Last Call for Sin
Pairing: Mal/Jayne - contains slash! If this offends you, or is illegal where you are, don't read!
Disclaimer: This is Joss Whedon's sandbox. I'm just playing!
Spoilers: None
Summary: Written for the LJ community Shiny Hats Summer Ficathon, prompt #28 - Over and then, last call for sin from All These Things I've Done by The Killers. Thanks to alasdair1076 for the much-needed beta.

Mal looked around the galley at his crew, a contented smile hovering at the corners of his mouth, making his eyes twinkle. He lifted his mug and sipped at Kaylee's latest batch of mid-engine hooch, and tuned back in to the conversation going on around the table.

'I'm just sayin', there's things I'd be doin' if it were my last night, is all,' Kaylee insisted, turning pink. 'An' some of 'em I ain't sharin' no matter how many times y'ask, Jayne Cobb.'

'Bet ya'd be sharin' with the Doc, though,' Jayne grumbled. 'Ow!' He rubbed his arm where Kaylee had leaned across the table and punched him.

Simon leaned back in his chair and, half-smiling, said, 'I wouldn't be sharing my last night with you either, Jayne.'

'That weren't what I meant!' Jayne protested in vain as Wash laughed.

'For my last night, there's only one place I'd be, and that's with my beautiful Amazon warrior-wife,' the pilot said, reaching a hand under the table.

Linking fingers with him, Zoë smiled. 'That'd suit me just fine.'

She and Wash gazed at each other, momentarily lost to the rest of the room. Mal looked away, still a little uncomfortable with his second-in-command's ability to exclude him.

The Shepherd, seated at the other end of the table, caught Mal's eye and raised an eybrow. 'What about you, Captain?'

Mal shrugged. 'What about me?'

'I would imagine with your background, to say nothing of your current occupation, you've given the matter some thought. Is there nothing you'd do if you knew it were your last night in this 'Verse? Your last chance to sin?'

Mal took another sip from his mug, then put it down on the table, arranging his face carefully in a pleasant expression. 'I know better than to go wishin', Preacher. In my experience, a man either learns to live with the things he ain't done, or he makes sure he's done 'em. An' I ain't a man for regrets.'

Eight pairs of eyes regarded him with varying shades of disbelief.

Mal set his jaw stubbornly. 'Well, I ain't.' His good mood evaporating faster than the alcohol, he drained his mug and stood up. 'I'll be in the cockpit if anyone needs me.' He strode out of the galley.

Inara sighed. 'If ever there was a man who needed a good 'last night', that's him. But I'd imagine if he had a warrant signed by the entire hosts of Heaven themselves saying it was his last night in the 'Verse, he'd be so set on proving them wrong that he'd waste it.'

'Ain't no-one more stubborn than the Cap'n,' Kaylee agreed sadly.

'Of course, to have his 'last night', he'd have to figure out just what it was that he wanted,' Simon said, thoughtfully. 'Do any of you know for certain what that would be?'

'He's a complicated man, certainly,' Book agreed.

Bright-eyed, River watched Jayne from behind a curtain of hair. He was looking down at the table, sadness haunting his usually pugnacious face.

Sensing something, he glanced up and caught her eye.

'Whatcha lookin' at, Moony?' he growled, embarrassment turning his voice gruff.

River shook the hair from her face and smiled. 'I would dance with the suns of a thousand worlds and sing with the music of the spheres,' she said. 'Also I would have a real chocolate milkshake.'

Mal walked up the corridor, trying not to listen to the rumble of conversation drifting up from the galley. His shoulders slumped a little as Simon's comment reached him. He climbed the few steps to the cockpit door and dropped into the pilot's seat, automatically checking the instruments to make sure everything was running smoothly. That done, he leaned back and stared out into the Black, fighting to keep his mind from wandering.

'Gorrammit! Some things should just be left well alone.' As should he, he thought. Mean ol' man, with nothin' much left but ta keep flyin'.

Weren't so much that he didn't have regrets, he knew, just that he'd learned to live with them. Or anyways, they hadn't killed him yet, and that amounted to much the same thing. The Doc was wrong. He knew exactly what he wanted; he just couldn't have it.

It wasn't in particular a 'Verse in which the Independents had won and Shadow hadn't burned; a 'Verse in which the Alliance had never had chance to cut open River's, or any other child's, brain. It wasn't even the wishing the War had never had to happen, or that he'd never learned to kill.

It was the wishing he could, just for a night, let go of his worries, his fears, the constant struggle to survive. It was the wishing he could spend that last night in a warm bunk, limbs tangled up with the one person he longed for. Not sexin', although it had been a long time: just being held, and not let go.

He took a deep breath, and sighed. It was going to be a long night.

A couple of jobs went smoothly, and the little they paid was enough to keep Serenity flying. But a month later, Mal found himself back around the table with his crew, his family, and Kaylee's latest jug of hooch. And they were back to awkward questions.

'If there's one thing you could tell someone, what would it be?' Wash asked. 'Because I have to say, I'd tell the dinosaurs to duck and cover.'

Kaylee pursed her lips. 'Ooh! I'd tell Chang Murcheson ta put the wirin' fer the grav boot on the other side o' the stabiliser. He musta been workin' with a hangover when he came up with that one. How 'bout you, Inara?'

Inara gave a polished smile. 'I would tell my younger self to practise my calligraphy more. I always hated it as a child, but now I find it very relaxing, very satisfying. What about you, Shepherd?'

Book shook his head. 'I don't believe I would listen to myself. And anything I haven't said, God already knows. Simon?'

Before anyone could ask him, Mal stood up, stretching casually. 'I got some papers to look over. G'night, all.'

Simon shook his head as the Captain headed for his bunk. 'I think stubbornness is a common trait here, Shepherd Book.'

Jayne watched the Captain leave, then grunted. 'Yeah. Sometimes words just ain't got what it takes.' He frowned.

'And what does it take?' Simon challenged. 'A gun?'

'Sometimes,' Zoë cut in. 'Words can be tricky things. Sometimes only actions will do.'

'I'll be in my bunk,' Jayne said, and left.

'Sometimes the words are the right words, but they don't find the right home or the right voice or the right time,' River explained. 'And sometimes they do.'

Jayne dropped down into his bunk and pushed the hatch shut. He dropped onto the bed and lay back, looking at his posters. Whores an' guns: that were all he was on the outside. Could be a reason no-one bothered lookin' any harder at him. Which was fine by him. He treated all his girls proper, an' neither sort let him down very often. He didn't need anythin' more from 'em.

But Mal... He'd seen the Cap'n watching him, ever since he'd come aboard. At first, he figured the man were waitin' fer him ta turn on him. An' from the start, jokin' aside, he'd found himself wantin' ta be trusted. He weren't too sure when that'd become so important, but after Ariel, when fear an' greed had made him stupid, he'd known he'd rather space hisself than give the Cap'n cause ta look at him like that again.

Only the Cap'n hadn't stopped lookin'. An' after Jayne an' everyone'd left him an' the ship driftin' in the Black, in the hours the shuttles flew away from Serenity and her Captain, Jayne had felt things shift inside him. Thoughts and feelin's an' memories all thrown up in the air, but when they landed, things made a different kind o' sense. It weren't that the Cap'n didn't trust him, it were that he wanted him an' he weren't a man to take what he wanted; not that kind o' want, anyhow. Even if it were offered.

Which, Jayne reflected, made things a mite difficult.

In his own bunk, Mal sat at his desk, papers spread out in front of him. He stared at them with unseeing eyes.

What was it with these questions? It seemed like every time they got to relaxing together, one of his crew would think up something designed to drive him away. What was wrong with a game of Tall Card?

He sighed.

He thought he knew what he'd say: to his younger self, it'd be a warning. Don't put your faith in a God, in generals, in politicians. Give any man a rope long enough, they'd hang themselves for sure.

Then again, mayhap that wasn't what he wanted to say. The trouble with only having the one thing to say, to one person, was it might just be to someone else entirely, and that one thing being yes.

A job went south, and Mal found himself in the infirmary being stitched up by Simon.

'An inch either way and you'd be dead,' the Doctor informed him dispassionately, tying off the surgical thread. 'Which would have made last night your very last night. Anything you'd rather have done differently?'

Mal grimaced. 'Yeah,' he said lightly. 'Finish that book I've been readin'. An' maybe wash my hair. Always thought I'd make a pretty corpse.'

Simon shook his head, and bandaged up the latest addition to Mal's collection of scars.

Jayne, dusty from the fight and hot from shifting cargo in a hurry, stormed into the infirmary. He pushed Simon aside and poked a finger at the unbandaged portion of Mal's chest.

'Stupid ruttin' húndàn!' he growled.

'Ow!' Mal protested.

'Next time I say duck, you duck, gorramit, or I'll shoot ya myself!' He turned and stormed back out of the room.

Mal raised his eyebrows. 'I didn't know he cared.'

With a sound of disgust, Simon stepped back and stripped off his gloves.

'What?' Mal looked round at the Doctor, surprised.

Simon shook his head. 'You came quite literally within an inch of dying, and you shrug it off without a second thought. You are reckless and you don't seem to be aware that if you actually manage to get someone to shoot you just a little more accurately, you will be leaving behind an entire ship full of people who obviously care more for your life than you do. It makes me wonder why we all try so hard to keep you alive.'

He turned away and started cleaning up the infirmary. 'Go, get some rest. Try not to pull any stitches.'

Surprised, Mal went to face his ship.

'You just don't get it, do you, Mal?' Inara asked, eyes searching his face. 'And I very much doubt that after all this time I can enlighten you.'

'You've been given so many second chances,' Book said with a tone of mild reproof. 'But what have you done with them?'

'Just... try not to get my wife shot at quite so often. That's all I ask,' said Wash with an air of resignation.

'Sir,' Zoë passed him with a nod on her way out of the galley, leaving him alone with Kaylee.

'Hey, Kaylee. How's my girl?' Mal asked.

'She's running just fine, Cap'n,' Kaylee said. 'But her heart ain't in it. 'Scuse me.' Mal stared after her, bemused, as she headed back towards the engine room.

'What is it with everyone?' he asked the empty room.

River answered from behind him, making him jump. 'You refuse to connect, push yourself away, try to hide your heart. But you can't keep it safe like that! Only hurting those who love you!' Frustrated, she stamped her foot. 'Boob!'

Mal washed the blood off himself and put on fresh clothes. Despondently, he looked around his bunk. It looked a little shabby, everything in it just that bit more worn. In need of a little love, he admitted to himself. River was right.

He healed, and tensions eased. Another long, quiet evening out in the Black, another spell of sitting around the table in the galley, doing nothing much but talking and drinking Kaylee's hooch.

'So is there anyone you wish you'd slept with an' never?' Kaylee asked Inara.

Mal winced, and kept his attention firmly on the washing up he was doing, making a valiant attempt to ignore the conversation.

The Companion smiled as all eyes turned to her. 'I don't allow my desires to rule me,' she explained. 'I wouldn't be very good at my job if I did.'

Kaylee pouted. 'Sometimes it ain't that simple.'

'Should be,' Jayne grunted, testing the sharpness of one of his knives. 'Ain't no reason why ya shouldn't jus' be able ta go up ta someone an' tell 'em ya wanna rut with 'em.'

'Apart from the complete lack of romance, you mean?' Simon said acidly. 'I can't see that working for anyone outside of a whorehouse. Then again, I suppose that's where you shine, isn't it?'

Jayne frowned. 'So yer sayin' if ya was ta tell Kaylee ya wanted ta get sexin' with her, she'd be so put-out by yer lack o' style an' fancy manners she'd turn down the chance ta get in yer pants? I don't think so.'

'Jayne!' Mal whipped around, ready to tell the Merc off for his crudity. But Kaylee was looking thoughtfully at Simon, seemingly not at all upset.

'Ya know, I kinda like a little romance,' she said, then smiled. 'Shows a man has some respect.'

Simon matched her smile with one of his own.

'The first time Wash and I got together was pretty much like that.' Zoë eyed her husband hungrily. 'Still is, sometimes.'

Wash grinned lasciviously. 'Yeah. There's a time and a place for being romantic.' He paused, cocked his head. 'Then again, quick and dirty's also good. And fun. And quick and dirty. Did I mention fun?'

Wincing, Mal turned back to the washing up. The sooner he got through it, the sooner he could escape. 'I don't need ta hear this, people!' he called over his shoulder. 'Ain't there some other topic of conversation ya'd rather discuss?'

A chorus of denials made him groan.

'Since I'm sworn to celibacy, I can't really contribute to the discussion,' Book said. 'But how about you, Captain? I must say there are times I'm half-convinced you've taken the oath yourself.'

'Oh no, nope, I ain't gettin' into this,' Mal said, finally racking the last plate. 'Someone else can put these away. I'll be in the cockpit.'

'No need, sir,' Zoë said. 'Wash is just on his way up there.'

When Mal opened his mouth to protest, she added, 'And I checked the cargo before dinner, and all the paperwork is up-to-date. Ain't a reason why you can't enjoy your evenin' in the company of your crew.'

Mal gaped at her betrayal.

Kaylee turned to him with that kicked-puppy look in her big brown eyes. 'Why don't ya want ta spend time with us no more, Cap'n?'

'It ain't that!' Mal fished desperately for an explanation. 'I'm as fond of Tall Card and hoopball as any of ya.'

'Then why is it you haven't spent more than half an hour with us all outside of mealtimes?' Simon asked.

Mal scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to pull his thoughts into a semblance of order. 'I... These questions... There are some things should be kept private, is all.'

'I don't follow,' Book said. 'You won't stay and talk because we ask questions?'

Mal leaned back against the worktop. 'That ain't it. I don't mind questions. It's just...'

'Sometimes y'ain't got the answers?' Jayne said, knife forgotten in front of him.

'It ain't even that,' Mal shrugged, frustrated. 'It's...'

'Sir, don't matter what the answers are. We've all got your back.' Zoë looked at him, compassion evident in her eyes.

Mal looked at them all, his crew, his family, and saw the same compassion on all their faces. Defeated, he sighed.

'All right, I surrender.' He held up his hands. 'If this were my last night in the 'verse, I'd tell ya all how proud I am o' ya. Then I'd fish me out the bottle o' Scotch I've been savin', go share it with the person I regret not sleepin' with. I'd even tell 'em I regret not sayin' how I feel, see if they'd mind me stayin' the night.

'But you have it wrong, Shepherd. I wouldn't be lookin' to add ta my sins. It'd be a kind o' redemption, just to lie in his arms the night through, then go meet my Maker. Is that enough sharing for ya?'

The crew stared at him, then Simon cleared his throat. 'He?' he asked delicately.


'You said 'his arms',' Kaylee put in.

'Inara's a man? Why wasn't I told?' Wash exclaimed.

Surprisingly, Inara laughed. 'You thought Mal was in love with me? His behaviour may sometimes resemble a boy pulling pigtails, but it's clear his heart belongs elsewhere.' She laughed again at the scowl on Mal's face, while the rest of the crew watched in confusion.

'See, this is why I don't share,' he complained, pushing himself away from the worktop. 'You all only laugh at me. 'Scuse me while I go rescue what's left of my dignity.' He stalked towards the doorway.

Abruptly, Jayne shoved his chair back and stood, striding round the table, the others turning to watch him in surprise. He shot an arm across the doorway just as Mal reached it.

'What the-?' Mal began, his temper rising. 'Out o' my way, Jayne.'

'No,' the Merc growled.

'Don't make me have ta shoot ya,' Mal warned.

'I ain't shared yet,' Jayne rumbled, looking down into the Captain's eyes. 'You might wanna wait on a minute.'

Mal stared at his Merc, then shrugged. 'Fine. So share.'

Jayne stared back at him, an expression Mal couldn't quite interpret in his eyes. Lifting his chin a little, he spoke.

'There's only one person I regret not sleepin' with, an' that's you. An' that's the one thing I'd say, an' I'm tellin' it to ya now. All the times it's nearly been my last night in the 'verse, I ain't cared 'cause I ain't thought nothin' of it 'til after. But every time it's been the night after, I've thought o' buryin' myself so deep in ya I won't ever find my way out again. An' every time it's been the night after it were nearly yer last night in the 'verse, I've had ta lock my hatch ta stop myself goin' ta yer bunk an' holdin' ya, just ta make sure yer alive.'

Mal lost himself in the Merc's stormy blue eyes for a long moment, until Wash broke the stunned silence.

'Wŏ de mā hé tā de fēnkuáng de wàisheng dōu!'

Mal glanced round. With the exception of Inara, who was smiling, the rest of his crew were staring at him and Jayne like they'd turned purple and sprouted tails. He looked back at Jayne, who was watching him intently, waiting for Mal's reaction.

'How 'bout that Scotch?'

'Thought ya'd never ask.'

Looking back at the family he'd found, seated around the galley table, Mal grinned. 'I'm proud o' ya. Don't wait up on my account.'

Mal pulled a bottle out of the bottom drawer of his desk. Jayne dropped down the ladder behind him and pulled the hatch shut, locking it behind him.

'Got a glass?' Mal asked.

Jayne shook his head. 'Don't matter. I ain't here fer the booze.' He sat down on Mal's bunk. 'So all yer after is a night in my arms, huh?'

Holding the bottle loosely, Mal leaned back against the desk. 'Yeah. Been brought to my attention lately that I'm not... connecting. I've been holding back, keepin' my distance. Runnin' scared.'

'You ain't no coward, Mal,' Jayne said. 'All ya had ta do is ask.'

'Hah!' Mal laughed, a brief explosion that took him by surprise. 'I ain't much for askin', neither. Especially when yer surrounded by girls so much o' the time.'

'Maybe if ya asked a little more, ya wouldn't get shot at so much,' Jayne pointed out drily. 'Most Cap'n's wouldn't take on a merc who leans a little sly. An' if girls're offerin', well, who knows when a chance for a decent rut'll come by again?'

'It had occurred to me that if I asked, I'd be on the receivin' end o' one o' your other girls quicker than blinkin',' Mal said, relaxing a little.

Jayne grinned, teeth flashing white against the dark of his goatee. 'If ya get yer butt over here, I c'd show ya just what yer'll be on the receivin' end of.'

'With an offer like that, how could I possibly refuse?' Mal grinned back and, putting the bottle down on the desk, he pushed himself up and crossed over to sit beside his Merc. He busied himself taking off his boots, then set to work on Jayne's.

When the big man grunted in surprise, Mal looked up. 'Ain't havin' you messin' up my sheets.'

Jayne pouted. 'That kinda limits what we c'n do then, if yer all worried about the state o' yer sheets, now.'

Mal smiled, and brushed his thumb over Jayne's pout. 'I guess you'll just have ta do yer best ta put it out o' my mind, then.'

So Jayne did.

húndàn - bastard
Wŏ de mā hé tā de fēnkuáng de wàisheng dōu - Holy Mother of God and all her wacky nephews