Title: Seeing Things
Author: Gigi Sinclair
Website: www.angelfire.com/trek/gigislash Rating: PG-13
Archive: The list archive, anywhere else, just let me know! Synopsis: Mal gets a clue, with a little help from his friends.
Disclaimer: Not mine, alas.
Well, Mal thought, this is it. After everything he'd done, ever law he'd broken, ever moral code he'd smashed to smithereens in an attempt to live another day, he was going to die for a crime he didn't commit.
He supposed there was a kind of cosmic justice in that, but he wasn't in any mood to appreciate it.
"I think they think you stole their gold thing," Jayne stage-whispered, his eyes on the advancing hoard.
"I know." Mal glanced behind him as they backed away. Another few steps and they'd have their backs to a figurative wall and a literal hundred-foot sheer cliff.
"You didn't, right?"
"No." Mal sighed. Their communicators had been taken along with their weapons, so they couldn't call for help, although the ship was just a few hills away. They'd landed there so Kaylee could do some repairs and Zo and Wash could get up to whatever they got up to in their off-hours. Mal didn't want to know the details, which was why he'd volunteered to come get Simon from the village they'd loaned him to two days earlier.
"Then why did they find it in your pocket?" Jayne, Mal knew, had come because he was afraid if he stayed, Kaylee would find something for him to do.
"They framed me, Jayne."
"Oh." Jayne nodded sagely. "You should tell them that."
Mal had. Repeatedly. He'd also tried threats, pleas, and a reminder that they had loaned the villagers their only medic for two entire days, at a very reasonable price.
Not that Simon was going to be much help now. By the time the villagers were done with him, Mal was reasonably sure he'd be beyond the help of the top one percent, let alone Simon.
Who had apparently received top marks for timing along with everything else.
"What's going on here?" The rabble parted to give Mal a clear view of the esteemed doctor, bag in hand.
"Would you explain to your new friends that I'm not a thief?" Mal asked. Then, as Simon's mouth opened, he added: "In this particular case."
"Randal?" Simon looked at the older man who'd started the whole thing when he'd "found" a gold cup in Mal's coat pocket. That was the last time Mal was wearing a coat with baggy pockets in public.
"These men stole the golden chalice, healer," Randal narrowed his eyes at Mal and Jayne. "They deny it, but it was found on his person."
Mal sighed. "It's a set-up, Simon."
"We will dispense with them according to the laws of our village," Randal continued.
"Call me paranoid, Mal, but that don't sound too good," Jayne added helpfully.
"Look. For the last time..."
"This man is my captain, Randal." Simon broke in. "If he says he didn't take the chalice, he's telling the truth. He's an honest thief."
Mal winced, even as the crowd started to murmur. They could have done without that last part, but Simon's words clearly carried some weight with these people.
Only not Randal. "As you say, healer, he is your captain. As an honourable man, you must naturally defend him for that very reason."
More mutterings, and the crowd started moving forward again.
"Not only my captain," Simon hesitated as the crowd turned back to him, expectant. Then, showing more self-assurance than Mal usually associated with him, Simon stepped forward and declared: "He is my bonded mate. What manner of healer would ally himself so intimately with a liar?"
Mal heard Jayne stifle a snort at the words "ally" and "intimate", but the villagers clearly understood the concept of a rhetorical question better than they understood "circumstantial evidence."
"Is this true?" Randal barked at Mal.
"Sure is." When the alternative was death, anyway. "Hiya, pumpkin." Mal gave Simon the most loving smile he could muster which, considering Simon had likely just saved his life, was pretty sincere.
It was enough to convince the villagers, anyway. Randal, clearly aware he was fighting a losing battle, turned to Jayne. "Then perhaps it was this man who committed the vile act."
For a second, and only a second, Mal wondered what would happen if he didn't say anything. Then the moment passed. "This man is a trusted friend of my husband's-" Mal choked on the words, but only a little. "And mine. He wouldn't steal your chalice any more than we would."
"You seem very quick to blame the visitors, Randal," a woman in the crowd pointed out. About time.
"And," someone else continued, "Was it not you yourself who found the chalice in his pocket?"
"Or claimed to?"
"I...But..." Randal stammered. Mal, who didn't make a habit of overstaying his welcome, jerked his head at Simon.
"Well, we'll just be leaving you folks to yourselves." The villagers barely glanced at him. As they walked away, Mal heard a sound that could only be described as Randal being dispensed with according to the laws of the village.
They were nearly at the ship-and Jayne had already used up what Mal supposed was his A-material "china patterns and wedding invitations" jokes-when Mal stopped.
"Simon, you saved our lives and we're grateful," he began. Simon nodded. "But I think it would be better if we didn't mention it to anyone else." Mal didn't need to imagine the hell he would endure if the crew found out about Simon's quick thinking. He'd already had a sampling of what Jayne had to offer on the subject.
"Fine with me," Simon agreed quickly. Almost too quickly for Mal. Perversely, he was a little annoyed that, while he didn't want anyone to think even for a second there was anything between him and Simon, it was obvious that Simon didn't want anyone to think it, either. As if, Mal thought, there was something wrong with him. Hey, he wasn't top three percent, but he wasn't a Fed, and he made a decent enough wage, most of the time. He had a hell of a lot to offer, even to a snotty little shit like Simon...
"You got it, Captain," Jayne interrupted his thoughts. Just in time, Mal decided, putting himself back on track.
"I sure wouldn't want to argue with a doctor's wife."
"Sorry." He didn't sound it. "Hey, you ever wanna have kids, just let me know. I'll baby-sit. I love kids."
"And if you ever hope to have any of your own, you'll shut up."
A few hours later, Mal was on the bridge when Zo and Wash exchanged one of those scary married-people looks and turned to him.
"You should have told us sooner, Captain." Wash grinned. "We've been looking for another couple to hang out with."
Mal gritted his teeth. "Jayne. I'm going to kill him."
"It wasn't Jayne," Zo protested. "I heard about it from Kaylee."
"And where did she hear it?"
"Inara, I think."
"And Inara got it from..."
Wash shrugged. "Who can say?"
"So everyone on board knows about it."
Zo blinked innocently. "I don't think River does."
"It's not funny, Zo." She clearly begged to differ. "It's not actually true, you know."
"I know." That stopped her smirking. "Why not?"
"What?" Mal scowled.
"I think you'd be good for each other. Sir."
"Yeah," Wash agreed. "And things look much better when you're getting laid on a regular basis."
"'Getting laid'?" Zo turned away from Mal and fixed her husband with a stare Mal knew very well. Wash clearly knew it, as well, because he backpedaled faster than a unicyclist on a clifftop.
"I mean, when you have someone to cuddle and share things with. Really. Honey."
"You said 'getting laid'."
"But I meant it in a spiritual, all-ecompassing sense."
Mal didn't hear Zo's reply to that one. Instead, he got up and went to find Jayne.
Who clearly knew Mal would be coming after him, because he was nowhere to be found. As he passed, Mal stopped by the engine room and saw Kaylee, covered in grease and surrounded by various oddly-shaped parts.
"You get the repairs done?" She hadn't been happy when Mal had told her they were leaving the planet a little earlier than scheduled, but Mal hadn't wanted to give the villagers the chance to change their minds and decide that maybe he and Jayne belonged with Randal after all.
"Almost." She wiped a strand of hair off her forehead, leaving a black mark behind.
"Thanks." Kaylee didn't look at him.
Mal sighed. "Look, Kaylee..."
"It's fine, Captain." She interrupted him, still staring at her engine. "Really."
"It's not true."
That got her to glance up. "You know Simon turned me down, right?" Mal hesitated. He did know, but he wasn't sure if it would help if he admitted it. In the end, Kaylee answered for him. "Of course you do. Everyone knows. I think people on the centre planets heard about it. The Alliance probably put out a bulletin." She shook her head. "I knew there was someone else. I'm glad it's you."
"But it's not me, Kaylee." This was the point.
"Oh." She hesitated a moment, then nodded briskly, as if something had just dawned on her. "Of course, sir. Not you." She didn't actually wink, but her meaning was clear from her tone.
"No, really, it's not. That was just something Simon came up with to keep me from getting killed."
"Right, sir. I understand." And so did Mal. No matter what he said, she'd think he was covering up.
It was the middle of the day, but all of a sudden, he needed a drink.
Or at least a coffee. He headed to the kitchen, only to find Shepherd Book standing at the machine.
"Ah, Captain." The shepherd smiled pleasantly and took another mug from the shelf. "How are you this afternoon?"
"I'm not sleeping with Simon," he snapped, before the innuendo and the knowing looks could start. Book froze for a second, then went back to pouring the coffee.
"I didn't suspect you were." The 'but now I do' was left unspoken. Mal slumped into a chair, burying his head in his hands, wondering what he had done to deserve this particular sortie into hell. "Is there something you wish you discuss?" Book handed him the coffee. Naturally, Mal burned his tongue.
"No, there's not," he snapped.
Book shifted, but didn't sit down. "If God didn't want us to take comfort in each other, he would never have given us the power of speech."
"That's real deep, Shepherd, but I said I don't want to talk about it."
Book considered this, but didn't leave. "You are a man of action," he finally determined. "So perhaps you should do something about it."
Once the Shepherd had gone, Mal actually found himself thinking about what he'd said. He trusted his people, trusted their skills and their judgement as much as he trusted his own. More times than he could count, they'd seen something he'd missed. He'd just never thought that would be something like this.
Simon was a good man. Smart, no question about that, and he was starting to act more like a real man and less like a spoiled teenager. And there was the thing with his sister. Mal had to respect that, the way he took care of her when a lot of other people would have given up, Mal included.
But it was a long way from respecting someone to having sex with them, at least in Mal's book. He was the captain, and it wasn't appropriate for a captain to be involved with a member of his crew. There was no way around that, not that Mal could see, anyway. Strictly speaking, he thought, the only person onboard he could have sex with would be Inara, but he didn't think he could afford her.
He could, however, go down to her shuttle and see what she was up to.
From the looks of it, she was examining her wardrobe. For someone who was always complaining about not finding suitable clients, Mal thought, Inara certainly seemed to have a lot of new clothes. She was looking at a flouncy red thing when he arrived.
"My rent's not due for another week," she reminded him, picking at some invisible flaw in the bodice.
"I know. I thought you might just be itchin' to give me some advice on my sex life."
"Do you need some?"
"No. But I'm sure you have some to give, seeing as you're the one who spread the rumour about me and Simon."
"I don't spread rumours, Captain." Inara replied haughtily. "Nor do I gossip. I merely share information I think is important."
Mal snorted. "How noble of you."
"Was there something you wanted, Captain?"
He didn't know. That was the problem. "I'm the captain, Inara."
She understood what he meant. "That's right. And captains don't ever have sex. Funny, I don't remember my clients mentioning that, but then I'm just a companion. I wouldn't understand all those rules you people have."
"It wouldn't be a good idea."
Inara didn't say anything. Instead, she went back to her dresses. When the silence stretched on, Mal finally said: "Inara?"
"Oh, I'm sorry." She looked up, feigning surprise that he was still there. "Did you expect me to contradict you?"
"No." He didn't, in fact, even know why he'd come down here.
"Because you're absolutely right," she continued. "It's not a good idea. But when has that ever stopped you?"
The laws of physics dictated that, on a ship the size of "Serenity", it should have been impossible for a man as large as Jayne to hide for any appreciable length of time. Clearly, that was just another set of laws that didn't apply to Jayne. Further searching led Mal, completely by accident, to the infirmary, where Simon was sitting with River.
"How's she doing?" Mal asked, when Simon looked up at him.
Simon shrugged. "Same as always." Mal looked at River, who appeared quietly intent on tearing apart some kind of plastic sphere she had in her hands. "At least she's not upset."
"That's good," Mal agreed, then felt like an idiot. "Have you seen Jayne?"
"No. But I heard he's been busy."
"Yeah." Mal sighed. "You haven't got anything I could use to stab him, do you?" He glanced around. "Preferably something dull and painful."
"That seems a little harsh, Captain." A flicker of something vaguely resembling a smile crossed Simon's face, and Mal was suddenly seized by a very recognizable emotion. Fear.
Which was of course ridiculous. He was the captain, not a starry-eyed teenager. He'd faced down the Feds more times than he cared to remember. He was a liar, a thief, and a killer. He was afraid of nothing, least of all a kid who caused more trouble than he was worth.
And that, Mal told himself, was why he suddenly needed to be anywhere but here. "I'll see you around, doc."
"No one can see what goes on in your mind," River stated seriously, turning the toy over in her hands. "You have to say."
"I know," Simon replied, so softly Mal wondered if Simon had forgotten he was standing right there. "I wish you could say, River." He brushed back a strand of her hair. River ignored him but flicked her eyes up to Mal, and he wondered if she really was as out of it as everyone thought.
For some reason, Mal suddenly didn't feel so inclined to go chasing after Jayne. He'd show himself at dinner, anyway. Mal could have it out with him then.
Instead, he went back to his bunk and sat down for a minute, trying to regain some kind of bearings. He ended up with his eyes on the photograph of his mother, the first one to teach him that you didn't get anywhere through being weak.
He was recomposing himself, getting ready to head back to the bridge and face down the "helpful advice" of Zo and Wash, when there was a knock on his door.
He wasn't entirely surprised to see it was Simon, although the look in Simon's eyes did take Mal aback. Although even that wasn't quite so astonishing as what Simon did next.
"Doctor. Can I help you?"
"No," Simon replied simply. Then he stepped forward, put his hands on either side of Mal's head, and kissed him.
If Mal had wanted to, he could have killed Simon where he stood. But he didn't. In fact, the longer the kiss went on, the less inclined Mal felt to do Simon any bodily harm whatsoever.
He did, however, have certain other plans for his body.
"Actions speak louder than words," Simon said, when he finally pulled away. For a second, Mal wondered if he'd finally joined his sister on the other side of the divide, but then he said: "Shepherd Book told me that."
"So you're taking advice from him, now?"
"Seems appropriate," Simon smiled, with that same self-assurance he'd shown when he'd stepped forward and announced he was bonded to Mal. "Since you're taking it from Inara."
He didn't ask how Simon knew that. Apparently, no one had enough work to do on this ship. He'd have to rectify that, just as soon as he'd...rectified one or two other things. "In this particular case, I think she's the more qualified."
Simon raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. Instead, he touched Mal's shoulder lightly.
"Doc..." Mal began, then decided that might not be the most appropriate thing to call him now. "Simon. I'm the captain." But it was a half-hearted protest.
"And I'm your doctor, but I've done a lot of crazy things since I came here." He tightened his fingers slightly, then withdrew altogether. "I should get back. I don't like leaving River alone."
"But," Simon continued, a little more diffidently, "She usually sleeps well after midnight."
A thought struck Mal. "You're not going to drug your sister to have sex with me, are you?" Simon looked so horrified, Mal quickly added: "Is the kind of thing some people would ask, but not me."
"All right." Simon left, and, as was his wont, Mal expected to be consumed by guilt. He wasn't. He did, however, have a bizarre desire to whistle as he headed out of his room.
And ran directly into a guilty-looking Jayne.
"Captain!" He wouldn't have thought it possible for Jayne to squeak, but that was as close as Mal ever wanted to hear him come. "I know you've been talking to people, but it's not how it sounds."
"See, normally I wouldn't even speak to Inara, but..." His eyes narrowed. "What?"
"I said, I know. I heard all about it."
Jayne looked at him warily, like, Mal thought, he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. "And you ain't mad?"
"I didn't say that."
"Oh." Jayne actually swallowed nervously. Two big surprises in one day, Mal decided. He'd had no idea he had these varied effects on his crew. A man could get used to this kind of power, he thought, although Mal doubted he'd ever get chance to. "I am real sorry, Captain."
"I'm not going to kill you, Jayne," Mal admitted, after a moment's consideration. "But I do need to punish you. I have to assert my authority, after all. And I did order you not to talk about it." The fact that talking about it had led to it actually happening, and, even stranger, to Mal realizing he actually wanted it, had no bearing on anything.
"Yes, sir." Jayne made an expression that Mal assumed was supposed to be contrite, but which looked more like there was something medically wrong with him.
"I believe Shepherd Book needs some help. He doesn't get to preach much these days. We don't want him to fall out practise." Jayne grimaced, but, for once, didn't say anything beyond:
"And I'm tired of him coming to me with it." And, if Mal had anything to say on the matter, Simon would be too busy to listen to the preacher's advice in the near future. "So if you'll keep him company during your downtime, say for the next few months or so, I think we can call it even."
The grinding of Jayne's teeth was probably audible on the centre planets, but Mal didn't care. Wash was right, he thought, as he stared pointedly at Jayne until he headed off in the shepherd's direction. Things did look better, and he hadn't even gotten laid yet.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Gigi Sinclair
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