Strange Bedfellows: Part 2
"Ow." Simon bent forward, hand clutching his face where it had made unpleasant contact with Kaylee's chin. In the quieter moments, he'd spent a reasonable amount of time imagining himself and Kaylee face to face, facing each other, parts of their faces touching. Sometimes he allowed himself to think about touching other parts of her as well. Of course, his nostrils hadn't been gushing blood in those scenarios. He'd been coy and suave. He'd beguiled her with his witty repertoire. She hadn't been hovering over him in a blood-stained green nightie, trying to push bits of tissue paper up his nose.
"Aw, honey." She leaned in, trying to assess the damage.
"I'm okay. Really, it's not that—"
"Sweetie, you're bleedin' everywhere. Let me take your shirt off." He wasn't sure if that look on her face was guilt or amusement as her hands moved up his torso, dragging the material with her.
"Ow, ouch." The collar of his shirt caught painfully as she tried to raise it over his head. He wondered vaguely what would kill him first: the humiliation of bleeding all over her bed or utter mortification at the way his body was responding to the touch of her fingers on his bare chest.
"You just lay back here 'gainst the pillows. That better?"
"Oh, yes. The pain's gone now. It's a miracle." He met her eyes, watched her blink at him in a baffled sort of way. "I—I didn't mean…it's not your fault. I was just trying to be…funny. Forget it."
Kaylee smiled, set his ruined shirt aside.
"Zoe was right. You do get awful ironical when you're cranky."
Inara stared up at the roof of her shuttle, listening to Mal breathe beside her, close enough to feel the heat from his body bounce off hers. She was inches away from his shoulder, a hand's reach from his hair. How far away were his lips?
"Mal, you've been through something terrible." The words poured from her lips, quick, nearly tripping in their rush to get out. "You're not well. You're saying things without thinking them through!"
"You're not wrong 'bout that, I suppose. Still, don't make what I'm sayin' any less the truth."
She met his eyes unwillingly and turned away just as fast. She was no stranger to being the object of a man's desire. Men had begged to touch her, given her gifts, dresses, discreet deposits to her bank account many times over. Why in the great wide 'verse did she want this man. This infuriating, embittered, emotionally-distant, complicated, aggravatingly-attractive man lying on her bed covered in bruises and battle wounds, wanting for once to share his feelings. What exactly had Simon done to him in that infirmary?
"When's the last time you chose someone, for you I mean."
"I'm not a whore, Mal. I choose all my clients."
"That ain't what I'm sayin', and you know it. When's the last one meant somethin'? C'mon, Inara, has there ever been a one you didn't have to fake it for?"
She turned her eyes glassy, imposed a serene smile on her perfect lips.
"I don't have to fake it with any of them."
Though it tore at his midsection to do so, he rolled to face her, hovered over her.
"Is that right?"
"That's right." She flashed that lovely, schooled smile once more, though her shoulders were retreating into the mattress. "Now if you don't mind, I could use some sleep. Busy day in the morning with all my whoring."
Her lips shook, the smile wavering, but she caught it fast.
"You think I don't see the sadness in you? You think I can't tell a part of you's hurtin' underneath all that fancy make up and those flouncy dresses?"
"I'm not ashamed of what I do. I'm not ashamed of anything."
"Oh, yeah? How about the part where you violated me whilst I was drugged unconsciousness on the ground?" His voice rose at the end. "You 'shamed of that?"
"That was an oversight in judgment."
"Yeah? Oversight this."
Ignoring the wicked pull from the needle in his hand, he rolled over, bringing his mouth down hard on hers.
Simon's nose had stopped bleeding. He hadn't said anything idiotic in almost half an hour. And as a reward he had Kaylee's head resting friendly-like in his lap, giggling up at him while he told her stories from college, from his childhood with River. At one point, she laughed so hard that tears formed at the corners of her eyes. When he brushed one away with the tip of his finger, she went silent, the laughter ceasing, her eyes going wide. He wanted to tell her she was beautiful but chose a story from med school instead, pleased when she bit down on her lower lip, stared up at him as though he were fascinating. As though he were everything.
He could drown in her.
She couldn't let him.
"Mal." Inara draw in a ragged breath, let him kiss her again. "We shouldn't be doing this, Mal."
"Bi zui. Shut up." His mouth came down on hers again. How often had he wondered what she'd feel like beneath him? He'd envied those folk who got to find out, hated them, hated her at times. He'd hate himself in the morning.
She arched her throat, inviting his lips there. His mouth was so rough, but his hands were gentle. They moved over her face, cupped her cheeks, slid down her neck, over her shoulders, arms, wrists. He stopped suddenly, supported himself over her with one arm. She blinked, dragging in air.
"Zao gao." He bit down on his lip, ripped the IV from his hand.
"That's somewhat improved." He put his newly freed hand on her belly.
Wash couldn't sleep. Every time he closed his eyes he saw that ta ma de hun dan Niska. Zoe lay beside him, his warrior woman resting, peaceful in sleep. He thought of how he'd felt when she walked into that room on Niska's space station. He recalled watching her helplessly, changed to the wall. He'd wished himself dead in that moment. He'd prefer death to watching Niska touch her. That he couldn't bear.
Touching his lips lightly to her forehead, he tugged on his pants and wandered up to the bridge to sit for awhile.
At the helm, he sat back in his chair, eyed his dinosaurs to make sure they were behaving. Something on one of the screens caught his attentions.
"Huh, that's funny…."
His hands were in her hair. She felt like floating.
"Uh, Inara. If this ain't all that shiny…well, we're blamin' the torture right?"
"Shut up. Just kiss me."
"Anythin' the lady wants…."
"Mal." Her fingers spread to span his chest, careful not to press too hard on the sore spots, the places Niska had hurt him. Her lips grazed gently over his jawline. "The lady wants—"
And then Mal's ear was filling with Wash's alarmed voice, overpowering Inara's soft whispers.
"Mal? Gorammit, ta ma de...wo de ma, this place is like musical bunks lately, I can't remember where anybody's sleepin'." His voice played in every corner of the ship. "Mal, wherever you are, if you can walk, get up to the bridge. We've got something of a situation here."
"Whaddaya suppose is goin' on up there?" Kaylee asked, head resting contentedly on Simon's lap. She didn't much care if they were 'bout to fly into a black hole. This was a good way to go out.
"Huh, I don't know. It seems like, on Serenity, something's always going on."
Kaylee giggled. "Nah, there's calm moments, too."
"Oh, yes. I can almost remember one now."
She laughed again. "What about the time…?"
"What?" Kaylee sat up, a little irked at having to take her head off his legs. Still, his tone was, well, serious.
"What if it's River?"
Kaylee's eyes widened, but she tried to reassure him.
"Naw, Simon. Wash called for Mal…if he's even awake yet. They'd let you know if it was about your sister"
"That's true. Still, maybe we should get up there. People on this ship seem to require a doctor more often than not."
"Well, okay, Simon. If you think its best, I guess we can have a look about." Disappointed, Kaylee reached for his ruined shirt, pulled it on like a robe over her similarly-stained nightie, which was a little on the sheer side for meetin' up with the others. Simon's shirt fell down near her knees.
"You look so tiny in that," he murmured as she started up the ladder. "So…well, cute."
She turned to peer down at him, halfway up the steps.
"You don't need sound so surprised 'bout it," she complained.
"You should really be waitin' in your shuttle like I asked," Mal called behind him on the way to the bridge. Unfortunately, he couldn't move all that quickly in his present condition, and she had little trouble keeping up.
"I'm coming with you," Inara informed him. She grabbed his arm, tugged until he turned to face her. "For God's sake, Mal. Let someone help you for once."
"When you're here, nothin' in my head goes smooth. When you're here, I can't think straight."
He watched her face change for a split second before she controlled it. Then she was unreadable again.
They both jumped as Kaylee appeared behind them in the hallway.
"Captain!" Kaylee smiled, genuinely pleased. "Hey, you're up and walkin'. It's shiny!"
"Nice to see you too, Lil' Kaylee. I—" He broke off, as Simon climbed up behind her in naught but his undershorts. For the first time he took in Kaylee's oversized shirt. No, that surely wasn't Kaylee's. He watched as Kaylee and Inara exchanged some sorta secretive looks.
"Captain—" Kaylee tried, but he cut her off.
"Oh, this is just…." He held his breath, counted, eyes on the ceiling.
"Tell me, Inara," he tried again when he was slightly calmer. "Why in the 'verse did you feel the need to give Kaylee that fancy nightgown thingie?"
" 'Nara." Kaylee rolled her eyes in Mal's direction, in a gesture that plainly asked, what'd you tell him for?
"And you, somethin' wrong with your clothes?" Mal asked, whirling in her direction. "Some particular reason you need to be wearin' the doctor's shirt steada your own?"
"Mal—" Simon started.
Kaylee listened intently, wondering whether he'd leap to her defense or go with the usual stutterin' and denial. I'd never…not with Kaylee. She rolled her eyes, annoyed in advance.
Mal was on a roll, furious at everyone, no one. "And you, Doc—why can't you put on some gorram clothes? My not payin' you enough? You gotta walk around without your trousers? By the way, thanks for the ear doctorin'. Don't think I'm not grateful. Still, would it kill you to wear some gorram pants on my boat—?"
"Oh, forgive me, Captain. Going by your attire, I assumed the dress code was on the casual side this evening. I wouldn't want to offend your delicate sensibilities by—"
Inara rolled her eyes.
"Mal—" she tried.
"—What's the doc ramblin' about?" he interrupted.
"Mal, look down."
Mal glanced down, blinked when he saw his undershorts instead of the expected trousers.
"Huh." He tapped his knuckles against his bottom lip contemplatively, shot Kaylee a dirty look when she giggled. After a moment, he leaned toward Inara, whispered, "How come nobody told me I'm not wearin' any pants?"
"Since when can anyone tell you anything?" she replied sweetly.
"What in the gorram hell's goin on out here?" Jayne's voice boomed around the corner before he appeared, stopped short several feet away. He appraised their outfits for a few moments in dead silence.
"Good God, Mal," he said at last. "You all havin' some crazy orgy or somethin'?"
"Just get up to the bridge, Jayne," Mal said, patience rapidly fading from his tone.
"What's going on?" Simon asked.
"You's all actin' crazy-like, standin' round in your underwear," Jayne answered.
"I meant," Simon said dryly, "what's happening on the bridge. Is there a problem?"
Mal laughed, shortly. "Isn't there always?"
"It's not River…." Simon started.
"Your sister's fine, Doctor."
"You need me in the engine room, Captain?" Kaylee asked.
"Not just now, Kaylee. You an' the doctor stay put in your bunk 'til I say otherwise." Mal raked his eyes up and down Simon. "And in the name of all that's merciful, find the boy some pants." He turned to follow Jayne down the hall.
"Mal." Holding her robe closed, Inara ran after him.
"Inara." Turning around he sighed, pressed a hand to her cheek. "Go on back to your shuttle. Don't you see? I can't be havin' you here." He studied the gridwork of the floor. "Please, Inara. Just go."
She did as he said, turning quickly so he wouldn't see the look on her face.
He watched her retreating figure disappear down the stairs.
"Well, great." Simon sat down on Kaylee's bed, stretching his arms back behind him. "What are we supposed to do now?"
Kaylee shrugged, pure wide-eyed innocence. "Play doctor?"
Inara returned to her shuttle alone and closed the door. She sat on her sofa—the bed had the smell of his soap, the imprint of his head on her pillows. Slowly she drew her knees up to her chest and, lowering her face to her hands, began to cry.
Wash let out a breath, leaned back in his seat.
"We're in the clear folks," he said into the intercom. "I return you now to your regularly scheduled programming." He released the 'com, met Mal's eyes.
"Looks like they already stopped somewhere for dinner."
"I think it's almost breakfast time, Sweetiecakes," Zoe said, rubbing his shoulders.
"Yeah." Wash spun around in his seat. "You know what? This day sucked."
"I'd say that's a fair assessment." Mal rubbed absently at his ear.
"Glad to have you up and about, Captain Sir," Wash said, affecting a serious tone.
Mal smiled. "Yeah. Yeah, you too."
Jayne cleared his throat from the doorway. "Hey—I'll be in my bunk if you all need me. Gorram Reavers, interuptin' a man's sleep at this hour. Mal, Wash…uh, good to see you boys on your feet again." Without another word, he turned and strode out of the room.
"Wow, that was almost civil," Wash commented.
"Sir, you mind if we get some shut eye?" Zoe helped Wash, still a little sore, out of the chair.
"No, you go on. Get outta here." Mal eased down into Wash's chair. "Crazy kids."
"The tyrannosaurus is angry, he's going to nibble your toes." Wash grabbed one of his dinosaurs and chased Zoe out of the room.
Mal listened to Wash's oddly-disturbing growls mingle with Zoe's shrieks of laughter fade as they moved out of earshot. He sat alone in the cockpit, staring out into the emptiness of space. They'd been lucky with the Reavers twice now. But the Reavers were inching toward the core, spreading into his sky a little more every day. He wondered how much more luck his little ship had in her. One of these days that luck was gonna run out. The Reavers wouldn't stay away forever.
Mal watched the black fly past him, span unendingly before him as Serenity flew toward her next destination. And he thought of Inara's hair, dark as space, as mysterious and as enticing, falling forward around him, curtaining him, hiding everything. It was a long time that night before he could think about anything else.
The End (for now)
This story continues in Bedlam: Part 1. Feedback much appreciated!