A coda to "Serenity" (the pilot).
No dough, no foul.
Simon had sent Kaylee back to the infirmary after her semi-paralyzed adventure in the engine room, and he stopped by to check on her after his own strange confrontation with the captain. She was sleeping; he left the lights low not to disturb her.
As he was taking her pulse it sped up, and when he looked up her eyes were open.
"Am I shiny?" she asked.
Considering the nature of her wound and these primitive facilities, it was a miracle she'd pulled through. "You're doing very well." He paused a beat before adding, "I wish I could say the same for your captain."
Kaylee tried to sit up. "What's wrong with the captain?"
Simon gently pushed her back down. "Nothing years of psychotherapy couldn't ameliorate, slightly."
"Big words, Doctor." Kaylee rubbed her forehead. "Did you have another fight with him?"
"I don't think he's psychotic after all. I'd say manic."
Kaylee closed her eyes. "What'd you fight about?"
"We didn't. He said River and I could stay."
Simon recalled what Zoe had said about never leaving Serenity, shuddered for a moment, then put it out of his mind. "I didn't expect his change of heart." Normally, that required a heart.
"I did," Kaylee replied. "The captain's a teddy bear. He wouldn't throw you off the ship, not with the Alliance after you."
Simon noticed he was still holding her wrist, and let it go. "A teddy bear," he echoed.
"A total sweetie." Kaylee smiled, her eyes still closed. "Wouldn't send a mangy dog to an Alliance pound."
"He shot that Fed without batting an eye."
"Feds don't count."
"And all of Penelope's men."
"That don't count neither. He won't shoot you."
Simon nodded. "He said as much. But how can I believe someone so bitter, so hopeless, won't change his mind again?"
"Captain's not bitter."
Simon laughed out loud. "If he's not bitter, I'm not---"
"Uptight?" Kaylee opened her eyes to find his hand and pat it. "But you're not uptight underneath. It's just a show you put on, acting all innocent so as we won't kill you. Underneath, you have a cunning criminal mind."
Simon backed away until he hit the counter. They were supposed to be talking about Mal, not him. "I do not," he said, and winced, because it was exactly what he would have said if he were playing innocent and did have a cunning criminal mind.
"You got your sister out of that scary Alliance place."
That wasn't his story at all. "It wasn't me. It was an underground anti-Alliance movement---"
Kaylee closed her eyes again. "Whatever you say."
Simon thought it best to change the topic. "He told me you were dead, Kaylee."
"Dead?" She giggled. "He's such a kidder."
"I'm sure everyone had quite a laugh at my expense."
"You have to admit, it's funny." She smiled the sweetest smile, and he found it hard to believe that she was as psychopathic as her crewmates. It was just life on the Rim, he told himself. His life, now.
"I'll do nothing of the sort," Simon said. "But you have to admit that the captain is still bitter about the war."
Kaylee opened her eyes again. "You think he's bitter because you would be in his shoes, but he's moved on."
Simon didn't believe a word of it. He'd done a round in a psych ward, back during his internship. He knew post-traumatic stress when he saw it. "He'll never get over it."
"Nobody gets over anything, Doc. We just move on." Her eyes fluttered shut involuntarily.
"Isn't that what bitterness is?"
"Nah," Kaylee said. "Bitter is refusing to move on. He's not---" Her voice trailed off, and she was asleep again.
Simon drew up the blanket, covering her arms. Bitter, he thought, was in the eye of the beholder.