Mal and Simon and a Shack on Acà Nada

by Dark Emerald

[Story Headers]

Once upon a time in a faraway fandom, there was "Due South," which, being a homoerotic buddy dramedy involving a straitlaced Mountie from the Northwest Territories and a freewheeling Chicago cop, begat much wonderful slashy fic. Great among this outpouring was a series of stories wherein pairings from "Due South" and every other fandom then imaginable found themselves demonstrating "101 Ways To End Up In A Canadian Shack". (You can find it here: http://www.trickster.org/speranza/ShackedUp.html.)

It was before "Firefly" was even a gleam in Joss Whedon's eye. But that's no reason not to make the 102nd way the way the crew of Serenity would have found. The Canadian Shack never dies. It just changes planets.

Disclaimer: I adore Firefly, Joss, Due South, Canada, shacks, snow, and these characters. Just playing. No harm, no profit, no foul.

Roughly Translated:
yin cao de dai bing xing xing - frozen hell of an ice planet xiezi de nu er - daughter of a scorpion ta ma de - vulgar expletive
pi gu - ass
xie biao zi - demonic whore


"Oh, that went well."

Mal was too cold to bother shaking a fist at his shuttle as it tore off into the pale, dim sky of Ac Nada. He just hunched deeper into his coat and stared at the shuttle's vanishing silhouette.

Damn, it was cold here. Why the hell Saffron--Yolanda...Bridget...Thieving Whore...whatever her name was--why the hell she chose Ac Nada as her base of operations was a mystery. Godforsaken yin cao de dai bing xing xing on the Rim was a strange choice for a woman whose line of work called for a constant stream of prey in the form of gullible marks.

"Well, Captain, we seem to have a problem," Simon said from behind him, as the stolen shuttle was swallowed by clouds. Mal didn't turn around. The doc wasn't actually saying "gullible mark," but his voice was sounding just a bit ironical, and Mal had no wish to see the expression that went with the tone.

"C'mon," he said, turning instead to survey the snowy landscape. "Saffron's got a place somewhere on this rock, and we'd better find it 'fore we freeze to death."

"I imagine she'd like to keep you alive, Captain."

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"You actually provide her a very good living. Haven't you given her a shuttle before?"

"Yeah, but I got it back."

"Well, she seems to have wanted it very badly, then, doesn't she?"


Mal's boots kept the worst of the snow out, but his coat wasn't equal to the wind. Neither of them was dressed for a long sojourn on Aca Nada. When the distress call had come in to Serenity, the plan had been get in, treat YoSaffBridge's injuries, get out again.

Inara had expressed a preference for letting the vixen die, but Book and the doc had played to Mal's better nature--something he now intended to stomp out of existence just as soon as his feet thawed out.

After about an hour's slushy trudge along a road--more of a path--they found Saffron's house, a simple wooden structure, small, isolated and locked up tight. Mal broke a window and Simon climbed through.

"This is your fault, you know," Mal said as Simon let him in the front door. Simon ignored him and instead moved to the tidy, old-fashioned bed and stripped a blanket from it.

Mal held up a hand. "I ain't that cold, Doc." Simon rolled his eyes and began hanging the blanket over the broken window.

"Right. Good thinking." Mal cleared his throat.

There was a small woodstove in the corner of the kitchen. Mal's numb fingers fumbled the matches, wasting several before getting a handful of wood shavings to catch. He knelt and blew gently at the tiny flame.

Simon finished covering the window. "How can this possibly be my fault?" he said, handing Mal a slender stick of wood from the kindling bucket.

"Mercy. You gotta go and be all merciful."

"Don't confuse me with Shepherd Book, Captain. All I said was that I'd set the bone and suture the wound. I wasn't the one who answered a distress call from a thieving, devious xiezi de nu er."

No. That'd be me, Mal thought. The stick caught fire and Simon handed him another. Mal took it without turning around.

"What is it about her, Captain?" Simon asked, putting yet another bit of kindling into Mal's hand. "I'm curious."

Mal finally turned. Simon took a half-step back. "I mean, is it the challenge? The need to have the final word--score the winning point?"

"Doc, this ain't the time." Mal didn't need someone asking the hard questions at a moment such as this. "Why don't you look around and see if she's got any kind of Cortex link in this place."

Simon pointed silently to the broken box with the wires sticking out the back. Of course. The woman was nothing if not thorough.

"Okay. We can't contact Serenity. So, plan B: Jayne'll know by now that somethin's gone wrong with Plan A--"

Simon's derisive snort interrupted him.

"Yeah, okay. So Jayne may take a little while to figure it out."

"Yes. That large quantity of food and liquor he bought with his take should be occupying his whole attention right now."

"Sooner or later, he'll remember that we got that freight job, and notice I ain't around to run it."

"And with Zoe and Wash on Lilac--well, no help there."

"Nope," Mal agreed. "Fine time for them to take a vacation."

"Can Kaylee fly Serenity?" Simon asked.

"'Nuff to keep 'er in orbit."

"But not enough to land her."

I'd rather be stuck on this rocky ice-ball for a week, Mal thought, than imagine Kaylee tryin' to land Serenity here. Out loud he said, "Look at the bright side, Doc. Inara will be back from her business engagement in a day or two, and in the meantime--well, we got shelter."

"Huh."

Mal caught a fleeting look of speculation on Simon's face. "What 'huh?'"

"Hm? Oh--nothing. Nothing." Simon shook his head. "As to the 'bright side,' this shack is the only thing today that hasn't been a complete disaster." Simon plunked himself onto the edge of the bed and took off his boots, extending cold-whitened bare feet toward the stove.

The fire was going pretty good now. Mal added a couple of small logs and stood up, brushing his hands on his coat. He peered into a cupboard and found several cans of food. "She didn't want us starvin' to death, anyway," he commented.

"No. Just stranded. Maybe we should be thanking her." Simon's voice was ironical again. "I mean, here we are, stuck on Aca Nada with no way of contacting anyone, and our only means of transportation has been stolen by a woman who duped us into coming to her rescue, which, amazingly, she did not actually need."

Mal found a can opener and a pan. "We got food, we got fire, we got water and we got a place to sleep." He cleared his throat, glancing at where Simon was sitting.

"Oh yes. It's a perfect vacation getaway."

Mal paused with the pot in one hand and the can of stew in the other. "Perfect," he repeated, musing. "'Fact, that's what's botherin' me. The woman would as soon kill me as look at me, yet here she's made sure we're as snug as welcome guests. It's a little too perfect. Somethin' about this ain't right."

"Yes, it is odd," Simon agreed. He rose, draped his damp coat over a chair near the stove, and joined Mal in the small kitchen area. "Maybe she plans to come back and kill you later."

"No need to sound so hopeful, Doc." Mal put a hand to the gun holstered on his thigh. "Woman left me my gun. That's ain't like her."

Mal was musing on the strangeness of this oversight when the doc suddenly spoke again. "So, what is it about her? I mean, she's attractive enough, I suppose."

Mal remembered the sight of Saffron's voluptuous naked body and thought "attractive enough" was a pretty faint way of praising Saffron's charms, but then the doc didn't seem to have a very nuanced appreciation of womenfolk. "That she is," he agreed.

"But that's not it?" Simon pressed. "Not the big eyes? Not the big breasts?"

Mal felt indignant. "Big breasts," he snorted. "Okay, I like 'em as well as the next man--" Simon glanced away, looking embarrassed, and Mal soldiered on. "But I don't chase across the 'verse and endanger my ship for a pair of 'em, I don't care how fine they are."

"Whatever you say, Captain."

"I don't!"

Simon took the pan from Mal's hands then and emptied the contents of the tin into it before putting it on the stove. Then he fished in a second cupboard and withdrew a bottle of whisky, about half full.

"So? What is it about her?" Simon persisted. He put the bottle on the table and turned to warm his hands at the stove. "This is the third time you've let her play you. Was the sex that good?"

Mal opened his mouth to protest, but Simon's tone was a bit peevish--almost jealous-like, and he thought better of it. The boy seemed tense, and with some reason. Mal glanced at the broken window, covered with a blanket but letting in plenty of cold air just the same. Looked at the woodpile, which was not terribly large. Looked at the bed--now short one blanket. Looked at the room, which was growing dim as night fell. No point making the situation any more problematic than it was all by itself.

"Yeah, she's played me three times now," Mal said finally. "First time it was just out and out seduction. Followed by me being drugged, which as I'm sure you're aware, does not leave a fella feelin' amorous."

Simon suppressed a grin. The tension bled out of the room just a little.

"Second time--and I'll admit, there should never have been a second time--she was offerin' something I needed at that particular point."

"Yes, to show Inara what a big man you are."

"No! A paying job."

Simon raised an eyebrow. "The Lassiter is still in that storage unit in the cargo hold."

"How did you--?"

"River found it. Don't worry, it's still there." Simon opened the stove door and poked the fire a little, then swirled the pan on the stove. Steam was beginning to rise, and the warm smell of stew wafted across the room.

"Well--okay then." Mal dragged the small table nearer the stove and pulled one of the chairs to it. He uncorked the whisky bottle and took a slug. "Woman has surprisingly good taste," he commented as the whisky's fire receded down his throat.

"Oh! So that's what it is! She has good taste."

Mal handed him the bottle with a look.

"The question is, does she have any glasses?"

But Mal noticed that Simon didn't check. He just sat down and tilted the bottle up to his lips. "Alcohol doesn't really help in cases of hypothermia," Simon said once he'd swallowed. "In fact, it's counterindicated, even though it seems quite warming at first."

"Eases the tension something wonderful, though."

Simon nodded and took another drink, seeming to look everywhere except at Mal.

"Tense, are you?" Mal asked.

Simon flushed.

"Your interest in Saffron's uncanny ability to make a man stupid has me a mite worried."

Simon busied himself reaching for the pot on the stove. "Funny. I don't feel stupid at all," he said. "Hungry?"


They ate the stew from the pot with the chopsticks and spoons Saffron's spartan kitchen yielded. For dessert, they finished the whisky, not talking much. Mal pondered on Saffron awhile. Then he pondered on Simon. He got up and threw another piece of wood into the stove, feeling mellow. Not really drunk. Just a bit fuzzy about the edges.

"I musta been tryin' to prove something," Mal found himself saying.

"You mean with Saffron, and the whole letting her dupe you thing?" Simon, having assured himself that yes, he'd just emptied the very last drops of whisky onto his tongue, got up from the table and stretched out on the bed.

"Yeah."

"And what were you trying to prove?" Simon propped his head on one hand and gazed at Mal. He was looking pretty unwound. Mal hadn't seen him this way but once before, and that was in a bar in Canton, a little the worse for mudder's milk.

Mal considered a moment. "Mighta been somethin' along the same lines as what you been tryin' to prove to Kaylee." Oh ta ma de, where had that come from? Mal switched to offense as fast as he could. "Which, by the way, I'd take it as a kindness if you wouldn't do anymore if you ain't gonna see it through, since Kaylee's too innocent to--what?"

Simon had leapt up suddenly, his mouth open in an indignant gasp.

"What?" Mal repeated, desperately pretending he hadn't said what he'd just said. It was the liquor talking, was all.

Simon came at him with a right hook to the jaw. As Mal staggered back, eyes watering, he thought that he could've dodged that if he hadn't been drinking. 'Course, Simon might've hit him a little harder if he hadn't been drinking too.

"What was that for?"

"You bastard."

"What? Ow! What'd I do?"

Simon stood staring, panting a little, massaging his right hand. Then he just shook his head and turned away. He sat stiffly down on the bed, wrapped himself in the remaining blanket, rolled onto his side, and was still.

Mal looked regretfully at the empty whisky bottle, then at Simon's back.

"It's no good, Doc," he said finally. Simon didn't move. "You're gonna have to get that stick outta your pi gu and explain to me exactly what I done wrong here." Still no reaction. "Or, you can just pout. Suit yourself."

Simon muttered something.

"What's that?"

Simon turned and sat up again. "I said, 'I can't believe you think I'm using Kaylee that way!"

"Oh! So you aren't, then? So, you two been goin' at it a while? Keepin' it secret? That's a good trick on a ship the size of Serenity."

Simon lowered his eyes.

"What it's worth, Doc, I think she's gettin' the message. Girl like Kaylee isn't used to going untouched for long."

"Hey! I've touched--"

Mal held up a hand. "You know what I'm talkin' about, Doc. The period when you could lay it at the door of gentlemanlike behavior has expired. I think she knows it. I think she mighta had a little helpful chat with Inara about it. Time you were moving in the same direction you been lookin' in, don't you think?"

A long silence followed this question. Mal couldn't make out Simon's face in the dark. A coal fell in the stove. There was a wind rising outside, rattling in the chimney, and through the window not covered with a blanket, Mal could see snow swirling. He waited, wondering what door he'd opened here, clinging to a ridiculous hope that Simon, despite his incisive, surgical mind, would somehow fail to seize on the important point.

"What about you?" Simon said at last. Yep, that hope had been in vain. "Do you think that letting Saffon exercise her criminal wiles on you somehow keeps Inara--or...anyone--from suspecting the truth? What direction are you looking in, Mal?"

Mal swallowed and held his ground, keeping his eyes steadily on Simon. His nerves were suddenly alight. "You can see where I'm lookin', Doc."

Simon got up and approached him, closer than Mal was comfortable with. It was a strength of the doctor's, Mal reflected fleetingly, that he could stand and look a much taller, larger man right in the eye and never appear to be craning his neck.

"Well, I had a little talk with Inara myself," Simon said, taking the ends of Mal's shirt collar in his hands. Mal felt a spike of adrenaline at the center of his body: fight or flight, what was it gonna be?

Apparently it was gonna be freeze. Mal felt pinned in place by Simon's gaze. His heart was racing and his hands closed into fists, but he couldn't move. He licked his suddenly dry lips and said, "And what did Inara say?"

"Oh, Inara is very discreet."

When Simon's mouth came up to Mal's, all the tension left Mal's body at once. The conversation was over. No more explaining. Mal found himself kissing Simon back, hard and unrestrained, no tenderness required. No gentlemanlike behavior. Simon pushed Mal's suspenders off his shoulders and laughed as he tugged him toward the bed.


They made the food last all of the following day, and the firewood most of the following night. On the morning of the third day, Mal awoke in the icy dawn light to find himself naked, wrapped around Simon under the blanket, with their clothes and coats layered on top.

"It looks as if I got here just in time."

Mal opened his eyes. Inara was gazing down at him--at them--from under a fur hood.

"'Nara!" he said, struggling to sit up. "I'm, uh...we..."

"Oh, get up, Mal. Get dressed. My shuttle's just over the way. We need to get moving if we're going to pick up Wash and Zoe."

Simon was awake now. He shivered and pulled the blanket over himself, leaving Mal exposed, then gave Inara a smile. "Hey you."

"Hey you," she replied. Mal would have sworn he saw her wink. He snatched at the blanket.

"Get going, you two. I'll wait for you in my shuttle."

Ten minutes later, they took off over the snowy Aca Nada landscape. "I'm going to drop you off where I left Shuttle Two," Inara said. "You'll have to fly it back to Serenity."

"What?"

"Saffron left it on the far side of the planet. It was part of the deal."

"What deal?"

Inara checked her course, ignoring him. "What deal?" Mal repeated. He looked at Simon. Simon looked back at him blandly.

"You mean you didn't figure it out?" Inara's tone was much too bright. "Well, I suppose with all the fanning of flames and the not freezing to death, you didn't have much chance to think. I'm surprised, though. Really, Mal, you're not usually so distractable." She cast an appreciative look at Simon. "Although I must say, some things are more distracting than others."

"Inara..." Mal said in what he hoped was a captainy, warning tone.

"I saw an opportunity to give you two some time alone together."

Mal, feeling incredulous, turned to Simon. "Were you in on this?"

Simon's eyebrows contracted and he glanced from Mal to Inara and back, looking uncertain. "Not per se, no."

"What does that mean?"

"I--uh, I think I mentioned--the other night--that Inara and I had discussed..." Simon's hand went to the side of his face. "...discussed certain... aspects of..." He cleared his throat. "But I assure you, Captain, I'm almost as much in the dark as you are."

Mal turned back to Inara. "You mean to tell me that you contacted Saffron? On purpose? And arranged the loan of her house? For a, for a..." he trailed off, too confused and astonished to finish the question.

"That's not a house. It's a shack," Inara said.

"Stick to the point."

"Well, not exactly, no. I offered her a job. A chance to get revenge on you. She jumped at it."

"And what was this job?"

"Oh, you know. Steal the freight you're scheduled to pick up tomorrow, and sell it for a higher price than you were going to get."

"You gave her our job?" Mal yelped.

"Settle down, Mal. I let her do some of the work. I posed as a private collector who wants the artifacts we're transporting to Shadow tomorrow. It's impressive, what a voice synthesizer and an image-filter can do over a staticky link." Inara seemed awful damn pleased with herself. "Anyway, I said she'd need to be in Serenity's shuttle to get clearance into the seller's compound..."

"So, at least one bit of truth, then."

Inara, clearly enjoying herself, ignored the interruption. "I said that there was only one person on Serenity smart enough to stop her, a passenger who's a doctor, and told her she needed to be sure to get him off the ship."

"Setting aside that slight to my character," Mal said, "Zoe woulda never let that happen. You couldn't have known she and Wash'd be gone. That money they're spendin' on Lilac? We just got that last week!"

"I did know, though." Inara set the autopilot, then turned to look at Mal. "I arranged their holiday. A friend of mine runs an inn on Lilac, and she owed me a favor."

Mal knew he was just gaping stupidly. She continued. "I told Saffron that I'd pay twice what the museum was offering, on condition that the shuttle was returned intact and the men were unharmed. Her part was just to cheat Malcolm Reynolds out of a sweet take. I left the rest to her cunning and her greed. I was worried that you wouldn't fall for the medical distress call, but she's good."

Mal's head was spinning. "You bought the museum stuff back from her?"

"Don't be silly, Mal. I took it from her at gunpoint on the far side of the planet, early this morning. I dropped her off about ten miles from her little shack. I imagine she'll be getting home about now."

"How could you possibly have known I'd go there myself, and not send Book or Jayne? Or Kaylee?"

"Mal, please. It was Saffron. I knew you wouldn't be able to resist. And you had no choice: you'd never send Kaylee into that, and if you sent Jayne there was a good chance he'd just knock Simon out and run off with Saffron. You'd never leave him or River without supervision, which ruled out sending Shepherd Book."

Simon, who'd been standing against the bulkhead just behind Mal, said, "I'm confused." Mal glanced at him. He was looking at Inara with an expression that was trying for haughty, but had only gotten as far as half annoyed. "Let me pretend for the moment that Mal and I weren't both duped by devious women, and just ask this: what was in it for you?"

"For me?" she said. "You mean apart from the satisfaction of carrying out an intricate plan, getting some of the unbearable sexual tension off the ship, helping out a dear friend--" she gave Simon a false, sweet smile, "and besting that xie biao zi at her own game?" Inara's gaze passed from Simon to Mal.

Simon put a hand on Mal's shoulder, easy and intimate. Inara's smile, as she turned toward her instruments again, was like steel. "Nothing," she said. "Nothing at all."


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Title:  Mal and Simon and a Shack on Acà Nada
Author:  Dark Emerald   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  *slash*  |  21k  |  05/26/08
Characters:  Malcolm, Inara, Simon
Pairings:  Mal/Simon
Summary:  Mal and Simon find themselves stranded in a very cold place.
Notes:  The Canadian Shack never dies. It just changes planets.

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