by wedjateye

[Story Headers]

Thank you to Kispexi2 for her usual fabulous beta.

Disclaimer: Not mine. No profit. Don't sue. Pretty please.

Mandarin translations courtesy of the Firefly Chinese Pinyinary.

ma shang - now, right away
Mei Mei - younger sister
goushi - crap
biao(zi) - prostitute
wei - hey
tamade - mother fucking
feihua - useless talk
shen me - what
hundan - jerk
houzi de pigu - monkey's ass

In retrospect, Simon decides it is clear he should have thought before opening his mouth. He's man enough to admit it. Plans to do just that. As soon as Jayne removes the forearm compressing his larynx.

The struggle to keep his brain oxygenated isn't interfering at all with his powers of observation. The unyielding metal bites chillily into his shoulder blades in stark contrast to the heat of Jayne's body pressing him into the wall. Over the thrum of his heart straining loudly in his ears Simon can distinguish each voice in the cacophony surrounding him.

Mal's comes through most clearly. Calm and focused. Talking to Jayne the same way you might to settle a spooked horse. Would it kill him to inject a little urgency into the situation?

All these details pale next to the smell flooding his nostrils. Sour sweat turning rancid. An indefinable, stomach turning stench that Simon knows so well from his days in the emergency room.

Jayne reeks of fear.

Suddenly Simon is on all fours, rasping in air that burns all the way to his starved lungs. Tears leak from the corners of his eyes with each hacking cough, blurring his view of the kitchen floor and the bare feet in front of him.

"So sorry." River is saying, as Simon gradually becomes aware of her hand rubbing his back. "Subluxed... sublimate....submachine... Sorry." She can't seem to find the right words. Simon manages to sit up but can't quite get his voice working to reassure her that he is alright. She looks scared and guilty. Simon squeezes her hand, not sure why she is blaming herself for Jayne's attack and not wanting her to spin out of control.

Jayne is being restrained in a chair by the combination of Zoe, Mal and Book. They are holding his shoulders down and doing their best to keep his arms controlled. Mal is still talking, too quietly for Simon to hear.

Jayne catches sight of Simon and his eyes almost bug out of his head again.

"We ain't going down there!" Jayne thunders. He adds menacingly "An' anyone who says otherwise is gonna have a painful talk with Vera."

"You see me disagreeing?" Mal asks loudly. Jayne drags his eyes back to Mal's face.

"Wash is up front right now, working out the best way to get us out of here ma shang."

Jayne jerks his arms free of Zoe and Book but makes no move to get up from the chair.

"Well alright then. You only had to say." Jayne's tone has dropped to a mere snarl. Book takes a half step back. Zoe rolls her eyes and crosses her arms, not budging an inch.

"The good Doctor knows there aren't going to be any survivors down there anyhow. Not after reavers have been through." Mal's brows are knotted together in annoyance as he looks in Simon's direction.

Simon is too busy breathing to feel really hurt, but he wishes Mal would help him up from the floor instead of looking like he wants to knock him through it.

"Book, why don't you and Jayne go do some lifting? Might burn up some o' that excess energy seems to be weighing Jayne's brain down."

"I ain't got time for no weights." Jayne growls. "I gotta go check Vera an' the rest. Make sure I'm ready."

"Well, you do that then. Can't ever be too ready, not that there's a need just at the present time." Mal stands back as Jayne lumbers towards his quarters without a backwards glance.

"Zoe, join me on the bridge. We got cargo burning a hole in the hull and nowhere to unload." Mal ignores Simon as Zoe quickly flicks a glance towards him and River. She follows Mal from the room without speaking.

"Son you do have a way with words." Book extends his hand. Simon hesitates but grasps it, River taking his other arm to help him to his feet.

"Not so much just now though." Simon rasps painfully.

"No." Book chuckles. "That may not be a bad thing."

Mal and Zoe don't even break for dinner that night. Everyone is edgy. They all know that most of the money from the last job is tied up in the cargo that now sits worthless in Serenity's belly. It had seemed a straightforward way to double their profits - guaranteed buyer who had proven reliable before.

The fact that they only just avoided the gruesome end their contact undoubtedly met hasn't helped the mood any. Wash seems fairly confident that they are now flying in safe space but Jayne is still as jumpy as a cat. He keeps fingering the knives he has tucked into his boots and he has brought two guns to the table. He shovels his food down without talking to or looking at anyone, before scuttling back to his bunk, muttering something about cleaning Vera.

"Didn't think it was possible for Jayne to get wound any tighter than he has been this last week." Wash cocks a brow thoughtfully.

"He just don't like reavers is all." Kaylee says. "Never could get him to tell me why."

"Big, bad bear, doesn't like what the mice have done to his milk." River intones solemnly. She has been subdued all day, hovering around Simon as if he might vanish were she to take her eyes off him.

"Why don't we go play jacks?" Kaylee asks her brightly. "We could do with a little fun."

River shakes her head, still looking at Simon. Now he has Kaylee's sad gaze on him also.

"Go Mei Mei." Simon says. "It's going to be very boring watching Book and I clean up."

Kaylee smiles at him gratefully but River sets her mouth, crossing her arms stubbornly. Simon shrugs at Kaylee and gets up to clear the table.

"Here" Kaylee takes the plate he's just picked up out of his hand "I need something to do. You can take my turn tomorrow night instead."

Simon wishes he hadn't let Kaylee insist when he finds himself at a loose end. Unable to concentrate on anything, he watches as River draws an intricate plan of Serenity. She has assured him it is accurate as to scale and he can believe it. He'll probably have to find a way to get her to agree to destroy it. He's pretty sure not even Mal knows all the secret compartments she's detailed.

"Are you sure you don't want to spend some time with Kaylee?" Simon asks River.

He's not certain why it bothers him so much that she is glued to his side. It seems like a regression he supposes. He isn't really sure what is between Kaylee and River but he has tried to stop worrying about it. River has seemed happier and more stable since he caught them kissing in the engine room. And he does trust Kaylee. He knows that River is still sleeping in her own bed and he hopes that that is a sign that things are moving slowly...

At least he's pretty sure River spends her nights in her own bed. The truth is, he sleeps in Mal's bunk more often than not, so he wouldn't really know. River has plenty of chances to sneak around in between him checking on her.

"Bears in the larder." River answers him cryptically. "No breadcrumbs if I go."

"Are you worried about Jayne?" Simon asks, thinking she has talked about bears twice now.

"He's afraid again." River doesn't sound troubled as she bends her head back to the page.

"Because of the reavers?" Simon asks.

River doesn't answer.

Simon muses to himself about Jayne. He has certainly had something on his mind lately. Or at least is doing a good impression of it, considering his deepest thoughts are probably about what to eat between meals. He has been quieter than usual. And Simon has caught him staring a few times.

In fact, Jayne has been staring a lot. At Simon. And at River. With the puzzled look of a chicken who has brooded over goose eggs and can't quite work out how such unlovely, hissing offspring resulted. When Simon catches his eye he looks away as if burnt. Sometimes he stares at the rest of the crew - Mal, Kaylee, Inara... But the look he has then is mournful.

It's not worth thinking about Simon decides. Might as well try to psychoanalyse a mollusc. He makes another casual trip to the kitchen, just to get something to drink. Mal and Zoe have their heads close together over cortex readouts, occasionally exchanging quiet comments. Zoe barely acknowledges Simon's courteous offer of tea with a shake of her head.

River is already asleep when he returns to his quarters. Maybe if he reads for a while....

Simon wakes in the wee hours with the light still burning, his journal article scrunched between his body and the bulkhead.

Mal looks exhausted, drinking a cup of coffee whilst scanning the cortex on the bridge.

"Did you sleep at all?" Simon asks, wincing as Mal jumps hard enough to slosh liquid over his hand. "Sorry." Simon reaches instinctively to check the burn but Mal pulls away.

"It's ok Doc," Mal wipes his fingers dry on his trouser leg, "I made this pot a few hours back. Tasted like goushi before and now it's room temperature goushi."

Simon puts a hand on Mal's shoulder but he shrugs to dislodge it.

"Not here." Mal says, adding in response to the hurt look Simon can't quite suppress; "No time for extra complications."

"Can I get you some breakfast?" Simon offers. Wishing he could find better words.

"Hmm? No. Maybe later."

"That would make it lunch." Simon tries to get a smile out of Mal.

"Yep. Maybe lunch...later." Mal is absorbed in the screen.

All the day's mealtimes have come and gone with no appearance from Mal at the table. Simon resorts to waiting in Mal's bunk. He still feels unsettled and wants to reconnect.

Mal's footsteps clang discordantly down the ladder and he starts when he catches sight of Simon.

"Thought I'd sneak down while the coast was clear." Simon explains.

"Oh. Didn't mean you needed a cloak and dagger routine." Mal says mildly. "Most of 'em probably know by now."

"I wasn't sure..." Simon answers uncertainly. He mentally pictures the crew. "Who do you think knows?"

"Zoe." Mal has no hesitation.

"What did she say?" Simon asks, feeling a bit tense.

"Didn't say anything. I just know that she knows." Mal looks annoyed and continues, grudgingly; "Fact is, I'd bet money she knew before I did."

"Oh." Simon is disappointed. But he supposes if Zoe was unhappy about them she would have found ways to let him and Mal know by now.

"If Zoe knows, does that mean that Wash does?" Simon asks.

"Zoe'd never betray a confidence." Mal says slowly. "Not that I told her nothing... I guess Wash probably knows. He 'n Zoe have that scary married people way of talking without words."

They're not the only ones. Simon thinks uncomfortably. He shakes his head to clear the flash of unwanted images. Thinks again of the question at hand.

"Well, score one for perception to all the women on the boat then." Simon observes.

"All the...does Inara know?" Mal sounds startled.

"Is that a problem?" Simon replies sharply.

"No. No problem. I was the one trying to convince you it shouldn't be a secret remember?" Mal crosses his arms defensively. "You tell any of them? Or they just figure it out on their own?"

"On their own." Simon confirms.

"Hmm. I'm pretty sure Book knows, judging from the Bible quotations he's been polluting my ears with lately." Mal snorts. "Can't tell if he wants to save us from sin or marry us."

Simon laughs. Book has done the same thing with him in the last few days, with enough of a twinkle in his eye to let Simon feel fairly comfortable.

"That just leaves Jayne." Mal raises his brows in query. Simon shrugs, thinks, then shakes his head.

"Figures he's the only one without enough brains to see it for himself." Mal says wearily. "Don't know how to tell him without getting his back up."

"Getting his...you don't think he'd be jealous, do you?" Simon unaccountably feels himself flush a little, remembering the hard length of Jayne's body against his in the kitchen. Ughh. He shudders. Jayne is a beast.

"Jealous?" Mal has raised his eyebrows and is staring at Simon hard. "You got some funny notions Doc."

Simon forces himself to breathe evenly. Mal waits a beat before continuing. "Jayne just likes to know which side his bread's buttered, that's all. Don't want him having wrong ideas 'bout you gettin' special favours."

"Oh, I doubt he'd think that." Simon says bitterly, fingers straying unbidden to his throat.

"What's wrong Doc?" Mal takes a step closer, warm breath stirring the small hairs on Simon's neck, voice husky now; "Did you want me to kiss it all better?"

Simon's lips curl into a smile. He reaches for Mal's shirt, pulling him forward so their chests touch. "That'd be a good start." Desire is thickening his voice already.

Before their lips can meet the comm crackles ominously. Mal groans and pulls away.

"Sir, wave from Anderson. We got a problem." Zoe's voice sounds metallic.

Mal strides to the wall, punches the button. "On my way." He doesn't look at Simon as he takes the ladder two steps at a time.

Eventually Simon goes to check on River and ends up in his own bunk. He tosses and turns most of the night, wondering when his bed developed so many lumps.

"We get that deal sorted out yet?" Jayne asks a bleary eyed Wash at breakfast.

"Nope." Wash yawns. "They'll have to decide on a destination soon though or we'll have to hitchhike to the nearest refuelling station." He looks morose.

"Well where's the Cap and Zoe then?" Jayne grunts.

"Oh, I don't know. Lazing on some tropical beach somewhere?" Wash snarks. His expression changes comically. "A fully clothed beach. Chaperoned. In fact, I'm there too."

Jayne brings his bowl of protein cubes over to the table. He glowers up at the ceiling for a moment before reaching for his spoon.

"Hey, you little biao- " Jayne spits at River.

"Wei!" Simon cuts him off, glaring from where he is rinsing his bowl.

Jayne reaches across the table and wrenches the purloined utensil out of River's grip. He stares at it in disgust before stomping over to hurl it into the sink. He elbows Simon roughly out of the way to reach the drawers.

"Things'd be ruttin' simple we didn't have to avoid half the moons in the known 'verse on account o' tamade fugies." His mutter is barely audible.

"I beg your pardon?" Simon asks icily.

"Nuthin'." Jayne snarls. "Just wonderin' what we could cash in for fuel." He snatches up a fresh spoon, collects his bowl and storms out.

Inara slides her chair closer to River and slips an arm around her shoulders. "Don't pay any attention to him sweetie." She soothes.

River shrugs nonchalantly. "Who's been eating from my bowl?" she singsongs, looking at her breakfast.

Simon has tried to shelve his lingering unrest all day. Mal and Zoe have finally patched a deal together but Simon could tell from the stonier than usual look on Zoe's face at dinner that she is not happy. Mal disappeared to his bunk immediately after eating - probably to sleep at last.

"Where are you going Mei Mei?" Simon asks as River brushes past him with her toothbrush, heading towards the cargo bay.

"Going to spend the night with Inara." River spins in a circle, balancing on the toes of her combat boots.

"What?" Simon blurts.

"Sleep-over." River elaborates taking off.

"Wait!" Simon lunges to grab her wrist. "Did Inara invite you? To a...to a..."

River rolls her eyes and scrunches her forehead. "Me and Kaylee. It's a ritual dummy. But we'll change her mind."

"A ritual?" Simon feels even more concerned.

River giggles. "Not like that. All sugar, no spice." She wriggles impatiently.

"Maybe I should just - "

"Simon!!" River uses the exact tone he recalls from when he wouldn't let her go on the Whiplash! roller-coaster at Thrills 'n Spills alone. River had shrieked with joy at every stomach lurch. Simon had revisited his reconstituted protein and batter lunch.

"Ok then." He concedes uneasily, letting her go. Great. A whole evening to kill on his own. Mal desperately needs a problem-free sleep. And Simon desperately wants to stop replaying Jayne's comment in his mind.

Simon lasts less than ten minutes. He doesn't know whether to be annoyed or grateful to find that Mal is awake after all - still poring over documents. He looks almost glad of the interruption, until Simon outlines his niggling fears.

"Jayne won't try anything." Mal sounds sure.

"How do you know that?" Simon scoffs.

"Because he knows I'd kill him." Angry now

"You can't know-" Simon begins, patiently explaining the fallacy in Mal's reasoning.

Mal interrupts;

"Because I almost killed him the last time!"

Mal's jaw is clenched so tightly Simon can barely distinguish the words. Or maybe he just doesn't want to.

"You knew?" escapes Simon's mouth in a surprised grunt, sledge hammered from his gut by implications he can't even formulate yet.

Mal is speaking again but Simon can't hear him He is back in the cargo bay.

"He was amazing. I can't begin to tell you... we wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for him."

"You knew and you didn't tell me? You just let me gush all over him... thinking he had rescued us." Simon's sense of betrayal is palpable.

Mal has fallen silent and Simon stares at him for a long hard moment. Can't keep himself from adding; "I thought you would keep us safe."

"Simon.... I've done everythin' I can to ensure your safety. You know that." Mal's voice is just shy of pleading, face troubled.

"Having an avaricious mercenary on board seems so logical when you put it like that." Simon ignores the uncomfortable knowledge that he is being unreasonable.

"It ain't like that."

"What's it like then? Do you have some good reason for keeping him around I don't know about? Can't come by more trustworthy muscle? Or is it just his muscles you want." Simon feels ready to hit something.

"Simon, calm down, you know I don't got no interest..."

"I am calm!" Simon yells, feeling even angrier because he knows his words are a lie. "I don't know anything. You kept me in the dark about Jayne selling out my sister!"

"You jus' said you already knew." Mal is trying for evenness.

"I'm not staying for any more of this feihua." Simon storms towards the ladder, doesn't get more than two steps before Mal has closed the gap, grabbing him by the shoulders, spinning him around to bring them face to face.

"I am not lettin' you do this." Mal snarls.

"Do what?" Simon brings both his forearms up as hard as he can in an unsuccessful attempt to break Mal's grip.

"You can't keep doing this Simon." Mal's fingers tighten painfully.

"Let go of me Mal." Simon is seething. He can feel the incipient set of bruises that will decorate his arms tomorrow.

"No." Mal sweeps a leg in between Simon's, throwing him off balance and to the floor.

"You're hurting me." Simon hisses as Mal's bulk knocks the wind out of him.

"You're hurting me!" Mal retorts before sealing his mouth against Simon's with savage intensity. Simon fights the kiss, no, the devouring of his mouth; trying to throw Mal off by arching his back and twisting to the side. Mal anticipates every movement, pressing himself against Simon's body, rubbing their groins together in some primitive display of domination. Simon switches his focus to unpinning one of his arms, ignoring the lightheadedness weakening his resolve, sucking in air whenever Mal's lips let up for an instant.

Finally Simon gets an arm free, using it to grip Mal's hair and yank his head back sharply. Mal yelps in pain, staring at Simon with wild eyes.

"You want me to stop?" Mal asks between ragged breaths.

"God no!" Simon declares, taking advantage of Mal's surprise to flip him at last.

Now it is Simon's turn to dominate, driving his tongue deep into Mal's mouth, matching each thrust with a grind of his hip against Mal's erection. Mal takes it all, surrendering to the force of the kiss with muffled moans, pulling Simon's shirt free so he can slide eager hands along bare skin.

"More Simon, more" he urges.

Simon fumbles with buttons and zip, fingers clumsy beneath Mal's intent gaze until they reach their goal.

At last Simon touches smooth skin, a low noise erupting from his own throat at the pleasure of it. Mal's head thuds back against the floor, eyes closing. Simon grips firmly and Mal is soon rocking himself backwards and forwards, thrusting forcefully. His breathing is jerky and harsh, hands gripping at Simon's back spasmodically. His orgasm follows hard and fast.

After a minute in which Mal doesn't seem capable of movement, Simon is too impatient to wait. He undoes his own fastenings and sets about putting himself to rights.

"Hey!" Mal sounds offended.

Simon ignores him as Mal struggles to sit but doesn't resist the shove that sends him sprawling onto his back.

"What's the rush?" Mal teases, breaking into a smile at Simon's death glare.

Mal is too breathless for his technique to have its usual finesse. But hot and wet still works well enough to have Simon shouting out obscenities in next to no time as he explodes down Mal's throat.

Afterwards the floor seems cold and uncomfortable so they make it to the bed, undressing to lie together in a tangle of limbs. Mal strokes Simon's upper arms gently, leaning to kiss the marks already showing against his pale skin.

"Sorry 'bout that." Mal sounds uneasy.

"Don't worry, it was worth it." Simon reassures him.

Mal is silent again for a minute, thinking.

"Seems like we got the order of that all screwed up" Mal observes.

"Would you prefer if we had the fighting following the sex?" Simon asks wryly.

"Prefer not to fight at all." Mal answers darkly.

Simon has no response for that. He lies listening to Mal brood for a couple of minutes before turning Mal's face towards him to see the thunderclouds in his eyes.

"Shen me?" Simon asks, touching Mal's cheek lightly.

"I don't want it to be this way." Mal finally says, looking away.

Simon ignores the stab of fear. "What way?" he prompts.

"You can't keep walkin' out on me every time you don't like somethin' I do or say."

Mal is gazing at him earnestly now. Simon can see how vulnerable he is feeling, right there, unguarded, undisguised.

"I didn't walk out on you Mal," he reminds him softly "I'm right here."

"You were gonna."

"I'm probably always going to be... overprotective, when it comes to River." Simon admits. "It makes me a little crazy at times, worrying about her."

"I know. I know River comes first. But you gotta remember that I'm on your side. I won't let nothin' bad happen to either of you if there's breath still in my body."

"Ok." Simon agrees, searching Mal's face. "I'll remember." Simon kisses Mal to underscore the promise.

"Good" Mal relaxes, shifting closer to Simon and soon breathing deeply on the edge of sleep.

Simon lies thinking it all through for a while, recalling how often Mal has taken risks on his and River's behalf.

"Mal?" Simon asks.


"You know I would have come back, right?"

Sleepily; "You'd better've. Wouldn't like it if you didn't."

Mal is already gone when Simon wakes. It is still early but he can tell from the change in Serenity's engine noises that they are entering atmo. Simon hurries to his bunk to change into a clean shirt. He adds a vest in the hope it will disguise the fact he has just tumbled out of someone else's bed, then makes it to the bridge in time to see where they will be landing.

"Want me to fly over one more time?" Wash asks Mal.

"No, twice is enough. Don't want to make him too jumpy." Mal looks at Zoe with one brow raised.

"I'm good Sir." She checks her gun again before heading for the cargo bay.

Jayne joins Mal, Zoe and Simon as the ramp is lowered. The rest of the crew still seems to be asleep. Simon is not sure whether he should make himself scarce but figures Mal would tell him to go if he didn't want him around. He stays up the top of the ramp as Mal greets their contact.

Money changes hands, Mal tossing the bag to Zoe for counting. Then Jayne and Zoe start shifting crates under the watchful eyes of Mal and the contact.

"Make yourself useful willya?" Jayne huffs at Simon "This hundan is on his own and don't look to be lifting a finger."

So Simon finds himself hefting loads for the next half an hour. They are almost done when Zoe disappears to tell Wash to get ready for lift-off.

Jayne goes back to get the last crate and Simon gratefully stretches out the kinks in his back from the unfamiliar labour.

"Pleasure doing business with you Lucas." Mal drawls, extending a hand.

"Likewise." Lucas shakes, not letting go as he adds "Now where would those papers for this entirely legitimate haul be again?"

"Oh yeah." Mal glances around to see Jayne emerging with his load, catches his eye and pulls his hand free. "I'll be right back." He strides back to Serenity.

Simon is about to follow Mal onboard when the feel of cold metal pressed up against the angle of his jaw stops him in his tracks. Jayne pauses briefly, crate suspended mid-air, before he swings it up onto the wagon.

"You'd be wanting to keep those hands in plain sight now" Lucas growls. The sound of a rifle being cocked off to the side underscores the menace in his tone "or you'll find yourself picking bits of brain out of your clothes."

Jayne deliberately crosses his arms. "That so?" He drawls casually.

Simon tries to ignore the sharp jab of the muzzle. Tries to keep breathing regularly. Tries to think about the bruise on his neck that will anger him tomorrow... rather than the potential lack of head on neck.

"Call your Captain back." Lucas orders. "Tell him to bring the money with him. We ain't so much in a paying mood."

Jayne doesn't move.

"Ma shang! Are you as dumb as you look? I'll end him if you don't snap to it." Lucas's inflection rises a little with each sentence. Simon can feel his heart-rate reciprocating.

"That ain't a threat." Jayne sounds bored. "I'd have to give a houzi de pigu for that to be at all motivating. Hell, you'd be doing me a favour."

Icy calm flows through Simon. He can picture what he has to do if he is going to survive this. Sharp backwards thrust of elbow. Twist and kick. Heel of hand to smash in nose. Drop and roll.

He hopes it will be enough. Hopes that Jayne is lying, or at least exaggerating - that he will come to Simon's aid and take out the second man that he can sense to his left, just beyond his peripheral vision. Simon knows, feels it like an ache right through to his heels, that if he waits for Mal to come back it will be too late. It all comes down to this.

Simon tenses... and feels Lucas pull the gun from his neck to aim it at Jayne instead.

"You ain't real bright, are ya?" Lucas snarls.

"Nope." Jayne answers as he becomes a blur of movement, gun out before he hits the ground. The grip on the back of Simon's neck is gone and his ears are ringing.

Jayne is cursing vociferously and it takes Simon a few seconds to realise that he is yelling at him to take cover. Bewildered, Simon runs to Jayne's side, sheltering behind the wagon.

"Get down will ya?" Jayne orders gruffly. "Might be more'n two."

"You're hurt." Simon notes with surprise how steady his voice sounds.

"Nah, ain't nothing." Jayne is scanning the surrounding vegetation, shrugging in irritation as Simon tries to examine his arm. "Gerroff me Doc. 'M busy."

"Jayne?" Mal's voice from beyond the entrance of the airlock sounds muffled.

"Two down." Jayne shouts "Could be more."

A couple of tense, quiet minutes pass before Simon sees Mal and Zoe drop off opposite sides of the ramp. They move low along the ground to reach the cover afforded by bushes at the edge of the clearing.

Simon wriggles out of his vest and uses it to stem the steady trickle of blood from Jayne's arm. Jayne ignores him to keep up his relentless scrutiny of their surrounds. Time stretches interminably until Jayne suddenly relaxes at some signal Simon can't pin down. He doesn't question the mercenary's instincts but instead bandages Jayne's injury as best as he can.

"Dead?" Mal jerks his head towards the second man as he uses the toe of his boot to turn Lucas' head, assessing his mangled jaw.

"Is now." Zoe confirms, wiping a blade on a grass tussock. She catches the look on Simon's face as she straightens up. "Nothing you could have done, even if we'd let you."

"Any sign?" Mal asks.

"No other tracks. Guess they were even more desperate than we are." A brief flicker of expression crosses Zoe's face.

"We gotta load all that back on the boat now?" Jayne asks, nodding at the wagon.

"Well, now. You'd best get the Doc to see to that arm from the looks of it." Mal answers consideringly. He glances at Zoe and then looks at Simon for a long beat. "Nope. We already got paid. Let's cut our losses before any friends of the dearly departed show up."

Jayne shrugs and walks up the ramp. "That cargo's been more trouble than it's worth." He mutters.

"You didn't hafta ruin your vest." Jayne observes as Simon stitches his freshly cleaned wound. "Woulda stopped by itself."

"It was getting pretty worn anyway." Simon answers absent-mindedly. "I'd almost stopped wearing it. Besides, it was the least I could do."

Jayne rolls his eyes. "Don't you go thankin' me Doc. I didn't do nothing on your account. Just lookin' after myself."

"How's that?" Simon is intrigued.

"That loopy sister of yours would like as not slit my throat in my sleep, I let anything happen to you." Jayne sounds peeved.

Simon laughs. "Well, thank you anyway."

Mal is propped up on his elbows in a half recline on the bed as Simon steps off the ladder. Simon can see that some of the tension of recent days has left Mal's frame.

"Hey." Mal greets Simon.

"Hey yourself." Simon answers, crossing to sit behind Mal, massaging his shoulders, pleased that he doesn't pull away.

"I'm pretty beat Simon." Mal sounds it. He even leans back a little into Simon's arms.

Simon kisses the side of Mal's neck. "Would you like me to stay? I'm not that sleepy but it would be nice just to ...lie together."

"Ok." Mal mumbles. He is already half undressed so it doesn't take him long to shuck off the rest of his clothes. Simon helps him under the covers, where he watches from beneath heavy lids as Simon unbuttons his shirt.

Simon smiles warmly at Mal. Thinking how he has new lines around his eyes from just the last few days. Not that they make him any less fuckable. Simon wonders at himself. Even though Mal is obviously bone-weary it's taking all of Simon's self control not to jump him.

"What's that from?" Mal asks sleepily, reaching a hand towards the bruise at the angle of Simon's jaw. Simon catches the hand between his own and leans down to kiss Mal lightly.

"Just a silly accident." Simon smiles.

Mal is snoring softly when Simon spoons up behind him. He doesn't stir.

Loud whoops and the thump of a ball against metal decking draw Simon out of the infirmary to investigate the source of the disturbance. A noisy hoop-ball game is taking place in the cargo bay. Inara and River are sitting up on the catwalk, legs swinging over the side, calling out encouragement.

Book passes the ball to Mal who feints, then drives past Jayne, knocking into his right arm heavily as he goes by. Jayne swears a blue streak but manages to stick his foot out, tripping Mal up. They both go down, wrestling for the ball, ending up in a stalemate, neither relinquishing their grip.

Simon closes the gap to pluck the ball out of their hands, holding it behind his back.

"No fair!" Kaylee protests "Outside interference, that should be a point for us."

"Not by our rules." Zoe crosses her arms..

"What rules are those dear?" Wash waggles his brows at her.

"The ones by which we're going to whip your asses." Zoe replies coolly.

Mal and Jayne have gotten to their feet now.

"Jayne, didn't we have an agreement that you were going to take it easy until your arm healed?" Simon asks patiently.

"Dunno Doc." Jayne rubs his jaw looking sheepish. "Thought you meant not getting shot again for a bit. Or mebbe not lifting two hundred like usual. Not like I'm gonna get hurt real bad playing against pussies like Mal."

Mal merely smirks.

"Oh, come on Doc." Jayne bargains "You'll just get bored if you don't have to restitch me at least a coupla times."

"Well... I guess it will be alright, as long as your opposition doesn't deliberately keep targeting your weak side." Simon holds Mal's gaze meaningfully.

"I don't have a weak side!" Jayne protests loudly

"No problem Doc, I can find other ways to keep him off balance." Mal grins, suddenly stepping in close to Simon and raising one hand to cup his jaw. Mal's smile is warm with mischief as he leans in to kiss Simon softly. Mal pulls back and uses his thumb to wipe Simon's lower lip, winking at Simon's slack jawed surprise.

Kaylee wolf whistles, shattering the spell. Mal's arms go around Simon's waist and then he has the ball again, spinning to shoot it over a gawping Jayne, who snaps back into action with an annoyed "Hey!"

Zoe snatches the ball out of the air and puts it neatly through the hoop

"What did I tell you dear?" She says to Wash as he loses the rebound to Book, "you just can't beat our team spirit."

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Title:  Dislocation
Series Name:  Nascent
Author:  wedjateye   [email]
Details:  Series  |  R  |  *slash*  |  32k  |  07/07/05
Characters:  Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, River, Book
Pairings:  Mal/Simon, Kaylee/River (slight)
Summary:  Some jobs don't go smooth.

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