Title: Some Days
Rating: PG-13
Summary: A ship like *Serenity* doesn't lend itself to keeping secrets.

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"Zoe?" Wash's voice is blurred with sleep; he turns over, reaching for her instinctively.

"I'm here, baby," she says, stripping off the last of her clothes and crawling into bed next to him.

He spoons up against her back, one hand resting loosely on her breast. "Where were you?"

"Just went to get a cup of coffee. Nothin' to worry about." Zoe sighs, closing her eyes. Long as she lives, she'll never stop loving the feel of Wash holding her.

"Wasn't worried," he mumbles. He kisses her neck sleepily. "Sleep now. Have sex later. Kay?"

Zoe hides the laughter and catches his hand, bringing it to her lips. "Sure thing, baby."

A little to her surprise, she falls asleep easily, Wash's arms keeping her safe as she dreams.

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When she wakes up, Wash is looking at her, playing with a lock of her hair. "Where'd you go last night?" he asks.

"Just to get a cup of coffee." Zoe rolls over on her back, looking back at him. "Didn't think you noticed."

"Hard not to notice when I wake up in the middle of the night and my wife's gone," Wash says; she winces inwardly. "You want to tell me what's going on?"

She sighs and sits up, the covers falling to her waist. "Couldn't sleep, so I went to find some coffee and ran into the cap'n. We were talking for a bit, then the doc and his sister came in. She was upset about something or other and it took all three of us to get her settled down." It's not a lie, exactly--it's just not the entire truth.

Wash's expression changes from guarded wariness to warm concern at once. "Poor kid," he says, shaking his head. "She gonna be okay?"

*It ain't her you should worry about, baby.* "Yeah," Zoe says. "I think so." She smiles, leaning down to kiss her husband. "Now--was I dreaming or did you say something about having sex this morning?"

He knows what she's doing, obviously; Wash isn't an idiot. Far from it. But he grins and lets one hand cup her breast, flicking his thumb over her nipple the way she likes. "Yeah," he says, sitting up and drawing her in for a kiss. "I think I did."

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Breakfast aboard *Serenity* is a loose affair; most people wander in and out as they choose. By the time Zoe and Wash make it to the kitchen, the only other people there are Mal, Kaylee, and Simon. Kaylee's finishing her breakfast, looks like, and Mal's sitting at the table lingering a bit over a cup of tea. Zoe's not entirely surprised to see Simon standing, instead of sitting; as she walks in he goes to the sink hastily, washing up his bowl. *Don't want to admit that I saw you break down, hm? Relax, doc--I got plenty of experience in keeping secrets.*

"Come join us, Simon," Kaylee says, smiling. "Why're you standin' all the way over there?"

Zoe's got to give the doctor credit; he doesn't so much as blink in embarrassment. "Actually, I was just heading to the infirmary," he says, taking his bowl to the sink. "I've got a few things I want to check on."

"Need help?" Mal asks, and that does surprise Zoe.

Simon's hesitation is almost unnoticeable--*almost*, but then again Zoe was watching for it. "No, thanks," he says, putting his bowl in the drying rack and wiping his hands on a towel. "Just some notes and inventory that need checking." He nods politely and leaves.

Kaylee shakes her head. "He wasn't but half-finished with his breakfast," she says. Looking down into her bowl, she wrinkles her nose. "Then again, maybe that's not such a bad idea." She gets up, taking her dishes over to the sink. "Cap, we gonna be making planetfall anywhere near a decent junkyard anytime soon? Got a few parts could use replacing."

"Possible. How much money are we talking?" Mal asks.

"Depends on if I can wangle a trade or not." Kaylee frowns, thinking. "Have to do some checking, see what we got that I could spare."

"Just don't toss out anything we might need," Mal cautions her.

She rolls her eyes at him. "I know that, Cap'n." Stopping by his chair briefly, she kisses him on the cheek. "See ya!" She skips off, winding her hair up into a loose bun.

"Where's everyone else?" Zoe asks, sipping her tea. She's not one for eating in the morning, unlike Wash, who's working his way through a bowl of whatever protein mush was on the stove.

Mal shrugs. "Shepherd came and went a while ago and Jayne's down in the cargo hold. Haven't seen Inara or River." He gets up, pouring himself more tea. "Wash, I need you to lay in a course to the nearest planet with a decent junkyard soon's you're done here," he says, taking his seat again. "Kaylee wouldn't ask me 'bout parts unless it was urgent." He thinks for a moment, eyes unfocused. "Try for Morocco," he says. "We should be able to find a job there."

"Sure thing." Wash glances up from his bowl. "Oh, you meant now," he says in exaggerated surprise.

Mal gives him a look. "We can get there without refueling, right?"

Wash taps his spoon against the side of his bowl. "Yeah," he says after a moment. "And have a little left over, if I'm as good as I am." He grins and gets up, bending to kiss Zoe.

Once he's gone, whistling to himself, Zoe leans back in her chair, regarding Mal thoughtfully. He looks--good, she notes with surprise. Like he actually got some sleep last night. "Everything okay, sir?" she asks.

Mal sips his tea. "Mm-hmm."

"Doc looks better today," she comments.

"Yeah."

This is Mal at his laconic best--cool, calm, not giving away a thing. Zoe sighs to herself, wondering if it's really worth it to bring this up, when it's obvious Mal would rather she didn't. *Too much at stake here. What if Kaylee or Jayne finds out about this?* She has no idea how Kaylee would react, given her crush on the doctor, and as for the mercenary--Zoe'd just as soon she didn't have to deal with that situation. "Sir--I realize you don't want to talk about it, but--"

"If you realize that, then why bring it up?" Mal interrupts mildly. "Nothing's wrong, Zoe."

"Bullshit," she says succinctly. "I got River back to bed pretty easily, but what if this happens again? We can't afford to have the doctor cracking up, not when his sister's--" Zoe shrugs, letting Mal fill in the blanks.

"He ain't gonna crack," Mal says. "He's stronger'n that."

"Could've fooled me, sir." Zoe gives him a steady look, but in the end she's the one to look away. Mal's eyes are clear, making *her* feel like the guilty party.

"He just needs someone to lean on," Mal says. "Thought you of all people would know about that."

She winces inwardly at the pointed comment. "Sir--" Zoe sighs, trying to find a way to phrase it. "I'm just wondering if this is really a good idea."

"Probably not," Mal says, surprising her. "But he's part of my crew now, and I take care of my crew."

"Is that all there is to it?" Zoe asks carefully.

Mal's eyes go shuttered. "Let it drop, Zoe," he says evenly.

Mal gives her an extraordinary amount of leeway regarding his personal life--she can ask him things no one else on the ship could get away with. But even Mal has his limits, and Zoe's just hit them. "Sorry, sir," she says, her tone making it clear that while she'll respect his boundaries, she's not happy about it. *Hwun dan...Cap'n, if you go and fall in love with that boy...*

He snorts, getting to his feet. "I'd appreciate it if you'd check with Inara, find out if she'll be needing us to stop on Morocco longer'n a day or so."

And just like that, the personal moment's over and they're back to being the captain and first mate again. "Will do," she says, going to the sink to wash out her mug.

The infirmary's on the way to Inara's shuttle...if she goes completely out of her way.

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"Something I can do for you?" Simon asks when she steps inside. He looks to be in the middle of taking inventory; there's a sheet full of neat writing on the counter and one of the cabinets is open.

"Not sure," Zoe says, leaning against the bed.

He looks at her for a moment before shrugging. "Right. Well, if you'll excuse me, I'm in the middle of seeing what supplies we've got and--"

"What are you doin' with the captain?" Zoe interrupts.

Something flashes in Simon's eyes and is immediately gone. He's smooth; Zoe has to give him that. "I don't know that it's any of your business," he says.

"If there's something affecting the way this crew works, it is my business," Zoe counters.

"I don't believe there is." Simon's not happy with her; his tone's stiff and his body language is practically screaming that he wants her to leave.

"Maybe I do."

Simon writes something down on the sheet and closes the cabinet, opening another one. "Then by all means, feel free to take it up with the captain." He looks up, his eyes cold. "Unless, of course, you've already done that and he told you to stay out of it."

Zoe's rapidly revising her estimate of the doctor. He might be shattered but he's made of titanium--there's strength in him, even if it's a bit splintered at the moment. "I don't want to see him get hurt," she says impassively.

"Well, good. That makes two of us." Simon closes the cabinet and turns to face her fully. "I don't mind the chance to exercise my surgical skills, but it is a bit tiring to have the same patient over and over again."

If his voice was any icier there'd be crystals in the air. "Funny."

"Not really." His eyes hold her in place for a long moment. "I don't claim to know or understand the depth of your relationship with the captain," he says finally. "And I'm sure you have perfectly valid reasons for wanting to protect him. So let me make this clear--I'm not trying to jeopardize anything between you, nor am I trying to upset the applecart. What's between Mal and myself is strictly that, and I'll appreciate your leaving it be."

Zoe can't remember the last time someone put her so neatly in her place. Even *Wash* doesn't usually get to her like this. "All right," she says, thankful her voice is cool and collected. "I'll do that--as long as it doesn't interfere with ship's business."

Simon nods. "It won't." He turns back to the cabinet.

For the second time that morning, Zoe acknowledges she's been dismissed and leaves.

____________________________

"Inara'd like us to stay on Morocco at least 24 hours," Zoe reports later, leaning against the bridge. "She's got a client there but he might not make it back before we do."

Mal nods. "Should be able to work that." He glances at Wash briefly. "Wash, you want to see 'bout rounding up Jayne and Kaylee for a ball game?"

Wash glances between Mal and Zoe briefly before standing up. "Yeah, okay," he says, leaving the bridge. "See you in the cargo hold in a few?"

"Sounds good."

Once Wash is gone, Mal turns to Zoe, and there's a quiet look on his face that makes her think uneasily she's in trouble. "Thought I told you to let it drop," he says evenly.

She blinks. "Thought I did," she says back, voice just as even.

"Which, of course, would be why you were in the infirmary talking to Simon. Want to explain, Zoe?"

For a moment, she can't do anything but look at him, trying to figure out how he knows.

"Simon didn't tell me," Mal says as if reading her mind. "I passed by and saw you in there." He folds his arms across his chest. "What part of 'stay out of it' did you not understand?"

"Sir, with all due respect, I have a right to be concerned. Have you given any thought to what might happen if Kaylee finds out about this? Or Jayne, for that matter?"

Mal's jaw tightens and for a long moment he's silent. "Ain't much different from what'd happen if Wash found out about us, is it?" he asks pointedly.

"There is no 'us'," Zoe says, amazed her voice isn't shaking.

"Close enough, Zoe. You really think Wash would let that pass?"

He doesn't give her a chance to respond, just pushes away from the console, heading out the door. "See you in the cargo hold," he tells her. "Should be an interesting game."

"Yeah," Zoe sighs, running one hand along the back of Wash's chair. "Should be, at that."

____________________________

Normally, their games have five players. Book doesn't usually play, Inara never does, and River prefers to watch, hanging over the catwalk railing. Most of the time, Simon stays with her. But in a surprise to everyone except Zoe, Mal motions the doctor to come down and join them. "We need even numbers."

"Never did before," Jayne grumbles.

"What's wrong, Jayne--can't handle it? Doc'll be on our team."

"I don't know," Simon demurs, even as he walks over to them. "I don't really know how to play."

"Relax, Simon--it ain't like we have rules or anything." Kaylee grins. "C'mon, it'll be fun!"

Simon looks down at his clothes for a moment, then shrugs. "All right. But don't blame me if we lose," he says lightly.

They split into two teams of three--Wash, Jayne, and Kaylee against Zoe, Mal, and Simon--and the game begins.

Zoe's distracted; she's trying to focus on the game but she keeps seeing Simon, huddled on the floor with his sister in his lap. Half the time when she looks at Mal she sees the concern on his face, the way he reached out for River, his hand on her shoulder. The other half she sees him kneeling on the floor, his back striped with red from the whip.

It makes playing more than a little difficult. Fortunately--and surprisingly, at that--Simon turns out to be damn good at the game. He's light on his feet, managing to get around Wash and pass the ball to Mal before Wash can turn to grab it back. And while he's not tall enough to get the ball through the hoop, he's good at blocking Jayne from doing so.

"One more goal and that's it," Mal says when they're all panting and sweaty and the score is 5-5. "We do have work to do on this boat."

Because it's the last round, the game is more rambunctious than usual. Zoe nearly hits the floor when Wash bumps into her and Simon has to literally dive out of the way of Jayne and Kaylee before he gets tackled. Zoe watches in amazement as he turns it into a somersault and comes up on his feet right under Wash's nose, stealing the ball before Wash can do more than blink.

"Simon!" Mal calls. "Over here!" He grins at Zoe, who's on Mal's right side. "Ready?" he asks; Zoe doesn't need him to spell it out.

Simon comes running over; before Jayne can take the ball back, Zoe grabs one side of Simon, Mal gets the other, and they hoist him into the air, letting him throw it straight through the hoop. "The end!" Zoe cries, letting Simon drop easily to the floor.

"Okay," Jayne says, shaking his head. "Where in hell did you ruttin' learn to do that?"

Simon looks a little embarrassed. "When--River used to take dance lessons," he says, glancing up at his sister. "I couldn't dance, and I didn't want to, but she took gymnastics for a few years as well. She insisted on teaching me some of what she learned--her logic went something like if I was going to understand the way the human body worked, I should understand how it moved as well." He wipes sweat off his face with his sleeve. "I've forgotten most of it."

"That didn't look like forgettin' to me," Wash says, shaking his head.

Zoe silently agrees with him.

Simon shakes his head. "No--that was simple. River, though--" He looks wistful. "She made it look effortless."

"Aw, Simon, that's so sweet!" Kaylee says, smiling.

"Yeah." Simon doesn't look happy at the memory; it's easy to realize why.

"Okay, let's get to work," Mal says briskly, breaking the moment. "We're making planetfall in--how long, Wash?"

"Bout eight hours."

"You all know what needs doing. Let's get to it." Mal tosses the ball to Jayne, who puts it away.

Zoe heads for the bridge, intending to check out the situation on Morocco and see what kinds of jobs they might be able to find. But she's stopped by River, who stands in front of her, eyes grave. "You think they'll break each other," she says. "But they won't."

Zoe doesn't say anything. She understands what River means and isn't sure how she feels about that.

"Puzzle pieces," River says. "They fit together." She links her fingers together, demonstrating. "Different pictures but there's nothing on the box anyway." River reaches out, touching Zoe on the back of her hand. "You fit too. Everyone does."

Before Zoe can respond, River smiles and wanders off, skipping down the stairs to catch up with Kaylee. "This just isn't my morning," Zoe sighs, heading for the bridge again.

____________________________

Kaylee's humming under her breath. She's in a good mood--and why shouldn't she be? Sure, they lost the game this morning, but she did get to see Simon all sweaty and mussed, which in her mind is just the way he ought to look. And they've got some spare engine parts she should be able to trade for the ones she needs. She ain't never been to Morocco but once, and they were only there for a couple hours, but she remembers it being pretty. And warm. That's what she remembers about Morocco--it was warm.

She sees the captain in the infirmary, talking to Simon, and hangs back, not wanting to interrupt. "You all right?" the captain's asking.

Simon nods, writing something down on a piece of paper. "I'm--I'm fine, Mal."

Kaylee frowns; since when did Simon call the captain by his name?

"You didn't hurt me, if that's what you were worried about."

"Just checking." Mal rests his hand on Simon's shoulder. "Noticed you weren't sitting down at breakfast."

Simon flushes. "Yes, well..." He steps away from Mal neatly. "I said you didn't hurt me. I didn't say I wasn't sore."

Kaylee feels something ice-cold settle in her belly. Captain doesn't bed with the crew--it's one of his unspoken rules. Everyone knows that, don't they?

"I spoke to Zoe," the captain's saying now. Zoe? What the hell does she have to do with this? "She had no call talking to you the way she did."

"She wants to protect you," Simon says. He turns around, facing the captain. "It's an admirable trait."

"She still had no call to do it."

"She had about as much right as you did sneaking into my bunk the first night," Simon points out.

Kaylee's eyes fill with tears and she backs away, slowly. The first night? No. No, Cap'n wouldn't do that. He wouldn't. He doesn't--she's out of earshot now, and the tears are falling even as she scrubs them away. How could Simon do this to her? How could he be all sweet and flirty and tell her she was pretty and then go jump into the captain's bed?

Captain couldn't have known. She has to believe that. He couldn't have known how she felt about Simon or he wouldn't have done this. "He wouldn't do that to me," she says shakily. Cap's a good man. But Simon--"Bastard," she whispers, her tears beginning to dry up. Oh, she has a few words to say to Doctor Simon Tam.

Maybe she'll just hit him with a wrench instead.

She's halfway to the bridge before she realizes where she's going. Just as well--she wants to talk to Zoe and odds are she'll be there, cuddled up with Wash.

"Kaylee?" Sure enough, Zoe's on the bridge, sitting in Wash's lap.

She forces a smile from somewhere. "Hey Zoe, hey Wash. Listen--Zoe, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Zoe kisses Wash on the forehead and stands up, following Kaylee down to her bunk. "What's wrong, Kaylee?" she asks.

She doesn't waste time. "How long've the captain and the doctor been bedding down together?" she asks, folding her arms tightly across her chest.

Zoe closes her eyes briefly. "This just ain't my morning," she mutters.

"How long?" Kaylee demands.

"About a week." Zoe sighs, sitting down on Kaylee's bunk. "It's-not what you think, Kaylee."

"How the ruttin' hell can it not be what I think?"

"It's complicated." Zoe chews on her lower lip, looking truly uncomfortable for the first time since Kaylee's known her. "And you probably need to talk to the doctor or Cap about it."

"Oh, I will," Kaylee says darkly. "Who else knows?"

"No one," Zoe says immediately. "Well, River, I suppose, but it's hard to tell what she knows and what she doesn't."

Kaylee nods tightly. "Ta ma duh hwun dan," she spits out. "Bastard!"

"Kaylee--he honestly didn't mean to hurt you."

"Captain, no. Ain't him I'm mad at."

Zoe stands up. "I meant Simon."

"How could he not think--is he that oblivious?"

"He's in that much pain," Zoe says quietly.

"He's gonna be in a lot more soon." Kaylee climbs up the ladder and out of her bunk, leaving Zoe to follow her as she heads back to the infirmary.

"Hey Kay--" It's all Simon gets out before she punches him in the stomach. He bends double, gasping for air, and she hits him again, clipping his jaw and sending him falling to the floor.

"How could you?" she demands.

He sits up warily, one hand on his jaw; she sees blood trickling down through his fingers and realizes she split his lip. "Can I stand, or are you going to hit me again?"

"I'm done for now," she tells him. "Start talking and maybe I won't hit you again."

Painfully, Simon pulls himself to his feet, wetting a cloth and wiping his face. "I didn't mean to," he says quietly. "I never--" He shakes his head. "Kaylee, I never meant to hurt you."

"How could you?" she asks again. "How could you be so nice and then--" Kaylee gestures, at a loss for words. "Was it all a game to you?"

"No! God, no. It was never a game." Simon sighs.

"Then what was it?" She's going to start crying in a minute if she's not careful.

"I--" Simon stops, plainly looking for words. "You're my friend, Kaylee. And I thought--I thought that there could maybe be something more. You're a wonderful person, Kaylee, and if things were different--" Simon stops again, looking down at the floor.

"Don't give me that go-se," she snaps. "Why him, Simon? You could have just told me you were sly--that, at least, I'd have understood!"

"I'm not sly!" Simon retorts. "Well--not completely. I like women, too."

"Why didn't you *tell* me?" Kaylee asks, her anger fading. It helps that Simon looks utterly miserable; his lip's bleeding and he'll have a bruise on his face where she socked him. But on top of that, he looks upset. Like he really didn't mean any of this.

"I couldn't," he whispers. "This isn't about love, Kaylee. It's--"

"Everyone needs someone to lean on from time to time," Mal says, walking in. He raises an eyebrow at the sight of Simon's face. "Anything broken, Doc?"

Kaylee turns to the door and sees Zoe standing there. Of course she'd have gone to get Mal; what else would Zoe have done?

Simon shakes his head. "Hurt worse the first time you hit me," he says, rewetting the cloth and cleaning his face. "But if I'm to keep getting punched in the face by crew members, I think we need to talk about compensation."

The captain snorts. "Yeah, you're fine." He turns to Kaylee. "How're you doing?"

She shakes her head, fighting not to cry. "I'm gonna go check on the engines," she says dully. "See what we need."

"I'll go with you."

She doesn't bother to protest and it's not until they're halfway to the engine room that she says anything. "Why's he need someone to lean on?" she asks.

"Sometimes, Kaylee...sometimes life's just too much and the only way to get through it is to find someone who's been there." Mal sighs. "Mei mei, if you need to blame someone, blame me."

"Why?"

He stops, turning to face her. "Simon didn't come to me," he says. "I went to him."

Kaylee can feel her eyes widen. "Captain, *why*?"

Mal sighs again. "When you're that far down, you don't want to ask anyone to help you because everything around you is dark and you don't want them to get lost."

"But why'd you go to him?" Kaylee persists.

"He needed help," Mal says simply. "And there wasn't anyone else on this boat he'd take it from, like as not."

"What's so--" Kaylee shakes her head, confused. "I thought River was getting better. Why's he hurting like this?"

Mal shakes his head. "That's his place to tell you, Kaylee. Not mine."

"I won't tell anyone," she says suddenly.

"I didn't think you would." Mal hugs her one-armed, kissing the top of her head. "You gonna be okay, little Kaylee?"

She sighs and hugs back, leaning against him for a long, comfortable moment. "Yeah," she says finally. "Yeah, I'll be okay."

"Don't be too hard on him, okay?"

Kaylee grins. "I already punched him, Cap'n. I ain't gonna do it again."

"Wasn't what I meant." Mal ruffles her hair. "Although I would appreciate it if you didn't hit crew members."

"Yeah, I'll leave that for you," Kaylee says, laughing. "I'll apologize, okay?"

"Don't have to do that. Just go easy on him, if you can."

"I'll do my best." Kaylee stretches up and kisses Mal on the cheek. "You're a good man, Cap."

He smiles a little. "I am not. I'm a mean old man."

"No," she says, shaking her head. "You wouldn't be with Simon if you were." With that, she leaves him standing there, heading for the engine room. She's still hurt, and angry, and she doesn't understand half of what's going on--but it's enough, for now.

____________________________

As soon as she's gone, Mal hightails it back to the infirmary, half-afraid of what he'll find there. Much to his relief, he sees Simon in the lounge first, reading something while pressing an icepack to his jaw. "I'd rather not have to explain the bruise," he says, looking up as Mal enters. "There's some cream in the infirmary but I figured I'd go for ice first."

Mal nods. "Makes sense." He sits down at the other end of the couch. "Kaylee'll be all right," he says.

"Good." Simon sighs. "I never meant--" He puts the icepack down. "I never meant for any of this to happen," he says quietly.

"Strange thing about life. Stuff happens whether you mean it to or not."

"Much as I appreciate your philosophical bent, it's not all that comforting." Simon closes his book, tossing it on the table. "Kaylee was my first friend on the ship, and I hate the fact that I've hurt her like this."

Mal nods. There really isn't anything he can say to that. "Where's your sister?" he asks instead, changing the subject.

Simon frowns, thinking. "I think she was going to go keep Kaylee company." He sighs again. "Great."

"Kaylee said she'd keep quiet, if that's any help."

"It would help if River didn't already know." Simon puts the icepack back on his jaw. "Nine people on this boat, five know, and so far no one's found out because someone told them. You want to lay odds on how long it'll be before everyone else knows?"

"Given our crew...no, not particularly." *If Wash hasn't figured it out already he will soon. And as for the rest...tzao gao, but that won't be fun. Specially Jayne.*

"Didn't think so." Simon shifts the icepack to his other hand, shaking the one that was holding it. "Too gorram cold," he mutters. "So what do we do then?"

Mal shrugs. "Deal with it when it happens. Not like I'm treatin' you any differently when we're working."

"What you do isn't the problem. The way people perceive it will be."

"We'll deal with it when it happens," Mal repeats. He's just not up for thinking about it right now. Not after dealing with Zoe and Kaylee already.

Simon seems to catch some of this because he leans forward, putting the ice pack down. "I don't want to end this," he says. "Whatever this is. I'm just--thinking ahead."

"I know." *Whatever this is, indeed. Damn if I know.* Mal glances around, making sure they're alone. "I never got a chance to talk to you about something last night," he says.

"Oh?"

"What was that your sister said about not sleeping if it's not a story night?" Mal watches him carefully, waiting for a response. He's not disappointed; Simon tenses briefly and he closes his eyes.

"Nothing," he says, opening his eyes again.

Mal clamps down on his anger savagely. "What was it I told you last night about lyin' to me?" he asks softly.

"I'm not lying, Mal." Simon shifts, wincing a little as he does so. "It's really nothing."

"If you're not sleeping it ain't nothing."

"I'm sleeping," Simon mutters, sounding like a sulky child; Mal has to hide a smile. Sometimes, getting under Simon's skin is just too easy. "I just don't sleep as well."

"If I'm not there?" Mal prompts.

"Pathetic, isn't it?" Simon gives him a wry smile. "I'm twenty-five, I'm a fully qualified trauma surgeon, I've been on my own essentially since medacad...and I can't sleep on my own."

"Not pathetic. Understandable, given the circumstances." *And not all that different from me, waking up all wrapped around you and not wanting to get out of bed.*

"And what circumstances would those be?" Simon asks. "The ones where I'm losing my mind?"

Mal ignores him. He's discovered it's the best thing to do when Simon's in a mood like this.

"Not lost," River says, walking in. "Just let go for a little while." She has a smudge of grease on one cheek and her hair's pinned up haphazardly in a loose bun. "You can get it back." River wipes at the grease, succeeding in smearing it onto her hand and over the rest of her face.

"River, here, let me help you with that." Simon gets up, taking the towel wrapped around the icepack and scrubbing at her face. She makes a face but lets him get the grease off. "Helping Kaylee?" he asks.

She nods, pulling away from him. "Sad Kaylee. Doesn't understand."

Simon turns away, folding the towel, but not before Mal sees the miserable expression on his face.

"You should tell her," River says.

"Tell her what, mei mei?"

She puts one hand on his chest, right where the scar is. "Patience," she says.

Simon pales and steps away so fast he nearly trips and falls. He does stumble, in fact, and ends up grabbing the back of the couch to steady himself. "Don't, River," he says, whispers really. "Don't."

"She deserves to know."

"She shouldn't have to know any more than you did!" Simon shouts at her. Immediately, he seems to slump, closing his eyes and passing a hand over his face. "I'm sorry, River...I didn't mean that."

River hugs him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I had to see," she says into his shirt. "Couldn't--I hear, Simon, and sometimes it's outside and sometimes it's not and I don't understand but I can't stop."

He hugs her back, swallowing. "I know, mei mei. It's not your fault."

"No one's fault," River says.

Simon sighs. "I know." He kisses the top of River's head. "I was reading Tolkien before. Do you want me to read to you?"

River considers this; Mal watches her thinking about it. "Which one?" she asks.

"The *Hobbit*."

Mal's never heard of the book but obviously River has; her eyes light up and she nods eagerly. "You...used to read that to me," she says slowly.

Simon smiles. "I did."

They settle on the couch, River in Simon's lap, and he picks up the book and begins to read. For lack of anything else to do, Mal stays. Simon doesn't seem to mind; in fact, he looks up, smiling a little when he sees Mal there. "It's a fantasy story," he explains. "From Earth-that-was." He turns a page and begins to read, his voice low and soothing.

Mal's a little surprised at how interesting he's finding the story. He has no idea what a hobbit is and only vague ideas about dwarves from tales his grandma used to tell him. But Simon's a good reader, making different voices for the different characters, and the story itself is fun. Mal closes his eyes, listening to Simon read about travels and handkerchiefs and dragons.

Simon stops reading after a while and Mal opens his eyes, surprised to see Kaylee sitting cross-legged on the floor, chin in her hands. "That was real pretty, Simon," she says. She gives him a tentative smile. "Where'd you learn to read like that?"

"River used to make me read to her when we were little," Simon says. He looks at his sister fondly; she grins and jumps out of his lap. "She liked my stories better than the ones our--parents used to tell her." The hesitation is almost unnoticeable; Mal's sure Kaylee didn't pick up on it.

"Could you read some more?" Kaylee asks shyly. "I never got to hear stories like that growing up."

It's an obvious peace offering on her part. Mal finds himself grateful when Simon smiles, picking up on it. "Not right now," he says. "My throat's a little dry. But maybe after dinner?"

She perks up instantly. "I'd like that," she says.

Simon looks pleased and embarrassed all at once. "So would I," he admits.

____________________________

The rest of the trip to Morocco is quiet, for which Mal is also grateful. Zoe's got a line on a job or two and they spend some time discussing the possibilities before agreeing to try for one. "Pay isn't as good," Zoe points out with a shrug.

"No, but it's enough to keep us in the air and I'd just as soon avoid the Alliance."

Zoe nods. "With you there, sir."

"So I hear there are *beaches* on Morocco," Wash interjects. "Do my ears deceive me? Are we going somewhere there could actually be *swimming*?"

"Depends on how long we're on planet," Mal says, tempted by the idea. The crew could use some shore leave, and they might just have the time for it. "I wouldn't go putting on your swim trunks."

"No, sir, my thought was for the *nude* swimming." Wash leers playfully at Zoe, who laughs and swats him on the shoulder.

Mal ignores them--or pretends to, at any rate. "How long 'til we reach Morocco?" he asks, interrupting them before they can get truly gooey.

"Ah--" Wash disentangles himself from Zoe, checking something on the console. "About four hours, sir."

Mal nods. "All right. Don't crash."

"Sir, yes sir!" Wash calls after him as he leaves.

____________________________

Once he's gone, Wash pulls Zoe back into his lap, nuzzling her neck and making her laugh. "I'm really liking this idea of swimming," he says. "Or maybe you could just swim and I could watch you swim, all graceful and strong and nude...did I mention the nude?"

Zoe laughs and hooks an arm around his shoulders. "No sex anywhere that has sand," she says firmly.

"Got it. No sex on the sand." Wash pretends to tick something off on a list. "Gotta admit it's not a big thrill of mine, either. He hugs her closer, playing with her hair absently. "Seeing you naked, on the other hand--that's *always* a thrill."

"You're insatiable," Zoe says, but she's smiling.

"It's why you love me, isn't it?" Wash grins and kisses her shoulder. "So--you want to tell me how long Mal's been sleeping with the doc?"

Zoe buries her face in her hands. "This isn't my day," she groans. "How the hell'd you find out?"

"A clue here, a clue there." Wash shrugs. "I put it together."

Wash is her husband, and yet Zoe has a tendency to forget just how smart he is. In some areas, anyway. "About a week," she says, raising her head. "I think."

Wash nods. "Sounds about right. Was I the last one to figure it out?"

"No, not by a long shot. I think." Zoe sighs. "River knows, Kaylee found out this morning, and now you. Don't know about the others."

"If they haven't found out yet, they will. Kind of hard to keep secrets on this boat."

"Yeah." Zoe leans her head against his shoulder. "I know."

"Zoe, my love, you seem rather uncomfortable with this whole thing. Is there a problem here I should know about?"

*No, sweetie. Just--Simon's a cutter, and Mal's probably doing to him what I do to Mal, but I can't tell you about that even if I wanted to, which I don't, so please just let this drop.* "I guess not," she says. "I'm just not sure it's a good idea."

Wash shrugs. "They're both adults," he points out. "And the doc might be a good thing for Mal."

"More like the other way around," Zoe mutters.

"That too." Wash leans back and snags one of his dinosaurs, trotting it across Zoe's lap. "So, about this whole nude swimming idea?"

____________________________

Once on Morocco, the crew splits up. Zoe, Mal, and Jayne go in search of work, Inara goes off to her client, and Kaylee and Wash head for the junkyard. Book, surprisingly, says he'll watch River so Simon can go looking for medical supplies. Much to Simon's relief, River doesn't have a problem with this.

Finding what he needs is easy enough. Haggling the price down to something he can afford is a little more difficult, but Simon's gotten good at bargaining since he set foot on *Serenity*.

"Tell you what," the shop owner says when it looks like they're not going to be able to reach a compromise. "You an actual doctor or just buyin' the stuff?"

"I'm a doctor," Simon admits.

The owner nods. "My wife's six months pregnant and we ain't got a doctor in the area--well, one that's sober, at any rate. If you're willin' to look her over, I'll give you the whole bundle for five platinum."

Five platinum's about two platinum less than Simon had expected to pay. "Done," he says instantly. "Where's your wife?"

It feels good to use his skills like this, Simon thinks later as the shop owner packages up his supplies. It's nice to treat someone who's bringing life into the world, instead of dealing with implements of death and injury. As he walks back to the ship, he briefly contemplates the idea of bartering his medical skills for supplies on other planets, but dismisses it. He can't take the chance.

His good mood evaporates like ethyl alcohol spilled on a counter.

Mal and Zoe are back on the ship, but it doesn't look like anyone else has returned yet. "Get what you needed, Doc?" Mal asks, seeing the packages Simon's carrying.

He nods. "There's a surprisingly well-stocked place in town." Something keeps him from mentioning the bargain he struck; Mal would probably lecture him on why that's not a good idea and Simon's just not up for it at the moment. "I'll go get this put away."

"Need help?"

"No, it's nothing big. Shouldn't take long." Simon hurries to the infirmary, stowing away drugs and needles with the efficiency of long practice. When he returns to the cargo bay, Wash and Kaylee have returned, Kaylee bouncing over some part she's cradling in her arms.

"It's practically brand-new, Cap!" she squeals.

Mal smiles and ruffles her hair. "So this'll keep us flying?"

"Oh yeah. I'm gonna go install it now." Kaylee dashes off, still holding the--whatever it is--tenderly.

"So, we got a job?" Wash asks.

"We got a job. Nothing exciting--we'll be ferrying cargo to Demeter, but it ain't animals and it pays enough. Plus we got a contact in Demeter now who might be able to hook us up with something once we get there." Mal looks satisfied. "Only thing is the cargo won't be here until tomorrow, so we got some down time."

"Oh, the horror!" Wash exclaims dramatically, pretending to faint against Zoe. "Whatever shall we *do*?"

Mal snorts. "There's a lake nearby," he says. "Public swimming, so no nakedness. But it is swimming."

Wash sighs. "There is a conspiracy to keep me from seeing--"

"Finish that sentence and you'll wish you hadn't," Mal interrupts wryly. Silently, Simon thanks him.

"So how about it, sweetie? You, me, moonlight swimming..."

"Swimming?" Jayne asks, strolling up the ramp. "Who's going swimming?"

"Anyone who wants," Mal says. "Got some down time waiting for our cargo to arrive."

"Shiny."

____________________________

Dinner's a livelier affair than usual, which is fun. "I can't remember the last time I went swimming," Kaylee muses. "Not since I left home, and not for a long while before that." She grins. "Pa wouldn't let me go swimmin' after he caught me with the boy from next door."

"What about you, Simon?" Wash asks. "You go swimming on Osiris?"

Simon nods, swallowing. "My parents insisted I find some form of physical activity to do so I chose swimming." Next to him, River shudders.

"Too much water," she says in disgust.

"But it's fun! You mean you ain't never been?" Kaylee asks.

River shakes her head violently. "Too much water," she repeats, starting to become agitated.

"Hey, mei mei, it's all right. No one's going to make you go swimming," Simon soothes, trying to calm her down. After a moment, River subsides, sitting quietly at the table.

"If you would like to go swimming, I can keep an eye on River," Book says to Simon. "I believe we're establishing a rapport."

Simon's about to say yes when he realizes something. Swimming means taking off his shirt, which means--"No, that's all right," he says hastily. "I'll be fine."

River pokes him. "Go swimming," she says.

"I'd rather spend time with you." He says it out of reflex, most of him wishing he could jump into the water.

"C'mon, Doc," Wash says. "If the shepherd here's willing to watch your sister, why not join us?"

"We'll see," he temporizes. Unfortunately, much as he tries, he can't think of a way out.

As it turns out, they all end up going to the lake after dinner, which is practically empty now that the sun's setting. There's a dock sticking out into the water and a sign that says "Dive ONLY from here!!" on it. Kaylee wastes no time shedding clothes; once she's stripped down to her underwear she runs into the water, laughing. "Oh, man," she says, coming up. "It's wonderful!"

The rest of the crew takes a little more time getting wet. Zoe wades in deliberately until it's about chest-high; then she ducks under, surfacing several feet away. "Coming in, sweetie?" she calls to Wash.

Wash's swim trunks are patterned about as wildly as his shirts; Simon has to hide a laugh as he sees them. "Right behind you, babe," Wash says, running off the dock and jumping into the water with a huge splash. She laughs, swimming away, and the two of them chase each other around for a while before Wash catches her--or she lets him catch her, Simon's not sure.

Mal and Jayne entered the water while Simon was watching Wash and Zoe; they're playing some complicated game of tag with Kaylee, who appears to be It. She shrieks with laughter as Jayne ducks under her, standing up with her on his shoulders.

"Come on, Simon!" Kaylee shouts.

He shakes his head, smiling. "I'll just watch," he calls back.

"What's wrong, Doc--scared of the water?" Jayne asks, crouching down so Kaylee can slide off his shoulders.

"He ain't scared," Kaylee says defensively. "You heard him say he used to swim."

"Right, so why ain't he in the water now?" Jayne asks.

"Maybe he just doesn't want to swim," Mal suggests.

"Or maybe he's scared of it."

"Go on, son," Book says kindly. "River seems to be fine." And she is, playing some complicated game with stones and sticks and humming to herself.

"C'mon, Simon," Kaylee urges. "Please?"

If it had been anyone but Kaylee, Simon would have been able to say no. But he's feeling guilty about hurting her and he wants to make it up to her, somehow. *Please, God, let it be dark enough to hide the scars. Please.* He walks out on the dock, waiting until he's halfway out to strip out of his outer clothes. Looking down at his chest tells him what he already knew; anyone looking will be able to see the scars.

"So?" Jayne says derisively. "You gonna come in or you just gonna stay there?"

Simon walks to the edge of the dock, takes a deep breath, and dives into the water. It's a clean dive, surprisingly so given that he hasn't done this in years. The water feels like cool silk against his skin and the bottom of the lake is soft sand under his fingers. On impulse, he grabs a rock, bringing it up with him to the surface.

"Shiny!" Kaylee says, grinning at him.

He smiles, grateful it's deep enough to tread water. "For you," he says, holding out his hand with the rock on it. "A souvenir."

"Aw, Simon, you didn't have to do that!" Kaylee swims over to him and kisses him on the cheek. "I'm just gonna put this with my clothes," she says, heading for shore.

"Nice dive," Mal says.

"Thanks." Simon pushes his hair off his face, careful to keep himself submerged below the neck.

"So who's it?" Kaylee asks, swimming back over to them.

"I think the doc should be," Jayne drawls.

"Whatcha think, Simon? Up for it?" Kaylee's eyes sparkle and Simon realizes there's no way he can say no.

"Sure," he says. "What are the rules?"

It's less complicated than he thought and a minute later he's swimming after the three of them. Simon decides on impulse to go after Jayne, knowing he can catch the mercenary easily. And he does; it's not even two minutes later before he tags Jayne, darting away before Jayne can catch him.

Jayne manages to tag Mal, who tries for Simon but ends up getting Kaylee. "Oh, man," Kaylee complains, even as she's giggling. "Come on, guys..."

"Think you can catch us, little Kaylee?" Mal teases.

"Gonna try!" She flips underwater and starts heading for Simon, who tries to swim out of the way only to find it blocked by Jayne. Before Simon can find another way around him, Kaylee grabs him from behind, her hands on his chest.

*Oh, shit.*

"Gotcha!" Kaylee crows. "Simon, is there seaweed or somethin' in the water? Cause..." Her voice trails off as she realizes that whatever she's feeling, it's not seaweed. "Simon?" she asks hesitantly.

"Yes?" Slowly, he turns around, keeping only his head above water.

Kaylee frowns, looking down. "What--" She reaches out with one hand, brushing her fingers over the scars on his chest. "Simon, what are those?"

"Nothing," he says, praying she'll accept the answer.

"That's not nothing," she insists.

"It's really nothing." Simon cringes inwardly as he realizes that they're drawing attention; Jayne has swum over by them, as has Mal.

"So that pretty skin of yours ain't so unmarked after all," Jayne sneers. "What's wrong, don't wanna show off the scars?"

"Leave it alone, Jayne," Simon says tightly.

"No, this I gotta see. What'd you do, doc--wear the wrong vest to a party? Someone take offense?" Jayne snorts.

"I said leave it *alone*!" Simon dives underwater, getting about three feet before Jayne grabs his leg and pulls him back, hoisting him up.

"C'mon, Doc. We all got scars. What's so embarrassin' bout yours?"

"Jayne, I think the doctor wanted you to leave him alone," Mal says in that quiet tone that anyone knows to take as a warning. Anyone with brains, Simon amends mentally, since Jayne isn't letting go.

"Aw, hell, Mal, I ain't gonna hurt him." Jayne holds Simon up by one arm, keeping his chest mostly out of the water. "Just wanna see, is all."

"Oh my God," Kaylee whispers, seeing them. "Simon--what happened? Who did this to you?"

"I told you to leave him alone, Jayne," Mal says coldly. "I think you and me have to have a talk about followin' orders."

Jayne still hasn't looked. "Shit, you'd think--" He turns, seeing the scars. "Ruttin' hell," he says, letting Simon go in shock.

He doesn't waste any time, swimming as fast as he can for the dock and his shirt. Kaylee's right behind him, calling his name, but he ignores her, scrambling out and pulling his shirt on with clumsy fingers.

"Simon!" Kaylee grabs his arm. Her eyes are bright with tears. "Simon, who--who did that to you?"

It would be so easy to lie, to make up a story so he doesn't have to see the disgust in her eyes. But this is Kaylee, sunshine personified, and he can't lie to her. "No one did it to me, Kaylee," he says, pulling on his pants. "I did it to myself."

She stares at him. "Why, Simon?" she asks, her voice shaking.

"I--" He sinks down on the dock, arms wrapped around his knees. "Have you ever been so angry, so frustrated, that all you can do is scream?"

She nods, sitting down opposite him. "Used to get that way a lot with my ma," she says.

"Yeah. Well--" Simon sighs. "Sometimes you can't scream." He looks down at his knees. "I couldn't."

"So--you did that?" Kaylee asks, raising one hand to point at his chest.

He nods, not able to look at her. He can't stand to see what's in her eyes.

"Oh, Simon..." To his surprise, it's not pity or disgust in her voice, just sympathy. "Simon, I didn't know--I'm so sorry." She leans forward, hugging him tightly.

"It's not your fault, Kaylee," he says, his arms going around her slowly.

"I know that." She sniffles, pulling back. "So--that's why the captain?"

He nods. "Yeah."

"Okay." She's crying a little but doesn't seem to care.

The dock vibrates with another person's weight--persons, Simon amends, looking up and seeing Mal and Jayne standing there.

"I--" Jayne crouches down next to him. "Shit, Simon, I didn't know." He exhales awkwardly. "I'm sorry," he blurts.

Simon nods. He can't forgive Jayne, not yet, and says as much. "Just--stay away from me right now, Jayne," he says evenly.

Jayne nods and stands up, walking away quickly. Mal remains, looking down at Simon and Kaylee.

"You okay?" he asks; Simon's not sure which one of them he's talking to.

"I think we'll get there," Simon says, looking at Kaylee.

She nods, wiping tears off her face. "I'm gonna head back to the ship," she says, getting to her feet. "Night, Simon. Night, Cap'n." She gives them both a little wave, jogging off to get her clothes.

"She'll be all right," Mal says, looking after her. "Kaylee's got a core of diamond to her."

"Yeah." Simon pulls himself to his feet. "And we all know I don't."

"No, you've got something else." Mal frowns a little, thinking. "Not sure what yet."

"When you figure it out, let me know." Simon looks down at his wet clothes with a grimace. "I think I'm going to head back and change into something dry," he says ruefully.

"I'll go with you."

"You don't have to."

Mal shrugs. "Don't much care for swimming on my own and Zoe and Wash ain't exactly good company right now."

Simon laughs, looking back at the lake and seeing the two of them, lazily floating on the water. "No, I guess they're not."

"I'd appreciate it if you stayed in my bunk tonight," Mal says abruptly.

"Why? Afraid I'm going to hurt myself?" Simon shakes his head. "I won't."

"Didn't say that." Mal stops on shore to pick up his clothes. "I'd just rather you were there."

"Why?" Simon asks again.

They're about two-thirds of the way to the ship before Mal speaks. "Liked having you there last night," he says simply. "Wouldn't mind having you there again."

Simon's sure there's more to it than that but he doesn't push the issue. It's entirely possible that Mal wants him there for his own comfort, not just Simon's. *He was rather...wrapped around you this morning. Felt nice, actually.* "Okay," he says. "I can do that."
 
   
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