Title: Letting Go
Rating: NC-17
Summary: A lesson in letting go.


Everyone needs to let go. No one can hold on forever, even when you've been doing it for so long you've forgotten how to do anything else.

Like Simon has.

Simon holds on with everything he's got because if he loses anything else he's afraid he'll lose himself. Simon doesn't know how to let go and not lose something. And right now, Simon hasn't got anything left to lose. Even River, his beautiful, brilliant, broken sister--he's holding on to her as tightly as he can, and he knows it's not enough. You can't hold on to something that's not really there, and River isn't really there anymore.

You can't lose something you don't have.

Simon holds on to a lot of things. He holds on to the knowledge that he and River are part of *Serenity*'s crew now. He holds on to his skills as a doctor, knowing it's the only thing he can truly claim as his any more. At the end of the day, every day, he holds on to the knowledge that they made it, that the Alliance hasn't found them and taken River away again. Most of all, perhaps, he holds on to the fact that Mal won't let the Alliance take them if he can help it.

At night, Simon sleeps with his hands clenched, as if he's afraid of relaxing even that much. The shirts and vests hide the shoulders continually tensed into knots, and he doesn't let anyone get close enough to touch him and find out the truth. The only time Simon halfway relaxes now is when he's operating as the ship's doctor, simply because he cannot work with that level of tension in his body. So if Mal--and somehow it is almost always Mal--needs his skills, the constant anxiety subsides, to be replaced with cool professionalism.

He thinks River knows what is on his mind. He knows she has noticed the gouges in his palm where his nails have cut too deeply when he's not thinking about it. But she doesn't say anything; she just touches the back of his hand sadly, looking at him with dark eyes that see much more than they should and understand everything and nothing all at once.

Simon is a light sleeper; he has trained himself to be since medacad. He wakes up instantly if someone walks into his room, and if River has a nightmare, as she often does, he will be in her room, comforting her, within seconds. He wills himself not to remember his dreams--most of the time, he succeeds.

So when Simon wakes up in the middle of the night, nude, arms tied to the corners of his bunk, his first reaction is panic. His second reaction is to hide the first, regulating his breathing and calming his body, while he tries to figure out who has done this--and why.

"Relax, Doc," a low voice says out of the darkness. "I ain't gonna hurt you."

He does not respond, although he recognizes the speaker. He does not trust his voice to be steady.

The speaker sighs, and Simon feels a warm hand come to rest on his back, between his shoulderblades. He cannot stop himself from jumping at the touch, and if he could, he would move away. Surreptitious tugging on the bonds at his wrists, however, reveal that he's not going anywhere.

"I do know how to tie knots," the voice says, seeing him pull at the bonds. "Those ain't gonna give until I untie them. Or cut them loose, depending."

Simon swallows, uncomfortably aware of the hand on his back. "Then please untie them," he says as calmly as he can.

A soft chuckle answers him. "I don't think so."

He fights down the anger coursing through him, convincing his body to relax as best he can. It isn't much, and any success he might have had is abruptly countered when the hand on his back shifts and a strong thumb digs into his muscles, probing at the tension there. Simon freezes, every muscle in his body locking up automatically.

"Yeh soo, Doc..." The voice grumbles absently. "How the hell do you manage to walk around like this?"

"I manage just fine, thank you," Simon says tightly. He can't remember the last time he let someone touch him--someone not River.

"No, you don't," the voice says softly. "If you did, we wouldn't be here right now."

There are two hands on Simon's back now, working with steady pressure on his muscles. "Your sister said something to me the other day," the voice muses. "She told me 'He doesn't know how'. Now, it took me a while to realize what she was referrin' to, but I think I figured it out."

In spite of himself, the quiet, thoughtful voice and the strong hands are coaxing tension out of him. Simon feels himself relaxing and much as he wants to, he can't stop it. "Figured what out?"

"You just can't let go, can you?"

Simon's breath catches in his throat and he has to make a conscious effort to exhale. "You're psychotic," he says, a little more unsteadily than he'd like. "You think--" He falls silent, unable to come up with the words he needs.

"I think you're about as tight as a hair trigger and about as ready to go off."

"And this is your solution." Simon doesn't bother keeping the sarcasm out of his voice. "To--what, exactly? Tie me up in the middle of the night so you can try and *relax* me?"

"Not gonna try, Doc," the soft voice says, much closer to his ear than he'd expected. "I don't try things--I do 'em."

"I hate to be the one to explain this, but if you wanted me to relax, this is probably about as far away as you could get from actually succeeding."

Two thumbs dig into his back, just below his shoulderblades. Simon groans involuntarily, feeling pain and pleasure mingled as some of the tension--somehow--dissipates.

"Really," the voice says, amused.

For the first time, Simon addresses the presence by name. "Cap--Mal--" he corrects himself. "I don't know what you think you're doing. But I would really, really appreciate it if you stopped. Now."

"Can't do that," Mal says simply.

"Why?" Some of Simon's frustration comes out in the word; he jerks against his bonds in a futile attempt to escape.

"Because you're part of my crew," Mal tells him. "And I take care of my crew."

"I don't need to be taken care of."

"Maybe you do, maybe you don't." Mal shrugs; Simon can feel it in the hands on his back, the way the pressure lessens for a moment. "But truth is, Simon--" the emphasis on his voice is deliberate, he knows--"Right now I don't trust you to take care of yourself."

"I'm a *doctor*," Simon snaps.

"They do say doctors make the worst patients."

Simon exhales slowly, trying to ignore the soothing pressure of Mal's hands, still seeking out tension and relieving it. "What have I done that would make you think I can't take care of myself?" he asks finally.

Mal's hands leave his back and take hold of his left hand, which clenches into a fist as Mal touches it. Patiently, Mal opens his hand, one callused finger tracing the crescent-shaped marks on his palm. "You hurt yourself often?" he asks matter-of-factly. There is no judgment in his voice, no accusation, just a simple question.

It's too much for Simon; he panics, twisting away, trying to yank his hand out of Mal's. "Let go of me!" he gasps.

"Easy! Easy, Simon!" Mal says urgently, trying to calm him down. But Simon can't calm down; Mal's simple question set off something inside him and he can't seem to get control of himself. He's shaking, near hyperventilating, and no matter how hard he tries he can't stop.

A heavy, warm weight abruptly presses him into the mattress, shocking him into sense--at least for the moment. Simon feels fabric, and skin, and realizes two things: one, that Mal is wearing pants but apparently not much else, and two, that Mal is lying on top of him, his body spread out over Simon's, holding him down so he doesn't struggle.

It's enough to calm the shudders, but not enough to keep him from breathing shallowly, half-panting in his fear. Of course, that might have something to do with Mal's weight--the captain is bigger than Simon, both in height and in build, and he's deliberately using that at the moment, keeping Simon pinned.

Mal waits a moment, until Simon has quieted underneath him. "Where are the others?" he asks, quietly, his breath warm against Simon's ear.

"I don't know what the gorram hell you're talking about," Simon manages. He can scarcely breathe--Mal isn't sparing him any, but the two words racing around in his brain steal most of his oxygen. *He knows.*

"Sure you do." Mal doesn't move. "Where are they, Simon?"

He can't speak. *Mal knows.* How did he find out? Simon has been so careful, so cautious, he was sure not even River knew. How?

"Wasn't sure," Mal says, and Simon realizes he must have said that aloud. "Not til you snapped when I saw your hand. You wouldn't have done that if you weren't hiding something else. Yeh soo, Simon--how long?"

The guilt is incredible, and yet there's also a feeling of relief Simon doesn't understand. "I--back in medacad," he says, defeated. He can't believe he's saying this, even as the words spill out. "There was so much...so much pressure. I had to find some way..." Simon swallows. "I stopped, you know. For a long time. But...now..." He stops again, feeling something burning at the back of his eyes.

"Where are they?" Mal asks, still quiet, still not passing judgment.

"All over. My arms, mostly, but some on my chest. You--you can't see them unless you're really looking." Simon swallows again. "Advantage to being a doctor, I suppose. Ability to heal yourself with minimal scarring."

Some of Mal's weight leaves him and Simon hears him snap on the light, sees the yellow-red brightness through his closed eyelids. Gentle fingers trace patterns on his arms, unerringly finding the faded lines, barely visible against Simon's pale skin. "You're 'bout as broken as your sister," Mal says, but there is still no judgment in his voice, no pity. Only sympathy and warm concern.

Simon does not say anything to that.

He feels Mal's weight shift, feels Mal's hands on his wrists, untying him, coaxing him up. Mal's arms are warm around him and his chest is smooth under Simon's cheek and as much as he wants to pull away, he doesn't have the strength. He feels tired, empty. Beaten down.

"River told me," Mal says finally. "About your hands."

"Wonderful."

"You don't know how, do you?" Mal continues as if Simon has not spoken. "You ain't got a clue how to let go of anything."

"I've got nothing left to lose," Simon says as if it explains everything.

"Doc--Simon--" Mal corrects himself. He stops for a moment. "Lettin' go of something doesn't necessarily mean losing it."

Simon shakes his head. "That hasn't been my experience."

"It doesn't. Just means that you can't hold on to it for a little while. It'll still be there when you're ready again."

"Sure." Simon starts to pull away, but Mal does not let him.

"I could show you," Mal says quietly.

"Show me what?"

"How to let go."

"I don't want to learn."

Mal nods, as if he expected that. "I know. Never do want to learn the things you need to."

"This isn't something I need to learn." Simon tries again, unsuccessfully, to pull away.

Mal doesn't say anything. He just traces the even, parallel lines on Simon's arm.

"How would you know, anyway?" Simon asks, suddenly angry. "What gives you the right to tell me what I need to learn?"

"I know about pain," Mal says, voice soft. "I know what it's like to hurt so much you think you're like to be torn apart from it. I know about not knowing how you're going to make it through the day, only that you have to because there are people depending on you and you can't let them down." He stops abruptly, as if he hadn't meant to say all that.

Simon swallows. He can't ask. Won't ask. He just has to pull himself together and he'll be fine, scars notwithstanding. "How do you do it?" he whispers. "How do you let go?"

Mal shrugs. "Everyone's different."

The implication is clear, but it's still a long moment before Simon can speak. "How do I let go?" he asks, painfully.

To his surprise, Mal doesn't answer. "Why do you do this?" he asks instead, tracing the scars.

"I..." Simon has to stop and think about that. No one's ever asked him that before.

Then again, no one's ever known before.

"It--helps," he says, hesitantly. "It's as if--it releases something inside me. Like something's building up and by--by cutting I can take off some of the pressure." Simon sighs, relaxing a little against Mal. "When it gets to be too much, when River's having a bad day or someone on the ship's been hurt, and it just feels like more than I can handle without going mad--that's when I do it. It doesn't hurt, much, but it clears my mind, makes it easier to deal with what's going on around me."

"Would it be easier if someone else did it?" To Simon's surprise, there's no condemnation in Mal's voice. Just curiosity and a simple suggestion.

"I don't want someone else to hurt me like that," Simon muses, thinking about it honestly.

"Then what do you want someone else to do?"

"Take control," Simon whispers, something in his stomach unknotting as he says it out loud. He hadn't known, hadn't realized it was what he wanted until Mal asked, but now--it makes sense.

"Take control how?" Mal asks, still matter-of-fact.

"It doesn't matter. Just as long as I don't have to think." Simon flushes. "It sounds so--weak of me."

"No," Mal says thoughtfully. "Not weak. I told you when you came on board that you weren't weak." He strokes Simon's hair absently. "But even the strongest of us need to lean on someone now and then."

"Who do you lean on?" Simon asks.

"Don't matter right now." Mal's tone indicates that he does not want to discuss it.

"I don't--I don't want it to happen all the time," Simon says hastily. "Just--sometimes."

Mal nods. "I know." He pauses for a moment, as if deciding what to say. "Probably be best to keep this between us," he says. "If it's what you want."

Simon blinks in surprise. "You mean--you'd--"

"I said I'd show you," Mal says simply. "If you still want it."

He's not sure. The thought of letting Mal take control scares him, even as he wants it more than he's wanted anything since--since getting River out became his obsession. "I--" Simon pauses, afraid to say yes and not wanting to say no.

"I ain't gonna hurt you," Mal says, repeating his words from earlier.

"Okay." Simon shivers a little.

Mal releases him, guiding him to lie down on the bed, on his back. Simon closes his eyes, feeling Mal tie his wrists again. He jumps a little when Mal lifts his head, tying a cloth around his eyes. "Can you see?" Mal asks.

Behind the blindfold, Simon opens his eyes, but everything's black. "No," he says, a little nervously.

"Unless I tell you to, you don't say a word," Mal tells him. "You don't do anything unless I tell you to. If I ask you a question you can respond with yes or no, but that's it. Dong ma?"

Simon nods. "Yes," he says, feeling goosebumps rise on his skin.

"Good."

The scars on his chest are deeper, more visible than the ones on his arms. Mal traces them, his touch light against Simon's skin. "A sunburst?" he says dryly.

"I'd been--" Simon shuts up two words too late.

"Gotta do better than that, Simon," Mal says evenly. "Or I'll gag you."

He wants to apologize, but he doesn't. Just lets out a deep breath, swallowing. He's afraid, and he knows it, and despite the fact that he trusts Mal with his life (literally, given their situation), he's still scared of what Mal's going to do to him. Even though he asked for it.

"Simon," Mal says, firmly. "Relax."

He's trying, but it's not something that comes easily to him.

"Stop thinking," Mal tells him. "Do you trust me?"

Simon has to lick his lips before he can answer; his mouth is so dry. "Yes," he says softly.

Mal rests his hand on Simon's chest, the tips of his index and middle fingers right on the hollow of Simon's collarbone. "You need this, Simon," he says. "You're going to break if you don't loosen up. I know you don't know how--it's why I'm here."

Something inside Simon comes loose at that and he shudders, unable to hide it.

"Relax," Mal says again.

Mal's hands are warm on his body, moving over his skin with a sure, deft touch. It's not quite a caress and not quite a massage and has a strange double effect of turning him into warm goo even as his cock hardens. For a brief moment, he's embarrassed by his arousal, but he manages to push that away.

"Nothin' to be ashamed of," Mal says. "Dong ma?"

Simon nods. "Yes."

Mal runs the side of his thumb down Simon's body, from his collarbone to just above his cock. Simon gasps softly, leaning into it. "That's it," Mal murmurs, his fingers gentle on Simon's thighs, stroking him and spreading him open.

It's not long before Simon loses track of where Mal's hands are and where they have been. He feels patterns of warmth over his skin, firm, gentle caresses that make him shiver. Simon realizes he's trying to arch into Mal's touch and doesn't bother trying to stop himself. He wants more, but he can't ask for it.

Something clicks into place when Simon realizes suddenly that he's completely helpless under Mal. Tied, blindfolded, having given his word not to speak--he'd understood it before, intellectually, but all of a sudden it hits him on every level. He can't get away, he can't get control over himself; he's Mal's now, and Mal has every intention of stripping away the last of his defenses.

"Stop--please--" he gasps, feeling the panic begin to climb into his throat. He can't let Mal do this; he's too afraid of what Mal's reaction will be when everything's gone. He won't be able to take it if Mal judges him and finds him wanting.

Immediately, Mal stops what he's doing, leaving his hands on Simon's waist. "What's wrong?" he asks patiently.

Simon shakes his head mutely. "Please, don't--can't do this, I can't let you do this--" He's shaking again.

"It's okay," Mal says, not moving. "It's okay, Simon. Relax, it's okay, it's all right...trust me, Simon. All you have to do is trust me." His hands begin moving again, soothing, not arousing. "Trust me," he repeats.

He can't stop the shivers, but Mal doesn't seem to notice or care. Slowly, Simon realizes that Mal *isn't* going to stop what he's doing--at least, not for that reason. And maybe--just maybe--Mal isn't going to judge him.

"Everyone's got their own demons," Mal says softly. "No harm in admitting you need help to deal with 'em."

Simon hasn't cried in so long he doesn't realize he's doing it until he feels tears soaking the blindfold and rolling down his cheeks. Mal brushes away the tears, gently, and something deep inside Simon begins to unknot.

The first time Mal kisses him is so light, Simon barely realizes his mouth is there. The second time, he tastes salt and realizes he's tasting his own tears on Mal's lips. The kisses become longer, deeper, until Mal is stretched out on top of him, his hands cupping Simon's face. "Do you want this?" Mal asks; Simon feels the vibrations of Mal's words against his mouth.

It's less of an effort than he'd have thought to nod yes.

Within moments, he's rock-hard and struggling not to moan every time Mal touches him. There's tension coiling in his belly, pleasure building from somewhere deep inside him. Simon feels incredibly sensitized; he's tingling all over, even where Mal's hands haven't been. The layers of numbness and old pain are gone, washed away by his tears and Mal's touch.

The first time Mal's hand closes around his cock Simon whimpers, thrusting up helplessly. "Yeah," Mal breathes, stroking him. "That's it."

Raw as he feels, Simon knows he's not going to last. Everything's more intense, and Mal's hand on him is like nothing he's ever felt before. "C'mon, Simon," Mal murmurs, although Simon can barely hear him over his heart pounding. "Come for me--let it go, c'mon, just give it up, come for me, Simon..."

His mouth's open in a silent cry when he comes, his climax too intense for him to be able to make a sound.

Mal gives him a moment to recover before settling himself between Simon's legs. "Want you," he says, brushing a kiss over Simon's thigh.

"Yes..." Simon's too far gone to care that Mal hadn't technically asked him a question. Fortunately, Mal doesn't seem to mind.

Mal's fingers feel incredible inside him but it's nothing compared to the way Simon feels when Mal slides into him, slow and careful. It's too good, too intense; he's done this before but it's never, not once, felt like this. His cock is doing its best to harden again, even though it's as oversensitized as the rest of him. "Please," he whispers.

"No talking," Mal reminds him evenly, although Simon can hear the strain in his voice.

He swallows, biting back his instinctive apology.

Simon has almost no leverage to move back against Mal, and even if he did, he's pretty sure he's not capable of anything that coordinated. He can't think, can barely breathe; if it wasn't an involuntary response he'd probably be unconscious by now. Mal's not making a sound but his breathing is ragged; every time he thrusts into Simon there's a catch in the back of his throat.

It's driving Simon out of what little remains of his mind.

Mal kisses him and Simon realizes he's been biting his lip in an effort not to beg. He groans into the kiss, hoping Mal will understand what he needs.

"Don't come," Mal tells him; Simon nearly cries out in protest. "When I tell you. Not before."

He's not going to be able to hold back. He can't. He has to.

He has to.

"Now," Mal says finally, after what seems like an eternity of pleasure so intense Simon's riding the edge between ecstasy and agony.

He whimpers--it's the only sound he can make as his body convulses in orgasm. "So close," Mal breathes, moving harder inside him. "So--ruttin'--close--"

Simon counts, one two three four--and Mal freezes, coming inside him, panting for breath.

It takes a moment, but Mal pulls out of him carefully, lowering Simon's legs to the bed. He lies there, unable to move, letting Mal untie him and take off the blindfold. Slowly, he opens his eyes, blinking in the relatively bright light.

"Don't move," Mal says, getting up. He dampens a cloth and comes back to the bed, cleaning Simon off gently. "Feel better?"

"Mmm." Simon manages a nod. Truth is, he's not sure how he feels, aside from sated, a little sore, and sleepy. He feels--different. Like he's lost something.

Mal tosses the cloth into the sink and turns back to Simon. "You ever get this bad again, you come find me," he says, moving Simon's arms so they're down by his sides. "Actually, you come find me *before* you get this bad." He rests one hand on Simon's chest. "I don't want any more of these," he says, tapping one of Simon's scars.

Simon nods. "Okay."

Mal leans down to kiss him briefly. "Get under the covers, Simon."

He yawns and obeys, crawling under the blanket. "Are you staying?" he asks sleepily.

Mal shakes his head. "Probably not a good idea." One hand brushes the hair off his forehead. "But I'll stay until you fall asleep."

"Kay." Simon's already half-asleep; he nuzzles Mal's hand without realizing he's doing it.

Mal stays for a bit, making sure Simon's out cold, before he gathers his things and leaves.


***Epilogue***

On his way back to his bunk, Mal stops in the kitchen, only to find Zoe there, making herself a cup of tea. She pours him one silently, hands it to him, and sits down at the table. He sits down opposite her, waiting for her to say something. But she doesn't, and for a while they drink in silence.

"Saw you going into Simon's bunk earlier," Zoe says finally. "He okay?"

He takes another drink of his tea. He does not want to have this conversation, although if he has to have it, better it be with Zoe than anyone else. "Think so," he says finally.

She nods. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Mal leans back in his chair, projecting an air of relaxation. It's go-se and he knows it but he isn't up to treading the fine line between confiding in Zoe and keeping Simon's confidences.

Zoe nods again. It's one of the things he likes most about her--she won't push unless she feels there's a true need for it. "You know I know that's a pile of luh-suh, right, sir?" she asks wryly.

Normally, he appreciates Zoe's perceptiveness. "Yeah, but just let it be one for now." Mal takes another sip of tea. "You know I can't betray a confidence."

She does know that, better than anyone else aboard Serenity. "Not asking you to, sir." Zoe sets her mug down. "Just seeing if you're all right, is all."

Mal's not as slow on the uptake as some think he is. "Zoe--I'm not going to ask you," he says, seeing her relax almost imperceptibly. He doesn't need to specify what he'd be asking for. "I'm all right. Doctor just needed someone to lean on for a bit."

Zoe stands up, rinsing out her mug. "I understand, sir. Good night."

She leaves, and Mal's alone. He looks into his mug but he doesn't see it. The image in front of his eyes is one of faded scars on pale skin, parallel lines and patterns. There's a sunburst over Simon's heart and the mark for patience in the middle of his chest. That one's the worst; from the way it looks, Mal thinks Simon cut it again and again, tracing over the healed scars and splitting them open.

Someday, he'll ask why. When Simon's ready to tell him.

When he's ready to hear the answer.

He gets up, carefully, and rinses out his mug before placing it on the draining board with exaggerated care. Back in his bunk, he shuts the hatch and lies down on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

It's a long, long time before Mal falls asleep.
 
 
 
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