A/N: This chapter is quite different from the first two. It shows us a handful of moments that occur throughout the following day. Needless to say, I didn't really plan this fic out from the start, it just sort of took on a life of its own!
I'd like to say a huge thank-you to the wonderful writers who have provided feedback throughout the course of this fic. Your input and encouragement have been invaluable, I couldn't have done it without you!
As Mal's consciousness eased its way back into the waking world he became aware of the broad chest beneath his arm. A delicious warmth spread through him as he remembered that the body next to him was Simon Tam. He opened his eyes and let them rest on Simon's sleeping form as memories of the night before drifted back to him. He could have stayed right there for hours, doing just that.
"Baobei," Mal murmured in his ear, trying to wake him gently. He brushed Simon's dark hair aside and laid a kiss upon his forehead. Simon's eyelids fluttered open.
"Mal," he said with a soft smile, his voice husky with sleep.
Lianren, you're just too gorram cute, Mal thought to himself. "I should be getting back to my bunk," he said. "Y' know, before the peanut gallery gets wise."
Simon gave a bleary-eyed nod of agreement. The last thing either of them wanted was the crew speculating on why Mal had spent the night in Simon's room. No doubt they'd draw some pretty quick conclusions, and they'd probably be right.
Simon reluctantly let him go, but not before pulling him in for a final kiss. Mal recovered his clothes from the floor and got dressed, then eased the cabin door open and peered out. Upon discovering the coast was clear, he threw Simon a 'wish-me-luck' grin and stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him.
His cautious movements through the ship belied the fact that he was actually pretty damn pleased with himself. He'd expected the doctor's shell to be tougher to crack. He knew Simon's life was consumed by River and that he never took time out for himself. Mal had suspected Simon was sweet on him too, but he hadn't been at all sure the younger man would allow himself to indulge those feelings.
He descended the ladder to his bunk with a private smile. That stargazing suggestion had worked better than he'd expected.
Simon rose at the usual time and headed to breakfast just like he always did. It would be hard enough to keep a secret like this on a ship this small and he didn't want to do anything to arouse suspicions. He topped the stairs and stepped into the corridor between the engine room and the galley. Right at that moment Mal and Jayne exited the dining area – and headed straight for him.
"All 'm sayin' is, just 'cause they been friendly in the past don't mean we can't take some stun grenades with us anyhow," said Jayne. Mal proceeded to tell him in no uncertain terms, and a few unsavoury Chinese ones, why his logic was flawed on that count.
Normal, just act normal, Simon told himself. He was dismayed to discover that he had absolutely no recollection of what normal was. What did he usually do when he passed Mal in the corridors? Did he make eye contact? Did he say 'hello'? Did he walk straight past? Simon's eyes went everywhere as he tried desperately to figure out what someone who hadn't spent the night with his arms around the captain would do. Then a sickening thought occurred to him. What if he'd been completely wrong about Mal? What if Mal was about to blank him because what they'd shared hadn't meant a thing?
Simon's stomach churned as the two men drew closer. At the last moment the captain slowed just enough to allow the merc in front of him. Jayne acknowledged Simon with a sneer and kept walking. From behind Jayne's back, Mal threw Simon a conspiratorial wink, along with a "Mornin', Simon." His tone was as casual as ever, but his gaze was decidedly warm.
Simon managed a "Good morning," in return and continued on down the corridor. He paused to wipe the smile off his face before he entered the dining area, but he could have been grinning like a Cheshire cat for all it mattered; the room was now empty.
He switched on the hotplate under the kettle and selected a foil packet from the draw. As he waited for the water to boil, it occurred to him that he had been dreading a similar passing-in-the-corridors scenario the night before when he was having doubts about sleeping with Mal. While the situation had still been a little awkward (for him, at least), it was a far cry from the agonizingly uncomfortable one that would have followed a one night stand. Things were turning out better than he could have hoped.
Hope. It had been so long since he'd felt hope. Sure, he'd had moments of cautious optimism regarding River's treatments, but what he felt right now was something else, a joyful, intoxicating anticipation.
Simon only realised he'd been staring off into the middle distance when he was roused from his musings by the arrival of the Shepherd. "Looks like you're thinking deeply on something there, son," the Shepherd commented as he began opening cupboards and collecting the makings of his own breakfast. Simon opened his mouth to respond but was only too grateful to be cut off by the shrieking of the kettle.
It was shaping up to be a quiet day for those left onboard Serenity. Zoe, Mal and Jayne were planet-side, expected back in a couple of hours from their latest job. Simon was in the infirmary conducting an inventory of his supplies.
River drifted into the room. "Gold," she murmured.
"Hm?" Simon looked up from his clipboard. Her eyes were gently closed and she had a wistful smile on her face, as if she was soaking up the rays of the sun on a cold morning.
"He makes you golden. It's not your colour, but it suits you."
"He, who?" he asked, his tone guarded.
She gave him a withering look. Simon decided it was best not to ask any more questions. He should have known she'd figure it out. He was still getting used to living with her enhanced mental capabilities.
"Don't need parapsychological abilities," she replied to his unvoiced thought. "Heard you through the wall," she said with a cheeky grin.
Simon's eyes widened. "You...heard?" A peal of laugher told him she was just teasing.
Brat. He narrowed his eyes at her and shook his head, trying not to smile.
"One moon circling," she informed him with conviction, then kissed him on the cheek and slipped out of the room.
Mal sat back and let Simon stitch up the gash on his chest. It wasn't deep, but the doctor had insisted it was still sizable enough to warrant a few sutures. As Simon bent over him, the infirmary's sharp antiseptic smell gave way to the sweeter scent of the doctor's cologne.
"I thought these people were amicable," Simon commented dryly as he worked. "What happened to 'shouldn't be any trouble' and 'it'd take a moron to send this job south'? What did you say to make one of them come at you with a knife?"
"What makes you so-"
Simon silenced him with a knowing look. "What did you say?" he repeated.
Mal conceded. "Can't recall exactly; may have said something – in jest – about a few of them having an IQ on par with their smartest hog. Turns out they weren't amused. How was I to know? Those folk usually love me!"
"'A man in hue all hues in his controlling, which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth,'" Simon murmured wryly.
"Anyone ever tell you you're cute when you're a nerd?" asked Mal. "That from that poetry book a' yours? The one got no pictures in it?"
Simon gave him an exasperated look. "'Methinks I am enamour'd of an ass.'"
Mal's eyes narrowed, then a wolfish grin tugged at one side of his mouth. "If you're gonna be using this poetry feiwu at my expense then I think I'd best be gettin' to know my enemy. How's about you bring that book by my bunk after dinner tonight?"
Simon raised an eyebrow at the thought of Mal taking an interest in literature of any sort, but he gave a nod of agreement as he tied off the last suture. Then he realised that Mal had just invited him to the captain's quarters that night.
As his patient rose and buttoned his shirt, Simon began to rattle off instructions about caring for the wound, but the captain cut him off with "Don't worry, I know a good doctor."
Mal swept his eyes over the common area outside the infirmary. While the dull thuds and scrapes of crates being unloaded still echoed from the cargo hold, the immediate vicinity was temporarily free of onlookers. Mal swung his eyes back towards the doctor and fixed him with a smoky gaze. Simon had no defences against that look.
The captain pulled him into a heated kiss – the fact that they could be caught at any moment making it all the more fevered. Simon matched it with a fire of his own as he wrapped Mal in a strong embrace and pressed their bodies hard against each other. The captain moaned involuntarily as the doctor's questing tongue plunged into his mouth.
Fuelled by the intensity of their shared desire, the kiss took on a passion of its own, sweeping both of them up in a turbulent sea. Mal's hands ranged restlessly over all the parts of Simon he could reach, and still that wasn't enough. All other sensory perception was drowned out as they were consumed by their awareness of each other.
Mal managed to break away before he was completely undone by it. They were both left holding each other and gasping for air.
Finally, the captain cleared his throat. "Uh, thanks." He seemed to be having a little trouble using words. "You know, for the..." He motioned towards the general area of Simon's handiwork, now hidden under his shirt. The doctor just nodded and let Mal find his own way out the door.
Simon took a deep breath and began to tidy up as he waited for his racing pulse to slow.
Simon moved towards the dinner table with two laden plates in hand. He put one in front of River, then sat down to the other. The rest of the crew resolved themselves around the table, filling the room with chatter and laughter. Mal pulled up the chair beside him, a move that, while not unprecedented, was not a common occurrence. Simon looked up, but the captain's eyes were trained on Zoe on the other side of the table as they debated the finer details of the story Mal was telling.
"Covered in lace, sure as the sky is blue," said Zoe.
Wash grimaced. "The sky is black, dear," he said apologetically, jerking a thumb towards the windows above the dining hall.
"I distinctly remember polka dots," Mal insisted.
Simon dutifully returned his gaze to his plate, but had cause to eyeball his meal a moment later as Mal moved his leg so it was flush against Simon's own under the table. Simon risked the briefest of sidelong glances, but Mal was still seemingly engrossed in the discussion about the lieutenant's underwear. Simon forked a piece of protein into his mouth, hoping the smile he was trying to suppress would be less obvious when combined with the action of chewing. So here they were, sitting at the dinner table with everyone and pretending it never happened, but not in the way he'd imagined.
Mal lay in his bunk, the blood pulsing a little faster than usual through his veins. He knew Simon would wait until late to limit the chances of being seen entering Mal's bunk, but what the doctor didn't yet realise was that it was impossible to keep a secret like this on a ship this small.
No doubt the crew would be a mite surprised when they inevitably found out. Mal could conjure others might find it hard to see any similarities between the Core-bred, well-mannered doctor and a farm boy from the Rim like himself, but their two very different lives had some unexpected parallels.
In Simon, Mal saw another soldier at war with the Alliance. Overwhelmingly outmatched, Simon spent every day fighting for his freedom, just like himself. That alone had been enough for Mal to let them stay on board all those months ago, but it went deeper than that.
Mal knew what it was like to put everything on the line for what you knew to be right. Simon's all-consuming loyalty to River, the lengths he'd gone to for her, Mal could understand that. Probably would have done the same in his position, though he knew many a man who wouldn't have.
He was also no stranger to losing parts of who you were on account of the Alliance. He recalled the hospital name badge he'd seen in the doctor's room. To his mind, it spoke volumes about Simon that one of the few possessions he'd brought with him from his old life was something he would never again have a use for. And the way he kept it out on the shelf in plain sight, like a trophy symbolizing all he'd achieved – or perhaps it was more like a memorial to everything he'd lost. Regardless, it was a daily reminder of what he'd had, the person he used to be, before it was all taken from him.
At first he'd assumed River's rescue, while an admirable feat, had been achieved in a fleeting moment of bravado, and that the boy had no real backbone. But as the months passed and Mal had the opportunity to observe Simon's tireless dedication to his sister, not to mention his calm control while holding death at bay on that operating table, he became aware of a subtle strength to him that had to be admired.
Easy to misjudge though, what with the expensive clothes and the perfect skin that gave the impression he'd never had to work for a thing in his life. And those pretty eyes of his would throw anyone off, what with their long, dark lashes. And why'd he always have to smell so gorram good? It befuddled the senses.
Mal was roused from his thoughts by the sound of the hatch opening. He rose to his feet as Simon descended the ladder: shiny shoes, dark pants, leather belt, silk vest, crisp white shirt open at the throat, strong jaw, those shuai blue eyes and finally the dark hair. It was getting just a little long (been a while since they'd stopped somewhere with a decent barber), but Mal kind of liked it that way. Gave the illusion that maybe he'd relaxed a little. Or maybe it wasn't an illusion.
"I brought the book," Simon announced, holding it up.
"Gee, thanks," said Mal with false sincerity, taking it from him and tossing it onto a chair.
In response to Simon's raised eyebrows, Mal said, "I was lyin'. Don't actually need it."
He took Simon's face in his hands and recited, "A woman's face, with Nature's own hand painted, hast thou, the Master Mistress of my passion." Mal watched in amusement as the doctor's reaction played out across his handsome features.
Simon experienced several emotions in quick succession. Surprise, of course, that Mal had even heard of Shakespeare; embarrassment that Mal must have known exactly which sonnet he was referring to when he made that quip earlier in the day; then confusion as he tried to decide whether to be complimented or insulted by the line Mal had just attributed to him. There was also a degree of begrudging respect as he noted the irony of Mal now quoting Shakespeare at his expense. His brows knit and his mouth worked as he attempted to respond.
"Just 'cause I ain't had your fancy schoolin' don't mean I ain't had no schoolin' at all," said Mal, then he put an end to further discussion by catching Simon's lips in his own. He ran his hands over the rich fabric of Simon's vest as he wrapped his arms around the younger man.
Simon put his confusion aside and melted into the embrace, moulding himself to the captain and drinking in his closeness.
Mal got an inkling that he was providing something Simon desperately needed. The doctor was always there for his sister, but Simon could stand to have someone there for him. Mal conjured he could fill that role, and as he thought on the notion he got a feeling in his belly. It was something akin to the buzz of contentment that accompanies a glass of rich, smooth scotch. It warmed him right through, leaving a ribbon of fire in its wake. He didn't want to name the feeling just yet, but he savoured it all the same.
Simon let Mal guide him to the bed. An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling, gilding the object whereupon it gazeth, Simon thought to himself, before surrendering to the mindless peace that came from knowing Mal was there to help him find his way amongst the stars.
A/N: I really enjoyed writing this fic, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please leave a review! :D
Baobei – sweetheart
Lianren - lover
Feiwu – junk
Shuai - cute
"Methinks I am enamour'd of an ass" – paraphrasing Titania from Act IV Scene I of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The rest is from a sonnet that (as I understand it) portrays the author's affection for a charming and attractive man by describing his qualities in comparison to a woman.
Sonnet No. 20
A woman's face, with Nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the Master Mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false woman's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling;
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature as she wrought thee, fell adoting.
And by addition me of thee defeated
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure.