Warning: HUGE movie spoilers, so read at your own risk.
Author's Note: Some mention of Simon/Kaylee, as its movie canon.
Serenity has a pulse. He can feel it beat beneath his feet, every time he crosses a room. River says it's because the ship has a soul, but Simon's always thought it was Kaylee's unique touch, the way she put the engine back together again and again.
"That's what I meant," River says, and slips away.
The walls in his room are bare, and always have been. They're guest quarters, and he's crew, but that's not the point. He has nothing to call his own, and no reason to mark this place. He keeps order to stay sane, to pretend he's not really trapped here.
He always stays clean. It gives him away.
Parliament has retracted the warrants. Saving face is more important than revenge, and there has never been real charges filed anyway. River has done nothing, and Simon can't have stolen from a place that does not exist.
"Do you want me to take you home?" Mal keeps asking him; he's tense, and never meets his eyes. He doesn't want to lose more crew, but pride keeps him asking, even when he must know Simon can't say yes, even if he wanted to.
His parents have disowned him, anyway. They would be appalled by River, and disown her as well. Saving face is more important than family.
He wants to ask Mal sometimes, why he didn't turn River over or send them both away. His own parents would not risk their reputations for their children, but Mal risked his life and his ship for strangers that barely qualified as crew. He thinks that the price for an answer, however, is more than he's willing to give, so he keeps silent and Mal never says.
In his office on Osiris, the walls were covered with diplomas and awards. He wonders if they've been shredded, torn to pieces, or if they've been boxed away--shut up in a storage room somewhere. He knows it doesn't matter, but he thinks about it anyway.
"Ashes," River whispers. "All of it, ashes."
He glances up and she's in the doorway. He never heard her come back. She can disappear into Serenity's pulse, and navigate the halls without a sound.
"They'd burn the whole house," she says, "if they thought they could."
He looks through her, to the wall. "Do you want to go home, River?" he asks.
"I'm there already," she says, and twirls, smiling. "As close as we'll ever be."
Simon places his hand again the barren wall of his room, and listens to the heartbeat. When he looks up again, River is gone.
He thinks he's probably imagining it, but Serenity flies different with Wash gone. Or maybe it's just them that aren't the same. Zoe has become Mal without belief, and Mal seems to finally have found a cause. River is almost sane, and Jayne, he seems almost nice at times. Kaylee hasn't changed much, except her smile is a little less bright than it was before. Inara, obviously, is as composed as ever.
Simon isn't sure how he's changed, but he's pretty sure he has.
"You don't have to stay here."
Simon presses his eyes shut. Mal seems everywhere these days, haunting the ship, haunting his steps. They don't fight anymore, and he misses it. These constant well-meaning pleasantries and games are harder to bare. "Yes, I do."
He doesn't say it, but he owes Mal. He owes them all more than he can ever pay, and he'll never leave. He'll spend his life putting them back together if that's what it takes.
Mal seems to know what he's thinking and he frowns, stepping forward, crowding his space. "You don't owe me anything," he snaps.
Simon pushes him away, before slipping out of reach. "I owe you everything."
He means that literally, because River is all he has.
His relationship with Kaylee is short lived. They were better at dancing around each other, it seemed, than having something of a real relationship. She wants to share quarters, but he doesn't want to stay in her room. He can't breathe there. There are too many things, there's too much clutter; it's too much like someone's home.
He tries to explain this, but she only ends up being hurt. It is better, in the end, to just go back to how they had been before. They still flirt, but they don't touch these days unless they slip up. They still go to each other if they feel like they're drowning, or Kaylee runs out of batteries, but it isn't love. Not the right kind, in any case.
"It was fun while it lasted," Kaylee says, smiling bravely.
Simon takes her hand, squeezing it tightly before finally letting go. "The most fun I've ever had."
It's the truth, and it makes Kaylee smile brighter, and him want to cry.
By some unspoken consensus they don't hire a new pilot. Mal flies, or River does, or Zoe. Anyone but some interloper, some unknown that wouldn't understand the miniature palm trees and dinosaurs littering the helm. They'd let Jayne fly before hiring someone new.
They've all become untrusting of anyone not in their crew, not surprising, really, considering how all of their allies have been killed. They're protective of each other; even Jayne, even Simon.
River goes on missions with them now, and it's only Inara, Kaylee and Simon that stay behind to guard the ship. Things go a lot smoother when she goes along, because she knows beforehand if they're going to be betrayed, and she can take out twenty men in the blink of an eye.
These days, River earns her keep.
Simon continues to earn his own, stitching them up upon their return. Zoe always seems to be bleeding, and Simon has started to dream in red.
A new war has arisen, but this time Mal doesn't volunteer. After the battle above Mr. Universe's moon, and after the truth about the Reavers was exposed, the Alliance headed into their space and began a genocide. People cheered as the last of the Reavers were shot into oblivion, already forgetting that they are as much victims as any of them.
"The universe knows about Miranda and forgets, they don't know about the planets that died to give them the truth and wouldn't remember anyway," River says, and looks sadly out into space. "In everything, there are things that go unsaid."
It's easy to think it was all for nothing, that everything they fought for meant nothing, but River is alive, he helped save her at least, and he holds onto that. "We tried, at least," Simon says, and River seems to come into focus. She turns and meets his eyes.
"In a perfect world," she tells him, "everyone is dead."
No one knew that better than them. The universe may forget, but they never would. Miranda no longer haunted only River's dreams. Even Jayne, sometimes, woke screaming her name.
River grabs his chin, and forces him to meet her eyes. "What aren't you saying, Simon?" she asks.
He blinks. "You, of all people, should know."
She frowns, but lets him go. "It doesn't mean anything, if you don't say it."
"Why are you still here?"
Mal seems obsessed with this line of thought. Time and again he asks him, works at him, pushes him. He can't take it anymore; he can feel himself start to snap. "If you want us to leave," Simon says, "just say so."
Mal looks like he's been struck. "I just don't understand," he says, harshly. "You hate it here, and now you can leave, so why don't you? Why don't you go back to your fancy life?"
"I can't," Simon yells. "I don't even think I want to."
Mal looks down, pulls his eyes away and just sighs. Its funny how easily the fight leaves him these days, like there's so little left. "What do you want then?" he asks.
It's a dangerous question, and Simon doesn't answer. Mal should know already, should understand, he doesn't belong there anymore. He's seen too much, and become too different. He thinks about Osiris now, and all he sees is pretense. "Something honest," he whispers.
Mal reaches out, brushing his thumb across his cheek. "You've got a smudge," he says, and then lets his hand drop away.
Simon closes his eyes, and wonders when he started to fit in where he doesn't belong.