Out in space, millions of miles from any sun, there is no night or day. Serenity must find its own clock, a twenty-four hour rhythm to which all its inhabitants have become accustomed. Not so much night and day. More like sleeping, and awakeness.
You can tell, without looking at your watch, that it is almost time for sleeping now. The ship isn't becoming quiet, Serenity never does, but the noises are changing. You walk down the halls, on your nightly stroll, listening.
Outside Book's quarters, the murmur of his nightly prayers. Outside of Wash and Zoe's room, the muffled whispers of sweet nothings. From underneath the door of Inara's shuttle comes the soft glow of sweet-smelling candles, and the dripping sound of water. Jayne's bunk is dark - he is already sleeping. And snoring.
"Sorry, Simon." You have bumped into Kaylee.
"It's okay," you say. "I wasn't paying attention where I was going."
She smiles at you and disappears down a ladder into your quarters. River's room. You hear the sound of giggling.
You're not jealous, not really. You made your choice. It was the only choice that you could have made. River made her choice...no, that's not right. Kaylee made River's choice. They chose each other. You're not jealous. Out in space, millions of miles from any sun, this feeling is something else entirely.
You stop outside the captain's bunk. There's no light, no sound, but you know that Mal isn't sleeping. He hardly seems to need sleep, hardly seems to want it. As if Serenity might drop out of the sky the minute that he closes his eyes.
You start walking again. A few steps and you turn, down the starboard corridor, up the stairs, until you find yourself on the bridge.
Mal is sitting by the controls, watching the sky. It all looks the same to you, an endless canopy of black dotted with stars. But Mal studies it as if it were the face of a loved one, reluctant to turn away. But finally he does. He looks at you.
"What are you doing on my bridge, doc?"
You don't answer. You are looking at him, staring, you suppose, the way he stares at that sky. You study the curve of his jaw, the flare of his eyelashes. His hands, strong weathered hands always curved into fists, as if expecting a fight. The captain never relaxes.
Mal doesn't flinch, or blush, underneath your stare. He simply repeats the question. "Bridge is off limits, without permission. You need something?"
You stare a moment longer, then turn and walk away. You can hear him following you, sure strides slightly longer than yours. When he catches up, he asks you again. "You seem to be looking for something. What do you want?"
You stop walking and turn, so suddenly that he is startled. The sound of your own voice is a surprise to you, even and calmer than you'd expect. "I think you know what I want, captain. So the question becomes...what do you want?"
"What do I want? I want to sit on my gorram bridge and not have company when I didn't ask for company. I want..."
"I want to kiss you."
Mal takes a step back, as if you'd drawn a gun. You know that your eyes must seem hard and bright to look at, the flame inside of you seeping out.
"I want to kiss you so hard that I bruise your mouth. So hard that you can't breathe. Do you want to know what else I want?"
Silence. You interpret that as a yes.
"I want to push up you against the wall. Press against you, so hard, that you're not aware of anything else except the weight of my body on yours. I want," you pause to slow the increasing speed of your words. "I want to taste you in my mouth, and hear you calling my name. Telling me how good I make you feel. That's what I want. But, remind me again. What is it that you want?"
You have known, since the day that you met him, that Mal's breaking point is not buried very deep, and you think for a moment that you may have found it. He is staring at you, fists tightened. Those fists have bruised your face before.
You are opening your mouth to apologize, when he grabs you and brushes his mouth against yours.
It is a light kiss, a sweet kiss. Not the kind that you imagined, when you imagined kissing Mal. Just the light touch of his tongue against your lower lip, and then he pulls away. "What I want is to be left alone. Got that?"
And he disappears. Back towards the bridge, to look at the sky.
In the night you dreamed about him, and in the morning you woke up uneasy and restless. In the afternoon you ran into Jayne as you were crossing the catwalk, and refused to move out of his way.
"What're you playing at?" Jayne demands. "Get outta my way."
"No? I ain't got the time. Move before I make you..."
You lean forward, and kiss him. There is only one moment of surprise, and then he kisses you back. "It's about gorram time, doc."
"That's what I thought." You kiss him again, then pull away suddenly, your lips curved in an amused half-smile.
"What the hell," Jayne demands, "are you looking at me like that for?"
"Nothing." You press yourself into him, causing him to tighten his grip on the slope of your waist. "You have surprisingly soft hands. Anybody ever tell you that?"
You can feel him scowl, as he breathes into your neck. "I do not have soft hands."
"You do. Soft like a baby's."
"I do not..."
"Jayne," you interrupt him with a brief kiss. "That's a good thing. Your hands feel good."
"Do they?" His hands start to travel, lower down, underneath the waistband of your slacks. "That feel good too?"
"It does." You have started to push your hands underneath his tshirt, making circles over his bellybutton. "But perhaps we should take this somewhere more private."
He is only half-listening. "Hmm?"
"Privacy," you repeat firmly. "So that I can fuck you."
This catches his attention. He releases his hold on you, so that he can meet your stare. "Oh, yeah?"
"Yes. Do you want me inside you?"
It figures. He's a tease. Your hands brush his waist, his thighs, moving to rest frankly on the front of his pants. "It's a yes or no question, Jayne."
"Yes," Jayne says quickly. "I guess my bunk..."
"Meet me there in an hour. Dong ma?"
"An hour?" Jayne has grabbed on to your arm, as you turn to walk away. "Why the wait?"
"River needs her next dosage. I won't be late."
And you're not. When you enter Jayne's bunk an hour later, he is sitting on his bed, cleaning his gun. Gently you take Vera out of his hands, and climb into his lap. "I believe," you whisper into his ear, "that I owe you a fuck."
Jayne doesn't return your kiss. He tastes different now, you think, bitter and smoky. "Simon," he says quietly, "get off me."
Something in his voice prevents you from arguing. In the small room you don't have far to go, and so you stand close, in front of him, eyes narrowed. "What's going on, Jayne?"
"Why in rutting hell didn't you tell me?"
"Why didn't I tell you what?"
"That you were Mal's. I wouldn't have laid a hand on you, if I'd known."
"I'm not aware," you're speaking slowly, to prevent yourself from sounding angry, "that I'm the property of anybody. Least of all, the captain."
"Yeah? Then why'd he come sniffing around me before, telling me to keep away from you? Ain't no other reason for him to be doin' that, that I can think of. Mal's bad side's pretty bad, in case you ain't noticed. I got no reason to be getting on it."
The anger hits you out of nowhere, like a blinding flash between the eyes. "Well, aren't you the practical one. Mal's bad side wasn't scaring you that much on Ariel."
Jayne isn't quick enough to keep the surprise and guilt from showing on his face. "You knew?"
"Do you imagine that I am a complete and total idiot?"
Jayne doesn't answer that, just shakes his head in shock. "So Mal didn't tell you?"
"No, he didn't tell me. I can see for myself who...what you are."
"Oh, yeah?" He gestures to his bunk, the bed that you'd been about to climb into. "So why, then?"
You open your mouth, then close it again. There are a half-dozen answers to that question, all of which Jayne won't want to hear. You run an eye over his tall frame, strong arms, muscular thighs, unembarrassed. "Perhaps I thought that you owed me something."
You find Mal in the mess hall after a late lunch, discussing business with his first mate.
"I need to talk to you, Captain."
"Me an' Zoe are discussing business right now." He doesn't look up. "Maybe in a few minutes..."
"Oh, it isn't important." You speak in deliberate, even tones. "I just wanted to know why you ordered Jayne not to fuck me."
Zoe hides a small smile, and disappears. Mal stands, unfolds himself from the bench, coiled and tense like a gun about to go off.
"In the future," you continue, "I'd appreciate if you'd stay the hell out of my business."
"Well that's a little difficult, doc, when you're lustin' in plain sight on the catwalk of my ship. Even the whore's got more dignity than to..."
You curl up your fist and take a swing. Mal moves fast, but not quite fast enough, and your punch connects with the corner of his mouth, with a thwap and the crunch of bone.
The lines of his mouth are set in a tight grimace, as he recovers from the blow. "You don't ever want to try that again."
That's exactly what you're thinking of doing, fists still balled in anger. "Do you think that I'm scared of you?"
"No, I don't. You're maybe the only one on this ship who ain't. I can't quite figure out why that is. If you're brave, or just stupid."
"Neither," you answer, calmer now. "I just don't like you. I never did."
"Well, that's fair enough. I never liked you either." Mal examines his mouth, finding it bleeding slightly. "That ain't a half-decent right hook."
"You deserved it."
It takes only a second for Mal's expression to change, for his eyes to go cold. You feel all the breath leave your body, as he pushes you backwards, down, onto the mess hall table. His body covers yours, daring you to fight back. "Did I, now? You ain't gotten a tenth of what you deserve, you know that?"
"Is that so?"
"That's so. And you got nerve. You got a whole lotta nerve, asking for things you can't have. Things that you shouldn't have. Things I got half a mind to give you, just to show you...it would serve you right." And he kisses you, roughly. You breath him in, the scent of gunpowder and leather and the cold metal of Serenity's womb. He is talking to himself now, harsh whispers hot on your neck. His hands move underneath you, grabbing your buttocks, forcing you to thrust your hips upward to meet him. You can feel his growing erection pushing against you. "You think you know. You haven't got any idea. The things that I'm capable of. The things that I've done to you in my dreams. And you ain't any more gorram sense than to come here and ask..."
You kiss him, wanting the taste of him again. Mal's mouth has a sweetness to it, and you push your tongue deeper, wanting more. He reaches a hand inside your shirt and pinches you, feeling your nipples grow hard against his thumb. You wrap your arms around him, stroking his back where it is all muscle and stone.
Suddenly he grabs a handful of your hair, forcing you to look at him. His eyes lock on yours, shadowed and hard. "Last chance, doc."
He uses both hands to unbutton your pants and slide them down to the floor. You reach down and unzip him, pushing the rough brown cotton across his ass and over his thighs, watching as he does the rest.
He enters you with one thrust. You scream, then breath in sharply, as the pain gives way to the pulsing pleasure. With one hand gripping your shoulder, his other hand reaches for your cock, running sure fingers along the shaft. His touch is light at first, then harder, his hand and hips finding the same rythmn and settling into it.
You come first, sticky and warm against his belly. Mal closes his hands around your waist, tight enough to bruise, and orgasms without a sound. He rests his head against your shoulder, and sighs.
"Next time," you whisper into his ear, "I have every intention of giving you what you deserve."
You can feel his answer rippling through his body before it leaves his mouth. "Next time? Ain't no next time, doc."
He is already moving away from you, finding his clothes. His words cut you off. "You asked me what I want. Remember that?"
"I want to keep this ship flying."
"And I..." your voice trails off, waiting for the other shoe.
"You distract me, Simon." Mal hardly ever uses your Christian name, and the sound of it on his weather-beaten voice gives you goosebumps. "And that ain't somethin' I got time for right now. I gotta keep my crew alive. I gotta keep Serenity in the air. And you..." Rough hands touch your skin, then drop away, as if poisoned. "You got your sister to worry about. Besides," and the edges of his voice are sharper here, like the blade of a knife, "you got what you wanted. Didn't you?"
"I always get what I want," you whisper to his disappearing silhouette. "You should know that by now."