The Night Is My Companion



"I will be the one who holds you down, kiss you so hard, I'll take your breath away," Simon whispered mostly to himself. Book looked up from his Bible.

"What was that, Doctor?"

Simon looked up. He blinked. "Did I say something?"

"I thought you did."

The young man shook his head and looked down at his notebook again. He sighed. "I'll see you at dinner, Shepard."

"If you need to talk, I'm here."

"Thank you." Simon walked through the ship, eyes down so as not to step on one of Kaylee's projects. He avoided Jayne with a twisting step to the side and escaped to the quiet sterility of his infirmary. He breathed in a deep breath. The small confines of the room made his shoulders relax. This was his space. The room he shared with River was her safe place, not his. He straightened the room, fingers sliding over the polished chrome. He rolled his head to relieve the muscle ache. He smoothed down his vest and let his eyes close as he reveled in the feel of soft silk.

*****

Jayne watched through the obsessively clean windows of the infirmary as the doctor moved. He couldn't understand the man. He was such a jumble of contrasts. He wanted to see him lose it, to get angry, to really let loose. All he could see was the boy kneeling on a man's throat, choking him into unconsciousness. He'd looked so hard then. Soft silks and metal instruments. Sweet as anything to River and Kaylee, but a snapping dog to him. Pretty little thing though. He just hoped Mal never told him what really happened. The money was good, but the look in Mal's eyes had hurt. He wanted Simon to still smile at him again. A real, genuine smile, like when they'd been standing in the cargo bay.

*****

Simon frowned at his reflection in the edge of a surgery bowl. "Third in your class and where are you? Running from the government on a shitty little tin-can ship. You're using fourth rate supplies that you've scavenged from every vaguely civilized place you've landed. Your sister's insane and your not much better," he lectured himself. He shook his head and snorted. "As long as I was a productive freak, hmm, Father? Now we're not worth it anymore. Nothing but a blot on your perfect reputation. You know what your reputation means to these people? Not a damned thing." He knocked the bowl into the wall. He took a deep breath.

"Simon?"

The doctor jerked around to face Kaylee. "How can I help you?"

"River's coming down to the engine room with me. Are you okay?" she asked stepping forward. Simon's eyes lifted past her face to River. He smiled.

"I'm fine."

River cocked her head to the side and studied him. Kaylee frowned in concern. "You're sure?"

"I'm sure. Have fun. Don't let her take over though or we'll never get the two of you out in time for dinner."

River met his eyes. She nodded once solemnly. He nodded back. She remembered him at least. She wouldn't worry about him. But Kaylee wasn't as easy to convince. He put on his best bed-side manner and convinced her to take care of River instead. River rolled her eyes at him. "She likes you," River stated. Kaylee blushed and stammered and left. River winked at her brother before following.

That brought a genuine smile to Simon's lips. They were making headway.

*****

Mal looked out the window at the stars.

"Go away, Mal," Wash stated.

"It's my ship."

"And I'm her pilot."

"Wash, go see your wife. I'll take over for a few."

Wash grinned. "Sure thing. Have fun. Don't touch the dinos."

"Why would I?"

"Never know." Wash left before Mal changed his mind or another emergency came up.

Mal looked out at the stars. He settled in the pilot's seat and leaned back. His shoulders relaxed. A soft smile came to his lips. It was perfect out here. They were out of Alliance range. It was quietly deadly. He rubbed his side. The wound was healing well. That brought another smile to his face. His doctor was so much like the space he hated. He wondered if Zoe had seen the glare Simon had directed at him when he'd killed the man who was threatening River. He'd made his final decision in that one instant. There'd been no hesitation in Simon's stance. He was ready to kill. His smile widened. "We psychos have to stick together, Doc," he said to the dinosaurs that he couldn't resist rearranging, just to get Wash riled. The man was too laid back.

*****

Simon cleaned the instruments he'd sent flying. He looked over his shoulder. "Shepard? Are you okay?"

"I'm merely watching. I'm fine, Doctor. It's you I'm worried about."

"There's nothing to worry about."

"I think there is. May I?"

"Please have a seat."

"Thank you." The pleasantries tended to they didn't have anything else to say. When it became obvious that Simon wasn't going to say anything further, Book sighed. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. Thank you. And yourself?"

"That's not what I meant, Dr. Tam." Simon winced at the mention of his last name. "What name have you decided to take?"

"Doctor will be fine."

Book smiled. "How are you handling this? You're away from everything you've ever known."

"Not as far away as I would like to believe. I'm not as innocent as River. I worked in the ER, Shepard. I've seen things that would turn your stomach." He smiled at the preacher. "And you aren't what you seem to be either are you?"

Book blinked.

"Quit the act, Book. You aren't some innocent out of an abbey. You're running away from something too. At least River and I are simple to explain. You aren't." Simon set down the instruments precisely in the order he wanted. He vaguely missed having a nurse to do it for him, but not as much as he had. He'd never been completely satisfied with dealing with someone else's work. "I'm sure you believe what your preach. I'm sure you have the best of intentions. But you ended up here and you haven't left yet. You could have stayed on any one of the planets we've stopped at, but you stay here. Here among thieves and murderers and prostitutes." Simon leaned forward. "Why do you stay?"

"I have my reasons. And I have my flock."

"And not many of us envy you that task. You'll never convince Mal to follow your scripture."

"He already does."

Simon turned to check through his supplies as he spoke. "He doesn't agree with you."

"He is a good man."

"Better than some. Worse than some."

"As everyone is."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"If my father told me to do something I was dead set against doing, should I do it just to honor him?"

Book thought for a long moment. "That would depend. If he told you to kill, no. If he told you to worship a false God, no. No rule is absolute."

"So I could kill for a reason?" Simon smiled to make it a joke.

"Who were you thinking of doing in?"

"Jayne. He needs to be put down."

"Why don't you ask the captain to do it? He's very good with put downs."

Simon laughed softly.

"Are you okay here, Simon?" Book asked quietly.

"I could stay forever if River needed me to."

"Surely you have some affection for Kaylee as well?"

Simon didn't answer. "How are you feeling, Book? Honestly. Are you feeling hot, cold? Is there any pain?"

"I'm fine. They took good care of me."

"I missed a good one." Simon frowned. "Too bad. The next one will probably involve the captain threatening to throw me out an airlock. Again."

"You don't seem to care?"

"He wouldn't hurt River."

"I'll leave you to your work then."

"Thank you. I'll see you at breakfast."

"Goodnight, Doctor."

"Goodnight, Shepard."

Book walked away a little more unnerved than he had been. He didn't know what step to take next with the young man. Perhaps Innara would be able to help him understand the young man. Then again, perhaps not. That would mean he had to understand Innara, which he was beginning to feel was beyond him.

*****

Innara leaned back against the cushions of her couch and sipped her tea. There was a knock on the door. "Yes?"

"May I come in?"

"Of course, Shepard." She stood to greet him.

"Hello, Innara."

"Book. Would you like some tea?"

"No thank you. I was hoping you had a moment to listen to me."

"Yes. Always. What's wrong?"

"I'm worried about the doctor."

Innara smiled. "Simon is stronger than he seems."

"He's still a child. It doesn't matter that he's a doctor, or that he's here. He's as much of a child as Kaylee."

"No, he's nothing like Kaylee." Innara set down her cup.

"He's caught up in something beyond him."

"Book," Innara rested her hand on the preacher's wrist, "Simon is old enough to make his own decisions. He's not caught up. He made the choice to free his sister, even though it meant leaving everything he knew behind. And Mal will look after him."

"Somehow that frightens me."

"Mal is a good man."

"I know that. It's the fact that he seems. . . he's very protective of our young doctor."

"So are you."

"I'm more worried about the captain."

Innara smiled. This was going to take awhile.

*****

River kissed Simon's cheek and went to bed. He settled down in his chair and opened his book. He'd wake her if she started to have nightmares. It was good to have him close again. To tell the truth it was good to have anyone close, but Simon was on the very top of her list. She'd always believed he'd come for her. It had been so long since she'd seen their father that she could barely remember him. Simon had always been the one to take care of her anyway. He was the only one who understood her. He knew what being different was like. "We're not freaks," she stated.

Simon looked up, startled. "Aren't we?"

"We're not freaks."

Simon smiled. "Go to sleep, River."

She shook her head at him and frowned. The words she wanted to say just seemed to get stuck in her head before they got to her mouth. She sighed, rolled over, and went to sleep.

Simon leaned his head back against the ship, feeling the subtle vibration of the engine through the metal. His eyes closed.

*****

Jayne looked into the room. The doctor never bothered to close the door to the room he shared with his sister unless they were changing. Why is that? Jayne wondered. The doctor was still. He seemed to be asleep in his chair. There was a small frown on his lips, like when he was concentrating on something. River's head was whipping from side to side and she was whimpering low in her throat. Simon woke and launched himself across to room to catch her just as she sat up. He rocked her as she cried into his shoulder. Jayne swallowed hard. He missed his sister something awful right then. Simon gentled River and tucked her back into bed. He sat there for a long moment, shoulders slumped. Jayne stepped forward. He rested his hand on the doorframe. Simon's head snapped towards him. The frown deepened.

"She okay?" Jayne asked.

Simon nodded. Jayne nodded and turned. "Do you miss her?" Simon asked. Jayne froze. No one knew about his family. No one at all.

"Who?"

"Your sister?"

"What makes you think I got one?"

"I think you do. I'm usually right about that."

"Full of yourself aintcha?"

Simon straightened his back. "What do you need?"

"Just checkin' up on you two. Bounty says they want her alive. Wouldn't want to see that money get wasted."

Simon just looked at him. Jayne didn't look back. "Everyday, boy, everyday." He strode off down the hall. Simon dropped his hand to River's.

*****

Jayne leaned against the railing in the cargo hold and stared at the airlock. He closed his eyes and fingered the healing stitches on his chest. Girl was crazy as a bedbug. But he didn't want to see that look of fear on her face ever again.

*****

Breakfast was as cheerful as usual. Simon and River were engaged in a quiet conversation about some obscure topic that no one else really cared about. Jayne watched them, practically growling under his breath. Book watched everyone around the table the conversation swirled and then died down. Innara smiled at Kaylee. The young mechanic had her hair back in a braid and Book realized that the companion must have done it for her. Kaylee was sweet and far too innocent for this crew. Well, at least at first glance. Book looked back down at his meal. He smiled at it. It was good to be home.

*****

"Doc."

Simon looked up. He stood. "Captain." A little frown crossed his lips. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I'm just comin' to check up on my property."

Simon tilted his head. "The infirmary is fine. We're finally well-stocked." Mal stepped closer until he could feel Simon's breath against his skin.

"You know that weren't what I was talkin' about. Steer clear of Jayne for awhile."

"Why would I be near him?" Simon asked in surprise. "He doesn't like me."

"That ain't the problem," Mal stated. "I look after what's mine. You understand?"

"And Jayne's yours? I wondered why you kept him." Mal smiled at the glint in Simon's eyes.

"He ain't all that's mine."

"Oh?"

"Nope. Got me somethin' else. Real fine too. Just gotta keep it away from rough edges. Wouldn't want to scratch it all up."

"I don't think anyone would notice."

"Oh, I think they might."

"Maybe it likes a few rough edges every once and awhile." Simon's mouth curled up into a smile.

"Maybe it does at that. But I gotta keep it safe. Just for my peace of mind."

"Oh, I'm sure it's breathtaking."

"Depends."

"Hmm?"

"On what mood its in I'd suppose. Stay away from Jayne. That's an order, Doc. Man ain't safe to be around right now."

"Oh, yes, sir," Simon said, rolling his eyes. Mal brushed an invisible piece of lint from Simon's shoulder and smoothed down the younger man's vest. Then, he walked away. He didn't see Simon's eyes narrow.

*****

Innara looked up at the knock on her door. "Come in." Kaylee smiled.

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself. Tea?"

"Please." Kaylee settled carefully on a chair, trying to steer clear of anything that might be too difficult to clean. Innara smiled to herself as she made them a pot of tea. "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Do you think Simon will ever notice me? I mean, he don't like it out here. He don't think much of my kind of people."

"Kaylee," the companion said firmly, "we'll talk about the difficult subjects only after you've had your tea."

"Thanks, Innara," the mechanic smiled. "I love that color on you." Innara was wearing her favorite red dress. It was the easiest one to clean grease off of. She smiled and looked through her lashes at the younger woman.

"Thank you. It's my favorite. I liked how that pink dress looked on you. You looked precious."

Kaylee blushed and giggled. "That was fun. Do you go to things like that often?"

"Not as often as I could. I don't particularly like parties like that." The courtesan poured their tea. She handed Kaylee her cup.

"Thanks." Kaylee sipped delicately at the cup. "I always love your tea." They sat savoring the hot liquid for a moment. "Can I whine now?"

Innara laughed. "Of course. We have our tea."

"Simon hasn't even begun to notice me! At this rate I'll never win my bet."

"Bet?" the dark haired woman leaned forward. "What bet?"

"With Zoe. That I'd be able to seduce him in under two months. He donít react like other men, Nara. He don't react to my flirtin'. I ain't never had a problem with guys not likin' me before."

"Oh, Kaylee," Innara sighed. "He likes you, but, sweetie, he's not interested in women."

Kaylee blinked. "What do you mean?"

"He likes men. Like Mal or, God help him, Jayne."

Kaylee blushed again. "Jayne ain't all that bad. He's just gruff on the outside." Innara's eyes narrowed.

"You didn't?"

"Well, I offered. He didn't accept. Said Mal'd kill him."

"He's probably right. What prompted you to go after Simon?"

"Well, Zoe and me were talkin' when he came aboard, and things got outta hand. And I sorta ended up bettin' half my take on the next job we actually get paid for that I'd be able to get him into bed."

"Did you consider asking him to just play along? For all anyone on this ship knows, the two of you had a night of drunken passion in the mudder's village."

"Mal knows different."

"He won't give it away."

Kaylee rolled her eyes. "Have you seen how protective he is? He'd tell. I know it." The mechanic sighed. "You sure he likes men?"

"He's never once looked at my cleavage, Kaylee. Even Wash looks and he knows Zoe'd kill him for it if she caught him."

"Damn." Kaylee frowned, then sipped her tea. "And he was my last chance to get some too. Captian's probably boffing Jayne as we speak!"

Innara forcefully pushed that vision from her head. "It doesn't have to be."

"What?"

"I said it doesn't have to be your last chance. Just stop looking in the wrong direction."

Kaylee's eyes widened. "I thought you don't do crew."

"I don't service them. I never said anything about a relationship with one of the crew." Innara smiled.

"You mean, but I ain't fancy or nothin'."

"You're perfect Kaylee. I wouldn't want you any other way. I even like the grease." The companion leaned forward and ran a finger along the grease mark on Kaylee's cheek. She pressed a gentle kiss to the cheekbone. "Do you like me?"

"Of course. I'd have to be blind not to."

"Then, I don't think we have a problem. Unless you're the jealous type."

Kaylee shook her head. "I ain't Mal."

"No where near." Innara smiled. She gently removed the teacup from Kaylee's hand. Then, she kissed the nicked digits.

"Lock the door," Kaylee whispered, "or sure as shit the captain'll come yellin' for me."

The companion laughed and nodded. "Or want to talk. That man will drive me insane."

"You're on Serenity. It ain't a long trip."

*****

Mal watched as Jayne cleaned Vera. "What you want?" Jayne asked without looking up.

"Give you a hint. It involves a don't."

"Don't got a clue then, Mal."

The captain moved into the room. Jayne did look up then, eyes wide. Mal stepped very close and looked down at where he was seated. "Very simple. Don't go near the doc."

"I ain't gonna hurt him. Or the crazy bitch," he added hastily.

Mal leaned down. "I don't trust you. Stay away from Simon."

"Boy ain't yers."

"Oh, but he is. And you sold him out."

"Doc likes me. Well, not a lot, but enough. Gonna seem real strange if I don't tease him some."

"It ain't a suggestion. Stay away or deal with me."

"Small ship we're on. Mighty hard to stay away from someone."

"Real simple. Don't go near his bunk. Don't go near the infirmary without me. Simple as pie."

"Right."

"Jayne."

"I heard ya."

Mal's eyes narrowed, but he couldn't prove it was a lie. He turned and left the room.

*****

Simon looked up at Jayne. The man was holding a bleeding hand against his chest. "And what have you done to yourself?" he asked. He jerked his head towards the bed and Jayne perched on it. Simon carefully cleaned the slash. He frowned. "What happened?"

"I was cleanin' my knife. It slipped."

Simon nodded. He prepared a dose of anitbiotics. God only knew what was on that blade. "You need to stop flipping it. If you must juggle try something more substantial, like a ball, or something."

"Gosslings?"

"If you want." Simon seemed dubious. "I think Mal knows you called the Feds."

"What?"

"He wants me to stay away from you. He thinks your dangerous." Simon injected the mercenary. Jayne looked at him for a long time.

"How'd you know?"

Simon blinked. "River told me. You were there. Didn't you hear her?"

"She was talkin' crazy."

The doctor shook his head. "They took away Christmas," he stated. "There was nothing left but coal. He double crossed you about the bounty. And set you up for prison as well." Simon leaned closer. "But you pulled through in the end. I just don't know how Mal figured it out."

Jayne's eyes were wide. "Then what was all that hero bullshit?"

"Bullshit. Wouldn't do for Mal to lose his protective streak now would it?"

The mercenary stared for along moment. "You do got a criminal mind."

"I will do anything, anything to save my sister. And if you ever set her up, or touch her, I will cut off your balls and feed them to you before I kill you." The promise was delivered in the same matter-of-fact voice as Simon'd been using all along. Jayne was a proud man, he didn't show emotions, but he sure as hell felt them. At that exact moment, he knew that the boy was saying nothing but the truth, just as his cock stiffened. The doc had a way with words and with his warm hands resting on Jayne's as he bandaged the cut they seemed to vibrate to the very core of the other man.

"I ain't gonna do nothin' to hurt her."

"Good. I was sure you were a reasonable man," Simon purred. "Now, then, Mal doesn't need to know about this conversation, does he?"

"Nope. Thanks for the patch-up, doc." Jayne left quickly. Simon smirked after him.

*****

River giggled as the big man walked by their room. She didn't need to be psychic to know exactly what was on his mind. He glared at her momentarily then moved away. "Simon's been naughty," she teased with a smile. Her brother shook his head. "Yes, he has," she stated. "He did something he wasn't supposed to."

"Oh, what was that?"

"He told Jayne a secret. Silly, brother. Captian's not going to be happy with you."

Simon just smiled. "What are you doing?"

"Reading."

"Reading what?"

"Something Innara let me borrow." Simon settled on the bed next to his sister. "Physical impossibilities."

Simon peered at the book. "Innara loaned you a sex guide."

"Yes." River smiled. "Look at this. Like two people could actually enjoy that position?"

"We're not talking about this," Simon stated.

"Why not?"

"Because youíre my sister."

River rolled her eyes. "It's a book."

"That it is."

"That's just not possible."

"In zero gravity perhaps?"

River snorted. "Right. Spelled wrong too."

*****

Simon knocked on Innara's shuttle door. "Yes? Come in?" He ducked through the door and into her shuttle.

"I'm returning the book you loaned River. It was a very interesting read."

Innara arched her brows. "You read it?"

"We read it together."

"It's not exactly something one reads with a sister."

"River's not your typical sister." Simon sighed. "It really was interesting. Is it a textbook of some sort?"

"Legend has it that it comes from the Earth-that-was. That it was passed down through the guild houses."

Simon nodded. "Can you clear up a debate for us?"

"I can try."

Simon opened to the appropriate page. "This position. Is it really physically possible?"

Innara blinked. "A male threesome? Yes, it's possible. As long as all three are physically able to sustain the pace. It's not really my area of expertise you understand."

"I'd guessed that, but there's no one else to arbitrate the discussion." Simon blushed. Innara smiled. She squeezed his hand.

"You could ask Kaylee," she teased.

"I don't think so. Now, I have to go tell River she was right."

"You didn't think it was possible?"

"No."

"But it's a fairly simple position, except for the flexibility part of it. The one here on the bottom needs to be very flexible."

"Really. What gave you that impression? I have a secret for you."

"Yes?" she leaned forward.

"If all men could suck their own penis, there'd be no need for the companion's guild." Innara laughed. "Unless the women wanted it, of course."

"We'd be even better paid if it was a female driven market."

"I wonder what my father would have said if River had chosen the companions instead of the alliance."

"It's a respectable profession."

"My family doesn't agree. To my father, the only respectable profession is one that will bring him more prestige. His connections would crucify him if he were to have a companion as a daughter." Simon's eyes suddenly gleamed. "Even more than having a fugitive for a son, I expect."

*****

Book approached River where she was studying in the alcove outside of the infirmary. "No," she stated quietly.

"You don't even know what I was going to ask."

"I'm not talking to you. Go away."

"River. . ."

She ignored him studiously.

"I want to talk to you about Simon."

Her head snapped up. "What's wrong with Simon?"

"Nothing's wrong. I just wanted to talk to you about him. Is he comfortable here?"

"Go away." She turned back to her book.

"River, I just want to help. Both of you."

"Go away." River started rocking. Book reached out to place a hand on her shoulder and she flinched away. "No. No. No. No." He backed away quickly.

*****

"Did you hear that?" The doctor demanded. Innara stared as Simon bounded out of her ship. He made it down the stairs and then up again to where River was. "What did you do?" he demanded of Book.

"I just told her that I wanted to help you both. That's all."

Simon hugged River and rocked with her. His eyes closed and her murmured softly to her. "That's what they told her in that place. It's okay." River's arms tightened. "It's okay." They rested forehead to forehead for a moment.

"I'm going to lie down."

"Good idea." River escaped to their room. She closed the door behind her.

Simon ran a hand through his hair. "They told her I wouldn't come for her."

"They were wrong."

"They won't break us," Simon stated. "I won't let that happen."

Book rested a hand on the young doctor's shoulder. He sat down on the bench and Simon followed. "Everyone needs a supporter now and again. What has she told you about her time with them?"

Simon frowned. "Very little. Most of it's in riddles and rhymes. Codes. Like she was still writing to me. They tortured her." The doctor shrugged. "There's very little else to know. I don't think even she knows what's going on in her head. I don't think she ever did, actually," he muttered more to himself than the preacher. "If you'll excuse me?"

"Of course. I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything."

"Thank you." Book watched as the doctor let himself into the room and closed the door behind himself. He tightened his grip on his Bible.

*****

"Jayne, ain't you learned yet?" Mal growled, soft and low. Jayne froze in the middle of cleaning his gun.

"What?"

"What did I tell you?"

Jayne blinked. "It was bleedin'." He shrugged. "Didn't take but five minutes for the doc to patch it up. Didn't say a word. Didn't stay after."

"I told you not to see him without me. Was that too much for your brain to handle?"

"Doc's fine. Ask him. I ain't done nothin'. Heard Book set the crazy bitch off though."

Mal frowned. "This is your last warnin'. Stay away from the doc."

"Yes, sir." Jayne didn't meet the captain's eyes. He didn't think he'd be able to keep a straight face. He'd never thought of the doctor as being able to skunk a man that well, but he sure had Mal on a rope. Mal took a deep breath, sure there was something else going on that he didn't know about, but unable to do anything about it if he didn't get some information from Simon. He nodded once and left, heading for the infirmary.

*****

Mal watched Simon cleaning the spotless counters. "Hey, Doc."

"Captain." The younger man didn't look up from his pointless task.

"River okay?"

"She will be."

"Are you okay?"

"I have to be." The stiff, formal cadence of the words told Mal more than the actual message. His accent deepened when he was angry, Simon's disappeared. He was wearing his suitcoat and Mal hid a wince. Whatever River had told him had made him want all of his armor.

"Cold?"

"Just a bit." Simon looked over his shoulder. "What can I do for you, Captain?" His shoulders loosened just a touch.

"Just checkin' in. Heard River went off."

"Book upset her. He didn't mean to." Simon shrugged. "She was doing so well today. She was much more herself. I think something is finally working the way it should." He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms.

"Jayne came in."

"He cut himself." Simon shrugged. "If he'd stop trying to juggle knives he'd be better. Nothing serious. He'll be fine in a few days."

Mal looked at the doctor for a long time. "What did he do?"

"He was flipping his knife and he caught the blade instead of the handle." Simon blinked. He'd thought that was obvious.

"Steer clear of him."

"Why?"

"He's dangerous."

"So are you," Simon said. He looked down at the floor. Mal crossed the space between them and brushed a hand over the doctor's shoulder.

"Who upset you then?"

"Book. He didn't mean to upset, River. He's trying hard to help us. He thinks we're his flock." Simon shook his head.

"I'll go talk with him. How's she doin'? Honestly this time."

"Honestly? Well, I'd say she was fine, but we both know that's bullshit. I don't know. I know there's going to be permanent damage to her brain. Some things can't be healed. It should be as simple as putting an arm back on. But we've lost so much knowledge over the years. And River is getting frustrated. I can see the real her in her eyes, but she's trapped. You should see her looking out at the stars. She loves it out here. She always wanted to fly." Simon's fingers curled into a fist. "I can save someone's life, but I don't know if I can save my sister's sanity. I'm useless to her."

"No, you aren't. You gave her a chance. Ain't many people who'd walk through fire for someone. 'Sides, she is doin' better. You said so yourself." Mal didn't resist the urge to lay his hand on the side of the doctor's face. He felt the soft hair under his fingers. Simon's pulse was steady under the gentle fingers. "You're doin' what you should, Doc. Don't worry so much. It'll work out."

"You sound so sure of yourself."

"I'm sure of you. You care about River. You care more than most people. Me, I'm just a psychopath." Mal shrugged. Simon blinked.

"Who told you that?"

"Wash." Mal smirked. "He's right, you know."

"A possessive psychopath," Simon corrected. Mal's smile grew.

"Yup."

A smile ghosted over Simon's lips.

"Don't need to dress for dinner, you know."

"I can't let Innara feel isolated."

Mal laughed. "I'll go see if I can track down Book."

"He's in the kitchen, I think. He's cooking tonight."

"It's Kaylee's turn."

"No, Kaylee bet Book that she'd be able to fix some old thing of his in half an hour, but it took three-quarters, so she has to fix dinner."

Mal shook his head.

*****

Innara blinked at what she could see through the infirmary window. She'd never seen Mal that close to the doctor before. "More than an academic interest, hmm?" She smiled. Things were going to get very interesting on Serenity.

*****

Book nodded. "Captain."

"Somethin' got into Simon's sister. What was it?"

"I told her I wanted to talk to her about Simon. She got upset. That's all there was to it. I managed to say something that set her into flashbacks. That upset Simon." The shepard sighed. "I don't know what else to do for them."

"You've made your offer. If they want to talk to you they will."

"And what about you, Captain, what are you doing to help them?"

"Boy's here ain't he?" Mal stated. His voice was flat. The preacher didn't push it any further.

*****

Simon leaned back on his bed. He winced a little as a tense muscle made itself noticed. River was asleep, or at least pretending to be. They didn't have a lot of privacy on the ship. And, truth to tell, it was nice to hear her breathing in the middle of the night. It kept his nightmares at bay. He had no secrets from River. He'd never been able to keep them when they were children, why should adulthood be any different? Of course, the close proximity made sure that he shared some of her nightmares. He sat up and moved back until he was sitting curled up in the corner. His back wasn't protesting as badly in that position so he pulled the blanket up and around him. He felt Serenity vibrating and a smile slipped across his face. Kaylee had the ship purring again. A little money did wonders for the parts they could get. The vibration loosened the muscles of his back and he fell asleep.

River looked over at Simon curled up against the ship. She got up as quietly as a cat and slipped across the room to settle on the bed. She laid down on his bed and laid her head on his hand. She pulled her own blanket close around her.

*****

Innara knocked on the Tam's door when they didn't come to breakfast. It was a fast and loose sort of time, but Simon tried to keep River on steady schedule so that she would stay calm. The door gave way under her gentle pressure. She peered into the dark room. Her eyes widened when she noticed that River wasn't in her bed. A momentary panic gripped her. Had the girl gone wandering? Simon had seemed tired recently. He might have slept through her leaving. Then, her eyes adjusted to the gloom and she found them asleep on the other bed. She bit her lip. They looked peaceful. She raised her brows at the toned muscles that Simon's rolled sleeves often hinted at. She'd never seen him in shirtsleeves. The blanket was pulled away, showing his tee-shirt stretched across his chest. Very nice, she decided. She looked up as Mal came stalking through the halls. She frowned at him and gestured for him to be quiet. He scowled at her. "What?"

"They're sleeping," she whispered back. Mal peered over the companion's shoulder. Innara didn't like his smile.

"Hell's bells, I can fix that." He whistled softly and Simon woke immediately. His eyes focused on the door. River didn't rouse as Simon climbed over here.

"What's wrong?" Simon asked softly, blanket trailing after him. Mal looked him up and down. He grinned at the traditional pajama bottoms paired with a tee-shirt.

"Nothin'. Just wanted to check somethin'."

Simon scowled. "Boxers. Now, if there's not an emergency don't use the emergency call."

"Emergency call?" Innara asked. "That tune?"

Simon nodded. "Yes. You get trained to answer it in your first year. How did you hear it?"

Mal just smiled. "See you around, doc." Mal turned and went on to the engine room.

"Psycho," Simon muttered, glaring at Mal's back. Innara giggled.

"Since you're up, why don't you get breakfast. River will be fine. I'll wait for her if you'd like?"

"I don't know. I'm not really hungry. Thank you. Innara, I have a strange question."

"Yes?"

"Do you give massages?"

"Well, normally as foreplay, but Iím trained in medical massage."

"Good."

"Why?"

"Because I needed to know. Mal's wound reminded me and then Jayne came in with a slash in his hand. I need to know that if someone needs PT you're trained in it. I'm not very good at it. Maybe you could teach me?"

"I'd be glad to. I have a book on that too." She winked. "And something else you might be interested in reading."

"Oh?" Simon perked up.

"I'll drop them by. River's fine as long as your on-board you know."

"I know. Hopefully we'll get to a point where she'll be fine even without me." Simon gave the companion a little smile. "Tell Kaylee the ship sounds good when you see her."

"Why not tell her yourself?"

"I'm sorry. I thought you'd want a reason to seek her out."

Innara laughed. "I didn't think you'd catch on to that."

"What? That the two of you flirt more than Wash and Zoe?"

"That's because they've settled down."

"And you aren't planning to? Is it a professional reason or personal?"

"Why are you asking?"

"Because I need to know if I have to keep the captain away from you when he finds out that someone's sleeping with his little girl."

"Someone other than you, you mean?"

Simon just looked at the dark haired woman for a long moment. "He'd kill me if I slept with Kaylee."

"He doesn't own her!"

"No, he doesn't." It took Innara longer than she'd admit to to catch the reference. She put a hand to her mouth. Simon moved her away from the door gently. "We'll see you later, Innara. Good morning." He closed the door in her face. Innara turned towards the engine room. She had to talk to Kaylee.

*****

Simon peered into the bridge. He still wasn't sure if he was welcome there. He knocked on the wall.

"Come in, Doc," Wash said with a smile. "I don't bite. That's Zoe."

Simon huffed out a little laugh. "Wash, I have a favor to ask."

"Shoot."

"River wants to watch the stars. Do you mind?"

"Nope. Just as long as you stay within yelling distance."

"Thank you." Simon nodded to River and she slipped into the room. Simon leaned against the wall. River looked out the front of the ship and a blissful smile spread across her face. She reeled off a series of questions to the pilot who answered them with pleased surprise. Simon shook his head. It seemed River was getting better.

*****

"How's the hand?" Mal asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee. Jayne blinked, then looked up.

"Doin' okay."

"Weren't life threatenin' then."

"Bled like a bitch, but the doc don't think it's serious."

"Told you to come to me first."

"It's my shooting hand!" Jayne protested.

Mal walked across the room. He pulled a chair out, turned it around and stradled it. He looked at Jayne for a long moment. "Don't matter. Less you cut somethin' off, you don't see the doc alone. Got it?"

Jayne nodded. Damn, the boy had gotten under Mal's skin deep.

*****

Simon ran a hand through his hair and settled River in their room with the books Innara had let him borrow. River took to drawing instead of reading and Simon laid down and propped his head on his hands to watch her. A shadow darkened the doorway. The doctor looked up to find Mal watching them both. Simon smiled at him. "I'd like to talk to you."

Simon got up. He stepped out to join the captain in the waiting area.

"How is she doin'?"

"Better. Much calmer."

"Hear you took her up to see Wash."

"You said it was okay."

Mal held up a hand to forestall any further protest. "How'd she do?"

"Fine. She had a great time. Seemed almost to be her own self. At least she wasn't considering cannibalism."

"What?" Mal's brows shot up.

Simon shook his head. "To deal with the dinosaurs you know. Long story. Wash was impressed with her knowledge. I missed half of it. I'm sure Kaylee'd be able to translate for me, but she's with Innara at the moment. Getting her hair done I think."

"Probably. Girl likes gettin' her hair brushed." Mal shook his head. "Practical thing's this, Jayne ain't allowed near either of you for awhile."

Simon blinked. "Why not?"

"It ain't safe. River don't like it when you two prick at each other and I ain't takin' no chances with my crew. You two stay away from him."

"I think you're reading him wrong, Captian. He's not going to hurt either of us. And River's not going to be able to get near anything dangerous. Not with the current level of paranoia on this ship."

"Stay away from him."

"He could've left us behind. After the guards were down, he could have left us cuffed. He didn't. I donít even want to think what could be happening right now if he hadn't." Simon looked through the door at River who was frowning as she chose a new color to work with. "I still don't understand why you're letting us stay. After what happened. . ."

"You're worth a lot of money. That's true enough. But a good doctor ain't somethin' you can pick up on the cheap. Besides, you got some idea on how to be a crook. And I know you ain't about to call the Feds on me. We'll keep you for now."

"I feel so loved," Simon replied sarcastically. "And that would be 'one of the best' not just 'good.'"

Mal laughed. He patted the doctor's knee. "Like I told you, you're on my crew. Youíre my doctor." Mal leaned closer. "Don't forget that, okay?"

"I'll keep it in mind." Simon smiled.

"You do that." Mal left.

Simon collapsed back. He watched Mal's retreating back. He licked his lips. "So many times betrayed, Mal. I don't know if I trust you not to turn on me too," he whispered. Mal turned, thinking he'd heard his name. When he looked across the room, the doctor was looking in his direction, but not watching him. Mal continued on his way, a vague disappointment settled in his stomach.

*****

Zoe watched as Simon caught River around her waist and carried her back towards their bunk. The girl was giggling. "Who knew being a doctor meant having muscles," she commented. Wash looked at her sharply.

"Hello," he waved in front of her eyes. "If I can't look, you can't look."

"Oh, you have some way to stop me?"

"Yeah," he grinned. "My sparkling personality." He leaned in and kissed her.

*****

Jayne watched the doctor man-handling his sister through the ship. He felt a sharp pain in his chest that wasn't caused by anything medical. He missed Mickey like another half of his soul. He still tried to send her little things, but it wasn't the same as being there to fight off the bullies, or to remind her husband that if he ever hurt her, Jayne'd just kill him no questions asked. He hadn't heard from her in a long while, but he hadn't exactly been keeping a steady address. Maybe he should ask Mal, no that wasn't a good plan. Mal was still pissed at him. Simon was laughing. He'd never seen the man do that before. It was quite a sight. It lit up his whole face. Jayne's fingers curled into a fist making his hand scream. He was actually surprised the doctor had stitched him up. If anyone had ever hit his sister, even in self defense, he'd probably have just killed him. If she hadn't done it first of course. He shook his head and went to his bunk. There was something comforting in knowing that it was still his, and that Vera was still there waiting for him.

*****

Simon slumped on the couch as River slept. He couldn't sleep. He pulled the blanket close around him and stared through door into the darkened room. The infirmary was dark as well, and only running lights kept the hall illuminated. He closed his eyes. The night was maddeningly quiet. There were no sounds of life around them. He was used to big cities, and the bustle of the hospital. He shivered. He'd never felt alone in the city. He missed the sudden sounds of a city bursting at the seams with people. He missed the midnight shifts when he met all the most interesting characters. He missed not being afraid. But that was a lie. He'd always been afraid to fail. He'd been afraid of having someone die on his watch, until it had happened. He'd been afraid of disappointing his father. All those old, outdated fears, were replaced with new ones. Would Mal throw him off the ship? Would Jayne kill River? Would someone else decide the price was right and turn them in? His head ached with questions. He looked up when someone settled on the other side of the couch. He hadn't heard anyone. A hand laid on the cushion between them. Silently, he settled his own over it, feeling the bandages beneath his palm. "You can squeeze. It don't hurt," Jayne whispered.

Simon's chin dropped to his chest. "If I start, I'm not going to stop."

"Don't reckon I'd mind that."

Things are easier to understand in the dark. Things are easier to say when you don't have to look someone in the eye and imagine what their thinking behind their jeweled depths. Simon squeezed gently and released. They sat that way for a long time. "I'd better try to get some sleep."

"Goodnight, doc."

"My name is Simon."

Jayne started. "Night, Simon."

"Goodnight, Jayne." The doctor closed the door behind him without ever once looking at the mercenary.

*****

Wash maneuvered between River and the knife once more. He was sure she was just teasing him now. She wasn't really going for the knives. She knew where they were kept. She seemed serious, but there was a twinkle deep in her eyes that made him believe she was putting him on. Zoe was snickering quietly as she watched.

"Don't be a such a baby. Just give me your hand. Honestly, you'd take a bullet without whining. I've got to make sure there was no nerve damage. You want to be able to shoot don't you?" Simon demanded. Jayne sulked, but held out his hand. Simon unwrapped it carefully. He blocked as much access to the man as he could with his body to make sure that River wouldn't go after him again. He pressed against the sides of the wound to make sure the stitches were holding properly. He manipulated each finger. "Can you feel that?" Jayne nodded.

Mal stepped into the galley. He stormed across the room. "How many gorramned times do I have to tell you to stay away from him?" he demanded, pulling Simon up by his collar. Wash caught River around the waist.

"It's okay, Mal won't hurt him."

River wanted to explain, but she couldn't make the words come out properly.

"He was lookin' at my hand. Weren't like we were alone."

"I gave you a direct order Jayne."

"He's *my* patient, Captian!" Simon pushed Mal away. "What right do you have to tell me to stay away from him when he's injured?"

"I told him he ain't allowed near you without me."

Jayne glared. Mal glared right back.

"Why?" Simon demanded. "He's not a danger to me."

"You don't know what he's done."

Simon's eyes narrowed. "So why don't you tell me."

"No, that's somethin' he's gotta tell you."

"But you aren't going to give him that opportunity? What if I told you I already knew this deep dark secret you want to keep from me?"

"I'd say you're a naÔve city-boy."

"This city-boy has patched up more crooks than you've ever met. I know why you're doing this. It's not your place. This is something we've already sorted out. I can't help it that you're behind on the gossip."

"He sold you out to the Feds, boy!"

"I. Know. And he still saved my life. Or at least my sanity. If he'd left me behind they'd have left me in the same state River's in, or killed me outright. I don't know why they want me alive, but I don't want to find out either. River's more valuable to them than I'll ever be. I miss their cutoff criterion by three points. I'm not enough of a genius you know. I couldn't have gotten out of there. River can't fight and I'm not good enough to take down two guards even if they don't want the property damaged. He saved my life. I know it was monetary, but it's not going to happen again."

Mal stared down at the doctor. He'd never seen the man so forceful.

"Oh, and while I'm thinking of it. I'm not your boy, Mal. Come on River, we'll get something to eat later."

Mal caught Simon's arm. "Why didn't you tell me? If you know, why didn't you bring it to my attention?"

"It's not important. He's not the first person to betray me. He won't be the last. And he's not the most trusted person to betray me either. If my father's willing to let me hang, why should some mercenary be any different?"

"We ain't like that," Mal ground out.

"No, just him. Zoe wouldn't do it. Kaylee wouldn't do it. Innara's not going to sully her reputation by going into bounty hunting. You wouldn't do it because you're a possessive psycho. But Jayne's never trusted me. I've never trusted him. It works out just fine in the end. Let go of me."

"I'm not letting go. If I were going to let you go, I'd have left you on Jiangyin to be burned as a witch with your sister," Mal growled softly. "Once I grab on, I don't let go." He gathered the crew in with a glance. "You're on my crew, you follow my orders. Get that into your pretty little head, doc."

"Why do you only complement me when you're angry?" The sudden shift in mood surprised Mal enough to make his release his grip on the younger man's arm. "Now, where were we. Ah yes, third finger."

Jayne gulped as the doctor took his hand again. His eyes were on Mal's face. The captain was caught somewhere between coldly furious and bemused. It was an awe inspiring sight. River broke away from Wash's grip. She leaned on the counter, prepared to attack if anyone made a move towards Simon.

"This ain't a game, Doc."

"I'm not playing games, Captain."

"Ain't you?"

"No, I'm playing with fire. I'm playing the edge. Do you know how I paid for River's rescue?"

Mal's eyes narrowed. "Don't know if I ever rightly thought about it. Your dad paid."

River snorted. Simon laughed. "Father was loath to give me money. I sold prescription drugs and did underground surgery. I worked in black little alleys and dingy little rooms. Everyone assumed I was doing charity work. 'Isn't that sweet of him. Such a sweet little thing. You sure you don't need a bodyguard there, Tam?' I patched up torture victims so they could take more punishment. I changed mobsters' faces and checked non-guild prostitutes for disease. My father cut me loose after I got arrested for being in a black-out zone. I'm not an idiot Mal. I may not know your world out here, but I know your work. Unlike Book, I chose Serenity for a reason. You don't ask questions. You just carry the cargo. How fucking wrong was that information?" Jayne's eyes fastened onto the doctor's. Mal's hand settled on the doctor's hair. He stroked it.

"Good thing I'm a good judge of character, ain't it?"

Simon laughed until tears trialed down the side of his face. "Kaylee's right. You're insane."

"So's she."

"Zoe, would you call the others? Dinner's ready," Wash said, resting a hand on River's shoulder. They all tacitly acknowledged that nothing had just happened. Mal pulled out the chair next to Simon and watched as he examined Jayne's hand. He dabbed at the tear trail with the cuff of his shirt. It wouldn't be good for Kaylee to see it. She'd get all protective and Mal wouldn't be able to get her to talk to him for a week.

Kaylee bounced in and took her favorite place. "Oh, Jayne, did you cut yourself again?"

"Yeah. Doc's sure it'll be fine."

Book settled down in his usual place. He studied the captain. Mal seemed far too interested in a simple medical procedure. He noted the interaction and filed it away for further thought.

"Come here, sweetie," Kaylee said, holding out a hand to River. "Sit by me tonight. Innara's being all mean to me."

"I am not being mean," Innara protested as she settled her skirt. River perched between them. "I was merely telling you the truth."

"She says I ain't companion material."

"Hang on. Who said anythin' about you becomin' a companion?" Mal demanded. "You're a damned good mechanic."

"She's pretty and sweet. I think she'd have men falling all over themselves if she went into business."

"Shut it, Doc," Mal said tugging at a lock of hair. Simon batted his hand away. He re-wrapped Jayne's hand.

*****

"Whatcha readin'?" Mal asked leaning against the doorframe of the infirmary.

"A book."

"About what?"

"Massage. Innara lent it to me."

"I don't think I want to know about something from her library."

"Oh, I don't know. They're really interesting. There was one that she loaned to River that had us debating for hours over probability and physical possibilities."

Mal shook his head. He moved close enough to be able to look over Simon's shoulder. It was a medical massage manual. He settled his hands on the doctor's shoulders and rubbed them. Simon's head fell back as he arched into the touch. The doctor's muscles were tense enough to make Mal's neck ache in response. He dug into the knots of muscle. Simon's eyes drooped closed. "Better?"

Simon nodded. "Thanks."

"I take care of my property."

"Who says I'm yours?" It lacked the usual bite.

"I do." Simon leaned his cheek against the captain's hand. Mal stroked Simon's hair.

"I'm not a pet. I need certain things."

"I know that. And you know your mine. You've known it since that woman came on board here tryin' to take Serenity. You looked at me all hurt and betrayed when she said I'd married her."

"I did not!"

"Did too. Bet I can get me some witnesses."

"Kaylee doesn't count. She's biased."

"Innara then."

"She's goin' to follow Kaylee's lead." Simon soaked up Mal's heat as he pressed close. "I'm tired of running."

"No more running. You're here. This is where your stayin'."

"You seem so sure of yourself."

"I know my crew. I know the weaknesses and the strengths. Serenity ain't gonna fall out of the sky. We're gonna keep flyin'. And your gonna tell me how a pretty little thing like yourself learns how to survive in little back alleys and dingy rooms."

"You have taken a good look at your ship recently right?"

"Don't talk bad about Serenity. Kaylee'll whip you."

"You notice I didn't say it while she was around. I like the sound of the engines. Keeps it from getting too quiet."

"You're tense, boy."

"Why do you keep calling me that?"

"Because you're my boy." Mal leaned down so that his breath stirred the little hairs on Simon's neck. "Ain't you?"

"Maybe I am at that." Simon turned in his seat. "I have to check on River."

"She's fine. Still sleepin'. You'd've heard different by now if she weren't. She don't like people gettin' to close to you."

"You grabbed my arm. She saw that as a threat. As for Jayne, he's been threatening to throw us both out of the airlock or to the Alliance since we got here. I'm surprised it took her this long to catch onto that. Or maybe it just took her this long to get her hands on a good weapon."

Mal brushed his fingers along Simon's cheek. "This ain't about her."

"It's all about her."

"She's gettin' better. Said so yourself. This is about you, right here, right now."

"If this starts, I won't be able to stop it."

"This starts, I won't let you stop it."

"Then we can't start. I've got to take care of River. I can't take care of her and you. Doctors aren't made for intense relationships."

"I think that's the only kind of relationship there is. And I think it's started already, Simon."

The doctor stiffened at the sound of his name. He hadn't heard it from Mal's lips. His eyes widened.

"Has it already started, Simon?" Mal asked. Simon nodded once. He lifted a hand to touch Mal's cheek. Suddenly, he caught the captain in a deep kiss.

"It's started," he purred into the taller man's ear. Simon stood in the circle of Mal's arms. "But not tonight, Mal. I can't leave River alone. I'll see if Innara will take care of her. Maybe tomorrow. Goodnight, Captain. Thanks for the neck rub."

Mal stared at the doctor for a long moment. "We don't have to go anywhere. There's a bed right there."

"And windows all around."

"With blinds." Mal reached to the closest window and touched a button to release the shades. He shut the door. "Better?"

Simon blinked for a moment. A slow smile grew on his face. "I have to ask how many people have used that bed for this purpose."

"I ain't asked. My crew ain't told. This place used to be abandoned except in emergencies. It's your place now. You're stayin'."

Simon nodded. "As long as you'll keep us. It's a package deal, Mal. You want to get rid of River, you get rid of me too."

"I got it, boy. Now, hush up and kiss me."

Simon tilted his head to the side and Mal leaned down to kiss him. The sharp flavor of whiskey invaded Simon's senses. He searched every millimeter of Mal's mouth in an attempt to hunt down every trace of the flavor so that he could find out what laid beneath it. Mal's arms tightened around Simon's body, pulling him close. Simon ran his fingers into the short brown hair that he'd only ever gotten to touch when the man was unconscious. Mal tried to take control of the kiss and their tongues dueled for a long moment before Simon let him have control. He had to admit that Mal was a rutting good kisser after all. Mal ran a hand roughly up the doctor's back to settle firmly in his hair. Simon broke away, panting. Mal kissed a trail along the younger man's jaw to his pulse. He paused to feel the strong pulse, to remind himself that this wasn't a fantasy. He felt Simon lean against him. "This isn't a good idea," Simon whispered. "It will change things forever."

"I want them changed."

"I don't know if I do."

"It'll work out, Simon. I'm not letting go."

"It's hard for me."

"Me too," Mal grinned.

Simon punched his shoulder. "That's not what I meant." He soothed the strike with soft fingers. "There's something damaged in my heart. I don't know if I can give you what you need."

"I know you can. Trust me."

"Never."

"Good enough." Mal walked them back towards the bed. He slowly undid the buttons of Simon's vest. He kissed the younger man again. Simon's hands lifted to help. He knew his shirt would take more time to open than Mal would invest and he didn't feel like sewing buttons back on. The soft silk slid off of Simon's arms. He caught the vest and tossed it onto the chair without looking. Mal watched the fabric arch and fall with interest. "You're good at that. Might teach you to shoot."

"Practice makes perfect." Simon leaned forward to lip Mal's shirt open, as he undid his own. The captain licked his lips.

"Reckon I don't want to know where you learned that."

"Surgery."

"I say I wanted an answer?"

Simon went back to his task. He pulled his own shirt off as Mal's fingers stroked through the soft black hair. Mal watched the silk sail across the room, then, found his own shirt following it. He pulled at Simon's tee-shirt while the doctor explored Mal's chest with his lips, learning every bump and ridge. Simon paused to let Mal strip off his shirt, then set to learning the line of Mal's collarbone. Mal slid his hands over the soft, white skin of the doctor's back. Simon's fingers busied themselves with the task of opening the captain's pants. Mal's hips rose in response to the gentle brush of fingers against his cock. Simon looked up and arched a brow. "Tell me you wore something under that floral dress."

Mal grinned. "Nope."

Simon's cheeks flushed bright red. "You're insane."

"Yup." He kissed the doctor's forehead. Simon's fingers explored the length of Mal's cock.

"Now, since we've thrown practicality to the winds, I hate to bring this up, but, you're wearing boots."

"That I am."

"They need to come off."

"Maybe. Depends."

"On what?"

"Whether I plan on just bendin' you over this bed, or watchin' you come for me." Simon gulped. Any plans he might have had faded to the background and his entire body seemed to focus on one thing, he wanted Mal *now,* any way, any position.

"And what are you planning?" Simon managed to spit out.

"Considerin', I think bendin' you over the bed'd be best."

Simon licked his lips. Things were already out of control. "I've never. . ."

Mal stroked Simon's cheek. "I ain't gonna hurt you, boy." Mal's hands slid along just under Simon's waistline. The doctor shivered in his grip. "Just relax and go with the flow."

Simon frowned. "I'm not a boy, Mal." The captain thought he might die of the shock. The doctor reached up and kissed the captain hard. He tugged on Mal's lower lip with his teeth as they separated. The kiss went directly to their groins.

"Tell me you go some kind of lube around here."

"Of course." Simon opened a drawer and pulled out a tube. He winked over his shoulder. "For those exams no one talks about." Mal grabbed the back of Simon's pants and pulled him close. He nibbled on the back of the smaller man's neck. "That tickles!"

"Poor baby. What do you think? Should I make you mine now or torture you some?" Mal growled.

"Depends on what you call torture."

Mal kissed the back of the doctor's neck. "I'll leave that 'til we got more time." He opened Simon's pants. "So many layers, boy."

"Having problems, Captian?"

"Yeah, Doc. I'd prefer you easy access."

Simon snickered. "You've got me confused with someone else then." Mal's fingers ghosted over Simon's chest. Simon sucked in a breath as they brushed his nipples. He leaned back into Mal's grip.

"You're probably right at that." Mal tugged slowly until the doctor was fitted close to his body. Simon could feel the heated hardness of Mal's cock through the slim protection of fabric. He licked his lips. It had been a very long time since Simon had relaxed into anything. He closed his eyes to better appreciate the captain's hands on his skin. A tiny voice in the back of his mind asked him if he was planning to get a license or just sell it illegally. He told it to shut up. He trusted Mal, liked him even. And he was attracted to the man. He took a deep breath in an attempt to banish his demons. "Trust me," Mal demanded, right in the doctor's ear. "I ain't out to hurt you."

Mal smiled as the doctor relaxed under his hands. Well, most of him did. There was still one part that was tense. The captain laid a gentle kiss to the back of Simon's neck. He turned him around and pressed a kiss to his lips. He licked across the younger man's lips and the parted for him. The kiss was gentle and sweet. He was trying to reassure not devour. "My pretty doc," he said emphasizing each word. Simon gave him a half smile and a small nod. Mal kissed him again, enflaming passion this time. Simon's hands wound into Mal's hair. Mal pushed Simon's pants down and away. One hand cupped the back of the doctor's head as the other slid along the soft indentation in the small of Simon's back and then down between the soft globes of his ass. His fingers brushed the tiny opening and he felt it spasm. Mal's lips trailed along Simon's throat, while Simon took the opportunity to explore Mal's jaw with his lips. It was the jaw that had caught his attention first when he'd been introduced to the captain. Poor Kaylee had never seen the possessive look that Mal had sent him. She hadn't seemed to notice since then. Of course, she also didn't know that Simon's fare had been bought with her life.

Simon's lips on his throat felt like heaven. There was a flame of desire everywhere the soft lips caressed. The boy was good at this, was no more than a fleeting thought as Mal probed gently to loosen the tight muscle. It was less and more than he'd done to relax the doctor's shoulder. He press and rotated until Simon was rocking under the attention and more than willing to take whatever Mal dole out, so long as he did it now, and stopped waiting for some damned sign of arousal. Mal shuddered as Simon's erection grazed his own. "Please?" Simon whispered. Mal turned him, continuing to stroke him. He pushed down between Simon's shoulder-blades to bend him over the bed. Simon acquiesed to the demand, head arching back. His fingers folded into the sheets. Mal smoothed them down until the tension was gone once more. He laid gentle kisses down Simon's spine. He slicked his cock up and pressed forward gently against the loosened muscles of Simon's ass. Simon bit his lip to keep from crying out. He'd never been on this side of the equation. He'd always been in control. This was heaven. Let Mal take all the stress, the worries, the control. Just one night with silent demons and he'd be happy. I should have insisted we wait, Simon thought to himself. I don't want to go into that room. River's going to give me that look of hers and I won't be able to stop blushing for a week. Then, Mal was seated.

Simon's breaths were coming in short pants. He'd never felt quite so full. He'd never been firmly grounded in his body. He knew he was pretty, too pretty at time, but he'd never given it any thought. It hadn't ever been important. But the oh-so-delicious soft movements and twitches of Mal's cock in his ass made him firmly, miutely aware of ever molecule of his being. Then, Mal was moving and the brush of his cock against Simon's sensitized prostate had him moaning. Simon's body reacted to the slow pace without him having to think at all. He closed his eyes and let bliss take him away.

Mal's frown of concentration disappeared as Simon's body reacted to him and arched back to meet each stroke. His pace sped up slowly, fed by the tight grip of flesh around his body and the soft moans and breaths that the doctor couldn't and didn't want to control. One hand stroke the soft skin between Simon's shoulder-blades as the other one found its way beneath the moving hips and wrapped around the doctor's erection. Simon came under that additional stimulation. The tensing, clutching heat of his muscles drew Mal across the line and he came. He laid weakly agianst Simon's back as their breathing realigned and they slowly separated. Simon sank down to his knees. "Fuck," he muttered, "going to have to clean this place again."

Mal snorted out a laugh. "Give you somethin' to do tomorrow." He kissed Simon's temple, then pulled up his pants. He collected his shirt from the chair. He stroked Simon's sweat-soaked hair. "Come on, boy, let's get you to bed."

Simon shook his head. "No, thanks, I'll get there. I'm just going to rest for a little bit. Then, clean up. Then, I'll go to bed."

"It's late. The mess'll keep."

"No, got to clean up. There might be an emergency." Simon dragged himself upright and pulled his pants back up. They clung low to his hips.

"Let me help you then."

"Thanks."

"I take care of my own," Mal reminded with a smile. "And your mine."

"That's what you tell me." Simon said, too relaxed to smirk or snipe.

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