embrace. Jayne grinned down at Simon. "I loooove green," he said.

Simon shifted, trying to keep his balance. "Uh, that's nice," he said. Jayne stopped and gazed seriously down at Simon. "It reminds me of something my mother would buy me."

Simon tried to walk forward, anyway. "Green reminds you of your mother?"

"Nooo," Jayne began walking again. "The shirt reminds me of my mother."

The shirt? "Oh," Simon muttered. "Right, the green shirt I got you to replace the one River ruined. I'm glad you like it." Jayne had somehow managed to tuck Simon's head underneath his chin, which was making it all but impossible for Simon to walk. Neither of them was paying much attention. They walked straight into the ambush.

"Put your hands up!"

Three men with badges held guns. Jayne let Simon go abruptly, but it took him too long to get to his weapons. Jayne roared as two bullets landed in his leg and he fell. Simon bent down. "Was that really necessary?" he snapped to the men as he switched into surgeon mode.

"Step back, sir," one of them said.

Simon stepped back and raised his hands. Jayne, stunned at first, was looking pretty pissed and Simon was afraid he was about to do something stupid."I'll be happy to do whatever you say, but this man needs medical attention. He isn't part ..." Simon's voice trailed off as he realized the officers were ignoring him. They plucked Jayne from the ground.

"Jayne Cobb, you are bound by law."

"Jayne?" Simon said. "You're here for Jayne?" As two of the officers dragged Jayne off (and Simon winced as the bloody leg was dragged through the mud), the third walked over to Simon and handcuffed him.

"If there's one thing I know about criminals," he said. "It's that they tend to congregate. I'm sure you won't mind if we take you in and run your info. Just in case."

"No, of course not," Simon said. Thank goodness River was on the ship. Simon could only hope that Mal would have the sense to get off the moon immediately.

Simon's cell was clean, which was more than he had expected, but he was also sure that this section of the prison was the nice, public one. Simon had only seen a few rowdy drunks come in to cool off and a couple of women he figured had been cited for working without a companion's license. Simon suspected the fines for such made up the bulk of the city budget. He tried to sleep and keep alert for escape opportunities or rescue attempts at the same time. It wasn't really working. Besides, Simon wasn't planning on going anywhere without Jayne.

The sheriff came in to talk to the two ladies in the cell adjoining Simon's. "'Bout time you got here to let us out, Jed. The evening rush will have started."

"I'm sorry, ladies. There's a, uh, slight problem."

"Problem? Jed, you let us out right now."

"It turns out there's a registered companion in town, which means the guild won't leave the penalty up to me. I can't just fine you and let you go this time. The guild takes a dim view of you taking jobs away from their folks."

One of the women snorted. "Ain't no companion would touch the fools of this town. 'Sides what does the guild have to say about it?"

"Strictly speaking nothing, but the alliance has been under some pressure from the guild. So they're going to let the companion you wronged decide what's to be done with you. I'm to hold you in case there's going to be a trial."

"What? Jed, you let us out of here." He started to walk away. The woman started cursing. "Jed, do you hear me? You qingwa cao de liumang you better let us out or I swear you ain't never getting a discount again."

Simon laughed. His first real laugh in quite awhile. The sheriff's footsteps paused in front his cell. "Well, Doc, aint you gonna ask me again where your friend is?"

"After the fifth time I failed to get an answer, I figured I was wasting my breath," Simon said. Then his stomach dropped when he realized ... doc. He sat up.

The sheriff grinned at him as he unlocked his cell. "Let's go, Doctor Tam. I'm told you're a pretty dangerous fellow and prone to escapes. You can wait with your friend in a more secure area." Simon was marched down a hallway and outside to where there seemed to be some sort of construction site. "The facilities here ain't so fancy, but I don't imagine you'll be here long anyhow."

With a painful kick, the sheriff knocked him off of his footing. Simon fell into a pit. He came to rest about 8 feet down on something both hard and squishy. The something let out a raspy scream. Despite the lack of breath in his body, Simon scrambled off the thing he had fallen on. "Jayne?"


"It's Simon," he said. Simon's eyes had begun to adjust to the dark. The moon was just bright enough that he could see Jayne was still in the same clothes he'd been wearing the day before. He was also filthy.

Simon also noticed the dark patches and reached out a hand. Sticky, dark patches. "They just dumped you down here after you'd been shot," Simon said. It wasn't really a question, but Jayne managed a weak nod. Simon pressed his lips together. He couldn't see Jayne's skin tone, but he guessed it wasn't good. "Right," Simon said, taking his coat and vest off and rolling up his sleeves. "First, let's stop that bleeding." There was little room to manuever, especially with two of them. "Jayne, you're going to have to prop your leg against the wall and lay your head down on the ground." There was a good inch of muck at the bottom of the pit and Jayne seemed as happy about laying in it as Simon was to be kneeling in it. "You can lay on my coat," Simon said. Simon spread out his coat and folded his vest into a rough pillow. Jayne postitioned himself and Simon knelt by this leg. There was a lot of blood fresh, congealed and dry and Simon knew it was a miracle Jayne was still alive, but he kept that to himself. "This isn't so bad," he said. "It won't take much to stop the bleeding. I don't suppose you've got a knife?"

"They didn't search me," Jayne rasped. "Just dumped me in here. My belt and my shoe."

Simon took the knife from Jayne's belt. "I'm going to have to cut your pants off, Jayne. It's the only way I can see your wounds."

Jayne smirked. "You flirting with me?" he asked.

Simon rolled his eyes. "Hold still," he ordered. Jayne's leg was hot to the touch and Simon knew that was a bad sign. He mentally calculated the odds and decided that even though it would temporarily worsen the bleeding, Jayne would have a better chance of fighting off infection without lead poisoning. "I'm going to take the bullets out," he said.

Jayne grunted as Simon probed looking for the first one. "How long we been here?"

"Not long. Six, maybe ten hours. We were arrested last night and the sun hasn't come up yet. I never checked the rise/set times for this place though."

"I thought maybe you got away or Mal got you out and you guys had left me."

"Mal would never do that," Simon said.

"You don't know what I ..."

"Mal doesn't leave his crew behind," Simon stated firmly. Jayne winced just then. "Sorry," Simon muttered. The bullet popped out. Jayne gasped. "One down," Simon murmured. "How are you?"

"Not drunk enough," Jayne muttered. Simon got the second bullet out. He cut off a clean part of his own pant leg and then wrapped Jayne's leg tightly in it. Simon reached into his pocket and picked out some pills he had put in there earlier. "This should help," he said. "I wish I had more to give you."

"I don't think I can swallow those," Jayne said. "My mouth's too dry."

"Open up," Simon said. Jayne's tongue was swollen. "You're dehydrated," Simon said. "No water all night and you drank pretty heavily too. Can you sit up?"

"I was sitting up until you made me stick my leg out."

Simon frowned. Jayne had sounded more whiny than disgruntled. As sick as he seemed, he must be worse off than he was letting on. "Can you sit up and keep your leg up?"

"I ain't that flexible, Doc," Jayne snorted.

"Prop your leg up on me then," Simon said. "That'll keep it out of the mud at least." There had been no way for Simon to clean Jayne's wound. Even so, it didn't seem like a good idea to get it even dirtier. Between the two of them they managed to get Jayne situated. "Tilt your head back," Simon said. "This won't be comfortable, but you need this medicine." Simon stretched as far as he could and leaned toward Jayne's open mouth, dropped the pills straight down the back of his throat and spit. "Don't struggle," Simon ordered. His hand massaged Jayne's neck, stroking the pills down. When the pills were gone, Jayne pulled away and glared at Simon. "You spit down my throat!" he accused.

"You needed the saliva," Simon said. "Now let's lay you back down. Try to sleep. You need the rest."

"What about you?" Jayne said.

"Me too," Simon lied. He was not going to sleep while he was in charge of a near death patient.

The partially constructed building did little to keep out the rain. Simon took his shirt off. He was freezing anyway. Maybe he could use it to catch some rainwater to drink. Jayne slept on. Simon didn't want to remove the make shift bandage to check but because it wasn't soaked through he figured the bleeding had stopped.

He hoped the crew was taking care of River and that she was making it easier on them. It would be best all around if he and Jayne escaped. One would think it would be relatively easy for one of them to boost the other up and then be pulled up himself and repeat to get over the wall. Hard to say in the dark, but Simon didn't recall any lookouts. But Jayne didn't have the strength to stand, much less support Simon's weight and the longer they went without food and water the harder it would be. No, escape was not an option. All Simon could do was keep Jayne alive and hope rescue showed up soon. Simon realized with a jolt that Jayne was shaking in his sleep. A nightmare? But no, the man's forehead was hot to the touch and now that Simon was looking he could see the red track up Jayne's leg exposed by ripped fabric. Shock, complicated by sepsis. "Son of a bitch," he said. If there was going to be a rescue, it had better come very soon.

No one had been happy to discover that Jayne and Simon were missing. Mal's plan to break in with guns ablazing and wander around until they found them did not impress. In the end, they got a break. Inara was contacted by the companion's guild. As the companion in the area who may have lost business due to the local competition it was up to her to decide whether to bring formal charges.

There was only one deputy on duty when Inara walked into the jail house. Mal and Zoe trailed behind her. "Good morning," Inara said. "I hope it isn't too early. My name is Inara Serra. I'm here on behalf of the companion's guild."

"No, ma'am," he said. "But I'm surprised you're not in bed." The deputy turned magenta. "I mean, that you're awake."

Inara smiled her gracious, pleasant, companion smile, relaxing the man almost instantly. "I have free time on my schedule at the moment," she said.

The deputy sighed. "I suppose you're here to press charges against Lottie and Zuzu," he commented. "It sure would be nice if you could let 'em off, though," he said. "They're nice girls. I'm sure they woulda stayed home if they'da known you was in town." Inara was sure of no such thing, but truth to tell she didn't care. Her schedule had been booked long before she'd ever stepped onto the planet. She pretended though as if she were considering the man's words.

"Perhaps if I were to meet the ladies?" she said in her most even and mellifluous voice, always able to charm the most recalcitrant public official. Inara need not have bothered.

The deputy grinned broadly. "Of course, of course," he said. "Just follow me."

Simon had caught only a little water, but his arm was aching. The rain seemed to run through the fabric as soon as it dropped in. He wondered if a few extra layers of cloth would help. He grimaced, but set to work getting his pants off as best as he could without waking Jayne. The best thing for him right now was sleep. He wasn't entirely successful. "Hot," Jayne said. Simon looked down. "Have some water, Jayne," he said.

Jayne wasn't listening. He began moving restlessly, fumbling at his shirt. "Hot," he muttered again.

Simon realized Jayne was delirious. He tried to stop him from pulling at his shirt, but got poked in the eye. Finally, he just held onto Jayne's leg and tried to keep it out of the mud while Jayne ripped it off. Jayne wrapped himself around Simon and settled back down.

Some minutes passed. "Simon?" Jayne mumbled. Simon looked down. Jayne seemed to be really awake this time.

"Yes?" he said quietly.

"Am I dying?"

"Have some water, Jayne."

When Inara returned with the deputy, she shook her head at Mal and Zoe. She hadn't seen Jayne and Simon. Mal nodded at her. "Well, deputy," she said. "I can see that this was just a big misunderstanding. I don't think there is any need for me to press charges."

The deputy grinned. "That's just great, ma'am. Lottie and Zuzu'll be real happy to hear it."

"Good day," Inara said and left.

The deputy watched her go. It took a moment for his brain to realize that Mal and Zoe were still there. "Can I help you folks with something?" he said.

Mal swept his duster back and pulled out his gun. "Where are my boys?" he said.

Zoe sighed and took out her own gun. "Sir, you promised Shepherd you'd try a non-violent solution first."

Mal rolled his eyes. "That I did," he said. "Still sounds like a stupid idea."

The deputy gaped. He couldn't even remember where his gun was. "Sir?" Zoe prompted.

Mal shot her a dirty look. "Fine," he said. "Ni xiang zhuan qian ma?"

The deputy looked puzzled. "A course," he said. "Who wouldn't?"

"See sir, sometimes the non-violent approach is the easiest."

"Kind of expensive, though."

"That too."

Mal pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket. "You don't know how the prisoners escaped. You didn't see us, dong ma?" The deputy nodded vigorously. "Now where are they?"

Back on Serenity, once he'd taken care of Jayne, Simon fell into an exhausted slumber.

When Book walked into the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea he found Jayne cleaning his knife collection and cursing softly to himself. "Quite an adventure you had," Book said.

"Yep," Jayne said, blowing on the knife in his hand.

Book started to heat some water. "No surprise you're a mite tetchy."

A faint rose color stained Jayne's cheek as he realized exactly what he'd been muttering when the Shepherd walked in. "My leg's bothering me."

"I can go ask the doctor for some pain medication," Book said as he got a cup out.

"No!" Jayne yelped. "I mean, he's probably asleep. I don't think he got much before."

"Probably so," Book agreed. He sat down to wait for the water to heat. Jayne returned to cleaning his knives. There was silence for a moment. "You ever think about dying, Shepherd?"

"Sometimes," he said. He got up and poured the water into his cup.

"I don't. But back in that jail, I was dying. I knew it. It's not the way I wanted to go. Not lying in a dirty hole. But the doc, he ... aw, hell," Jayne said. "I don't know what I'm talking about."

"Way I see it that boy saved your life and now you want to thank him, but you don't know how. I suspect you're not used to owing people."

Jayne snorted. "I don't owe that pretty boy nothin'!" He slapped the knife down and picked up the next one. "Mal pays him for doctoring."

Book took a sip of tea. "I wasn't there," he said. "But I saw the two of you. You really think that boy was just doing his job?"

"Hundan," Jayne cursed quietly. He focused intently on his task for a moment, before exclaiming suddenly, "I could teach him to shoot."

"It wouldn't hurt," Book said. "But I'm not sure that's what Simon needs right now."

"Gorramit," Jayne said. "It's not like he'd be accepting of my fashion advice."

Book laughed. "I'm going back to my bunk. I'm sure if you think about what that boy and his sister need, you'll find a way to thank him."

"Well," Mal said. "Looks like you saved Jayne's life."

"Looks like," Simon said, putting away the newly sterilized instruments.

"You still thinkin' you're a danger to this crew?" Mal picked one of the instruments up. "I believe this goes over here," he said.

Simon looked at the instrument and flushed. "You're right. I guess I'm still a little tired."

"Or a mite distracted," Mal said. "You still thinking about leaving?"

"Kaylee ..."

"Kaylee's a grown woman. She can take care of herself. And when she can't, there's a whole ship of people watching her back. That's what it means to be part of a crew. 'Sides, this life ain't never been risk-free, Tams or no."

"Maybe," Simon said.

"No maybe," Mal said. "This crew needs a doctor and you're the best one I know." He paused. "And the only one who'll put up with us, for that matter."

Simon shrugged. Mal clapped him on the back. "Think on it," he said.

"I will. I'd better go. I've got a patient to check on."

"Night, Doc." Mal said.

"Good night."

Simon walked into the dining room. "How's the leg?" he said.

Jayne grunted. Simon sat down at the table and began to shuffle the deck that been left lying there. He didn't know anymore what the right thing was.

"Doc," Jayne said, ducking his head and staring intently at the knife he was polishing. "I didn't want you here, but Mal ..." Jayne shook his head and spit. Started over. "Mal weren't wrong. Letting you stay? He weren't wrong."

Silence. Jayne looked up. "Doc?"

Simon smiled. He understood, finally. Kaylee wasn't his responsibility; she was part of his crew. They were all part of his crew. And he was part of theirs.

"Doc?" Jayne said again. He gave Simon a suspicious look. "You planning to say something?" he said.

Simon slid the pile of cards over. "Shut up and deal." Jayne grinned.

Wash and Kaylee came into the galley. Kaylee halted when she saw Simon. Wash began to make a cup of tea.

"It's nice to be home," Simon said, hesitantly, looking at Kaylee.

"Home?" She folded her arms across her chest.

"Yes." Kaylee continued to pout. "I mean, yeah." Simon swallowed. "She's a rutting good ship." Kaylee laughed.

"She is," she agreed.

Simon stood and pulled out a chair for her. "Do you want to join us? You too, Wash?" They all sat down. Wash looked at his cards and began to snicker.

"You got something to share, little man?" Jayne growled.

Wash looked back and forth between the Jayne and Simon. He began to laugh outright. "Naked?"


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