Disclaimer: Joss is boss, these characters are not mine.

Warning: Slash

Set: Post 'Objects in Space' and pre BDM

A/N: Huge thanks to Tyloric for his mad beta-reading skills!

Simon lay in his bunk staring at the ceiling. He'd left the infirmary hours ago, but the scans of River's brain still revolved endlessly through his mind. He needed solutions, although at this point (he figured it was somewhere past ship's midnight, maybe 1am), he would have settled for sleep. Neither were forthcoming.

At times like these, when he was all out of ideas, when all he had were questions without answers, he was acutely aware of the fact that he was River's only hope for a cure. There were no other doctors to discuss treatments with, no specialists he could consult. The weight of the task sat heavy on his shoulders.

The dull but persistent throb of a tension headache resonated through his skull. With the intention of getting a drink of water, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. As he pushed himself to his feet, his eyes fell on the sink in the corner of the room, but he quickly dismissed it in favour of walk to the kitchen.

He stepped out into the hallway. Serenity was silent except for the comforting hum of her engines. He padded softly through the still, dark ship towards the upper decks.

Mal was on the bridge when he heard a sound echo down the passage towards him from the galley. He knew it was most likely one of the crew, up for a midnight snack or the like, but ever since Jubal Early's surprise visit, he had a new rule about not ignoring anything that went bump in the night. He moved silently down the steps and through the dim passage, keeping close to the wall. As he approached the dining area he peered out carefully to investigate the source of the noise.

A smirk tugged at his lips as he discovered a sight more pleasant than he'd been expecting. Not only was it not a sociopathic bounty hunter, it was the young doctor – and he was shirtless. Simon had his back to Mal as he stood there drinking a glass of water. Mal took a quiet step forward and leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed. He was now in full view of the doctor, if Simon turned around, which he didn't. Mal's gaze lingered on the younger man's sculpted form as he stood there, bathed in the yellow light of the galley; broad shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist, well-defined, muscular arms.

Damn, they breed 'em pretty in the core, Mal thought to himself, and not for the first time. Simon was still blissfully unaware that he was being watched, and Mal just couldn't pass up the opportunity to tease the poor young doctor.

"You know, I can recall there being a dress code in communal areas," Mal announced loudly. Simon spluttered into his drink as he spun around to face the captain. He began to choke. Mal strode over and thumped him on the back a few times, laughing silently.

"Captain," said Simon hoarsely, once he was able to speak again. "I wasn't aware you were still awake," he said, feeling like a fool. He hoped that Mal would assume the colour in his cheeks was due to the whole struggling-for-air thing, not the fact that he cared too much what Mal thought of him. Or that he was suddenly feeling a little self-conscious without his shirt.

"My turn to keep watch," Mal responded. "What might you still be doin' up?"

Simon took a careful breath, testing his traitorous lungs. "I was having trouble sleeping."

Mal nodded with more understanding than Simon could have comprehended in that moment. Mal was no stranger to sleepless nights. "Why don't you come up to the bridge?" he suggested. "A bit a' stargazing can help to ease a restless mind."

Simon eyed the captain suspiciously, but the offer seemed genuine. He cleared his throat and began to ask uncertainly, "Shall I go put on a-"

"Joke, Doc, it's called a joke. They have those on the central planets? Or did the Alliance outlaw them too?" he asked, taking Simon by his bare bicep and urging him in the direction of the bridge.

They moved quietly down the hallway, so as not to disturb the crew sleeping below, and ascended the stairs. Mal settled in the pilot's seat while Simon perched on the edge of the console.

"Stars. Gaze," ordered Mal as he gestured back and forth from Simon to the cockpit windows, then busied himself with checking the instruments.

Simon took a deep breath – a calming, hand-steadying breath, like the kind he took just before making a first incision. He released it slowly as he turned his gaze towards the pinpricks of light in the terminal blackness. Almost immediately he felt the pressure in his temples begin to ease, albeit just a little. Maybe Mal was right about stargazing as a legitimate form of mental relaxation.

He took another slow, deep breath and leaned back – and accidentally bumped a switch on the console behind him. His eyes shot open wide as an alarm began to blare. Mal jumped up, reached behind Simon, and thumped the necessary buttons to cut off the ear-piercing klaxon.

"You tryin' to knock us out of the sky?" Mal demanded. His eyes were fierce and his face was only inches from Simon's. He had him pinned against the console.

"No," whispered Simon, the whites of his eyes still showing. "Sorry."

Mal snorted. "Relax, Doc. I'm just kiddin'. Just one of those alarm things sayin' somethin' or another's broken. A shocker, I know," he grinned. "'Course, it did go off three months ago and I've just been hittin' the snooze ever since..."

Simon groaned, but he'd learned a long time ago that Kaylee could keep Serenity in the sky with little more than a smudge of engine grease and the power of positive thought. He knew he could trust her to keep them flying. Or at least he could trust that Mal wouldn't listen to his complaints that he should spend more money on ship maintenance.

Mal still hadn't moved. His hands were planted on the edge of the console either side of Simon's hips, and as the captain's jovial mood subsided, Simon found himself an unwilling captive of his piercing blue eyes. There was an intensity there that he hadn't expected to find, and he began to squirm beneath it. He'd been nursing a hopeless crush for some time now, and being in such close proximity to the object of his affections was a little overwhelming.

Then something in Mal's face caught the physician's eye, making him forget his discomfort. He met Mal's gaze squarely as he began to catalogue symptoms and consider diagnoses. Dilated pupils, rapid shallow breathing – could be any number of diseases. He ran through the list in his mind, looking for other signs to help him reach a prognosis. No bloodshot eyes, profuse sweating or slurred speech, that narrowed down the options.

He raised a hand and touched the back of his fingers to Mal's cheek to check for cool, clammy skin, but found it to be warm and dry – and just a little bristly. Simon's fingers lingered a moment longer than they should have. In that instant, what started as the deft touch of a doctor examining his patient, suddenly became something else. Mal raised his eyebrows, a look of mild amusement on his face.

Simon hand dropped like a stone. "I was just checking to see if you had Moxon's syndrome," he said, painfully aware of how daft he sounded.

"That so?" said Mal, his voice husky.

It hit Simon like a cold drink thrown in his face. Mal wasn't sick, he was aroused. Now that he could see it, the lust in Mal's eyes was undeniable. Simon had never even considered the possibility that his feelings for the captain could be reciprocated. His brain struggled with this revelation in disbelief, but his body responded to the primal truth of it. He felt his heart begin to pound as the tension between them grew taut.

Mal took a long moment to run his eyes up and down Simon's chiselled torso, making Simon acutely aware that his chest was rising and falling with his own quickened breaths. When the captain locked eyes with him again, his gaze was even more fiery than before.

Mal searched Simon's face. He found surprise, more than a little, but he also found what he was looking for – a mirror of his own desire. Good, just as he'd thought, the doctor wanted him too.

Simon's lips parted slightly as his gaze flickered down to Mal's mouth. Mal slipped his hand behind Simon's neck and found the good doctor's soft lips with his own. It was all Simon could do to hold back a moan as his senses filled with Mal – his taste, his touch. When he dared to breathe, he breathed in Mal.

The captain's tongue sought entry to the young doctor's shuai mouth, and it was granted. For a time Simon's entire 'verse was the captain's warm mouth, moist lips and expert tongue. The kiss grew deeper, more intense. Simon felt as if Mal could draw the very heart out his chest with the power of it. Somewhere at the back of his mind he was vaguely aware of what a cliché he was for feeling weak in the knees.

Mal ran his fingertips over Simon's smooth, firm body, grazing a nipple on the way and causing Simon's breath to hitch. He reached for the captain, pulling him closer. He parted his knees to allow room for one of Mal's thighs between his own.

Mal began to trail moist kisses along Simon's jaw. He found a sweet spot at his neck that near drove him to a frenzy. Simon's hands ranged all over Mal's body and eventually came to rest on his firm ass. He squeezed both cheeks and pulled the captain's hips closer, pressing his groin against Simon's thigh and drawing a soft grunt from him.

Mal crushed his lips against Simon's once more, relishing the taste of him. He wound one hand through Simon's hair and slid the other over the soft fabric of his pants, in the place where they strained to contain the hardened flesh within. He rubbed and massaged, and when this was no longer enough, he slipped his hand beneath the waistband. He took a firm hold and it wasn't long before he had the doctor almost whimpering under his steady stroke. His need was like a fire that razed him from head to toe, burning unchecked, until finally Mal tore his lips from Simon's.

They were both breathing hard. Mal rested his forehead on Simon's shoulder, forcing them both to stop and catch their breath. To Simon's dismay, Mal withdrew his hand. He rested it instead on Simon's hip.

"Wash'll be here any minute for the next watch," said Mal. "Go to your room and wait for me there."

Simon nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Mal took a step back and pulled the doctor to his feet. He drew him into an embrace and kissed him again, but slower and more tenderly this time. When Mal's strong arms released him, Simon had to use all his concentration to stay upright on his own and walk out the door without stumbling like he was drunk.

The captain watched the younger man's retreating form. You'll have no trouble falling asleep when I'm done with you, xiaocao, he thought with a knowing smile.

Chinese Translation

Xiaocao – handsome boy

A/N: My first slash. Reviews and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!