Advice

Jayne heard him long before the doc was ready to know that, so he just kept polishing the chrome in his hands and waited. He was pretty good at waiting, had to do it a lot when he was freelance, even though he'd never much cared for it. He knew something fierce was bothering the doc and had been wondering when he'd take it to Mal. That he was comin' to Jayne was a bit of a shock, but a nice one.

"Jayne?"

Looking up from the handgun, Jayne found the doc standing hesitant at the door and nodded in greeting. "Doc. Something I can do for you?"

"I'm not sure."

And he looks it, Jayne mused. One thing the doc had never been before was unsure of himself. His welcome, maybe, his usefulness on a few definite occasions, but never of himself in particular. "I can see that. Pop a squat."

After a brief hesitation, Simon sat in the chair opposite Jayne's bed and took the moment to look around.

Jayne went back to cleaning the gun and waiting. He figured that when the doc was good and ready, he'd start jabbering. The other man was always jabbering about something or other, though he'd been a lot quieter since Early had pinched him the month before.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Has anyone ever…ah…forced you to…you know."

Uh oh. That was a big one. More of a subject for the preacher, than him. Glancing at the doc, Jayne saw that he was expecting to be booted out of the room and sighed. It would be like kicking a damn puppy and he just wasn't that mean. "Shut the door."

Startled, it took Simon only a couple of seconds to obey and return to his seat.

Laying aside the gun and rag, Jayne leaned forward, arms on his knees, and stared firm at Simon. "Something you got to remember, doc, is that no matter who takes your body, ain't no one can touch you inside."

"So it happened to you."



With a grimace, Jayne nodded. "Long time ago. Under circumstances similar to what Early done to you."

Swallowing, Simon shook his head and whispered, "It wasn't Early."

That threw Jayne and for a long second, his mind whited out as he whispered, "Not Mal…"

"No! Oh God, Jayne, no!" Simon exclaimed, horrified by what he'd accidentally implied.

Relief stronger than he'd ever felt before flooded him and Jayne straightened up, running a shaky hand through his hair. "Damn, doc, don't scare me like that!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

Seeing the young man all curled in on himself, Jayne wanted to just hold him and tell him everything was going to be fine. That eventually, the burn from what'd been done would fade, even if it didn't go away. It wasn't his place, though, so he stayed put and sighed. "Thank God. Cause I'd've had to kill him if he had."

Shock ripped across Simon's face as he exclaimed with wonder, "You mean that, don't you?"

"Course I do," Jayne replied with a frown. "Don't say things I don't mean. Well, not about the important stuff anyhow."

"This…this isn't going the way I thought it would," Simon admitted, shaken.

Quirking a grin at the other man, Jayne prompted, "Thought I'd say no, didn't you? That it'd never happened? Or, more like, thought I'd kick your ass out."

Simon snorted and seemed to gather some of himself together as he agreed, "The last part, yes."

"I'm not Mal or the Preacher, but you can ask me stuff, Simon," Jayne told him slowly. "I know this ain't the life you were born to, not by a long shot, but you do pretty okay with it and I respect that. You're still a pain in the ass a lot, but I…respect you."

Laughing softly, Simon said, "Thanks, Jayne. The feeling's mutual."

With a grin, Jayne retook his former position of leaning on his legs and asked, "You want to talk about what did happen?"

Simon blanched and looked away, hand going to his stomach as if to hold it in place. "I don't know. I feel like I have to talk to someone before I implode, but even thinking about it…"

"I know."

After a few silent minutes, Simon got to his feet and said, "I…maybe another time? If that's all right?"

Jayne nodded and picked up his gun and cleaning cloth. "I'll be here."

"Thank you."

Simon left and Jayne released a long, pent-up sigh. That had definitely not been in his plans of things to do. Mentally baring his fangs at demons of his own sent them scurrying back into the shadows of his mind, but he knew they were just waitin' on the right opportunity to bring him down.

Dipping the rag in oil, Jayne started polishing again.

* * * *

Unexpected depths. Rocky shores. Hidden danger. Jagged pain under smooth glass.

Shaking her head, River pushed back the lurking darkness and returned to watching Simon. Her brother was counting things, as he usually did, and bringing even more order to a world already well determined. "Simon?"

Simon glanced at her with a smile. "Yes, River?"

She wanted to let him know that she knew, that she could feel his pain and confusion, but couldn't grasp the words. They kept twitching out of reach. "You have to stop."

Frowning, Simon asked, "Stop what?"

Frustrated, she got to her feet and walked to him and repeated, "You have to stop!"

"All right, River, I'm stopping," he agreed, setting aside the cutting instruments and slowly closing the drawer, locking it. "See?"

"No! You don't see!" she exclaimed. "You have to break the glass with the rocky shores."

Pain and disappointment entered his eyes and she knew that it was only aimed at himself because she wasn't making sense. Because the drugs he'd made didn't seem to be working. But they were working, she just couldn't command the language the way she used to.

Kaylee.

Her mind latched onto the person who could usually make sense of what she was trying to say. When Simon reached for her, River neatly avoided him and ran towards the engine room, ignoring his frightened call of her name.

Using all the hidden paths that she'd memorized, it was only a minute before she ran into the engine room. "Kaylee!"

* * * *

Kaylee jumped in fright when River called her name, then cursed fluently when her head cracked into the engine above her. Clutching the throbbing part of her head, she slid out from under the engine and groaned, "River! I asked you to stop doing that."

River dropped to the ground beside her and grabbed her sleeve, eyes wide and earnest, a little wild and some no small part of frustration there, too, Kaylee saw. "What's the matter?"

"Simon won't see. Rocky shores. Hidden danger!"

Uh oh. Speaking in tongues again. Grasping her friend's face between her hands, Kaylee ordered, "Stop, River. Stop and breathe, remember?"

River paused and closed her eyes, breathing several long breaths. When her eyes opened again, they were a little calmer and Kaylee nodded encouragement. "Okay. You're worried about Simon. Why?"

"River! There you are!"

Irritated at the interruption, Kaylee held a hand up to ward off Simon and glared at him for extra measure. "River's trying to talk here."

Startled, Simon stopped in his tracks.

"Okay, River, go on."

River looked at Simon and said in a helpless tone, "Too much pain, Simon, there's too much. Need help."

Gentle now, Simon approached them and knelt beside his sister, putting his arms around her and murmuring, "It's all right, River. We'll find a way to make you better."

Unexpectedly, River punched him in the chest and shouted, "You! Not me, Simon, not me! You!"

Simon staggered back under the forceful blow, but Kaylee thought that his eyes were more shocked by what his sister had just said, than what she'd done. His eyes met Kaylee's and her breath was taken away by the depth of pain revealed and quickly shuttered away. When River was right, she was really right. Kaylee held out a hand, imploring, "Simon, it's okay."

But Simon was shaking his head. He got to his feet and ran out of the engine room.

Kaylee could see that her friend was fast approaching hysterical and pulled the girl into her arms, rocking her and soothing her with soft words.

* * * *

"Jayne!?"

Pulling his head out from the panel of wires where he'd been attempting to install a mounted laser, Jayne barely had time to straighten at Simon's shout before the man slammed into him. Shocked, Jayne didn't do anything at first, just stood there with Simon shaking around him. Then, reluctantly, his arms folded around the slight man, settling on the small of Simon's back. "What happened?"

Simon just shook his head and held tighter.

Hm. Could be a flashback. Jayne remembered those sumbitches all too well. He didn't mind for the comforting, but he was a little nervous about getting skinned alive if Mal happened by and saw him hugging the doc. Or Zoe. Or anyone, really. "Uh, Simon? Could we maybe take this somewhere more private?"

After another minute or so, Simon pulled back altogether, stepping away. He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing nervously as he stammered, "I'm, I'm sorry Jayne I don't know what came over me."

"Hey. No problem. Just, you know, I got an aversion to getting kilt, especially by jealous lovers," Jayne teased lightly.

A faint and rare smile crossed Simon's lips. "Mal is rather a shoot-first and ask questions later person, isn't he?"

"A whole lot so, yeah," Jayne agreed. "You okay?"

Simon's arms wrapped around his waist and he shook his head. "River punched me."

Surprised, Jayne asked, "Did you get in the way by accident?"

"No. No, it was deliberate. I can't even take care of myself, why should I think I can take care of her?"

"Here now," Jayne protested with a frown. "You do a right good job of caring for both of yourselves."

Simon shook his head. "Not good enough."

Sighing, Jayne looked around again and said, "Let's take this somewhere private, okay Simon?"

Without another word, Simon followed him down the hall to his quarters. Jayne shut the door behind them and ran a hand through his hair as he looked at Simon. The young man was sitting on the bed, hunched in on himself and rocking slightly. When had he taken it into his head that he could help, here? This was a real strong case for getting the preacher or Mal.

Jayne sat beside Simon and hesitantly put an arm over the doctor's shoulder.

Simon curled towards him, fingers clutching Jayne's shirt as he said in a low voice, "I keep seeing them, in my head."

Them? Oh, Fuck, Jayne thought with a shiver. One was bad enough, but a group?

"I must have repressed it a lot better right after it happened, because now Mal can't touch me without my flinching. I can't even let him hold me, and that hurts him so much. We've neither of us slept in the same bed since, since Early took me."

Things that Jayne just really didn't want to know, that he shouldn't know. But how could he refuse? This was a man who'd stared death in the eye and dared it to take a shot at him more than once. A man who would do anything for those he considered family, and for some bizarre reason, that seemed to include Jayne, now, too. "It fades, Simon, it really does. You just…gotta give it time. There ain't been enough time."

Simon's laugh was slightly hysterical as he pulled back enough to look Jayne in the eye. "It's been over a year, Jayne."

Over a year. Jayne's stomach twisted, flooding with acid as he made the connection to Simon's capture from the Alliance. How many times did this boy have to get bent before he broke? "Simon, a year ain't nothin,' not for something like this."

"When, then? When will it go away?"

The desperate demand hurt to hear, but it hurt even more for Jayne to admit, "Never. Not all the way."

"Then I might as well just cut Mal loose."

"No!" Jayne exclaimed, panicked. "No, Simon, don't do that."

"Why not?" Simon asked, dully.

"Because you and him…because you're you and him."

Simon snuffled and wiped at his nose with the back of his hand. "That's very enlightening, Jayne."

"Wuh de ma, Simon, shut up," Jayne ordered with a snort.

"Yes, sir."

They sat there for a long time, half-embracing, half-turned from each other, and silent. Finally, Jayne repeated, "Give it time. Talk to the preacher. Talk to Mal. I didn't have no one when it happened to me, but you do. Don't cut him off, Simon, you'll regret it."

"Probably. But will he?"

Jayne tightened his grip around Simon's shoulders and said harshly, "He will."

"Can I ask you something?"

Bracing himself, Jayne nodded. "Yep."

"Were you already like this when it happened? Or did you get strong to stop it from happening again?"

"I've been built like this since I was seventeen, Doc. Didn't even used to work at it, neither. Been using guns my entire life. Been killin' almost as long, though not for pay. It didn't help. The only way you're going to guarantee it not happening again, is to die. And as attractive as that might seem to you right now, I really don't recommend it."

"Why not?"

Damn. Simon had been thinking about it. "Because it's permanent, Doc. Game over. No one'll ever hurt you again, sure, but no one'll ever love you again, neither. To my mind, it ain't a fair trade, especially not for the ones you leave behind."

"So I live out of obligation?" Simon questioned tonelessly.

Jayne shrugged. "Maybe at first. Or pick another reason to live."

"Like?"

"Like showin' those ta mah duh that you're still around and kicking. Flaunt it. Rub their faces in it. Bring them down."

There was a pause, then a hesitant, "Revenge?"

"Worked for me."

Simon was silent for a few minutes, then asked, "You killed him?"

"And anyone else I know for sure that's done the same to others, man or woman," Jayne confirmed. "It's a bloody justice, Doc, but justice the same in my book. I even the score for those that can't do it themselves."

"This is…a lot to think about."

"Just one more thing."

"What's that?"

Jayne paused deliberately, then answered, "If you do decide not to stick around, make sure that your sister knows I had nothing to do with it."

Simon laughed at the dry comment and pulled the rest of the way from Jayne, standing and smiling briefly at him. "I'll be sure and put it in my suicide note."

Feeling better and knowing from the look in the other man's eyes that he wasn't going to hurt himself, Jayne said, "Thanks, I appreciate that. Need any advice on how to do it?"

With a faint smirk, Simon answered, "I am a doctor Jayne, I probably know more ways to kill myself than you do."

"Oh, I don't know, Doc, I'm right good at things when I put my mind to something," Jayne teased, relieved by the faint condescension.

"I'll keep that in mind," Simon said, aiming for the door. Once there, he paused and said, "Thanks, Jayne. I owe you one."

Jayne waved it away, heat flushing his cheeks as he replied, "Nah. This one's on the house, Doc."

After a slow nod, Simon smiled shyly and left, the door shutting behind him.

Jayne promptly collapsed backwards onto the bed.



Coming in Second

Mal stopped short, shocked disbelief running through him as he watched Simon leave Jayne's quarters with a smile on his face. No, not just a smile, he was chuckling and muttering to himself as he walked down the hall towards the common room. He hadn't seen nor heard either since Simon's kidnapping by Early the month before.

Once the shock wore off, Mal took a few furious steps towards Jayne's room before he could stop himself. Jaw clenched and fists tight, he forced himself to back down, to keep the murderous thoughts and feelings to himself. Jayne had obviously been able to do something for Simon that Mal himself hadn't.

What that something was, Mal really didn't want to know about.

No. He did want to know.

Ta mah duh!

Did he want to know?

Groaning with frustration and scrubbing fingertips through his hair, leaving it a wild wreck, Mal turned sharply on his heel and left before doing something that Jayne would regret.

* * * *

Simon found River still in the engine room with Kaylee. The girls were talking quietly and smiling, the sight both endearing and painful. When River hadn't been able to make herself understood, it had been to Kaylee that she'd gone, not Simon. He tended to forget that River was growing up, that she might…need someone aside from him. It wasn't a thought that he looked forward to contemplating in depth, but he knew the time would come, even if it wasn't Kaylee to whom River turned.

He knocked hesitantly on the side of the doorframe. "Hello. Can I come in?"

River and Kaylee both looked up at his question and in less than a second, River launched herself to him and jumped on him, clinging. "Sorry, Simon, so sorry."

"Hey, it's all right," Simon soothed, holding her tight for a long moment. Urging her down, he cupped her face briefly and said, "I was being a dummy, right? Not listening?"

Relieved, his sister nodded.

"Sorry isn't needed then," he assured her, kissing her forehead.

Kaylee joined them and asked, "How's the chest?"

Grimacing, Simon replied, "She packs quite a wallop, my sister."

River beamed at them both.

"I just wanted to let you both know that I'm fine and that I'll be in the infirmary if you need anything," Simon said.

"Oh, sure," Kaylee agreed. "River's just helping me out some."

Smiling, Simon said sincerely, "I'm glad. Have fun."

"Simon?"

He turned back at River's uncertain question. "Yes, River?"

"Daddy's hurting too."

Though his throat tightened, Simon managed to say, "I know River. We're, we're going to get help, I promise."

Obviously relieved, she nodded and turned towards the engine, chattering softly. He met Kaylee's compassionate gaze and smiled faintly before leaving.

* * * *

"You're going to wear out the floor that way."

Mal whirled at Simon's amused observation and found his lover lounging in the doorway, watching him. Flushing a little, he said, "Needs a little wearing."

"Just don't do it all the way to the hull," Simon commented, entering the common room and moving to lean against the counter.

Unable to help the frown, Mal stated, "You're in a good mood."

Simon shrugged. "A better one, at any rate."

"What's going on?"

"Not sure yet. I'm still thinking things over but…can I, can I sleep with you tonight?" Simon asked hesitantly.

Stunned, Mal nodded and agreed, "Of course."

"I know that I haven't been, well, around much for you."

"Simon…"

"No, please. Let me…there's a lot of things I haven't told you, things I still can't go into yet, but Early didn't r-rape me, Mal. He messed with my mind a whole lot and beat me up pretty badly, but he didn't rape me."

Like that was a whole lot better? Mal sighed and said, "We do this at your pace, Simon. Whatever you need."

Simon's laugh was bitter as he said, "Whatever I need? There's a first. Other than you, when has life ever given me what I need?"

There was nothing Mal could say to that, so he stayed silent.

"I'm sorry," Simon said after a moment. "I'm still working on the whole anger thing right now."

"It's all right."

"Not really, but hopefully it will be."

When Simon didn't seem inclined to say anything else, Mal asked, "So, see you tonight?"

Simon nodded and agreed, "Tonight."

Just after the other man left, Zoe's voice came over the comm with, "Captain? You'd better get up here. Ma shong."

Beautiful. When it rained, it poured, even in a vacuum, apparently.

Gritting his teeth, Mal turned his steps to the cockpit. When he got there, Zoe and Wash were staring at a derelict directly in front of them. It was dark and motionless, a bit smaller than Serenity. "Distress beacon?"

"Nope," Wash answered.

"Any bodies floating around this time?"

Zoe shook her head. "No, Sir."

"Any other ships nearby?"

Wash leaned back in his chair and reported, "Not that I can tell."

"Is that a yes or a no, Wash?" Mal snapped.

"It's a no, sir," Wash answered in surprise.

Cursing himself, Mal apologized, "Sorry, Wash."

"No problem. I've got a mite bit of déjà vu myself right now."

"Little more than a mite," Zoe muttered.

That laser cannon had set them all back quite a penny and the possibility of a real salvage job was just too tempting. Sighing to himself, Mal ordered, "Bring us closer, but don't lock on just yet. We want a peck on the cheek, not a shotgun wedding."

"Got it."

As Serenity pulled closer, the reason for the derelict was obvious. There was a gaping hole in the side of the ship where the engines should have been.

"Zoe, run the call letters and see what's the deal," Mal ordered quietly. "Wash, get us a bit closer on the port side."

They both hopped to and Mal eyed the wreck with a critical gaze. Pressing the comm, he ordered, "Kaylee, Jayne, get up to the cockpit."

"Right there, Mal."

"Coming, Cap'n."

It was only a couple of minutes before they both arrived and Mal let them take a look out the forward view.

"Salvage?" Jayne asked in a hopeful voice.

Mal nodded. "Thinkin' so. Zoe? What do you have?"

"Nothing, sir. Not registered at all that I can find," Zoe answered.

A grin surfaced and Mal commented, "Well now, someone raided a raider and just left her sittin' pretty. Isn't that nice?"

Jayne snorted, pointing out, "With the string of luck we been having, it's probably rigged to blow."

"That's a consideration," Mal allowed. "Kaylee? See anything amiss?"

She shrugged a little and answered, "Hard to tell from here. I'll need to get up close and personal. Seems okay, but I can't be sure."

"You know the model, though?"

"Oh yeah. She's a Vinter, couple steps down from Firefly. Short range transport."

Mal frowned at the information. "Short range? There's not much out here to range between."

"Could've been a trailer," Kaylee mused. "Kinda looks like there was a hook up, there by the rear hatch, see? Sometimes they're attached to a bigger ship and used as extra storage vehicles."

After thinking it over a couple moments, Mal said, "Suit up. We're going to take a look before hooking Serenity up. We don't want a repeat of the last time."

* * * *

Simon watched anxiously from the cockpit as Mal and Kaylee took a walk outside to the wreck. From everyone else's expression, he wasn't the only tense one.

"How's it going, sir?" Zoe asked.

"It's a beautiful day outside, though there is a bit of a chill in the air, or there would be if we had any," Mal answered via the comm.

Simon grinned at the response and shook his head. Typical Mal. "Just make sure that you don't decide on sunbathing, nude or otherwise."

"Why Doctor, I am shocked at the very suggestion. What kind of man do you think I am?"

There was a subtle relaxation in the cockpit at the banter and Simon leaned against the wall, listening to Kaylee and Mal's conversation as they critiqued the wreck. After about twenty minutes, things thankfully remained uneventful as no devices were found. It was another fifteen before Mal was satisfied enough to order Wash to attach Serenity.

Jayne and Zoe suited up to join Mal on the other ship. Simon was still nervous about Mal being over there, but it was more to do with his being in an environmental suit than anything else. If it had been dangerous, Mal wouldn't have brought Serenity in. So he stayed in the cockpit while everyone else went back to whatever it was they'd been doing.

"So, how're you doing, Simon?"

Simon glanced over at Wash with some surprise at the question. They hadn't really talked since the kidnapping, no more than polite conversation around the dinner table anyhow. Simon knew that the sometimes haunted look in the other man's eyes was his fault and so had tried his best to stay out of Wash's way. Finally, he answered, "Fine."

"Now there's a load of tzao gao. You want to tell me what's goin' on?" Wash asked.

Simon half-shrugged and answered, "This isn't something I can really talk about."

"Then there is something to talk about."

Irritated, Simon said, "I appreciate your concern, Wash, truly. This isn't something you can help with though."

"Something you might want to consider here, Simon, before you go and mess things up between you and Mal."

Stiffening at the comment, Simon replied, "What's that?"

"Going to Jayne with your troubles before you go to Mal isn't a great idea. There isn't anything that happens on this ship that he doesn't know about," Wash informed him. "And Mal's not exactly the forgiving type."

Simon's jaw tightened, both at the presumption and Wash's lack of trust in him, and he said, "I'll keep that under advisement."

"You do that."

* * * *

The salvage went off without a hitch, something that Mal always looked cross-eyed at, waiting for the other shoe to drop. There were no bombs, no traps, not even any sharp knives that he could find. It took a while to go through the scow and at the end of it, found nothing of real value to take with them. Well, aside from the ship itself, which would fetch a decent price as scrap, if nothing else.

"All right, let's hook her up proper and get back home," Mal ordered.

Zoe and Jayne nodded and they all went outside to get things in order. That didn't take long, and then, finally, Mal was breathing real air again. It was always a relief when that happened. He enjoyed a space walk as much as any other, well, except Simon of course, but it was nothing compared to the goodness of being on his own ship.

"How much you think we'll get for her?" Jayne asked.

Mal thought about it, then shrugged. "Depends on the market. Could range anywhere from 10 to 30 thousand."

Jayne grimaced, Zoe echoing the expression, as he commented, "That'll barely cover our costs after what we shelled out recently."

"I know, but we'll make do," Mal said.

Zoe observed, "And it's better than nothing."

As she walked away, Mal asked, "Jayne? Can I ask you something?"

Pausing, Jayne looked wistfully at Zoe's retreating back then faced Mal with, "Sure."

"Why'd I see Simon coming from your quarters earlier?"

Jayne's face instantly went blank. "You'll have to ask him."

"I'm asking you."

"And I'm telling you that you need to talk to him about it."

Gritting his teeth, Mal said, "I need to know what's going on, Jayne."

Arms crossed stubbornly over his chest, Jayne countered, "If you come to me with something important, how'd you feel if I went and blabbed to Zoe cause she said she needed to know?"

Though he had a good point, it still went against the grain to admit it.

Jayne sighed. "Look, Mal, he's been hurt and he's trying to find his way around again. Just give him time, okay? And...don't make none of your fuckin' snap judgements. He don't need them. That's all I'm going to say."

Mal watched the big man leave, then rubbed his eyes. It wasn't the fact that Simon had gone to Jayne that bothered him so much, just that he'd gone to the other man first. Why did it always seem like no matter what turn his life took, he always came in second place?

Revelations

Wash walked slowly down the hall from the cockpit. They weren't going anywhere just yet, so he had some time. Time to do what, he wasn't really sure yet. Apologize to Simon? Try and talk to his wife? Find a hole to fall into and never again come out of?

The last idea was sounding pretty damn good.

"Wash?"

Startled by Book's voice, Wash near jumped out of his skin before facing the preacher, hand to his chest. "Yeh soo, Book! Don't do that!"

Book half smiled. "Sorry. Force of habit."

Right. Because preachers always needed to know how to silently stalk someone. Shaking the suspicious thought from his head, Wash asked, "Something I can do for you?"

"Actually, I was thinking there was something I could do for you," Book countered, his smile fading somewhat.

Uh oh. Here it was. The Talk. "Look, Book, I don't need to talk about anything, okay? And, um, I just need to get back to..."

But Book stepped in front of him, blocking the way back to the cockpit, dark eyes more serious than ever as he said, "You do need to talk, Wash. You're practically exploding with the need to vent what's going on inside. You and Zoe barely speak, let alone shared quarters since we found you on that planet. You just hide away in the cockpit and hope that we'll leave you alone. Well that's over now. I should have done this weeks ago, but I kept thinking that you'd come out of your shell on your own."

Arms crossed defensively over his chest, Wash protested, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Wash, son, listen very carefully to me," Book said softly, gripping his shoulder. "You're going to lose Zoe in short order if you don't come to grips with what happened. Even more important, you're going to lose yourself."

"What the fuck would you know about it, Shepherd?" Wash snapped, too angry to apologize for the language.

Book sighed. "I know more than you think. You were helpless. You were abandoned. You couldn't protect Simon. Hell, you couldn't even protect yourself and were helpless to do anything about it. That's tearing you up and you need..."

Shoving the older man against the wall, Wash shouted, "Don't tell me what I need! No one knows what I need, all right?"

"So tell me what you need."

Wash froze, his fingers clenched in Book's shirt as Zoe's voice echoed hard from behind. His mouth worked soundlessly and he stared, panicked, into Book's eyes, willing for a rescue of some kind. He wasn't ready for this, couldn't face her, not so soon.

Book smiled gently and covered his fingers, pulling them free and whispered, "Just tell her, Wash. Be honest, son."

And then he was gone, vanishing down the corridor in that spooky-assed way that no preacher should be able to do.

And Wash was truly alone with Zoe for the first time since leaving Serenity the month before. His back was still to her and his arms crossed again, hugging himself tightly.

"Tell me, Wash. What do you need? Space? To be alone? For me to, to leave? You name it and I'll do it. I just...I can't stand to see you like this, it's killing me!"

Unexpected tears surfaced at the break in her voice and his throat closed, stifling the words aching to get out. He was desperate for her, desperate for her strength, but was such a fucking coward for needing it the way he did. How could he confess to that and still be a man? She wouldn't be able to love a coward, shouldn't have to be tied to one.

"Please, Wash, just tell me."

And there was desperation mixed with the pain, something he'd never wanted to be the cause of for her. It felt like he couldn't draw in a deep enough breath, that he was drowning right then and there. "I-I need..."

She was close behind him at the whisper, her heat stretching towards him in the cold metal hall. A strong, gentle hand touched his back and she whispered, "What, baby, what do you need?"

"I-I need to not be a coward," Wash finished finally, stumbling over the words. "But I can't, Zo, I can't figure out how and that's not right! It's so far beyond not right and you shouldn't, shouldn't be anywhere near a pathetic loser like me."

Shock echoed through her voice as she exclaimed, "A coward? Wash, you're not..."

"I am!" he snarled, facing her at last. Glaring into her wide, dark eyes, he repeated, frustrated, "I am! Zoe, I need you so much, I can't get past what happened. Early, he was fucking nuts and I can't not hear his voice every time the ship gets quiet. I can't not hear him in my head and it's, it's unmanned me!"

"Oh, Wash, baby no, that's not true," Zoe breathed, cupping his face. "Early was a psycho and honey, he's given me more nightmares than I can count. Even those blue handed ta mah duh don't scare me like he did."

"But he's dead! Why can't I just...just...I can't...he's still here, Zoe, in my fucking head!" Wash shouted, pulling at his hair.

Zoe pulled him in and he fought the embrace. They were equally matched, always had been, but she was more determined to hold on to him, than he was to get away. Bruises were dealt on both sides before Wash finally collapsed into her arms, shaking and clinging to his wife...almost as hard as Zoe was clinging to him as she cried her own tears.

* * * *

With everything that had happened, Mal had somehow forgotten that Simon was going to be in his bed. Or, more accurately, had assumed that it wouldn't actually happen since Simon had had the entire evening to think about it. After leaving the cargo area, Mal and Kaylee had had a long talk about what needed fixing most and that had lasted a couple of hours. From there, Inara had waylaid him and discussed her need to get to a client that wasn't too far away.

After that, he'd grabbed something to eat and finally, made his way to his bunk, in the same exhaustion he'd been in since Simon had been kidnapped. It was a never ending fog that he just couldn't seem to snap out of.

So, to find Simon sleeping in his bed was something of a shock. For a few minutes, he just stared at the other man, the tension still evident in his lover's face, even while asleep. Simon had said that Early hadn't raped him, so what the fuck could've happened to drive such a wedge between them? Not that having his mind fucked with wouldn't have been bad, Mal knew all about that himself.

Shaking his head, Mal pulled off his clothes, resting them over a nearby chair, and walked silently to the bed. The shadows under Simon's eyes were even darker now that he was asleep. They looked bruised and the other man seemed almost ill, he was so pale. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Mal brushed his fingers over Simon's hair and whispered, "Why won't you talk to me, Simon?"

There was no answer, not that he expected one, and Mal slowly climbed under the covers, daring to wrap himself around his lover for the first time in over a month.

* * * *

It was strangely easy to wake up in Mal's arms. Simon had thought it would feel different this time around, but it didn't. There was only the sense of comfort and love, nothing of restraint or confinement. He'd been so afraid that waking up like this would send him over the edge of some kind. Maybe he'd been putting something off that hadn't needed to be put off after all.

"Simon?"

Then again...

"I can feel you're awake."

Shit. Sighing, Simon answered, "Yes?"

"I love you."

Simon stiffened, not having expected that. Emotion clogged his throat and suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to cling to his lover, to know that Mal would love him no matter what. "Mal..."

"C'mere, love," Mal ordered softly, kissing the back of Simon's neck.

Turning, Simon plastered himself to Mal's bare chest, holding tight and burying his face in the crook of Mal's shoulder and throat. His breath hitched as Mal's arms surrounded him and held him fiercely.

"You can tell me anything, Simon, I'll never judge you. I love you more than anything and this last time without you...it was the depths of hell for me. Please, please let me in. I can't help if you won't let me in and I want so much to help you."

Simon was silent at first, not sure if Mal meant what he said. Sometimes, it didn't matter what someone meant at one point. Once they found out the truth, there was so much revulsion or anger or horror at what had happened that they couldn't separate what had been done from whom it had been done to. It was something that Simon knew he couldn't bear to happen.

If Mal looked at him with any of those things, Simon would just die.

"Simon, please."

Taking a breath, Simon began, haltingly, "I-I was raped."

Mal stilled completely. "But you said..."

"It wasn't Early," Simon interrupted. "It was the Alliance, when they had me last year. Early fucked with my head just enough that I couldn't suppress it anymore."

"Oh God, Simon," Mal whispered, horrified.

"I'd been broken in every other way, Mal. My fingers, you know about. M-my skin, they t-tore my skin from my body, Mal, tore it off, then resealed it. They'd broken my legs, twice, and they'd beaten me to the point of internal injuries. I had surgery to recover from it and lost a kidney to it."

"Jesus."

Simon chuckled shakily and said, only a little bitter, "No, Mal, he had nothing to do with it. Did, um, did you want me to keep going?"

Mal was silent, obviously struggling though Simon couldn't see the expression in the darkness. He could practically feel the fury running through the other man looking for some kind of outlet. After an eternity, Mal finally said, "Yeah."

"Th-there were um, I think there were six of them, but I'm not sure. They uh, they took turns and, and it hurt so much, Mal. I thought I was going to die, maybe I did, I don't know. It went on forever and I couldn't think at all, just feel everything they did to me. I think they drugged me, too, I don't remember ever being that out of control but still so sensitized in my life," Simon whispered, barely getting the words out.

Simon thought he was going to go crazy when Mal didn't say anything. There were no words, condemning, angry, bitter, pained, or otherwise. In the dark, Simon couldn't tell what was going on with his lover. Actually, Mal was so good at keeping his face expressionless that he probably wouldn't have been able to see what Mal was thinking even in full daylight. "Mal?"

Then Simon felt it. A tear dropped onto Simon's face. He knew instinctively what it was, even before the shudder ran through the other man. Simon's arms tightened around Mal and he clung to his lover, soothing, "Ssh, it's okay. It's over, Mal, and I'm, I'm fine. You saved me, you got me out of there and brought me home."

Mal's fingers clenched into Simon's shoulders, bruising as he shook so hard that Simon thought he might fall apart. Of all the reactions possible, Simon hadn't expected this one. He'd thought Mal would start ranting or maybe start plotting revenge of some kind even though those who'd done it were already dead. So he held Mal through the wracking, silent sobs; held him while the other man vented his grief and pain, probably even shame, at having failed Simon.

When Mal could talk, the words confirmed what Simon was thinking.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I should have found you sooner, should never have let you go to the fucking planet in the first place," Mal whispered hoarsely.

Rubbing Mal's back, finding it strangely strengthening to be the comforter instead of the comforted, Simon whispered back, "You can't always protect me, Mal. The only way to make sure nothing bad ever happens is if I'm dead...and...and I don't want that, not any more."

Mal's breath hitched and he clung even tighter. "God, Simon, please don't say that, please, I couldn't bear it if you left me!"

"It's okay, I won't, I swear," Simon promised, kissing the damp, sweaty cheek and tasting the salt of tears there. "I was close for a while, but..."

"Jayne talked you out of it."

"More like showed me I didn't want to really do it."

"I'm sorry."

"I know."

They were silent then and after a long time, Simon felt Mal drift into an exhausted sleep, becoming so much deadweight in his arms. What a horrid expression, Simon mused vaguely. When someone sleeps, it does seem like they get heavier, but why wouldn't it be sleepweight or dreamweight? Why does everything go to the most violent or depressing explanation?

Human nature, he supposed.

Simon knew he was a long way from being back to where he was before remembering things, before the entire thing had happened. Knew that, actually, he was still repressing some things and fully intended that they stayed buried. Not healthy psychologically speaking, perhaps, but what purpose would it really serve for him to know everything?

Still and all, a burden had been released in telling Mal what had really happened. It was only the first step towards healing, but a step nonetheless.