Author's notes: While this story stands on its own two feet fairly well, it really is a sequel to Double-Edged Sword. I suggest you read that one first. The third and final story in this little series is entitled Coup de Grace. Once again, many thanks to SF Fan for the beta!
Cuts Both Ways
by J. M. Griffin
The captain of Serenity was anything but serene, he couldn't sleep for shit. Sitting in his bunk made Mal jumpy, so he went and sat at the table in the ship's galley. It was quiet there 'cause most of the crew had gone to bed; he could hear faint noises that told him that Kaylee was still tinkering with the ship's engines, talking softly to herself, or rather, to Serenity. Mal figured Kaylee worked out a lot of her problems by talking to the ship's engine. He'd tried it himself a time or two, but his link to Serenity wasn't the same as Kaylee's. It was always best if he just listened to his ship. Right now, it was telling him he'd made a royal mess of things.
So tonight he sat alone at the table where his crew liked to gather and pondered how the hell he was going to fix what he'd gone and messed up. Thing was, he loved his crew with a fierceness that scared him sometimes. He had a policy, unwritten and unspoken, but a policy just the same, not to screw with any of them and he'd gone and done it anyway screwed with the ship's doctor. Literally. And now he was so gorram shook by it, he was having trouble sleeping.
It wasn't that he was sly, Mal thought to himself. No, he just had this thing about beauty. The way he figured, it was a scarce commodity in the verse, and when he met up with it, well, he just had to hold it to him make it his. He'd done that with Zoe so many years ago, seen the beauty in her fierce, uncompromising nature and bound it to himself with bands of loyalty. Later, he'd done much the same thing with Wash and Kaylee and Jayne. He'd been drawn to something in each of them: Kaylee's prairie simplicity, Wash's self-effacing humor, even Jayne's wacky take on life.
With the Tams, it was hard to say what drew them to him. Nah, that wasn't true, he was lying to himself and he knew it. At first, he hadn't even known River Tam existed, but he'd sure as heck had noticed the young man who'd booked passage on his ship. A beautiful, aloof young doctor who'd ended up having a moon-touched sister, but by the time he'd figured that out, Mal had been caught, hook, line, and sinker, by Simon's beauty. Yep, he loved his crew, and they were for sure beautiful people, but with Simon it was a physical thing, raw and deep and visceral as hell.
So, when Simon had offered, he'd accepted not once thinking about his unwritten rule and why he had it.
Mal jumped, making a small squeaky noise he immediately covered with a cough. "Huh?" It was Kaylee, of course, and she had a worried look on her heart-shaped face.
"Cap'in, are you okay?" the woman asked softly. "For a minute there you looked as if you were about to cry."
Mal shook his head quickly and faked a yawn. "Nah, I'm just sleepy. I best get to bed." With that he got up from the table, gave Kaylee a small (but totally forced) smile and headed for his bunk.
Wo de tian a, but he'd sure screwed things up royally.
On the cusp of sleep, Mal felt himself slip into Simon's body. So tight, like being encased in warm, wet velvet. He moved, sliding further into Simon's welcoming heat and his own insides went liquid as he came....
Mal sat up with a jerk and a hissing cry which he quickly silenced, shuddering with the aftershocks of his climax. With a curse, he dropped back down on his back on the bed. Tzao gao, he'd have to clean up his bunk again. This was the what...fourth time this week he'd woken up in the throws of orgasm. Something had to give.
Oh guai, it was nearly time for breakfast anyway. He'd just get cleaned up and go start breakfast.
There was nearly always laughter when the crew of Serenity gathered round the table. This morning wasn't any different. Jayne had started the fun by telling a long tale about how he got his first gun, and Wash had followed up with a story about his days in pilot school that had every one in stitches.
If the captain hadn't eaten much and didn't laugh quite as hard as he might have, who was to notice. It was Kaylee's turn to do dishes and Zoe's turn to put stuff away and get ready for the next meal, so Mal made some excuse about stuff to do and got out of the galley quickly.
Not two minutes after the dining area had cleared of everything but the two women, Kaylee turned to Zoe. "Hey, you know the captain better than any of us. Does he seem kind of depressed to you?"
"Depressed?" Zoe knit her eyebrows. "No, I wouldn't say that. Why, did he say something to you?"
"Noooo," Kaylee drawled. "I..., he was in here by himself last night. Really, really late. And he seemed sort of blue. He didn't laugh much at Jayne or Wash this morning, either."
Zoe struggled not to frown at the shorter woman. As Mal's first officer, she prided herself on knowing exactly what was up with the captain at all times. It bothered her that Kaylee had noticed something she hadn't. "Hmm, you have a point there," she conceded. "But I think he just has a lot on his mind. Jobs have been a bit too scarce lately and you know how that weighs on the captain. Plus, he's none too happy about Inara taking that extended assignment in New Melbourne, that I know." Taking a clean dish from Kaylee's hand, she began to towel it dry.
"Maybe," Kaylee said quietly. "Then again, maybe not."
Book came in looking for a second cup of coffee, and that effectively ended the conversation. But Zoe thought to herself that she'd have to watch the captain a bit closer for the next few days.
Simon, for his part, was trying very hard not to be morose. Book had recovered completely from his recent head trauma, and since the shepherd didn't need doctoring anymore, Simon had been forced to find some other work to do. So far, he'd reorganized the medicine cabinet and created a prioritized wish list of everything he would like to have at his disposal in his infirmary. Currently, he was making an exhaustive inventory of everything he'd previously inventoried. While the work kept his sanity, it hadn't kept him from thinking.
All he'd come up with was that he was hopelessly in love with Captain Malcolm Reynolds and said captain was avoiding him like the plague. Ever since they'd...since he'd..., since he and Mal had.... "Wo de ma," Simon whispered to himself. "I am so screwed."
He'd tried, really tried, to fall in love with Kaylee. He liked the girl a lot, enjoyed being in her company and regretted it when his upper crust up-bringing collided with her frontier mentality. But he'd known from the beginning he was kidding himself. He'd lost his smart, breezy little sister, his playmate and confidant, and had been left with a terribly damaged young woman who might never be totally cogent again. Kaylee was a bright girl, easy-going yet shrewd, and blessedly coherent. Simon enjoyed being around her. He did not like to think about how she might take it if she found out about what had happened between himself and the captain. Though it wasn't like it had given him preferred status or anything. Mal hadn't looked him in the eye since that day, and Simon was afraid he'd fucked things up all the way around by allowing the captain to, well, fuck him.
With a sigh, Simon rested his head against the cabinet he was inventorying for the third time in as many days. He tried not to let himself think about how it had felt to let Mal take him. How the bigger, taller man had been so quiet as they had made love in Simon's bunk, how Mal had seemed so surprised when Simon had accepted him into his body, how he'd shuddered in climax, clutching Simon's hips so hard he had bruises after.
He tried not to think of it because it made him horny as hell.
Gasping with a sound almost as sharp as the noises Mal made when Simon was doctoring his wounds, he whirled to face his intruder...ah, make that visitor.
Jayne lumbered toward him, holding out a bloody thumb. "I was sharpening my favorite knife when your looney little sister spooked me. Liked to sliced my thumb off. I think I might need a stitch or two."
From the droplets of blood dotting the floor, Simon thought Jayne might be correct. "Here, let me be the judge of that," he said anyway.
Jayne sat on the examining table, quiet as a child, and more than a little pale.
"Sheesh, Jayne, you practically sliced it down to the bone," Simon exclaimed when he got a good look at the offending appendage. He administered a painkiller and, once it had kicked in, Jayne watched in ghoulish fascination as he stitched up the cut.
Simon was on the last stitch when the captain showed up.
Mal came in the door talking. "Gorram it, Jayne, what in heck did you do to yourself? There's a line of blood stretching from the cargo bay all the way to the door of the infirmary."
Jayne tried to swing to face Mal, but Simon still had hold of his hand. "Be still," he ordered, and Jayne stopped trying to turn.
"Ah, it was a stupid thing, Captain," Jayne said as Simon snipped the thread. "I was sharpening my knife and River came up behind me and spooked me. Made me slice my thumb wide open. But the doc here sewed it up good."
Finally freed, Jayne waved his injured thumb under Mal's nose. "Doc said it was nearly to the bone," he bragged, puffing out his chest in a fashion Simon found amusing. He hid his smile by turning to gather up his equipment and toss away the used needle.
"Nice work, Doc," Mal commented.
Simon glanced back over his shoulder to acknowledge the captain's compliment in time to see Mal holding Jayne's hand, examining the stitches, and Jayne...Jayne was gazing at Mal's bent head with a look akin to worship.
Mal looked up then, and, seeing the look on Jayne's face, let go of his hand like it was a hot coal.
Simon raised his eyebrows, and Mal, turning away from Jayne, sent the doctor a small grimace, of what, apology? He gave Mal a tiny shrug in return, hoping the man understood it meant, 'No big deal.'
"So." A voice came from the infirmary door, startling both Simon and Mal so that they jumped. "Whose blood is it?" Zoe asked.
"Jayne's," Simon said succinctly at the same time as Mal.
"And who gets to clean up the blood?" Zoe asked pointedly.
Jayne, for once, kept his mouth shut.
"Oh, I'll do it," Kaylee said, easing her way past Zoe. "I found this great solvent last time were at a market."
"Just don't let it dissolve the flooring," Mal grumbled as he pushed past the women. Standing in the corridor, he looked back at them. "Don't either of you have work to be doing?"
"Yes, sir," Zoe said quickly. "Actually, the inter-ship comm is on the fritz and Wash sent me to tell you The Brethren of New Bethlehem want to talk to you."
"Why didn't you say something?" Mal snapped as he hurried off toward the bridge.
"I just did," Zoe snipped at the captain's receding back.
"Okay, this is the way it's gonna be," Mal said once they were all seated at the dinner table. He had a fierce look on his face, like he expected his crew to object out of hand to what he was going to say. "The Brethren have had three groups, including us, bushwacked after a deal, and now no one will risk working with them. Plan is, we're going to get our money back and help them get back their reputations as honest businessmen. Jayne, Zoe and I will meet the representatives from the Brethren at the rendezvous point on Echo and exchange money for goods, just like we did before. The Brethren will pretend to leave, but instead, they'll come back around and help us catch whoever shows up."
"But the Brethren always insist on dealing with a shepherd or other clergy. Don't you think I need to go along to make the exchange look legitimate?" Book asked. He was getting stronger by the day, but he still had a wan look to him due to his head injury and two weeks in a coma.
"Makes sense," Wash said, earning a scowl from Simon.
"No, Book's not up to it." the doctor said firmly.
Before anyone else could put in their two cents, Mal spoke again. "You're right, Doc. It's too risky for Book to come along. So we're going to dress Jayne like a shepherd."
"Wha...?" The big merc looked stupefied, but no more so than the rest of the crew. Then Wash began to laugh, and after a few seconds Zoe joined in, and then Kaylee, Simon, and, finally, Book were all cracking up. Jayne never laughed at all.
"A shepherd," he said with a touch of awe in his voice. "Gorram, I'm gonna be a shepherd."
"Okay, folks," Mal continued once everyone had sobered up some. "Echo's evening is in the wee hours of the morning our time, so if anyone plans to get a good night's sleep, they ought to turn in early."
Kaylee made a face. "Since I won't be in on the job, I'm going to see what I can do to get the communication interface working again. It's still cutting in and out. Okay, Captain?"
Mal nodded his assent to that.
Jayne got up from the table, his long face set and solemn. "I gotta work on my part. Preacher, maybe you can give me a few pointers."
"I'd be glad to Jayne," Book said and followed Jayne out, all the while trying hard to keep a bemused smile off his face.
River went with Kaylee, and Zoe and Wash left murmuring something about making good use of time abed, which left Mal and Simon with clean-up duty.
"I don't believe it's my turn to do dishes," Mal commented with a wry look.
Simon shrugged and began picking up plates from the table. "I can do it alone. It's okay."
Mal shook his head, "I think it's Jayne's turn, actually, but since he's busy working on his acting...," Mal let his words drift off as he took the plates from Simon's hand. "You wash. I'll clear and dry."
Simon nodded and they worked together in silence for some time. When everything had been washed, Simon took up a second towel and started in on helping Mal dry the pots.
"That wasn't a bad meal Book put together," Mal said, just to break the silence.
"I think the only reason you were worried about him not waking from that coma was because we'd have lost our best cook," Simon teased as he leaned across Mal to get another pot.
"Nah." Mal shook his head. "Kaylee's still our best cook."
"She's pretty good at working with protein, but Book's better at anything fresh," Simon commented. The whole conversation was totally inane, but he was so glad to be actually talking to Mal, he'd have nattered on about anything. Unconsciously, he took a deep breath, taking in Mal's scent. Engine oil and maybe vetiver and something else that was indefinably Mal.
Simon blinked his eyes open when he heard Mal drawl his name. He hadn't realized he'd closed them, or that he'd stopped drying the dish he held.
"Give me that." Mal grabbed the pan from Simon's lax hands, placing it carefully away before he reached out and took Simon by the elbows and pulled him close. For a moment Simon resisted, because in less time than he thought physically possible, he'd come up hard in his pants. If Mal didn't let him go..., but Mal didn't and Simon saw lust flare like blue flame in the captain's eyes.
"Wo de tian a, Simon," Mal whispered as he leaned back against the counter and pulled Simon to stand between his legs. "What you do to me."
"Mal," Simon whispered back frantically. "Not here, not out in the open." But now he could feel Mal's hot length through the cloth of his pants and he didn't really want Mal to stop, so he didn't protest when Mal bent his head and dived in for a heated kiss. For a moment, their tongues dueled, until Simon gave up and let Mal cradle his head in his hands and totally invade his mouth. He clung to the taller man, knowing his legs would buckle if Mal let go of him even for a second.
Finally, Mal let up, allowing them both to catch their breaths, and Simon wasn't sure if he was glad or totally bereft. Sliding his hands to Simon's upper arms, Mal switched their places so it was Simon who had his back against the counter. Then the captain's big hands were on the fly of Simon's pants, and the rush of cooled air on his heated groin made Simon close his eyes and groan aloud. When his cock was enveloped in warm, wet heat, he bucked his hips involuntarily, opening his eyes in shock. And seeing Mal there, kneeling before him, swallowing him to the root, his eyes glinting up at Simon in challenge, was more, much more than the young man could take. With a cry, he climaxed in sharp, gut-wrenching spasms, and to his utter astonishment, Mal drank his seed down with nary a blink.
When Mal let his cock plop from his wet mouth, Simon sank down into the shelter of the bigger man's arms, resting his head on Mal's shoulder. "Wo cao," he breathed against Mal's right suspender.
Mal's chuckle came rumbling up, deep and sexy as hell. "Uh, no, but if you insist, I'd be happy to oblige."
Simon wrapped his arms around Mal, and bringing them closer still, he nipped gently on Mal's ear. The jerking response Mal's hips made pleased him no end. "Oh, I insist," he murmured softly into Mal's ear. "I insist." So Mal stood up, pulling Simon to his feet, too. After he'd tucked him back into his pants, Mal took Simon's hand and led him toward his bunk.
The two were so focused on one another, neither of them saw the tall man who stood watching from the other doorway, his mouth hanging open in shock, his face a mask of hurt and utter despair.
"Lao tian fu, Mal. I can't believe we just did that." Simon blurted out when he'd stepped off the ladder into Mal's bunk. "What if someone had walked in!"
"Um, yeah, well," Mal stuttered. Simon stood stock still for a second just staring at Mal, amazed to see the man was actually blushing.
"Mal," Simon began slowly, and then he laughed shakily. Knees giving out, he sank down on the bed. Mal gave a shaky laugh of his own and sat down beside him.
Mal opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, then he opened it again.
Putting his hand up, Simon covered Mal's lips with his fingers. "No, don't say it," he begged. "Don't apologize, and please, for pity's sake, don't you dare explain why we can't ever do that again."
"Simon," Mal said gently as he took Simon's hand from his mouth. Simon grimaced, steeling himself for what was bound to come. "No," Mal continued in a lower, huskier tone. "No, I won't. Dong ma? I promise." Then he kissed him soundly.
"Jayne," Book snapped in frustration as he once again adjusted the high-necked collar of the shirt Jayne was wearing. "Now leave that alone. It looks just fine, but if you keep on tugging at it, it won't."
"Chur ni deh, Preacher," Jayne muttered before he stomped off.
"What's up with Jayne?" Kaylee asked as she helped Zoe put on her duster.
"The man must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed," Zoe said with a shrug. "Don't go too far, Jayne," she called out. "Captain said we're leaving in five!"
A grunt was Jayne's only response.
Book rubbed his chin in puzzlement. "That's was odd. Last night he seemed so delighted to be dressing as a shepherd."
Kaylee tilted her head to the side. "He'll be fine once the action starts."
"Who'll be fine?" Mal asked, on his way down the steps leading to the floor of the cargo bay.
"Oh, Jayne's in a snit," Kaylee explained, giving Mal a sunny smile. "You look pretty chipper for so early in the morning, Captain. You must have gotten some sleep last night."
Mal gave her a sheepish grin in return, but didn't comment. "We about ready?"
Simon descended the same stairs Mal had come down moments before and stood beside Kaylee. "I just hope this job goes better than the last one you did for the Brethren."
"It will," the captain assured him, then he turned to give last minute instructions to Zoe.
Just then, Jayne came up, a thunderous look on his face.
"Jayne, are you okay?" Simon asked in concern, stepping into the merc's path. "Did you reinjure your thumb? Maybe I ought to take a look at it before you go."
Jayne didn't say a word, just brushed by him, knocking Simon out of his way as he passed.
"What's with him?" Simon turned to Kaylee for the answer.
"Beats me," she said with a shrug. "But I wouldn't take it personal. He was really rude to Book just a minute ago. After Book loaned him that shirt and all."
"Ookay," Simon sighed. They stood side by side wearing twin looks of puzzlement on their faces as Wash opened the bay doors and Mal, Zoe, and Jayne walked down the ramp.
River, watching from above, chirped nonsense phrases of farewell. "Good night, Mal, Good night, Zo. Good night, Jayne, with eyes of woe."
Kaylee laughed and headed up the steps to her friend. "It's not night, River. Oh, well, I guess it is on Echo."
At first, the whole thing went like clockwork. The Brethren were waiting at the rendezvous point and the fake deal went off without a hitch. Zoe made her way back toward the ship and, as planned, Mal and Jayne headed to a bar with the cash. They made a show of drinking, at least Mal did. Jayne, on the other hand, downed two beers before Mal realized what was happening. It didn't do much for Jayne's disguise as shepherd, but the place was too noisy to hold a conversation without shouting, so Mal didn't even try to slow him down. Fortunately, it was soon time to give the signal for them to leave. The alleyway was stunningly quiet after the noise of the bar. Mal blew out a sigh and turned to Jayne, "So much for your vows as a shepherd. The ship's this way."
Jayne gave him a baleful look. "So I've backslid a bit. S'not like you care 'bout me, anyway," he growled.
Mal just shook his head. Jayne's logic was shaky at the best of times; now was not the time to ask him what in the verse he meant by that comment.
They made their way down the back alley, and since they weren't supposed to be paying attention to their surroundings, Mal kept sniping at Jayne about his vows. Jayne just grumbled in response. Suddenly the alley was filled with men at least six of them. Mal instantly recognized the big guy in the front. Or rather, he recognized the big, gloved hands tapping a nightstick into a leather-clad palm. The groan Mal let out wasn't faked.
Since it wouldn't do to go down without a fight, Mal let out a sharp yell and leaped at the man. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Jayne had his hands laced together and, in lieu of a gun, he was swinging them like a club. Mal took a punch to the kidney that brought him to his knees and tears to his eyes. Thankfully, that was when Zoe showed up and the shot she got off brought a sudden end to the melee. At that precise moment, six Brethren appeared out of the shadows like wraiths, making Mal wonder just exactly what their religious practices were all about.
The gloved guy dropped the truncheon and tried to escape the back way, but he wasn't going anywhere. One of the Brethren cut him off and then unmasked him.
"Brother Methius. Long have we missed you at the abbey." The eldest brother told the gloved one in a grave tone that brooked no nonsense.
Mal thought it was a satisfying conclusion all the way around. Still, the walk back to Serenity was longer than he remembered. He began to think he'd taken more than one body blow, because injuries he thought healed were twinging again. He'd told Zoe and Jayne to go on ahead since he had to finish up business with the Brethren. By the look his first officer shot him, she'd wanted to argue, but, in the end, she'd rolled her big eyes and done as he'd told her except she'd made Jayne stay behind with Mal.
Now Jayne was walking along behind him, practically dragging his toes in the dirt. Jayne's morose mood was beginning to get on Mal's nerves. The man hadn't said a word since the fight had ended. They turned a street corner and Mal went right, while Jayne turned left. It took Mal a few steps to realize the mercenary wasn't with him anymore, so he came to a halt and called over his shoulder. "Jayne, it's this way."
Jayne just kept walking. With a snarl, Mal reversed direction and stretched his strides until he caught up with the man. Reaching out, he took hold of Jayne's muscled shoulder and spun him round. Jayne let him turn him, but then he just stood there looking past Mal, a bruised, pouty expression on his face.
"Jayne, I said this way!" Mal yelled in exasperation. This was really too much. "What in hell is the matter with you, anyway?"
Jayne stood there a minute gulping air like a big guppy, glaring fiercely at Mal. Then he stiffened his spine, drawing himself up to his considerable full height. "I SAW you," he ground out. "With HIM."
It was Mal's turn to gulp air. Tzao gao, was all he could think. Zhen tzao gao. Jayne had seen them in the galley. Jayne had seen him giving Simon a blow job. Or maybe not, maybe, if God was good like Elder Brother Bartholomew kept saying, he'd only seen them kiss.
"And you were....you were...DOING him!" Jayne bellowed into Mal's face.
Nope, it simply was not his day, his month, maybe even his year, Mal thought with a shake of his head. He grabbed the bigger man by the shoulders. "Jayne, for fuck's sake, listen to me. This is no time to be squawking about this." He looked to the right and left, but thankfully there weren't any overly interested bystanders.
Jayne didn't dignify that with a response, he just turned on his heel and walked away from Mal. And the captain let him go.
It was some hours later before Jayne showed up back at Serenity. Mal had tried to act like nothing was up, but it was pretty obvious everyone sensed there was some problem between himself and Jayne.
Mal himself punched the controls to let Jayne in. The man had a fresh black eye and swollen knuckles, which didn't surprise Mal at all. It wasn't until Jayne had trudged past him without a word that Mal realized Jayne was dripping blood from his hand.
"Whoa, Jayne," he said quickly. "Slow down, you need to have the doc look after your hand."
Jayne stopped in his tracks, turning to fix sullen eyes on Mal's face. "Chur ni deh, Captain, sir, not on your life," he said dully and, turning his back on Mal once again, walked away.
Simon, looking for Mal, saw Jayne coming his way down the corridor and immediately stopped in front of him. "Jayne, oh god, are you hurt? Did you pop your sti...." He didn't have a chance to finish the word because Jayne swung his uninjured fist and slammed Simon in the jaw, sending the doctor straight to the floor. Then he stepped over him and kept on going.
"Oh, my god," Simon said slowly, hand to his jaw.
Seconds later, Simon felt the floor grating vibrating as someone approached and he struggled to get to his feet.
"Simon?" It was Mal who stretched out a hand to help him up. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, Mal," Simon said softly. "What are we going to do? Jayne knows."
Mal made a rueful face and ground out two words. "Damage control."
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to J. M. Griffin
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