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Author's Note: The following was written for Firefly Friday fic challenge #11.
by Tara LJC O'Shea
Kaylee was surprised to find Simon in the passenger lounge, his long legs stretched out in front of him, resting on the low table, engrossed in a small leather bound book. It was almost "morning" by ship-time, and the only reason she was up was because the port stabilizer was acting up, and she wanted to set it to rights before they landed on Persephone in a few hours.
"Hey," she said softly and he looked up, startled. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."
She waited for an answering smile, and when there wasn't one, she sat on the edge of the table, resting her bare feet on the cushion next to him. "What is it?"
"Nothing. I just—it's nothing."
"Is River okay?"
"She's fine," he assured her quickly. "She had a good day. I was just... Never mind. Really, it's nothing."
"It ain't nothing, if it's keeping you up this late," she observed, and waited.
"Am I... Do I seem different, to you?" he finally asked.
She frowned. "How do you mean?"
"I read over some of my journal entries, and it just felt like they'd been written by a stranger—even the notes on River's condition. I know they're in my handwriting. I remembered writing them. But it just seems like..."
"Like you've changed?"
"Changed, you know—for the better, like?"
"I can't tell. I was so focused—there's two months where all I wrote about was River's condition, analysis of the scans from Ariel. And then, it was like I just... stopped. I mean, I didn't stop working on a cure. I still documented everything. But I—I just feel like I've gotten too comfortable. Like I'm not who I used to be, and the man—the doctor—I used to be would have made more progress by now. It's been over six months, and..."
"But she had a good day, today. You said so."
"She had no adverse side-effects or reactions to her current treatment. She hasn't had any nightmares in weeks. Not since... Not since right after Early."
"So she's getting better?"
"I can't tell. I can't tell if she's getting better really—or if I'm just getting used to how she is now. Forgetting how we were before."
Kaylee's eyes narrowed. "Forgetting how you were before, you mean?"
He nodded. "I looked in the mirror today, and it just hit me that I don't even look the way I did six months ago. I've lost weight, my hair is in desperate need of cutting—"
"I like your hair," she said, reaching out to ruffle it with one hand.
"—I don't think I've put on a shirt that's been ironed in weeks. Half my sweaters are grease-stained, or have holes in them. Before, I wouldn't have dared setting foot in public looking so unkempt, and now..." he trailed off, frowning.
"Now, you're comfortable." She nodded, and then peered at him, chin cupped in her hand. "Is that so bad? Being comfortable?"
"I don't know," he admitted with a wry half-smile, and gestured to the empty common room. "That's why I'm still awake, I guess."
"I think you have changed," Kaylee finally said, breaking the awkward silence.
He looked stricken. "Really?"
"Yup," she nodded. "You're not as soft as you were—and you're not as scared, neither. Captain or Jayne pushes you around, and you push right back. You joke around, and pitch in without anyone needing to ask or anything, and you're getting awfully good at helping out with jobs." There was a slight flush to his cheeks, and he opened and closed his mouth, as if he wanted to say something, but thought better of it. So she continued undaunted. "You can still get all proper, sometimes. But I think you're learning proper don't always get you what you want, or what you need. Things are a lot simpler, out here in the black. Not always as complicated as I think you thought they used to be."
"Life didn't seem this complicated before I became a wanted fugitive, darting from planet to planet, scrounging for medical supplies and everything else..." He chuckled. "Life in the hospital just seemed so... stable." He shrugged. "I went in, worked my shifts, went home, ate dinner, went to bed, got up, and did it all over again. The only danger I ever had to deal with was making sure that if Dr. Rousseau challenged me to a game of chess, that I lost gracefully. Purposefully, but gracefully."
She laughed, and he leaned forward, forearms braced on his thighs and hands clasped.
"It doesn't seem so complicated, looking back. But at the time, everything was high drama. Then I found out what they were doing to River, and... Suddenly, none of it seemed to matter. The only thing that mattered was getting her out. Keeping her safe."
"See, now, that sounds simple to me," she said, trying to bolster his spirits. "And you've done a real good job, so far. You got her out. You're keeping her safe. And you're helping her—you are. I mean, I didn't know what she was like, before she came out of that box. But I sure seen how different she is now, from the way she was when you first got here. You just gotta have a little more faith in yourself."
"Well, there is that," Simon said, his expression softening.
"See? There you go. You just gotta think positive." She patted his hand, smiling brightly.
"And I suppose sometimes, change is good."
He leaned over and almost before she could process what was happening—the soft pressure of his lips against hers, his hand at the back of her neck, fingers threaded in her hair—the kiss was over. She reached up to touch her bottom lip, dazed.
"I don't think I would have done that, six months ago, either," he admitted with a shy smile that made her blush.
"Sometimes, change is good," she agreed.