no power in the 'verse (loveflyfree) wrote in shinyheartsfic,
no power in the 'verse
loveflyfree
shinyheartsfic

for backinblack

Title: Scent of sulphur, brush of green
Author: ana_grrl
Pairing: Mal/Simon (Mal/Simon/annoyance)
Rating: PG-13
Words: about 5700
Summary: A new crisis wasn't in Mal's plan.
Notes: For backinblack. I'm sorry it wasn't one of the stories you requested. I just couldn't make any of them work! I hope you enjoy this one! Beta and hand-holding by the lovely lyrstzha. Many thanks! All remaining mistakes are my own.



And so it came to pass that one day, far in the future, two who were fated to be lovers finally met.

It didn't go smooth.

Some might say it was love at first sight. Only, that would have to be qualified as the special, angry, stubborn kind of love. In the early days, there were punches, there were recriminations, and later on, there was anger. One solid wall of anger between them. Any outsider would have looked at the two of them and come to one of two conclusions:

Either they were fated to love one another (but only in the most antagonistic sense possible), or one was fated to kill the other.

Possibly both.

*

When it came to crew relations, Mal had rarely felt so off-balance as he did with Simon Tam. Even Inara was easier to understand and manage. Simon was just one gorram pain in his pigu, in a way she never would be.

Still, eventually, Mal figured things were working well. Turned out that the powerful urge he felt to punch Simon mostly came from an even more powerful urge to throw him up against the nearest wall and mess him up a little.

With Mal's tongue.

First time he tried it, the results were admirable. Simon got flushed (just like he did when Mal hit him, only for other reasons), Simon got reasonable (which didn't happen when they got to punching one another), and Mal, he got something way finer than anything Saffron ever offered him (which didn't surprise anyone). Simon pushed back, gave as good as he got, and that was all sorts of satisfying.

Sure, some days Simon continued to damage his calm in the most annoying ways, but having Simon sharing his bed had benefits.

"Yeah," Jayne smirked at him, one day when he said that aloud. "Benefits of maybe shuttin' him up for a few minutes."

Thing was, sharing a bed with Simon didn't mean he was easier to deal with. Jayne was living in a fantasy land if he thought anything so simple as sex would make Simon less mouthy. Still, Mal figured it could be worse. At least he got the benefit of Simon's smarts in his bed. And if Simon made him laugh some days, and if they planned jobs together, well, that was just something extra and welcome.

Things got settled. Mostly, these days, when Simon pushed and Mal felt like maybe violence might ensue, he turned around and walked away. Mostly. At least Simon was getting better at punching back (and Mal might have pretended not to have noticed, but he knew Zoe had a hand in that). He kept a mental list to remind him that sometimes the new way of things was better than the old:

1) Simon was just trying to watch out for his fong luh sister, and that was admirable, if irritating as all hell.
2) Simon probably wouldn't kiss him (at least for a couple of days) if Mal kept punching him in the mouth.
3) Uppity rich-folk don't understand a lot about the 'verse beyond the Core, and it ain't their fault. They just need time to learn.

The last point on the list was the hardest to remember, but Mal had never been one to shy away from a challenge. So all in all, things were settled. The tension between him and Simon had changed, had become easier to bear, and yeah, way easier to tackle.

Nicer, too. So nice that Mal sometimes found himself smiling for no good reason. That just opened him up to all kinds of hassle from the crew, especially from Wash.

"Love is in the Black," Wash sang one night, as Mal walked into the cockpit to check their course.

"Ain't just love that's gonna be in the black if you ain't careful," he replied, though he couldn't quite help smiling as he said it.

"Aww, Mal, you're just a veritable picture of joy these days."

Thing is, it was kind of true. And that's exactly why Mal should have expected it when it happened.

*

"What?" he yelled. "You'd better be gorram jokin', 'cause I ain't in the mood." He really wasn't. The job had gone, but Mal wouldn't have said it had gone real well. They'd been paid, but in the process they'd lost one more contact. He'd wanted to come back to Serenity, stop thinking for a few hours.

A new crisis hadn't been in the plan.

Kaylee's eyes were red around the edges, and she kept sniffling. "I ain't jokin'."

"He just up and left?"

"Well. That's kinda it."

"Clear up the 'kinda'."

By the time Kaylee stumbled through her story, Zoe had managed to patch up the last of Kaylee's little hurts. Mostly, they were scrapes and cuts, but she also had one hell of a bump on her head that would be ugly to look at for weeks.

Mal ran through it one more time, just to make sure he had it all.

"Guy waltzed in here,"

Kaylee nodded.

"and he pulled out his gun, told Simon that he was coming to Ravana, and Simon nodded meekly and followed."

Kaylee's mouth twitched downwards. "Well. It ain't like he had a choice, gun to his head and all."

She said that, but she maybe was forgetting how Simon had learned how to take care of himself in a fight.

Well, most times.

Okay, so sometimes. If the other guy wasn't looking too hard. Still, it seemed awfully convenient. The Simon he knew didn't seem likely to just shut and go easy.

"See, he said that he really wanted River, but Simon said River weren't here, and she wouldn't go quietly anyway. So the guy said he'd hold Simon as bait, and catch her when she came." Kaylee's hand was poking around the edges of that bump on her head and she was wincing. "He thought I was knocked out, but I heard it all. Saw 'em too."

"Saw 'em?"

She nodded, reluctantly. "Saw the way he just snuggled up to Simon – even with the gun. Like maybe he knowed him or somethin'."

"We need to get him," River said, her voice quiet and hard. For once, she was saying something without the nonsense all around the important parts.

Hell, she was right. No one just waltzed into his home and took one of his people. They'd get Simon back, even if maybe he had gone a little too easily. Even if it was a trap. It was a point of honour.

*

"Ravana," Wash said, pointing at the tiny blip on the map projected on the screen. "Tiny moon, hardly deserves the terraformed classification. Hot, humid, and geologically unstable."

"Who would want to live in that kind of hell?" Mal asked.

"Someone who wanted to name a moon after himself?"

"Huh?"

"Ravana is also a person. Former Fed high-up, so my contacts say. Used to work in some secret weapons-development sector."

Ah, hell. "Did he actually do the developing?"

"Nope. He just ran the place until he got himself in hot water and got kicked out."

At least there was that. Mal wasn't keen on showing up at the door of some weapons-developing genius. Especially not one with an ego big enough that he wanted big pieces of rock carrying his name. That just never spelled good.

"So. We even sure that Simon's there?"

Wash pulled up a schematic of the moon. "Well. He could be. There's a place near the southern pole that's relatively stable. There's a compound."

"You got details on the compound?"

Nodding, Wash looked up from the console, just a little bit smug. "As much as there is out there. I've got the best contacts."

"You got a picture of this guy?"

Wash did. Chiseled jaw, classic profile, wide smile. Perfect image of a core worlder.

He shrugged the image off, since all he needed it for was to know who to shoot. Instead, he focused on the schematics for the compound. He needed to talk to Zoe and Jayne about getting in there. Maybe Kaylee too, see what kinds of surprises she might be able to come up with. Nodding his thanks to Wash, he retreated from the cockpit.

When he was half-way down the hall, he had a thought. "Wash! See if this guy ever spent any time on Osiris."

*

"If ain't friends with the Feds, why's he trying to catch them two?" Jayne asked it while picking his teeth and looking bored, but Mal had long learned to ignore his attitude.

"Maybe to get back in with their good graces? Folk like this man don't like losing their hold on power none too well."

Jayne nodded and leaned back in his chair. "So. Grenades?"

Grenades. They were Jayne's answer to every single job. He was predictable in his violence, if nothing else. "We can't just go blowing our way in there. Not with just grenades."

"Why not?" Straightening up, Jayne suddenly looked unaccountably eager, especially given that the job involved bringing Simon back. "You ain't seen the new gear I bought back on Boros." He was grinning like a little kid. Like Kaylee on a good day. Or everyday.

It left Mal feeling a little uncomfortable, and also mighty intrigued about the gear. "Wanna show me?"

Jayne was standing quicker than Mal figured he could move. "I was gonna save it for a special occasion, but this'll do. Come on," he said, heading off in the direction of his bunk.

Mal couldn't help smiling himself. "You coming too, Zoe?"

She was gazing after Jayne, a bemused look on her face. "To see the gear?"

"Yeah."

Her face crinkled up, just the tiniest bit. "In Jayne's bunk? Ain't ever been down there yet."

"There's a first time for everything, Zoe."

But she was shaking her head. "This ain't that time."

Well. How bad could it be down there?

*

Later, Mal pushed aside the thoughts of exactly how bad Jayne's bunk was, and focused on the new grenades. They were all kinds of shiny, enough that he could understand that look on Jayne's face. It was that look most people reserved for a new puppy. Or in Kaylee's case, a new compression coil.

Once Jayne outlined their capabilities, it was real clear that these things would come in handy.

"Guess it was worth it," he said, half to himself as he focused on the weight of one of the grenades in his hand. "Yep. Guess so."

"Worth what?" Jayne asked, not even tearing his eyes away from the boxful – all nice and tidily packed and padded – of the things. Mal figured if he looked close enough, there might be tears of joy in Jayne's eyes.

"Worth steppin' into this cesspool you call a bunk."

"It ain't that bad!"

Yeah. Mal had seen worse messes. Smelled worse stinks. And if he was remembering correctly, it had been in the middle of a battle by a waste-processing plant. But he was willing to mostly let it go. Unless, "This starts to spill out to the rest of the ship, you and me are gonna have words."

But Jayne wasn't listening, as mostly he never did. Instead, he was looking at the new grenades. "You let me throw most of these, we can use as many as you want."

It sounded like a good deal to Mal.

*

When he climbed out of Jayne's bunk, Wash was waiting for him. "Osiris," he said.

"Yeah?"

"The weapons development facility he worked in was located in Capital City. I looked on a map. It was near the hospital where Simon said he worked."

Huh.

"You think they knew each other?"

Mal shrugged.

"It's a big city. Wouldn't it be too much of a coincidence?"

"Or bad luck," Mal muttered. They always had more than their fair share of that. As he walked off, Wash asked, "Hey. What's that smell?"

Mal ignored him. He had ideas about how they were going to go and get Simon. And he had ideas for what might happen after, too.

*

"Just storming the compound is a bad idea. We don't know what kind of forces he's got down there," Zoe said. She turned to Mal. "Maybe we want to use stealth."

Jayne snorted. "Stealth's for people who don't want to fight."

"Stealth is for people who think before they act," Zoe countered, her expression so blank that Mal knew exactly how much she wanted to hurt Jayne.

"Thinkin' ain't doin'."

Mal started talking before the bickering got out of hand. "I make the plans on this boat."

Jayne snorted again. "Bad plans. Plans that don't work."

"Right now, my plan involves using your new toys to cause a ruckus, getting Simon out, blowing up a few more things, and leaving. Compound ain't that big, we won't have to look far. Wash says there ain't any underground sections, nothing that looks hidden. Should be easy to find what we're looking for. Maybe pick up a few shinies along the way."

Zoe's face stayed blank, but Jayne leaned back in his chair, looking smug. "Maybe that ain't a bad plan."

"We'll go in at night. Jayne, Kaylee's worked up a couple of sets of night goggles. You want a set?"

"You want me to see where I'm throwin' them grenades?"

*

In the end, it turned out the goggles aren't necessary. The compound was lit up like one of Kaylee's cakes, enough that even outside, Mal could see far enough in front of himself. It didn't have the layers and pretties that Kaylee put on a cake when they actually had flour and sugar, though. Still, it looked just as fancy. The outside walls were plain, but they enclosed a dome, high and clear, and inside it Mal could see greenery. Lots of it. Green, lit up from lights inside the dome.

It was something to set the eye on, because sure as hell the rest of the moon didn't have anything to speak for it.

"Stinks," Jayne grunted, right in Mal's ear.

"I'm trying not to take that personal."

"Not you. The air."

"I know what you meant, jack ass." It did stink too, sulphur and something else Mal couldn't quite put his finger on. "You see anyone while you were scouting?"

"Nope. No one, nothing. No booby-traps, no gun mounts. Seems too easy."

It really did. "Zoe in position?"

"Right by the door."

"So. Let's do this, then."

There was enough light that he could see the glint of Jayne's teeth as he grinned. "So I can throw the first one now?"

It was tempting, but it was so quiet, so still, it seemed like a dumb idea to be announcing their intentions when it wasn't strictly necessary. "Think we'll go in quiet for now."

"Aww."

"You just save them things for later." He got up from his crouch. "Come on."

It seemed stupid as all hell to go right through the front door, but sometimes the stupidest way is the fastest. But there was nothing even remotely trap-like that Mal could see anywhere – except for the whole set-up – and so in he went, followed by Jayne. Zoe covered them until he gave the all clear.

"Too easy," she said when she met up with them. They made their way across the rocky ground, the bare space between the outer wall and the edge of the domed interior. The dome itself was flexi-glass, that much is easy to tell.

"Check around the edge of the dome," he said to her, and she went, walking cautiously.

He poked at the glass, watched as it dented just the tiniest bit, and then popped back into shape. Behind the glass, all he could see was green, different shades, different textures. "Grenade will go through this easy."

Jayne already had one in his hand. "Yep."

He was about to give the okay when Zoe's voice came through the transmitter in his ear. "Sir. Door."

"It clear?"

"Ain't even locked."

Glancing at Jayne, he said, "We got ourselves a door. You can put that thing away."

He ignored the grumbling behind him, and moved in Zoe's direction.

*

Getting in through the dome door was about as easy as getting through the compound wall. It was eerie, and the feeling was made worse by what was inside the dome. As they stepped through the door, the air turned wet, heavy, hot. The leaves of trees and plants and flowers were slick with moisture. The loam was thick and dark. It was a jungle, right in the middle of a gorram hell planet.

Mal breathed in deep, taking in the smell of green and dirt and wet. The light in the dome was filtered – it fell down on them in different consistencies. Sometimes it was bright, as he stepped through to a clearing; other times it was watery and dull, weak from the layers of leaves and trunks and vines it has to push through.

Part of Mal responded to the jungle. The smells and the texture of everything; the colours that blend in together, even as they sometimes oddly stand apart. The benign hum of insects surrounded him, cutting through Jayne's muttering. Part of him wanted to set up shop here, keep himself in this place for a good long time.

Another part of him figured it was eerie as all hell. It left him twitchy. It wasn't what he was used to – closed in spaces and greenery brushing his hair and hands as he pushed through. Open spaces and hot sun beating down on him, those he knew how to work in.

"This ain't natural," Jayne said as he cut through another vine. "All these plants in one place. Ain't right."

Maybe it was natural once, back on Earth-that-was, back when people lived like this. Maybe folk lived in places like this, and felt secure. Maybe they smelled the green and the dirt and knew that it was giving them life. But now, it just left a powerful uncomfortableness. "Just keep moving," he said, stepping over a fallen stump of a tree. Because something was telling him that when they get through to the middle of this place, Simon was waiting.

*

Mal was sweating by the time they find the clearing, the wide, open space surrounded by the jungle. He was sweating from the heat and humidity; his hair was wet from the moisture of the leaves and flowers.

At the edge of the jungle, crouched down behind a thick clump of thorny bushes, he scanned the area. There wasn't much to see, just a round building with a slightly domed roof. It looked like it was made from natural materials – enough that it almost blended in with the jungle behind it.

There was no movement outside the building.

"Think he's in there?" Zoe asked. She'd tied her hair back while they were pushing through the jungle, and sweat beaded along her forehead.

"Where else?"

She shrugged, "Might not be here at all."

True enough, but they'd made it this far. "Might as well go see." He stood. "You two watch my back."

He walked across the open ground, mossy and soft, expecting to have to shoot something or someone, but there was nothing. He walked right in through the opening in the side of the building, and that was just starting to be a habit.

It was bigger inside than outside, twisty corridors and tiny round rooms everywhere. It was creepifying and confusing to walk, coming across room after room that looked the same. But eventually, he found Simon.

Simon, who was sitting on a chair that looked real comfortable. He had a drink in one hand, a book in another. He looked delighted at Mal's entrance. "It took you so long!" Drinking from his cup, he veritably glowed.

"Yeah. Thought we'd come and save you from this life," he waved his hand around the room full of dark, understated furniture and overstuffed pillows, "of torture and abuse."

Standing, Simon smiled, wide and welcoming. "Yes. Shall we go?" Smoothing down his pants – pants Mal hadn't seen before – he continued, "I'm assuming you brought a shuttle?"

"Looks like you could've left by yourself any time." There was just something off here, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

Simon laughed. It was oddly metallic sounding. " I'm locked out from Ravana's shuttles. I suppose I could have wandered the sulphur wastelands out there, but then how would you have found me?" The question was entirely guileless, without the sarcasm Mal would have expected.

"You call him by his name? Get awfully cozy?"

Shrugging – awkwardly, which was downright strange, Simon usually being pretty in control of his movements – he asked, "What else should I call him? He is a person. Anyway, I know him from Osiris." His expression turned quizzical, "Is this jealousy? Is this the time? He will be back, you know."

Fine. Shiny. They could do this later. He gestured for Simon to follow.

"No. I know a faster way."

Huh. Well. All right. Mal turned, and followed Simon deeper into the house, noting the way he walked as though his knees were stiff.

And did this place ever end? Didn't look so big from the outside. Hall after hall, with floor patterns that merged and changed, looking organic and fluid. Small doors, wide doors, they passed more than Mal could count on two hands.

After a while, he started to feel like he was being led in circles. "Simon."

He turned quickly. "Yes?"

"You sure you actually want to leave this place?"

"It is awfully warm here." His head was cocked to one side, a plastic smile on his face. "Who wouldn't want to stay?" There was a pause before he added, woodenly, "Aside from being kidnapped, of course."

"And River? Would you want her here too?"

Simon's brow wrinkled, even as the smile widened. It was eerie. "Do you think she'd be happy here?"

Slowly moving closer, one hand holding his gun loosely, Mal asked, "Do you?"

"I don't – maybe she – the forest, I think she would – "

"'Cause I can arrange to hand her over, if that's what you want. You two could stay here, warm and cosy," he said. Simon was almost nodding as Mal smiled, brought his hand up, and shot Simon in the head.

The body fell back, hitting the floor with a solid thud. Sparks flew, and yeah. Retrofitted lovebot. Interesting idea, but gorram stupid. Who needed two of Simon? Anyway, looked like Ravana didn't get it right. Not enough sarcasm, too much smiling. Moron hadn't really thought Mal would be fooled, did he?

*

It took a while, searching each room, breaking open each door, but finally he found Simon – wearing clothes Mal actually recognised – sitting in a small room. No books in sight, no tea or comfy chairs, though Mal had seen worse prisons. Way worse. Still, Simon stood and frowned at him as Mal walked through the door.

"Took you long enough."

Huh. And that was some kind of deja-vu, right there. "Got waylaid. Retrofitted lovebot. Looked just like you."

"Hmmph. I can't believe it fooled you. It was hardly realistic."

Yeah. He should have known that Simon greeting him with a smile was a sign of something being not quite right. "I figured it out. Smiled too much. Was friendly. Even seemed happy to see me, before he started leading me in circles through this place. Though, he reminded me of you, way back, with the fancy clothes."

Simon rolled his eyes. "Do you want to talk about this here?"

"Guess we can fight on Serenity just as well as here."

"Yes." He walked past Mal. "I suppose we can."

Following behind, Mal grinned. "Don't you just know how to make person feel like a hero."

Simon snorted, making Mal think maybe he'd been spending a little too much time with Jayne.

*

They were out of the house, and almost to the cover of jungle when something stirred, catching the corner of Mal's eye. He stopped and turned to his right, just as Ravana stepped out of the jungle. Dressed in green and brown, loose clothes, he seemed to just flow out of the greenery. Like maybe he was there all along, just watching. Waiting.

"Ah," he said, eyes focusing briefly on Simon before he turned to Mal. "Did you bring her?"

"If by her," he said, hand going down to his gun, "you mean Jayne's very favourite gun, then yeah, I brought her. Wanna see?"

"I only want to trade."

"Trade."

"I'll let you go if you give me the girl. Of course, I'll be keeping Simon as well. I've long missed him."

"You never had anything to miss." Simon was fairly oozing disgust.

That made Ravana smile, a liquid, slow smile that gave Mal an itch along his neck. Ravana's eyes flashed too, making him look momentarily not-quite-human. It had to be the light in this place, the strange, green light that just seems to distort everything.

"You should have come to me when it was your choice," Ravana said, still looking at Simon, and yeah. Mal's had just about had enough of this place. He pulled his gun out and aimed.

"Think you'd best turn around and leave, else I'm gonna have to shoot you."

There was a flash, a quick movement, and then Ravana was holding his own gun up, pointing it straight at Mal. "Oh?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you know what this is?" He nodded down at the gun in his hand.

"Looks like a gun." A shiny, Fed-tech gun, sleek and streamlined, but a gun was a gun.

Grinning somehow even wider, Ravana said, "It's the AR-285 laser rifle. It isn't widely used by Federal forces, but it is a beautiful weapon. Rather expensive, as I'm sure you can guess. Clean to fire, easy to aim. Wide or narrow-band settings. I've got in on a wide setting now. If I fire, both of you will die."

What was it about rich folk always wanting to brag about their weapons? It ain't like Jayne, getting sentimental about his guns if you caught him at the right time. Nope, it was just bragging, listing off specs and sometimes costs, and just trying to show how much better they are than the average gun-owner. "You'd shoot Simon here, too? 'Cause you ain't got no lovebot to replace him with now."

"Ah. I've lived without him this long. I've grown used to not having him."

"I trust you are both aware that I'm standing right here? That I'm not, in fact, a commodity or, god forbid, a lovebot? That I can actually hear and comprehend?"

Hell, if exasperation could kill, Mal and Ravana would be dead right now. But Mal just ignored Simon and grinned. "So. You gonna shoot? 'Cause I ain't leaving him behind."

Something flashed across Ravana's face, and for a moment, he wasn't all pretty smiles and handsome looks. His face distorted, making ugly, monstrous, and then Mal could see him pressing down on the trigger, and hell. "Down!" he yelled at Simon, knocking him over even as he fired in Ravana's direction.

He hit the ground with a thud, the moss cushioning his fall, but still knocking the wind right out of him. He expected something to follow them. Some sound, the heat of a laser, something, but instead there was just the familiar discharge of Zoe's gun, and then Simon's breath in his ear.

He looked up. Zoe and Jayne were coming out from the trees, and Ravana was lying on the ground. "What? What happened?"

Simon sat up. "There's a reason the AR-285 isn't widely used by the Alliance. It tends to jam. The casing is problematic, and doesn't keep out moisture or dust very well. It has to be obsessively cleaned. It doesn't do well in humid environments."

Huh. "When d'you pick this up?"

Simon glanced over at Zoe, who was bending over Ravana's body. "Oh, I dated one of the weapons developers who worked for Ravana. That's how he and I first met." He raised his voice. "Is he dead?"

Mal wasn't sure if it was professional concern, or if Simon was just making sure. Either way, Simon's voice was cold.

"Yep!" Zoe replied.

"Excellent," Simon said, standing. Looking down at Mal, he asked, "Are you going to lie there all day?"

*

Once they were back on Serenity, Mal figured it all went too easy. Right down to the fact that they'd been able to raid the dome and bring back crates of shinies and goods. "There's no point in leaving it all here to rot," Simon had pointed out, his tone reasonable and annoying as all hell.

"Food!" Kaylee had yelled, going through the first crate Jayne set at her feet. "Real fruit!"

Mal figured she was more excited about the food than the fact that everyone got back in one piece.

Jayne was happy as a pig in mud, sitting in the cargo bay surrounded by bits and pieces of Ravana's arsenal. "Some of it's crap tech," he'd already informed Mal, "but some of it will come in real handy."

Zoe and Wash were pleased about the liquor Simon had dug up – sake and red wine, and even some kind of fancy beer – and Zoe and Kaylee were already talking about beer stew.

There was cloth and actual clothes, and even medical supplies. Last time Mal had seen River, she'd been surrounded by bits of cloth cut up and scattered around her. Needles had been sticking out from between her lips, and Mal had no earthly idea about what kind of clothes ideas she had in her head, but he was pretty gorram sure he wasn't going to be wearing anything she came up with.

Not unless it was for a job that involved them going to a dress-up party. Still, it kept her quiet.

Mal couldn't stand it. It was grating at his nerves. Things never worked for them like this. Hell, Zoe was even making noises about the complex maybe being a place to go to ground.

"Mal."

Doctors shouldn't be able to walk so quietly. "Yeah?" Simon moved to stand behind him, close enough that Mal could feel the heat of his body. He could smell the scent of green moisture that still clung to Simon's clothes. He breathed deeply, slowly, drawing it in.

"I think we should go back down and secure the complex. Zoe's right. It's too good an opportunity to pass up. We could use a place like that."

"Too much work."

"I'm sure everything is maintained automatically. Kaylee could check everything over."

"Kaylee's got enough to do around here."

Simon's hand came down on his shoulder, "Why can't you just take this? Take the good that came out of a bad situation?" His thumb stroked along the back of Mal's neck as his other arm slid around Mal's waist. "The place is lovely, and you have to admit, it would be relaxing to get out and breathe some air that had some kind of natural smell to it. This ship gets stuffy."

"You want us to leave you there? Snug with the memory of one of your past conquests?" There was a pause, long enough that Mal thought maybe he should have just kept his mouth shut. And then –

"Conquests." Simon's tone was flat, and he let go of Mal's shoulder, his waist.

"He seemed pretty stuck on you. Musta done something to encourage it."

"You're insane, you know that?" Simon stepped back.

"And you were real comfortable there. Knew your way around."

"You're the king of logical reasoning."

"How do I even know you are who you say you are? What if he used his fancy tech to turn you somehow, make your brain his." Even as he was saying it, he knew how ridiculous it sounded. But he could't quite help himself, he just kept going.

"Oh, yes." Simon's tone should be ascerbic, sarcastic. Instead it stayed flat, cold. "In fact, for all you know, I could be a new and improved lovebot, planted with a tracker. Or the Ravana you killed might have been another retrofitted lovebot. It's a conspiracy of lovebots. The real Simon is far from this planet, currently giving up all of your petty secrets."

"Um. Zoe saw Ravana's blood."

"Nevertheless, it could have been an approximation of blood – oil, colouring, I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to manufacture. I suggest you take strong measures immediately. It certainly wouldn't be a good idea to take advantage of a good situation, one of the few we've had lately. No. It's far better to remain suspicious."

Mal turned, finally, and took in the look on Simon's face. "Huh."

"What?"

"Don't think no lovebot could pull that expression off so well. That's angry Dr. Tam, right there."

"You're so observant. Really. I'm astonished."

And there was the sarcasm that he knew so well. Shrugging, Mal said, "I can be. Still. It was too easy. Makes a body suspicious."

"What do you want? For me to set myself on fire to prove that I'm pure and truthful?"

"Fire?" Where did these Core folk get their ideas? "You got some weird ideas. Fire."

"I'm sure the alcohol we brought back would make an adequate accelerant." And with that, he turned away, walking quickly, like he was annoyed, but still headed in the direction of Mal's bunk.

Mal smiled after him, noticing that his movements were just the tiniest bit jerky. Hah. That was real funny.

Simon wasn't usually one to play with the intentional humour like that.

*

And thus ends one of the many tales of Malcolm Reynolds and Simon Tam, two who were fated to be together. Sometimes, such tales end with declarations of love. Some end with ever afters, bright smiles, and shining teeth.

Others end with annoyance, paranoia and reluctant affection. In the end, it's still love. A special, antagonistic love, but love nevertheless.

Although, there's no guarantee it won't eventually end with guns drawn at dawn.


End
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