Three Weeks Out
Written for Christmas In (almost) July, a 'zine for Dar and Irish.
sffan: Thanks to skripka for suggesting a round robin, because I was coming up blank. Further thanks to rebecca for helping me when I was stuck and to maystone for the gift suggestions for Mal and Simon.
skripka: Thanks to sffan for deciding to play with me, because I had ideas, but no execution. Also? Because she takes what I give her and makes it even better. Thanks to maystone and rebecca from this end as well.
Mal climbs into his bunk, a grin finally lighting his face at seeing Simon sprawled out on the bed, reading his pad intently. The day has been long, and wearying with Kaylee's pointed questions and Book's pointed looks. It's enough to drive a ship's captain out of his rutting mind.
He must make some noise, because Simon jerks, and turns his head. The young man smiles back as he asks, "Long day?"
Mal just grunts as he sits down to remove his boots.
Simon curls into a sitting position. "It's Kaylee again, right?" At Mal's nod, he continues. "You should just let her have her party, you know. It's not that big of a deal."
Sighing with frustration, Mal collapses backwards onto the bed. "It's my ship, Simon. Ain't right to have my engineer planning mutinous parties without my say-so."
Laughing, Simon lies down beside him. "Mutinous? Mal, I had no idea you felt that strongly."
"It's a waste of time," Mal grumbles.
Simon cants back up to his elbows, and just stares. "You have got to be kidding me." Mal narrows his eyes. "Mal, we're three weeks out of Broome, on a safe route, the legal cargo's stowed, and the engine is running smoother than ever since Kaylee's last overhaul."
"My point is that it's completely boring right now. Like seventy percent of our life is. We're deep in the black, and nothing is going on. Not. A. Damn. Thing." Simon punctuates his words with small pushes on Mal's shoulder, and ends with a shrug. "Frankly, a holiday celebration might be a nice change of pace."
Mal groans. "Et tu, Simon?"
Simon smiles, shrugs again, and falls back. "Not really. I've never been one for big bashes, myself. I'm just bored."
Mal's a bit surprised by that statement. "Huh. Would have guessed your fancy Core-folk shindigs would make our celebrations seem plain."
A soft snort answers him. "And you want to know why I don't care for parties."
The two men lie in companionable silence, staring at the ceiling. Mal thinks he should come up with an answer for Kaylee when Simon pipes up again.
"Seriously, Mal. Let her have the damn party. It will give me a chance to relax. It's not easy running interference between you two, and then, throw River into the mix?" Simon shakes his head. "If I weren't so bored, I'd be pulling my hair out right now."
"You know, that's the second time you said you were bored," Mal says lightly and rolls over on top of Simon and playfully pins him to the bunk, "Makes a man think he's not doing his job, keepin' his lover properly entertained. I think my feelings should be hurt."
Simon laughs and gives Mal a quick kiss. "You know I'm more than satisfied, but we can't have sex all the time."
"We can't?" Mal asks with a grin.
"No," Simon replies.
"Darn," Mal says with a big dramatic sigh and rolls back off Simon. "Thought I had a plan there for a minute. You sure?"
Simon laughs again and says, "Pretty sure. Besides, I'm not the only one that's bored and you can't have sex with everyone on the ship."
Mal shudders exaggeratedly. "You got that right. Thanks for that mental image."
"You're welcome," Simon replies with a smile. They lie in silence once again, just enjoying each other's company before Mal speaks once more.
"So...River's been at you?" Mal asks, shifting so that his head rests on Simon's shoulder.
"Yes. You think Kaylee's bad with the puppy dog eyes? You haven't seen the master. Even father couldn't say no when River really, really wanted something and she really, really wants this, Mal. And I'll have you know, I'm not above painting you as the bad guy here," Simon replies.
Mal sighs again. "That is playing dirty, Simon."
"I know," Simon says with a bit of a smirk. "C'mon, Mal. Let the girls have their party. It'll be worth the peace and quiet and it might even be fun." He pauses briefly and then says, "Please?"
"You bastard!" Mal exclaims sitting up and turning to look down at him. "You know I can't say no when you say please." He narrows his eyes and says, "They got to you, didn't they? You've been lying here pretending to be on my side, but you've been working for them all along. Turncoat!"
Simon sits up and says, "I told you, puppy dog eyes from my mei mei. If you think for a second that I could resist that, then you give me far more credit than I deserve."
"We were humped from the start, weren't we?" Mal states facetiously, putting an arm around Simon.
Simon leans against Mal and says, "Yes we were."
Mal flops back onto the bed, taking Simon with him. "Fine, I know when to admit defeat. Shut up you," he says in response to Simon's indelicate snort, giving him a smack on the arm. "But I tell them in the morning. I don't think I could deal with the squealing right now."
Simon laughs and replies, "Me either."
After a few moments, Mal says, "You still bored?"
"Yes," Simon replies, grinning in anticipation.
"Get up and get the lights, traitor, and I'll see what I can do to un-bore you."
Simon laughs and skitters away as Mal makes a grab for his ass when he rolls off the bunk.
Mal winces. As he suspected would happen, Kaylee's squealing starts out high pitched, and only gets higher.
"Ya really mean it, Cap'n?" she asks, a big smile pasted to her face.
"Yes, xiao mei mei," Mal returns, trying to look stern, "but I don't want you neglecting your other duties. Engine gets a glitch, I want you in that engine room post-haste."
Kaylee shakes her head, "Shiny, cap'n. Serenity ain't gonna glitch, though. She wants this party as much as I do!" Kaylee turns to River, who is sitting at the table with her own big smile. "C'mon, River, we got some work to do!"
As the two girls go belowdecks, laughing and planning, Zoe stands up, and walks over to where Mal is leaning against the counter. "A party, sir?" she asks, archly.
Mal just gives her a look. "You got a problem, Zoe?" He feels, rather than hears Simon's approach. Zoe just grins.
"Just wonderin' when you went soft, sir." She nods, finishes with her mug, and leaves the galley, leaving Mal's jaw open.
"Soft?" He turns to Simon. "Since when did I become 'soft'?" Simon shrugs, moving closer, and leans against his side.
"No clue." Simon turns to Mal, and looks at him through his lashes. Mal smiles back. "So, what are you getting me?" Simon asks coyly.
Mal blinks. "Hadn't thought...hey!" He glares at Simon. "I thought the whole point was givin'!"
Simon grins back. "Yes, it is. I figured you already had a handsome, young, and inventive lover." Mal feels his pulse quicken as he recalls the previous night. "What more could you possibly need?"
"A bit of respect, perhaps." Mal smirks, and whaps Simon on the ass.
"Don't you got some work to do, Doc?" Mal asks.
Simon laughs in reply. "As a matter of fact, no. Everyone on this ship is ridiculously healthy. Only thing I have to do is figure out where to hide the present I got for my captain.
The double take Mal does causes Simon to laugh again. "Huh? When did..."
"Back on Persephone." Simon looks mischievous. "Remember that shopping trip with Inara?"
"You were planning this since Persephone?"
"No, I wanted to get you a present. Now, I have an occasion." Simon begins walking away, heading towards the infirmary. Mal is stil trying to wrap his head around the concept of receiving a gift from his lover.
Simon pauses in the doorway. "Hmmm?"
"What'd you get me?" Mal asks.
Another disarming grin, and Simon replies, "That's for me to know, Mal, and for you to find out."
?Mal takes two long strides and grabs Simon around the waist. "For you to know and me to find out, huh?" Mal asks just before he starts to tickle Simon unmercifully.
Simon starts to laugh and squirm in Mal's arms, sputtering words out between attempts to inhale. "Not. Working." Soon, Simon is incapable of speech and he merely shakes his head over and over as he tries to grab Mal's hands, which are now drifting lower and lower. With one last desperate effort, Simon finally manages to capture the questing fingers in his own hands.
Simon takes a big breath of air and then says, "I'm not telling, so give up."
Mal smirks at him and shifts a bit closer, using his height advantage to loom over Simon. He pulls one hand away from Simon's and starts to slide it down the front of his pants before saying, "You know, there are other ways to pump you for information."
Simon slaps Mal's hand away, pulls it away from his body, and holds it firmly. "Yes. And I could sleep in my own room until after the party, too."
Mal stops trying to escape from Simon's grip. "You wouldn't dare!"
It's Simon's turn to smirk. "I would. Please, Mal. I want this to be a surprise. Don't ask me again, and promise you won't try to find it," Simon says looking up at him, his face very serious.
Sighing, Mal replies, "All right. You win. I won't try to find out what you got me."
"Promise me," Simon says sternly, knowing Mal all too well.
Mal rolls his eyes. "I promise! Sheesh. I'm starting to think you don't trust me." Mal grins. "Smart man. I was going to go search your room next."
"I kind of figured as much," Simon replies, grinning back. "It's not there, by the way."
"When did you get so devious?" Mal says.
"Hmmm. Dunno. Probably about the same time I fell in with this roguish Firefly captain. He's a bad influence on me," Simon replies with a slow smile.
"Is he now?" Mal says in a soft voice that sends chills down Simon' spine.
"Oh yes. And I wouldn't have it any other way," Simon states before leaning up and giving Mal a quick kiss. "Remember, you promised," he says and then tears himself away from Mal and continues towards the infirmary, straightening his clothes.
Mal watches as Simon walks away, a smile spreading across his face. And then it hits him. Simon has a present for him. Something he had given a lot of thought to, something that he had purchased months ago.
And Mal had nothing to give Simon in return.
The days go by too quickly.
Decorations appear suddenly in every nook and cranny. Most are paper, folded into origami shapes, but there are plenty of sparkly bits that Mal is convinced Kaylee is borrowing from the engine. He crosses his fingers in hope that none of them are vital. Somewhere, someone has found a batch of wizened apples, and stuck some cloves in them. Mal's best guess is that it's a collaborative project on the part of the Shepherd and Jayne.
They do smell nice, he has to admit.
What surprises Mal the most, other than the image of Book and Jayne poking cloves into apples, is how quickly everyone's gotten into the spirit of things. Inara's draped scarves everywhere, Simon's humming while he organizes the infirmary, and even Zoe's going around with a grin.
And Mal is enjoying it. Life is smooth, for once, and this is how he wants his crew. Happy and fed and safe. Only problem is, he still has no clue what he's getting Simon.
He sneaks around, trying to get hints as to what the others are giving out. Mal promises himself that he's really not looking for Simon's gift, although he's man enough to admit that he'd peek if he...accidentally ran across it. Just for a benchmark, he tells himself.
Mal finds nothing that will help him. The general consensus on the boat is that gifts are optional; reasonable, seeing as how they're deep in the black. However, Wash is deep in thought, and River and Kaylee have locked themselves away in River's dorm, threatening death to all who enter.
Simon shrugs, smiles, and says, "It's their secret. We all need secrets, don't we, Mal?" His smile turns into a smirk, and Mal has to bite his lip before he says something that he might regret later. He stalks back to his room.
Mal stands in the center of the bunk, looking for inspiration from anything, from anywhere. He knows Simon will love him, whether or not he gets him a present, but Mal really does want to get him something special. He's still a bit shocked by the fact that Simon loves him, and that he loves him so fiercely back.
He shakes his head. No time to be maudlin. Mal's got a puzzle to solve, and less and less time to figure it out in. Another searching look across the room, and suddenly, his wracked brain lights up. The solution is right in front of him, after all.
"What is this, mei mei?" Simon unfolds the pieces of paper River has pressed into his hands.
"Not for you, for them," she nods at the rest of the table. Simon nods back, distractedly, and then bursts out in sudden laughter as he reads the top page.
Book leans in. "What's so funny, son?"
Simon's still chuckling as he begins handing each person a slip of paper. "They're coupons. Coupons for a free surgeon's visit." Zoe gets the joke first, and starts laughing as well, followed shortly by the rest of the crew.
Jayne looks a bit confused. "Wait. Ya mean, we was supposed to paying the doc?" His look of concern sets off another gale of laughter, and Wash's good-natured correction.
"Jayne, it's a joke!"
"Oh, I knew that," the big man mumbled, taking another sip of the cider he and Book had fermented. It's a bit raw tasting, but good, and everyone's relaxed and enjoying themselves. Inara even pets Jayne on the shoulder while handing him a small box. The look on his face when he opens it to discover incense starts everyone laughing again.
Kaylee's given everyone origami boxes, painted in bright colors. "Thought they'd be useful, ya know? Sorry they're a bit lopsided, I just learned how to make 'em."
"They're lovely, Kaylee," Zoe points out, leaning comfortably against her husband, turning over the box in her hand. "Aren't they lovely, dear?" she asks Wash.
"Shiny, indeed." Wash nuzzles Zoe's hair. "We almost done here? Suddenly I'm feeling the need to spend some alone time with my wife."
Mal grins. It has been a long day, what with the party set up. "Well, it probably ain't a bad idea to end the main portion of the evenin'. We do make planetfall tomorrow."
Kaylee speaks up, fingers entangled with River's. "Not 'til late, right? 'Cause I'm not ready for the day to end, just yet."
As Mal stands up, Simon following his lead, he answers, "Not 'til late, little Kaylee. Just be sure to get some sleep, okay?"
Kaylee smiles, and before she leans back down to River's head, replies, "Sure thing, Cap'n."
Simon smiles fondly at them and then holds his hand out to Mal. Mal takes it and they say goodnight to everyone and they head for their bunk.
Simon gives Mal's hand a squeeze. "You know, I think Zoe's right," he says with a smile teasing the corners of his lips.
Mal frowns slightly and says, "Right about what?"
"A whole extra day's shore leave? You are getting soft," Simon answers, the smile breaking free and spreading across his face.
Mal smiles in return and says, "Yeah, well maybe I've just got caught up in the holiday spirit. I'll be back to being my mean old self in a week."
Simon laughs and slides down the ladder into their bunk. As Mal enters and shuts and locks the door behind him Simon goes over to the bed and picks up the small package sitting on it.
"What's that?" Mal asks moving in behind him and looking over his shoulder.
"It's from River," Simon replies, beginning to unwrap it. Mal puts his arms around Simon's waist and rests his chin on his shoulder.
Simon is stunned speechless by the framed drawing he finds inside the wrapping. It's a sketch, as perfect as any photograph, of Mal and Simon, asleep, Mal holding Simon close, like something precious.
Mal reaches out and touches the frame. "This is..." he trails off as a sudden thought occurs to him. "You don't think she..."
Simon pats Mal's hand and says, "It's River, Mal. I wouldn't put anything past her. I think we should just be grateful that it's a sketch of us just sleeping, don't you?"
Mal chuckles a bit uncomfortably and says, "You may have a point there."
Simon turns his head and gives Mal a kiss before pulling away from his embrace to go place the sketch on the dresser. He opens a drawer and digs under a pile of neatly folded vests for a small box. He holds it out to Mal with a slight smile.
Mal blinks a few times. "It's been in here all along?" he asks incredulously.
Simon's smile turns into a smirk, "Yup."
"Devious little hundan," Mal says with a smile and takes the box out of Simon's hand. He sits down on the bunk and pats the space beside him. Mal turns the box around and around, and then shakes it near his ear, while Simon watches with a raised eyebrow.
Mal grins at him and then rips the wrapping off, revealing a highly polished wooden box. Simon keeps his eyes on Mal's face as Mal flips the latch and opens the box. Mal's eyes widen in shock.
"Tianna, Simon," he whispers, "It's beautiful." Mal lifts the small, beautifully engraved derringer out of the case, his fingers tracing the curlicues and swirls. He hefts the tiny gun, testing its grip, flips it open in one smooth motion, checking the barrels, flips it closed and then places it back in its box, speechless.
"I thought that maybe you could use a concealable weapon. That way if you get disarmed, you've got a back-up," Simon says, trying to fill the silence. "Is it okay? I wasn't sure...I still don't know much about guns, I had to ask the shopkeeper..."
"It's perfect," Mal replies, leaning in to give Simon a soft kiss.
"It is?" Simon inquires.
"Yeah," Mal confirms and Simon beams at him. Mal can't resist and he leans in and gives Simon a longer, more thorough kiss. When they break for air, Simon wraps his arms around Mal's waist and rests his head against his shoulder. Mal strokes his hair with one hand and the gun with the other. He closes the box and puts it aside. Leaning down, Simon still curled against his side, Mal reaches under the bunk and pulls out a crudely wrapped present that he plunks in Simon's lap.
As Simon quietly unwraps the present, Mal begins to babble. "This decision to celebrate Christmas sorta came out of nowhere, so I had to make do with stuff already on the ship," Mal says uncomfortably, as he watches Simon pull out his gift and look at it. "If you don't like it, I can get you something tomorrow...I know it's not exactly your style, but..."
Simon, turns to Mal and silences him with a long kiss, Mal's favorite suspenders dangling from his hand.
"So, I guess this means you like your present too?" Mal asks, a silly grin on his face.
"I do," Simon replies, his fingers sliding up and down the worn leather.
"Good. 'Cause I'm looking forward to taking them off you, for a change," Mal says with a wicked gleam in his eye.
"Are you now?" Simon says with a grin.
"Most definitely," Mal replies before kissing Simon again. "I love you, qin’ai de, Merry Christmas."
"I love you, too, Mal," Simon says, his heart full of love and happiness.
As he settles into Mal's arms, Simon thinks briefly about all of the fancy holiday parties and expensive gifts he'd grown accustomed to in the Core. And he realizes that not a single one of them possibly compare to the simple gathering of friends and family and heartfelt gifts given today.
"Thank you," Simon says quietly against Mal's chest.
Mal strokes Simon's hair and asks, "Thank you for what?"
"For making this the best Christmas ever."
"Well," Mal amends. "I'm still a bit scared about those sparklies Kaylee hung. We ain't fallen out of the sky yet, but the day ain't over, either."
Simon laughs out loud at that, and says, once he catches his breath, "Mal?"
"Get the lights."