Crew, But Not - Chapter 1
Monday, November 12, 2007

Simon and River struggle to find their place in Serenity's crew. The first morning after Serenity pilot isn't too great. Sequel to Lost in the Background.


Chapter 1

Despite what a good day Mal told Simon it had been, he slept like a rock the night after they left Whitefall. A rough, large, heavy rock, the sort that annoyed farmers and builders when they had a hard time removing it from the land they thought they controlled. And, of course, a rock that snored. It was a good thing that Serenity’s crew quarters were at a good distance from each other.

But now the day had come, as time was reckoned in the black of space, and Mal drifted to the kitchen where most of the rest of his crew could be found lounging around. A lazy bunch, they were.

Mal grabbed a protein cake from the pile that Kaylee had prettily laid, and looked around before saying: “Anyone seen the doc? Bit late to be in bed for someone as orderly as that.”

“No, he hasn’t shown yet,” said Wash. “But I wouldn’t be surprised after the way you all treated him yesterday if he stays out of sight until we drop him off. Which, where exactly is that now that Whitefall is out?”

“What’s wrong with that plan?” asked Jayne, stabbing at his protein cake until it crumbled into dust. Mal wondered if it tasted better that way, or if it was just his instinct to destroy anything no matter how helpless. “Patience’d look after him and little crazy sis.”

“What are you thinking?” countered Kaylee, indignant. “They wouldn’t last a day without gettin’ killed, and you know it. I think you just hate Simon ‘cause he can outtalk you.”

“Fancy words don’ scare me none,” protested Jayne. “Jus’ don’t like folks who almost get us all killed, that’s all. And he got you shot.”

“Now, that ain’t fair,” defended Kaylee. “He didn’t mean to, and he apologized and fixed me up real pretty, and you woulda hated him more if he had let the Captain sell him and his sister to the purple bellies.”

“Hey, there,” broke in Mal with furrowed brow. “I didn’t know a speck of dust about any sister then.”

“Yeah, well, it don’t make no difference now,” finished Jayne, shoveling a mouthful of his newly made protein dust. “We’re all patched up and he can give up the fare and take his gorram merry trouble away.”

“Or not, as the case may be,” said Mal simply. “He might just be staying on for a while.”

“Well, he can beg us to keep him all he wants, it won’t do no good,” snorted Jayne.

“There was no begging. I offered.” Mal chewed a bite of the dryish protein slowly and then swigged down some of Kaylee’s ship-made alchohol. Looking up, he raised his eyebrows at the others. Jayne was most prominent, his mouth hanging with some half-chewed protein visible, and the others were in various positions where they were frozen with shock. “We need a medic, doc needs a place to get his footing.”

“You seriously letting them stay on?” asked Zoe, her own brows raised considerably.

“Unless you know of any secret scheme of the doc’s to steal my ship,” said Mal. It wasn’t his favorite decision to debate, but he didn’t see anything particularly bad about his plan either.

“What, did you go dumb overnight?” burst out Jayne. “They’re fugies, Mal, and not exactly the nicest or safest.”

“No, they’re shiny,” said Kaylee, shaking her head a little and grinning from ear to ear. “We ain’t had anyone as nice as them come aboard.”

Mal didn’t comment on that; nice was not the word he’d use for Simon, and he barely admitted a grudging respect for the boy’s determination and loyalty, but he wasn’t going to deny Kaylee her own opinion, especially when she was supporting him.

“Right,” said Zoe shortly, before Jayne’s mouth could emit another word. “I’m sure they’ll be fine additions.”

“It’ll make life a good deal more interesting, that’s for sure,” commented Wash.

“I’d thank you all for your kind opinion, but the decision wasn’t up for discussion,” said Mal coolly. “Now where’s that doctor? He should at least keep regular mealtimes.”


Simon’s consciousness came slowly to him, and his senses first picked up the stream of drool that emanated from his mouth in his exhaustion, then the stiffness in his neck and back where he was leaned up against River’s bed, and lastly the slightly sour smell of the bowl he was limply holding. Groggily moving out of his awkward sleeping position, he brushed his straggly hair out of his face and looked to River. Curled up in fetal position, she had one arm in a tight fist held close over her heart, and the other gripped around herself. Her dark hair was slightly damp with sweat, and clung to her face, where he could just barely make out dark circles under her eyes and tear streaks on her cheeks.

It had been a long night for both of them.

Simon had just found a position where the hard floor did not bite into him, and had willingly embraced the falling curtain of sleep, when a sob had come from above him. He sat up just in time to hear a horrible retch, and quickly shook off sleep to turn on the light. The little protein that River had eaten during the day was now all over her sheets, and she was shivering feverishly. Taking a deep breath, Simon had cleaned up, found a bowl, and sat with his arm around River as she cried silently. She had leaned her head on his shoulder and dozed, but by the time he had nodded off, she stirred again and he had to hold the bowl in one hand and with the other, hold her hair away from her face.

It continued into the night, the half-dozing and bouts of painful retching. After the third one there was nothing left in her stomach, not even bile, but the dry heaves seemed to hurt her more, and as Simon wiped her face with a damp rag, he cursed Malcolm Reynolds for this. Yes, the man hadn’t meant to cause it, but when it came to River’s well-being Simon didn’t feel like being particularly just.

After about the sixth bout, River didn’t go back to sleep.

“You all right, mei mei?” Simon asked.

“It’s worse,” she said. “Sleep and wake, it’s worse.”

“You’ll feel better soon,” said Simon kissing the top of her head. “I can give you a supplement to help your digestive system, and then you just have to take it easy for a couple days.”

“It won’t work,” she said, swallowing and clenching her fist a little. “It can’t be fixed.”

“No, no, River, don’t say that,” said Simon. “This is temporary. Your body is just a little weak.”

“No, I won’t get better,” she continued, shaking her head and clenching and unclenching her hand.

Simon took her hands in his. “River, look at me.”

She looked up, and even with the flush in her cheeks and the perspiration on her brow, her eyes seemed focused. “You don’t understand,” she said quietly. “You think you can help me, but I am too far gone.”

Simon then started getting the idea that this wasn’t about her illness at this moment. “No, River,” he reproached, almost fiercely, holding her hands firmly in his. “Don’t give up, not now, not ever. I won’t let you.”

“Simple Simon,” said River, her tone lilting even in its weariness. “Only thinks of love, can’t see anything else.”

“That’s my mei mei,” said Simon, confused and satisfied with her answer all at once. “How do you feel?”

“Hurts,” said River. “Hurts in my head, and in my middle. Tired. Need rest. You were right.”

“Imagine that,” said Simon wryly.

River gently removed her hands from his grasp and lay down, and Simon noted that her fever seemed to be breaking, and her skin was going clammy. He tucked the blanket around her again and put the bowl on the floor. As he rose, he noticed her hand was unclenching a little in sleep, and he saw a glimpse of white. Gently opening her fingers, he found a handkerchief, one that she had embroidered in gen ed and that he had taken as a reminder of what he was fighting for. River opened her eyes just long enough to protectively snatch it from his hand and whisper “Home,” and then settled down into the pillow.

Simon stood for a moment in silence. He had spoken to men in medacad, men who were married and starting families of their own, who had talked about the wonders of fatherhood. They talked of a moment when they first held their child, when they realized that they were responsible for a helpless little life, and that the love that they felt made the burden seem more than bearable. Simon had even tended to men in the ER, fathers who had thrown themselves in harm’s way to save their child. It had not seemed unnatural at the time, but it struck him now that he had never fully understood that kind of love until now.

And that thought was troubling to him. He did not want to be River’s father, to take on that role. All he had ever wanted was to rescue her so that they could live a relatively normal if hidden life away from trouble. She was his mei mei, that was all—and here he was in a situation where he had to behave like her father. It will get better, he told himself. It’s just that she’s especially vulnerable now; you’ll be able to help her and then things will be back to the way they were. He didn’t really believe his own advice, but he told himself that he did.

Simon couldn’t go back to sleep in his makeshift bed. River’s sleep was troubled for the rest of the night, by shiverings and nightmares and more retching, and so it was that he found himself the next morning sitting by her side, resting his head on the side of the mattress.

He wondered what he was to do now. Yesterday had been hectic, but there were things for him to do, and he knew his place as a passenger. Now he was more than that, but not quite crew, and he was unsure how to approach that. If anything, he felt more uncomfortable than before, and didn’t really want to see any of them right now. There were a few things to do in the infirmary, but he decided that it would be best to remain low for a little while. Settling down on the one seat in the room, he began a list of supplies that he needed.

Clothes for River, of course. He would have to ask Kaylee or Inara for something in the meantime, until they got to Boros. Many medical tools, as well, to get the very bare infirmary here up to a level of decency he was comfortable with. Medicines also, for River and also some general ones that he did not have enough of with him. Perhaps he would also get something special for River as well, since she was so disoriented and distressed, and needed something to tie this place with safety. It was strange that he thought of this ship as a safe place—its name had a funny way of pulling the wool over one’s eyes, though the Captain had probably been correct about its being the best option.

Simon grew distracted with his list, writing out every medicine and supply that he thought he might need. He wasn’t sure that he could afford it all—though he had withdrawn huge sums before the Alliance closed his accounts, he had spent much of it in buying the cryo box and paying the men that helped him—but it would be better to have more options than less.

“Simon?” River had sat up and was watching him.

“What is it, River?” he asked. “Do you feel all right?”

She didn’t say anything, but looked stable enough that he didn’t push anything.

“Are you hungry?” Again, he got no answer, but she did give him a slow shake of the head. “I think it would be best to run some tests today to make sure you are healthy.”

“Not now,” she begged. “Don’t feel good.”

“All right,” he said, getting up and sitting next to her. “Do you think you’ll be all right if I go and get something to make you feel better?”

“You’ll be back?”

“Of course,” he said, smiling. He reached over and gently squeezed her hand before getting up to go to the infirmary.

When he turned back before reaching the door, River had not moved, and she still seemed a little distant, emotionless. It worried him. He wasn’t ready yet to contemplate all the repercussions of what had happed, but if her body was going through rapid changes to compensate for the trauma, it was unlikely that even if her mind was untouched it would have been dealing with emotions now. In a day or two it would likely be a little better.

He was glad that their rooms were close to the infirmary, and that there was little chance that any of the crew would come down, but apparently that didn’t stop a determined captain.

“So, doctor,” came a voice behind Simon, and he turned to see Malcolm Reynolds framed in the doorway, arms across his chest, face cold and hard in the blue-white light. “Why didn’t you come for breakfast?”

“I had no idea my company was so desired,” answered Simon dryly, all his feelings towards that man rising in his throat, ready to burst out.

“I’m letting you stay, but I’m not giving you free rein,” continued Mal, stepping forward. “I don’t want anything secret going on behind my back.”

“I’m very sorry, Captain,” said Simon, enunciating each word so clearly as to be almost harsh, “but I did not intend that my sister should be suffering from cryogenic trauma right now, and that I would be up most of the night taking care of her. I did try to keep it from happening, but as you said, I don’t hold a very high position on this ship.”

Simon expected a punch, and was surprised when it did not come. He felt a little perverse satisfaction in the idea that Mal might feel guilty. Mal’s veins were visibly pulsing, but though Simon’s urge was to step back, he didn’t. Someone had once accused him of foolish boldness, and he had decided that it was not an inaccurate diagnosis.

“You make sure you join us on all other occasions,” said Mal firmly.

“I’ll do my best,” responded Simon sharply.

He returned to River reminded of all the reasons Serenity was not a perfect place.

“Feeling better?” he asked, surprised to see that she was reorganizing all his luggage.

“Little home,” she said, not looking up from where she was meticulously stacking his medicines. “You have to keep your room neat.”

“I see,” said Simon, wondering if he would ever get a straight answer from her. “River, what have you done with my clothes?”

“Have to hide the dirty laundry, not let anyone see the truth,” she said, shaking her head. Then she stopped and looked at him with wide eyes. “This isn’t your room.”

Simon poured out a couple intestinal bacterial supplement pills. Was she ready to hear everything? Would her mind even understand? “No,” he said, “it’s not.”

“Have to keep it neat, don’t want to make Daddy upset,” she continued, turning back and pulling out the books he had brought and quickly putting them on the shelf—by Dewey Decimal number and then alphabetically by author, he noticed, though they were unlabeled.

“River,” he said, coming over to her, “I don’t think you should be moving too much; your body is still weak.” He gave her the pills and a glass of water. “Not until I do some tests, in any case.”

“You won’t hurt me?” she asked shakily, her hand coming up to her head where a needle scar rested beneath her hair.

“No, silly,” he said, fondly and seriously. “I won’t let anyone hurt you again. Just a little bloodwork and some measurements.”

“Not here, not the equipment,” answered River, her eyes darting about. “Many rooms, many hallways to see.”

“Of course,” said Simon. “The infirmary is just a short way away.”

“No need to hide, not yet,” said River.

“Yes,” said Simon slowly. “But we should stay here, for a while.”

“Little home,” murmured River again.

“It will be,” he said, and left out the maybe as he put his arm around her to lead her to the infirmary.



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Crew, But Not - Epilogue
FINALLY! The final chapter, as the crew gets back to normal and Simon reflects a little on the adventure.

Crew, But Not - Chapter 13
Lord Tembriar and men board Serenity, while the crew try to hold off until they can escape.

Crew, But Not - Chapter 12
Mal, Zoe, and Jayne come back to the ship while Book gets Wash and Kaylee, but they haven't escaped yet.

Crew, But Not - Chapter 11
Mal needs to escape, and the rest of the crew find themselves in sticky situation of their own, while River and Simon follow Book's plan.

Crew, But Not - Chapter 10
The job is turning out to be troublesome. What's up with Lord Tembriar, and what will the crew do about the incoming feds?

Crew, But Not - Chapter 9
Arriving on Greenleaf, Mal and co. go to finish the job, and Simon and River are left on the ship again.

Crew, But Not - Chapter 8
Things are both better and worse for the crew. Simon starts to wonder about River, worry about his duties on the ship, and what was in that cryo box anyway?

Crew, But Not - Chapter 7
Simon and River find something odd with the cargo, and Simon and Inara match their skills in a game of chess.

Crew, But Not - Chapter 6
Finally, a new chapter! The cargo comes aboard, and Simon starts creating patient profiles.

Crew, But Not - Chapter 5
Simon and River struggle to find their place in Serenity's crew. Mal and his team finally meet the client, while Wash and Kaylee spend some time with the new crewmembers and Book.