"See?" Simon helps River down off the medbed, with one hand tight around her slender arm. "I told you it wouldn't hurt."
She makes a face at him, stretching pretty features. "Silly," she says gently. "It always hurts."
"But you feel a little better," he says.
She hesitates, and then nods.
Simon lays the hypodermic down, and watches her. She is graceful even when she is falling apart, like a ballerina. Simon wishes that his undoing could be as beautiful, then thinks that maybe it is.
Simon perfected the art, during residency, of sleeping when he can. River's jagged restlessness kept him up all night, and when he closes his eyes in the mid-afternoon, the dreams are vivid. Sharp hard pictures, inside a relentlessly moving brain.
Barely floating, arms stretched, and smiling. Asking for him, calling his name.
"I thought you wouldn't come."
Shallow breaths, hot hands that hold him down. Simon's own body folding into his, responding, hands and fingers, and willing open thighs.
"I told you it wouldn't hurt."
River turns to him, hands open. "It always hurts," she says.
Then she begins to scream.
He wakes with a start, to the vicious high-pitched noise that is so familiar. Simon curses, underneath his breath. Then he stumbles, shaking off sleep, through the ship.
The captain makes it to the cargo bay before him. River is perched on top of a cubic container, arms huddled around herself, watching them, watching her.
"Hey there, River."
Simon imagines that's the voice that the captain uses to talk to horses, deep and even and soothing. River doesn't take the bait, staring at him, motionless. Between her tiny fingers, something glints brightly.
"Whoa." Mal takes a step back. "Whatcha got there, darling?"
She is holding the scalpel tightly, between her thumb and forefinger. Simon blanches. He remembers locking up his medical bag. He thinks that he remembers.
But his head hurts, and he knows that he hasn't had enough sleep.
"Maybe you should put that down," Mal says quietly.
Desperately, River shakes her head. "It hurts," she whispers.
"Sure does," Mal agrees. "Might hurt a mite less down here on the ground, don't you think?"
River stares at him, then shakes her head.
"If it hurts," she says, "we have to cut it out. Hand to heart."
"River," Simon begins desperately, and that's when she lunges. She flies off the crate, trajectory crooked like a wounded bird. Mal's eyes fly open with stunned surprise.
The scalpel grazes his palm, and Mal makes a muffled sound of pain. Simon reaches for her, and pulls her away, a mass of lightning in his arms. She's screaming, she is fighting as he wrestles her down.
"It hurts." She is crying, wet and cool on his hands. He can feel each fragile line of her beneath him, bones and wrapping paper skin.
"Shh," he whispers to her, and he is crying too, despite himself. "Shh, mei-mei. I know."
She holds still long enough for the shot, the strongest sedative that he has. The she crumples in his arms, and closes her eyes.
He holds her until the sedative kicks in, and then carries her to bed.
Mal is bleeding.
Simon picks up his calloused hands, and examines the fine cut, a strangely flawless incision. "Infirmary," he says.
"I'm fine," Mal mumbles.
Simon's eyes narrow slightly. "Infirmary," he repeats, in the doctor-voice that he has to use too often on this ship. "Now."
"Sometimes," Simon says, as he weaves stitches neatly into Mal's skin, "I feel like all I ever do on this ship is sew people together."
"Well, maybe if your sister didn't keep cutting 'em open," Mal says.
Simon's features twist and change, wordless.
"Sorry," Mal tells him roughly.
"It's okay," Simon answers softly. "I'm not...it's my fault."
"Don't see how you worked that one out," Mal says, as Simon sews the last stitch, and turns to put his equipment away. "You ain't the one did this to her."
"No. I'm the one that should know how to make her better. And I don't."
"You ain't a magician," Mal tells him, and that's the voice again. "You're just one person. And you're doing your best."
"It's not enough," Simon says. "It's never, ever been enough."
Mal eases off the medbed and moves towards him. Simon's fingers are shaking, the suture set clattering against the counter, until he drops it with a clanging noise. He presses pale white palms into the countertop, and sighs.
He hasn't stood this close to Simon in days. He had forgotten this, the darkness of him, the sadness that bounces and echoes off his skin.
Mal moves in behind him and wraps strong arms around his waist. Simon collapses in his arms. And simply lets Mal hold him there, for a moment, their bodies pressed together, hard bone and muscle. Simon is shaking, taking large uncertain gulps of air. He turns to face Mal, his movements slow and trembling inside the embrace.
Their kiss is shy, at first. It has been so long, for Mal, three days that felt like forever. Simon clings to him, his tongue pushing roughly inside Mal's mouth, starving and hungry. His hands cup the back of Mal's head, pulling him towards him, for deep eager kisses. Simon's mouth is salty and real, the both of them barely breathing.
Mal's hands push roughly underneath Simon's shirt. Simon is trembling as Mal's hands undo his fly, cool shivering skin. Then he gasps, as Mal takes hold of his cock, with tentative fingers.
Simon's fists make clumps of fabric in Mal's shirt. Mal lifts him, with hands on his hips, and places him on the counter. Then strokes the soft skin of his hips and belly with gentle fingers. The wiry, dark hairs tickle Mal's fingers. He pushes down Simon's pants, touching the inside of Simon's thighs, spreading his legs apart. And finally leans in, and takes Simon's hot, hard cock inside his mouth.
His tongue slides across the head, down the shaft. His hands hold steady on Simon's hips, as Simon bucks up slightly. Simon leans back against the wall, exhaling a hard sigh. His fingers grip the edge of the counter, as he moans, gently, over and over.
Simon is wound like a new clock, and it doesn't take much. Just a few short movements of Mal's mouth, and the bitter metallic taste floods his mouth.
Simon pulls up and reaches for him, still breathless. But Simon's last words still echo inside Mal's head. "No," he says.
"No," the captain repeats, and Simon lets him go.
Mal sits beside him on the infirmary counter, waiting for Simon to speak. He doesn't know what to say that won't be the wrong thing, again.
"I didn't really want Jayne," Simon whispers, finally. He is saying it to no one in particular, the empty white room.
Mal nods softly. "That's good."
"I just wanted...I wanted to be able to want Jayne. Or anyone. Anyone else."
"Maybe not Wash," Mal says helpfully. "Zoe'd kill you at least twice."
Simon allows a small smile to cross him mouth. "Not Wash. He talks too much for me." Then he sighs, watching shadows cross the walls. "I just didn't want to be...yours."
"But you are," Mal says quietly. It's true, now that it's been said aloud, a truth exposed and bare on the floor.
"Yes," Simon whispers back. "How fucking selfish is that?"
A silence falls between them. Mal can feel Simon fading, disappearing from him as his breathing returns to normal.
"I'd help you," Mal says. "To take care of her. Keep her safe. You wouldn't be alone."
Simon turns to him then, hollow eyes and a shadowed mouth. He says, "Why?"
Mal wonders if that is really the way that it works in the Core, if every action by its definition has a price. He can't fathom that, anymore than he can imagine the words that will make his intentions plain. So he leans in, and kisses Simon, capturing his mouth as tenderly and sweetly as he can manage.
Simon simply shakes his head. "You have to say it, Mal."
"I love you."
"Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds?" Simon asks, roughly. He sighs, and moves to lean on Mal's arm. Mal likes his weight there, heavy and trusting. "It doesn't make any sense at all."
"Things don't always make sense."
"They do where I come from."
"That ain't where we are."
"No. It isn't."
"I don't reckon it'll ever stop hurting," Mal tells him. And he knows what he speaks of, of slow dull aches that never fade. "But it might hurt less. If you let it."
Simon swallows a half-laugh. "You're full of good advice."
"And not much else. I know." Mal smiles against his skin. Then says, "I never asked you to stay."
"No," Simon agrees quietly. "You never did."
"Mal," Simon tells him, with one pleading hand on his thigh.
Mal takes a deep breath, watching the other man's face. Mal exhales. He knows that Simon isn't going to give him a lot of chances to get this right. "Will you stay, Simon? Please."
Simon hesitates. "I..." he begins.
"You gotta say it."
"Yes." Mal barely hears him, his eyes tracking the uncertain movement of Simon's mouth. "I'll stay."
Then Simon lets Mal put him together, pulling his clothes into place, zippers and buttons. Mal helps him down, off the counter.
Simon goes to unpack.
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Title: Speed of Choices, The (part six)
Series Name: Speed of Choices, The
Author: dirty diana [email] [website]
Details: Series | NC-17 | *slash* | 8k | 02/26/04
Characters: Malcolm, Simon, River
Summary: Conclusion. They're trying.
Notes: Props to sf fan for the beta. This is for skripka, because she asked. More than once.
Sequel to: Speed of Choices, The (part five)
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