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Always Here

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Simon squeezes his eyes shut when he drinks, as if a lack of sight will make the alcohol taste better. It’s a new habit, born of new situations, and he wonders if it’s something he should worry about.

“You can’t make it any better.”

Simon pulls his head up to see the weary face in front of him. “I beg your pardon?”

The man sighs and folds his long body into the chair across from Simon. “You can’t make the alcohol taste any better. Well not until the moment you can’t taste it anymore. Then it tastes alright.”

“Oh. Thank you.” Simon looks down at the rough surface of the table waiting for the man to go away.

“I won’t go away, either.” The man picks up his cup and glares at the contents. “You can ask me politely, if you like. Or you can yell at me. I still won’t go away.” He takes a long drink. “Actually, I can’t go away. They need me here. There’s a war going on.”

“War?” This doesn’t look like a war zone. Not that Simon knows what a war zone looks like, but he reckons he’s spent enough time with Mal and Zoë to guess. This weary face in front of him doesn’t look like it belongs within two planets of a war zone.

The man holds out his hand. It’s stronger than Simon expects, but strangely familiar nonetheless. “I’m Hawkeye.”

The show of manners seems quaint, old fashioned, and Simon is conscious of how far he’s fallen since he first boarded Serenity. “Simon,” he replies, avoiding the man’s gaze. He looks at the walls; they’re green and flexible and he wonders why he didn’t notice that earlier. “Where am I?”

Hawkeye shrugs. He’s clad in green too. A dull green, bleeding into the background, stitching him into this place. “I don’t remember anymore. I suppose I lost track somewhere along the way.”

“Then what am I doing here?”

Hawkeye rub the side of his unshaven face with his green sleeve. “Do you think this is all about you?”

Simon thinks for a moment. “What are you doing here?”

Hawkeye shakes his head. “It’s not about me, either. It’s about them.” He gestures to a point somewhere beyond the green wall, before letting his hand fall to the table with a heavy thud. “I’m a doctor, a surgeon. For the wounded.” His face changes, a veil of worry falling over his weary features. “You’re a doctor too, aren’t you? They told me they were sending me a surgeon. You can’t deal with the wounded without a surgeon.”

Simon looks down at his hands. They seem too clean, almost obscene in their whiteness. “I’m a doctor. I guess I’m the one you’ve been waiting for. But I don’t . . .”

Hawkeye swallows another mouthful of drink. “You’ll be fine. Everyone’s fine once they get in there and get started. The trick is to stop thinking. Once you stop thinking it will all make perfect sense.”

The sound of gunfire fills the air, and Simon can hear screaming from beyond the walls. Hawkeye raises his glass in a silent salute, and half smile spreading across his face. “They’re waiting for you.”

“Shumma? I don’t know what to do. Or where to go. You’ve got to help me out here.”

Hawkeye shrugged as he pulled himself to his feet. “It’s what you trained for. I’m sorry I can’t help you. I’ve got my own wars to avoid.” He squeezes Simon’s shoulder. “You’ll know what to do when you get there.”

Simon turned, watching as the man approached the door. “Will you be here when I’m finished?”

Hawkeye shook his head. “I told you kid, this is a war. I’m always here.”