A/N: I wish I could say where this came from. I don't know. I just had a hankering to write Zoe/Simon, despite being a firm Zoe/Wash supporter and happy shipping Simon with Kaylee or Inara. And yet, the couple intrigues me. So this is the result.
They started slowly. Unravelling like a spool of ribbon. Late-night talks over tea. Both trying to ignore the reasons they were awake. A briefly held hand. A shoulder nudge when sharing a joke.
The first kiss caught them both off guard. He'd hugged her one night knowing that the next day would be a bad one. It was the anniversary. As they pulled away their eyes met and they both leaned in. It wasn't a good kiss – clumsy, awkward and tense. Almost as soon as it started she shoved him away and descended into her bunk.
Avoiding each other on the small ship wasn't easy but they managed it. He took to spending time with River or Inara and she sought out Mal and Jayne more than usual. During meals and crew meetings they wouldn't look at one another and would both leave as soon as possible. After three weeks of this Mal and River decided they had enough.
"You're being a boob, again."
Simon looked up to see his little sister standing in the infirmary door.
"Mei mei, I'm busy."
"It's going to be easier if I just hear you out, isn't it?"
Her look clearly said, 'well, duh'.
He sighed and put down his inventory list. "Fine, we might as well sit down."
They settled on the couch in the common area and River fixed her brother with a glare. "You may be smart with books but when it comes to life, you're a moron."
"Gee, thanks River. That's helpful."
"I haven't gotten to helping you yet and sarcasm won't get us there faster."
"I don't need your help."
She laughed. "Yes, you do. Simon, I know you were hurt when Kaylee left you for Rawley." Simon flinched at her casual summary of events. Truth be told, he would never really forgive their new cook for stealing Kaylee away. "And we all felt bad for you. Even Jayne. But I don't want you to lose out on something special because you're too afraid of being hurt again."
"Something special like you found?" He couldn't help the derision in his voice even as he knew he deserved the slap she delivered upside his head.
"Jayne and I love each other so yes, something special like that. You deserve to be happy, Simon. And I think you and Zoe could make each other happy."
"You're just saying that because we're the only two single people on the ship."
She answered with an annoyed huff. "It's not that at all. You make each other smile. You bring each other peace. And you need one another." She smiled at him. "You like to be needed, Simon. Probably more than most people. And I know you're happy that I'm so much better lately, but I think you miss having someone to take care of."
He thought of Serenity's strong, proud first mate. "She doesn't need me."
"She does. She lost her smile and you returned it to her. None of us could do it, but you did."
"We're too different. We have nothing in common."
"Opposites attract. Look at the Captain and Inara. Or Jayne and I. From the outside we are a puzzle, but we've learned that all our pieces fit perfectly."
"I'm taking that as a metaphor and ignoring any innuendo."
She grinned. "If it helps. Listen," she said, more seriously, "none of this is what really matters, though. It's one simple question, Simon. How do you feel about her? Ignoring everything else, is she the one you want to be with? Because if she isn't, that's fine. But if she is, why aren't you with her right now?"
Mal found Zoe on the bridge. She was sitting in the pilot's chair, staring off into the black, holding one of Wash's dinosaurs.
"Remember the day he set those up," Mal said, sitting in the co-pilot's seat. "You wanted me to add a no toys on the ship rule. Shoulda known then you'd end up marryin' him."
She smiled sadly. "Never would have suspected myself. Wasn't going to get near him with that thing livin' on his lip."
Mal laughed. "Lord, it was ugly. I guess it's a good thing he decided to shave it off."
"Decided nothing. He tried to kiss me and I told him that he wasn't going to get within two feet of me with that gorram moustache. Next day it was gone."
"Well, he'd a done anything for you. He was head over heels."
"I was too." Her hair hid her face, but Mal could hear the sorrow in her voice.
"He'd want you to be happy, Zoe. He wouldn't want you still grievin' after him. It's been two years now."
"I know. But Mal… it's only been two years."
They sat in silence for a bit. Both of them stared out at the stars until Mal broke the spell. "Thing is, I can't say as I understand your taste in men. I liked Wash well enough, but he never woulda been the one I thought you'd pick."
"He made me laugh. It's not easy to do." She glanced at Mal and smiled.
"I'm noticing that the Doc can make you laugh, too. Not sure how that works as I wasn't aware the man had a sense of humour. But you seem to find him funny. Truth is, the only time I've seen you happy in the past while is when you're with him. And I think that warrants some consideration."
Zoe's face hardened. "What do you want from me, Mal?"
"Just for you to think on it. Maybe nothing will come of it and you and Simon can spend the next twenty years trying to avoid each other on this ship. Or maybe you'll find cause to laugh regular again." He got up and headed down to the cargo bay. "Want you to be happy, Zoe. That's all."
He left Zoe as he had found her, sitting in the pilot's chair, holding one of Wash's dinosaurs, staring out into the black.
Simon looked up from the book he was reading to see Zoe standing in his doorway with a nervous expression on her face. He didn't even know it was possible for Zoe to get nervous.
"Hello." They stared at each other for a minute before Simon's manners kicked in. "Oh, come in. Um, sit down."
He offered her his room's only chair and sat himself on his bed. After a minute of uncomfortable silence he tried to break it just as she did.
"How are – " "About the – "
They both chuckled awkwardly. Smiling, he gave her the floor. "After you."
"About the kiss the other night. I'm sorry about that."
"Was it so bad?" he asked with a worried smile. "I mean, I can usually kiss better than that, it just took me by surprise."
Zoe smiled. "I'm a better kisser than that, too, but it wasn't what I meant. I'm sorry for pushing you away like that. Just startled me some. Didn't expect it to happen."
"Neither did I, but," he looked her in the eye, "I'm not sorry that it did."
"Me neither." She looked down at her hands before looking back up at him. "So, what now?"
"I'm not sure." He laughed. "This may come as a surprise, but I'm actually not that good at talking to girls."
She laughed too, and finished the joke. "Why, is there someone you are good at talking to?"
Leaning forward he grasped her hand. "You. I'm good at talking to you. Or at least I was before. I hope I can stop acting like a lovesick teenager and do it again."
"So do I," she smiled wryly. "Otherwise this relationship ain't going to get very far."
"So we're in a relationship?"
"Unless you're wantin' to protest."
"No. Definitely not." They both stood, and shifted awkwardly.
Zoe gestured towards the door. "I should be turnin' in. We're landing in about eight hours and I should get some sleep before then."
"Absolutely. Sleep is important. Not getting enough could lead to paranoia, listlessness – "
Zoe's lips on his silenced his babbling. Feather light at first but once he realised what was happening, he wrapped his arms around her waist and shoulders and pulled her closer. The kiss deepened as her hands travelled up his arms to stroke his hair. Her lips were soft and full and Simon felt as though he was falling into a deep chasm that he never wanted to leave. He felt her hands leave his hair and cup his face before pulling away. The shared one more soft, all-too-brief kiss before disengaging entirely.
As she left his room, she turned back and smiled. "Told you I could kiss better than that."
He grinned. "I can still do better. I'll have to show you tomorrow."
"Looking forward to it, Doc."
Simon watched her walk away hoping that tomorrow would come as soon as possible.