He hadn't lied to Saffron: it'd been awhile, and if it hadn't been for Nandi it'd like to have been a long time still. He'd remember her always, for that and for other things.
It's like to be a long time again. Crew was family, off-limits. Mal had seen boats that went otherwise, crew trading partners in some kind of crazy space incest, and it always ended the same: folks get jealous, shots get fired, everyone dies. That Zoe and Wash make it work, somehow, don't prove the rule isn't sound.
Captain doesn't sleep with crew. Anything else would be...complicated.
Mal still likes to think she's innocent, even after the way they met. Kaylee wouldn't go rubbing things in his face, necessarily, but if Simon doesn't unbend soon she's going to make like a real prairie harpy and go find herself a man to put to good use.
It ain't even like she's that picky. Strong arms, for certain. A rumbling laugh, given freely and often. Knowin' something about ships to talk about in-between for a bonus. A sense of humor, and a skillful tongue.
Kaylee loves Serenity, and she adores her engines. But sometimes a girl wants something more.
He's a doctor, he understands the needs of the body. But he can't indulge with River so close. She might hear, she might...sense...and Simon has no interest in fending off a slew of questions he has no hope of answering without stuttering.
There's barely any privacy on this ship, in any case, and of all the trials set before him a little deprivation hardly rates. Or even a lot. On the run from every civilized authority, with River so very wounded and fragile, it's no time to contemplate such things.
That's logic. In the night, his hands have other ideas.
River hears him, sweating and turning in the bedsheets. She knows what it means, even if her brother thinks otherwise. So much want penned up inside him without a face or a name to put to it, and forbidden to her.
She feels Inara, with her visitors in the shuttle; she feels Zoe and Wash in the pilot's seat and in their bed and in the cargo hold when no one is looking; she feels Kaylee and Mal and Jayne in their bunks, writhing together in separate rhythms.
Virgin in flesh, a Companion House's worth of experience in her head.
Wash isn't the best she's ever had.
Not something you're supposed to think about your husband, even to yourself. Certainly not a thought she'd ever express outside her own head. And give credit where due, he's learned a lot since their first fumblings. She's patient, he takes direction well.
Plain truth, Zoe wouldn't trade the occasional awkwardness for anyone else. The most skilled Companion couldn't begin to match the peace she's found in Wash, the simple comfort of his company. He is her resting place, after so much war.
Cliché as it is, he makes her laugh. That's worth everything.
Inara really does enjoy her profession. If a client is not pleasing, Inara never accepts his or her wave again; she has the luxury of choosing her patrons, and the liberty to arrange meetings to their mutual satisfaction.
It's still work, of course, an exchange of service for payment, but in the best of circumstances she can make a true connection with her partner. Even a brief assignation can be deeply rewarding, emotionally as well as physically, and Inara treasures all the memories of her lovers.
The only time she feels like a whore is when Mal calls her one.
Most of the time, Book doesn't think about what he's left behind. A preacher isn't supposed to think of such things.
He wasn't always a preacher.
Book remembers too much sometimes--after conversations with Jayne, of all people, incredulous about his celibacy. He remembers long nights spent in shared pleasure, with partners as varied as the stars.
He remembers darker moments, too, and those faces appear in his most self-flagellating meditations. God cannot grant him absolution from those crimes, because Book cannot forgive himself. Nor should he.
God willing, he might yet find redemption at the end of all things.
Even after all this time, he can't believe he's got a woman like her.
Though "got" isn't right at all. "Allowed to touch," more like, and Wash knows that "kept by" is probably even more accurate. And that's fine by him. He's happy to be kept, can't shut up about it even, like with Commander Harken. But that was the man's fault for asking about Zoe, wasn't it? Just had to take one look at her and see--
Perfection, a goddess, his wife. Wash doesn't know why he's so lucky and every day, he tries to be worthy of her.
Jayne strokes himself and doesn't think about the crew, much, except maybe as a bunch of pleasing pieces all jumbled together: Zoe's legs and ass, Simon's too-pretty mouth, River's perky little tits--and that's all in his head and not going anywhere else, he can think about them if he wants.
He thinks about the girl on Canton, and the boy (why'd he do it why) there too, and the whore at the Heart of Gold, and all the whores before her and the ones he ain't had yet. So many yet to know.
A whole universe, spreading for him.