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Author's Note: The following was written for Firefly Friday fic challenge #12.
by Tara LJC O'Shea
The thing about money is, when you have it you never think about it. And when you don't have it, it's just about all you can think of.
Simon had never not had money.
He'd grown up with all the luxuries of the Core at his fingertips, but he hadn't availed himself of most of them. He did not throw lavish parties. He did not buy a new flitter every year, outfitted with all the gadgets. He'd never showered a sweetheart with diamonds, silk, or jade. His apartment near the hospital was smallish because it was in the Old Quarter, and tastefully decorated, and filled with the best that money could buy. But he was never really there except to sleep, shower, and change his clothes before the next shift. He slept in the doctor's lounge at the hospital, on a standard cot covered with cotton sheets that were washed daily by anonymous workers, more often than his own bed. He wore recycled and re-used plain white scrubs more often than the silk or wool suits and shirts that filled his closet. While Ren, Sofia, Jackson and Kyle and all of his other Medacad friends had taken trips to Ariel or Ceres to see the latest cortex star singer or attend the "social event of the season" almost every season, Simon had worked double-shifts, studied even harder, or taken rare trips home to spend time with his family.
He had the money to do anything he wished. He usually wished to be left alone to work.
His dedication was praised by his superiors and teachers--and the subject of gentle mocking from Ren, less than gentle mocking from Sofie. It hadn't stung. Not much, anyway. Because with each step, he could see himself getting closer to the goals he had set for himself the day he took the aptitude tests for Medacad at age 15. Simon was going to be a surgeon. Simon was going to be a brilliant surgeon.
As he lay in bed, listening to the steady and almost undetectable vibrations of Serenity's engines, he thought about how much they had taken for granted--and how little River seemed to mind. She'd never once complained about wearing Zoe or Kaylee's cast off clothes, even though she had had all of her clothes, from night-gowns to school uniforms, made especially for her. She never sulked because they couldn't afford to download the latest vids off the Cortex. She didn't seem to care that if something ripped or tore or was broken, it had to be mended, patched, or jury-rigged instead replaced with a new one.
Simon had never thought of himself as spoiled, until he'd heard Kaylee telling stories of her father and her brothers catching fish when work was scarce, to put food on the table. Or Wash go on about working three jobs at one point, to put himself through flight school. It shamed him, realising he had never once questioned, when he sat down at the table, that there would be food on it. He'd never seen a single bill from a university--never worried about paying for expensive textbooks, or dormitory room and board. Realised with a start that his cut of the last job wouldn't have covered a single book he'd used at Medacad.
As he'd walked through the small mall of the refuelling station where they'd stopped to resupply, he had stared longingly at a new pair of boots that cost four times what he had in his pocket. Realised with a twinge of guilt that, a year ago, he wouldn't have thought twice about buying a new pair as soon as the old pair was scuffed, or the heels worn. He'd kept on going, running to catch up to Kaylee, who was lingering at a foodstall offering frozen fruit on sticks. Laughing and moving on, arm tucked in his, because she would have to wait for the next job before she could indulge in the kind of simple treat that would have been pocket change for a trauma surgeon on Osiris, and was now a delicacy for a ship's medic out on the Rim.
As he closed his eyes, chasing elusive sleep, he thought about how much money it had taken to get River out of the Academy. How lucky he had been, to have gotten what cash he'd had before they'd crashed his accounts, to book passage on Serenity in the first place. How proud he'd been when he'd bartered down a man selling black market ivoprovalyn stolen from a clinic's supply, from 130 platinum to 90 for a single tiny vial, to restock his medkit.
As he drifted off, listening for any sounds from River's room that might indicate she was having a nightmare, he thought of how, in the midst of his second year and up to his eyeballs in books, he had refused to take her to the opera to see the dance troupe from Athens she had her heart set on seeing. He'd told her he'd needed to study--told her to go with one of her girlfriends, or drag their mother instead.
She had laughed and stolen his notes, making him chase her through the library. His cheeks had burned as she'd rattled off a string of diagnostic information that it had taken him half a term to sort through. He adored his baby sister, but she could be such a brat sometimes. It was frustrating, the ease with which she mastered every subject, passed every test, solved every puzzle.
She was good at puzzles, his sister. Better than he was. Always had been. And when she acted like the cast-off blouse Zoe found her was the finest cashmere, or delighted in a fresh apple as he once would have 200 year old Calvados brandy, he thought about money. And how when you have it, you never think about it. And when you don't have it, it's just about all you can think of.