Compromising Positions | Into the Black | Contact

Coming Home

Notes: Thanks to Shanna at TWoP for starting my brain working with her wondering what might happen if Simon got a chance to go back to his old life. This is my spin. And a big thanks to Grey Bard and maystone for their ideas and help.

"OK, so, you're to meet the contact on the last day of the conference," Mal says, going over the plan again.

"Yes, Captain. I know." Simon says with some exasperation. "We've been over this many times. He'll be at the MedCore booth, wearing a brown jacket. I strike up a casual conversation with him, say the code word, and he passes me the information. I've got it."

"Are you sure you're gonna be OK?" Mal asks watching Simon adjust his jacket for what seems like the hundredth time. The boy is just too damn fussy.

Simon takes a deep breath, the Captain is really getting on his nerves. Steeling his jaw, Simon says, "Captain, this is my world. I know these people. I will be fine. What I'm worried about is River. I'm going to be gone for a week and we haven't been separated for that long since I got her away from the Alliance." He's already said goodbye to River - the look on her face nearly breaking his heart. He almost decided to back out then and there, but the mission was too important. If they pulled this off, they wouldn't have to worry about money for a long time. He could buy some new medications and equipment and begin experimenting, trying to find the right combination that would bring his sister back to him permanently.

Now it was Mal's turn to reassure Simon. "We'll keep an eye on her, Doc, don't worry. Kaylee's gonna stay in your room while your gone, so River won't get too lonely."

Simon's not sure how he feels about Kaylee staying in his room, but he knows that her presence has a calming effect on River. "All right. Just make sure River takes her medication. If she gets too out of control, use one of the hypos I gave you."

Finding the thought of having to drug a teenage girl rather distasteful, Mal asks, "You really think that's gonna be necessary?"

Looking sad, Simon says, "I hope not, but she's still so unpredictable."

Simon is fiddling with his clothes, stalling for time, refusing to admit to himself that he's nervous about leaving the ship when Mal says, "Ready?"

Smoothing down the front of his jacket one last time and picking up his bags, Simon replies, "Yes. See you in a week."

Mal lowers the ramp and they stand and look at each other for a few moments before Simon turns and walks down the ramp. Mal watches as Simon leaves, still worried. He hates sending his crew into potential danger, but there was no other way - he can't pull this job off himself. The conference is closed to non-medical professionals and there is no way anyone else on the ship could fake it well enough to pass.

Simon approaches the hotel/conference centre complex a slight feeling of trepidation coming over him. What if they see through his disguise, what if he's caught, what will the Alliance do to him in order to get to River? He takes a deep breath and tries to dismiss his fears.

He can't seem to stop adjusting his clothes. It's been ages since he's worn the full three-piece suit with a tie and he's finding it oddly uncomfortable. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the desk clerk, he barely recognizes the man looking back at him. It's amazing what a bit of blond hair dye can do. The highlights Inara put in his hair make him look like a different person altogether. He removes his red-tinted sunglasses, and puts them in his pocket.

"Dr. Chang," he says arrogantly to the clerk, "I presume you have a suite ready for me?"

"I'm sorry Dr. Chang, but we're required to confirm all guests, just procedure. May I see your identification?" The clerk asks him.

Simon slips out the ident card that Jayne forged for him. It still amazes Simon that Jayne of all people can reproduce nearly flawless Alliance IDs - where did a hired gun learn a skill like that? Simon holds his breath as the clerk swipes the card through the system. When he hears the beep of confirmation, he releases it slowly.

The clerk hands back the card and gives him the keycard for his room. "Enjoy your stay, sir."

Simon nods imperiously, as expected of someone of his standing, and makes his way to his room.

His room is almost as big as Serenity's galley and common areas combined. He lets the bell hop put his suitcase in the room and tips him generously as he leaves. Simon takes off his jacket and loosens his tie. He explores the room, takes his clothes out of the suitcase and hangs them up, tests the softness of the bed, touches things randomly, and then makes his way into the washroom.

A bath! A full bath, big enough to stretch out in. Simon looks at the chronometer by the bed and decides he has just enough time for a good long soak in the tub before he has to be at dinner. He starts the water running and adds a few drops of one of the scented oils left for his convenience and use. He takes off his suit and hangs it carefully on a hanger. It's his only suit and he has to wear it that night.

With a sigh, Simon settles into the tub. He gives himself a quick scrub all over and washes his hair and then relaxes back against the tub, allowing the nearly scalding water to soothe him into a light doze. He leaves the tub when the water has turned cool, feeling cleaner and more at ease than he has in ages. Simon wraps himself in one of the big, soft hotel towels and decides that they are definitely going into his bag when he leaves. He shakes his head in amusement. A year ago, the thought of stealing towels from a hotel would have horrified him.

Simon dries himself quickly and gets ready for dinner. He stayed in the tub too long, and he's almost late.

Dinner is divine. Real food - meat and fresh vegetables and about a hundred types of fruit - Simon thinks he's died and gone to heaven. It has been a good long time since the crew of Serenity has had anything but protein mush and canned goods. He eats so much he thinks he may be ill. He says goodnight to his dinner companions and then goes to his room and prepares for bed. He sinks into the big, double bed and sighs contentedly. He hasn't been this comfortable and well fed in so long he had almost forgotten what it was like.

The rest of conference passes in a blur. He's at one of the most prestigious medical conferences in the Core and no one recognizes him. He hadn't realized how much he had missed having other doctors to talk to until now - sitting up half the night arguing courses of treatment for obscure diseases, discussing the pros and cons of medications, matching wits with his peers - it was exhilarating. Simon imagines what it would be like to resume his old life. The disguise and ID work - everyone believes he's Dr. Peter Chang. If they forged similar documents for River and altered her appearance, they could stay here, they could start all over again. He could get back what he'd lost and help River in the process. He's learning so much - so many new techniques and theories have arisen in the year he's been on Serenity. New equipment that could be used to better diagnose River, maybe identify once and for all what was really done to her. They could finally stop running.

The flaw in his little fantasy is that listening to these puffed-up windbags prattle on and on about their new hoverships and artwork and mistresses and exotic toys and their petty jealousies is driving Simon around the bend. He'd rather listen to Jayne explain the merits of one of his guns than this mindless drivel. Simon can barely suppress an eye-roll as one of the doctors babbles about his newest acquisition. Then he imagines Wash and Kaylee pointing out all of the mechanical and design flaws in his latest "baby" telling him exactly how much he overpaid for that piece of go se and can barely suppress a grin. He can't believe he was once like this babbling fool. But, before he abandoned his life to save his sister, he was heading towards becoming this man. He had wanted the prestige, the power, the money, and the toys that came with being a surgeon at one of the top medical centres in the Core.

And the women that seemed to pop up out of the woodwork were horrifying - vapid and shallow or viciously ambitious - concerned only with themselves or how they could tear each other down. If one more of these creatures hits on him, he thinks he's going to scream He can see them sizing him up like merchandise, weighing his pros and cons in their minds before they determine whether he's worth their efforts. Simon would give his right arm to see Kaylee's grease stained face and easy smile. She always treats him like a person, not a commodity, making him forget what so many of the Core women were like when they were on the prowl for a husband.

But he has a mission to complete, so he maintains the fašade. He laughs at all the stupid jokes, he flirts with the women, he pretends he gives a damn about the take off speed of the new Cruisers. He pretends that the Alliance is the best thing that ever happened to the 'verse - his stomach twisting in knots because he knows better and because, somehow, it feels like he's betraying the Captain and Zoe every time he sings their praises.

It's the last day of the conference, finally. Simon has met with the contact and obtained the information that the Captain needs and he can't wait to get back to Serenity.

"Dr. Chang, could I have a word with you?" Simon hears as he's about to leave the hotel.

He turns and sees Dr. Marshall, the head of surgery for the hospital on Persephone.

"Certainly, Dr. Marshall," Simon says with a grace he does not feel. He just wants to get out of this place, out of the stupid suit he's wearing, and away from these people.

"I know this is sudden, but I would like to offer you a chance to sit in on a new procedure that I'm performing later this week. I'm impressed with the way your mind works. You've got the potential to be a great surgeon and I would like to help you along."

Simon's heart skips a beat and he considers the offer. He genuinely likes Richard Marshall and knows he could learn so much from this man, but he also knows his life is elsewhere. "Thanks for the offer, Doctor, but I'm happy where I am."

And Simon realizes, suddenly, that he could never go back to his old life. His year on Serenity has changed him, changed the way he sees the 'verse, and he knows he could never completely fit in here again. He can see through them, see the phoniness, see the dangers of buying the Alliance version of the facts, and understands that, although he may have lost everything he had worked for his whole life, maybe he's better off now.

"Really? Seems like squandered potential to me. Are you sure I can't change your mind? My daughter was quite taken with you last night. I'm sure that..."

"No," Simon says firmly, cutting him off, not wanting to hear what he's sure Dr. Marshall is about to offer him.

"Oh, well, if you ever change your mind..." Dr. Marshall leaves it hanging.

"I'll know who to contact." They shake hands and Simon leaves the hotel.

Just seeing Serenity makes Simon's step lighter. Everyone is in the cargo hold waiting for his return, even Jayne, which surprises him, because Simon's pretty sure Jayne could care less if he lived or died, yet there he is, leaning against a crate, flipping his knife. The Captain is leaning casually against a wall, arms crossed, watching him as he approaches the ramp. Simon nods to him and he nods back. Zoe and Wash are standing by the mule, engaged in conversation. Book and Inara stand above everyone on the catwalk leaning against the railing. Kaylee smiles and waves. Simon returns her smile and wave. River runs towards him and gives him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Simon wraps an arm around her waist and heaves a sigh of relief - it's good to be home.