It was the oddest gorram thing. He'd thought for sure that once the Captain took up with Simon, Mal would get soft. Now, true, it hadn't been all that long since they'd got together, but there was no sign of the Captain losing his edge so far.

Course, not like the Doc was one to be all emotional hisself, cause he never had been. Wet behind the ears, yeah, even a bit prissy sometimes. But other than where is sister was concerned, Simon was pretty much all business.

Jayne sighed, thumping his head soft against the wall.

"Problem, Jayne?"

Jayne looked over at Shepard standing in the doorway and shrugged. "Don't rightly know."

Seeming interested, the older man entered the rest of the way into the galley. He sat across from Jayne at the table. "Why don't you tell me and we'll figure out if there's a problem?"

Though suspicious of clergy in any form, Jayne had found Book Shepard not like any other clergy he'd ever met. And the tone hadn't been lecturous, just helpful. "Well...it's the Cap'n."

"What about him?"

"He ain't gone soft like I thought he would. You know, since Simon," Jayne clarified.

Book's eyes lit with understanding. "I do know, yes. So you thought that allowing himself to show love for someone would take away his edge?"

Jayne nodded. "That's it exactly! I thought...I thought that to stay hard, and focused, and, and driven, love couldn't be nowhere in a man's vocabulary."

"That's a prevalent way of thinking," Book agreed. "But a lot of people, myself included, think that loving someone, and being loved, gives you a strength found nowhere else."

Frowning, Jayne observed, "If that's so, you'd never have it."

Shepard grinned and countered, "I already do, Jayne. My love is for God and the new family He has blessed me with. And that includes you, Jayne."

Jayne shifted uncomfortably. "So, you don't think it puts a body at a disadvantage say, to love someone?"

The smile faded. "I didn't say that. Love, like any emotion, can be used against you. Let's take Simon for example. What do you suppose would happen if someone took River and said that for Simon to get her back unharmed, he'd have to kill an innocent person. What do you think he'd do?"

Well that didn't even take no thinking at all. "He'd kill, no question."

Shepard held up a hand. "Think on it a little longer, Jayne. This is Simon. Not you, or Zoe, or even Kaylee. He was raised to preserve life at all costs."

Puzzled, Jayne shook his head. "He'd kill whoever it took to get River back."

"So he would go against everything he believes in, all the ideals and principals he's ever held, and kill an innocent person to get River back."

"Well, yeah."

Shepard smiled a bit sadly. "I don't think you know our doctor very well, Jayne. Be that as it may, the point I was trying to make is that loving someone does leave you vulnerable for that love to be used against you."

"So why do it? Why give anyone a soft spot to poke?"

"Because the reward is so great, Jayne," Shepard answered earnestly. "To feel love fill you, whether romantic, familiar, or Godly, is a state of being like no other. All you need is Love, an Earth That Was songmaster wrote, and he was right. Your life can be a wreck, you could have no money or prospects, but if you have love, then you have everything you'll ever really need."

Jayne stared at the other man, thinking hard on the words since Shepard seemed so serious about them. Finally, she shook his head. "Nope. Sorry, Shepard, I just don't believe that. I'll allow as how it might not be the worst thing I thought it was, but you can't feed an empty belly with love and be happy about it."

Shepard laughed, not at all offended. "That's all right, Jayne. I enjoyed the discussion."

Jayne was glad that someone had because he was almost as confused as when the other man had sat down.

* * * *

God, I'm getting soft.

Mal sighed, shifting to get more of Simon's heat along his bare skin, especially his feet. For such a slender man, the Doc was made like a human furnace. He'd always been on the cold side himself, so it worked out real well.

"Would you kindly stop using me to warm your feet on?"

At least on his side. Mal grinned at the querulous tone. He loved that tone. It meant that Simon was irritated, but not enough to do anything about it. It also meant that Mal was successfully getting under his skin. Wouldn't do to let the Doc get all complacent-like now, would it? Simon coughed, jabbing an elbow into Mal's side and causing him to groan. "Anyone ever tell you how bony you are, Doc?"

Scratching absently at his arm, Simon grinned up at Mal and replied, "Can't say as they have, no. And what were you sighing about, anyhow?"

Sighing? "I didn't sigh."

"Okay. You didn't sigh."

What was that about getting under Simon's skin? This time, Mal did sigh. "I was thinking I was getting soft."

Simon started laughing, eyes bright as he gasped, "You? Soft?"

Scowling, Mal complained, "And this is why I don't go sharing my thoughts with no one."

The laughter died out almost right away, though the eyes remained bright as Simon apologized, "I'm sorry, that was unkind of me. But Malcolm, how on earth do you figure that you're getting soft? I don't understand."

Not totally mollified, Mal was tempted not to answer. Then, seeing the honest warmth and affection staring back at him, he gave in. "I'm lying in bed with you."

"Right. And?"

"And nothing. I should've been out and about an hour back," Mal stated. "There are things on this ship that need doing you know. She doesn't fly herself."

"I see."

Mal stared at him suspiciously, but that's all Simon said as he resettled his lanky frame against the bed instead of Mal. "What're you doing? And that's it? 'I see?'"

Pillowing his head with his arm, Simon replied, "I'm giving you room so you can get up, what does it look like? And yes, that's it. What did you think I'd say?"

The suspicion grew and Mal flipped onto his side to face Simon, putting a proprietary hand on the other's smooth chest. "Not just, 'I see.' But I don't know what exactly."

Simon put his hand over Mal's and suggested, "How about, you work harder than any ten people I know and never let up? How about, you're a hard-assed son of a bitch who wouldn't know how to ease off if you were given explicit instructions? How about, taking time now and again for your own, personal comfort, for no other reason than it feels good, will never, not in a millenia, make you soft? Would that be better?"

Mal grinned and leaned over, covering Simon's body with his. "For starters."

Laughing, Simon pushed him away and rolled out of bed.

Confused, Mal demanded, "Where are you going?"

"I have to get to work. Not all of us are slug-a-beds, you know. I happen to have this slave driver captain as a boss."

"Why you little leh suh!"

Simon shouted in surprise and happiness as Mal grabbed him and threw him back on the bed.

* * * *

It was a goodly time later that Mal walked into the cockpit, nursing a bruised shoulder, but with a spring to his step.

Wash looked up from his dinos and grinned. "Mornin', Cap'n."

"Morning, Wash. How's things?" Mal asked, still rubbing his shoulder as he took co-chair.

"Going just fine," Wash answered. "Hurt yourself?"

Mal smirked. "Simon's a mite heavier than he looks."

Chuckling, Wash said, "I'll take your word for it. Now, my Zoe is light as a feather."

Mal arched an eyebrow at him. "And does your wife know that you've got a mistress tucked away somewhere?"

"No, sir, I didn't," Zoe answered from behind. "Thanks for the bulletin."

Mal nodded to her as she leaned against the wall behind Wash, who was looking distinctly nervous. "Happy to oblige. How's our passenger doing?"

With a grimce, Zoe replied, "Comfortable, sir."

"Still not keeping his hands to himself?" Mal guessed.

Zoe shrugged. "Wasn't. Will be now, though."

Mal paused, eyeing his second in command thoughtfully. "He does still have his hands, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"And attached to his arms still?"

"Yes, sir."

After another moment observing her, Mal shrugged. "All right then."

* * * *

The third time Jayne walked past the open hatch of Inara's shuttle, she called his name. Almost immediately, his head popped inside.

"Yeah, Inara?"

She remained seated, looking up at the large man thoughtfully. "Is there something I can help you with, Jayne?"

"No. Why?"

"Because that's the third time in as many minutes that you've walked by my door," she replied gently. There was something hesitant in the gruff man this afternoon and that was so unusual that she didn't want to scare him off.

Sticking his hands in his front pockets, rocking a bit back and forth, as he looked for the right words, Jayne suddenly seemed a large child to Inara. Considering how little self-control the man had, she thought perhaps it was an apt comparison.

"Have you ever been in love?"

There were a great many things Inara expected to hear from Jayne, but that question had never, not once, appeared on the list. Trying to stifle her surprise, Inara answered, "I have. Why do you ask?"

"Real love? Like, the kind where you'd die for that person if it kept 'em safe?"

Frowning now, Inara motioned to the empty chair opposite her. After a pause, Jayne sat and she questioned, "Why do you want to know?"

"Cause I never have," Jayne stated honestly. "I always thought Mal and me were a lot a like, but...now him and Simon...I don't know. I ain't never seen nothin' like it. So, I'm wondering if maybe it's me. See?"

Strangely, Inara did see. Jayne was a very straight-forward man, almost simple in the black and white way he viewed things. Mal had never before shown any kind of the 'lighter' emotions, not for as long as she'd known him at any rate. Therefore, if Jayne didn't, or hadn't ever, felt the same, there was something deficient in himself.

Leaning back in her chair, Inara said at last, "What Mal and Simon share is a rare gift, Jayne. Not a lot of people get to have that kind of connection."

"But, have you?"

And then it struck her that somehow, he likened them along the same lines as well. Though surprised, Inara could understand how he would draw the comparison. She'd never made any bones about what she did and didn't take any shit from anyone about it. Though of course, she didn't draw a gun every time someone insulted her as Jayne did. Her weapons were words and withholding the favor of being with her.

His earnest question and troubled expression touched Inara as nothing he'd ever done before, caused her to answer just as honestly. "No, Jayne, I haven't."

Though he seemed surprised, Jayne brightened almost immediately. "Oh. Okay then."

Smiling at his relief, Inara asked, "Was there anything else?"

Jayne stood. "Nope. That's it. Thanks."

He was gone before she could reply. Shaking her head in amusement, Inara returned to her reading.

* * * *

"Simon's sick."

Mal looked up at River's solemn statement. The girl was hanging upside-down the ladder-port, her hair swaying like a curtain in a breeze. Frowning, Mal asked, "Sick, how?"

River shrugged, a distinctly odd sight with her being upside-down. "Sick, sick. Hot sick. Itchy sick. Hurting sick. Needs you."

Mal was on his feet and at the ladder before River was finished speaking. She pulled out of the way to let him up. He placed a hand on her shoulder and ordered, "You get to bed now, I'll take care of it."

Nodding trustfully, River kissed his cheek and replied brightly, "Night, Daddy."

Grinning, something those words always provoked, Mal said, "Night, River. Sleep well."

He watched her go, then headed resolutely towards the infirmary. Simon had rebuffed him earlier, stating he had work to do, and Mal had bought it, hook, line and sinker. No such doin', now. Long strides and skipped stairs shortened the short trip and he was at the door not tow minutes after River's declaration. The door, however, was shut and locked, barring entry. The normally translucent windows were tinted dark as well, preventing anyone from seeing inside. "Simon? Open up!"

"No!"

Did that miserable voice belong to the same man who'd been laughing in Mal's bed just that morning? "Open the door. River said you were sick."

"I am. That's why it's shut. I've enabled the quarantine measures."

A bolt of fear shot through Mal at the calm, if depressed, words. "Why? What do you have?"

"I don't know!"

Lots of frustration in three simple words. "Okay. Describe your symptoms. Maybe I've come across it somewheres."

"I itch like a fiend and have these raised welts, blisters or a rash of some kind, all over my body! I've got a fever and feel horrible!"

Mal frowned. That sounded an awful lot like... "You've got Chicken pox?"

"Of course not!" Simon exclaimed indignantly. "I've been immunized against it!"

A dark amusement surfaced and Mal grinned. "Well now, normally, that'd be fine for you if you were sticking to living on a core planet. But Simon, I've never known a Core vaccination to stand up to colony exposure. And you've been on more colonies lately than I can shake a stick at."

There was a very long silence before the door slid open. Mal tried not to laugh, but the sight of Simon all botchy and red proved too much for his self control.

"I have Chicken Pox!?" Simon demanded furiously.

Mafully getting a hold on his laughter, Mal stepped over and took a good, fairly serious, look. "Yep. You surely do, Doc."

"I have Chicken Pox!?"

"Now, Simon..."

"Don't you dare try to placate me about this! Not when you could've warned me and I could have made myself a proper vaccine from one of you!" Simon shouted. "I have Chicken Pox!? Get away! Get out of my ruttin' infirmary!"

And with that, Simon spun around and the door slid shut again.

* * * *

Mal looked blearily at his assembled crew, yawning and rubbing his eyes. He'd spent the night tossing and turning, unable to sleep without Simon in his bed, if not his arms. How had he gotten so used to the other man's presence so quickly?

"Lover's spat, sir?"

Zoe's neutral question and somber expression belied the spark of mischief in her dark eyes.

Mal snorted. "Nothin' so easy to fix. The Doc's gone and got himself the Chicken Pox. Need to know who here hasn't had it before."

Jayne started laughing. Having had the exact same reaction, it wasn't rightly something Mal could call him on. Still, he glared at the other man strongly enough to banish the outright guffaws.

"Is Simon okay, Cap'n?" Kaylee asked, worried.

"Well, for all the fact I only saw him about thirty seconds before getting the door slammed in my face, I couldn't rightly say," Mal answered dryly. "But I expect he'll be fine."

"Even at his age?" she pressed, tugging on a lock of her hair.

Mal frowned and asked, "What do you mean?"

Inara stepped in with, "For an adult, getting the disease can be dangerous, sometimes fatal."

Stiffening, Mal demanded, "Are you sure?"

"It's true, sir. Family friend of ours died of it when I was young," Zoe added.

And didn't it just figure that even his lover getting sick couldn't go smooth?

* * * *

"Simon? Come on, now, let me in I said."

Simon shook his head then added for the other man's benefit, "No!"

"I need to make sure you're okay."

Shifting on the hard, narrow bed that he'd occupied for the last day or so, Simon repeated, louder, "No! Now go away so I can be miserable in peace and quiet!"

There was a long silence, then, "Dr. Tam. Open this door or I will have it opened for you."

Furious that Mal would pull rank on him, Simon got off the bed and keyed the door open. To his surprise, it was Captain Reynolds on the other side, not Mal. Most people had trouble telling the difference, but Simon never did. "What?"

"You ever pull another stunt like that and the Serenity will find herself another doctor, we clear?"

Simon got back on the bed, pulling the blankets over himself.

Mal stared at him intently. "Are we clear?"

"Yes! All right? Perfectly clear, Captain," Simon snapped. "I'm sick, not dying. I just want some quiet to be by myself, is that too much to ask?"

"When you could've took a bad turn and none of us able to get in without a lot of trouble, yes, it is," Mal answered.

Seeing it in that light, Simon could understand the Captain's privilege in ordering the door unlocked. Reluctantly, he said, "Fine. I understand. Now, can I try and get back to sleep?"

The eyes softened and Mal replaced the Captain. The very distinctiveness of the two sometimes made Simon wonder if maybe the other man was borderline split personality.

"Kaylee and the others say it can be a right bad illness for adults. Are you okay?" Mal asked quietly.

Curling up under the blankets, trying to ignore the hot itchiness covering his body that the antihistamines just couldn't seem to stop, Simon sighed. "I'm fine. Going insane with not scratching, but fine. The fever is manageable and the blisters are clear of infection."

"Good, good," Mal commented, approaching the bed. He held out a small brown bottle.

Simon frowned and asked, "What's that?"

Grinning suddenly, Mal replied, "Don't ask. My mom's recipe for stopping the itch. You look like a patchwork quilt, but it works."

Interested despite himself, Simon sat up and took the bottle. Opening the cap, he took a sniff then immediately wished he hadn't as his eyes watered. "Whoa! What is it?"

"Like I said, don't ask," Mal reminded. "Take off your shirt. I'll cover you in it."

Simon stared at him suspiciously, but there was only a slight expression of worry on the other's face so he pulled off his shirt. Mal whistled at the revelation of just how covered in blisters and rashes Simon's body was.

"Damn, Doc. This isn't going to be enough, is it?"

* * * *

"Hey, Kaylee."

Jayne startled her so bad that Kaylee whacked her head on the engine. Cursing in a mix of languages, Kaylee waited until the stars receded before letting go of her head to look over at Jayne. The big man was standing in the engine room doorway. "Hey, Jayne. What's up?"

"Nothing."

Kaylee waited, but when the man didn't continue, she shrugged and went back to work.

"Kaylee?"

Patient-like, Kaylee scratched her cheek, not caring about the smudge it left, and looked back at Jayne. "Yeah?"

"What do you think about love?"

Kaylee's jaw didn't exactly drop, but it was a close one. "What do I think about it? That it's great. Why? You in love with someone?"

Jayne shook his head. "Nah. Just wonderin'. You don't think maybe it's a weakness?"

Thoughtful, Kaylee got out from under the engine, crossed the room, snagged Jayne by the shirt and dragged him inside then shut the engine room hatch. "All right. Give. Who is it?"

Staring at her like she had two heads, Jayne insisted, "No one! Just been thinking on it is all."

"Jayne. This is you. For it to have even entered your mind, there has to be someone involved. Or, someone you want to be involved anyhow. So give," Kaylee demanded, crossing her arms over her chest.

Scowling, Jayne shook his head. "I'm not ruttin' in love with no one, okay? Gorram fool. Shoulda known better than to come here!"

Kaylee raced after him, jumping in front and blocking the door, holding up a hand to ward him off. "Wait, I'm sorry. You just surprised me is all."

He gave her a suspicious look, but didn't shove her out of the way, which he'd done plenty times in the past. "Well? What do you think?"

Lowering her hand, Kaylee thought about it for a second, then answered, "It's not a weakness."

"Why not?"

"Because. If it was, why would anyone ever do it? And everyone does, or they want to at least," Kaylee pointed out.

Thoughtful now, Jayne nodded slowly. "That's true."

"Why the sudden interest?" Kaylee questioned curiously.

Jayne shrugged. "It's been preyin' on me a bit. Won't let go."

Interested for real now, Kaylee asked, "Why not? What's got you?"

"Zoe's not weak and neither is the Captain."

Kaylee nodded, waiting for more. When none came, she prompted, "And?"

"And they're in love, right?"

"Right."

"Wash and Simon, though, they're not, well, I wouldn't say sissified or nothing, but, not so strong as Zoe and Mal, you know?" Jayne asked.

A bit confused, Kaylee replied, "Are you wondering which category you'd fall into if you fell in love?"

"Maybe. A little."

Nonplused, Kaylee stated, "Well, Jayne, it's not like you're gonna change from the hard-ass jerk you are now into someone else just cause you fall in love."

He frowned. "People change because of it."

Kaylee shook her head and said firmly, "No, I don't think so. The Captain just about killed you when you sold out Simon and River, right? And don't forget about Niska's torture. He was just the same as that before Simon came on board. Hasn't changed a whit except with Simon hisself. Come to think on it, you'd probably be more of an asshole if you ever fell in love."

"Yeah? How do you figure?" Jayne asked keenly.

Grinning, Kaylee answered, "Because you're right possessive and an irritable bastard by nature. I really doubt that'll ever change. No matter what. You'd probably start a fight for someone just looking wrong at your, ah, special someone."

Jayne echoed the grin. "Hey thanks, Kaylee."

"Anytime."

* * * *

Three bottles of nasty smelling but effective lotion later, Simon was starting to feel, if not look, human again. Mal carefully applying the lotion with a soft bandage was oddly soothing to Simon. He wasn't sure why, maybe just because it meant there really was something to what they had. Aside from the initial laughing fit the day before, Mal had been scrupulously attentive.

"There. That's the last gorram one."

Simon looked down at Mal who was lounging back on his hands staring up at him. "Thank you. The itchiness is nearly gone, thank God."

"Nope. Thank Ma Reynolds," Mal corrected with a grin, getting to his feet. "Now, there's just one more thing."

Curious, Simon asked, "What's that?"

"You have to close your eyes and keep them closed until I say otherwise, okay? I'm going to put something on your hands."

The innocent tone was enough to set off Simon's warning bells, but so far everything Mal had done had worked, so he nodded.

"Promise."

"I promise."

"Well? Close your eyes then!"

Chuckling, Simon did so and held out his hands. A few moments later, his right hand was encased in something soft and warm. He frowned, wiggling his fingers and trying to figure out what it was and failing. It was only another moment until his left hand was similarly swathed and he asked impatiently, "Can I look now?"

"Just about, hang on."

Something tightened around each wrist individually. Frowning, Simon demanded, "Now?"

"Okay, now," Mal agreed.

Opening his eyes, Simon stared at his hands in disbelief. "Oh no, Malcolm, there is no way!"

Studiously keeping a straight face, Mal replied, "It keeps you from scarring."

Simon waved his mittened and thumbless hands furiously in front of the other man's face. "That's because I can't do anything with my hands!"

"Exactly."

"Mal, take them off!"

"Nope."

"Yes!"

"You'll thank me for this later."

"Get out! You son of a bitch! Take...these...damned...son of a...Fuck!"

* * * *

River paused curiously outside the infirmary as a loud crash resounded from within. Simon was shouting and it looked through the window like Mal was only narrowly ducking a surprisingly accurate barrage of missiles from her agitated brother.

Especially since Simon was wearing ridiculously large and floppy mittens.

Whistling, happier than she'd been in a good long while, River turned and headed back to her rooms.

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