Title: Par For The Course
Ship: Simon & ensemble
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: He's never had to think about food before.
Notes: No spoilers
Simon's finally gotten River settled for the evening, but instead of heading to his own quarters, he takes a detour to the mess.
Mal is sitting at the table, a disassembled gun spread out in front of him. He glances up as Simon enters. "Can I help you doctor?" He polishes a small bit of metal and sets it back on the table.
"I." Simon stands awkwardly in the doorway. "I wanted a drink."
"Over there." Mal doesn't look, but points. "We've got water, and Kaylee's rotgut." He pauses. "And water."
"Sounds delicious." Simon roots through the cabinets, fumbling with the latches for a moment, hunting for a relatively clean mug. He pours himself some water and sips it with a wince. It's tepid, and tastes of aluminum.
"S'why we make tea."
"I'm beginning to understand that." Simon gulps the rest of the water down, then looks at his empty cup. "What do I do with--"
"Wipe it down. Put it back."
Mal doesn't answer.
"Right." Simon spends a full minute polishing the tin of the mug, then returns it to its place.
Simon has never had to worry about food before. It was always there, at his hand whenever he thought to ask one of the servants for a snack. They'd bring him a tray of delicacies, and he'd pick at them idly as he read, never paying attention to what, exactly, he consumed.
When he was done, he had them discard the remainder.
The first time Mal orders rationing, Simon almost doesn't comprehend what it means. The word is an abstract to him; it's a concept out of history textbooks and military accounts.
They've been between planets for a week now, they're going to be in the black for at least a week more, and Simon is surprised to realize that rationing can be a part of current affairs, too.
In the middle of the afternoon, as hunger gnaws idly at his stomach--not enough to hurt, but enough to bother him--he curses himself for not having paid more attention to that platter, covered in an artful arrangement of sweet and salty and sweet.
No one else seems worried, but the lumpy porridge that Book presides over every morning is starting to taste stale. Simon mentions it over dinner one night, and they all look at him blankly before resuming their conversations.
He wakes up one morning and pretends to read in the mess while Book cooks up their food for the day. When Book leaves the mess for a few minutes, Simon sneaks over to look at the ingredients of the porridge.
He wrinkles his nose at the bars of protein stacked on the counter. They're similar to the Alliance rations Serenity had transported, once, but not nearly as well preserved. He checks to see if there's any stamps on them; he thinks they're getting discolored.
"Looking for something?"
The captain's voice startles Simon, and he drops the bar he had been investigating onto the counter, where it lands with a crunch.
"I think the protein bars aren't good anymore. And these," he pokes at the pile of jagged crumbs under the protein, "crackers are stale."
"The crackers don't matter, son," Mal says. "And the protein's still protein. It's what we've got to eat."
"But it's not good," Simon protests.
"We'd starve else." Mal turns back to the bridge. "You got a problem with Book's cooking, you take it up with him."
It's been weeks since Simon's tasted fresh produce. It feels like years, sometimes. Having spent most of his life on an affluent planet, he's never thought about it before.
Fortunate son of a fortunate city.
He misses the sharp burst of green on his tongue, the smooth scrunch of apples between his teeth.
There's not much green to be had in space, he's discovered, and what there is, costs dearly.
After an especially profitable job, Simon decides to be a little extravagant with his share. Their next stop is Ceres, where Inara has scheduled a few appointments. There are Alliance soldiers everywhere, so Simon pulls Zoe aside and asks her, politely, to stop by the farmer's market, if she has a chance.
She tucks his money into a pocket with a smile and a nod, and when she returns to the ship, she hands him carefully wrapped parcels.
That afternoon, he brings the parcels to the mess and places them on the counter, shyly. Book looks at them, then Simon, with curiosity. Simon prompts him with a nod, and Book cuts the ties of the packages with a small knife.
Inside one is a bundle of carrots. In the other, parsley.
"I thought," he explains, "you might find them useful. For cooking."
"I will." Book smiles widely. "Would you to help me?"
Simon looks at the array in the mess: pots, knives, ladles. Protein, lentils, rice, and his own contributions. The ship is planet-side, and the crew newly paid. Dinner tonight will be a feast.
He's never cooked before, and aside from medicine, he's never labored, either. Knives, he's always thought, are for surgery, and naught much else.
Book waits for his answer, so he takes a deep breath.
"Yes," he replies. "I'd love to help."
He has to take stock of the infirmary twice a week. Once, to make sure they have enough thread, painkillers, and antibiotic spray to keep the crew stitched and whole.
The second time is for Simon's sake, so that he knows exactly where each item is. In emergency rooms, the attendants would hand him whatever he needed. On Serenity, he has to locate everything himself.
He's in the middle of counting bandages when Mal appears in the doorway.
"Mighty fine dinner we had last night."
Simon nods. "The shepherd's a fine cook."
"I heard he had good help."
Simon smiles, looks up from the task at hand. "Enthusiastic and awkward help, yes, but not exactly good."
Mal seems to hesitate, then he straightens. "Help's appreciated, just the same." He turns to go, then stops. "Doctor?"
"Next time you have Zoe stop by the market, you might consider strawberries instead."
Simon frowns. "Why strawberries?"
"Kaylee's favorite," Mal responds, and then he's gone.
Simon considers that, and laughs softly. "Next time," he tells himself.
He doesn't forget.
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