Title: Diagnosis
Pairing: Implied Kaylee/Simon, PG.
Summary: Inara makes a diagnosis and prescribes treatment.
Notes: Written for the Hug Simon Now! challenge.

Inara doesn't service crew. It's one of her hard and fast rules; she's never been tempted to break it. (Should anything ever happen between herself and the captain, a thought she reflects on as little as possible, she won't be acting as a Companion, but as a woman. But Inara does not think about such things if she can help it.)

This does not mean, however, that Inara stops being a Companion whenever she sets foot outside her shuttle. Quite honestly, the thought is impossible--her training is too ingrained, too much instinct, for her to set it aside. So she watches her actions, her words, is conscious of her every movement and inflection. Even as she laughs and jokes and eats dinner with the crew, part of her is always separate, always observing, analyzing.

By now, she has learned to read the subtle signals passed between the crew. She knows that Wash taking Zoe's hand at dinner is an invitation for lovemaking, knows that if Zoe turns her hand in his to link her fingers through his it's an acceptance. Mal's mood can be read by the way he sits down at the table. Inara doesn't need Kaylee to tell her how things are between her and Simon--all she needs to do is notice where they are at dinner. Lately, they've been sitting at opposite ends of the table, which worries Inara a little.

Kaylee hasn't come to her in tears or anger, but she and Simon seem to be avoiding each other if they can. Inara is understandably concerned by this--Kaylee is her meimei, her friend, and she does not want Kaylee hurt. She decides to talk to Simon, to see if he can enlighten her.

It's late at night, but Simon is not in his bunk. Inara glides through the ship, knowing where she will find him. Simon spends more time in the infirmary than anywhere else on Serenity. And the infirmary is exactly where she finds him, sitting on a stool and reading. In the harsh white light, he looks like a ghost of himself, an image not helped by his stark black clothing. She pauses at the door, rapping lightly. "Simon?"

He looks up, startled, but manages a passable smile when he sees it's her. "Inara," he says, getting to his feet. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm not sure," she says, entering the infirmary. "Do you have a moment?"

"Of course." Simon puts his book away, shuts the door behind her. "What are your symptoms?"

"Oh! No, nothing like that." Inara smiles at the misunderstanding. "No--I wanted to talk with you, if I may?"

Pain flashes in his eyes for a split second before it's hidden. It would be too fast for most people to even see it, but Inara is not most people. "Certainly," Simon says, taking another stool out for her. She sinks down on it gracefully, busying herself for a moment with arranging her skirts.

"I couldn't help but notice that you and Kaylee--" Inara does not get a chance to finish, because Simon sighs, nodding.

"I should have known," he says. "We're--well, we're not exactly fine, but we will be."

It's not enough of an answer for her. She arches one eyebrow, folding her hands in her lap. "Is something wrong?" she asks.

"No. Not exactly." Simon sighs again.

"Would you like to talk about it?"

"Not particularly."

Inara nods. "Should you change your mind..." She trails off.

"I can't be what she wants me to be," Simon says in a rush. "I can't give her anything more than friendship."

She is not particularly surprised by this. "Why not?" she asks gently.

Simon's smile is twisted, almost bitter. "Because she's too bright for me."

Now that does come as a surprise. "Why do you say that?" Inara asks, feeling her way.

"Isn't it obvious?" Simon stands, folds his arms over his chest. "Kaylee--is beautiful, and bright, and she shines like the sun. And I'm..." He shrugs. "I'm a wanted fugitive who plans criminal heists."

"Just by being on this ship, Kaylee's not exactly an upstanding citizen," Inara points out.

"No. I suppose none of us are, really." He raises an eyebrow at her pointedly. "But...she deserves more than what I can give her."

Inara ignores the small jibe and rises. "Shouldn't that be her decision?"

"You don't understand, Inara. Kaylee doesn't see me. She sees a clean-cut, handsome young doctor, one without shadows on his soul. I'm her fantasy romance come to life." Simon stops, swallows. "But that's not me, and I can't be that for her."

She can't deny the grain of truth in what Simon says. Part of Kaylee's attraction to Simon has always been his background, his manners, so different from anyone else Kaylee knows. But at the same time--"I don't think you're giving her enough credit," she says.

"Maybe I just don't want to."

And therein lies the crux of the matter. He's afraid, Inara realizes. Simon's afraid of getting close to Kaylee, afraid that she won't be able to handle what she sees--or perhaps he's afraid that she will.

The amount of pain hidden away in Simon staggers Inara. If things were different she might consider taking him as a client, if only to try and ease his soul for a night or two. But the way things are right now prevents that from happening. So Inara does the only thing she can--she crosses the room to him, takes his hands in hers. "Simon--don't hide from this," she urges. "You deserve happiness."

"It won't work," he says. "It can't work."

"You don't know unless you try," she tells him. It's a clich, but it's also the truth.

Simon shrugs, drops his hands. He steps back, pulling away from her. "And if I try and it fails?"

"I don't think it will. You clearly love Kaylee, and she loves you."

"How do you know?" Simon whispers.

Inara smiles. "I'm a Companion," she says simply. She takes a step forward, rests her hands on his chest. "It's my job to know such things." She slides her hands up and around his neck, drawing him into a hug. Hesitantly, his arms go around her waist and he closes his eyes, bowing his head until his forehead rests against her hair.

His body is rigid with tension; Inara strokes his hair, soothing him until he relaxes a bit. "It'll be all right," she murmurs, holding him. "You just have to try."

"I don't know how," he whispers, his voice cracking.

She holds him tighter. "Tell her how you feel," she says. "That's all you have to do."


Inara leaves the next morning to meet a client, returning three days later. At dinner that night, she notices Simon and Kaylee sitting next to each other, sees the joy in Kaylee's face and the shy-scared happiness in Simon's eyes. And then she sees Kaylee take Simon's hand and Simon slowly turn it under hers, linking their fingers together.
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