Summary: It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Mal looks at Simon, who's sound asleep next to him, and bites back a
curse. He slides out of bed and heads out of the room, walking toward
the cargo bay and the warm air outdoors.
It's been two days since the fiasco on Astarte and they're just
starting to recover. Jayne's still stuck in bed--much to his annoyance.
River's been clinging to Kaylee, Inara hasn't left her shuttle, and
Simon...Mal sighs and sits down on a rock. It all comes back to Simon,
It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be about Simon
needing someone to lean on, needing someone to help him let go. It
wasn't supposed to be about them laughing over chess, about fair skin
gleaming with sweat as Simon moved under him, about Mal holding him in
the night as Simon slept.
It wasn't supposed to be about Kaylee crying and Inara looking at him
with barely hidden hurt in her eyes.
Mal scrubs his hands over his face. He knows what he *should* do--he
should back away, disentangle himself from Simon. This is just getting
too complicated for his taste.
But he can't. Every time he thinks about it he sees Simon's face from
that first night, angry and lost and scared--and then he flashes to
Simon, flushed and sweaty and limp from pleasure--pleasure Mal gave
him. And he knows that he can't give that up, any more than he could
turn away from Simon that first night.
He's becoming uncomfortably aware of a cold feeling in his gut. It's
the same one he had when he saw the rock flying and knew Simon wasn't
going to be able to dodge it. It's the same one he never admitted to
having during the war.
"I never asked for this," he says out loud, looking up at the stars.
He's not sure if he's talking to a God he doesn't believe in or just
talking in general.
He's not sure it matters, either way.
The cold in his belly tightens, and he closes his eyes for a long
moment. "I wasn't supposed to care," he says. "Not like this." Not like
when he nearly felt his heart stop when Simon crumpled to the cargo bay
floor. Not like the way he woke up this morning, curled around Simon as
if making sure he was still there.
It would be different if it was only about need, about leaning on
someone. It would be different if Simon only wanted him for those times
when it got to be too much. Then maybe he'd be able to handle it.
Only that's not how it is, and now Simon's sleeping in Mal's bunk with
the lump on his head still tender to the touch. He could have died--a
few inches difference and he *would* have died.
Mal runs a hand over his face again. He's not thinking clearly--he's
tired and worried and his gut is interfering with his brain. He needs
to step back, look at this whole mess in a more objective light.
And there's only one way he's going to be able to do that.
"Fuck," he whispers, closing his eyes.
When Zoe goes back to her bunk after lunch the next day, there's a slip
of paper on the bed. It has a time written on it, nothing more. She
crumples the paper in her hand and closes her eyes.
"Not this time, sir," she says quietly. "Not with me. Not anymore."
He may never forgive her for what she's going to do. But she won't be
able to live with herself if she doesn't.
Zoe finds him in the infirmary; before he can react, she shuts the
door, tinting the windows. "Listen," she says quietly. "The captain
doesn't know I'm here and you're not going to tell him."
"Okay..." Simon is more than a bit confused.
She sighs. "There's a spare passenger bunk--the opposite end from
yours. Be there at *exactly* ten to nine."
Zoe bites her lip. "It's something you need to understand if you're
going to make this work with the captain."
"What do I need to understand?" Simon's getting a bit worried now.
"I can't explain." Her eyes are practically begging him not to push it.
"Just--be there, okay?"
More than a little worried, Simon nods. "Okay," he says.
The door to the passenger bunk is slightly ajar. Simon stops outside,
waiting. It's not long before Zoe pushes the door open just enough to
let him in. "Don't say a word," she murmurs, so quietly Simon barely
hears it. "Not one word."
The door closes silently behind them. Simon looks at Zoe, concerned and
confused, but she shakes her head, putting a finger to her lips. She
crosses to the bed, picking something up--
--and Simon sees him. The captain. Mal. Wearing nothing but a pair of
loose cotton pants, kneeling on the floor, cuffed to the wall, head
Simon sinks his teeth into his lower lip in order to remain silent.
He feels Zoe's eyes on him and looks at her, seeing that she's holding
a slender black whip. Realization dawns and he nods, understanding now
why she wanted him here, why Mal does not know of his presence.
Zoe flicks the whip lightly, trailing it over Mal's back and making him
shiver. She does this again, and again, until Mal seems to relax
somewhat and the caress of the whip does not make him shudder. Simon
realizes his nails are cutting into his palms and forces himself to
relax his grip.
The first blow is louder than Simon would have expected, but that may
just be because Mal makes no sound. The whip leaves a stinging red mark
across Mal's back that Simon can't tear his eyes from.
And then Zoe motions him to come over. He does, disbelieving, even as
she puts the handle in his hand and closes his fingers around it, her
hand warm over his. She guides his arm through the swing, showing him
how much force to use. Mal twitches slightly when the whip cracks
against his skin but is still completely, eerily silent.
Zoe steps away, leaving Simon holding the whip. "Twenty," she mouths,
and Simon realizes that she expects him to finish this. For a brief,
horrified moment he wants to tell her no, he can't do this, take the
But he can't do that. He has to be able to do this for Mal. Simon isn't
the only one with demons that need exorcising and if Mal can't lean on
him...he doesn't bother finishing that thought.
Simon takes a deep breath, picks up the whip, and cracks it again. And
again. And again. And again, until he's counted to twenty and Mal's
back is red and Mal is weeping--*weeping*--on the floor, shoulders
Somewhere in that endless span of counting, Zoe left him. Simon panics
for a moment before he sees how to unfasten the cuffs, along with the
blanket and the tube of cream she left on the bed. He releases Mal
quickly, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders, rubbing small
circles on his back as Mal begins to regain some of his
Mal takes his free hand--and then turns, his eyes wide, clearly not
understanding why the hand in his is fair instead of dark, why there
are no calluses from guns, why the person kneeling next to him is Simon
instead of Zoe. But before he can speak, Simon presses his fingers
against Mal's mouth, feeling the dampness of sweat and tears.
"Don't," he says softly, wrapping his other arm around Mal's shoulders,
holding him. "It's okay, Mal. I've got you. I've got you."
It is a long, tense moment before Mal moves, and Simon thinks miserably
that this was a mistake, that Zoe should never have come to him. Far
from cementing their relationship, this will end it. Mal will never
want to speak to him again, he and River will have to leave the ship,
he has just ruined everything...
And then Mal crumples into his arms, leaning on him, trusting Simon to
hold him, and Simon feels tears roll down his face as he holds Mal,
soothing him, rocking him as Mal shudders with catharsis.
He presses his lips to the top of Mal's head, stroking his hair gently.
He understands now--he understands perfectly. He's not whole by any
means; River calls him 'shattered Simon' and she's not wrong. But Mal
isn't whole either. Mal's broken on the inside just as Simon is.
Two broken people don't add up to one whole one and neither of them
will ever be what they once were. But maybe, just maybe, they'll be
enough for each other, enough that they can put each other together.
All Simon can do is hope.