There was a knock on Simon's door late that night and for a moment his heart skipped a beat, worried it would either be a medical emergency or Kaylee looking for something he wasn't sure he knew how to give her. It wasn't that he didn't want to, he just knew that he was limited in ways he wasn't sure she yet understood. Upon answering the door he found only a bored looking Mal, pouty lips pursed as he admired the hallway décor. “Can I be of assistance, Captain?” He asked politely.
“Doc,” Mal said enthusiastically, “no need to be worrying. Just got news that we'll be docking on Eros for fuel and supplies.” He informed Simon.
“Right,” Simon said. “Is there a reason you're telling me this? Normally I'm the last to know anything on-board.”
“Technically Doctor, you're still the last to know, what with your little sister being a reader and all and me telling everyone else first. You are right though, normally I wouldn't bother with this personal call only I seem to recall you being uncomfortable with members of the opposite sex, and members of the same sex too now I think on it. Eros is a little different than most planets, as I'm sure you've heard, and I didn't want you being all... you, when we get there. These people are our friends, Doctor, don't matter how they chose to live their lives, ain't none of ours unless we want it to be, dong ma?”
Simon wanted to be offended, he really did. He wished he could make a biting remark about how he had attended every one of his 'universal social politics' classes at school and knew ample about Eros culture and how sexual identity was measured differently and that it was used to inform all social interactions. He didn't say any of this, for two reasons. The first being Simon's dislike of conflict and the second because he could reluctantly admit that the Captain had a point. His social skills left a lot to be desired in most circumstances. He faired well at formal social functions, when being a gentlemen was more important than interpreting what a smile meant or how to use innuendo. This time, however, he would have the advantage. He believed that his ability to fit into Eros society was one of the reasons why his personal skills lacked in certain aspects. On Eros everything was laid out for you, a persons position, their status and taste was written all over their body, often literally.
“I actually think I may be able to help. Do you have any contacts on the planet?” Simon asked.
Mal looked surprised. “Not as such. An acquaintance of an acquaintance suggested a friendly location on the surface.”
Simon nodded. “I'm not sure if you are aware of this, Captain, but those of us who train on Osiris are are required to spend a period of six weeks on another planet when we graduate. We don't get to chose, and many of us get sent to border worlds to treat infections. I was sent to Eros.”
Now Mal looked downright shocked. “You were? And you didn't alienate the whole planet while you were there?” He asked sceptically.
Simon frowned at him. “I believe there were a few left who could bare my presence,” he said dryly, “I may even be able to call in a few favours and find you a friendly face,” he suggested.
“Well, that would be something. Make your call Doc, god knows I'm in no position to turn down friends,” the Captain added darkly.
Simon nodded and it seemed their conversation was at an end as Mal wondered off towards the kitchen, probably headed off to his own bunk judging by the time. Simon closed his door and thought about what to say in a Wave.
Simon slept poorly that night, taunted by dreams of what he really wanted but would forever be denied, made all that more potent by their destination growing closer by the hour. Morning came and he dressed in what was left of the clothes he had brought with him when he had run from home to find River. Thinking on her he checked and saw she had left her room, and found her with most of the others in the kitchen sat around the wooden table eating the last of the flavoured protein for breakfast. Notable absences were Wash, who was most likely on the bridge, as well as Inara and Book who had both recently left the ship. Inara had been planning it for a while, according to Kaylee who had told him among quiet hiccuping sobs of her best friend's plans to leave. She had returned to Sihnon, and while Simon had his own suspicions for why Inara would reject Serenity and Mal he knew he would never share them with anyone. Book's departure had been unplanned. They'd stopped at Haven to restock with food and water when Book had met the people and decided that was where he was meant to be. With sad heart and fond smiles they had left the Sheppard behind and continued on. The ship had left oddly empty ever since and Simon knew none felt their absence more than their stoic Captain.
“Want some food, Simon?” Kaylee offered sweetly when she saw him, holding out a plate. Simon felt queasy looking at the stuff but his stomach rumbled despite this. “Not sure you can technically call this food,” he murmured in an attempt at humour, “but thank you.”
Kaylee beamed at him.
“Not to worry Doc, soon enough you'll be feasting on genuine food products. That is if your friends come through,” Mal said.
“Since when does he have friends?” Jayne asked in the middle of a mouthful . Simon winced but took no offence. After all Jayne was so ill educated he probably barely understood the meaning of the word, and they had yet to find evidence that he himself had ever formed such bonds. The closest that Simon had ever seen him come to friendship was the blind hero-worship of the occupants of Canton and the casual partnership he struck up with Book, who he could often be found spotting weights for or playing cards with in the kitchen.
“I think it's shiny that we finally get to meet some of Simon's friends,” Kaylee defended him. She paused then, a worried frown marring her pretty face as she turned to him. “We do get to meet them, right?” She asked quietly.
Simon's heart hurt that she would doubt him, but he knew in the past he had come off as a snob. This was definitely an opportunity to prove that false. “You will all get to meet them when we land. Cara will be joining us at the docks,” he assured both Kaylee and the Captain.
“Dare I say this sounds like it might go a might smoother than our usual escapades?” Zoe suggested.
“I wish you wouldn't, you know how I hate to jinx things, and we seemed jinxed enough of late,” the Captain replied warily.
“Of course sir,” Zoe responded immediately, “didn't mean turn into an optimist.”
“Well as long as you didn't mean it,” Mal joked, and the banter started up once again.
They were stepping off the ship and onto welcoming firm land when Simon thought to check the appearances of his crew mates. Since they were two crew members down River was having to come with them so he could look after her. Since the crew had accepted her she had been able to maintain control more often than not but she still took medicine to help and occasionally she had days that were bad enough to warrent locked doors and sedatives. He took in her attire, she had dressed in a worn red jumper that was easily a size too big for her and a pair of leggings that ended an inch or so below her knees. Her dark brown hair had been tied back in a ribbon by Kaylee and Simon was reminded once again how pretty his sister was. On any other planet he might worry but not today, the age of consent on most core planets was eighteen and while many rim planets chose to ignore this and marry their children off sometimes as young as sixteen, he knew this wasn't one of them. Due to Eros' complex social system and sexual identities the age of consent was the highest in the verse at twenty-one although breaking that law was not uncommon. Still, as outsiders he knew River would be seen as a child and left mostly alone. Kaylee on the other hand was fair game, she was pretty and outgoing and he knew she wished she was sexually active. He took in her recently brushed shiny brown hair and the trace of eye liner that enhanced her pretty eyes, then looked at the v-neck floral print tee she wore and cargo pants covered with pockets and only one visible grease stain. It was so sweet that she's made such an effort just to meet Simon's friends and Simon truly hoped she didn't end up getting hurt by what she learned about him here. He knew he should probably have taken her aside to discuss it with her beforehand, but if it had been that easy to talk about he would have explained long ago and maybe avoided this whole awkwardness between them. As much as he wanted to ask her to cover her neck with a high t-shirt he knew it wasn't his place to interfere so he said nothing. Wash, Jayne and Mal were all fine, and besides he would never dream of telling them how to dress. Besides the amusement factor if someone hit on one of them would far outweigh their glares in his direction once they realised he knew exactly how to blend in. It was Zoe who posed a problem, although he wasn't quiet sure how to bring it up with her.
“Uh, Zoe… I don't want to cause any problems but... your necklace,” he gestured to the twine wound around her neck tight like a stylised collar.
She levelled him a look. “I'm prepared to deal with the consequences, but I'm not removing it,” she said. Simon didn't know the significance of the decoration but on a practical warrior woman like Zoe it must be very special so he simply nodded and led them all away from the ship.
The docks were typically crowded, all types of people surrounded them but there was some level of uniform in their appearances. The population was divided into two sexual groups, dominants and submissives, and everything about their society was built around those categories. The dominants could dress how they wish although leather and silk were popular materials among the inhabitants. What was unique about them was the sheer lack of jewellery. No dominants would dream of being pierced anywhere on their person and even necklaces or bracelets were considered inappropriate. At most a few wore jewelled headbands crafted from silver or gold, but these were only adorned by those in the highest ranks of society such as government officials and rich land owners. Submissives were their opposites. They were restricted in style of clothing, not allowed to cover their neck from the age of puberty onwards, and many had piercings and those who were in relationships wore collars made from a variety of material, some were buckled leather straps around their necks whereas others looked more like necklaces made from precious metals and fitted with or without fastenings. Simon scanned the crowd for a familiar face.
“Simon!” Squealed an excited voice from behind him, and he turned just in time to catch his old friend in his arms as she hugged him close. He enjoyed her warmth and buried his face in her neck, the familiar scent of leather reached his nose and it was as comforting as it was surprising. He released her and stepped back to admire it.
“It's good to see you, Cara. How long have you been collared?” He asked.
She beamed at him and he suddenly couldn't help but compare her to Kaylee. “Almost a moon now. It's so exciting!”
“Congratulations,” he smiled warmly.
“Thank you. You were of course invited to the ceremony, of course I now understand why you didn't get the invite,” she said pointedly.
“Ah. I see, is that a problem?” He asked uneasily. It wasn't like Eros was a core planet, but they weren't abandoned like some of the planets on the outer rim either. They had day to day dealings with the Alliance and Simon should have anticipated them hearing about his fugitive status.
“Of course not. You're still welcome among us, Simon!” Cara assured him.
“Even we get the news on Eros, Simon Tam. We have heard about your troubles with the Alliance, but I know and trust you and I believe these people must be good people you surround yourself with,” Mistress Celeste of the Aphrodite Order announced and Simon turned to face her with trepidation and love in his heart.
“Well, most of them,” Simon agreed, pointedly not looking in Jayne's direction.
“Hey! What do you mean, 'most' of 'em?” Jayne grumbled.
Simon just smiled quietly. “It is a pleasure to greet you, Celeste,” he said and bowed his head. He had to fight the temptation to kneel, but knew that it would be an inappropriate gesture despite his past experiences with her. Simon was here as part of Mal's crew, and although Mal didn't know it no one else had the right to command any one of his crew without his permission and this included kneeling and sexual contracts. In fact, if Mal wanted he could make them all kneel for him despite personal sexual dynamics, not that the crew was organised into dominant and submissive roles, but on Eros even the dominant members of society knelt to the Mayor of the planet.
“Xiao Tam, it has been too long,” she said warmly. They didn't touch because Celeste was a high ranking domme, as her silver and diamond circlet announced from were it sat on top of her piles of chocolate coloured hair. She could have asked permission from Mal, but he knew she wouldn't as a sign of respect to Simon, clearly understanding how embarrassing it would be to have to get permission from someone who wasn't dominating him. Yes, this meant he was categorised as a submissive. At first the designation had chaffed, but soon he had learnt that it wasn't an insult, and more than that, it was true. It was also the reason he knew it could never work between himself and Kaylee. She could never dominate him like he longed for.
“A moment is too long, Mistress Celeste,” he replied formally. “May I introduce you to the Captain of Serenity, Malcolm Reynolds,” he said smoothly and he and Celeste turned to face a flustered looking Mal.
“Pleasure,” Mal said awkwardly. “Mistress Celeste.”
“You may call me Celeste, that is if I have your permission to call you Malcolm?” She enquired politely.
“You surely do, Celeste, although truth be told I go by Mal more often than not,” he said.
“Mal, then,” she agreed, and waited for the others to be introduced. Mal seemed at a loss though, so Simon stepped in to prompt him.
“You should introduce the others, Captain, unless you wish me to speak on your behalf?” He asked.
“I can do my own speaking,” Mal bit at him and Simon sighed silently. He should have known that Mal would have too much pride to accept help even when he was so clearly out of his league. “My crew,” the Captain said with a sweeping gesture, “this is my second-in-command Zoe, her husband and my pilot Wash, Kaylee is our mechanic and Jayne handles security, and of course you know Simon so he's probably told you all about his little sister River.”
River, smiling brightly, stepped forwards and bowed her head to Celeste. “I'm glad to meet you,” she said.
Everyone watched with concern mixed with confusion. River seemed very clear headed, which should have put them at ease but it was unusual for her to be so outgoing and bubbly. Celeste smiled, however, obviously charmed by River.
“And I you. Your brother spoke of you warmly,” Celeste said.
“Well, as much as I enjoy your beautiful docks, Celeste, I was of the opinion that we'd be giving rooms during our stay?” Mal prompted.
“Indeed. As Cara is recently collared it is understandable that she and her Domme cannot host you, so I have made my own arrangements for your comfort. If you would follow me?” Celeste said and they all left the docks together, Kaylee stayed close to Mal but River who clearly felt at home on the planet walked on her own near the front of the group while Simon chatted quietly to Cara about all that he had missed.
The journey didn't take over long. Before dusk they were sitting at Celeste's generously sized table eating fresh vegetable stew and drinking warm spiced cider. It was good to be among friends again. It wasn't that the crew weren't friends, except for those who actually weren't, but they didn't really know Simon and for all that they might blame his lack of social skills for that it wasn't like anyone except Kaylee had even tried to get to know him. Mal would more often than not cut him off if Simon started talking about himself, and that was only when he was listening, and while Zoe and Inara had both been kind to him there had never been any closeness. Only River knew him, and even then a part of that was her psychic ability which gave her an insight into his thoughts and feelings that most sisters wouldn't have. Of course, River was family, so she didn't even really count. No, Celeste and Cara were friends. Next to Celeste sat one of her submissives, a boy in his early thirties with startling black eyes and a mop of blond curls. Celeste always chose the striking ones, which was why he had been so surprised when she had taken an interest in him the first time he had visited, for all that he might be pretty he had no illusions that he stood out in a crowd. Her other submissives, a woman with red hair and pale blue eyes who was all tall as Mal, and another male a few years older Celeste's own forty-five years who's hair was snow white and had been since he was very young, were both absent from the meal and Celeste shared with them that Ceres was pregnant, another welcome addition to the family, but she often felt ill which was why Salvatore had chosen to stay with her in their rooms. Due to the dynamics of relationships it was not uncommon for a dominant to have many submissives in their household, although they would usually only have children with one of them so as to ensure clean bloodlines. Simon himself had never found that particular aspect of their society appealing, he wanted to be dominated but he had no desire to share. He guessed he was just selfish like that. Cara felt the same why he did, although he knew it was rare on Eros as poly-amorous relationships were so ordinary. He hoped that her domme, a woman with Chinese features and long auburn hair, shared Cara's thoughts on the subject else there was bound to be resentments and tears. As well as Cara and her domme Anya, there were Celeste's oldest two children, Bella and Dixon, attending. Bella was twenty and on the cusp of sexual maturity and it showed in every action that she was a domme through and through, while Dixon who was barely fourteen wore a shirt with an open collar that showed a bare neckline indicating he was a submissive. It was nice that Celeste was sharing her family with them, made Simon feel warm and accepted in a way that even Kaylee's unwavering sweetness hadn't managed to achieve.
“So, Mr Tam, is the Captain your Dom?” Bella asked, and Simon choked on the green tea he had been drinking and avoided eye contact with everyone.
“I... no, no. We don't arrange society like you do on Eros,” he said. She should know that, which meant she was either trying to embarrass him, unlikely considering Celeste's strict insistence on polite behaviour, or she knew about his past here. Simon feared it was the latter.
“I apologise,” she said, her midnight blue eyes dancing with mischief, “I had heard you were trained and wondered if you had sought out a partner,” she said. “I'm sorry you have been unsuccessful in your search.”
Somehow Simon doubted that was true. “I learned much. Perhaps one day I might be able to make use of my lessons.” What he had just said was tantamount to flirting and he blushed, dipping his eyes even further to stare at the table cloth.
“I look forward to that day,” she said with a musical laugh.
“Oh I doubt we'll be around that long,” Mal broke in, his voice sounded light enough but he cast a dark unreadable look in Simon's direction that made Simon's hand go to his bear throat self-consciously. He took another sip to tea instead of replying.
“Oh Captain, you are welcome for as long as you wish to stay,” Celeste assured them, and Simon was sure he wasn't the only one to hear the humour behind her words. Maybe this had been a bad idea after all. Bad idea or not, he still had to survive the next few days. Good luck to him!
Dinner passed with thick tension in the air, but for the life of him Simon couldn't bring himself to care. He ate and drank and luxuriated in the company of friends who he didn't have to fear, they wouldn't turn their back on him like he had always worried the Captain would. Despite Kaylee's innate goodness and her genuine friendship with him he knew that not even she would be able to stop the Captain when he finally got bored of having to dodge the law on the account of a pansy rich boy doctor and his moon brained sister. Celeste had already made it clear that she believed instantly in him, and no amount of pressure from the government could sway her otherwise. So let the Captain stare daggers at him from across the table, and let Jayne run his mouth off with insulting insinuations. Nothing could touch him here.
“The hour is late, I bid you call a good night. Bella, if you would show our guests to the Guest Wing and then find your own bed, promptly please?” Celeste asked pointedly. Her daughter hadn't enough shame at getting caught lusting after one of their guests to blush, instead she just smiled winningly at her mother and elegantly raised from the table.
“Follow me,” she invited alluringly and Simon watched her hips sway suggestively as she led the way out of the dinning area.
Mal kept close to Simon as they journeyed through the large maze like house, an expression not dissimilar to that of someone having just bitten a lemon seemed to be glued to his face. Perhaps the wind had changed during dinner, but Simon somehow doubted it.
The first room they came to was small comparatively although it made the rooms on Serenity look like closets. Ivory walls with black and gold details, a large ornate mirror and a single bed of fine red silk. Clearly this was a child's room, while it was beautiful in design it lacked the signs of adulthood. River was deposited here, which Mal argued against wanting her to sleep across from the Doctor and in with Kaylee. Bella's response was to point out that there were no double rooms in her mother's house except for ones with marital beds, and that they would never dream of allowing a minor in one of those rooms. Besides due to the culture on Eros, same sex relations were just as common as opposite gender relationships which meant that they could not allow River to share a room with anyone over the age of twenty-one. That ruled out all members of the crew. Zoe shot him a look and Mal shut up before he dug a whole he couldn't climb out of and thankfully there were no more incidents. The next room along was given to Kaylee, a larger room with the kinds of tools that one would expect from a culture built on BDSM to possess. Of course they were clearly unused and kept in plastic packages. Kaylee blushed prettily and seemed to avoid looking at them, instead remarking on how comfortable the large bed looked. They left her to stare forlornly at it, and Simon couldn't help but think that she was thinking on how lonely it would be for her to sleep in that huge decadent bed without anyone to keep her warm. Guilt twinged at the fringes of his mind, but Simon had to let go of the fantasy that he could be what Kaylee needed. He couldn't, and she was figuring that out every moment she stayed here.
Across the large spacious hallway was Simon's room which was where his journey ended leaving him unsure as to which rooms the Captain and Wash and Zoe were to sleep in. Still, at least he knew where River was and that was the important thing. He was proud of her today, she had handled herself well and he had only had to give her medicine once. Maybe this place was good for her, it was certainly good for him.
The bedroom he found himself in was even more decadent than River or Kaylee's had been. The walls were a rich bronze colour that almost seemed to glitter and edged with cream. Art works hung on the wall, of erotic poses or famous ancient paintings of Earth that was. Expensive, all of them. All but one. This one hung opposite the mahogany bed with its burgundy cotton sheets. The wall was completely bare except this one small painting. He moved closer, drawn by the mysterious shadows of the drawing, then finally he was standing close enough to touch the naked joy and comfort that the artist had captured on the face of the submissive man being whipped. Simon's heart caught in his throat and his pulse tripled. Gods but how he remembered what it was like to be that man, kneeling at the feet of a dominant who could make you soar so high the spaceships envied you. The feeling of freedom and belonging. Of safety, despite the intentional harm that was being done to you. Of helplessness, an emotion that Simon had begun to despise since beginning his mission to save River from what had been hurting her.
“It's mine,” a familiar voice murmured from inches away.
Simon turned, startled. He hadn't even heard the electronic door open, let alone noticed that he was no longer alone.
“Bella, what are you-”
“I'm just saying goodnight, Simon, and hoping we could pick up our... conversation from earlier,” she said suggestively.
Simon moved away from her. “You are very talented,” he said, gesturing towards the painting. “Did you give me this room deliberately?”
She shrugged. “It may have crossed my mind.”
“I'm not about to betray Celeste's kindness by letting myself be seduced by her under-aged daughter,” Simon said.
“No matter how much you want to?” She guessed accurately.
“Don't worry, Simon, I would never ask you to break the law. I'm just making my claim know, in case you decide to stick around,” she said.
“What makes you think that I'll be sticking around?” Simon asked as she made her way to the door.
She laughed, a musical sound that reminded Simon of her mother. “Simon. You are the perfect submissive, I can tell from a few hours in your company, yet you have no one to claim you, to make you feel like you belong and hence you don't. This is your home, Simon, even if you don't live here at the moment, this is where you belong and I have little doubt you'll see that before the end. And when you do, remember my offer, I'm young but I'm extremely well trained. Sleep well, Simon, and don't feel too guilty about dreaming about me,” she said and then Simon was alone feeling like he'd been hit by a tornado.
Bella was a force to be reckoned with, not that Simon could really deny anything she was saying. He'd been legal when he'd arrived on this planet and soon involved in a relationship with a powerfully seductive domme called Hana. She had taught him how much he needed to be needed, but soon enough the relationship turned sour and Celeste had helped him. That was why he knew River would be safe under her roof, as would they all, even Simon who to this day couldn't be sure if he even wanted to be safe.
He groaned and went to find the shower, located through a door which led to an empty walk in closet which was approximately the size of Kaylee's quarters on the ship. He revelled in the scalding hot water for a good fifteen minutes before he found himself longing for the comfort of a bed. Sleep came as soon as he lay his head on the genuine feather pillow, but it wasn't Bella's touch that burned through his dreams. It was someone else, far more forbidden to him.
Screaming woke him. An inhuman sound which called to the doctor in him. He was out of bed and searching for the light before he had even opened his eyes, and when he did he noticed a door to his left. Hurrying towards it, medical supplies in tow, he found the door opened for him instantly. He ordered the lights on and saw Mal, twisted up in his sheets, his body glistening with sweat and his features contorted with fear and pain. He screamed again, his body jerking.
Simon rushed to him, gentling him and murmuring, trying to wake him without startling him. The Captain's arms flew out and one caught him across the face, knocking him backwards. He would have a bruise in the morning, but it would hardly be the first time Mal had unthinkingly inflicted damage upon him. “Wake up!” He shouted in Mal's ear and the Captain's eyes flew open to find a half naked Simon lying on his bed.
“What in the gorram verse are you doing in my bed?” Mal croaked out, his voice sore from creaming that he couldn't remember.
“You woke me up, screaming. Nightmare.” Simon explained, quickly distancing himself physically from Mal.
Mal looked down at himself, twisted up in expensive bed cloths and sweating as if he'd been working for hours in the midday sun on his mama's ranch back on Shadow. “I'm awake now, Doctor, you can go back to your sleep.”
“I should give you something to help you get some rest,” Simon said, searching his bag of medicines.
“No. No drugs. I've slept enough for the night,” Mal said.
He couldn't have slept more than two and a half hours, but Simon would let him have his way. After all, he was the Captain. “If you say so,” he said.
Mal lay there panting, and Simon felt the urge to help in some small way so he poured the Captain a glass of water and handed it to him, pleased when Mal drank most of it down in a few gulps before placing it by his bedside. He seemed calmer now, and Simon was about to leave when he spoke.
“How long did you spend on Eros, the first time?” He asked.
Simon blinked in surprise. Mal was asking about his life? This was beyond unheard of. It was... unsettling. It was everything he wanted, but nothing he had ever believed he could have. Surely there was a trick to it, but Simon found himself replying anyway. “Just under a year. Most medical training exercises last for six months, but truthfully I considered staying here and making it my home. It was only because my father called me back that I returned.”
“Not your sister?” Mal asked.
“She wanted me to be happy, even though I'm sure she missed me.”
Mal nodded. “What about now?”
“Excuse me?” Simon asked, not following.
“Are you thinking about staying now?” He repeated, an edge to his tone now. So, Simon realised, this was where the conversation was going.
“Why? You thinking of leaving us here?” Simon asked, his own voice sharp with resentment and bitterness.
“No,” Mal bit back, fire in his eyes. “Just wondering if I was going to have to hog tie you to get you back to the ship.”
Simon's breath caught. “You!” He couldn't think of a curse harsh enough to throw at the captain. “I would have thought you would be please to see me and River go?”
“No one leaves the ship, least I give them permission. Not you or your moon-brained sis! Dong ma?” Mal was out of bed now, wearing only a pair of boxers. Simon kept his eyes on Mal's face despite how much he wanted to look at his chest. It wasn't like he'd never seen it before, but when he had it had always been as Simon's patient. This was different. Still, it was easier than expected to keep his eyes on Mal's face when his expression was so riveting. A cross between rage and something he'd only ever seen once before, a long time ago. It reminded him of how easy it was for even the simplest of power relationships to turn abusive, and how he had already been down this road before. Why couldn't he see how easy it would be to fall pray to Mal, just like he'd fallen pray to Hana.
“You don't have the right-” Simon began, but found all the air evacuated from his lungs as Mal reared up and threw him bodily against the wall, keeping him in place by a hand against his throat with mere centimetres between their bodies. Simon didn't even try and struggle, his eyes wide and his pulse fast for reasons other than fear.
He had been here before, that thought echoed through his mind.
“”Yes I do,” Mal bit out viscously. “You think I haven't been paying attention? Well I have. I know some of the rules here, and I do have the right. In fact, I think this little trip has given me a whole new perspective on you, Simon, and now I see where I was going wrong. After this, I don't think I'll ever have a problem letting you know where you belong, do you?” Mal added, and Simon wanted simultaneously to whimper and fall to his knees and to lash out at Mal, make him feel as vulnerable and pained as Simon was feeling right this minute. He never got the chance to see which would win out, because an instant later Mal released Simon and he found himself bracing his knees to stop himself from falling down.
Bruised deeper than just his skin, Simon stared balefully at the space next to Mal's shoulder unable to meet the Captain's eyes just yet. “Go back to your bed, Doctor,” the Captain ordered, and Simon just noticed that Mal was avoiding looking directly at Simon as well. “And I really wouldn't recommend dreaming of Bella.”
Simon couldn't take any more. Not tonight. “Believe me, I wasn't,” he said, and left the room quickly. Once on the other side of the door he verbally commanded it to lock and sought the safety of his own bed, feeling anything but safe. What the hell was all of that? If he couldn't already feel the bruise beginning to show on his cheek he would think it had all been a dream. A dream, not a nightmare, and that was the worst part about it. Despite the violence and vehemence he had just experienced, he would rather have that than the usual indifference that the Captain treated him with. Indifference would be the real nightmare. And that was the sad truth.
The morning came too quickly for Simon who had been reluctant to fall asleep after the dream and the violent episode in Mal's room. Still, he couldn't hide his face for long, literally and figuratively. While he completed his morning rituals he couldn't help but notice the angry bruise that had formed where the Captain had accidentally smacked him across the face last night, or that he looked significantly sleep deprived and haunted as to cause others to notice even if they didn't necessarily find it in themselves to ask. Kaylee almost certainly would, and so would Celeste. He only hoped that she would be satisfied with the half truths be was willing to hand out since he had sworn never to lie to her in exchange for her help in freeing himself from Hana. He had no intention of breaking his oath, but he also wasn't planning on telling her that his Captain had pushed him against a wall and whispered deliciously seductive words that were more dangerous than a gun wound to the chest. Those things Mal had said... he couldn't mean them, not by the light of day, surely? Simon knew he was hurting after the loss of Inara although it had been obvious from the start that one of them would have to give and it was never going to be the Captain, and then with the Sheppard taking off too... Despite the Captain's initial reluctance to let Book come on board and how hard he had tried to keep his distance, Simon knew that the two of them had been close before the end and Mal had felt just as abandoned by Book as he had by Inara. From what he had said last night it seemed he was acting out against losing any more crew, if Simon and River could even be called 'crew'. It truly seemed to depend on what day of the week it was in Mal's mind as to whether Simon was the enemy in sheep's clothing or a valued comrade in the fight against the oppression of the government. Not the Simon did any fighting exactly but he had at least shot a gun for the Captain, even if he'd been assured that no damage had been inflicted by his bullets, and he had participated in crime as well. Simon had done everything he could to become one of the crew short of learning to cuss and losing all of his manners.
Eventually the dreaded knock came at the door and Simon straightened his shirt and smoothed down his waistcoat to answer. “Cara,” he said warmly with no small amount of surprise in his voice.
Cara smiled back at him, although her expression wavered when she saw the bruise. She invited herself in and Simon glanced around for her domme. “Is Domme Anya not joining us?”
He asked politely.
Cara settled herself comfortably sitting on the bed that Simon had just made. “She is getting our things together. I offered but she is independent, likes to do these things for herself,” Cara sighed as if the particularities of her domme were cute but frustrating. Submissives were in no way slaves on Eros, but it was expected that they would service their dominants in more than just the bedroom, including cleaning and cooking although this did not always translate into child rearing as well. Cara herself had not a maternal bone in her body, however Hana's brother Kerr who had been a submissive had dreamed of becoming a father and taking on the task of diper changes and midnight feeds since he was a teenager. Celeste took her parental responsibilities very seriously, but he knew that one or more of her submissives took on the role of nanny or 'mummy' to the young while Celeste showed her involvement more in teaching and setting a moral example. They were after all just as human as the rest of the 'verse, just as different and individual as everyone else.
“You're really happy with her?” Simon asked.
“She's nothing like the person I imagined I would end up accepting a collar from, you know that more than anyone, but somehow she's everything I need. She seems to effortlessly be able to handle my moods and yes, she makes me happy, happier than I'd ever been in my life,” Cara finished.
“Gohn shi. I'm glad”. ((gohn shi = congratulations)) Simon remembered when she was younger and she had tried to tell him what it meant to be a submissive, a concept hard to explain to an outsider. Cara had shared her fantasies, how she dreamed of a big strong dominant demanding Cara's submission, never accepting no for an answer and pursuing her to the ends of the earth. She now understood it to be a childish fantasy, one that couldn't complete with the reality of a dominant who loved her for herself. Simon was glad that things had worked out for her, and a little envious too. He would never have that, and while he hadn't been raised or socialised to expect that out of life it had still become the one thing he wanted more than anything. Something he tried to keep locked deep down in his heart, along with his dreams of continuing his work on Osiris or earning his father's respect, trust and love and his mother's attention. They were selfish dreams and he needed to let go of them. Only it was harder than ever before, with the reality staring him right in the face.
“What about you? I saw your face at dinner when Mistress Celeste's brat asked you if Captain Reynolds was your dom... is there anything I should know?” She pried delicately.
“Between me and Mal? No.” Simon knew he sounded genuinely surprised, but after tonight he no longer felt that way. It was only natural for people here to pick up on the protective vibe that Mal had towards his crew, but even so before the events of last night Simon would never have thought anyone could believe Mal and he were anything more than casual acquaintances. “For a while I think that I may have been flirting with Kaylee... I had hoped that maybe we would be more than friends, but I never let myself be completely honest with her about what I want, probably because I don't think she could give me that,” he admitted unhappily, hoping to deflect Cara's line of perceptive questioning by opening up about his angst over his decision to alienate Kaylee.
“The little brown haired one with the pretty mouth?” Cara asked, and when Simon nodded she laughed. “Oh, Simon! While I'm sure that Kaylee and you don't have compatible dynamics, I can tell you that she is most assuredly a dominant.”
“Bu kuh nuhn ((impossible)),” Simon said, but doubt began to form in his mind. Maybe he had been so quick to assume that Kaylee was like him just because she had never taken the initiative with him, but perhaps that was more about her own socialising on a rim planet that still encouraged girls to let boys chase them. “Do you really think so?” He asked.
“Oh yes! Trust me, beneath her sweet and bubbly exterior she's a top all the way. My guess is she knows what she wants but something has been stopping her. You, perhaps?” Cara asked tentatively.
Simon flushed. “I... I've been busy, looking after River. The government, they did things to her brain and now she needs me more than ever. How could I think of myself and my desires when she was in pain?”
“Simon,” she chided softly. “You are a doctor, not god. All humans need other people, as companions, to share the burden, to look after them. I look after Anya by making sure she is satisfied, by giving her a reason to come home. She looks after me by making sure I have everything I need, that I'm never lonely or insecure and that I don't run off getting myself into trouble. Now, you don't need that kind of relationship, you aren't the 'trouble' kind. I think you have found what you need, even if you don't realise it, Simon, it just isn't Kaylee.”
“What do you mean?” He questioned her uncertainly.
“Think about it. You are a doctor, you need patients and people to take care of else you feel useless. You found yourself a whole crew to care for, and never have I seen any other crew that look like they need so much caring for. I guess they keep you pretty busy between patch ups and taking care of River. But Simon, you need something more than that. I saw you when you were with Hana, remember, and I saw how you were attracted to her charisma and her strict command of loyalty and allegiance of those around her. Mal has those same qualities, he draws you in like a moth to the flame. I understand the desire to have someone to give you a place, to tell you that you belong and that you are needed. Mal could be everything you need, in a way that Hana failed to be.”
Simon was surprised to hear her say that. If anything he would have thought that Cara would warn him away from growing attached to such a crew, would attempt to persuade him to stay on Eros like Bella had, although not using Bella's methods perhaps. He was also surprised that she was that perceptive after only a few hours in the crew's presence. Clearly he needed to stop under-estimating Cara. “I don't think he'd want me thinking of him as my Dom, not if he knew what that really required other than ordering me around and putting me in my place.... although last night...” he stopped, not wanting to reveal any more of his own inner dialogue. Simon touched the bruise on his cheek almost with out noticing, and he definitely didn't see Cara's instinctive flinch.
She backed off, literally and figuratively. “Or maybe not. I don't know Simon, I'm just an outside observer. I'll see you again while you're on the planet but I have to join Anya now.”
“Of course,” Simon agreed, embracing her quickly before stepping back. “I won't let it go so long between waves next time,” he vowed. He knew that with the unpredictability of his position on the ship and the very real possibilities of death or capture that he couldn't promise to visit, but he could at least give her that.
She smiled wanly back at him. “I know you won't. Remember we are always here for you if you should need us. Good bye,” she said and left his room.
Simon sighed feeling a little less alone, and a lot more confused.
“Mal, may we speak?” Celeste's melodious voice caught Mal's attention as he wondered down an unfamiliar hallway. It had been a long time since he'd lived planet side and even then the ranch he grew up on had been much humbler than this maze like mansion and he wasn't embarrassed to admit he was a little lost. His relief at seeing another human being was tempered by the fact that Celeste's face seemed almost expressionless, which in his experience of diplomats and politicians was never a good thing. In the past it had meant 'your homeland was destroyed by the war, there were no survivors' or 'the rations are running out, but don't fear more ammo is on its way'. More recently it had meant 'goodbye for reasons I can't share with you'. Zoe was the only one who could wear that expression without the intention of deception.
“Of course, I am your guest after all,” he agreed cordially with an overly polite smile on his face.
“A most welcome one, since you have brought Simon back into my household,” she said, and Mal didn't like the way it sounded, like she was going to keep Simon, like Serenity was a temporary home for the Tams and they'd be better off once they left. Maybe it was true, after all Simon had only boarded in an attempt to flee Persephone with his sister hoping to find somewhere safe. Eros was the first planet they had come across that had any chance of being safe, but it had been months and Mal was sure that in River's mind at the very least Serenity had become home.
“It's always pleasant to visit with old friends,” Mal replied lightly, but she caught his suble meaning.
“It is. Although Simon will be made aware that he can always seek refuge on Eros. This planet was his home once, he is the only visitor I have ever met who truly belonged. All the others see a kinky risqué experience to have and tell their friends about, and then there are those who fail to understand the difference between a Submissive and a slave and come here with the intention of abusing our way of life.”
“Eros certainly has a unique culture,” Mal ignored the comment about Simon, he would make sure the boy knew that he belonged on the ship, however he wouldn't chose methods as violent and... personal as what happened last night. That had been a mistake, a revealing one, but one he did not intend on repeating.
“Yes. I hope you understand how much of Eros is in Simon, and that we take care of our own, even if they are light years away from us. Men in your position... our culture expects certain things of them. I want to believe you are capable of living up to your station, Captain Reynalds,” Celeste said.
“I know that in your society I would be considered responsible for any un-collared submissives on my crew, and that responsibility extends to more than just keeping them alive. My mother had a ranch hand who grew up on Eros,” he explained away his knowledge.
“I'm glad to know Simon is in such capable hands,” Celeste said, but there was a thoughtful edge to her voice now. Their polite façade was almost over, she was close to exposing the real purpose of their conversation.
“Let me ask you something,” he said, stepping in front of her and ending the casual stole they had taken away from the unknown corridor and into more familiar territory. “Do you always take this much interest in adult submissives who aren't related to you or is Dr Tam a special case”?
A wry smile twisted her dark red mouth. “Simon was just another visiting doctor until a Dominant took an interest in him. For reasons I am not prepared to share with you, I was forced to intervene in their relationship and brought Simon into my household for the remainder of his stay on the planet. He is like family to me, Captain, and I'd advise you not to forget it.” She was warning him not to hurt Simon, and Mal thought there was nothing funny about this situation.
“Simon is an adult who is very much used to existing out side of your society. I'm not willing to be his mother hen,” he informed Celeste tersely.
“Simon isn't looking for a mother hen, Captain, just remember that before you treat him as if he belongs to you,” she said, and walked off.
Mal had no retort. His instinctive reply was that Simon did belong to him, and he wanted to rationalise that away as being the same as the way that Kaylee belongs to him, the way his crew belongs to him. However he knew that he didn't feel the same way about them. Kaylee was like a little sister who he cared deeply for, and he would hate for her to go but if she left he would do everything to make sure she was leaving for a happier life. Simon though... Simon was someone who had come to him needing his protection. His feelings for Simon were wrapped up in the loathing he had for the Alliance and people who blindly followed the Alliance without questioning the cost that their perfect little lives came with. Simon inspired the violence in him, but it wasn't always directed at Simon, occasionally it was for Simon.
Zoe laughed as Wash's fingers led a tickly path from the base of her neck to where the sheet covered her hip. They were lying in a luxurious bed of fine material and a soft mattress, it was warm without being hot and for a few more minutes Zoe could allow Wash to act like they were perfectly safe and sound without a care in the world. It was an illusion she could never allow herself to believe, not after the war and living on Serenity for so long. The moment you let your guard down was the moment you died, and she had no intention of letting herself or Wash die. Not now, not after fighting so hard just to have this.
“I can feel you thinking, lambie-toes, and you know how it damages by fragile manly ego when your mind is on things other than me in bed,” Wash teased her lightly.
“Maybe I'm just trying to inspire you?” She suggested seductively, running a long elegant finger across her husband's chest.
Wash's eye brows rose at the challenge and his eyes roamed the room around them. “Well, we are surrounded by some very intriguing aids. Want to indulge in some naughty games?” He asked, kissing the valley between her collarbone and lapping at the skin there until she moaned and brought his head up for a deep kiss.
Panting, they broke apart. “What do you want to do?” She asked.
He looked shy, which was extremely unusual for Wash. In the time she had known him he had been cocky, insecure, afraid, angry, and most of all devoted and loving, but she had never seen him unsure of admitting something personal to her. “How do you feel about ropes?” He asked, and wiggles his wrists at her.
She smiled, he had such a good heart. She knew that he would never dream of making her uncomfortable, especially considering her past experiences as a soldier, but she felt the same way and she desperately wanted to protect him from his memories of being tortured by Niska. Besides, she wasn't afraid of new experiences. “I trust you,” she whispered, and handed him a length of beautifully woven rope obviously designed not to leave marks.
His eyes widened at the gesture, and he kissed her mouth with all the devotion of a prophet to his goddess. “I will never understand what I could have possibly done to deserve you,” he said with utter conviction.
Zoe smiled beatifically and stretched her arms above her head to allow him to bind her to a thoughtfully positioned hook. Behind passion glazed eyes she was thinking how it was the other way around, what had she ever done to deserve such a gentle, beautiful, honest man? Whatever it was, she was so very glad she had done it. This joy was worth a thousand Battles of Serenity Valley.
oh my god; I updated! I'm shocked myown self!
The meet was set for a dusk appointment in the roughest neighbourhood of the Capitol. Mal met them in the hall after lunch avoiding the gaze of everyone and shooting down their good humour with an impressively callous tone and acidic comments. Wash and Zoe, who’d looked as content as honeymooners when they’d eventually emerged from their rooms, soon stiffened under the assault. Zoe’s expression blanked off to the façade of a soldier under siege, and Wash made several off coloured remarks under his breath. Luckily Kaylee was spared the in-person experience by already being in place via a comm link set up in a secure location. Jayne seemed to find the whole situation hilarious, until the Captain turned his ill humour on the ex-mercenary. Simon and River found themselves familiarly ignored, which Simon appreciated for the time being even if it stung like the crack of a paddle against naked flesh. He needed space to sort through last night, something which was in short supply on Serenity so he would have to take as much of it as Eros would afford him before their return to the ship.
Guns were assigned, code words exchanged (something along the lines of if the Captain or Zoe said ‘gose’ then bring the fire power, but cao ni zuzong shiba dai (f*** your ancestors) meant run for your lives). Kaylee checked in with her usual chipper enthusiasm and Mal left Simon with a glare and a warning to ‘be good’. Simon barely supressed the desire to shiver with something that couldn’t quite be described as anticipation. The part of himself who had been turned on by Mal’s hands on him last night wanted to lower his lashes and ask Mal what his reward would be for being good – or more importantly what his punishment would be for disobedience. However Simon wasn’t a complete moon brain, so he kept his longing to himself and simply watched as his crew left on yet another dangerous mission. A small voice inside his mind reminded him that these small acts of petty criminality were a lot less dangerous than even knowing River’s name, let alone harbouring both Simon and River. The guilt dissipated the arousal bubbling inside of him and he led River, who seemed oblivious to the tension in the room, inside into the drawing room.
Celeste waited there with tea and Simon found it a balm to his bruised pride to engage in the simple ceremony with her, appreciated her silence and relaxed into the luxury of soft velvet and patterned silks. An hour passed and Simon felt some of his tension return even though he wasn’t expecting to hear an update and in fact a return this early would mean disaster had struck. Of course no news didn’t always equal good news when it came to the Captain’s less than honest dealings.
Celeste looked poised to say something when her Submissive arrived, kneeling in front of her before waiting to be acknowledged. She kissed the crown of his head and listened as he relayed a message about one of their children having a small tumble; no bruises or bumps he promised but the child wouldn’t calm. Celeste smiled, murmured something about becoming too indulgent in her old age, and left to attend to her young.
In the quiet vacancy of her absence he started to pace the room. River was firmly occupied by some colourful inks and drawing books left out for children younger than her although argumentatively more independent and able. Another hour ticked by and when someone entered the room behind him he jumped. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed to see it was Bella.
She stood in the doorway gazing at him darkly, something like lust in her beautiful eyes but a great deal more detached; it was like she was looking at a masterpiece she wanted to own. Simon flushed, both flattered and more than a bit uncomfortable with the possession in her gaze. Last night there has been this overwhelming ache that had been relieved by her flirtation, by the understanding of his needs he had interpreted from her words and actions. Now he second guessed himself.
“I’d heard about your incident in the night,” she said, distaste flickering across her features as she found his bruises.
Simon sucked in a breath, shocked at the audaciousness of her comment. In Erosian society it was less than polite to comment on the marks one had left on a Submissive. Of course, he reminded himself, it wasn’t his Dominant who had done the marking even if the rules of Eros would dub the Captain so. Bella should know better than to be so rude.
“Is that what you need, Simon?” Bella asked, pointing to the shadow of violence that marred his face. “Or is it just what you think you deserve?”
He flinched, her words evoking memories of a different woman and a different time, a period of his life when that question was impossible to answer. He’d felt so guilty at the happiness and sense of belonging he had found on Eros. His father hadn’t wanted him to be a trauma surgeon, preferring a more lucrative field like genetic manipulation or plastic surgery, but Simon had felt a thrill in the trauma ward of Osiris General that nothing had ever come close to. Finally he had found something that made him feel alive and nothing his parents had said could have convinced him to give it up. Still, Simon hated to disappoint his parents and he could see them turn their attention more towards River’s potential when Simon didn’t back down from his dream. Maybe, Simon thought often enough, if he’d been less selfish and complied with his parent’s wishes then they wouldn’t have been so hasty in sending River off practically gift wrapped for the government. Maybe River would be whole. Maybe it really was all Simon’s fault.
“Dodo brain,” the girl in question lifted her head from the children’s colouring book she had been doodling in, bring pink calligraphy ink staining her delicate digits as she stared at Simon with all the exasperation of a teenage sister. “It’s not about you. Write your own story.”
Bella eyed River warily, glancing at the nonsensical Chinese script littering the paper pages of the book. “Simon, can we speak more about this in private?”
“No, I don’t think that would be appropriate,” Simon said, taking a step back. He was reminded of Kaylee’s teasing, ‘why’d you have to be so appropriate all the time’ she’d asked him on more than one occasion. This was one of the reasons why. His childhood had been an indoctrination of polite society, but Eros was in his soul.
“Simon,” she said, her voice lighter as she reached out to bridge the gap between them.
“No,” he repeated, firmer. He had let the attentions of a Domme affect his better judgement. Bella was underage, and there was a reason the age of consent was set so high on Eros. It was so easy to let hormones rule action, it was so easy to make a mistake without the understanding of the consequences. He hoped Bella would give herself enough time to learn the bigger picture before she hurt someone, but she was in such a rush to grow up that it was all too clear she was destined for some ugly lessons before she became the Domme she was meant to be. “If you’ll excuse me,” he continued, turning away to busy himself. “It’s time for River’s medication.”
The colouring book and calligraphy stylus came flying at Simon’s head. “Not putting that gorram needle in my gorram brain you gorram son of a whore!”
Bella danced backwards out of the reach of River’s inexplicable rage, her eyes wide and alarmed. Yes, Simon could clearly see his mistake here. Bella wasn’t the force of nature, the overwhelming protector and unmovable object that Simon longed for. She was just a pretty girl with a sense of her own power. Words weren’t enough to keep Simon. Words had never been enough.
“I’ll see you later, Simon, when you’re not so preoccupied,” Bella promised even as she abandoned him to River’s unkindly accurate aim.
Preoccupied. Yes, he could imagine that she was the type of Domme who would want his sole attention. For a long time Simon had assumed Kaylee was of the same mind, needing more from him that he could give but he realised now he had judged her too harshly. Kaylee loved River, she would have understood every second that he’d been required to spend with his sister, understood and most likely helped in any way she could hoping both to ease the burden and to grow closer to River and Simon by bonding them as a family. It was Simon who had never made the leap from friend to lover, something inside of him had held him back. Something called Captain.
Simon’s heart thumped loudly and his face suffused with colour. He avoided River’s gaze as he depressed the liquid medication into her arm even as she made a horrific gnashing with her teeth and kicked out at his legs. He had never admitted to himself before that what he felt for Mal was so consuming, so powerful. He wouldn’t call it love, and certainly he’d known long ago that there was an edge of lust to his meanderings about the Captain, but now he could recognise the potential in Mal to fill the empty spaces inside of Simon; to make him whole.
As River calmed he redirected her to make a choice between joining them for dinner or having some food in her room. She answered him in riddle and then laughed when he didn’t understand her. He missed her sanity, but not as much as he had missed her when she had been gone. He kissed her cheek and watched as she skipped off to her bedroom sing a muddied lullaby about lady’s skirts and the woods. Simon allowed himself to wonder into the dining room and found one of Celeste’s servants with a message for him about her having a private dinner with her Submissives but he was welcome to eat with Bella and River. Simon shied away from the idea and the servant quickly offered to send both his portion and River’s to their bedrooms. He agreed and took note of the time before heading to kind Kaylee.
“I brought you some tea,” he said, offering her a cup of special blend berry and cinnamon tea which he knew was popular on her home planet.
“Shiny!” She lit up, large smile and leaned in to sniff the brew, her nose twitching and genuine bliss blooming on her face. Kaylee was so pretty, Simon thought with a pang, he as such a fool to let her slip away. For a moment he considered making a move, but then he swallowed and he felt the tightness from Mal’s hand last night. Being with Kaylee would be like calling a breeze a tsunami, and it would be unfair to her when Simon had all the facts. He couldn’t be that callous.
“Thank you, Simon. It’s been so long since I had cinnaberry tea. My mom always made it on winter days and we’d all gather round to watch the fire and talk about our day. I really miss home sometimes, you know?”
Simon didn’t. He missed not being on the run from the Alliance. He missed clean air and expensive coffee and the respect of people around him. But he didn’t miss home like Kaylee did. “Why don’t you go back?”
“Oh I do. Sometimes, you know like once a year just in time for a holiday. My parents understand, it’s a tiny planet without much opportunity for someone with my skills. If I was still there likely I’d be in jail or pregnant and then… woah my daddy would get that shotgun and drag us both down the aisle. I’d have to make an honest man outta that boy!”
Simon smiled. It wasn’t a wonder that Kaylee turned out to be such an open minded and kind hearted girl, not with the way she talked about her past. He wondered, briefly, what kind of experiences Jayne had growing up that contributed to his absence of morals or general human decency, but he knew Jayne had the kind of momma who knitted him hats so he didn’t get cold so he guessed Jayne was just made that way on the inside. Nature verses nurture. Mal… Simon didn’t let himself dream about how Mal came to be the man he was. He’d have to call them nightmares and he hadn’t the experience or knowledge of what war was like to even imagine.
“What brings you down here to criminal central?” Kaylee asked, tapping her headpiece as if to indicate the nefarious dealings taking place in the city.
“Just… Is everything okay? With… the crime?”
“With the crew, you mean? It’s okay to admit you care about them, Simon. They care about you too, you know. You’re one of us.”
He snorted. “Zoe tolerates me, Wash is nice to everyone, it was basically in Book’s job description to be kind to all, Jayne out right would sell me for a hot meal, Inara pitied me, and M- the Captain… he changes his mind every half an hour about where I belong and half of the time it seems to be out the airlock. You’re the only one who likes me, Kaylee,” he listed without meaning to sound self-pitying. It was what it was. He had arrived in their lives and put them all in danger. Hell, he’d put Kaylee’s life in literal danger. It had been for a good cause, but Simon didn’t put prices on lives and to say that Kaylee’s life was worth River’s wasn’t fair. They had good reasons not to trust or like him. Simon didn’t even like himself most days, so how could he expect the crew of the Serenity to either?
“Naw, not even! Jayne would sell most people for a hot meal, probably even me for a week of them so don’t you go taking that personal or anything. Wash and Zoe like you fine, even speak up for you an’ everything! Inara, and the Shepherd too!”
“Not going to deny what I said about the Captain?” He pointed out wryly, cheered a little by Kaylee’s innate goodness.
“The Captain only tried to throw you outta the airlock that once, I think, and ’sides he’s a moody old man, can’t take nothing he says seriously.”
“He loves you. You’re his mei-mei.”
“I’m his crew, and his crew is better than family to the Captain.”
“Yeah, which is just one reason in a long line of reasons why he’s never going to let me be crew.”
Kaylee eyed him with concern, and he wondered how she could live her whole life with her emotions on her sleeve and not get hurt every damn day. Stronger than him, certainly. “Simon, are you planning on leaving us?”
“I’m not planning anything.” There was a bite to his voice that he immediately regretted, and he sent her a smile to soften his tone. It wasn’t her fault he was… tetchy.
“But… Serenity is your home.”
“I…” I want that, he almost said, the words tasting like vulnerability on his tongue. “I hope that can be true, but the Captain… I have to choose the best option for River. The people here can offer us consistency and certainty.”
Kaylee bit her lip, looking small and as defenceless as Simon felt. Both of them ripped apart and grief stricken by the loss of their friends in recent months, by the uncertainty of the future. Simon reached out and lay his hand near Kaylee’s his gaze hesitant and hopeful. She smiled, a wobbly expression that hurt Simon’s heart, and grabbed onto him with all her considerable strength, holding his hand as they waited for news of their crew, their family.