Double-Edged Sword

by J. M. Griffin

Double-Edged Sword
by J. M. Griffin

Author's notes: Huge thanks to SF Fan for (among other things) reminding me about Mal's suspenders. As always, all mistakes are mine. Oh, and while this tale is complete on its own, there are two more stories in this arc: Cuts Both Ways and Coup de Grace.

The rain came sheeting sideways, getting under Mal's long dark coat, as the wind practically shoved him off his feet. Head down, eyes nearly shut, he trudged on. The elements seemed to be conspiring against him, and a few times when he went to his knees in the mud, he thought they'd gotten the best of him. But no matter what, he was able to stagger up to his feet and keep on going. He had to get back to the ship. Book's life depended on it.

He should have seen it coming...the double-cross, that is. The men they were dealing with had insisted it be only the preacher and the captain. They were from some religious sect and Book had had dealings with them in the past, so the set-up hadn't given Mal any cause for alarm. Beyond the usual, that was. Every deal had its worries. This one had looked to bring them a lot of profit. While he hadn't been too thrilled with transporting "liturgical literature" to a planet that banned it, he'd done crazier stuff in his time. The money would have come in handy, too. Kaylee said they needed some new parts for the engine and Mal knew his crew needed a break, so he'd agreed on the terms. Now he knew that had been the wrong decision entirely.

Thing was, his decision had ended up getting someone else hurt and he hated that part more than anything else. It was his fault he'd had to leave Book in that alleyway. He'd thought about trying to carry the man back to the ship, but then figured it best not to move him. From what Mal could tell, the shepherd had a fractured skull it looked all funny in one place, pushed in kinda. Book had been breathing when he left; fast and shallow, though. The bad-asses who'd beaten Mal senseless and slammed Book in the head with the same truncheon hadn't worn the clothes of the religious order, but they had certainly known where to find the money. Who knew where they had gotten their information about the exchange in the first place. All religious types weren't good folk like Book. Mal knew that.

He staggered to a halt and peered through the rain. Were those Serenity's lights up ahead, or was he hallucinating? Mal coughed and the pain in his chest was so bad, he went down to his knees, and Serenity fuzzed out of sight. He wiped what had to be blood from his lips. Definitely had some cracked ribs, maybe one was broken, maybe not. He hoped not cause then it might have just perforated his lung and maybe that was why the blood in his mouth. Or maybe he'd just bitten his tongue one of the times he'd fallen.

After a few minutes his vision cleared and Mal got up slowly, mindful of the stabbing pains in his chest and back. Tzao gao, but he hurt. They'd done a number on him this time. Thank god they had a doctor on board the ship these days.

"What in rutting hell...?" Jayne shouted into the wind. "Simon, it's Mal. I think he's hurt."

Simon came running down the ramp and Mal almost fell into the smaller man's arms. He used the doctor's body to hold himself upright.

"Captain? Mal, what happened to you? Where's Book? Let's get inside where I can take a look at you," Simon hissed at him like a nesting goose.

"No, no," Mal gasped. "Book's been hurt; he may be dying. We have to go to him." The warm air of Serenity's cargo bay drew him like a magnet. If he went inside there, he might not be able to force himself back out into the storm.

"I thought this was supposed to be a quick and easy operation," Jayne groused. "What went wrong?"

Mal just shook his head, gritting his teeth to keep from letting out a moan of pain. "No time to explain. We gotta go back," he said through clenched teeth. "Book may be dying. Get the mule, Jayne."

"Okay, okay," Simon said. "I'm going with you, just give me a minute to get my bag."

Riding on the mule was almost as bad as walking. Every bump and rut jolted Mal, sending shock waves of pain through him. He was more than glad to be on his feet again when they reached the walls of the old town.

"We gotta walk from here," he said unnecessarily.

They had known from the get-go that Bartontown was a walled city. The streets had been made purposely narrow, so that no motorized vehicles bigger than a motorbike could fit down them. And Mal had left Book deep in the warren of streets and alleyways.

"Come on," he said, and he put his head down and began to move. Jayne and Simon followed in silence. Fortunately, the rain had slacked off a bit because Mal had lost his hat some time back and rain dripping down inside his coat made him shiver, and shivering was painful.

The second time the captain almost went to his knees, Jayne came forward and tried to throw a shoulder under Mal to prop him up and help him walk faster. But the pull on his ribs made him cry out in pain, so it was the shorter doctor who he ended up leaning on, while Jayne carried the doctor's bag.

"Maybe we ought to stop and let me look at you, Captain," Simon ventured to say once.

"Maybe you oughta shut up and let me be," Mal growled. To be fair, he knew what the doc had said made sense, but he also knew that if he stopped for anything, he might not be able to get going again. It was better not to take the chance.

By the time they reached the alleyway where Mal had left Book, the rain had stopped completely. Mal had used the bag the money had been in as a tent over Book's face, so it wasn't immediately evident upon looking that the man was still breathing. Mal held his own breath as Simon crouched down by the shepherd and drew the cloth bag from his face. Simon made a sound of dismay, and for a second Mal thought all his efforts to bring help had been for naught. Then he saw Book take a shallow, shuddering breath.

Simon did a slow, careful survey of the older man. "What else is there?" he asked Mal, not turning from Book.

"Just the head wound, far as I know. One of the guys swung at Book's head and connected solidly. Went down like a ton of bricks," Mal explained.

"Just one blow?" Jayne sneered.

"Just one very accurate blow," Simon said, pointing to the preacher's head. "They caught him in the head just above his ear with some sort of blunt object. See how it fractured the skull in a little circle, depressing a chunk of Book's skull into his brain?"

"Whoa," Jayne drawled, pressing in closer so he could get a better look.

"Make's sense," Mal said quietly. "I kept hoping he'd get up and come help me with the goons. But they had a free for all with me as their punching bag."

"Well, there's precious little I can do for him here," Simon said with a discouraged look on his face. "We need to get him back to the ship. Jayne, we'll have to carry him. No, no not like that!" Simon yelped when Jayne started to heft Book into a fireman's carry. "Gently, so we don't jostle his brain any more than we have to."

It took them a long time to get to the mule, carrying Book on a makeshift stretcher made of Jayne's big coat and some broom poles they'd found in the alleyway. Jayne wasn't much happy about his coat, but there was no way Simon was going to let Mal take off his. As it was Mal was shivering mightily when they got back to the city walls. At least on the ride back on the mule they were sitting close enough together to share body heat.

They hustled Book to the infirmary as fast as they could without jostling him too much. The minute Simon had him on the table, he went right to work. Mal stood and watched for a minute, then looked over at Jayne. "No one else back yet?" he asked.

"Inara left a couple of hours after you did, like she planned," Jayne said as he tried not to look worried about Book's injury and the weird bone cutting saws and mallets Simon was getting out of a cabinet. "Kaylee got wind of a sale on some new-fangled tool, supposed to make engine repair easier. River wanted to go, so Wash and Zoe went along to keep an eye on her, and also cuz they were getting stir crazy waiting for you, I reckon."

Mal nodded. "Make's sense." He could tell the big mercenary had a bunch of questions for him, but he'd used up most of his energy just getting back to the ship. So Mal pretended to be engrossed in what Simon was doing. Thing was, he didn't see even half of it, what with his sight fuzzing out on him on and off. Finally, he gave up just waiting and staring and went to sit on the long bench on the other side of the infirmary. The smell of blood was heavy in the air, and Simon was working with something that looked too much like a drill for Mal's comfort.

The procedure was really relatively easy. Simon just needed to get the depressed bone chip out of Book's head and replace it with a bit of plastic that would bond right to the preacher's skull. He'd done this before, but only once. Still, things were coming along well. There, that was it.

Simon heaved a sigh as he finished with the bone glue and turned to get a needle for stitching Book up. As he moved, he saw Mal was no longer standing behind him keeping watch. He wondered where the captain had gone as he started to stitch up Book's scalp.

He would have liked to have taken a look at Mal's injuries before now, but he couldn't do two things at once at least not surgery and something else. The procedure had taken his undivided attention. "Hey, Jayne," Simon started to ask where Mal had gotten to, but then Mal came out of the head. He didn't look too good; his face was pale and pasty looking and he had a smear of blood on his chin.

Mal took one step toward Simon, opening his mouth to say something, but then he coughed suddenly and blanched an eerie shade of white. "Hey doc, I think ya better see to me next." Mal gave him an apologetic smile, "I'm pissing blood." And then all the starch went out of the man and he stumbled forward and would have hit the floor if Jayne hadn't caught him.

"Help me turn him over, I need to see Mal's back," Simon told Jayne sharply. The big man gave Simon a sideways look, but he moved closer to the bed to help. "Easy, he's probably got cracked ribs; we don't want to make it any worse," the doctor instructed as they eased Mal onto his stomach.

Simon winced at the large, red bruises that had formed over the captain's kidneys. The attackers had used the same sort of truncheon on Mal as they had on Book -- the bruising was circular and deep.

The sheet Simon had thrown over Mal after he'd stripped him had fallen to the floor when they'd turned him, and now Jayne bent down to pick it up. He straightened slowly, and Simon saw the man's eyes come up to fixate on Mal's ass, then slide up his torso to his broad shoulders. Simon caught Jayne's eye and frowned, and the merc had the grace to blush.

"Maybe you should go try to contact the others, let them know something's happened to the captain," Simon said.

Jayne shook his head. "No, I'll stay. They should be back soon enough. Besides, you'll need my help turning him."

It was true, but Simon thought about sending him away anyway. Except he'd seen another look on Jayne's face underneath the open worry, a look full of raw, blatant need. He found himself wondering, not for the first time, if the two men were lovers. It made Simon's gut clench to think of it...Mal and Jayne in bed together. He wanted the captain all to himself. But thinking about it wouldn't make that happen, and he was too unsure of his place on the ship to actually do anything about it.

Mal gave a low moan and that brought Simon back to the here and now. Snapping on a new pair of gloves, he went to work, probing Mal's back lightly, trying not to hurt him any more than he had to. Next, he put one hand on the pale globe of Mal's right butt cheek, sliding a finger to gently part the crease of his buttocks, making sure there was no blood or damage to his rectum. Mal groaned again and slid one knee up slightly, just enough to give Simon a clear view of his scrotal sac. There was some bruising there, someone had delivered a fierce kick to Mal's balls.

Behind him, Simon heard Jayne's hiss as he sucked in a breath of air.

"Doc," the merc muttered darkly.

And Simon totally understood; Mal looked so exposed, so vulnerable, lying there on the table. Still, he spoke to Jayne sharply, in his most impersonal tone. "That's right, I am the doctor, here. The captain was badly beaten. Those bruises on his back are from some sort of night stick. Plus, he got a swift kick in the balls, hard enough to bruise. But he wasn't raped." Thank god he wasn't raped, Simon thought to himself.

Mal gave another moan from deep in his throat, and Simon picked up a painkiller off the nearby tray and turned back to administer it. As soon as that took effect, he'd be able to do some sonar work on Mal's kidneys, clearing up the worst of the bruising and stopping any residual bleeding. Time would have to heal the rest.

There was a commotion at the door of the infirmary, and Simon looked up to see Kaylee, River, Wash, and Zoe standing clustered there. "Wo de ma, what happened to the captain?" Zoe was the one who asked.

Simon whisked the sheet up over Mal's bare body and turned toward the ship's first officer, but Jayne answered before he could formulate a response.

"That gorram deal went sour. Somebody beat the crap out of the captain and nearly killed Book."

"Book," River exclaimed. She made a bee-line for the man lying quietly on the adjacent table. "Book's brain hurts him," she murmured.

"Fill me in, Doc," Zoe demanded of Simon. "How bad is it?"

"The captain took a severe beating. He's got cracked ribs and his kidneys are bruised, but he'll heal with time. Book, well, he had a depressed skull fracture. I operated. Right now he's in a coma, but if I'm not mistaken, he'll recover with no permanent damage."

"Sheesh, the captain looks worse than Book," Wash remarked.

"Wash," Kaylee protested. While everyone else had been talking, the ship's engineer had taken hold of Mal's hand and was stroking it lightly.

"So they're both going to be okay?" Zoe inquired. When Simon nodded she continued, "All right then, come on, Jayne, we need some brute strength down in the engine room."

"Why can't Wash do it?" Jayne bitched.

"Because Wash has to go work on the interface between the comp boards and the new whatzit Kaylee found us. Now move it." Zoe brooked no nonsense.

Kaylee gave the captain's hand one last squeeze and she headed out with Zoe, Wash, and Jayne.

When they'd left, Simon heaved a sigh of relief. It was bad enough with Jayne hanging over him watching his every move. He didn't really want to work on the captain with the entire crew looking over his shoulder.

River was still engrossed with Book. She'd spent more time with him than with anyone else but Kaylee, so it made sense she would worry over him..

Turning back to his patient, Simon flicked the sheet back down so he could press his stethoscope against the captain's back. Mal's face was turned toward him, and Simon could see how his long eyelashes cast shadows on his bruised cheek. Not for the first time, he was struck by how young the man looked when he was unconscious. When Mal was busy being the captain of Serenity, pushing and shoving his weight around to get his way, it was easy to forget he was not much more than thirty.

Simon laid his hand on Mal's upper back and closed his eyes for an instant, savoring the feel of Mal's skin beneath his palm. Opening his eyes, he let his fingers trail down to the captain's waist. Moving to the side, he lightly fingered the edge of the scar from the bullet wound he'd tended to back when he'd first come aboard Serenity. Simon's breath hitched in his throat. Wo de tian a, he was as bad as Jayne. Worse, because a doctor shouldn't salivate over one of his patients. But Mal was just so gorram beautiful, and Simon feared the only time he'd ever get to touch the man was when he was lying sick or wounded in his infirmary.

"So beautiful." It was Mal who slurred the words, but for a moment Simon thought he'd said them. "You're so durn beautiful, Doc. 'Specially when you're worried."

"Shh, Mal. You should be asleep, I gave you enough...," Simon stopped because Mal's eyes were beginning to close. As the captain slid back into unconsciousness, Simon reached out with one finger and touched his cheek, a hesitant caress at best, but Mal turned his face and nuzzled Simon's palm.

It was the drugs, Simon told himself. It was the drugs and nothing else. Mal had no idea what he was saying or doing.

As he got back to his work, Simon found himself thinking how hope was a double-edged sword.

Two hours and Mal was awake and complaining. Two days and he insisted going back to his own quarters. Two weeks and it was as if nothing had happened.

Except Simon knew better. The problem was, Book hadn't woken up yet.

Sitting on a stool in the infirmary, Simon hovered over his patient. Book was looking good. His hair was growing back in the small shaved patch on the side of his head. He was breathing on his own, and his body was taking in and putting out fluids. But for some reason, Book had not awakened. Simon itched to nab a shuttle and ferry the man to the nearest medical facility with all the scans and technology he lacked on board Serenity, except they were far from civilized space and...well, he didn't know how to fly the shuttle. So Simon made due with keeping a close and almost continual watch over the shepherd.

He could tell Mal was on his way to the infirmary. It was evident because everywhere the captain went these days a storm seemed to erupt. The lightning and thunder was clashing outside the door right now. Simon could hear Wash's voice complaining about something, and Mal's response, sharp and shrill.

"You heard what I said, Wash, we're not going back there. The answer is no. No, gorram it!" The last bit was shouted at the top of Mal's considerable lungs, causing the vials on a nearby table to shake.

Calmly, Simon walked to the door and slid it open. "Uh, Captain? Can I see you a moment?" Storm clouds were still evident in Mal's expression, so he added quickly, "It's about Book."

That moved Mal inside, while Wash (thankfully) went away grousing under his breath.

"Yeah?" Mal said sharply. He gave Simon a baleful look and crossed over to where Book lay sleeping. "What is it? Is he better...or worse, or what?"

"He's the same. I needed to talk to you about...," Simon drew in a deep breath before continuing, "...about you. Are you still in pain?"

"No, Mal said sullenly. Which told Simon he was, at least a little.

"And everything's working correctly?"

"Yeah, Doc. I'm crapping and pissing just fine, okay?" Mal said with a sour look. "Is that what you wanted to know?"

Simon knew Mal was being crude just to discomfit him. A doctor, however, is not easily discomfitted by bodily functions. "Yes, actually. It was," he intoned.

"Then I'm outta here," Mal announced, but he didn't move from Book's bed.

Simon screwed up his courage and stepped close to the captain's side. Gently, he placed a hand on Mal's shoulder.

"Don't," Mal said, and he ducked out from under Simon's hand and took a quick step away.

"Captain?" Simon said to Mal's back. "Mal? Is there something else wrong?"

Mal shook his head sharply. "What could be wrong? I mean, besides the fact we lost a huge amount of money in a double cross I should have seen coming? Nah, it's's just...,"


Mal spun on his heel, coming round to face the younger man. His face was pale and he appeared to be holding himself in check. For a moment, Simon thought the captain was going to belt him one. It wouldn't be the first time, or the second either, for that matter. But it would be the first time in a long, long time. Simon had to force himself not to take a protective step back when Mal huffed out a breath. "It's been awhile, Simon," the captain ground out.

"What?" Now Simon was totally nonplused. He swept Mal from head to toe with his eyes in an effort to figure out what was going on. At first he didn't see it. And then he did.

Trying hard not to smile, he stepped even closer to Mal. "For me, too," he said softly. This time when he put a hand on Mal's arm, the man didn't step away, and he could feel Mal trembling beneath his fingers. "Come here," he said softly. "Come with me."

Mal cast a quick glance over at Book.

"It's all right," Simon reassured him. "Book will be okay without us for a while." He pulled Mal along with him through the sliding door of his bunk, locking the door behind them. River was with Kaylee having a "girlfest" so, with any luck, his sister would be occupied for a long while.

Simon turned back from locking the door to find Mal just standing there, his hands dangling at his sides, his eyes half-closed. "Have you been getting enough rest?" he asked before he could stop himself.

"Yes," Mal snapped.

Simon didn't deign to respond to that lie. "Sit down," he said, using his doctor voice, and Mal sat stiffly on Simon's bunk.

Simon shook his head and smiled, then crowded in on Mal, invading his space so that he was forced to lean back on the bed.

"Simon, I...." Was Mal's voice trembling?

"Shut up, Captain," Simon said as he knelt between Mal's long legs.

He knew what they all thought -- that he was some sort of blushing virgin. It was true, Kaylee's forthright comments about sex did make him blush, but not because he was totally inexperienced. Simon put his hand on the fly of Mal's tawny pants and felt his burgeoning erection leap.

"Simon, you don't have to..., I don't need you to...," Mal's voice was loud in the little cabin.

"Shhh," Simon shushed him, making sure his hot breath was felt through the material of Mal's pants.

Except for his harsh breathing, Mal was very quiet indeed as Simon pushed his suspenders off his shoulders and began to unbutton his pants. "Scoot up on the bed," Simon said with a grin. "Make yourself comfortable." Mal did as he was told, never taking his eyes from the younger man's face.

Once he got Mal's pants open, he skimmed them right down and then wrestled Mal's boots off. The captain didn't utter a word, just watched from beneath hooded eyes. Simon admired the view for a moment; Mal's cock was totally erect and already weeping. Then he flicked his gaze up to the captain's face. He thought he knew what the other man wanted, but he had to ask. "You okay with this?"

Mal gave a jerky little nod of his head. So Simon bent down to his task, starting by tenderly laving at Mal's cock. He was rewarded by Mal's fingers scrabbling for purchase in the bed covers. He stopped for a moment then, to strip off his own clothes. As he climbed back on the bed, they shifted together, Mal down a bit and Simon up until they were both comfortable with Simon crouched between Mal's legs. Then Simon got back to work.

As he licked and sucked at Mal's flesh, Simon marveled at how quiet the captain was being. Mal yelped and whined and made all sorts of racket when Simon had him in the infirmary sewing him up from whatever new damage he'd done to himself. Now he was next to silent, and it was only by the way Mal's mouth opened and he began to pant, that Simon knew just how much he was getting to the man. He made sure Mal was good and wet with spit and then lube, bringing him up to the brink once, and again, but not letting him come, before he made his move. And then, then, Simon shifted into position on the bed. Mal's heavy-lidded eyes flew open in surprise when Simon straddled him. Grasping Mal's thick cock in his hand, he guided it...just there. Mal made an odd little grunt as Simon slid down on him, impaling himself on Mal's shaft, slowly, oh so slowly, as he stared into Mal's blue eyes.

And Mal said not a gorram word, just watched, never taking his eyes from Simon's face. Then Mal shuddered, and Simon thought for a moment he'd already begun to come, but no, Mal's hands settled on Simon's hips, and Simon let him control his movement, up and down, in and out. Mal filled him, stretched him exquisitely. They moved, it seemed, to some thrumming beat in the Serenity's engines. Simon found himself thinking, it was nothing like what he'd expected. It was so incredibly perfect, so all-encompassing, so, so.... He began to climax without even a touch to his own cock. Throwing his head back, Simon gave a long, soft, keening cry as he pumped his seed out onto Mal's shirt front. Mal, for his part, made only a guttural little gasping sound and erupted deep inside Simon, bathing his insides with thick, hot fluid.

In the aftermath, Simon dropped his head down on Mal's chest and they rested like that for a time. Eventually, they had to move and Simon shivered as Mal slipped from his body. He opened eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed to find Mal staring at him.

"Come here," the captain said, and he drew Simon to lie snug against him. Simon could hear Mal's heartbeat begin to slow, and, after a time, figuring Mal had fallen asleep, he shifted and started to rise.

"Where ya going?" Mal husked.

"Not far," Simon soothed, and he went to get a washcloth to clean them both up.

"Just drop it," Mal told him when he'd finished. And Simon did as he was asked, nestling in Mal's embrace and not speaking. For the second time, it was Mal who broke the silence between them.

"How'd you know?" the captain asked.

Simon gave a short bark of a laugh. "Oh, Mal. I've wanted...I've wanted to...since the first time I saw you," he finally managed.

"And here I thought you were pinin' for Kaylee."

"I told you, not ever," Simon assured him, and then at Mal's look added, "Not that she isn't cute as a button and all that, but Mal, well, you know."

"No, I don't know," Mal whispered into Simon's hair. "Tell me."

Simon pulled back to look down at him. "You really didn't know?"

Mal shrugged his shoulders. "That first day, on Serenity's ramp. I thought you were the prettiest thing ever to come on my ship. In your starchy clothes and those dark glasses."

"Prettier than Inara?" Simon said with a grin and some degree of need to know.

"Inara and I, well, there's somethin' there," Mal admitted with a sigh, "but it's just a pipe dream and we both know it."

"And me? What about me, Mal?" Only because he was lying in Mal's arms and it was, well, after, was Simon able to summon the courage to ask the question.

Mal looked down at him, making sure they had eye contact. "You're something else entirely, Simon. You're the real thing."

Simon had to duck his head so Mal wouldn't see how his face flushed with pleasure.

Shortly after that, Mal slid out from under him and off the bed. "I gotta go do ship stuff, Simon. Besides, if I'm gone too long, someone's bound to come looking for me."

"And you don't want anyone to find you in my bunk," Simon huffed.

Mal stepped back over to the bed, holding his pants up with one hand. Reaching out, he took Simon by the chin. "Give them a little time, okay?" He buttoned his pants slowly, then he looked Simon straight in the eye. "Give me a little time."

"Is this because you don't regularly bed your crew?" Simon asked hoarsely.

Mal's lips thinned into a straight line. "I've never bedded anyone under my command, Simon," he said crisply. "Never before today. Like I said, you're something else again." The captain's voice softened again. "Believe me, you're something special. I just...,"

"Need a little time," Simon gave the words to Mal as a kindness, and he saw in Mal's eyes they were taken as such.

Shirttails tucked, suspenders up, Mal sucked in a deep breath sigh and slid open the door.

The following morning, Simon woke to find River staring in his face. "It smells like sex in here," she sniffed, making Simon blush crimson.

"For pity's sake, River," he began pulling his covers over his half-naked body, but he stopped at River's next words.

"Book's awake."

Simon leaped from his bed, threw on his clothes and made a dash for the infirmary. Kaylee and Zoe were there standing beside the preacher's bed. Book's eyes were open and he was smiling sleepily at the women.

Mal came bursting into the room just as Simon asked, "Book, how do you feel?'

Book blinked at the doctor in surprise. "Why I feel just fine, Simon. What's all this fuss about?"

Jayne, just arrived, hooted in response to Book's slightly slurred words.

"What? What'd I miss this time?" Wash said from the hall. The others all turned to him, laughing in relief and delight.

"Book bumped his head and went to bed, but he got up just this morning," River singsonged. "And Simon's bed smells like sex," she added.

Simon's mouth dropped open, and he tried to protest, but Wash and Jayne just snickered at him. "Had a date with your hand, huh, Doc," Jayne quipped.

Simon, turning to face them all, was the only one to see Mal's wince.

"Now, Jayne," Book said in an admonishing voice, which made everyone laugh again.

Mal cleared his throat. "Okay folks, let's get out of here and give the doc room to check Book over. And then, hopefully quite soon, our good preacher will be well enough to cook for us again."

"Oh, yes," Book said quite seriously. "I've been dreaming of pancakes. I wonder where I can get us some flour."

On another wave of laughter, everyone exited the infirmary. Simon had turned back to his examination of Book when he realized the room wasn't empty. He looked over his shoulder, prepared to shoo River away.

Mal stood just inside the door, not saying a word, and Simon found himself thinking of Mal, climaxing in near silence on his bed. He didn't blush this time, just smiled slowly, warmly, at the captain.

He was rewarded by something he didn't expect, an amazingly bright, full-blown smile from Mal.

Within him bloomed a sharp, sweet pain, and Simon thought to himself that he'd had it wrong before. It was love, not hope, that was a double-edged sword.

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