Growing Pains

by Wedjat

[Story Headers]

Sequel to Subterfuge. Prequel to Dislocation. Kindly betaed by Kispexi2 who deserves lots of yummy fanfic.

Disclaimer: These characters belong to Mutant Enemy/Fox and Joss Whedon. I should just have that tattooed on my forehead or maybe my heart. No profit being made.

Mandarin translations courtesy of the Firefly Chinese Pinyinary.

diyu - hell
w de ma - holy mother of god
cai bu shi - no way
go se - crap
yesu - Jesus
bi zui - shut up


For the third morning in a row Simon finds himself dressed and sitting on the edge of Mal's bed, torn between leaving before anyone else wakes and sliding back between the sheets. Mal grins at him lazily and rests his hand on Simon's thigh.

"You're not making this any easier." Simon chides.

"Your choice." Mal reminds him.

"I know."

"Small ship Simon, they're gonna figure it out pretty quick."

"I just want a little time to reconnect with everyone before they have to get used to something new. I've been so..."

"Standoffish? Prissy? Stupid?" Mal supplies helpfully.

"Withdrawn!"

He whacks Mal's arm and catches his breath as Mal responds by sitting up suddenly, holding Simon firmly in place while he begins an assault on his neck.

Warm words tickle his ear. "Y'know, I bet I could make you forget all about the time."

"Mmm, I bet you could." Simon agrees, turning his head to capture Mal's mouth.

Kissing Mal is pure pleasure and Simon doesn't resist when Mal lies down again, drawing Simon with him. He gropes for each of Mal's hands in turn, pulling them above Mal's head while he sucks hard on his bottom lip.

"You know what?" Simon murmurs against Mal's heated breath.

"Nuh huh"

A flurry and Mal is blinking at Simon standing by the ladder.

"My memory's actually excellent." Simon laughs as he evades the hurled pillow and leaves preemptively.


Their latest job turned out to be more profitable than expected and Kaylee has decided to celebrate by sharing the results of her inter-engine fermentation system. She has hauled her tinny little broadcaster down to the cargo bay and is currently engaged in attempting to persuade a mildly drunk Jayne to dance a waltz.

"Gonna hafta get a lot more of that inter me first, lil' Kaylee." Jayne grins. Feet set rock solid, back leaning firmly against a stack of crates.

"Maybe Zoe will lend me to you in a while." Wash offers as he sways past, arms wrapped around his wife.

"Mmm, maybe you should try the doctor." Zoe advises, eyes closed, head on Wash's shoulder.

Simon tries to look relaxed. Kaylee has thawed a little towards him in the last few days but he thinks they still have a way to go towards picking up their friendship.

She smiles a little in his direction and then is distracted by River swiping her drink right out of her hand.

"Hey!"

River swigs deeply, spinning away on nimble feet.

"River! Don't drink that. Give it back to Kaylee." Simon calls anxiously.

"Why'nt you let her have a little fun Doc?" Jayne slurs. "Won't hurt none. Could all use a little fun."

"Yes, and when they wrote the book on drug interactions I'm sure alcohol was exempted in the interests of entertainment." Simon snaps.

Jayne blinks. "Sorry Doc, didn't mean nuthin." He apologises.

Simon would like to be gracious but River has disappeared with the rest of the glass.

"Why don't you stick to pickling your liver and let me look after my sister?"

"What would I know? I prob'ly couldn't even spell 'overprotective'." Jayne has lumbered upright, fists clenched, chest puffed out.

"Jayne." Mal warns. He hasn't stirred from where he is lounging on the stairs but his tone cuts through Jayne's bluster instantly. Shooting Simon a venomous look, Jayne stomps away to slosh more liquid into his mug.

Simon smiles briefly at Mal in gratitude before going in search of River, missing the appraising look on Kaylee's face.


"I'll just be a minute." Simon calls as footsteps stop behind him.

"No rush Doc, I'm enjoying the view."

Simon laughs and finishes tightening the screw underneath the medbed before straightening up.

"Something I can do for you Captain?" He asks lightly, noticing that Mal has closed the door.

"Sure I can think of several somethings." Mal grins.

"Just give me five minutes, I promised I'd return this to Kaylee as soon as I was done." He brandishes the screwdriver.

"Well now, I don't think you're finished checking out your handiwork yet are you?" Mal accompanies his words with action, backing Simon up and lifting him onto the bed.

"Maybe you have a point." Simon manages, heat flaming up his throat along with Mal's mouth.

"'Sides, I want another go at that forgettin' time thing from yesterday."

"You definitely have a point." Simon gasps.


Simon can't help humming a little as he walks to the engine room. Shakes his head at himself, realizing he is grinning like a fool. He pauses in the corridor to pull a more dignified expression onto his face, only to feel it freeze as he steps into the doorway.

River is with Kaylee. River and Kaylee together in the engine room. River and Kaylee kissing. In the engine room. Each other.

Eyes closed, fingers entwined in each other's hair, they are breathing hard. He wishes he could deny the knowledge but somehow it is obvious they've been at it a while. And it's no wonder they can't hear the strangled noises trying to escape his throat, what with the constant low moaning.

Simon tries hard to form coherent speech, succeeding at last in terms of volume, if not clarity. Kaylee pulls away from the kiss, startled, and her eyes widen as she looks over River's head to the door.

"River, honey?" She tries to tug River away from where she is licking her throat with abandon. "Sweetie, we got company."

River follows Kaylee as she steps away, keeping their bodies pressed firmly together. She turns her head on Kaylee's shoulder to look backwards.

"Hi Simon." She smiles dreamily before turning her attention back to Kaylee's neck.

"River!" Simon's mounting anger finally makes him lucid. "What the diyu are you two doing?"

Kaylee succeeds in peeling River's hands off her shoulders and uses the leverage to create space between them.

"Simon, it ain't as bad as it looks." She flusters.

"Well it looks pretty bad so I don't find that particularly comforting." Simon achieves an appropriately icy tone.

River is now regarding him steadily, her expression unreadable.

"We weren't doing anything." Kaylee pleads.

"Really."

"Not anything wrong." She amends.

River turns to Kaylee and gives her a gentle kiss on the cheek. Sticks her tongue out at Simon and slides past him to leave.

Simon decides to deal with one thing at a time, starting with Kaylee. Except, wode ma, is that Kaylee's scent he detects on River's hair and skin as she brushes by him? He can't take it all in. Then River pops her head back and has the temerity to peck him on the cheek also. And her lips are wet.

He knows he looks horrified and poor Kaylee is practically hopping from foot to foot in her eagerness to smooth things over.

"What were you thinking Kaylee? She's just a kid."

"Well I wasn't... I mean, I didn't... that is, River..." She trails away, face bright red, eyes downcast.

"After everything we've been through, how could you do this?"

Kaylee's head snaps up and she looks angry now.

"Now you wait just a minute Simon Tam! You had your chance. Ain't down to me that your sister managed to get further with me than you ever wanted to!"

"I didn't mean... You just could have told me." Simon doesn't like where this is heading.

"Why should I tell you anything? Because you sure as diyu didn't come running to me to let me know about you and Mal."

Simon gasps at the sharp slap of the words.

"For your information, Doctor Tam, there hasn't been anything to tell. I think you should leave now. And don't go givin' River a hard time neither. She don't need it from you."

Face burning, Simon leaves rapidly.


It takes a solid hour to locate River and less than two minutes to regret his success.

"On thirteen different rim planets I could be legally married." River points out, eyes innocently widened. "Not even just the pretty bad ones."

Simon resists the urge to bury his head in his hands.

"On Triumph the average girl my age is already in the family way."

Simon can't bite back his groan. River is a genius. Of course she knows all the facts... of life that is. Of everything, probably. But he has never had that conversation with her and is sure his parents never paid enough attention to bother. She is so damaged. How can she comprehend the emotions involved when her own are so scrambled? She feels everything. How can he be sure she won't be overwhelmed, lose her fragile link to reality.

"Mei mei, I want you to be happy, really I do. I know you've been through so much.... I'd like you to have the chance to meet all kinds of wonderful people, fall in love some day. You're just so young..."

"It'd probably have to be Jayne for that, unless you'd lend me Mal for a while."

"What??" This is definitely what going mad feels like.


This isn't how he thought it would go. He had expected support. Agreement. He had wanted Mal out the door, on his way to talk to Kaylee to stop this thing, whatever it is.

"What if it was Jayne kissing River and you caught them?"

"I'd kill him." Mal doesn't hesitate. Nostrils flaring, jaw clenched.

"So what's the difference?"

"It jus' is different!"

"I don't see how. River's just a kid." Simon head throbs with the strain of civility.

"Oh come on Doc, you musta messed aroun' plenty at her age."

"No I didn't actually." Simon shivers. Can't believe how sour the day has become. Wonders who Mal actually is.

Is still wondering after he leaves in a daze and finds himself sitting alone in his room.


Things seem even worse the following day after a broken nights sleep. He is sure Kaylee hasn't said anything but the crew has picked up on the tension between them. Simon senses their frosty disapproval in every glance and formal stress on his title.

Mal looks unhappy but he has made no effort to seek Simon out. Simon decides he is relieved. Tells himself that as he lies awake again that night, staring at the faint glint of the screwdriver resting on his bedside table.


River pokes her head around the infirmary door.

"Time for my medicine?"

She smiles sweetly and Simon eyes her suspiciously as he prepares the syringe.

"You know this won't change my mind about anything." He lectures as he injects her.

"Thought you could use a break from worrying." River purrs.

Simon rubs his temples after she leaves. She is right. His head aches with unwanted memories endlessly recycling. The effort of not thinking about Mal is exhausting. A change of scene would do him good. He puts away the journal he has been halfheartedly reading and heads in search of sustenance. If he encounters Mal on the way, well, it's a small ship.


Wash's incredulous voice is audible halfway down the corridor.

"Fourteen?"

He can hear Zoe's quiet laugh and a murmured comment from Book.

"Actually, was a few weeks before that it started." Jayne has a distant expression on his face as Simon enters the kitchen. Then Jayne shakes himself and grins wolfishly at Wash. "Jus' it's mostly the birthday present I remember."

Simon moves to the counter to make his tea, doing his best to block out the conversation.

Wash bites immediately; "Birthday present?"

Jayne raises one eyebrow lasciviously.

"Cai bu shi! With your teacher?!"

Zoe pats Wash's leg gently.

"I got all muscled up sometime around then and that changed things for me in that department. For the better. 'Sides, she'd only been teaching for a year or so. Weren't much older'n me. Little bitty thing." He looks around the table before adding "But real hot. "

"I'm sure it was true love." Wash intones theatrically. "Whatever did come between you two soulmates?"

Jayne scowls at Book who raises his hands defensively - 'Don't look at me!'

"She decided she was better off marrying the local preacher and havin' a passel o' brats. Guess that preacher didn't hold with no celibate go se."

"Ahh. Not every order does." Book calmly responds. "But I do believe my vows let me off the hook where your story is concerned Jayne. And should excuse me from answering any pointed questions Wash."

Simon can't help himself. "Jayne, are you saying you had sexual relations with your teacher, at fourteen?"

"Yep." Jayne sounds matter of fact. Less rude than he has been for days.

"That's child abuse!" Simon sputters.

"Weren't no child Doc." The sneer is back. "Fact is, I didn't last at school much after that. Was out working a couple of months later. Didn't miss it much."

"Don't you have any regrets?" Book asks thoughtfully.

"Hell yeah! When she got married, turned out she had a twin sister, came to be a bridesmaid. Got one heck of a lot of regrets on that score."

Wash hoots with laughter. Zoe looks mostly tolerant.

"So how about you, little man, when did you get your play?" Jayne asks Wash.

"Well, me and muscles at fourteen, not so much. Puny comes to mind. Just not to my lambietoes mind, I hope." Zoe leans in and gives him a reassuring kiss.

"Now, by seventeen, my moustache had grown in and we're talking a whole other story!" He grins remembering, then looks at Zoe. "But it was really later on that my irresistibility came into full bloom, wouldn't you say?"

"Absolutely." Zoe affirms.

Jayne is looking at her expectantly now.

"Don't ask Jayne" she says dryly "it wouldn't be good for your health."

Simon drains his tea hurriedly and leaves.


Dinner that night is strained. Mal is brooding. Kaylee stares mostly at her plate. Book and Wash try hard to keep some semblence of normal conversation flowing but they fall silent after Mal snaps first at Jayne and then even at Zoe.

Simon looks around the table and is sure that this is somehow all his fault. River is hyperkinetic, sculpting her food, fidgeting in her chair. She accidentally knocks her glasss flying and it triggers a melt-down of some sort. Screaming and crying, she flails violently as Simon pulls her away from the hard edges of the furniture, lifting her into his arms.

"River?" Kaylee is right there, dodging too late as River thrashes again, a foot just grazing Kaylee's side.

"I've got her, Kaylee, stand back." Simon orders, sees the shocked look on Kaylee's face, adds a softer "Thank you".

He is so used to this now, it feels almost normal to carry River to the infirmary, finding the preloaded syringe in the top drawer. River is calming even before the sedative catches up with her. Hiccoughing softly against his chest, her limbs growing heavy.

"Kaylee." she mumbles as she drifts under.

Simon watches her for a long time after tucking her in, knowing she won't wake until morning. He finally realises he is waiting. Finally realises that no-one is coming.


Simon stands at the door to Inara's shuttle, wondering if the piercing loneliness he feels is worse than whatever he might find within. He doesn't know exactly what Mal and Inara have shared in the past. Or even in the present. He's not sure what she thinks about his rift with Kaylee or the way the rest of the crew have subtly taken her side. Not so subtly if you count Jayne knocking into him in the corridors at every opportunity.

At least Inara is behaving exactly the same as usual around him. She is the only one who is. That has to mean something, right?

She seems unsurprised to see him. Offers him tea and fills the room with easy talk that allows him to relax a little.

"I don't know what to do about Kaylee." Or Mal, he adds mentally. "She and River are, well, close. I don't want to stop River from having friendships, especially with someone as wonderful as Kaylee. It's just...." He trails off, unsure of how much to say.

"It's just that you are afraid River might lose herself if the friendship becomes, more intense." Inara finishes for him.

Simon nods miserably.

"Isn't that what any of us risk, whenever we open our hearts to another?" Inara asks gently.

"Most of us haven't had our brains cut up!" Simon retorts.

"No, but we are all damaged in our own ways." Inara remains calm. "Loving someone is about accepting that damage, maybe even helping to heal it a little. Would you deny River that opportunity? Doesn't she deserve the same chance of happiness that you and Mal do?"

Simon closes his jaw with effort.

"Is there anyone on this boat who doesn't already know?" He can feel his face flaming.

"You were rather... luminescent for a while there."

Inara tactfully pours them some more tea, giving Simon the chance to collect himself. When she looks at him again it is with a clear, steady gaze.

"Are you in love with him?"

Simon isn't sure he knows the answer to that. The exhilaration of the first few days of being with Mal has subsided into a nameless ache.

"I care about him." He temporises.

Inara's pause is barely perceptible, her face composed.

"Is he in love with you?"

Simon thinks of the words he has turned over in his head at least a hundred times a day since Mal first uttered them - "Love, Simon. Love". He is sick of dissecting nuances.

"I don't know."

Inara looks faintly disapproving and Simon struggles to come up with a better reply, thinking she deserves a little certainty, even if he may not be able to give it.

"I think Serenity, his crew - we're all part of whatever love he has to give."

"I agree." Inara nods and leans forward to take Simon's hands in her own. "And I think it's hurting him, to see such tension between you and Kaylee. It's poisoning the entire ship. River is going to grow up, whatever you do. She's going to want to make her own choices. When you love someone, you have to learn to support them in whatever they choose."

Simon stares at her wordlessly, kneels on the floor between them to pull Inara into a hug, holding her close. He barely hears her soft sniffle.

"Thankyou Inara"

When she pulls away her face is serene. "You're welcome Simon."


Simon finds Kaylee in the engine room.

"I overreacted."

Kaylee stiffens, turns towards him, face tight.

"Promise not to throw it at me?" He gingerly holds the screwdriver out to her.

"Not like you don't deserve it." Kaylee huffs. But her look has softened and her fingers are warm on his as she retrieves the tool.

"What can I say? I'm a boob. Probably always will be."

"Oh Simon." She looks like she might cry now. "You don't have to get so wound up about everything. What's the point of having friends if you don't let them lighten your load every now and then?"

"I'm just so used to being responsible for River. I forget that other people care about her too."

"Well of course we care about her! And I'm not stupid. I know how much she needs you. I know she ain't completely right." She stops, looking confused, continues more slowly. "But in all the ways that matter most she's just as right as can be."

Simon sighs. It'll have to do.

"Truce?" He offers.

Unexpectedly, Kaylee launches herself towards him and for the second time that night he is enveloped in a hug. He hopes all his attempts at mending fences will go this smoothly.


Mal doesn't get up from where he is sitting on the bed as Simon climbs into his bunk, stopping a few paces away, wishing he didn't feel so vulnerable.

"I apologized to Kaylee." He intends it as a peace offering and is relieved to see some of the guardedness leave Mal's posture.

"That's good." Mal answers slowly. Pauses before adding gently; "I was hopin' you'd maybe see things a bit different if you had a chance to calm down."

"Is that what these last few days have been? A chance for me to calm down?" Simon struggles to keep his tone even.

Mal raises a conciliatory hand. "Didn't think talkin' before you was ready was going to do any good."

"Didn't you think anything I said had any merit whatsoever?" Simon ignores the part of his brain screaming that this conversation is a very bad idea indeed.

Mal sighs. "Everything you say is all kinds of meritsome Simon. I jus' thought you maybe overreacted some."

Simon is unaccountably annoyed to hear the same word from Mal that he himself used to admit his fault to Kaylee. He takes a few deep breaths and remembers he is trying to make things better.

"I don't want to see River hurt."

"Kaylee ain't got a mean bone in her body."

"Even so, River isn't stable. I don't know if she can handle even a good relationship, assuming that's what they want to have. And you can't guarantee it won't end badly, no matter how sweet Kaylee is. Isn't that why you are so against shipboard romances?"

Mal raises an eyebrow.

Simon decides to move along quickly. "River is just too young for this...."

"Well how old does she have to be?"

"Significantly older!"

Mal is openly curious now. "How old were you then, your first time?"

Not this again! "I really couldn't say." Supercilious tone to end this line of questioning.

But Mal is looking at him as if he has sprouted tentacles.

"What?" Simon is uncomfortable but not sure why. He feels the flush staining his cheeks a second before conscious realization hits.

"No Mal! I didn't mean that. I'm experienced. Not too experienced, I mean, I've done things, lots of things, not everything of course, I mean, sometimes you want to wait until you are with the right..... ' Oh hell.

Mal rubs his eyes, looking suddenly exhausted. He lies down, staring up at the ceiling.

Simon waits a long beat before moving to lie down next to him. He puts one hand over his own mouth as a reminder to think before opening it.

"That first night," Mal sounds tentative. "I wondered..." He clears his throat, continues in a more sure tone. "You ever let anyone else do that before?"

Simon is stung. "Why Mal? Wasn't it any good?"

"It was plenty good Simon," irritation clear in his voice "I jus' wondered is all."

Simon can hear his own heartbeat, emphasizing the strained silence.

"No, I hadn't." He admits finally.

"Yesu, Simon, you shoulda told me! I could've hurt you."

Simon sits up to see the expression on Mal's face. Suppresses a chill at the flash of doubt and fear that shifts quickly into blankness, wary eyes watching him.

"I knew what I wanted Mal." He states, wondering how to turn this around.

Mal props himself up on his elbows.

"I know that Simon." His eyes slide away to look across the room, towards the ladder.

"I know what I want now."

"Hmm?" Mal doesn't look at him.

Swiftly Simon moves to sit astride Mal's hips, rewarded by blue eyes flashing back to lock onto his face."

Hesitantly; "Simon -"

"Close your eyes Mal." Simon pours every ounce of authority he can muster into the words. Reminding himself to breathe as he steels his face to resoluteness.

Reluctantly, Mal complies.

"Lie down."

"Simon, I think maybe we should talk some more."

Simon places his hands on Mal's upper arms, jerks them both out suddenly. Mal's eyes fly open as he jolts onto his back.

"Simon -"

"Bi zui." Firmly placing one hand over Mal's eyes, Simon leans down to bite his neck hard. Feels eyelashes close beneath his palm as Mal's breathing quickens. Every inch of throat receives the attention of Simon's lips and teeth. By the time he has reached an earlobe, sucking vigorously before driving his tongue into the warm canal, Mal is moaning aloud.

Quickly he divests himself of his clothes before returning to take care of Mal's. Mal reaches for him and Simon slaps his hands away, intent on sliding Mal's suspenders down and undoing buttons. The next time Mal tries to put his hands on Simon's waist, Simon retaliates by kneeling on them and leaning down to bite fiercely at a nipple through shirt fabric. Mal makes inarticulate noises, arching his back and trying to grind his erection against Simon.

By the time he has Mal naked, several bite marks adorn his chest. Mal is breathing hard and straining his body towards Simon but his hands are still, pressed into the mattress.

"Mmm. What do you think I should do with you now?" Simon purrs into Mal's ear, relishing the low sounds Mal makes in response, the almost begging. Lightly he trails his fingertips down Mal's torso, feeling skin shiver, small hairs rising against the touch. Simon slows down when he reaches Mal's belly - small circles moving ever closer. Mesmerised by the sound of Mal's ragged breaths.

Simon's teasing doesn't end when he finally reaches his destination. Insubstantial caresses are followed by the gossamer tip of his tongue. Mal finally snaps under the torment, growling in frustration as he thrusts hard.

Instantly, Simon pulls away, sitting back on his heels and watching Mal until his lust filled eyes manage to lock onto Simon's face and focus.

"Turn over." Simon orders.

The flush on Mal's face heightens as he freezes. Simon stares fixedly, wonders if he will have to threaten to stop altogether. Then Mal shudders a little and rolls onto his stomach.

Simon clamps back his moan at the feel of muscles sliding beneath his fingers as he works loose the tightness in Mal's shoulders. He places kisses along Mal's spine, kneading progressively lower as Mal begins to rub himself steadily against the bed.

Mal is so far gone he doesn't seem to notice as Simon pauses to retrieve lubricant and anoint his fingers. Mal tenses abruptly at the feel of Simon's hand sliding into position. Without moving his right arm, Simon returns his attention to Mal's back. Kissing and licking upwards until he reaches the nape of Mal's neck. Mal has relaxed beneath him and Simon bites sharply to elicit a different kind of tension as he uses his kness to roughly push Mal's legs apart. Mal pants harshly as Simon's fingers swiftly press towards their goal.

"Yesu!" Mal yells hoarsely as Simon sets a steady rhthym, brushing against Mal's prostate. Mal has lost all control, hands twisting the bedclothes into knots, hips writhing. Simon pulls his hand free and steadies himself and Mal as he pushes into intoxicating heat.

Sweat drips unheeded into Simon's eyes as he pulls Mal upright, using one arm to keep him in place. With his other hand he reaches for Mal's cock, feeling Mal's heart hammering beneath his skin as he grips tightly. For a long moment he fights the strain of Mal's weight, unsure of how to begin.

Then Mal is moving against him, reaching his hands back to hold onto Simon's hips. It feels so good! Simon is buoyant again, pulling and thrusting in a glorious synchronicity that has them moaning in unison.

Simon feels himself rushing towards completion, his lungs screaming painfully for air. Wetness floods his hand as he cries Mal's name incoherently in time with his final frenetic jerks. He collapses to the bed in an unheeding sprawl.

Mal is still and silent for long moments as Simon's heart staccatos wildly.

"Mal?" he asks when he trusts his voice.

Slowly Mal rolls towards him, eyes closed, euphoria glazing his face.

Simon feels a bubble break loose within him, expand to fill his chest, hindering his breath with sweet sharpness. He brushes damp hair back from Mal's forehead, places tender kisses along cheekbones and eyelids.

"Bossy, huh?" Mal's lips are curved into a lopsided smile.

"Looks like."

"You could maybe be bossy again." Mal cracks open an eye, growls threateningly "Only occasionally mind."

Simon laughs. Shifts closer to Mal's warmth. Slides towards peaceful sleep.

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Title:  Growing Pains
Series Name:  Nascent
Author:  Wedjat   [email]
Details:  Series  |  NC-17  |  *slash*  |  26k  |  05/13/05
Characters:  Malcolm, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Simon, River, Book
Pairings:  Mal/Simon and a little f/f
Summary:  Simon hits a psychological bump. Everybody has to grow up sometime.
Sequel to:  Subterfuge

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