Word Count: 2,761
Summary: Mal, Simon, and River are stranded on a planet after alliance presence makes it dangerous for Serenity.
Notes: This was going to be a drabble, and then it got completely away from me again.
Epicure, Mal/Simon for merle_p
River had worn the tin ring Mal pulled out of the guts of his pack for a week, and Serenity had still not appeared on the horizon of the horribly puritanical rim planet.
Every day, watching the villagers fawn over Mal and his “spring bride” was making Simon die just a little bit. Something was expanding rapidly in his chest that felt like it was going to cut off his blood, his oxygen, his feeling.
He knew it was a charade, he had no pretensions otherwise. And he had enough sensibility to know that Mal wasn’t like to try anything. But River was the most normal he’d seen her in years. She was…happy. And Simon hadn’t been the one to make her so.
He spent his days making house calls with the sick. They didn’t have a suitable doctor around more than once a year, if that, so Simon had tugged on latex gloves and set out. There was very little he could do in the way of inoculations they so desperately needed, but he could set bones and bring fevers down and stitch gashes. He could stop dwelling on River.
The boards of the porch creaked, announcing an intruder. “The villagers told me I’d find you here.”
The sun was low in the sky, shining bright in Simon’s eyes. He had to blink to bring Mal into focus. He drank good strong coffee the Potters had brewed for him in payment for examining their youngest son’s eyes.
Simon didn’t look at Mal. “Don’t know where else there’d be to look.”
“What’s got your frilly underthings in a bunch, doc?” Mal asked.
Simon didn’t pay attention. He could hear laughter.
River skipped through a fallow wheat field, a child on each hand, a whole flock following behind. Simon’s mouth tightened.
Mal asked him, eyes wide, “You can’t think I’m partakin' of any…uh…liberties?”
Simon laughed, sardonically. “No, I don’t think that.” He left Mal outside to return the chipped mug back to its owners. Mal was gone when he walked back out.
They stayed with the mayor. After Simon had proved his surgeon’s hand they’d been offered up rooms. It was good because they had no coin for an inn and Serenity was gone, scared out of orbit while alliance presence hovered.
They were trapped, left behind. This time, Mal with them.
“How did you meet?” the mayor’s wife asked Mal and River at dinner, never once suspecting that her town’s laws might have forced her guests into a complete farce.
Mal answered a different story every time. “The doctor introduced us.”
“Did you realize they were going to fall in love?” she asked.
River grinned secretively and the contents of Simon’s stomach shifted.
“Oh, he was against it,” Mal spoke up, “a might fussy with change.”
Simon sighed and placed his napkin down on the table. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m feeling a bit fatigued.”
He felt Mal’s eyes on his back as he left.
River came to him that night, lined herself up in his bed, hair fanning out over his chest. “The captain is vitamin d,” she told him, palm flat on his shirt.
“River, you shouldn’t be here,” Simon said and rolled to the opposite end of the bed.
She looked at him like he was stupid. “There's been no leg over.”
Simon sat upright. “I know that.”
“There are bees and berries, soft places to hide—sunshine,” she said, getting to her feet. “Simon, smile.”
Simon couldn’t sleep after that. He went to his window and watched the silver washed garden, wondering if he had enough guts to go wading out in the creek.
The bushes parted and Mal walked between them, boots under one arm, hair slicked back from his face with creek water. He looked like a titan in the night, powerful shoulders and bright eyes under dark hair. Simon sighed and went back to bed.
Mal paced back and forth on the porch as they finished the midday meal. Simon was not a chemist, and he felt it keenly as he had to pull medicines for people out of thin air. Mal was nervous because they hadn’t had a wave from Serenity in four days.
It felt like a lifetime.
Despite the stress, the ever increasing impotence Simon felt—he could belong here, he could fix River. This backwater’s terraforming held. But Mal—there was only one place for him, beyond the heavens.
Simon had never thought of himself as adaptable. This sham, the rooms that River and Mal shared, they couldn’t last forever, but someday, he realized, he’d have to let River go. He’d remand her to another someone's care and love. And that shouldn’t feel like failure.
But it did.
Simon birthed his second baby that afternoon. On the walk back he came across Mal fixing a woodshed.
“Have you had any lunch?” he called up to him.
Mal brushed sweat away from his forehead. “Can’t say that I have.”
The family gave Simon sandwiches wrapped in grease paper and thermos full of chrysanthemum tea as a thank you. He raised the brown paper sack. “Do you want to share?”
Mal’s eyes drifted up to the sky, before focusing again on Simon. “I been feelin’ a bit peckish.”
Simon folded himself down onto the grass. There was good strong soap back at the house to wash out any stains and he was more careless now with his clothes than he had been for a long time.
Mal bit into his sandwich. “What is it?”
“Tinned tuna and tomato,” Simon replied. “You’ve never had it?”
“Not a lot of fish besides perch and lake trout when I was a boy.” Mal smiled. “This is good.”
Simon remembered swordfish braised with raspberry and dill, mahi mahi with curry powder, linguini with scallops and mussels. It wasn’t something he thought about. But now, he realized, he would give all the world for cheap frozen cocktail shrimp.
“Are you rememberin’?” Mal asked.
Simon sighed. “Sorry.”
“You’re allowed,” Mal said softly. “Kaylee loves to remember, and Wash—”
Simon poured the tea into the thermos cap so he wouldn’t have to look at Mal. “But you and Zoe do not.”
Mal shrugged. “Some things—they’re better left dead and buried.”
Simon held onto the cup when Mal reached for it, catching his gaze. “Yes.” He let go.
There seemed to be no end to the sick and the needy. Simon felt like Florence Nightingale, going from bed to bed, only able to spend the barest few words on each patient before there was someone else.
“Do you like it here, doctor?” a ten-year-old girl who was sick from some unknown malady. Simon worried cancer.
Simon smiled. “It’s very pretty.”
“Mrs. Ashby told my ma that you and Mrs. Reynolds are from Osiris.”
Simon started and then remembered they weren’t talking about Saffron. “Mrs. Ashby was right.”
“What’s that like?” She flinched almost imperceptibly as Simon drew blood.
Simon imagined the walls of the clapboard house fell away, the fields paved over, and the elms stretched towards the sky, growing into sparkling skyscrapers. He thought of something that River would say, “It was like Fairy Land.”
The little girl, Alice, giggled. “Are you a fairy?”
Simon stood and put the vials of blood carefully into his case. She didn’t know the other meaning. He wasn’t going to be the one to tell her. “Maybe.”
“Where are your wings?”
Simon brushed her hair off her face. “Mrs. Reynolds has them. You should try to get some rest.”
In Medacad, Simon had started smoking. His mother had smelled it on him when he came home for the holidays and made him promise to quit in no uncertain terms.
“Are you not above the opiate of the masses?” She’d said.
Simon had sighed and tossed his cigarettes in the bin.
He wanted one now, desperately, just to feel that focus that Nicotine brought.
It was raining, sheets of it coming down.
“Why so sour, domnoddy?” River said with an embroidery hoop in one hand. She was learning from one of the village women, or perhaps it was better to say she had already learned. Simon raised his eyebrows, but River spoke before he could say anything. “The man is rolling the rock and it falls and falls…”
“River, I do my best for you.” The urge for tobacco was almost as strong as his will to live.
She tossed the hoop up in the air, spun and caught it behind her back. “He is an apple.” And then she dashed and whooped out under the rain.
Simon looked down out his window that night and Mal was once again coming from the creek, his suspenders down around his waist and his chest bare. Simon felt warmth flood his gut.
“There are reports of bandits stealing the outlying farmer’s cattle,” the mayor said at breakfast.
Mal rode out on a spotted palfrey, gun strapped to his thigh. When he road back, after two nervous hours, all the bandits were dead, so were most of the cattle, and Mal had sizable gash in his cheek that required Simon’s attention.
“They still thanked me, even though those chou ma niao bandits starting shooting off the cows,” he said as Simon drew thread through his cheek. His eyes were peering deep into empty space. “Wo de ma!”
Simon paused in his stitching. “Who knows why men do things.”
Mal twitched under his hands. He’d refused to lie flat and their faces were very close. Simon didn’t breathe. Mal broke eye contact first and Simon started up again. The muscles in Mal’s cheek worked and Simon told him, “Stop, or you’ll have to lie back.”
“I almost wonder if that anesthetic you gave me burned more than the needle.”
Simon sighed. “Quit complaining, you whine more than any other patient I’ve had.”
Simon grinned. “Well, any on Serenity.”
“We could use you here, doctor,” the mayor said as they walked down the dusty dirt track that lead away from town commons. “I know your sister and her man plan to move on, seek good work, but we could use you here, probably even find something for them.”
Simon stayed silent. He knew the answer was no, but he couldn’t think of a good way of saying so definitively when they had claimed they were looking for work. “I have to think about it.”
The mayor grinned and stuck the end of a corncob pipe in his mouth. “Why’d you leave the core? Capital city?”
Simon hated this question. “My sister wanted to travel, and then she fell in love with our guide. She doesn’t want to go back.”
“What do you want?” the mayor asked.
Simon would like to be able to work in a hospital with the latest medicines and equipment, where he wouldn’t have to worry about skipping and skimping on things, where he wouldn’t have to worry about making ends meet, where he wouldn’t have to feel like he wasn’t doing anything useful. But that wasn’t what came out of his mouth. “I’m content, that is enough.”
Simon went to the creek after dinner. He dove into the darkest water under the weeping willow. The water was a cold shock. He stayed under until his lungs burned and when he came up to the surface, Mal was standing at the water’s edge.
“What are you waiting for?” Simon asked, pushing his hair out of his eyes. His clothes were in a neat pile next to Mal’s booted foot. He turned and went under again, not waiting to see what Mal would do. He splashed up out of the water and found Mal wading in up to his hips.
“Saw you doing this the last couple of nights,” Simon told him.
Mal laughed. “Got yourself a yearnin’?”
“Just a bit, I suppose.” Simon smiled back.
Mal caught his wrist and Simon looked down at the strong callused hand holding him fast. When he raised his eyes, Mal had edged in closer. Simon wasn’t one for easy touching. His parents hadn’t been affectionate. Even River’s haphazard contact sometimes set his teeth on edge. He was surprised how easy it was to lift his fingers and trace them over the lattice of black thread across Mal’s cheekbone.
Mal turned and caught Simon’s finger between his teeth, tongue dashing quick to swirl around the tip. Simon pulled his hand away and let himself be kissed. Mal’s lips were firm, warm despite the chill water on Simon’s own lips. He tugged Simon in tight, his arm winding around Simon’s back like a vice.
Simon moaned, felt the speed of Mal’s breaths. He slowly drew his hand up Mal’s chest, fingers picking out the ridges of scars and abrasions, smoothing over them like he could brush the skin clean and new. Their every move was amplified with the sound of the water.
Mal kissed the opposite of how he lived. It was tender and soft, painstakingly slow and careful. No risk, no rush. Simon could stand in this water forever while Mal kissed him. Mal was hard, low against his belly, and he shifted to sweep against it, body rocking forward.
Mal gasped and pulled his mouth away, forehead dropping to Simon’s shoulder. He drew his tongue along the strong muscle that ran from Simon’s collar to his jaw, biting down where the tension was strongest. Simon cried out and clutched him, his body reacting almost without his command.
They drifted towards the bank, until Mal was pushing Simon down upon firm ground and levering himself above. He kissed Simon’s lips numb, held his chin with a gentle hand. The ground was muddy beneath Simon’s back and water was still running up to lap at their legs, but Mal was heat and comfort. He worked their hips together until Simon clutched and strained against him, until he felt completely unmanned.
Until words he wasn’t ready to say were threatening to burst past the gate of his mouth.
And still Mal kissed him and touched him like he was made of spun sugar and might crack or melt away.
Breath came hard, and Simon’s thighs tightened around Mal’s hips until at last, he fell right over the edge, neck arched back, right under the empty sky. Mal continued thrusting, Simon’s face buried against his neck.
He came with Simon’s name on his lips.
Sun burned against his eyelids. Simon slowly woke in his bed. His back ached, he pulled his shirt up and stared at the expanse of skin in the mirror. It was a bruised scraped mess.
When he went downstairs, River and Mal weren’t pretending affection for each other. They sat on opposite ends of the table and smiled at Simon when he walked in.
If there was any place to be, he might stay here out of all of them. Even with their laws forbidding unmarried women above the age of sixteen. But he knew there wasn’t one place, because the Captain was, by her own words, Vitamin A, B, C, and D for River and he could never still his frenetic pace.
Simon wondered if this is what Earth That Was had been like, a paradise marred only by rain and the casual fallacy of men.
Simon stayed out nursing kids with Rubella, foregoing food. He was nearly shaking when Mal finally came to fetch him.
“Another day, doctor,” he said, practically tugging him out by his collar.
They walked back through the long grass and Mal handed over a crusty roll, still warm from the oven. Simon tore into it, astonished when it was all gone.
He flopped back in the grass as Mal shook his head. “Come on, it’s almost dinner at the house, they’ll be waitin.’”
But Simon’s eyes were on a sky so blue it ached and he would not be budged. Mal gradually sank down beside him.
“Used to wonder why it was clouds had to move by so fast,” Mal said, hand reaching for Simon’s.
Simon blinked and concentrated on every dip and fall of his chest.
Footsteps trudged through the grass around them, and Simon didn’t stir, thinking it was just the villagers out surveying their fields.
Soon they were ringed by familiar figures.
“Hello, sir,” Zoe said, expression fond from where she stood over them. “Didn’t expect to find you lazin’ about.”
Mal rolled up to his feet, and greeted the rest of the crew, suddenly light now that the planet was laden with Serenity's weight.
Simon took his time.
I was really worried towards the end that I wasn't going to be able to preserve the mood, but then I watched the Last King of Scotland and didn't have to worry about that anymore.