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They found the Alliance Soldier on one of the Outer Rim worlds. The inhabitants of the planet were keeping him in a cage, a warning to other Alliance Soldiers who might seek to exert their control over the planet. It was cold and the soldier had nothing but rags, and it was clear they didn't much bother to feed him. Simon could see bruises and cuts on him even from a distance, and his palms itched to heal, to clean and bandage and soothe. It surprised him--living on Serenity often took the edge off his doctor's instincts, at least in that sense. It sharpened them in others.

He said, "Mal," and Mal said, "Don't even be thinkin' about it," but Simon was going to think about it, because, "He's a boy." And he was. Legal or no, the soldier was young, younger even than when Simon had begun to question his parents, his ways and modes of belief.

Kaylee said, "Cap'n," and where once Mal would have said, "Don't take his side just cause you don't wanna be sleepin' with your engines," Mal looked at her and listened. Since the break up, Kaylee had taken to only backing up Simon when he was really, incontrovertibly right.

Zoe said, "They're right, sir," softly, and Jayne said, "Gorram it, bunch of fools."


They took him at night, Jayne planting a tranq dart in him before they went in and took him out. Simon had been nervous about that, afraid of what it would do to him in his malnourished state, but Mal had said, "It's that or nothin', doc. I'm not havin' him holler and bring down the town on us while we're trying to be good Samaritans."

It was surprisingly easy in the end, even getting off the ground. Simon tended to the soldier in the infirmary, while River perched on a nearby bed, watching silently. At one point she said, "He's lost them," but when Simon asked her what she meant, she shook her head in frustration and said, "That's all, that's all I--" and Simon said, "It's all right, we'll ask him when he wakes."

Said event took nearly seventeen hours, and when he awoke his eyes were wild with fear and he called, "Ryan!" before he could close his mouth, bite his own lip hard enough to bleed. Simon said, "Sh, it's all right, it's all right, you're on a ship, we won't harm you," over and over until something of the reassurance made it through. Then the soldier looked around for something, around and around until he asked, "Not Alliance?"

Simon shook his head, and started to say something, expecting more panic at the news, only the boy settled at that, slightly. Simon blinked, but changed tactics. "You're on board a ship called Serenity. We took you off a planet, do you remember--"

"Left me there," the boy said, his voice a little broken. Simon helped him carefully to sit up a bit, take some water.

"Who left you there?"

"Alliance. We-- I was in a squadron. And four of us, we started thinking about the way they enforce standards of living, maybe that in certain ways it just wasn't...just? Right? It was just thinking, that's all, thinking and maybe some words. But they told us we were being reassigned and then they left us on planets, different planets, non-Alliance, to fend for ourselves." The boy rubbed at his eyes. "I have to find them, I have to-- I have to--" He broke off, and Simon wondered if he was thinking about where to get the money, the resources for such a venture, or if he was just too exhausted to go on.

Simon thought what it would have been like, to have no resources, no options for finding River. The thought made him shiver. The boy looked at him, but Simon just found a smile for him. "You can't find them until you have enough energy to walk. Rest for now."

The boy nodded, his eyes already dropping shut. He said, "Thank you, um, doctor?"

"Simon," Simon told him.

"Simon," he said. "I'm Spencer."

Simon lowered the bed. "Get some sleep, Spencer."

Spencer was barely asleep for a minute when he murmured, "Brendon." Simon sighed, and went to go speak to Mal.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile