Everyone was tucked safe in bed. There were no rampaging bounty-hunters, nothing wrong with the engine, no Reavers about to board them and, most important, no one was dying.

Mal looked around the dark and quiet ship and heaved a sigh of relief mixed with contentment. Their spell of bad luck seemed to be over, at least for the time being. River's medicine was taking hold so she was real lucid most times, which made Simon happy. That, in turn, made Mal happy. Or at least, happier. He still worried about where the next job would come from, if there was enough money for food, supplies, and fuel, things like that. That was standard, though, part of being captain, and for the most part, Mal was used to it.

Pulling himself into a small, unnoticeable corner that overlooked the shuttle bay, Mal lay back on the cushion he'd hidden there. It was his own personal hideaway. Right in the middle of everything in case there was an emergency, but completely unknown. It was really fun to just appear like magic in the hall after someone came tearing down it looking for him. Scared the bejesus out of them every time.

No one ever said that Malcolm Reynolds had a kind sense of humor.

Sighing deeply again, Mal closed his eyes and let himself run down until sleep hovered right near the edge of him. Things felt muted and soft, like he was floating in space instead of on a semi-hard mat in an overhang. The only thing that could make it perfect was if there was someone to share it with.

It was his own rules that kept him from taking up with anyone in the crew. Inara and him had clashed a few times over that, despite the anti-banter they threw at each other. The insults had hurt at first because of the mutual attraction. He wasn't sure where the rule had come from, probably jen dao mei or something. And they had enough bad luck without tempting fate.

If he could, Mal knew exactly who he'd pick and, surprisingly, it wouldn't be Inara. Her soft body and gentle curves still hardened him without any trouble, but Mal knew they were ill-matched. They'd wind up killing each other in no time flat. Course, the time before one of them wound up outside the hatch without a suit would be lots of fun.

Drifting on the edge of sleep, content and comfortable, Mal's hand slid down his stomach to lightly brush his groin. He contemplated the spark of interest from down below and briefly envisioned the hand he wanted there instead of his own. Groaning at the flare of desire, Mal was suddenly wide awake.

"That's what you get for playing with fire, stupid hwoon dahn," Mal muttered to himself.

"Captain?"

Simon's voice startled him so bad that Mal jerked upright, knocking his head on the ceiling. This time, the groan was of real pain.

Simon's concerned face appeared at the edge of the hideaway. "Are you all right?"

Holding his head, Mal grimaced, but nodded. "Fine. What's wrong? Is River all right?"

"She's fine," Simon assured him. "I just...I couldn't sleep and so was walking around. Then I heard you, ah, groan and thought something might be wrong."

Mal half-grinned and repeated, "I'm fine. Just an idiot is all. Knocked my head where I shouldn't've."

"Oh. Well, I'll leave you to it, then," Simon said after a moment. He released his hold and dropped out of sight.

Mal crawled around and poked his head out of the conduit, watching Simon walk down the hall, back towards his and River's quarters. The young doctor had come a long way since boarding Serenity that first time. He was someone Mal trusted not only his life to, but his crew's life to, and that counted for a lot.

Occasionally, he wondered if Simon was aware of just how much it counted.

* * * *

Jayne eyed Simon from across the galley in the doorway and wondering if he'd have to watch the knives still. It had been a good month since he'd lost his mind to greed and since then, Jayne had done his best to stay out of Simon's way.

Mal had kept his word and not told anyone what he'd done and Jayne was grateful for it, but sometimes the doctor's eyes had a look to them; like he knew exactly what Jayne had done. Made Jayne right uncomfortable and guilty, a combination he hated. Jayne had done his best to make up for it, keeping the doc's stuff in working order and making sure no one bothered him when they went on a planet.

The girl, now, that was another story. Every time he went near her, even if he had a present of some kind for her, the look she gave him was enough to keep his door locked and bolted, by hand, on the inside each night.

"Oh for God's sake, Jayne, sit down," Simon ordered wearily.

Moving hesitantly into the room, Jayne took up position opposite the slender man. "I can come back later if it's a bother to you."

Sighing, Simon shook his head. "It's fine. You don't have to keep walking on eggshells around us."

"Tell that to your sister," Jayne replied flatly.

Simon was plainly startled. "River? You're afraid of River?"

Avoiding the other man's eyes, Jayne explained, "She still gets that crazy look in her eyes, like when she sliced me up, whenever I come in the room. Don't want a repeat of that, specially not across my throat like."

Thoughtful now, Simon leaned forward with an apologetic air. "I'll make sure she understands that you won't do anything like that again. If only so that the Captain doesn't flush you out the airlock."

Jayne froze, then groaned, thumping his head against the table a few times before asking, "You know about it? The whole truth?"

Simon shrugged and answered, "I went back to ask the Captain a question and the two of you were shouting at each other. It was hard to miss."

"Anyone else know?" Jayne asked, wincing. It just figured.

Shepard stepped into the room just then. "Anyone else know what?"

Jayne looked at the preacher, completely not knowing what to say.

Simon rescued him with, "Know when we'll be making planet-fall next."

"Ah," Shepard said, sitting down. "I believe the Captain said it would be another hour or so. Either of you have plans?"

Jayne shook his head. "You, doc?"

"I'm going to check out a few medical supply stores, see what I can get on discount," Simon answered. He snorted. "A really steep discount if possible."

"Need a hand?" Jayne offered awkwardly.

Shepard looked surprised at the offer, but no more so than Simon.

Shaking his head, Simon stated, "No. I'm going to reputable places that Inara recommended."

"Should be all right then," Shepard agreed with a smile.

Not that Jayne was one to ignore advice about what was reputable from a Companion or nothing, but it wouldn't hurt to follow the doc and make sure no one gave him any trouble. Just in case.

* * * *

Jayne's clumsy attempt at a helping hand, in front of Shepard no less, told Simon just how desperate the other man was to make amends. He knew that the soldier had been his shadow on every planet since the incident and, indeed, he was rather grateful for the silent apology. An outright declaration of guilt would have done damage to their already questionable relationship. For Jayne to mean his penance, it had to be done in gesture, not words. At least, that was Simon's opinion.

Reaching the quarters he shared with River, Simon briefly thought about the strange life he'd plunged into completely by accident. The best and worst aspects of it were the same: Captain Malcolm Reynolds. The best because Simon couldn't ask for a more fair or more devoted captain to his crew. The worst because Simon had gone and fallen in love with the man.

Sighing heavily, Simon yanked off his shirt and reached for a clean sweater instead.

The Captain was the most contrary man Simon had ever met. The violent way the Captain had reacted to Jayne's betrayal had given Simon hope that perhaps there might be unspoken feelings for him. He laughed bitterly at the thought. Captain Reynolds didn't care for anyone 'that way' because he wouldn't allow himself to do so. It was incredibly simple and incredibly smart. It saved the other man from being hurt or hurting anyone in the crew if an affair ended badly.

Unfortunately, Simon didn't need his body to be involved for his heart to get into the situation. And said organ had started demanding notice shortly after the rescue from those witch burners. Hearing the Captain's voice come out of the night like a knight of old...it had just flooded Simon with emotion that, at the time, he'd thought was relief.

When the adrenaline had stopped pumping and he'd been left with the sour feeling in his stomach, Simon had been standing outside River's door, watching his sister sleep. She'd looked like an angel, curled up around a pillow, sound asleep. He hadn't even noticed the Captain standing behind him until the polite cough.

Simon had turned and just seeing the other man standing there, calm, certain, and unmovable, had started Simon shaking. All of a sudden, he realized just how close he and River had truly come to death and his legs wouldn't hold him up. The Captain had caught him before he could fall and held him tight until the shaking had stopped.

"Was wonderin' when that would happen," the other man had commented softly.

Relishing the strong arms around him, Simon hadn't moved for a long time, even after the shakes had stopped.

"You were real brave, Simon. Kaylee had the audio going and we heard everything."

Simon had pulled back at that, looking slightly up into the Captain's eyes. "It wasn't brave, it was just the only thing I could do."

A faint smirk had crossed the other man's face at that. "Like I said. Real brave."

They'd stood there for a long moment and Simon had actually swayed forward, aching for his lips to be caught and crushed in a kiss that would right the world again.

Unfortunately, the Captain had disentangled them and stepped back, the slightly wistful expression on his face fading quickly. "I'm sorry, Simon, you're...I don't get involved with anyone in the crew. That's pretty much half of my rules."

Simon had flushed. "What's the other half?"

"Keep my people safe."

Which had burst the rest of Simon's bubble of hope.

Shaking his head and returning to the present, Simon pulled on his sweater.

* * * *

"Okay. Get what you need and get back. I want everyone on board within two hours," Mal ordered firmly.

"Captain, I may need more time," Simon protested. "Two of the three shops I need to visit are on opposite sides of the town."

Mal shook his head. "Two hours, Doctor. Things are a little unsettled hereabouts. Jayne, keep an eye on him."

Jayne nodded and stepped forward, taking up position beside Simon, who glared at Mal.

Mal shrugged to himself and turned to Zoe. "We got an appointment. Wash, keep Serenity on standby, okay?"

Wash mock-saluted and went back inside the ship with Kaylee, arm in arm with the young woman. Zoe watched them go with a half smile. "I think I need to have a talk with that husband of mine."

"How's that?" Mal asked, falling into step with Zoe as they went in the opposite direction from Simon and Jayne. There was a niggling voice in the back of his head that said he should be with them, making sure they stayed out of trouble.

Zoe chuckled and answered, "Kaylee's decided that Wash and I have need of a daughter and Wash's maternal instincts are gettin' all a-twisted up."

"She's a bit big for diapers," Mal commented.

The street they walked down was like a lot of streets, made of dirt and filled with potholes and horse manure. He watched his step as they aimed for what passed for a sidewalk in the rough-n-ready town of Nihan. He hadn't really wanted to stop there, but he'd gotten a private message from Li that there was a job to be done.

Zoe shrugged. "Like as not she'll offer to carry the baby."

Mal stopped in his tracks and demanded, "Excuse me?"

Grinning at his expression, Zoe pointed out, "She's a country girl, sir. Most of her siblings, all who're younger than her, have two or three a-piece by now. She's just feeling the competition a bit, I think."

With a shake of the head, Mal started walking again. Kaylee pregnant? How the hell would she get under the engine with a baby on the tit? Or would Inara maybe milk the child? They were awfully chummy these days.

* * * *

"Just, stay outside, okay?" Simon pleaded.

Jayne scowled. "Cap'n told me to keep an eye on you."

"Which you've been doing, every time perfectly well, from a distance before now. Right?" Simon pointed out.

The scowl didn't lessen, but Jayne allowed, "I could keep outside the window, like as not."

Simon breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. I won't be long, just have a few things to get and the Captain gave me proper money for it, too. No need for bartering."

Jayne watched him go inside and moved so that he could clearly see inside. The doc went to the counter and started speaking with a young woman, flirting a bit. Jayne snorted. Once he figured out that Mal didn't like sharing, that would be over quick enough. Well, that was if Mal ever got off his ass to make a move.

Kaylee sure's hell had the good doctor in her sights and now that Jayne was sure he wouldn't get stabbed in the back, or his throat cut while he slept, for what had happened, he had half a mind to make a go of it himself. Well hell, who didn't have a thing for Simon? Shepard didn't count cause he didn't fuck around period, so at some point in time, Jayne had seen every one of the crew pass a fancied eye over the doctor.

The clean-shaven man was handsome enough, and those eyes of his...not to mention Jayne was real sure his hands were talented for more than doctoring. He hardened a bit thinking of what Zoe and Wash might get up to with the doctor to play with. Even with his fancy manners, Simon was more aggressive than Wash. It would be right interesting to...

Simon stiffened at a sound too close behind, just before something clobbered him over the back of the head. Pain flashed through him, and as he fell forward, Jayne saw official types rushing inside the medical store.

His last thought was, 'This time, Mal's going to kill me for sure.'

* * * *

Mal unlatched the hold on his gun as he and Zoe walked through the door into Li's place. Something really didn't feel right and it was gnawing at the back of his mind. A quick glance to Zoe showed she was on the same page, her hands resting on the butt of her weapons.

"This is pleasant," Zoe muttered, dark eyes flickering all around.

Nodding, Mal did the same and found the place deserted. Now why would Li lie about having a job? Li never lied. He cheated, stole, occasionally killed someone, but he never lied. Although, thinking real close about the exact wording Li had used... "Yeh soo, ta ma duh!"

Startled, Zoe looked at him. "What!?"

"It's Simon! He's fucking after Simon! Hwoon dahn said he had a job, but he didn't say it was for us!" Mal shouted, running for the door.

The door closed seconds before he got to it, only it wasn't the rickety old wood door that they'd passed through. No. Not that simple. A solid metal door slid into place about the same time as the windows sealed shut in the same fashion.

"Ah, Malcolm. I'm so sorry to do this to you, I understand having a healer on board is very important, but the reward is just too tempting," Li's voice said from a hidden speaker.

"Li! Li, don't do this!" Mal shouted. "Listen, they're going to fuck you over. Did the same to Jayne when he tried this very thing."

Zoe froze in shock. "He did what!?"

Fuck! Why couldn't things ever go smooth!? "We'll talk about it later. Li! Are you listening to me? They're going to pinch you if you try and hand Simon over."

"Nice try, Mal, but if Jayne had done that, you'd've vented him," Li said, sounding amused. "Though come to see how pretty this doctor fella is, I might keep him for myself."

Utterly serious, Mal stated, "If you touch him, I will kill you."

There was a brief pause. "It's like that, is it? Well, I could never get the proper restitution from him that the money would bring anyhow. Enjoy your stay. The door will open for you in a few hours. After the good doctor is well off the planet."

"Li? Li! Son of a bitch!" Mal shouted, punching the wall in frustration and anger, then nursing a bruised fist.

Zoe eyed him grimly. "You and I are going to have a long conversation once we get Simon back."

Mal sighed. "Understood."

* * * *

Simon did what came naturally when confronted by an authority figure: he held his tongue and looked at the floor. It was a behavior that had been bred into him since birth and several months on Serenity wasn't long enough to counteract it.

"Ah. I see you know how to show proper respect, Dr. Tam."

The only thing Simon saw out of the corner of his eyes were flashes of blue hands. River's voice suddenly rang through his mind, 'Two by two, hands of blue.' and his stomach tightened in fear. If these were the ones who'd held River and rummaged around her brain like it was a toy chest, he was lost.

"We only wish to have your sister back where she belongs. You do know how special River is, to the world, but most especially to us. If you give us the specific registration and the Captain's name, then we can board the FireFly, at no danger to the crew, and retrieve your sister without any hardship to anyone involved."

It took a lot of will for Simon to look up at the man speaking to him. He was tall and slender, and aside from the bizarre blue hands, Simon would never have looked twice at him. "I'm sorry, but really I can't give you that information."

"That's not what I wished to hear, but too, it's not surprising."

The man made a gesture and guards entered the small room, dragging him from the room.

* * * *

The first thing Jayne noticed was the throbbing in his head, which meant that it hadn't got took off. The second thing was the softness under his back and the last was a gentle humming. Opening his eyes revealed light, which sent a flare of pain drilling through his brain hard enough to provoke a groan.

When his eyes adjusted, Jayne saw River sitting on the other med-bed, watching him with soft eyes. The only thing he could think to say was, "Sorry. Caught me by surprise."

Her gaze changed a little, became sympathetic somehow. "Blue sky, blue hand, need eyes in the back of the head."

That creepifying reference to blue hands again. Shuddering, Jayne pushed himself up and rode out a wave of dizziness. "Yeah, well, I should've been paying more attention."

"At least you didn't sell him out this time."

Jayne's groan had nothing to do with the residing pain in his head. The hard tone to Zoe's voice told him that somehow, the officer had found out what'd happened. Steeling himself, Jayne turned and replied, "I didn't. And I thought better of it the first time, too, I'll have you know. Just...didn't think gorram quick enough for it to make any difference."

"Next time you get such a thought, let me know. I'll be sure and beat it out of you."

Jayne didn't take offense. "I will. Do we know where they took the doc?"

Zoe shook her head, answering, "Inara and Shepard are working on their sources."

"How's...the Cap'n doing?" Jayne asked slowly. He did and didn't want to know.

"About ready to clobber you, but glad you're here to be clobbered and not dead," Zoe replied wryly. "He's waitin' on us, let's go."

River refused to go, but everyone else was gathered in the galley when they arrived. Mal nodded to Jayne, who nodded back.

"Inara?" Mal prompted.

Solemn, Inara stepped forward. "A friend of mine has regular contact with a high-placed official. He talks less than most, but he still talks. One time was a mention of 'freaks with blue hands' who 'scare the piss' out of him. They took over a station and left no one alive. That station turned out to be the one that Simon, River, and Jayne were being held after they were captured in the hospital."

Impatient, Mal gestured for her to hurry up.

"He said that their base is out of the standard Sihnon space, well away from support and reinforcements if something goes wrong."

Mal's eyes gleamed at that news.

"He also said that if my friend had cause to visit the Minaxa system, to find a way out of it. People who went through there seldom got to where they were going."

There was silence as everyone digested the information, then Mal turned to Shepard. "Book?"

Looking as though he'd tasted something unpleasant, Shepard said, "I found the Minaxa system to be on the list of places to avoid as well. Not many are happy with the slaughter of that station. It's well known that those men died in agony, perhaps even driven mad first, though the last is a rumor."

"What isn't a rumor?" Mal demanded.

"That while stationed in the middle of nowhere, the place is invulnerable to attack," Shepard continued. "The highest of high-tech security and weapons systems are in place, as well as a contingent of excessively conditioned troops."

Mal nodded slowly. "So what you two are saying is that it's impossible to get the good doctor off that station."

Shepard and Inara exchanged a look, then both nodded agreement.

Mal's smile was more than a little frightening to witness as he said, "Just my kind of odds."

* * * *

"He's surprisingly adept at resisting both the drugs and physical torture."

"If you keep it going long enough, steadily enough, eventually even the strongest succumb. And Dr. Tam is far from among the strongest."

"Understood, sir."

* * * *

The station was laid out exactly as the plans had shown, and so far, all the security counter-measures had worked. The fake ID Kaylee had conjured up for him had held when he'd reported for duty. No one had batted an eye at him the whole time. Everything was finally going smooth and it was making Mal gorram nervous.

It was two days since he'd been dropped off, one of twenty replacement troops. It had been nine days since Simon's capture. Mal was purposely not thinking about what kind of condition the doctor was in by now. Time enough for that when he found the location. The main problem was that he still didn't know where Simon was being held.

The stolen uniform itched fiercely at Mal's neck but he ignored it. Soldiers at this level did not scratch. His war experience was coming in very, very handy.

"Corporal! Prisoner transfer. You're with me!"

Mal's salute was automatic and sharp as he fell into step with the senior officer. They walked down the gray hall in silence towards a part of the station Mal hadn't yet been in. It was labeled research and Mal's stomach sank like a stone when he thought about the kind of research going on. Dear God, what if Simon was just like River when Mal found him? Forcing down the anguish with long practice, Mal kept his face impervious to his thoughts.

Doors slid open and shut behind them as the officer placed his badge on the scanners and they moved through the area. There were a lot of scientist and doctor-types roaming through the department, and several of the blue-handed man, too, always in pairs. Two by two, as River kept repeating. By the time they stopped, Mal's back was ramrod straight with tension.

The cell door hissed open and Mal almost made a sound to reflect his fury at the sight within. It was Simon, unconscious, bruised, bloodied, and bound in places to indicate a broken bone or ten. Each finger had been ruined, deliberate and slow was Mal's guess. Mal moved instantly to Simon's side and hauled the limp body over his shoulders. It seemed like the man had dropped twenty pounds in the nine days of his capture because it didn't even phase Mal to pick him up.

Falling into step behind the officer, Mal followed the man out of the research facility to the regular 'holding' cells. The last thing he wanted was to leave Simon to another bout of torture, but there was no help for it. As he leaned over Simon, the other man's eyes fluttered open but didn't show a hint of recognition. Mal wasn't sure whether or not to be grateful for that. His hand lingered in a brief caress over a hopefully unhurt shoulder before Mal straightened and left the room.

Time was coming. Revenge for taking and hurting what was his would be brutal and swift.

* * * *

He had to have been hallucinating. Simon knew that the gentle, worried eyes that had looked down at him were the product of wishful thinking and a mind driven past endurance by torture.

The screaming was freeing, in a strange way. He released every bit of pain, anger and despair in the only way he could. And if he happened to disconcert those inflicting the pain with the sound, all the better. It was only a matter of time until they figured out what he was doing and gagged him. When that happened, Simon didn't know what he would do to take it. Of course, if his voice gave out again, it would be moot.

He tensed when the door opened, but didn't turn over. It would take too much effort to face his tormentor, energy better conserved for the actual torture. Though it was an odd time for it, seeing that he'd just been brought back from a session.

"I'm so sorry, Simon, but this is going to hurt so I have to knock you out."

Stiffening at Mal's voice, Simon didn't have time to look at the Captain before something pinched his neck and drugs flooded his system.

* * * *

Mal found three bugs implanted in Simon's body. The sheets were stained with blood from cutting them out. Running a scanner one more time over the unconscious man, Mal hesitated then shrugged. They'd do a real, full-body scan the first chance they had. Until then, he just had to pray.

The bombs he'd set were too clean a death for these fuckers.

Once the cuts were bandaged, Mal scooped Simon into his arms and transferred him to the body bag, Superstitiously wishing there was another way to get the doctor out, Mal held the needle against Simon's throat, then paused.

This could be his last chance, his only chance.

Bending, Mal pressed his lips against Simon's and whispered, "Love you, doc. We're going to get you out of here, I swear."

Whether or not Mal made it didn't really matter.

* * * *

Serenity burst out of hiding the moment the signal reached them. Wash hailed the shuttle, but got no answer. Worried, he called over the comm to Zoe, "Mal's not responding, Zo."

"We're on it, hon."

Wash watched as the shuttle glided into the bad and felt Serenity shudder when the smaller ship didn't stop on its own.

God, he hoped it wasn't a ship with two dead friends on it.

* * * *

Zoe and Jayne entered the battered and still smoking shuttle with guns at the ready. In the center of the small craft, her heart fell upon viewing Simon and Mal wrapped around each other, as though in a final embrace. No, not entirely true, Zoe realized. Simon was sprawled over the Captain as though he'd jumped in front to save Mal.

Save him from what?

"Fuckers! Zoe, take a look."

Zoe turned at Jayne's cursing and found a very dead man a few feet away. His hands were definitely blue and one of them held a gun. What had killed him, though? There was dried blood at his ears, nose, mouth and eyes and a hideous expression on his face. Shrugging to herself, Zoe crossed to Simon and Mal with a pained sigh, crouching down beside them.

There was a large blood stain on Simon's shirt, probably caused by a bullet. Mal's arms were lax around Simon's waist and his head rested peaceful-like on the younger man's shoulder. Tears sprang at the loss of two good men and her best friend of so many years.

"Damn."

Zoe couldn't have said it better. "How are we going to tell River?"

"Tell...her...what?"

The wheezed words from Simon scared the piss out of Zoe and she fell backwards. Jayne whooped with joy as Simon and Mal both groaned and began to move.

After a few seconds, Zoe got to her feet and reached for Simon. It took a good amount to get him on his feet and she wondered if it wouldn't just be better to pick him up. He flinched more than once as she tried to find the least painful place to hold him up. In the end, it didn't matter because he passed out again. She grunted in surprise at the limp body-weight, then put him across her shoulders.

"Careful with him!" Mal ordered sharply, leaning heavy against Jayne.

"Aye, sir," Zoe assured him.

By the time they exited the shuttle, everyone was outside it. River was practically bouncing in her need to see that Simon was alive.

Mal hobbled to Wash and whispered in his ear. Wash paled, but nodded and entered the shuttle. Curious, Zoe nonetheless continued to the med-bay, wanting to deposit Simon before he woke up. She just barely managed it because his eyes fluttered open a few seconds after she set him down. Mal was carefully pushed onto the second bed by Jayne.

For a full minute, no one said a word, then everyone spoke at once. Mal caught Zoe's eye with a tired smile, motioning her to him.

Resting a hand on his shoulder, she asked, "Yes, sir?"

"I gave Wash the right unpleasant task of chopping off those blue hands, putting them on ice and jettisoning the body, shuttle and all. Help him with that, will you?" Mal asked.

Though she nodded, Zoe wasn't looking forward to the tasks. "Rest up, sir. I'll see to it."

He nodded as well and yawned. "Think I will catch some sleep."

"Don't let him sleep! He's got a concussion," Simon called from his bed.

Zoe poked Mal rudely, provoking a groan. "Sorry, sir."

"Yeah, right," Mal grumbled.

Zoe grinned as she left the infirmary. Things were going to be just fine.

* * * *

Shepard took care of Simon's injuries, though most were superficial and partially healed; they hadn't been trying to kill him, after all, just cause a lot of pain. The worst, of course, were Simon's hands and there was just nothing to be done about them until getting to proper facilities. Until then, he'd have to have help with most things.

River wouldn't leave Simon's side and had, in fact, curled up in bed beside her brother, clinging to him like a leech. Since holding her appeared to bring some peace to Simon, Mal had nodded at Shepard's questioning look to leave her or not.

Now, some six hours and two solar systems later, Mal was watching brother and sister sleep. He'd never had family like that, not blood-kin anyhow. His crew was his family and that was all he'd ever needed before. Something in the way they clung to each other in sleep called to Mal, though, made him feel all fierce and protective. He wanted them both to be his family, like Zoe was to Wash. Well, not River of course, that would just be wrong. But him and Simon together, both brothers to River.

Mal sighed heavily and put the fantasy away. Men like him weren't meant to have a family like that.

* * * *

Simon scowled in frustration as he tried to get dressed. They were finally going to a civilized planet and he wanted to look presentable for a change. Though healed for about a month, his fingers remained stiff and awkward. Frustration spilled over into helplessness and he swore, "Damn it!"

He'd never hold a scalpel if he couldn't even button his own gorram shirt!

"Simon?"

Simon turned towards Inara's voice, forcing a smile. "I'm coming."

"May I be of assistance?"

Biting his lip, Simon conceded defeat. "Yes, please. I can't, I still can't do such small buttons."

Inara smiled gently and stepped into the room. "Well, if there's one thing I have plenty of experience in, it's dressing people."

Simon half-smiled in response to her teasing. "Thank you."

Her fingers moved swiftly and surely, but rested against his chest when she reached the top. Looking up at him, she said, "What you went through was terrible, Simon, and something that takes time to come back from. Give yourself time to heal, both your hands and your heart."

How did she know? Of course she, of all people would know; the heart was her business. Sighing deeply, Simon replied, "If only there was some way that he'd let himself care for me. I wouldn't ask him to make a commitment he couldn't keep, I know that being Captain comes before everything else."

"Oh, Simon, he does love you," Inara said softly, cupping his face. "It's just...I think it's a new concept for him that it's all right for him to do so. He's been alone for a very long time."

Mouth twisting bitterly, Simon admitted, "I wish I could love you instead. You're so good to me, especially since all this happened."

"Give him time, Simon," she urged.

Bleakly, he shook his head. "I don't know if I can. It hurts so much, Inara. I need...I need..."

She twined her arms around Simon's waist then, and he buried his face against her fragrant curls.

"I know what you need, Simon. Please, let me help you?"

* * * *

Mal's eyes were clenched shut as he listened to the conversation. Simon was hurting bad and instead of asking for what he so desperately needed, the doctor was sparing Mal's feelings instead. Since their return, things had gone back to the way it had been and Mal had foolishly hoped that Simon's feelings had just been a crush.

In the tradition of things not going smooth, this was love. On both sides, it seemed. This terrible burden of emotion that just pushed and pushed at Mal until he didn't know which way was up. Until he went insane with jealousy when Simon flirted innocently with Kaylee. Until he was locked in battle with himself not to barge into Simon's room at night and hold him through the screaming nightmares.

He knew this wouldn't work out. He knew that Simon was too good for him, even if Simon didn't. In a few short months, maybe a year if he was lucky, Simon would realize how badly they weren't suited.

But hell. At least Mal could have him that long.

* * * *

"Am I interrupting?"

Mal's pleasant question echoed through the bedroom, startling Simon into pulling away from Inara. His heart pounded as he wondered what, if anything, the Captain had overheard.

Smoothly, Inara replied, "Not at all, Captain. Simon, the offer stands if you wish to speak of this later. In private."

Simon nodded dumbly, then found his voice. "Thank you, Inara, you're a good friend."

Smiling sweetly at him, Inara left, but not without stepping hard on Mal's in-step as she passed. He smiled tightly at her, ignoring the blatant provocation.

When the Captain fully entered the room, closing the door behind him, Simon's mouth dried up and he licked his lips nervously. "Is there something I can do for you, Captain?"

Mal eyed him for a moment then countered, "How are the hands?"

"Better," Simon answered cautiously.

The other man hadn't once asked about any of his injuries, avoiding all mention of Simon's captivity with a vengeance. They still didn't know what had happened to the blue-handed man because Simon just could not remember it and Mal wouldn't talk about it. He'd probably blocked it out. The only thing they knew for sure was that Mal had blown the station to pieces with multiple shock charges. There had been no survivors.

Stepping closer, Mal took one of Simon's hands and examined it silently. After a few moments, he said, "Been meaning to visit Lo-nan for a bit. Heard tell they got some of the best healers around. Maybe they can do something for the stiffness?"

Astonished more by the touch than the suggestion, Simon stammered, "M-maybe. Ah, they probably could do a lot, actually."

"Then that's where we'll go," Mal said decisively.

But he didn't release Simon's hand and Simon had no idea what to do about it. When the Captain moved close enough that his breath warmed Simon's chin, he thought perhaps he was suffering from delusion. A very nice one considering how good the Captain smelled and the tender massage on his tired, sore hand, but a delusion nonetheless.

Finally, looking straight into Simon's eyes, Mal spoke. "I'm not a good catch, Simon. I'm rude, violent, stubborn, possessive of what I consider mine, certain that I'm always right, and according to Zoe, I don't listen worth shit. I also don't have much to give you, probably never more than a place here on Serenity and a life of questionable security and means. But ah, if you, if you want, I could...we could maybe make a go of it. If you want, I mean. If I've misunderstood, then there's no mmph..."

Before the other man could completely talk himself out of the whole idea, Simon grabbed Mal's shirt with his free hand and hauled him in for a kiss. Unfortunately, their noses met first, rather painfully at that. Undaunted and somewhat terrified that the opportunity would never come again, Simon tilted his head and took advantage of the open-mouthed gasp of pain to attach their lips together.

After a startled second, more like a millisecond, Mal took control of the kiss and wound his arms around Simon's neck to keep him in place. Not that Simon had plans to go anywhere, because he sure didn't.

Mal gentled things even as he dove deep into Simon's mouth. The long, slow, wet kiss was the hottest thing Simon had ever experienced and something he didn't ever want to end. It did, finally, but not until Simon was limp against Mal and moaning for more.

"...mon, Simon, Simon!"

Mal's soft but insistent calling of his name penetrated the unusual fog that had enveloped Simon's brain. Opening his eyes, Simon was faced with a flushed and extremely pleased Malcolm Reynolds. Snorting, Simon questioned, "Problem?"

A grin slicked across Mal's face as he answered, "Only the whole crew waiting on the both of us. Unless you care to let them know what we're up to, we should go."

"I don't care," Simon exclaimed, reattaching their mouths together.

As before, Mal took control of the kiss, but this time, instead of slowing down, he heated things up by shoving Simon against the wall and pushing a leg between the doctor's legs.

Simon gasped as electricity flared out from that point of contact, his head lolling back. So much, so many sensations...he'd never felt anything like this before! The women he'd bedded had been pale imitations. This was raw, passionate, overwhelming almost in its intensity. Everything that had felt broken with despair was healed, whole, and begging for more. His cock twitched violently when Mal sucked hard at Simon's throat, plainly marking him as taken. "Oh, God! Mal, please!"

"Please what, Simon? You want more?" Mal whispered seductively against his lips.

Simon licked at the tantalizing lips and murmured, "Yes, please."

"Manners, even now," Mal observed with a wicked grin. "We're going to have to do something about that. In the meantime, we really do have to go."

Simon stared at him in disbelief. "What?"

Cupping Simon's face and brushing a thumb over kiss-swollen lips, Mal promised, "We have time, Simon, I swear. I'm not going anywhere. And I don't want our first time together against a wall, even as hot as you look right now."

"But..."

Mal shook his head firmly and stopped the words by pressing his thumb against Simon's mouth. "Tonight. We have duties right now."

Almost growling in frustration, a very different kind than earlier, Simon straightened his shirt and glared at Mal. "Maybe I won't be in the mood later."

Mal chuckled and brought him close for a long, sweet kiss that melted every bit of sham resistance Simon had raised. Sighing deeply when it was over, Simon rested his forehead against Mal's shoulder and tried to think. This wasn't how he pictured things, but then, reality seldom was what anyone imagined.

Remembering his declaration to Inara that he understood Mal's priorities, Simon finally pulled back. "All right. Let's go."

The smile Mal flashed at Simon's words was near enough to split his face. "All right then. Let's go."

* * * *

Everyone noticed the violet mark on Simon's pale throat, but only one person commented to Mal as he walked at the back of the group heading down the street.

Dressed prettily in a dress and looking mostly normal around the eyes, River hooked her arm with Mal's and leaned her head against Mal's shoulder as they walked. "Daddy's home."

He looked down at her in surprise, then grinned and pulled his arm free to put around her shoulder. "Yeah, River, I guess he is."

Simon glanced back at them, starting in surprise at their comfortable arrangement, then smiling, obviously pleased, before turning back to his conversation with Shepard.

Mal watched him for another minute or so, then Zoe claimed his attention.

* * * *

The bar where they ate that night was about as disreputable as the planet could manage, which meant that not wearing ties was allowed. Kaylee nearly giggled at Jayne's discomfort of being stuck in a "gorram monkey suit," and did giggle at Zoe's comment of, "better than a gorram straight jacket, like you deserve."

There was something in the air that had everyone more than a little hyped up. Though disappointed things hadn't worked out between her and Simon, Kaylee was pleased that the Cap'n finally had someone for hisself. If anyone deserved a mate, it was the Cap'n and Simon. They made a real handsome couple, too. Simon's clean-cut way and the Cap'n's rough-n-ready fashion seemed to mesh somehow so that Simon seemed a bit looser and the Cap'n a little more respectable.

Inara sat beside her, flashed her a smile and asked, "Is this seat taken?"

Grinning, Kaylee replied, "It is now."

"What are you thinking about? You're looking awfully pleased with yourself," Inara asked.

Kaylee shrugged and picked up the menu. Damn. It wasn't a language she knew. "Just funny how things work out, I guess."

"Mal and Simon?"

"Yeah," Kaylee agreed.

Inara touched her hand. "Disappointed?"

"A little, but not too bad," Kaylee admitted. "I guess I more liked the attention he paid me than anything else, you know?"

Nodding, Inara asked, "Shall I order for you?"

Not surprised that Inara had noticed her hesitation, Kaylee nodded. "Thanks. Don't rightly know this dialect."

"Well, the high languages have over forty different formal dialects so that's not surprising," Inara assured her. "Not many know all of them."

"But you do."

"I'm a Companion."

Kaylee eyed her curiously. "You ever wish you weren't?"

"It's not a bad life," Inara evaded.

"Not what I asked," Kaylee pointed out. "But that's okay. I shouldn't have."

Inara squeezed her hand briefly. "You're my friend. You can ask whatever you wish. It's just...I don't really know the answer myself."

Kaylee brightened at the news that she hadn't been snubbed. "Oh! Well, I can understand that."

The server arrived then, stopping conversation for a while. Jayne nearly revolted when he learned there wasn't any red meat on the menu and Zoe wasn't far behind him.

"Come to a place this gorram expensive, you expect a steak," Jayne grumbled.

Kaylee giggled and whispered to Inara, "Even if they had red meat, it probably wouldn't be steak."

"Not the kind he's thinking of," Inara agreed with a grin.

After the meal was done, and a few drinks, Kaylee was feeling a bit sleepier than usual and looked blearily at Inara. "What kinda stuff izzat, anyhow?"

Inara frowned. "What were you drinking?"

Kaylee pointed to the small bottles in the center of the table.

Inara chuckled softly. "Oh, Kaylee, I don't envy you the head you'll have in the morning."

"What? Why? I didn't have that much!" Kaylee protested.

Inara shook her head. "Doesn't matter. It's a hard alcohol that I know you've got no tolerance to. Captain?"

Kaylee covered Inara's mouth, somehow certain she didn't want anyone else to know. "Hey, no need to do that!"

But Mal was already looking at them with a frown. "Kaylee? What are you doing?"

Inara removed Kaylee's hand, smiling fondly. "I'm afraid that Kaylee's been drinking the Sakkim."

Mal winced. "Ouch. Okay. I think that it's time to wrap things up, folks."

"Hey no!" Kaylee exclaimed. "I dinn't mean to ruin everything! Stay!"

Simon whispered something into Mal's ear and, interestingly, the Captain seemed to blush a bit. Kaylee fiercely wanted to know what the doctor had said.

"Sir, Wash and I will take Kaylee back to Serenity if the rest of you want to stay out," Zoe offered.

"I've got somewhere better to go m'self," Jayne said, standing up.

Kaylee watched Simon and River talk quietly until the other girl stood and announced, "I'm going with Kaylee."

"River, you don't have to go..."

River smiled down at her brother, stopping his words with the simple means of putting her hand over his mouth. "I'm tired. Have a good night."

Everyone was surprised when she bent down and kissed Mal on the cheek with, "Night, Daddy."

Mal flushed again but grinned up at her. "Night, River. Be good."

She nodded happily and bounced over to Kaylee. "Your head hurts. Let's go home."

Not really able to argue since a vague pounding had indeed begun, Kaylee got unsteadily to her feet and found herself escorted on both sides by River and Zoe. The thing that surprised her the most about that night, what she could remember of it the following day, was the fuzzy image she had of Jayne bowing to Inara and offering his arm as escort.

* * * *

"Daddy?"

Mal looked over to Simon and saw an odd expression on the other man's face. Thinking that Simon might have a problem with it, he said hastily, "Yeah, well, her idea, not mine."

"Oh no, it's fine," Simon assured him. "It's just, reminds me of something she said a while back."

Curious, Mal asked, "What?"

Simon's face took on a far-away look. "It was near about the time they were going to torch us, for River being a witch. She said, "Daddy's home," or, "Daddy'll come," can't remember. I'd been thinking on and off about our parents a good portion of the time we were on that planet so I thought she meant our Father. But, I'm thinking that now she knew, somehow, that you were on the way."

Mal didn't like thinking about any situation that involved Simon and River and near-death-experience in the same sentence. He reached out and gripped Simon's shoulder, squeezing hard enough to bring the doctor's attention back to him. "Nothin' like that's ever going to happen to either of you again."

Half-smiling, Simon said, "You can't promise that, Mal. Just being on a civilized planet like this is a potential problem if someone in the right place knows who I am, or who River is. What I do want you to promise, is if I get taken again, look after River. She trusts you now, and that's no light thing."

"I'll look after her," Mal agreed. "After I go and get you. I'm never leaving you behind again, Simon."

Before Simon could protest, Mal stood and brought him to his feet with, "Let's dance."

Simon's head just about snapped off with the sudden yanking onto the dance floor. It was a slow song and Simon was somewhat taken by surprise when Mal easily and gracefully maneuvered him around the other couples. "You can dance."

Mal laughed and brought him closer. "Of course I can dance."

Shaking his head, Simon amended, "I mean, you can dance formally."

Wriggling his eyebrows, Mal asked, "Now what do you suppose is the most natural extension of dancing real close with someone?"

The answer was something that Simon didn't want to think about, really, so he pressed closer and kissed just under Mal's ear. From the sharp breath Mal drew in reaction, it was a good guess. "I wouldn't know, I'm sure."

"I'm sure, you're sure," Mal growled softly. His hand slid down to rest on the small of Simon's back and he whispered into Simon's ear, "I think I've had enough dancing, what about you?"

"Oh I don't know, I was ow! Mal!"

Simon rubbed his backside as discretely as possible and followed Mal off the dance floor, ignoring the knowing looks from other patrons. He sidled up to Mal while the Captain was paying the check and whispered into his ear, "If you ever embarrass me like that in public again, it's not your bed I'll be sleeping in."

Mal eyed him in surprise then nodded slowly. Message received, loud and clear. "Understood, Doctor."

"Doctor?"

Both men turned at the unfamiliar voice to find one of the waitresses had stopped, even with a full tray of food. She was petite and looked faintly undernourished.

Simon nodded. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"Simon," Mal warned.

But Simon ignored him and proceeded to have a long, detailed, and very boring conversation with the woman about a colicky baby. Mal's ardor had cooled considerably by the time Simon was hugged enthusiastically by the young woman and went back to work.

"You should've charged her," Mal said as they left the restaurant.

Scandalized, Simon replied, "I couldn't do that just for advice!"

Mal sighed. "Of course not. That's because you don't have a lick of sense when it comes to finances."

Laughing, Simon slid his arm around Mal's waist and observed, "And you're not much better than I am."

A bit indignant, Mal exclaimed, "Hey! I keep us fed and flying, don't I?"

"Yes, yes you do," Simon agreed. "And you keep us safe, and cared for, and protected."

Embarrassed, Mal tried to shrug it off, but Simon stopped abruptly, so Mal had to as well. The street was deserted, which made Mal somewhat uneasy, but it was obvious the other man had something to say.

"I never thanked you, and I meant to," Simon started.

Frowning, Mal asked, "For what?"

Simon made a vague gesture. "For everything. For taking us in in the first place and not leaving us on a planet like you were going to. For not doing anything serious to River when she attacked Jayne with a knife. For coming back for us on that damned planet. For almost killing Jayne because he betrayed River and me, and for coming for me in the middle of an insanely fortified space station.

"And has anyone ever told you that you should seek psychological assistance for a tremendously overdeveloped sense of courage and honor? Because you really should. When I saw you in that station, I thought I was hallucinating from the drugs and torture. There was no sane way that you should have been on that station! I really thought, I thought I was dead, Mal. I thought they were going to kill me and I'd never see you or River again. But I was okay with that, because I knew you'd look out for her and the thought of you both kept me strong through it all. Every time they almost broke me, I just pictured you after Niska got through with you and found the strength. I..."

Mal had no idea what to say when Simon finally ran out of words. This kind of thing was not his strong suit. Hell, he usually put his foot in it in far less tricky situations. He cupped Simon's face roughly and whispered, "I love you, Simon Tam. I'm always going to come for you, no matter what, do you hear?"

It must have been the right thing to say because Simon lurched forward and plastered himself to Mal. It wasn't a passionate embrace, more of a desperate one, and Mal returned it, knowing that if he were ever to really lose Simon, he'd lose a big part of that courage and honor Simon had just talked about.

"I have this...ache in my heart," Mal continued, pulling back far enough to speak, his voice raw with emotion. "...where you're concerned, and I don't know what to do with it. I ain't never felt it before, Simon, and I don't want to feel it now. Had the thought earlier that it was a burden of emotion, and it is. My life got real complicated the first time I saw you standing all cool and high-born on Serenity's ramp. But...for all this need, and worry, and, yeah, bizarreness of jealousy over Kaylee of all people, I can't give you up for how I was living before. I'd be a....a hollow man I think best describes it."

Mal shifted uncomfortably at Simon's near open-mouthed expression of shock at his words. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't've said all that. Just forget it."

Simon launched himself onto Mal with a faint cry, knocking them both into the wall and covering Mal's mouth desperately with his own. Mal found himself being devoured and just opened his mouth to the storm. Truth to tell, it was a storm he'd wanted to weather for a good long time.

When Simon finally pulled back, they were both breathing real heavy and Mal was trying not to just strip the other man then and there.

"Serenity. Bed. Now."

Mal grinned at the terse order and obediently followed Simon through the town back towards the ship dock.

* * * *

Never let it be said that when Simon Tam wants something, he can't go after it with a single-minded pursuit that could put an Old Earth That Was Mountie to shame. He practically hauled Mal back to the ship, not letting go even when they boarded Serenity, much to Jayne's open amusement and Mal's embarrassment.

"Hey there guys," Jayne called after them.

"Hey, Jayne," Mal called back with a shrug. "See you tomorrow."

"No you won't!" Simon called firmly. At a lower volume, he stated, "You're not going to be able to walk tomorrow...Captain."

Mal's jaw dropped and he looked back at Jayne, shouting to the faint figure, "No you won't!"

Jayne's guffaw reached them, even as they went down the ladder to Mal's quarters.

Simon took a brief moment to look around, mainly searching for the bed, and then pushed Mal onto it. "Stay."

Chuckling, Mal said, "I'm gonna have to pour my heart out more often if it gets you this hot and bothered."

Simon made a brief face at the comment, but mostly ignored it as he pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it aside. Mal became nonverbal and Simon grinned as the other's eyes avidly roamed his bare chest. Seeing nothing but desire Mal's eyes, he momentarily forgot about the scars. When he remembered, Simon froze, wanting to cover himself up again, but wanting to join Mal on the bed, too.

Mal decided the issue by leaning forward and tugging Simon onto the bed by his belt. Rolling onto his side and resting on his elbow, Mal traced a few of the heavier scars and murmured, "Relax, Simon, there's nothing about you I find ugly. Nothing."

The finger drew out shivers of desire and Simon watched in fascination as gooseflesh erupted over his own chest. Then Mal bent and sucked lightly on a nipple and Simon's head fell back with a groan. Tantalizing...slow...gentle...Mal worked his way from one nipple to the other and back again, taking his time in exploring. Warm, wet lips slid over his ribs, outlining each, individual one and a limber tongue played on his navel.

By that time, Simon was hard as a rock and aching.

* * * *

Just exactly the way Mal wanted him, flush with pleasure and forgetting all about the sadistic abuse Simon's body had suffered. It had been a while since he'd been with anyone, but pleasure was always something Mal enjoyed, both the giving and receiving. None of his partners had ever left his bed unsatisfied and Simon wasn't going to be any different.

Teasing his tongue over the slender, lightly muscled frame, Mal could taste faint sweat, and wood smoke from the restaurant. The hollow along Simon's ribs was particularly fun because of the quivering that licking it up provoked. He filed away the 'ticklish' category for later fun and continued on his quest to map out Simon's body.

It didn't take long for Mal to get them both undressed. Simon resettled himself properly on the bed while Mal knelt beside him. For a long moment, they just stared at one another and Mal felt full in his heart for the first time in a very, very long time. He straddled the other man and sat just above Simon's hips. Leaning forward, he kissed Simon long and deep, loving the way Simon melted, just from his mouth. It seemed like it had been a long time for the doctor, too. Running his hands over and around Simon's chest, Mal asked, "What do you want?"

Simon smiled and twined their hands together. "Whatever you have to give me."

Heat suffused him at those words and Mal brought the scarred hands to his lips, kissing each knuckle gently. "I'm sorry I didn't get there fast enough to stop this."

"You got there," Simon countered. "That's all that matters."

Mal shook his head. "Not all, not by a long shot. You deserve so much more than this, Simon."

Simon moved their hands so that they rested on his stomach. "I have exactly what I want, whether you think it's what I 'deserve' or not. I love you, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, and I'm going to keep saying it until you believe me."

Grinning suddenly, Mal said, "That could be an awful long time."

With a shrug, Simon echoed his earlier words, "I'm not going anywhere."

Mal wanted to believe him, he really did, almost could...Shaking off the dark thoughts, Mal carefully loosed his hands from Simon's and stretched out above his lover. Settling between the other man's legs, Mal licked at Simon's cock, enjoying the musk scent and taste, not to mention Simon's gasp of pleasure.

'Hmm...now there's a thought...wonder if Simon's ever...'

The choked shout Simon issued confirmed Mal's suspicion that no one had ever given Simon a real, in-depth blow-job. The women Simon had been with had probably all been too refined, Mal thought derisively as he sucked hard around the long, slender cock in his mouth.

"Oh, oh God, Mal...you're...what the hell are you doing?"

Oh yeah, definitely too refined. Though that did bring up another point of curiosity. Licking up from the base to tip, Mal pulled back and asked, "You ever done anything with a man?"

It took Simon a few minutes to pull his thoughts together, looking too-hot by far for Mal to resist little kisses and bites over the doctor's hipbone.

"Ah, what? Oh, well, not as such," Simon finally replied, running a distracted hand through his hair.

Mal decided that he liked the messy look and grinned. "Meaning...?"

Embarrassed, Simon explained, "Just a few stress-relief encounters in med school. Hands, for the most part. There was never any time for any serious romantic interactions with anyone."

A surge of possessiveness ran through Mal at the thought that he'd be the only one to have Simon like this. "Good."

A dark eyebrow arched as Simon repeated, "Good? I'm going to have my hands full with you, aren't I?"

"Or I will," Mal countered, going back to the prize between his hands.

"Fuck!"

Mal snorted in surprise at the swear but didn't stop his sucking. He worked it, over and over, until Simon was writhing under him and then went one further...

"Yeh soo, ta ma duh!"

Deep-throating someone did not lend itself to laughter, but Mal somehow managed it at the curse. Just to hear Simon, Mr. Manners himself, shout, "Jesus! Motherfucker!" was worth every bit of sore throat Mal expected come the morning.

The force of Simon's bucking hips increased as the man drew close to coming and Mal was forced to lay his arms over him for control. Simon's hands clutched his hair painfully, but Mal ignored it, concentrating on drawing out everything Simon had to give.

"Oh God, oh please, oh God, Mal, I'm going to, can't stop..."

At the breathy exclamation, Mal redoubled his assault, pulling the orgasm from Simon with a wordless cry of release from the other man. Swallowing down the hot liquid was automatic and Mal only let go of his new toy when Simon was a quivering wreck and plainly unable to move. Looking up at the near-unconscious man, Mal chuckled softly and coughed, clearing the residue from his throat before sliding up to stretch alongside Simon. "Good?"

Limply turning his head, Simon gave Mal a look of sheer disbelief. "Good!? Malcolm, my God, I never knew..."

Serious now, Mal gently, but deeply kissed Simon's mouth, delving into the sweetness that waited like a refreshing drink. When he pulled back to stare into content, liquid eyes, Mal requested, "Can I have you?"

Simon cupped his face, bringing him in for another languid kiss. "I'm all yours, Malcolm, take what you want."

The words almost tripped the iron control Mal had over his body, short-circuiting his mind momentarily. He directed Simon to lay on his side, then reached for some slick, knowing it was going to be very much needed if Simon had never done this before. He snorted to himself at the thought that no one had ever gotten anywhere with this passionate man. Then he realized how much Simon really did love him because no one ever had gotten anywhere with the doctor.

Setting the lube within easy reach, Mal instead used his tongue to start things going again. The slightly sour taste there told him that Simon hadn't showered since that morning and he grinned at the hoarse shout his rimming caused. Obviously not something the other man had been expecting. Though his own neglected cock was dying to bury itself in the firm, smooth ass presented for Mal, he forced the urges back.

Gotta do this right, never forgive myself if I hurt him...

After a few minutes of licking and penetrating Simon's anus with his tongue, Mal grabbed the slick and rubbed some onto his hand, warming it up first. Sliding one finger into the waiting hole was easy enough, Simon being so relaxed from the orgasm and rimming. Two was a little more difficult, and Mal felt the resistence begin. He nudged around inside a few moment before finding that golden button. Simon jerked in shocked response, causing Mal to grin fiercely. "Nobody's ever done that before, have they?"

Gasping, Simon wordlessly shook his head, clutching the bedspread as he tried to decide which way to move.

"Relax, Simon, this is going to be so good," Mal promised hotly. "Going to bring you up again, get you good and hard before I enter you so sweet you don't even know I'm there until I'm in all the way."

When Simon shuddered at the pillow talk, Mal's grin widened in pleased surprise and he continued, "Gonna fill you more than you ever knew you could be. Then I'm going to rock you so hard you won't know which way is up and which way down. You're not going to see stars, Simon, because you're going to be unconscious with pleasin' by the time I'm done."

Between the prostrate stimulation and the hot words, Simon was in a constant state of writhing, his cock again hard and leaking. Mal upped the ante with three fingers, pushing in slow and sure, stretching along the way. The grunts showed discomfort now, so Mal stopped everything, leaving his fingers where they were and pressing butterfly kisses and nips to Simon's shoulder and back. "You all right, there?"

Thinking about it a moment, Simon at last nodded. "Keep going, Malcolm."

Mal worried a piece of flesh between his teeth before saying, "Do you know how hot my name sounds from you? Ain't no one ever used my full name, in this room or any other. No one but you, Simon, and it sounds so pretty on your tongue. Something else I want on your tongue? My cock. I want to feel you licking and sucking on me like there's no tomorrow. Then, maybe, you can go round the back door and take a taste there. What say you?"

But Simon was again beyond words, squirming under the steady and quickening pace of Mal's fingers inside.

"Is this good? Are you ready for me?" Mal whispered directly into Simon's ear.

"God, yes!" Simon hissed, thrusting back against Mal's hands. "Do it, will you? Want you so bad, Malcolm, so much!"

Mal nibbled on Simon's lobe as he slid his fingers out and lubed his cock. Biting his lip, Mal slowly pushed against the opening, gasping at the tightness that snapped shut around him. Leaning his head between Simon's shoulder blades, Mal waited a few seconds then kept pushing in. Simon blindly reached back and Mal threaded their fingers together just before his groin pressed flush against Simon's ass.

For a long time, the only sound in the room was heavy breathing as they both got used to the feeling of Mal inside Simon.

"Good?"

"Oh, yeah."

Chuckling at the declaration, Mal withdrew a little and pushed back in. He hadn't done it in this position for a while, so it took several thrusts before he nicked Simon's prostrate again. The shuddering groan told him he'd nailed it, though. His control began to unravel and Mal gasped a warning, "Can't hold on much longer, Simon."

Simon squeezed his hand and arched his neck so they could kiss frantically, shoving his ass back in response to Mal's words.

It undid the last of Mal's restraint and suddenly, it was Simon taking Mal for a ride. The moist sound of skin on skin competed against the heavy breathing and Mal found Simon doing most of the work, heaving back and forth on his cock like there really was no tomorrow. There was a brief time when they worked in rhythm, him shoving forward and Simon pushing back, but it was brief.

Simon rolled back and Mal had no choice but to accede. Sitting astride him, backwards, Simon somehow managed to clench and release in a syncopated pace that left Mal reeling. All he could do was collapse against the mattress and get fucked. Which suited him just fine, even if it did surprise the hell out of him.

His own orgasm took him by surprise, too. One minute Mal was reveling in the sweat slicked back he was caressing roughly, not to mention the rise and fall of Simon's exquisitely tight ass around his cock, and the next, his world exploded.

And that suited him just fine, too.

* * * *

The hot seed that burst inside him sent Simon over the edge for the second time, in an orgasm no less devastating than the first. He collapsed backwards, falling on top of Mal, still joined at the ass to Mal's cock. Simon could feel pain radiating in his anus from the hard use, but just didn't care. He wrapped Mal's arms around him and half slid to the side, back to their original position with Mal spooned up behind him.

He took a few moments to awkwardly put the pillows under Mal's head and used Mal as his pillow. Simon sighed, utterly sated and filled, pleasured almost beyond endurance. If this was only the first time and things were supposed to get better, he was going to be a physical wreck within days.

Chuckling softly at the thought, Simon yawned and fell asleep.

* * * *

Zoe glanced quizzically down the hall towards Mal's quarters as she sat down, then back at Jayne across the galley table. "They still at it?"

Snorting, Jayne nodded. "Think I heard the Cap'n a few minutes back."

"Yeah? What did he say?" Zoe asked curiously.

Eyebrows wriggling, Jayne answered, "Nothing fit for dinner conversation."

Wash came up behind Zoe, kissing the top of her head and resting his hands on her shoulders. "Ah yes, I remember that phase. The 'fuck-like-bunnies' stage."

Looking up at her husband, Zoe pointed out, "We haven't gotten past that stage yet."

Wash grinned. "Didn't say we had. Think we should interrupt and find out where we're headed?"

Jayne tossed a hard roll at the pilot and shook his head with, "Only if you want to get yourself shot."

"Not a good idea, I like you in one piece," Zoe said, possessive all of a sudden. She reached up and pulled Wash down for a long kiss.

Rolling his eyes, Jayne complained, "Would you please not do that in front of me? Gorram romance-sick fools. At least the Cap'n and the doc have enough sense to keep it behind doors."

Zoe laughed heartily as she let go of Wash. "Only because they haven't set foot outside one yet."

"Three days, that's gotta be a record," Wash agreed placidly.

* * * *

All shivery and sweaty, Simon tried to get his heart to stop thundering, but was having little success.

"Did I finally wear you out for good?" Mal asked faintly, also breathing heavy.

Simon shook his head and gasped, "Not for good, just...for now."

Mal resettled the blanket over them and pulled Simon against him, enjoying the limp feel of the other man over his chest. "We're going to have to rejoin the others eventually."

Simon kissed Mal's nipple with a nod and replied, "I know. I just...need a nap first."

Chuckling softly, Mal kissed the top of Simon's head. "You and me both, doc. We'll just rest up and then get something to eat. I think it's around suppertime."

"On which day?" Simon questioned through a yawn.

"Does it matter?"

"Just wondering."

As sleep drifted around the edge of Mal, Simon tucked safely in his arms, he vaguely wondered how he'd ever lived without this man in his life, never mind not in his bed. With his body and heart both in synch, he was starting to believe in forever, starting to believe that maybe men like him could have a family.

And if that was true, maybe it wasn't a burden of emotion after all, maybe it was a blessing instead.