Title: Knight's Move
Summary: Sometimes games don't go the the way you want them to.
The knock on Inara's shuttle door isn't a surprise; she's been
expecting it. The only question is who's *at* the door--it could be
Book, or Kaylee, or even Mal, although she doubts that. "Come in," she
says politely, arranging herself on the couch in a welcoming fashion.
"You were missed at supper," Book says, carrying a tray. "I thought you
might like some food."
She smiles graciously. "Thank you, Shepherd. I appreciate it."
Book sets the tray down, but makes no move to leave. "Is everything all
right?" he asks.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Inara asks.
He shrugs. "I'm not sure. Call it a preacher's instinct. You missed
some fun after supper, by the way."
"Oh?" Inara uncovers the tray, beginning to eat neatly. The food's
good, for once, and she realizes Book must have cooked.
"Apparently Simon used to read to his sister when they were younger. It
seems they've resurrected the tradition, only this time his audience is
somewhat larger." Book smiles. "I must say, I never thought I'd see
Jayne listening that intently to anything that didn't involve money."
Inara has to laugh at that. "Who else is listening? And please,
Shepherd, sit down."
He inclines his head, taking a seat opposite her. "Everyone,
actually--well, except for yourself. Apparently, River and Kaylee have
convinced Simon to make this a nightly routine from now on."
It makes sense--Simon won't deny his sister anything if he thinks it'll
help her, and this certainly can't hurt. And she doubts Simon can say
no to Kaylee right now; he's too aware of having hurt her. Inara
doesn't think Kaylee realizes this--she certainly wouldn't take
advantage of it even if she did--but between the two girls, Simon
doesn't have a way out. "Perhaps I'll listen in tomorrow," she says,
knowing she won't.
"I think you'd enjoy it." Book smiles. "I know I did." For a moment,
Book pauses, as if thinking how best to phrase his next statement. "May
I ask you a question?" he says finally.
"Were you--or rather, are you aware of the changed circumstances
between the captain and the doctor?"
Now that was a question she wasn't expecting. Inara's grateful, once
again, to her training; it allows her to nod without showing surprise
or upset. "I was," she says. "Kaylee came to speak to me this morning."
"What do you think of it?" Book asks curiously.
*Oh, Shepherd, don't ask me that. I don't know.* "If they're happy
together, then it's a good thing," she says calmly. "Both Mal and Simon
have been alone for a long time."
"True, but not quite what I was asking." Book smiles. "Are you all
right with it?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Inara smiles back, sipping her water.
"I'm not sure...I suppose I was concerned over nothing." Book shrugs,
rising to his feet. "I just thought I'd ask."
"Shepherd--do you know where I might find the captain?" Inara asks. She
does want to talk to him about this, regardless of her personal
"The last I saw, he and Simon were headed for his quarters to play
chess," Book says.
So much for that idea. "Thank you," she says. "And thank you for
He smiles. "It was my pleasure."
Left alone, Inara allows herself a moment of worry. *Mal, do you know
what you're getting yourself into?*
Simon stares at the chessboard, disbelieving, replaying the last few
moves in his head. "Well, fuck," he says, shaking his head.
Mal smiles, gathering up the pieces. "You got distracted. Any reason
*Yes. You're sprawled out on that bed like the living embodiment of sex
and tzao gao, all I want to do is drink you in...* "No," Simon says. "I
guess I just wasn't paying attention. Rematch?"
"No." Mal smiles, slowly. "Not in the mood for chess."
"Oh?" Simon puts the board on the floor, shifting to his knees.
"C'mere." Mal reaches for him, drawing Simon into his arms. "Thought we
could both use this," he says softly, kissing the corner of Simon's
"Mmm." Simon settles against Mal's chest, one arm around Mal's neck.
"You mean, have sex without you tying me up?"
Mal laughs and kisses him again, deeper this time. "Unless you'd rather
"I think..." Simon closes his eyes, amazed at how good he feels, just
from the simple comfort of being in Mal's arms. "Not tonight."
"All right." Mal bites his earlobe, making Simon shiver. "What do you
Simon opens his eyes, leans forward and kisses Mal briefly. What he
wants--he can't say it, can't say the words, so he slides down Mal's
body, mouthing his cock through the fabric of his pants. "This," he
says, reaching for the button of Mal's pants. "I want this."
"Simon--" Mal's voice is already ragged, and Simon hears him gasp when
the pants get unfastened and pushed out of the way.
God, he hasn't done this in so long, not since medacad...Simon cuts off
that train of thought, and focuses himself on Mal's cock. They've been
sleeping together for over a week now and this is the first chance he's
really had to see it. He knows, all too well, what Mal's cock feels
like against him and inside him, but this is something different.
He takes as much as he can, getting used to the feel of it stretching
his mouth, closing his eyes to better focus on it. He hears Mal
desperately trying not to make a sound and suddenly decides to make him
lose that control, to make him moan. Simon backs off a little,
reminding himself how to relax his throat--
--and swallows, his nose buried in the coarse hair at Mal's groin. "Yeh
soo--" Mal can't hold back the curse, and it's a good thing Simon was
expecting him to arch the way he did. His hands press down on Mal's
hips, an unspoken warning to stay where he is. *Don't move, Mal, I'm
not strong enough to hold you in place and I *really* don't feel like
Fortunately, Mal understands, although Simon feels him trembling with
the effort it takes to remain still. *Good, oh, so good, Mal...* And it
is, it's incredible to feel Mal like this, clinging to his control by
the skin of his teeth and all Simon wants to do is push him over that
edge, make him come so hard he sees stars.
"*Simon*--" The need in Mal's voice is so incredibly sweet, Simon can't
help but respond to it, giving Mal as much as he can until Mal chokes
out his name again and comes, pulsing down Simon's throat.
He swallows as best he can, managing not to gag somehow, and sits up,
wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Mal's sprawled against the bed, looking
flushed and sweaty and rather debauched, if Simon does say so himself.
"Clothes. Off. Now," Mal says, opening his eyes and sitting up to
Apparently, Mal ordering him around is a turn-on whether he's upset or
not, Simon thinks. He swallows reflexively before undressing, barely
getting his clothes off before Mal pins him to the bed, his thigh
pressing against Simon's cock. "Do I want to know where you learned to
do that?" Mal asks, nipping at his neck.
"Medacad," Simon manages, his head falling back.
Mal laughs and licks his throat. "Top three percent of your class in
"You tell me." Simon raises his hands to Mal's shoulders, running them
down Mal's arms and back up again.
"Fishing for compliments?" Mal shakes his head, but he's smiling. "What
am I gonna do with you?"
"Whatever you want." Simon leans up for a kiss, trying to pull Mal down
on top of him.
"Whatever I want?" Mal grins, pinning Simon's wrists over his head.
"Know what I was thinking about when you were reading earlier?"
He shakes his head. "What?"
Mal kisses him, hard and fast. "How much I wanted you like this. Naked
and spread out in my bed, hard, just like this." His thigh is rubbing
against Simon's cock, making Simon groan and thrust up under him. "Bet
I could make you come just like this," Mal says softly. "Think I might,
"Mal..." Simon closes his eyes.
"Oh, yeah," Mal says, keeping a steady rhythm that's almost
enough--*almost*. "You gonna come for me, Simon? You gonna spill all
over yourself from this? I think you are. I think I could probably talk
you into coming, without touchin' you at all. You'd like that, wouldn't
you? Like me to tell you what I'm gonna do to you, every inch of the
way, so you can feel it before I even put my hands on you? I think I'll
have to try that sometime--tie you up and don't touch you, just sit
there and tell you what I'm going to do, and see how long it takes you
to come. And you'd love every second of it. Maybe at the end I'd put my
mouth on you, just so I could taste it when you come. Should I make you
beg first? Make you ask me nicely to suck you? Would you like that?"
"Yeah, I think you would. Just like I think you're gonna come for me
now," Mal says matter-of-factly. "Now, Simon."
He doesn't know if it's the words or the rhythm but he comes,
shuddering under Mal.
"Good," Mal murmurs, kissing him lightly. He moves off Simon, lying
next to him.
"You said--" Simon half-complains when he can speak again.
"I said I wouldn't tie you up. I didn't say I wouldn't tell you what to
do." Mal grins, kissing him.
"That's splitting hairs."
"Are you complaining?"
Simon tries to keep a straight face for about ten seconds before he
laughs, shaking his head. "No, I guess not."
"Good." Mal picks up someone's discarded shirt and wipes off Simon's
stomach, tossing the shirt back on the floor lazily. "Tired?"
Mal nods, wrapping an arm around Simon. "Get some sleep. Maybe when you
wake up we can have a rematch."
"Chess or sex?" Simon asks, yawning.
"Does it matter?"
Jayne's up early, which isn't so unusual. He doesn't always get up
before the rest of the crew, but sometimes he likes the peace and quiet
of the ship when no one else is around. Not that he'd ever tell anyone
that, of course.
He makes himself a cup of chai from his personal stash and takes it to
the lounge, stretching out on the couch and relaxing. As he takes his
first, satisfying swallow, he sees Simon's book and thinks about
looking at it for a moment before passing. For one thing, Simon'd get
all pissy if he found out Jayne was reading it, and Jayne's feeling
just guilty enough about the whole lake thing to not want to piss the
doc off. And for another--he kind of likes hearing Simon read it. Makes
it more real, somehow.
About halfway through the cup, he hears footsteps coming from the
direction of the crew quarters. He figures it's Mal--captain's usually
up early--but to his surprise it's Simon, looking mussed and rumpled
like he just tumbled out of bed.
Jayne blinks, looking at the doc a little more carefully. He's wearing
his own pants, and he's barefoot, but his shirt's way too big for him
and it's not all starched like Simon's shirts usually are. In fact--"Tzao
gao," Jayne mutters. That ain't Simon's shirt, it's Mal's.
What the ruttin' hell is Simon doing in Mal's bed?
He takes a swallow of chai, trying to put it together. The best he can
figure, Mal felt sorry for the doc because of the cutting. But he
didn't think Mal would take up with someone just cause he felt sorry
for them. So there's got to be something else there.
"Mornin'," he says finally, just to see how Simon'll react, and has to
hide a laugh when Simon jumps, looking nervy as a cat.
"Ah--good morning," he says, pushing his hair off his face. "I was just
going to make myself some tea."
Jayne can't hide the smirk. "Looks like you could use some caffeine,"
he says agreeably, watching Simon flush before getting himself under
control. "Mal keep you up late last night?"
Simon freezes for a moment before sighing and putting water up. "I'm
not going to dignify that with an answer," he says coolly.
"Lighten up, doc, I ain't askin' for details." It's not a bad idea, but
he's on shaky ground with Mal at the moment and Simon-baiting isn't
going to help him get off it, especially now that Mal's bedding the
"Thank Heaven for small favors." Simon turns off the heat and makes
himself tea, poking at the teaball with a spoon.
"There enough of that for me?" Mal asks, entering the kitchen. He looks
less rumpled than Simon, which is a rarity. "Mornin', Jayne."
"Mornin'." Jayne finishes his chai in one long swallow but doesn't get
"Um--yes, I think so." Simon moves out of the way, letting Mal make
himself some tea. "Sorry for borrowing your shirt," he says in a low
voice, almost too low for Jayne to hear. "I couldn't find mine."
Mal smiles--an honest-to-ruttin'-God smile, which Jayne hasn't seen on
his face in ages. "It's all right," he says. "Though I'd suggest you
change if you don't want everyone on the ship knowing exactly where you
were last night."
Simon shrugs, blowing gently on his tea before taking a sip. "Not like
they don't already," he points out.
"Yeah, well..." Mal sighs, adding sugar to his tea. "Ship this size,
secrets don't stay secrets for long."
"I know." Simon reaches out and touches Mal on the shoulder. "I'm not
For a brief moment, Jayne thinks they're going to kiss. "Ruttin' hell,"
he says under his breath. Isn't it enough with Zoe and Wash always bein'
all gooey? Do the captain and Simon really have to do this?
But they don't kiss. Simon just squeezes Mal's shoulder, once, and lets
his hand fall. "I'm going to go change and check on River," he says.
Mal nods, sipping his own tea.
Jayne notices Simon's tea mug, still almost full, sitting on the
counter after he's gone.
"So," Jayne says, watching Mal take a seat at the table. "You and the
Mal sighs. "Yes, Jayne." He leans back in his chair.
"This a casual thing or what?"
"Does it matter?"
Jayne shrugs. "Just wonderin' how it's gonna affect the crew if it
"End? Or affect the crew?" Jayne really should know better than to push
Mal, but that was just too easy.
"It won't affect the crew," Mal says, each word crisp as one of Simon's
collars. "Let it drop, Jayne, it's none of your business anyway."
Jayne hasn't heard Mal that defensive since--well, ever, he thinks. *Tzao
gao...Mal, don't you dare go falling in love with him. He's a fugee and
he's gonna get us all killed someday, if that sister of his don't do it
Inara glides in before Jayne can say anything. "Good morning," she
says, going to make herself some tea. "Captain, I was hoping to speak
with you at some point today, if that's possible?"
Mal nods. "Sure. When?"
She thinks for a moment, satin whispering against silk as she fixes
herself a mug. "Now would be convenient, actually. In my shuttle?"
He stands, picking up his mug. "Lead on."
"What's goin' on?" Mal asks as soon as the door closes behind them.
Inara sits, gesturing for him to take a seat. "I was hoping we could
talk about Simon," she says.
"He's a grown man, Inara. He makes his own choices." Mal sits, but it's
obvious he doesn't want to.
"I'm well aware of that." Inara sips her tea, stalling for time. "I
spoke with Kaylee yesterday, as you know, and our conversation left me
rather--worried about Simon."
"So why are you talking to me instead of him?"
Good question. Inara really doesn't have an answer to that. She doesn't
want to talk to Mal about Simon, she wants to talk to Mal about *Mal*.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" she says finally.
Mal sets his mug down. "Somehow I don't think you want to talk about
Simon," he says evenly.
She sighs. "Mal, I'm worried about both of you. Simon's very fragile
right now, and--"
"Why does everyone say that?" Mal interrupts. "He's not, Inara. He's
just hit a rough patch."
"Be that as it may, I'm still concerned. It wouldn't be healthy for
Simon to transfer all his emotional needs to you."
"And what makes you think that's what he's doing?" Mal asks.
His tone is mild, which unsettles Inara more than his anger would have
done. "Simon hasn't had anyone to lean on before, from what I can
gather," she says, composing herself. "It would not be...unusual if he
turned to you for everything now that he knows he can depend on you."
She watches Mal carefully, looking for a reaction and not finding one.
"Mal, surely you can see that--"
The door to her shuttle opens and Simon walks in, looking coldly
furious. "Jayne told me you were here," he says, folding his arms
across his chest. "Normally I wouldn't come in without asking but I
figured that if you were going to discuss my life without me I had some
small right to be here."
Inara rises. "And what makes you think we were discussing your life?"
she asks, equally coolly.
Simon raises one eyebrow. "Weren't you?"
She has no response to that.
"As I thought. In the future, Inara--if you want to ask me about my
life or my choices? Ask *me*. Not Mal. He's not my keeper and I don't
appreciate you going behind my back like this."
Inara has never seen Simon this angry--he's absolutely furious, she can
see it in his eyes--but his control is staggering. It frightens her,
more than a little, especially as she thinks of where he must have
learned it. "All right," she says, projecting apologies. "I apologize.
I shouldn't have asked to speak to Mal and I can reassure you it won't
"No," Simon says coldly. "It won't." He turns and leaves as abruptly as
"Fragile, hm?" Mal asks, standing. "I don't think so." He leaves, going
Inara's left standing in the middle of her shuttle, wondering exactly
how that went so wrong so quickly.
"Simon!" Mal finally catches him outside the infirmary.
"Mal--not right now. I need to calm down first." Simon takes a deep
breath, practically vibrating with anger. "I'm not angry with you," he
says, pressing the heels of his palms against his eyes. "I'm just upset
"Why aren't you angry with me?" Mal asks. Simon has every right to be
and the fact that he *isn't* worries Mal a little.
"Because I know you." Simon drops his hands, giving Mal a wry smile.
"You would have been too polite to tell her you didn't want to talk.
Although I'm not entirely clear on why you stayed."
"I was trying to stop her from prying," Mal admits, slightly relieved.
"Did it work?"
Mal shakes his head. "You know Inara. If one tactic doesn't work she'll
just try another."
"Companion training," Simon mutters in disgust. Mal blinks in surprise;
Simon's never expressed a negative opinion about Inara's choice of
Then again, she's never tried to interfere in Simon's life quite like
"Seems she's not the only one who's done some interferin' lately," he
points out. "Her, Jayne, Zoe--you gonna snap their heads off too?"
"At least Zoe talked *to* me, instead of *about* me," Simon counters.
"And Jayne--" He shrugs. "What's done is done."
"That it is." Mal studies him for a moment. "You regrettin' any of
this, Simon? Because if you want out, all you have to do is tell me.
You know that, right?"
"I know." Simon sighs and steps closer to him. "And if I wanted out,
I'd let you know. But I would think that after last night you'd realize
I don't." He smiles a little. "Or do I need to suck you off again to
It's always a surprise to hear Simon talk like that--he's so refined
and cultured most of the time that it never fails to startle Mal when
he loosens his tongue. "Not right now, I think," Mal says. "I have...captainy
things to do." And if he doesn't, he'll think of some.
Simon smiles again. "I'm sure you do. Just like I have doctor-y things
to do as well."
Neither of them moves for a long moment. "Mal--do *you* want out?"
Simon asks when it looks like neither one of them is going to move.
"This can't be easy for you--I'm a crew member, not to mention a wanted
Mal puts a hand over Simon's mouth, effectively silencing him. "You let
me worry about that," he says. "If I wanted out, I'd have told you by
Simon pushes Mal's hand away. "All right." He smiles a little. "Go do
your captainy things. I'll see you at lunch."
"Right." For a moment, Mal debates kissing him, but in the end he just
leaves the infirmary quietly, shutting the door after him.
Something at lunch isn't adding up and Zoe can't quite put her finger
on it. For one thing, Simon's sitting as far away from Inara as he can
get, even though it meant taking the seat next to Jayne's. For another,
Jayne keeps looking between Simon and the captain like he's trying to
figure something out.
Okay, so that one at least makes sense--Jayne found out about the two
of them. She can understand that. But she doesn't understand why Simon
is so pointedly ignoring Inara and why it's making Mal so edgy. Zoe
looks at Kaylee but gets a wide-eyed shrug in response; apparently,
Kaylee senses what's going on and doesn't have a clue about it either.
"Too much noise," River's mumbling, fidgeting in her seat. Zoe has no
idea what she means; if anything, lunch is quieter than usual.
"What, River?" Simon puts his fork down, turning to his sister. "What's
"Too much noise," River complains again. "Jagged and sharp and
discordant. No harmony." She presses her hands over her ears, shaking
her head. "Too loud, too much...shut up!" she cries, jumping to her
feet. "Can't think, can't hear..." She almost knocks over her chair as
she runs out of the room.
Simon pinches the bridge of his nose for a brief second before putting
down his napkin and standing up. "I'm--" He looks like he's about to
apologize for a moment, but doesn't, just goes after River.
"What the hell was that all about?" Jayne grumbles. "Now it's too loud
even when it's quiet?" He shakes his head, taking a bite of food.
Zoe has a feeling that it wasn't the verbal noise River was referring
to, but she keeps that to herself. The girl's possible psychic ability
isn't a topic the crew likes to bring up.
"Nara, you said you got a client on Astarte?" Kaylee asks, trying to
lighten the tension in the room.
Inara nods, but she looks distracted. "Depending on how long he
contracts for, it may be easier for you to return for me," she says
This is generally Mal's cue to make some dismissive comment about
Inara's line of work, but he just nods, making Zoe *really* wonder
what's going on. "Shouldn't be a problem," he says. "Although depending
on how things go on Astarte we may be there for a day or two."
They don't have a contact on Astarte for their goods--it's not
somewhere they usually do business. It doesn't mean they won't sell the
cargo, it just means it may take longer. *At least Astarte's not a Fed
planet. Don't want to think about being stuck on one of those,
especially not with the doc and his sister on board.* Zoe puts her
chopsticks down, suddenly wondering just what the new dynamic between
the captain and the doctor will mean if they run into Alliance trouble.
It's a train of thought she doesn't like.
"Something on your mind, Zoe?" Mal asks, and she realizes she must have
let something of what she's thinking show on her face. Also not a good
"Just wondering how long it'll be 'til we hit Astarte, is all," she
"Another day or so, maybe a little less." Mal's eyes are sharp and she
knows he didn't buy her lie, but he'll let it pass for now. "Eager to
get there already?"
"I wonder if Astarte has lakes," Wash muses cheerfully.
"Not ones you'd want to swim in. They have to filter all their water to
make it safe for drinking--otherwise it's toxic," Inara says.
"Crushed again!" He sags dramatically in his chair. "My heart bleeds at
Simon, of course, chooses that moment to return. "He's just acting,
right?" Simon says, looking at Wash warily.
"My heart has been trampled," Wash proclaims. "There are no lakes on
Astarte. No beaches." He sighs theatrically.
"In other words, nothing's wrong." Mal leans back, hooking one arm over
the back of his chair. "How's your sister?"
Simon shrugs, sitting down again. "She's all right. I think I convinced
her to take a nap."
"You look like you could use one yourself," Kaylee says
Jayne snickers. "Yeah, Doc had a late night." He claps Simon on the
back. "Need to work on your stamina?"
Simon drops his head into his hands. "Would anyone *else* like to
lecture me, make jokes about my life, or otherwise interfere in it
today?" He raises his head, looking directly at Inara. "I'm sure you
didn't get to finish your oh-so-concerned speech from earlier--would
you like to do it now, so everyone else can agree with you? Or do you
just prefer to talk about people when they're not around?"
"Simon!" Kaylee gasps at the same time Inara stands up.
"That was uncalled for," she says, her smooth voice showing traces of
anger. "I already apologized for my actions of this morning. If you
chose not to accept that, it's your business." Inara leaves, back
"Simon, that was mean of you," Kaylee says angrily. "I thought Inara
was your friend!"
"I don't appreciate being talked about," Simon tells her.
"I'm sure she didn't mean to--" Kaylee begins, but Simon shakes his
"Stand up for her all you want, but do it once you know the facts," he
says wearily. "I don't care what she *meant* to do, Kaylee--I care that
she went behind my back to speak to the captain about me. If Inara has
concerns about--" He stumbles for a moment, looking for a word.
"--about this," he says finally, gesturing to himself and the captain,
"then she should have come to me. She didn't." Simon pinches the bridge
of his nose, looking down. "So. Anyone else want to say something?"
There's dead silence in the kitchen; Simon glances around, looking at
everyone, but no one says anything. Even Jayne is uncharacteristically
subdued, not meeting Simon's eyes.
"In that case--I find I've lost my appetite." Simon leaves.
*Mal, I don't envy you. You've got your hands full and then some with
him.* Zoe sighs to herself. She hopes Mal's up to it--she sure as hell
wouldn't be, in his place.
Mal doesn't say anything, just stands and goes after Simon, leaving the
rest of the crew to sit around the table. After a minute, Zoe stands
and begins gathering plates for lack of anything else to do. Wash gets
up to help her and the rest of them disperse, still silent.
Simon's lying on his bed, facedown, when he hears the footsteps. "Feel
better?" Mal's quiet voice asks; Simon feels the bed shift as Mal sits
down on it.
"Not really." He sighs, not looking up. "I owe Kaylee and Inara
"Probably." Mal rests a hand in the middle of his back. "As captain,
I'd appreciate it if you did. Last thing this crew needs is more
"And as Mal?" Simon rolls over, dislodging Mal's hand.
"I'd still appreciate you apologizing to them--Kaylee, at least." Mal
smiles a little, brushing Simon's hair off his face. "Inara and I have
had enough run-ins that I'll leave that one up to you."
Simon sits up, rubbing his hands over his face. "Unfortunately, I think
this time the captain's preferences take precedence."
"You don't have to go right now," Mal points out.
"I wasn't planning on it." Simon leans forward, resting his head
against Mal's shoulder. Mal's hand strokes his hair, the back of his
neck, and he sighs again, letting Mal's touch soothe him. "Trying to
put me to sleep?" he asks after a moment.
"Depends. Are you tired?"
"No. Just frustrated." Simon laughs and sits up, pushing his hair back.
"And angry, and upset. And I'm trying to stay calm because I think
River feels it when I'm upset and it upsets her."
"You think that's what she meant at lunch?" Mal asks.
Simon nods. "I do. It's--it's a little hard for me to accept, frankly,
but it's the only thing that seems plausible." *And what I know about
empathy and psychic ability you could fit on my thumb. River, what am I
going to do?*
"Hey," Mal says softly. "Take it easy." He catches Simon's jaw in one
hand, bending down to kiss him. "Don't get yourself tied in knots over
"Why not?" Simon asks, trying for humor and not really succeeding.
"It ain't worth it." Mal pulls Simon into his arms, settling him
against his chest. "Just take it one step at a time."
"Yeah." Simon rests his head against Mal's shoulder. "I know."
"Knowing and doing are two different things," Mal says mildly.
"I know that too." Simon closes his eyes. "Don't lecture me, Mal, okay?
I'm just not up for it."
"Wasn't going to lecture you. Just pointing it out." Mal kisses the top
of his head. "I was wondering about something," he says after a moment.
"Yeah?" Simon tilts his head back, looking up at Mal.
"Couldn't help but notice that you were out cold last night. And the
night before that. When was the last time you slept straight through
the night like that?" Mal asks.
"I...don't remember," Simon's forced to admit. "But--wait, how'd you
know? I seem to remember you being pretty sound asleep as well."
"That's how I know," Mal says. "If you'd been awake I would've felt
it." He smiles. "Anyway--I had an idea."
"Seems that you sleep better if I'm there and I did say I liked having
you in my bunk," Mal says matter-of-factly. "And since this ain't
exactly a secret anymore..." He trails off, but Simon sees where he was
"Oh," he says, thinking about it. "Ah--well--"
"Don't need to answer now," Mal interrupts. "Just think about it."
"Okay. I will."
After a minute or two, Simon pulls away reluctantly. "I'd better go
apologize to Kaylee," he says.
"Yeah. Just be prepared to duck--if she's truly mad at you she has a
tendency to throw things, and that engine room's all full of things you
don't want connecting with your head."
"She just hit me last time," Simon points out.
"She goes with what's handy." Mal's voice indicates that he knows this
from personal experience; Simon doesn't ask how.
"I want a chess rematch," he says abruptly, standing up. "Later this
"Lounge or my bunk?" Mal asks, also getting to his feet.
"Your bunk. I don't want an audience if I lose." Simon heads for the
engine room, Mal's laughter trailing after him.
She doesn't answer right away; she's lying on her back, under the
engine, and if she talks she'll get a mouth full of grease and other
crud. Besides, she doesn't know what to say to Simon; she's too mad at
him to be nice.
"Kaylee--I--I came to apologize," Simon says. "I shouldn't have said--"
She sighs and pushes herself out from under the engine. "Ain't me you
should apologize to."
Simon looks at her warily. "Please tell me you're not going to throw
that at me," he says, indicating the wrench she's holding.
"Waste of a good wrench if I did." Kaylee sits up, putting the wrench
down. "Inara was just tryin' to help, you know."
"But she didn't talk to me. She talked to the captain, and that bothers
me." Simon pauses, giving Kaylee a chance to really look at him. He
looks tired, and his hair's rumpled, and she *thinks* there's a faint
shadow of a bruise on his neck, mostly hidden by his shirt. Then again,
it could just be a trick of the light. She'd rather it was,
actually--knowing Simon and the captain are bedding each other is
different from having to see the results.
"I shouldn't have said what I did to you," Simon says finally. "I was
angry with Inara, not you, and I shouldn't have snapped at you the way
One of these days, Kaylee's going to learn how to *stay* mad at
someone. "Yeah," she says, standing up. "But--maybe I was a little
quick off the mark there too." She's not going to apologize; that'll
have to do for Simon.
"You were defending your friend." Simon doesn't seem to think she needs
to apologize, which is good. "Can you forgive me?"
"You gonna apologize to Nara?" Kaylee asks, scrubbing her hands on a
He nods. "I'm going to her shuttle next, if she'll see me."
"She will. She might give you the cold shoulder, but she won't ignore
you or nothin'. Inara's too nice for that." Kaylee sighs, stuffing the
rag in her pocket. "Don't worry about it, Simon. It's all right."
"Okay." Simon hesitates again. "I wish--things could be different," he
Kaylee shrugs, pushing hair out of her face. "Yeah," she says. "But..."
"Yeah." Simon sighs, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I know."
"Simon--" Kaylee catches him right before he leaves. "Are you happy?"
Maybe she doesn't have the right to ask but she's going to anyway.
He smiles a little, but it's twisted and Kaylee doesn't know what to
make of it. "I don't even know what that is anymore," he says, leaving
before she can say anything.
Inara's making tea; without saying anything, she pours Simon a cup,
handing it to him and motioning for him to sit down. He takes a sip
before speaking, enjoying the flavor of the tea--smoky and rich,
reminding him of home--Osiris. *Not home anymore. It hasn't been home
for a long, long time.*
Osiris is another life, one he hadn't truly lived since he got River's
"I came to apologize," he says, setting the cup down. "I had no call to
speak to you the way I did at lunch, and I am sorry for that."
She nods and puts her own cup down. "I understand. Consider it
Forgotten but not forgiven? Simon wonders about that. "You were being a
friend, and I overreacted," he says.
Inara smiles a little sadly. "I wasn't being as good a friend as I
should have, I'm afraid, or I would have come to you first."
"Consider it forgotten," Simon tells her wryly, making her laugh.
"Simon--truly, are you all right?" Inara asks. She leans forward, her
eyes intent on his face. "Is this what you want?"
*Ask the easy questions, why don't you?* "I think so," he says, looking
down at the amber tea. "I--he's good for me, Inara. I know that."
Simon shrugs. "Mal is--I don't know what we have, and I'm not sure I'll
figure it out any time soon. But--" He stops, trying to find the words
he wants. "When I first came on board," he says, "I--probably wasn't
entirely sane. I'd spent so long looking for River--it had become my
obsession, to find her and get her out. I *knew* that it wasn't
healthy, the way I was handling it, but I didn't have a choice." He's
surprised at how much he's opening up to Inara, but he's sure she's
She nods sympathetically. "I understand."
He's not sure she does, but Inara's very empathetic. Even if she
doesn't *know*, she can probably put herself in his place if she wants.
It's a different kind of understanding from Mal's; the captain
understands Hell from the perspective of someone who's lived through
it. Inara understands it from the perspective of someone who's imagined
it and seen it in others.
It's an interesting contrast.
"I lost something, in that time," Simon says. "Part of my sanity, my
mind--call it what you will, but the only thing keeping me together was
the thought of getting River out. And once I did..." He shrugs again,
stopping to take a sip of tea. "Then I had a whole other set of
problems. But at least she was out."
Inara nods again, not saying anything.
"And now--River needs me, and I have to do everything I can to help
her. But what I'm starting to realize is that she needs me to be whole,
to be strong for her. And--" Simon stops, fighting to get the words
out. "I just can't do it alone anymore, Inara," he whispers.
"Oh, Simon--" Inara puts her hand on top of his. "You don't have to."
"I know. But--that's why I--why Mal is good for me," Simon says. *Can't
say it, hm? Can't admit out loud that you need him.* "He--I don't have
to pretend to be strong when I'm with him."
He can't tell if her eyes are bright with tears or if it's just a trick
of the light. She squeezes his hand before sitting back, picking up her
"I don't know what I can give him," Simon admits. "I don't know what he
"Maybe all he needs is you," Inara suggests quietly. "Someone he can
relax and be himself with, much the same as you can with him."
"Maybe." Simon's not entirely convinced, but that's a problem for
another time. He smiles weakly, sipping his tea. "Thank you for
listening," he says at last. "Especially after--"
"Simon." Inara takes his hand again, her fingers soft and warm against
his. "We're friends, aren't we?"
He nods. "I hope so."
"Then don't worry about it." Inara smiles, and Simon knows it's a real
smile, not just her training. Apparently, she has forgiven him. "Would
you like some more tea? Or some biscuits?"
"Cortex isn't reporting anything going on Astarte, sir," Zoe says.
"Looks to be calm."
Mal nods, still uneasy. "We have any leads on possible contacts?"
"One--no, two. We're not close enough to wave either of them--it'll be
at least twelve hours before we're in range."
He nods again. "Let me know when we are," he says, turning to leave the
"Will do, sir."
*Always hated this part of a job. Too far out to get anything done, all
that time just wasted.* Mal shakes his head absently, wondering if
Simon's up for a chess rematch.
Simon's not in the infirmary, or the lounge, or his room. Mal's about
to check Inara's shuttle for lack of anywhere else to look when he
stops, thinks for a moment, and heads for his bunk.
"Hi," Simon says, rolling over on his side. He's stretched out in Mal's
bunk, shirt off but pants on, and Mal isn't sure whether to kiss him or
be afraid that he'll pass out if he does.
"What're you doing here?" Mal asks casually. It's not that he minds,
but he's not entirely certain why Simon's there.
"I had a long talk with Inara," Simon says, sitting up. He shakes his
head, looking like he's not sure whether to laugh or cry. "After which
I decided that I wasn't going to be able to concentrate unless
someone's life was on the line and maybe lying down for a bit wouldn't
be such a bad idea. So..." He shrugs. "Here I am."
"It went that well?" Mal asks.
"Actually, it didn't go badly. I apologized, she offered me tea, I
somehow ended up spilling my soul..." Simon laughs, pinching the bridge
of his nose in what Mal's realizing is a habitual gesture.
"Why do you do that?" he asks, sitting down on the bed, next to Simon.
Mal demonstrates for him. "That."
"Oh." Simon shrugs. "It's a headache thing. Acupressure--pinch there,
or here--" He shows Mal, gripping the flesh between thumb and
forefinger. "It relieves tension."
"You get headaches often?"
"No." Simon shakes his head, smiling a little. "More of a reflex, these
*Which means you used to.* Mal nods, not saying anything, but he slides
his hand up Simon's back, kneading the muscles in his neck. There's
less tension than he'd expected but still more than Simon normally has.
"You're going to put me to sleep if you keep doing that," Simon
mumbles, his head dropping forward.
"If it's what you need..." Mal shrugs.
"Mal--wait." Simon pulls away, turning to look at him. "I want you to
tell me something."
Simon sighs, and Mal gets the sense that he's looking for words. "What
do you get from this?" he asks, shifting so he's sitting cross-legged.
"Because--I said it before, and I meant it. This only works if it goes
"It does," Mal tells him. "Trust me on that."
*I knew that was coming. Wu de ma, Simon, can you just trust me on this
one?* "I don't know if I can explain," he says. "But--I wouldn't have
started this if it was one-sided, and I sure as hell wouldn't have
asked you to move in here if it was."
Simon looks at him for a long moment before nodding. "All right," he
says. "But someday you're going to have to explain it."
"That's fair. Just--let me think about it."
Simon nods again and leans forward, brushing his lips over Mal's. "It's
Kaylee's turn to make dinner tonight, isn't it?"
"Last I checked. Why?"
"You still owe me a chess game."
"Want to make it a little more interesting?" Mal asks, leaning down to
get the board.
Mal grins, beginning to set up the pieces. "You ever play strip chess?"