Subterfuge

by Wedjat

[Story Headers]

Simon thinks he could drown in guilt over everything Kaylee has been through on his account. Starting with a bullet and ending with a broken heart. Or at least, he would drown, if he had any emotion to spare from dealing with his own crack-up. Some days he really is afraid that River's craziness is hereditary.

He knows how much Kaylee wanted to talk to him after Jubal.

'Spend some time violating the little mechanic I got trussed up in the engine room.'

He knows that he has failed her, both as her friend and as her doctor, for not being able to counsel her, support her through the aftermath.

'She will die weeping.'

For the first few days he used the pain in his leg as an excuse. Pleaded exhaustion every time Kaylee's limpid eyes threatened to spill tears. Whenever the yearning on her face overwhelmed him. He kept her at bay long enough for her to get the hint. He's not sure if the painful silence that followed was worse. The feel of her sad gaze on him at every meal time, coupled with River's accusing glares.

He was so relieved when Kaylee started spending more time in Inara's shuttle. Though at first River seemed even more upset with him. After a week or so Kaylee was laughing and sunny again. She and River are joined at the hip and neither of them spends much time staring at Simon. He misses Kaylee's company but knows he has no right to the twinge he feels whenever she sits at the dinner table, as far away from him as possible.

Deep down he knows that Kaylee didn't want him to be her friend, or her doctor. She wanted a different kind of comfort from him.

He was speaking truth about her being the only girl in the world for him. She has every quality he wants in a partner - kindness, warmth, humour, honesty. She shines so brightly he knows she should be the girl of his dreams.

Is it his fault if his dreams won't cooperate?


At first it was mostly Kaylee he was avoiding. Now he wants to avoid everyone. He can't stand the thought of what might happen next time.

It is almost a relief whenever he comes across Jayne. Anger still manages to work its way through the haze that encircles him and he enjoys the transient bright burn of it.

'Been tracking you since the Feds were tipped off on Ariel.'

But Jayne seems to have started avoiding Simon.

Nighttime is the worst. Every attempt at sleep ends with him jolted awake, sheets tangled and wet with sweat, chest pounding.

Nightmares spill their images over into his waking hours. He tries hard to banish the sight of Jubal's gun, pointed at him, before the pain flares in his thigh. Sometimes it is Kaylee, or River, who jerks backwards from the impact, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. Inara's bruised and bloody face. Book, pale and still, skull bashed in..... or Mal.

He would give anything to go back to the dreams he had before. Dreams that he used to find disturbing - skin on skin, warm breath against his throat. Dreams he tried to ignore despite how Mal pushing Inara away occasionally gave his heart a little leap.

Nandi was proof enough that Mal really does like women. And Simon? Well, Simon tries not to dream any more.

In his worst nightmares, he is the one pointing the gun.


The protein gloop is totally unappetizing as it drips from his spoon to rejoin the viscous mush in his bowl.

'Plop'

It probably wouldn't have tasted any better, even if the tussle to get River to take her medication hadn't made him late for lunch.

'Plop'

He wonders how soon he will be able to coax River to eat some of the congealed mess.

'Plop'

That's assuming he can find her in whatever hidey-hole she bolted to.

'Plop'

"Doc."

Simon glances up to find the Captain, finishing his coffee, frowning at him across the table.

"Oh, sorry". He puts his spoon down and pushes the bowl away. Looks up again to find that Mal is positively glaring now.

"Shen me?" he enquires, mystified.

"You ain't eating Doc. You look to be losing weight." The Captain sounds earnest. "Pretty soon River will out-tip you on the scales." He smiles gently, taking the sting out of his words.

"Oh". Simon regards the bowl reluctantly.

"Can't afford to not eat in space Doc, you know that."

Simon manages to choke some down, scraping the rest into the disposal as soon as Mal leaves.


Simon is so far beyond tired that whenever he closes his eyes he sees vivid, ever changing images. Faces of people he once knew melt into random pictures of objects - a blue vase that he dimly recalls from his childhood dissolves into a montage of clouds scudding across the sky. Water shimmering down a cliff parts to reveal the last spaceport Serenity visited. It is random and nonsensical.

He knows it is a hypnogogic phenomenon, indicative of how close to complete collapse he is mentally and physically. He wonders how long it will be before he starts to hallucinate. Sometimes he is not sure if he has crossed that line already - some of his attempts to answer questions directed at him by the crew result in strange expressions on their faces. They run the gamut from startled to incredulous and Simon can't tell if the looks are real or some twisted caricature his own mind is creating.

Mostly he avoids these confusing interactions by spending much of each day in his room. He emerges religiously for mealtimes, since he has learnt that otherwise he will be tracked down by a scowling Captain.

He senses that Mal is on the brink of trying to deal with him in some way. Maybe he is just worried about him. Simon wishes that were all it was. But Mal never stops being the Captain.

'We got someone on board this ship might be a danger to us.'

Not just one. Simon thinks. He knows he is barely functional now, despite the front he struggles to maintain - the regular eating, remembering to shower and dress in clean clothes. If one of the crew were badly injured now, Simon isn't sure the adrenaline rush would be enough to pull him together. A sleep deprived medic is a danger to all.

'I ain't making a decision on anything till I've thought on it a while.'

He wonders how long it will be before he and River are too much of a liability. Before the Captain realizes his dwindling contribution as Ship's Doctor doesn't count worth a damn.


He waits until Mal has made his second round of the night. Footsteps pausing for a long beat in the corridor outside Simon and River's quarters. It is hard to sit in the dark, fighting his eyelids. But he can't take another night of pounding dreams. Maybe he'll try to nap tomorrow. Maybe Serenity's daytime noises will keep the terror away.

As soon as he is certain Mal has gone for good, he slips to the infirmary. He'll wait out the night on the cortex, reading anything that will keep him awake.

"Hey Doc"

Simon jumps, almost falling off his stool and groaning at the protest from his neck which has somehow ended up kinked awkwardly. His cheek smarts where it has rested hard against the edge of the bench.

The Captain is frowning at him again and Simon wishes he could erase that look. Wishes no-one would look at him ever again in fact, so sick is he of River and Mal and Kaylee and even Wash, Zoe, Inara and Book, regarding him with concern. Abruptly, he decides he doesn't care after all. He closes his eyes and tells himself "This too shall pass". And now it is difficult to know if this is even real. It feels strange to have Mal wordlessly leading him from the room. Hands gently guiding him in the dim lighting.

He finds himself staring perplexedly at Mal's bed. Not clear on how he got here.

"Sleep now." Mal soothes. "No more thinking. Just sleep"


At some stage during the night, Simon rouses a little. He is spooned up behind Mal with bare chest, warm and smooth, beneath his arm. But there is clothing in the way of him feeling Mal's back and legs against him.

In his dreams they are always naked. Whatever else they may be doing - sleeping or... other things, there is always the feel of skin on skin. Simon tries to puzzle out this new variation. Mal's breathing is regular, his scent reassuring and more vivid than usual. Simon can't quite put it all together but is sure it will make more sense in the morning.


He wakes, feeling more rested than he has for a long time. Stretches and breathes deeply, warmly thinking of Mal.

'Mal?' Simon's eyes fly open.

And close again with a painful gasp. Not a dream then. Since he is lying in Mal's bed, in Mal's otherwise empty room.

Of course he wouldn't be here. Not after Simon practically forced him out of his own bed by not being able to keep his hands to himself.

He can't seem to stop his own voice betraying his thoughts - a fresh groan greeting each embarrassing memory.

The Captain had obviously decided that Simon couldn't be trusted even to get enough sleep. Thought that making him lie down on his own bed was the only way to keep him from falling off stools dozing in the infirmary.

He can't remember Mal getting into the bed too. But he obviously needed to sleep also. What on earth had the Captain thought when Simon had snuggled up to him in the middle of the night?

Wo de tian a, at least he still has his clothes on. His insanity only took him so far. He'll just have to... apologize. Or hide. Hide until he can take River somewhere safe. Leave this mess far, far behind them.

He thanks every god he has ever heard of that he encounters no-one on the way back to his room.


He risked skipping breakfast but knows he'll have to appear at lunchtime. So much for hiding. No-one seems to give him a second glance when he takes his place, trying not to look at the empty chair at the head of the table.

When the Captain appears a few moments later he looks no different to usual. Nodding a greeting to them all that manages to encompass Simon without him feeling singled out. Simon wryly wonders what he was expecting - a sign around Mal's neck announcing the imminent keelhauling of Serenity's wayward doctor?

By the end of the meal Simon has convinced himself he can get away with pretending nothing happened. As a short term solution anyway. Just to be sure, he spends less time in his room than usual. Has a completely civilized conversation with the Captain about what medical supplies they most need at their next stop.

"That all you need then Doc?"

Simon wishes he could be sure what Mal is asking him.

"Yes, thankyou Captain. That will be perfectly adequate." He feels more himself than he has for days. Able to speak clearly, keeping his tone professional. Convincing.

Mal nods and looks satisfied. Simon hopes he has managed to convey that he will not let himself slip again.

Afterwards he feels drained. The few extra hours of sleep seem a lifetime away.


Another dinner to force down. Simon chews methodically. He is so tired he thinks all his senses should be dull anyway. The protein mush is just one more task to tackle. Regular chewing to keep the Captain from watching him through the meal. It's a code. 'I'm eating so I'm still sane and healthy'. So far it seems to be working.

Simon hasn't spoken since he sat down but nobody seems bothered. River is giggling with Kaylee, who has not tried to talk to Simon at mealtimes, or any time, for days now. Jayne is doing his usual starved man impression. Mal and Zoe are discussing their current job - delivering iron ore to a buyer on Boros.

The name triggers memories for Simon. So long ago now. Their almost departure destination. 'Why not?' He thinks. It would be full circle, almost appropriate.

The high-pitched tone of River's voice pierces his exhausted fog, although he has no idea what she said. She is glaring at him, her face twisted into a mask of betrayed hurt.

"River, what is it?" He asks. Thinking 'Please don't. Not now. Not one more thing.'

She shakes her head, tears already gathering. "Boros?" She has passed shrill and is on her way to supernova. A chill bites into him. She must be reacting to Mal and Zoe's conversation. So why does he have the eerie feeling she just plucked his thoughts straight from his mind?

"It's ok River". Simon is trying for calm but knows the strain is showing. "Nothing bad will happen on Boros." She looks disgusted so he changes tack. "Nothing is definite..."

"Liar!" She shrieks. "Liar!" And her tempo is matched by an answering dull throb centered deep behind his right eye. River stands abruptly, chair toppling with a crash. She bolts. "Already decided." flung back over her shoulder as she makes for the corridor.

Simon can feel all eyes upon him. He swallows hard and follows River from the room quietly.


Simon wakes feeling groggy and disoriented. He briefly wonders whether River might have slipped something into the tea he was drinking in an effort to outlast her.

In the end he couldn't take her pleading and ranting. He'd felt guilty at sedating her yet again but he needed her to be asleep so he could pack their things before morning. He'd only closed his eyes for a moment, holding her as she reluctantly succumbed, limbs heavy with drugged sleep.

Now, hours later, she is gone and he is alone in her room. All her belongings are strewn about, the suitcase he had been trying to fill upended and leaning haphazardly against the wall. It seems surreal in a way that he can't quite grasp, until he realizes that the missing element is silence - Serenity's engines a dull thrum.


"Hey Doc." Wash sounds surprised and Simon remembers that he hasn't been on the bridge for weeks. Not since... Not since before he was shot.

"Umm, Wash? Shouldn't we have landed on Boros already?"

"Didn't anybody tell you? The deal fell through. But it's shiny. Mal already lined up a replacement buyer, on Syros. Even got a better price." Wash's brow furrows. "Though the Fed base there will probably mean goodbye to any chance of shore leave." He brightens again "More coin will mean I'm closer to seeing my beloved in a slinky dress though. Mmm slinky."

Simon mutters something noncommittal and turns to leave.

"Why don't you keep me company for a while? We won't be on Syros for another day yet."

"Thankyou. Umm, it's time for River's medicine."

Simon ignores Wash's wistful "Maybe later then?" and escapes, heart beating faster than usual.


He can't reach River, standing precariously on top of a stack of crates, without risking her overbalancing and plunging to the cargo deck. As hard as he tries, he can't get his voice to sound anything other than strident. His head is splitting apart and he knows if River doesn't stop screaming at him soon he might just sit down and cry.

"So stupid" She shrieks. "Won't make anything better."

"Mei mei, please."

"No Simon, Serenity is my home."

Kaylee is so much better than Simon is at soothing River lately. But the mechanic is off ship, buying parts. There is no-one to help him. Even Book is visiting the local Abbey.

"You think out of sight is peace of mind. You're wrong. You don't know how to fix anybody. You let all the apple pieces go when you should be helping them back together again."

"Whoah there, River" The captain is standing beside him with a few packages under his arm. He places them on the ground and continues conversationally. "Your brother messin' up your plan again?"

"Not going!" River yells.

Mal gives Simon a long, speculative look.

"You know, River, I'm sure your brother is goin' to give you plenty o' time to get used to the idea of .... living somewhere else."

River opens her mouth to scream her frustration but Mal raises a hand and cuts her off.

"After all, it may be a while afore we stop on a moon where it's safe for you to be. What with Fed bases bein' more common-like and all."

River tilts her head to one side, considering. "Time?"

Simon isn't quite sure what understanding is passing between them but River is visibly calming down.

"That's all a body ever needs. Jus' a bit of time to get used to new things. Why don't you come on down and we can discuss it some more, here where the gravity is all friendly like."

River shimmies quickly down, landing lightly on her feet in front of Mal.

"Time?" She questions.

"Time." Mal assures her.

"You should take something for that headache." She tells Simon in an irritatingly superior tone before dancing away, humming as if she hasn't a care in the world.

"Thankyou." Simon tells the Captain. He is grateful. Really he is. And it makes sense for Mal to help since it means Simon and River will be off Serenity sooner. Though neither of them has discussed it as such, it seems the logical, the only, path.

"No problem Doc." Mal is smiling crookedly in the direction of River's departure. Simon thinks it's funny how gratitude stings your eyes.


Simon searches the cortex. Reading about all the planets and moons in their vicinity. Trying to find the solution to his dilemma. If he felt sharper he would try to plan another job. Like Ariel. But less risky. Something to allow them to get to a planet where he can take River and disappear. Something to take to the Captain to end this waiting.

"Whatcha doing?" The Captain drawls, leaning over his shoulder.

"Just some research. You know, for when we get to the right place." Simon pulls away, craning around to see Mal's face, finding an impenetrable expression there.

"Don't worry Doc. I won't let you and River go until we find a place that I think is safer for you than bein' on Serenity."

"I know. And I appreciate it. I appreciate all of your... help."

"If you don't mind me askin' though, why exactly are you so het up 'bout leavin' now?"

Simon swallows, feeling like he is treading on treacherous ground here.

"I just... I think it would be safer for everyone if we weren't on the ship anymore. If Jubal tracked us down, then so can someone else. Next time we might not be so lucky."

Mal scowls. "Don't think you were too lucky, with the bullet to the leg an' all." "My point exactly. Next time it could be Kaylee who gets shot, or... worse. Or any of you." He feels more sure of himself now. "And next time River could end up on her way back to the wang ba dans who did this to her in the first place."

"Well, it seems to me that we get shot at plenty of times that ain't on your account. And we get fixed up a lot better'n we did before you was aboard. It don't hurt none to have folks who care about you watchin' your back neither."

"I have to make River my priority" Simon adds, feeling a little lame.

"I know that Doc!" Mal grins wickedly. "Don't you think she showed us pretty neatly that she can look after herself though?"

It is Simon's turn to scowl.

"Of course, she still needs your help all the time." The Captain amends hastily. "But she is startin' to know her own mind, you can't argue with that."

"No I can't." Simon agrees grumpily. "Just please let me know as soon as we are headed for a suitable planet."

"Will do Doc, will do."

Mal seems overly cheerful as he leaves and Simon can't help but feel annoyed. Surely he could at least pretend to be sorry at the thought of losing his medic.


Their next job takes them to another Alliance-friendly planet. Inara is pleased that she is able to see so many clients. Her banter with Mal lacks its usual sharp edge and the Captain refrains from calling her a whore for several days.

Simon feels his patience wearing thin. He'd thought he would sleep better, knowing everything was almost settled and he did for a couple of days. But now he feels stretched again, taut with waiting. Sick of the routine of meals-room-infirmary. Sick of avoiding conversations with crew because he has already tried to say goodbye in his mind.


Lying sleepless in his bed, he hears the Captain's footsteps on their usual round. There is no pause outside his doorway any more. Mal seems certain of everything - treading smoothly on his way.

Feeling as if he might snap if he doesn't take some sort of action, Simon gets up and tracks Mal down outside the infirmary.

"May I talk to you Captain?"

"You surely can."

Mal accompanies his words with a courtly flourish, gesturing Simon into his own infirmary. Feeling miffed, although after all, it is Mal's ship, Simon stands in the middle of the room, trying to reconnect with the hot anger that led him here in the first place.

"I'd like to know exactly what your plans are. I mean, when we might stop visiting planets crowded with Feds."

"Well, now. We go where the work is, you know that Doc. Gotta keep flyin'" The Captain sounds amused.

"It's not funny Mal!" He snaps.

"I never thought it was."

Mal is looking at him seriously, eyes narrowed in a way that Simon can't interpret. He feels his anger evaporating. Wonders at how dry his mouth is and wishes he had stayed in bed.

"Got somethin' you wanna add Doc?"

"N-no. I think that's about it." He edges past Mal, heading for the door. Stops in surprise when Mal shoots out a hand to grab his arm just above the elbow.

"Truth is, ain't never gonna be a place that I'll think is safer for you and River than right here with me." His voice is husky and Simon pivots to stare right into Mal's face, shocked at the desire he finds there.

"Truth is, I ain't never lettin' you go."

The words are barely out before Mal is kissing him, stealing his breath away until he reels, clutching at Mal's arms for support, opening his mouth to be devoured.

"Not here." Mal rasps.

Simon would protest if he were capable of speech. Instead he allows himself to be turned and propelled out the door. Mal's hands feel hot on his shoulders and back, keeping him steady when he finds himself closing his eyes, overwhelmed by the sensation of falling. Vaguely he wonders if anyone else might be up and about at this hour. He'd rather not know, so he doesn't look until he hears Mal kick open the entrance to his bunk.

Simon goes down the ladder so fast that he almost trips. Stumbling towards the bed where he hopes his burning need for the feel of Mal's skin on his will be met. Quicker than thought he finds himself flat on his back, pressed into the mattress by Mal's weight. Moaning as his earlobe is captured by demanding teeth. Hot breath and tongue driving him further out of his mind.

"Mal.... oh, please..." His hands are scrabbling for suspenders, buttons, zippers. But Mal will have none of it, capturing Simon's wrists and distracting him with a kiss. Groaning, he surrenders to the feel of Mal's tongue insistently tangling with his own, finding a steady rhythm that pulses liquidly through Simon's body.

Then Mal's mouth and hands are everywhere, sliding his shirt up to lick across each nipple, pressing against the front of his trousers before tugging at the drawstring. Simon closes his eyes, lifting his hips and raising his arms in response to Mal's taps, so that his clothes can be removed. Sighing at his reward of strong hands tracing the muscles in his chest and legs before a warm tongue returns to tease along his belly. He arches his back with each flick into his navel.

'So close' is the mantra tormenting his mind. He almost weeps from the yearning when he feels wetness against his erection. He is ready to beg, ready to do anything at all to make this continue. But Mal wastes no time, licking around the head of his cock before taking it into his mouth. Sucking and moving steadily until Simon feels incandescent.

Some shred of coherent thought allows him to give Mal warning.

"Can't wait." He pants. "I'm going to... Mal..."

The words cause Mal to increase his tempo, sucking even harder, pulling Simon's hips toward him and taking him deeper into his mouth. Simon feels his brain shorting out.

His only point of reference is the sound of his own heart thundering in his ears. It has just begun to slow when his universe suddenly expands to encompass the feel of Mal's skin, sliding up to rest against the length of his body. His heart lurches again at the electric jolt of so much contact. His arms move seemingly of their own accord, to pull Mal closer. Hands sliding along muscle contours to reach Mal's shoulders and gather him in.

"Hey there" Mal's voice is warm and teasing. Simon opens his eyes to find Mal's face too close to focus on before gentle lips press against his in a languid kiss.

"Tianna. Mal. You feel so... Mmm." More kisses stop his befuddled brain. Pace and heat building until Simon can feel his erection stirring again, filling to match Mal's pressed close against his thigh.

Simon reaches down to feel the hard length of Mal's cock. His fingers gentle at first, finding the wetness at the tip, before moving more surely along the shaft. He must be doing something right, because Mal breaks off the kiss to pant sharply against his neck.

"Simon."

Hearing his name, hoarse from Mal's lips, sends a fresh wave of desire skittering along his skin, making his breath shudder.

Mal stills Simon's fingers with his own and stares deep into his eyes. He looks both hesitant and longing. Simon is filled with the urge to reassure. To wrap his arms tightly around Mal and promise to be there for him always.

"I want... I want to be in you. Can I.... can we do that?"

"Anything Mal" Simon breathes. "Anything you want."

With a sharp intake of breath, Mal moves to delve under the mattress, producing a jar that he uses to slick his hand. Simon positions his legs, telling himself to relax as Mal pushes fingers gently inside him. He is surprised at how good it feels and he pulls Mal in for a kiss, hand on the back of his neck.

"I'm ready." He assures Mal. "I want to feel you." He adds, in response to Mal's searching look.

It takes almost no time for Mal to be moving deep inside him, Simon gasping in pleasure as he angles his pelvis up, finding a position that makes him want this to last forever.

"So good!" Mal moans, face flushed and straining.

"So good." Simon agrees throatily.

Mal breaks rhythm to lift Simon's hand and place it on his erection.

"Come with me?" he asks.

Simon kisses Mal's neck, bites down to elicit another groan that makes him growl in reply; "I am with you Mal. Don't stop."

He moves his hand in time with Mal, rocks his hips and tries to feel everything at once, tries to stay with the tide of sensation sweeping all conscious thought away.

"Simon!" Mal cries out, thrusting one final time, clutching Simon's hips hard as he drives flush against him. Simon feels wetness on his hand as his erection spurts in turn. Feels his breath rasping dry in his throat as Mal collapses to his side, flinging an arm across Simon's chest. Feels time jolt back to normal as sweat and semen dry stickily on his belly.


Simon can't quiet his brain, even sated and exhausted, it still tugs at him with jarring thoughts.

"Shen me?"

Instantly Simon stops the small restless movements he hadn't been aware of. The silence stretches expectantly.

"All the things I said before... About River and I... About us bringing danger to Serenity, to the crew..." His voice has crept into a higher register and he takes a calming breath before forcing it back down, trying to approximate his usual tone. "It's all true." He stops. Tries to shake the doubts from his mind. But the fear is not going anywhere.

"I can't see why you'd want us to stay."

"Well Mister top three percent, ain't you worked that out yet?"

Simon's answer sounds small, as if coming from a far distance; "No."

Mal's response is warm and certain, breathed into his ear.

"Love, Simon. Love."

A series of images flash before Simon's eyes. Kaylee and River laughing together. Wash ready with the fearsome brow-mop as Zoe sweats over Simon's leg. Jayne's crate of apples and look of regret when he discovered he'd slept through Jubal's visit. Lastly he focuses on the feel of Mal's stubble resting against the crook of his neck, exhalations warm and steady against his jaw.

He realizes he has been holding his breath and lets it out in a long contented sigh. His thoughts still and for now it is enough.

They are naked, skin on skin. Mal's arm a comforting weight, draped over his side. They are sound asleep.

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Title:  Subterfuge
Series Name:  Nascent
Author:  Wedjat   [email]
Details:  Series  |  NC-17  |  *slash*  |  27k  |  04/18/05
Characters:  Malcolm, Simon, River
Pairings:  Mal/Simon
Summary:  Set not long after Objects in Space. Simon is having trouble sleeping.

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