FIC: Imbued

by kirby crow

Archive: No, but email me if you want it for your archive. :)

Feedback: Gimme some love!

Pairing: Simon/Jayne - Mal angst and longing. (whee!)

Rating: NC-17

Spoilers: for "Ariel".

Disclaimers: Firefly belongs to Joss. I'm not making any money from this, but I am having a whole lotta fun.

Summary: Things that are hidden, things that remain.

Author's note: This is sort of my swan song for the crew -- not that I'm not going to write anymore Firefly fanfic - I am! -- that I began after UPN and then SciFi turned the series down. :(

*midnightblue - it IS your birthday! :)

by kirby crow

Silent echoes. Were they present? Past? Future? No data, but she was used to them. Familiar sounds, known personalities, the heat of bodies and that other, elusive energy of aura and presence;

*-- Don't go too close to the fire.*

*--Be honest for once in your life and I'll forget about Ariel.*

*--Strikes me as maybe I know why you're being so damn fair.*

*--Too fancy for Jayne.*

*--You just happened to be there.*

*--just happened to be there...*

*--happened to be there...*

Silent but not mute, *Serenity* glided toward the gravity well of the dun-brown planet below.


It didn't matter how coarse and shoddy these isolated, backwater worlds were -- habitually being a million miles away from the nearest store made a body change their shopping habits. When a spacing crew makes planetfall, the first thing they look for is supplies. Some of those items could be pretty vital. Some, not so much.

Before he left the ship, Simon told River about the nature of his errand. She stared at him with all the grave disapproval a seventeen-year-old could muster.

"Doesn't deserve it," she stated.

"Yes, he does."

"Simple Simon."

"I know what I'm doing, mei-mei."

That gave her pause, and the pupils of her dark, wide-set eyes expanded to take him in whole, examining, analyzing, concluding...

"No. You don't know anything. Never did." But she came close and stroked his hair, his face, her fingers trailing over his nose. "Not simple," she said in apology. "Trusting. Too trusting. Don't go too close to the fire. You'll get burned."

"I won't."

A smile suddenly flowed across her features, light breaking across a solemn horizon. She touched her lips to his chin swiftly, a little bird-peck of a kiss. "You will, but that's the way Simon learns. He always did things the hard way."


Malcolm Reynolds had a standing rule for planetside excursions; go in pairs or don't go at all. These remote colonies didn't cotton to strangers, and a lone crewman might as well be a walking target. When Simon asked for an escort, Mal didn't hesitate. He could think of worse company for a sunny afternoon, and his opinion of the doc had changed long before Ariel. Ever since he had seen Simon standing on that pyre ready to die with his sister. Something like that took more than courage. It required fatalism, a quality not many folk knew how to appreciate fully. When death came calling for Simon Tam, there would be no cries of -why me? Just -who else?

Mal watched Simon out of the corner of his eye, his innate appreciation for beauty noting the gentle curves of his face, the patrician nose and full mouth. Fine, black hair. Dark lashes shuttering timid, blue-green eyes.

*Timid most of the time, that is. I know the type, seen `em on Hera. Young land-owners -- the aristocrats of the Independents -- forced onto the battlefield to protect what was theirs. Manners and a gun, gentry whittled down to footsoldiers. Scratch that pretty exterior and you'll find a will made of diamond.*

And did he have to be so damned pretty?

Mal knew he was being obvious, or rather, he *would* have been obvious if Simon had been paying the slightest bit of attention to him.

Simon seemed to linger at the stalls that sold clothing and oddments, his eyes searching the hanging racks positioned behind the dealers, fingers straying across sun-warmed fabric. There was plenty to choose from, yet Simon always shook his head and moved on, frustrated by not finding what he sought.

The market districts on the outer rim worlds were riotous with color, even if the hues were a bit faded and the textures tattered, but to Simon Tam, who had been staring at metal hull plating and cloudy flourescent light for months, it was beautiful. It almost reminded him of the gaudy street carnivals back home, everything too bright and tacky and cheaply made. River had laughed at the colors and loved them. He had never known why until now.

After the perusal of the seventh or eight clothing stall, Mal abruptly stopped and refused to move. Simon gave him a puzzled glance. "Something wrong, captain?"

"It might help if you tell me what you're looking for," Mal said. He appeared amused when Simon's pale skin flushed and he nervously ran his fingers over a bolt of cherry-red velvet on the scratched and weather-worn counter.

"It's... actually, it's kind of personal."

Simon wondered why the light suddenly went out of Mal's face. "Oh. Something for Kaylee," Mal said. "Well, maybe we can find her a nice calico print. That there," he pointed to the cherry velvet "would only make her look silly."

Simon's embarrassment peaked. "It's not for Kaylee."

Mal cocked his head a little to the side. "Oh?"

"It's for ..." he trailed off.

Now Mal was doubly intrigued. "What? Spit it out."

"I still owe Jayne a shirt," he blurted.

Mal averted his eyes before the doctor could see the bright flash of anger in them. *Gorram traitor doesn't deserve you to look like that when you think about him. Your face gets so...*

"Just grab anything that looks like it would fit a gorilla," Mal snapped. "It's not like he's going to notice."

Simon nodded thoughtfully, not at all perturbed. "That's what I would have done before Ariel, but... Captain, you should have seen him. He was-"

"Amazing. I know. I heard."

"I can never repay him for what he did, but I'd like to try and show him how much I," he began to stutter. "I mean we... River and I, appreciate it."

Simon stared when Captain Reynolds turned back to him and he saw the wrath plainly on his face; the narrowed, laser-blue eyes and the hard line of his mouth. He gripped Simon's upper arm hard enough to cruise and steered him firmly away from the booth.

"Oh," he said through clenched teeth, hurrying Simon off. "I'm sure he knows that already."



Sweat rolled off the mercenary's brow as he pushed the iron barbell up, away from him, his broad back splayed against the plastic pad of the weight bench. Sinew rippled in his forearms as he worked easily, muscles sliding fluidly under skin. He spared a glance for the dark-haired young man standing so quiet and uncertain over him.

"Whut?" he asked without breaking pace.

"Um," Simon held out a flat package. It wasn't frilly or tied with bows, simply a flat package wrapped in gray paper, a darker gray satin band holding box closed.

Jayne parked the weights in their niche and sat up, droplets clinging to his short beard. "What's all this?"

"Your shirt." Simon said, then winced. *You shouldn't tell someone what's in the box before they open it. Bad manners, and it sort of makes the box ridiculous.* Jayne's forehead wrinkled like he couldn't understand a shirt being in a box. *Perhaps where he comes from they cut it straight off the horse and wear it until it fits*, Simon thought, then was ashamed of himself. This was the brave man who had saved his life - his *sister's* life. His fragile, precious sister.

Jayne looked confused, then his brow smoothed out and he chuckled. "If that don't beat all." He took the box eagerly from Simon and pushed the wrapping aside, tearing it carelessly, but the silver band he unwound carefully and pocketed before he opened the package. His hands reached in.


"Wow. Uh, thanks... I think."

"You don't like it."

"No," Jayne looked up in time to see Simon's expression change. "I mean... uh... no," he amended. "No no. I like it fine, its just..."

"Is it the color?"

"The color's dandy."

Simon actually fidgeted, his head down, and Jayne fought down a surge of shame. *Gorramn boy thinks the sun shines out of my ears. Stupid stupid...*

"Hell, doc, where am I ever gonna wear this? I mean it's..." He smoothed his wide hand down the soft, midnight-blue fabric and looked up at the young man gazing at him with such an adoring expression. "It's too fancy-like for me. Don't you think?"

Simon began to look hopeful again. "I don't think so. The material is a bit too nice for working wear, but the cut is plain. I think it would make you look..." he cast about for a word.

"Like a sheep walking on its hind legs?"

Simon grinned, and Jayne's heart went into his throat. The kid was really sweet-looking when he smiled, which wasn't often. Another twinge of shame. He wasn't innocent there, either. A little rich can cover up a whole lot of stupid, but the Feds turned on him and he was left with nothing, not even a good enough lie to sell to the captain. For a moment, Jayne pondered what Mal might have done to him if the Tams had been lost on Ariel, and an involuntary chill raced up his spine. No power in the `verse would have stopped Mal from spacing him. None.

"I ain't exactly been your best friend since you set foot on this boat."

One of Simon's fine eyebrows arched. "Not in words, no, but what you did for us on Ariel-"

"Where'd you get it?" Jayne interrupted.

"The shirt? Some shop planetside. I forget the name. Why?"

"Huh? Oh," Jayne fumbled. "No reason." *I was just jumpin' in to stop your yammerin' about Ariel.* "Thought maybe I should get you something," he finished lamely.

Simon put a hand on his shoulder. "That's not necessary."

The voice speaking the words was gentle, as was the hand on Jayne's skin. Simon's fingers pressed softly before reluctantly withdrawing.


"That was quite a scene."

With a shy nod, Simon had retreated back to his medical bay. Jayne didn't turn as Mal approached behind him. He had been aware of him since before the doctor entered the cargo bay, had heard his quiet breath as he stood hidden by the shadows and listened to everything. Jayne busied himself with folding the crisp, fresh-smelling, shirt on his lap.

"Kid just won't leave me alone. You know what I always say; if you can't beat `em-"

"Arrange to have them beaten?"

Jayne snorted in amusement, but it quickly died when he saw the look on Mal's face. "He did this on his own. Weren't my idea, Mal."

"No doubt. Not even you would be that much of a rutting bastard, to take advantage of that boy's gratitude. His greatly undeserved gratitude."

"What do you want from me? I told you I was sorry."

Mal crossed his arms and leaned against an iron strut. "There's two ways I feel about this, Jayne. One way feels like spacing you out the nearest airlock."

"Damn near went that route," Jayne grunted.

"So I did," Mal admitted without regret. "The other way feels that we all make mistakes. I've made `em. Never did meet a man who had this life thing all figured out yet. The way I see it, everyone's entitled to a second chance. Or third or fifth. It can't ever be too late to stop doing wrong Jayne, or else why bother to keep living? We might as well give up the first time we fall." He came closer and put his hands on either side of the weight bench, leaning down to stare Jayne in the eye.

Jayne involuntarily recoiled, unused to someone Mal's modest size - or anyone - pushing into his personal space so fearlessly. Folk usually took one look at him and thought better of that, of a lot of things.

"Here's the deal; I don't tell so long as you don't hurt him. If you want to invite him down to your bunk for a thrust, fine and dandy. Just make sure he knows that's all it is. If you're looking to set up housekeeping, you tell him that too. Either way, don't lead him on. Be honest for once in your life and I'll forget about Ariel."

"Fair enough," Jayne grated out.

"Oh, it's more than fair, and you know it." Mal seethed. He stepped back and turned to go.

Jayne knew he should have just shut up then and let it be, but... this was Mal. Whenever he locked horns with Mal, he became painfully aware of an urge, like an itch he couldn't reach, to do the man one better,
probably because Mal seemed so gorramn sure he couldn't.

"Strikes me as maybe I know why you're being so damn fair."

Mal stopped dead and spoke without looking back. "*Zhen de ma?* What in hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You know I'll muck it up," Jayne said, resentment creeping into his tone. His fingers bunched into the fabric of the shirt. "Hell, even I know that. Then where's pretty-boy going to land? You're always so damn willing to *listen*, Mal. You know he's gonna come cryin' to you after I send him packing, and then what's gonna happen? He'll be on his back before -"

Mal turned and strode back to the weight bench, shoving his face into Jayne's. "Not one. More. Sound," he said quietly, cold menace underlining each word. "You want him, he wants you. Freaky and twisted, but okay. However, you don't get to tell me which way to jump after you're off the playing field. Dong ma?"

It was several moments before Jayne uneasily broke the stare. He stared at the deck, his heart thumping in repressed anger and ... something else. Shame? He didn't know, having precious little experience with that emotion.

"I get ya, Mal.



"What is it, mei-mei?"

"Too fancy for Jayne."

"Not really. Things have a habit of wearing away more quickly out here, losing their shine."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know, mei-mei."


His fingers tangled in the tiny things and he swore, just barely stopping himself from ripping the gorramn thing in half. He glared at himself in the hazy, unbreakable metal mirror of his cabin and frowned. This was why he didn't wear this stuff. You can bet the idjits who sewed it together never thought about men whose hands were twice the size they ought to be, or that the damn cuffs on his wrists would be too tight because he spent the better part of any given day swinging a rifle or a barbell.

*Be honest for once in your life and I'll forget about Ariel.*

He still didn't know if Mal had issued a favor or a threat, but it was something concrete to hold onto at last. Ever since Ariel, Mal's silence on the matter of his betrayal had been... disturbing. If he had been back home and got caught doing wrong, his daddy would have dragged it all out in the open and there would have been a good brawl and no hard feelings afterward, but Serenity's folk were a different breed. They thought too much and they talked too much, and what was said one day was carried over into the next and applied accordingly, everything cracked open and analyzed and way too complicated.

Jayne shrugged his broad shoulders, adjusting the fit. Another of the tiny things caught in a ragged fingernail and damn near tore it off when he started jerking on it.

Complications. He liked to avoid them. Was he looking- as Mal put it - for a good thrust or did he intend to set up housekeeping? If pressed to it, Jayne had to admit that quiet, determined Dr. Tam made him feel something more than just the urge to rut. There was the way the overhead lights on Serenity played in his hair and seemed to linger on his face, as if they had a mind to follow him around. He liked Simon's elegant hands, their fine-boned shape and the way he never seemed to know what to do with them, so he just moved them around until they found their place. Those pretty hands seemed to weave patterns in the air as he spoke, painting pictures so vivid that Jayne could almost *see* them...

He exhaled shakily. Yeah. He wanted a bit more from Simon Tam than just pounding the mattress. More than anything else, he admired the courage in him. It wasn't the showy kind that went off half-cocked and did stupid things, and it wasn't the berserker kind that scared folk off before they could call you out on it. No, Simon's courage came from older stock, steady and deep and unyielding as stone. Put to it, Simon would take on a pack of Reavers by himself if it meant saving someone he loved.

The kid wasn't weak. He still didn't know one end of a gun from the other and he couldn't fight worth a piss, but he wasn't weak. Jayne found himself smiling; not knowing how never stopped Simon from trying. Half the time, Jayne wanted to slap that smart mouth and the other half he wanted to kiss it shut, push those prissy clothes off him and see if that fine, pale skin felt as good as it looked. Wasn't much good at hiding it, either. Even Mal was on to him.

Jayne frowned blackly, glaring at his reflection as he pondered how much of the deal with the Feds had to do with wanting fugitives off the boat and how much it had to do with curing the painful, tugging ache in his chest whenever Simon looked his way.

He blew out his breath in disgust as he surveyed the uneven line of the shirt. Missed one again. He tried again gamely. A full minute later, Jayne blistered the hull with curses before he bowed his head in defeat.

Stupid buttons.


Mal descended the ladder into his cabin and stared grimly at the restful interior, glaring at it as if it withheld answers from him. Here was his bunk, narrow but fitted with a well-padded mattress and a warm coverlet. A small, battered table with a white pottery vase that might once have held flowers, now housing traces of sterile dust and the faint scent of rose petals. It was like the rest of Serenity, comfortable as an old pair of trousers that had formed to his personal curves and angles, giving a little here, snugged just right there, but thinning all the same.

Thinning. That was the answer. There was a threadbare patch in him that he avoided. He sensed the raw, tender edges of it and deftly skirted it by force of long habit; glancing away when he caught Zoe and Wash going at it on the bridge, or neglecting to see the healthy flush in Inara's skin when she returned from a particularly enthusiastic client. Jayne's face when he grinned at Kaylee's antics, or Book when he read his bible. Joy and desire was alive within
*Serenity's* metal skin.

Not for the first time, Mal wondered if those qualities had somehow bled out from her changing crews over the decades, spilling like an excess fountain into the dry air, spreading out, becoming part of her long before she wound up docked on the sandy plateau where he first laid eyes on her. He also wondered how much of that mystery still remained bound to the hull, how much of it had imbued the ship with the sibylline quality that made Kaylee caress the cold metal of her lines and croon to the incognizant machine like a favorite child. She spoke the same way to River, who - in her own rattlepated way - could sense many things that were hidden.

And River loved the ship, too. So did he. The crew now... the crew gave him gorramn headaches. Sometimes he wished the ship could run without a crew at all, just him and the machine and the deep black that was populated only by the static background noise of space,
drifting endlessly. Then he thought of Simon and his shoulders slumped.

He loved the crew, too.

Mal took particular satisfaction in tipping the vase off his table and watching it smash against the deck. Curved pieces of pale pottery rocked back and forth at his feet like sickle moons. He sighed as he bent down. "Hell," he muttered as he picked up the jagged pieces. "Hell hell hell..."

Boot heels drummed the accessway above him, muffled and deep but moving fast with little effort. Jayne. No one else on *Serenity* had that stride, like his feet were eating the deck and they wanted more. It sounded like he was heading to the infirmary...

Mal's eyes went hard as he let the collected shards slip from his fingers. Slip. Slipping away. Thinning.



Jayne had presented himself in the infirmary, hair combed, beard neatly trimmed, and wearing - wonder of wonders- a clean pair of work pants and the new blue shirt. Simon closed his mouth and just stared as a pale, dusty shade of pink began to infuse his cheeks. Another rare color added to *Serenity's* palette.

"Jayne, you look..."

Simon trailed off in shock when the mercenary took one big stride forward and his arms went around him, drawing him swiftly into a gentle embrace. He felt Jayne's big hand on the back of his head, rough fingers drifting through his hair, and his beard brushed against Simon's cheek as he rumbled into his ear;

"Don't talk."

Of course, he continued to babble. "I mean, you really look-"

Jayne sighed. "Can you for *yeh soo's* sake shut up? Let me try to do this right without your mouth gettin' in the way for once."


"Now," Jayne began, his voice thick and hesitant. "I know I ain't been nice to you, and I know you're thinking I'm the big hero of Ariel. But it ain't that way, Simon. Sometimes things happen to folk and we just get through them. That's all I was doing on Ariel, wading through the muck. You just happened to be there."

He gathered the surprised young man in for a long kiss held him like he was delicate glass.

Simon rubbed his cheek against Jayne's shirt, enjoying the feel of it, the crisp newness and neutral scent. "I wont break."

"I know that."

Fingers that didn't grip or bruise, but brushed and skated over his skin, gently learning him, sending rills of pleasure up his back. "Jayne," he pleaded, moving against him.

"Slow down," Jayne whispered. He walked them backward towards the door and brushed his hand down the fixture, plunging the infirmary into near-darkness. "We got lots of downtime on a ship. Only one first time, though." He nodded towards the medbeds. "Can you lower one of those?" The dark voice turned teasing. "I don't feel like rolling onto the floor at a critical moment."

Simon nodded, a little out of breath. He didn't trust himself to speak as callused fingers brushed along his throat and over his face, learning the shape of him. Jayne's head dipped and lightly kissed him, lips moving gently over his as a deft tongue slipped in and brushed against own.

"You're so sweet." Another feathery kiss. "So sweet. I could eat you up."

Simon shivered. "Interesting mental image."

Jayne's lips settled on the line of his throat, sucking gently. Strong arms enfolded him and pulled him closer, pressing him into the strong line of Jayne's body. Subtle, wonderful shifting, as if Jayne was trying to form himself to him. A hand slid to the small of his back and pushed, pressing their hips together, and Jayne murmured indistinctly as his erection brushed Simon's hip.

Simon gave a surprised little moan. "Do that again," he breathed, a smile curling his mouth.

Jayne pulled back and looked down on him. "Who's the boss here, me or you?"

"Me. Definitely me."

A rumble of laughter shook Jayne's chest. "Prob'ly right."


Just a small square of plexi, no bigger than a plate, really, but if Mal knelt and peered through it at just the right angle, he could look down and see almost all of the interior of sickbay. He watched as Jayne turned off the lights and darkness covered the entwined pair. Not much to see. Shadowed forms illuminated by the dim light of medical monitors, moving like smoke in a dance without music. Then Jayne's hands slid up Simon's body and moved at the front of his
clothing and a smooth, pale shoulder appeared, milk-white in the darkness.

Mal bit his lip as he watched Jayne slowly and completely undress Simon. After a long moment of just looking, Jayne began to impatiently begin to tug at his own clothing. The new blue shirt was pulled off and nearly tossed on the floor, but Jayne seemed to catch himself and carefully draped it over a chair. Simon just stood still and watched him, those gentle eyes glinting with sex and excitement.

And appreciation. Anticipation. Even from a mile away, that would have been obvious. Jayne wanted Simon, no surprise there. But was it only gratitude that made Simon lick his lips and gaze at Jayne with... hunger?

Mal watched Simon's chest rise and fall unsteadily as he avidly watched Jayne strip and suddenly felt a surge of dark emotion he refused to examine. He had intended to do just a little snooping, more to protect Simon than any leanings to voyeurism, but when Jayne, fully nude, took Simon in his arms and kissed him...

Slow heat flared over him and settled between his legs, making the muscles in his thighs contract as he felt himself growing hard. He knew that it was wrong and a breach of trust and he shouldn't look, but .... there was so little opportunity for pleasure on a working ship, unless you were like Wash and Zoe. And who would know really? Who would it hurt?

Damning and cursing himself silently in two languages, Mal's hand crept lower, finally settling on the outline of his erection pressing up into his hand, already stiff, already eager...


*You just happened to be there.*

And that's as close to truth as I can get without killing that look in your eyes. Can't do that. Fact is, I've gotten used to it. I like the way you look at me, like I'm worth something. Like there's something bright in me that you want to warm your hands on. Nobody's ever saw that in me before, and now I'm thinking I want to keep those looks for myself. Mal can go to ruttin' hell.

And some heretofore unused, intuitive voice of Jayne Cobb told him that if he misused the trust Simon placed in him, no one would ever look at him like that again.

The boots were a bit of a trick, but he had laced them slack so they could be kicked off easy. He unbuckled his belt and hesitated, glancing up. Simon was looking at him, eyes shining, his lips parted as he took in the sight of him.

Jayne pushed the trousers down his legs and kicked them away with more indifference than he felt. "Well?"

Simon took a deep breath, his eyes wide and fixed on a point decidedly south of Jayne's waistline. "Can I say wow twice in one day?"

Jayne grinned and drew closer, pulling Simon in his arms. "Ain't no law against it."


*This is something new, doctor. New and scary. What are you doing? Do you even know? River was right, I'm clueless. Two weeks ago the only thing I wanted from Jayne Cobb was his absence. Now... now I can't stop looking at his hands. In bed, I thought Jayne would be, well,
like Jayne. But he's not. He's ...*

"I said I won't break," Simon whispered.

"I know," Jayne said again.

Jayne was over him, one brawny arm under Simon's shoulders, the better to hug him close as he curled his other hand over the firm, satiny skin of Simon's cock.

"Oh! Then why are you so -"

"Hush." Jayne's lips covered his. "I like it like this, all soft and sweet. Sweet as honey." He raised his hand to his mouth and licked his fingers as if they really were coated with honey, then again curled his wetted hand over Simon's erection and began to move.

Simon arched his back, pushing up to meet Jayne's caress. His nails dug into Jayne's arm as he moaned low in his throat and shifted sinuously on the bed, spreading his legs wider. Jayne grinned down at him before taking his mouth again, his hand moving with delightful slowness, tongue stroking deep inside him, over and over, possessing without force. Simon gasped against Jayne's mouth, unable to summon any other response to this sure and gentle claiming.

His head felt like it was swathed in cotton and he stared dreamily as Jayne broke their kiss. Jayne watched him with a small, strange smile and nuzzled his cheek, making a satisfied noise under his breath. His hand tightened deliciously.

"Oh god," Simon gasped. "Yes, just like that!"

Jayne worked him up and down, flicking his thumb with some force over the head, rubbing the pad of his finger into the weeping slit there. Simon trembled, feeling the burn all the way down to his toes.

"Like this?"

"Yes." He was nearly begging. "Don't stop, please."

"Don't intend to."


Mal squinted, trying to see. *Gorramn ruttin dark. You'd think people would realize that there were things to do in the dark and things you needed a certain amount of light to do properly.*

He watched Simon moan and twist under Jayne's hand and felt a fresh wave of desire crest over him, forcing his own hand to go faster, tighter -- *if I had you in my bed, damn me if I'd turn out the light. We'd have something soft, not like these flourescents everywhere. Candlelight, maybe. You'd look so good with candlelight pouring over your skin, soft bed under your back, me covering you, oh god...*


Everyone was entitled to mistakes. Even Mal said so. Not that Simon ever had to know that.

But, he had to admit, what he'd done was one *hwoon dahn* of a big mistake. If he had known his feelings would change and he would begin to look at Simon like a starving man looks at a meal, he would have never, never....

Jayne turned his wrist, changing his grip, caressing and pulling at the same time. Simon shuddered and Jayne held him tighter, nuzzling into his soft neck and inhaling his scent. He smelled like water. Not the bottled stuff you bought planetside, nor even the distilled and purified H2O from Serenity's tanks, but something fresh and new and totally outside his experience.

Something he didn't deserve.

Even with Simon warm and responsive under him, that knowledge hung over him like a stone, so that when Simon cried out and clung to him, a seed of fear was already blossoming in his heart.

"Not gonna lose you," he gasped before he kissed him roughly, and then heat flowed over his hand as Simon gave a surprised little groan and came, his hips bucking frantically against the muscled body pressed to him. The slippery friction of skin on skin was enough, and Jayne's
head went back, eyes squeezing shut as he gritted his teeth and tried to keep the shout of pleasure behind his lips.


"Jayne?" Simon whispered.

Jayne felt himself tense involuntarily. Simon must have felt it too, because he reached up and twined his arms around Jayne's neck and kissed his mouth soundly, moving his hips against the sticky mess on Jayne's belly.

"Was that okay?"

He sounded worried. Jayne returned the kiss, feeling numb. "Yeah," he said. "More than okay." Then he shook it off. For now, Simon was here and he belonged to him. And tomorrow... tomorrow could go fuck itself. A mercenary shouldn't worry about the future, anyway. Most of them didn't have one.

He grinned down at the grave young man who looked at him with such appreciation and desire. "Come here. I ain't done with you, yet."

Simon laughed as Jayne growled like a bear and rolled on top of him.


Face burning, Mal scraped his palm down his pant leg and tucked himself back into his trousers. He silently backed away and hurried off up the corridor, trying not to think - really trying not to think - about how soon it would be before Jayne "mucked it up".

He wondered if he could wait that long.


River turned into her pillow when she heard Simon enter their quarters. She heard him kick off his shoes and pad into her bedroom to check on her.


She rolled to look at him, the corners of her mouth turned up into a secretive smile. "You're between two fires," she taunted, her eyes mocking him.

He sighed, once more mistaking wisdom for chatter, for little words rolling over him like pebbles, meaning nothing. "No, River. No fires."

"That's what you think." She punched her pillow and turned her back on him, yawning. Elsewhere in the ship, she sensed other minds drifting off; Jayne's lumbering thought processes, slow but deeply felt, Mal's troublesome and convoluted paths. Book with his Word outlined in
scarlet relief, the rest of the `verse faded into the background, never reconciling the two. Wash, coltish and elusive as quicksilver, soaring tandem with Zoe's steadfast march. Inara's fire-song and Kaylee's butterfly dance of longing. They glowed, bodies asleep but sentient minds aware and searching, flowing out, always out, until halted by the boundary of the dear metal hull. No need to go any further. All they sought in life was already within.

And she... she was like *Serenity*. More than what she seemed.

"Simple Simon," she whispered. Thoughts like polished little blocks, everything in its place. Move one a millimeter and he ran to the jangling echo of marred things demanding to be set right. Didn't matter what; captains, patients, broken sisters. He was a mender, compelled to heal wherever he went but seldom looking deeper than the symptom. That would change. Jayne would change him, and in turn transform himself. And Mal... Mal was Simon's future. *Serenity* told her so.

There was much more; names whispered, lives lived, new faces dimly perceived. Milestones that awaited them, small gains, joy, enormous losses, laughter. And above all - love.

Beneath her pillow, *Serenity* thrummed with power, her engines laboring to seek them a fair horizon.

Still smiling, she drifted back into sleep.