Simon wiped the sweat from his forehead and leaned heavily against the wall. His first baby delivery. It should be a happy occasion and, big surprise, it was going to happen amidst gunfire and violence.

"Is she going to be okay?"

Turning towards the voice in surprise, Simon found the young, dark haired man, whom Kaylee had called a boy-whore, looking at him anxiously. Pasting a smile on, he assured the younger man, "She's going to be fine. Women have been having babies for thousands of years and Petaline is doing just great."

"So why ain't you in there with her?"

"Just getting a breather," Simon answered. "She's going to be in labor all night and it's early yet."

Looking thoughtful, the younger man said, "So you're on a break then?"

With a mild shrug, Simon agreed, "You could say that."

A slow smile crossed the younger man's face and he sidled closer. "Name's Jeremy, but everyone calls me Jem."

Startled at having the focus of a very intense and obvious sexual gaze turned upon him, Simon stammered, "N-nice to meet you, Jem."

"You're name?"

"Uh, Simon."

"Well, Simon, how about we discuss your trade fee?"

Swallowing heavily, Simon shook his head, wordless.

Arching a dark eyebrow at him, Jem said, "You can't tell me you don't like me. I saw you lookin' me over when you and your'n came inside firstly."

"Uh, well, yes, that's true. But it was more cursory than searching and, really, I should get back..."

Jem trapped Simon against the wall, arms to either side of his shoulders and pressing his hips against Simon's. Mouthing the side of Simon's throat, Jem informed him, "I could do you here and now and you'd beg me for more, wouldn't you? So hot under those clothes, I could feel it from across the room."

Moaning as teeth worried at his skin, Simon gasped, "I can't, Petaline..."

"Is gonna go all night, just like you said," Jem reminded, his hips grinding hard into Simon's. "Just like we should be doing."

Heat surged through Simon and his head lolled back against the wall, need warring with ingrained behavior. He'd never indulged this part of himself simply because his parents had always expected that he'd marry and produce heirs one day. And since he'd never really been interested in casual affairs anyhow, the women who'd offered themselves had been easily bypassed.

Neither being a problem anymore in a life lived on the run, his eye had been caught early on by the Captain, but there'd been nary a single returned look. There was no reason for him not to do this and his body was eagerly arching up into the young man's hand, demanding more.

"Oh God," Simon groaned, his hips pushing forward, feeling the sizzle in the base of his spine, already so close to orgasm.

"Fuck, you're so hot," Jem exclaimed against his throat. "You're a virgin, ain't you? God, I'll do you for free, Simon. Get my cock into that tight, hot ass of yours and just slam into you. That's what you want, isn't it? To feel someone pounding inside of you? Make you feel connected for a bit?"

Panting even though he was barely being touched, Simon's cock throbbed in agony, desperate for release. Turning his face so that his cheek rested on Jem's shoulder, Simon gripped the other's hand and stopped the rubbing.

"What's wrong?" Jem whispered.

Slowly bringing his breathing under control, Simon whispered back, "Not like this, please. I, God, I do want you, want everything you just said, but I can't. I want...I want someone else."

"It's the Cap'n, ain't it?" Jem demanded softly.

As his heart settled back in its proper place, Simon nodded. "It is."

"He doesn't look at you like that. He can't give you what you need, Simon."

Simon finally drew away as he replied wistfully, "I know."

Shaking his head, Jem offered a faint smile and stated, "You're a strange one."

With a snort, Simon observed, "Wouldn't be the first time someone's said that."

* * * *

Mal drew back into the shadows, reeling from the revelation that he'd just overheard. Well, that and the sight of Simon all mussed up and groaning like his life depended on it. That'd been what stopped him in the first get-go. Finding out that the doc was sly, well, that would be shock enough for anyone. But to witness the helpless, needing look on a face that only ever showed confidence and certainty, well...that right there was a recipe for...something hot and sweaty.

Turning around, Mal almost ran into Nandi and forced a smile. "Sorry about that."

She smiled up at him and replied, "Not a problem, Mal. I was wondering if you'd like to take a look at my private gun collection? I'm thinking we'll be needing all the weapons that we can get hold of, after all."

Mal hesitated but the look in the woman's eyes was near irresistible. And it wasn't like he even wanted Simon like that and Simon knew it. Had in fact just agreed with the whore doing his best to seduce the doc. Reinforced Mal's opinion that the boy couldn't relax for more than thirty seconds. He snorted, thinking, Should've timed it and I'd know for sure.

"Mal?"

Coming back to the present, Mal smiled for real and nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me."

* * * *

"Are you all right, Captain?" Simon asked hesitantly.

The other man looked up abruptly and nodded. "Yeah, fine Simon, thanks."

He didn't look it, though. There were shadows under his eyes that spoke of sleepless nights and emotional pain. Pain that Simon wanted somehow to smooth away. Since it had been the result of Inara's leaving, though, and perhaps Nandi's death, there was no real way for him to fix it. Knowing that Mal wouldn't appreciate any of that commented on, let alone discussed, Simon changed the subject with, "I understand that we're going to be taking a job towards the Core again?"

Mal nodded, smirking faintly. "Got another hospital to rob?"

Chuckling, Simon shook his head and answered, "No. Unfortunately. But I might have someone that you can contact about selling off that damned gun."

"Really?" Mal questioned, surprised. Straightening in his chair, he continued, "Why didn't you say anything?"

With a smirk of his own, Simon pointed out, "No one asked."

Wagging a finger at him, Mal said, "You, doctor, are getting far too devious in your old age."

"Wave me in ten years and we'll talk who's the most devious," Simon retorted.

For some reason, his teasing remark caused a frown instead of a smile or laugh. Mal was silent a moment longer, then said, "So? What's your plan, mastermind?"

"No real plan. Just a friend of mine who was always going against the establishment who also happens to have a lot of high-level connections," Simon explained.

"Can you trust him?"

"Yes."

Mal frowned at him again and asked, "No hesitation, no doubts?"

Smiling as Simon thought about Louis, he replied, "None of the above. Louis is someone I trust implicitly. He's the one who got me in touch with the people who broke River out of the Academy."

Lips pursed for a moment, Mal eyed him thoughtfully. "If he's so trustworthy, why didn't you go to him in order to get out of the Core instead of trusting to us reprobates?"

"Because Louis was already under suspicion for malfeasance and malicious mischief and being watched," Simon answered. "He's my best friend, Captain, and wouldn't do anything to jeopardize me or River."

"All right then. Give the coordinates to Wash and we'll make a stop before connecting with our current job."

Simon nodded at the casual order and started to leave when Mal called his name. Turning back, he asked, "Yes, Captain?"

"Thanks for asking after me, Simon," Mal said softly.

The brief gratefulness in the deep blue eyes nearly sent Simon reeling, but he managed to keep hold of his emotions. Giving the other man a slight nod, Simon added a tiny smile and left the common room.

* * * *

And how gorram unpleasant had it been when Simon had mentioned getting a wave from him ten years hence? Because in order to wave him, Simon would have to be gone from Serenity. Truth to tell, Mal hadn't really thought about the doc and River leaving his boat; not for a good long while. It was like adopting Kaylee and Jayne, both were now permanent crew and so should Simon and River be.

Obviously that wasn't so in the doctor's mind, though. Not for him to be so easy with the thought of leaving. Scowling at the man who was currently engaged in some kind of happy chatter with the stranger who'd promised a hell of a lot of money for the gun, Mal settled back against the bar.

He refused to name the dark emotions roiling through them, certain it'd be more unpleasantness than it was worth.

"Drink?"

Looking over at the bartender, Mal nodded. "Double your hardest, straight up."

The older man arched an eyebrow at him but complied when money was tossed on the worn counter. Mal tossed back the liquid in two long gulps and the fire burned all the way down to his gut like corrosion. It took a few coughs for the liquor to settle, and once it did, the world was at least a little smoother for him to look at again.

"That's not like you, Sir."

Just in time to see his one slip. That figured. Glancing sideways at Zoe, Mal replied, "A man gets thirsty for something different, now and again."

"Only if he's not partial to his liver," Zoe countered dryly.

"You got something to report or not?"

Letting his querulous demand go untouched, Zoe nodded. "Yes."

Mal waited, but she didn't continued. Irritated, he prompted, "And?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I was waiting for the pole to drop out of your ass. Sir."

Glaring at her got Mal nothing but a faintly amused and very steady gaze. He sighed and said, "Considered it dropped. What's up?"

She relaxed a bit and answered, "Everything seems on the up, Cap'n. Sheller's a troublemaker, but the political kind. He's here on vacation and there's no warrants out on him."

"Nice to've known that before we got here," Mal pointed out.

Snorting, Zoe answered, "Nice to have the resources to check it before we got here, which we don't. I had to go a little deeper than normal."

Mal nodded slowly and asked, "How long do you think before Kaylee gets those new parts she's looking for? I want off this rock yesterday."

If Zoe was surprised by his statement, she gave no sign of it. "I expect in a couple of hours. Book went with her to make sure she kept out of trouble and didn't get swindled. Something about havin' a preacher around that lessens the chance of both."

Lips twisting wryly, Mal observed, "Wonder why."

"Mmm. In any case, everyone else stayed aboard so we wouldn't have to worry about the scatter factor."

"Good. See it stays that way. I'll bring our wayward doctor back aboard just as soon as he's done."

"Understood, Sir."

Mal watched her go, knowing that he'd somehow revealed more than he even knew in that short conversation. Ever since Simon had mentioned leaving, however obliquely, Mal had found himself at odds and ends. It was something that made him mighty uncomfortable, especially given how he still felt kicked in the gut by Inara's leavin' him.

The ship.

Inara leaving Serenity.

Tired, he muttered, "Tzao gao."

* * * *

Getting rid of the gun proved to be easier than any of them anticipated. And, though of course they took a major cut on the profit, it was still more money than any of them had seen in their lives. Enough to fit Serenity out with plenty of new gadgets and toys and still have plenty left over for personal use.

Leaning tiredly against the counter, Simon rubbed his eyes and wondered what on earth he was going to do. Louis had told him that his parents had moved heaven and earth to find both him and River and that the warrant on him was in the process of being revoked. Dr. Tam, Sr. was, after all, a very influential and wealthy man. The fact that both of his children were on the run had hit him where he lived and that was even without knowing that River had been damaged mentally.

Simon idly wondered if his father would be so enthusiastically pursuing their freedom if he did know. Then he shook the thought off as both unkind and uncharacteristically cynical.

"You're not looking very happy for someone with a lot of money," Mal's voice observed from behind.

Simon shrugged and turned slowly to face him. "That would be because I'm not very happy."

"Why not?"

After a brief hesitation, Simon replied, "I'd prefer not to talk about it."

Mal echoed his shrug and said agreeably, "Good enough."

"Did you need something, Captain?"

"Not really. Just wondering how you were doing."

Eyeing the other man with mild curiosity, Simon asked, "Any particular reason why?"

"Ever since meeting up with that friend of yours, you've been tetchy," Mal answered simply.

Simon sighed faintly, but couldn't deny the statement. Though really, he'd have used 'brooding' instead of 'tetchy,' it sounded more dignified. "I suppose I have."

"Anything I can help with?"

Not unless you suddenly declare your undying love and devotion, Simon thought, pained.

As though his thoughts had shown on his face, and maybe they had, Mal closed the distance between them and gripped his arm, asking urgently, "What's wrong, Simon? Tell me."

To his horror, Simon blurted out, "My parents are getting the arrest warrants revoked!"

Mal went completely still, the hand on Simon's arm squeezing almost painfully tight before releasing him altogether. Clearing his throat, Mal replied, "That's a call for celebration, ain't it?"

Lowering his eyes, Simon shrugged.

"Isn't it?" Mal prompted, soft.

Thinking that the other man was entirely too close for comfort, able to feel the body heat that practically simmered from the Captain, Simon moved abruptly away and exclaimed, "What if it's a trick? What if it's not, but when we go back, they take River anyhow? What if my parents take one look at River and decide they wished that they'd never, never tried to get us back?"

Mal sighed explosively, then said, "There's only one way to find out, Simon."

"I know," Simon whispered, wrapping his arms around himself. Silently, he added, And what if I don't want to leave?

"So what're you going to do?"

Simon shivered, feeling cold with the decision thrusting itself upon him. "I don't know."



But he did, really. If there was a chance that he could get River a normal life, to get help and maybe reverse what had been done to her, then he had to take it. His father had access to so much more technology than was possible on Serenity, even with the sudden flush of funds.

"You know what you're going to do."

Looking up at Mal's statement to meet the dark gaze, Simon nodded.

* * * *

Zoe stepped onto the bridge and walked up behind Mal, who sat in the pilot's chair. Leaning on the headrest, she informed him, "They're gone. Safely in their parents' custody. No sign of Feds or the blue hands that always set River to twitching."

Hands moving over the console, Mal started the engines. "Good. I'm glad things're working out for them."

"Not your style to part on bad terms."

Knowing that she was fishing, Mal replied, "Not the case, Zoe."

"Is that so? Correct me, then."

Mal turned the chair so he could look her in the eye and said, "Already said my goodbyes. Don't like being part of a fuss, you know that."

Lips pursed, Zoe nodded. "That's true. Still..."

"Can we change the subject," Mal ordered, more than asked.

"Sure thing Cap'n. Oh, you might want to know, though, that Simon was waiting on you the whole time. And that his friend Louis was on hand to help him and River get back to their old lives."

On that, she left.

Jaw clenched, Mal briefly wished that the damned woman would hold her tongue once in a while. That hadn't been a piece of information that he'd wanted, or needed.