Title: Patience
Rating: R
Summary: Every scar has a story.


"Tell me about this one," Mal says, tracing a circle around the scar in the middle of Simon's chest.

Simon tenses, looking down at his chest. "Not that one, Mal. Please. I'll tell you about any of the others, but...not that one."

Mal gives him a patient look. "I don't recall asking," he says mildly.

"Not that one." Simon shakes his head.

"I'm not asking, Simon."

He waits, not saying anything else. After several long, tense minutes, Simon sighs, drawing his knees to his chest and resting his head on them. "When--when I started looking for River," he says, voice muffled, "I kept running into one dead end after another. Money talks, but it doesn't always say what you want to hear. People would tell me things that I knew were false, just because they wanted to get paid." He lifts his head, wrapping his arms around his knees. "After the first couple of months, I started to wonder if I was ever going to see my sister again."

Mal doesn't reach out to touch him. Simon needs to do this on his own and if Mal touches him he might just clam up. He stays where he is, waiting.

"Everyone kept telling me to be patient," Simon continues. "These things take time, you know. I was going up against the Alliance. Rome, on Earth-That-Was, wasn't built in a day." His voice is dead, expressionless. "Meanwhile, my sister was out there somewhere, suffering, and I couldn't even talk to her." Simon swallows. "I had to keep working so I had the money to keep searching for her. My family had money but they weren't going to help me. So I was putting in double shifts at the hospital every chance I got, trying to earn enough to find out the truth."

Simon swallows, looking down at his knees. "I was going out of my mind. I didn't know what I was going to do. I couldn't keep putting in the hours I was or I'd burn out and be no good as a doctor, but if I wasn't working I couldn't afford to look for River. And I *had* to find her, Mal!" Simon's voice rises, anguished. "I had to!" He swallows again, scrubbing the back of his hand across his eyes to wipe away tears that haven't fallen.

"It took me two years of Hell before I could find her, and longer before I could get her out." Simon's voice is thick with tears and pain. "I wasn't--I wasn't sane by Persephone. I probably wasn't sane for a long time before that."

Mal waits silently. It's agonizing to watch Simon go through this--but it has to be done. Simon has to be able to let this out or it'll keep eating at him.

Simon exhales shakily. "About a year before Persephone, I--broke. I just--I couldn't take it anymore. I'd had enough of people telling me to be patient and my parents telling me that if I kept this up I wouldn't be their son anymore and..." He trails off, scrubbing at his eyes again. "It was a Friday. I remember that. I had the night off--I'd worked the maximum number of hours they'd let me for that week and I wasn't allowed back in the hospital for another forty-eight hours. I'd met with someone earlier that evening, hoping for some information, but--" He shrugs. "Nothing."

Slowly, Simon uncoils a little, enough to see the scar on his chest. "I went home, and I took out my scalpel. I had one in particular that I used to cut myself--it was like an old friend." His mouth twists bitterly. "It was certainly more reliable than my parents." He shakes his head, cutting off that train of thought. "I sat down in front of the mirror, and I figured if everyone was going to tell me to be patient, then I was just going to be patient. Literally." Simon looks down again before he continues.

"So I took my scalpel and I carved patience into my skin."

It's all Mal can do to not show his reaction. He's furious--but Simon doesn't need his anger right now.

"You want to know the worst part?" Simon asks bitterly. "That wasn't the end." His hands clench on his knees and Mal has to stop himself from prying Simon's fingers apart. There'll be marks on his palms from this, but better that than more precise slices carved into his skin. "It became a weekly ritual, you see. Friday night--go home, have a drink, sharpen the scalpel, re-carve the mark. It's why I started wearing vests all the time. Sometimes if I moved too much in surgery the scars would split and I didn't want people asking me why I had blood on my shirt."

It makes a horrifying amount of sense, Mal thinks.

"I must have cut this fifty times," Simon says. "Maybe more. I lost track." He swallows, visibly trying to regain control of himself and failing. "I stopped when we got on board *Serenity*," he says with an effort. "Because I had River, then. And for a while, I didn't need to cut myself at all."

"When did you start again?" Mal asks quietly.

Simon shakes his head. "One story per night," he says immediately. "That was the deal."

It was, and Mal hadn't really expected to get an answer. He nods, acknowledging Simon's point. "All right," he says. "Now turn over."

Simon smiles and turns over, stretching out on his stomach. Mal's hands dig into his shoulders and he groans with relief, letting himself go limp.

"You're safe now," Mal says quietly, kneading out the tension in Simon's back.

Simon nods. "I know."
 
   
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