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Building a Whole

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     It was an accident, nothing more, nothing less. Simon had said entirely the wrong thing to Kaylee again, and she was mad at him again. He couldn’t even really remember what he’d said now, just that he’d known the second it had come out of his mouth that it was wrong. Her face had done that thing, the one where her glorious smile flattened like a disconnected heart-monitor. Her eyes, which had been shining like little stars, deadened and closed up their doors to him. Simon had known instantly that he’d said something bad, whatever it had been, but it was too late to take it back and she was gone, huffing away across the crowded room. Inara had witnessed the scene, eyes tightening in a little repressed smile that she thought others couldn’t see. But Simon could see it. His mother had smiled like that at him when she thought he was being particularly foolish.
      And so he’d been alone again. Silly, prissy foolish Simon, who couldn’t seem to put a foot down right out here in the Black. Every word was the wrong one, every move just a little out of sync with the chaotic dance of the place. He had sat there on the bench where Kaylee had left him, watching the people in the bar like they were the waves of an ocean, until he’d gotten sick of feeling sorry for himself. The beer in his stomach—so fizzy feeling when Kaylee had been smiling at him—was beginning to take on a sour turn. He got up, pushing through the revelers in the too-loud bar towards the back stairs. The villagers of Altus had been feeling extra generous after their little rescue by Mal and company from a local vicious gang. Part of their meager generosity had been the offer of rooms upstairs for the night, though not everyone had taken up the offer. It was a hike back to the ship and Simon had been just as glad not to have to make it. River was safely tucked away on Serenity with Zoe, Wash and Shepherd Book for evening and for once he didn’t need to worry over her too much. Zoe had a way with her that was kind of unique and Simon sometimes wondered if Zoe was using her as a kind of prep for having a child of her own. She’d been making little motions about fertility for a few months now, nothing overt but Simon noticed these things. It was his job after all. The only thing in the whole damn Universe he was good at. Only thing he’d ever been good at really.
      He’d climbed the stairs to the second floor feeling exhausted and out of place, wishing that maybe just once he could understand something; or even feel as if he might understand something about this strange life in the Black. His universe had been so small once, so easily defined. The rules had been very clear, easily understood and unshakable. Just like with Kaylee just now, everything seemed to have a nasty habit of shifting from under his feet. He was perpetually out of balance. What worked and was fine one day, didn’t work at all the next. Simon paused at the top of the stairs, feeling momentarily dizzy with the weight of everything resting on his shoulders. River was just one very frail girl, but she felt so very heavy some days. Keeping them safe, keeping them hidden, keeping Mal happy, trying like hell to be useful… he leaned his head against the wall, his neck too tired to keep it upright suddenly. Closing his eyes Simon wondered if the world was really spinning the way it felt it was, or if it was just the second drink Kaylee had talked him into.
     With a heavy sigh he pushed off the wall and down the corridor. There weren’t many rooms up here. The bar was technically also the inn, which doubled as a shop during daylight hours. The town hadn't been very big, which was what had made it such an easy target for the raiders. None of the towns out here felt very big, even when they were. Altus was a sad representative of an equally sad whole. They were all equally squalid, equally ignorant and equally remote. For being all individuals, so far apart from each other, they were all oddly identical. Or maybe he only imagined that too. Everyone reminded him daily that his perspective was somewhat biased by his upbringing. Sometimes he felt very alien, for all that he was human just like them.
       An odd sound had distracted him from the dour whirl of his thoughts. Simon froze automatically, an instinctive reflex shared by small animals who heard a noise in the dark. Turning he'd realized he was standing in the slice of light that spilled from a doorway, open a wide crack. The doorway belonged to the room Jayne had taken. The crack, while only as wide as his palm, had given him an excellent view into the room and an equally excellent view of the occupants.
      The bed was on the opposite wall of the room, kiddy-cornered so that the foot of the bed faced the door. Lamps stood in matching guardian attention on the tiny wooden end-tables to either side of the head of the bed, filling the room with a warm, almost surreal golden glow. It was the perfect lighting for the lovers on the bed.
Simon recognized the boy. Well, ‘boy’ was a derogatory adjective he supposed, since the ‘boy’ was probably only a few years younger than himself. It had always struck Simon as odd that no matter how small a town, somehow there was always at least a passing selection of sex workers there. This town was no exception and this boy was one of them, a small group that had offered themselves up downstairs before the evening celebrations had begun. Simon hadn’t even seen Jayne leave with him.
      Jayne himself was easily recognizable of course, a mountain of testosterone and muscle kneeling behind the boy. Jayne was holding him up on his knees and back against Jayne’s chest with the easy strength of someone who puts a lot of effort into their physique. He was fucking into the boy with easy, surging strokes, rocking them forward and the boy’s hands had latched on the ropey muscle of Jayne’s forearms, knuckles stark white.
      Through a dreamy, dewy gold haze, Simon had contemplated the oddity that even though Jayne was the paying client, it looked as if the opposite was true. Jayne’s focus was entirely on his whore, expression intent and keen rather than pleasured, as if his partner was an instrument being played with intensity. By comparison the boy was trembling in his grasp, limp and supported entirely by Jayne’s embrace, clearly overwhelmed by the attention he was receiving. His face was lax, eyes nearly crossed in pleasure as Jayne screwed him, one hand giving lazy pumping tugs of the boy’s erection, Jayne’s mouth pressing open-mouthed kisses into his sweaty neck and murmuring something husky and indecipherable. The boy had kept making these soft, keening whines, pleas and praises in the same desperate tone. It was weirdly tender, Jayne’s strokes steady, gentle and measured as if he had all the time in the world to bring the boy to the edge, to take him apart with a delicacy that was in utter defiance to the brute Simon knew him to be. The boy’s skin shone in the lamplight, streaked with sweat and Simon could smell semen in the air; it was an acrid ache at the back of his tongue that said someone had already ejaculated, possibly several times. The air seemed thick somehow, heady almost, breathless.
     The boy’s breaths sped up, panting on the heated air with none of the measured, calculated control of someone exaggerating their enjoyment. It was raw, striking, oddly surreal. Jayne tilted his head, whispering something and the boy nodded frantically, moaning. Jayne chuckled, switching his attentions to the other side of the boy’s neck, open-mouthed kisses trailing along overheated skin. It was very nearly sweet, loverly.
      Simon must have moved or made a sound; Jayne’s gaze lifted from his whore to the doorway with laser-targeting. Simon knew he could be seen, realized a bowel-clenching moment of horror that snapped the oddly timeless moment he’d been stuck in. He'd expected Jayne to roar at him, to swear or leap up or grab a gun—anything except to hold his gaze for a moment, then gently jerk his head to the left. A polite but firm move on. Simon moved.
      His room was several doors down and he launched himself into it, shutting the door with a bang that they must have heard in Jayne’s room. He'd stood for several minutes, feeling a variety of things all at once, none of them distinguishable, let alone identifiable. His face was hot and he was shaking, but it wasn’t until he stripped out of his clothes that he realized he wasn’t just embarrassed or ashamed of his accidental voyeurism—he was aroused by what he’d seen.
     What had lingered in his mind, even as he'd drifted into a strange and uncomfortable sort of sleep, was how disquieting it was that the boy had looked so much like him.