"What are you doing still up?" Simon's voice sounded irritated to his own ears.
"What?" Jayne half-turned around. "Oh, it's you. Where's that crazy sister of yours?" He deliberately turned his back to Simon and resumed putting a sandwich together. Apparently he was creating a late-night snack. That had been Simon's plan as well.
"River. Her name is River. And she's asleep." Simon peered into first one cabinet, then another. He did his best to ignore the big man. Jayne always made Simon feel short. "She's asleep because it's two in the morning. Did you take the last of the bread?"
"Yep." Jayne ostentatiously picked up his sandwich and took a big bite. "Mmm," he said through a mouthful of food.
"At least you chew with your mouth closed," Simon said, not in the mood to be tweaked. "Give me that." He plucked the sandwich out of Jayne's hand before Jayne could protest, set it back on the counter, and cut it in half. "Here." He handed the half with the bite taken out of it back to Jayne.
Jayne swallowed. "You're welcome," he said ironically. "And I may not be all fancy like you, but I know my manners."
"What?" Simon asked, leaning against the countertop. He sniffed the sandwich and took a cautious bite. Jayne had used an unorthodox mixture of ingredients, including chutney, but it wasn't bad.
"Mouth closed," Jayne clarified. "It's like you're all surprised because I don't catch my own food and eat it still kicking. With my mouth open."
Simon licked chutney off a finger. "Yes, you're right," he agreed. "I'm stunned every time you show the slightest trace of civility. But you seem to bathe regularly, you swap out your T-shirts with some consistency, and although your use of silverware is—well, eccentric at best, you do indeed chew with your mouth closed. But when you hold all these assets against the fact that you offered the captain a gun—a gun—for his wife, you'll have to pardon me for thinking that maybe you should have spent more time in finishing school."
Jayne gave Simon an odd look. Simon lifted his eyebrows and took another bite of his sandwich. He figured Jayne had to process the insult. The man wasn't stupid, but he was ignorant and uneducated. He was also prone to violence, although the captain seemed to hold him tightly in check. Simon knew that Jayne would sell all of them out if the price was right. He absolutely didn't trust the man.
"That wasn't any gun. That was Vera," Jayne said at last. "And if we're talking about my assets, I could've just taken Saffron, but I didn't. I offered the captain a fair price."
"And that makes it all right?" Simon asked incredulously. "She's a person. Admittedly a criminal person, but a person."
Jayne threw down the remnants of his sandwich. "I don't hassle Inara, or Kaylee, or Zoe," he said.
Simon was amazed. Jayne actually sounded testy. "Because the captain would kill you if you did."
"Well, yeah, but also because they ain't willing and I got to work with them." Jayne pointed a finger at Simon. "So you mark that in the asset pile."
Simon lifted up his hands in surrender. "Fine. Fine. You're a paragon of virtue," he said. "Lots of assets in the asset pile." The asset pile of mixed metaphors, he added to himself, but he didn't say it out loud. "River's not on your list?" he asked.
Jayne laughed. "No," he said. "She's nuts. But she'd clean up real nice if she did her hair and stuff, maybe wore something slinky of Inara's."
Simon blinked. He couldn't imagine River wearing anything slinky. "She's just a kid."
"Where've you been? She's no kid. She's all grown up."
Horrified, Simon turned to face Jayne. "You've been looking at my sister?" he asked. "In that way?" He couldn't imagine anyone less appropriate.
"She's a woman, ain't she? 'Course I'm looking. But just looking. Don't you worry." Jayne stepped close. "Besides, seems to me that it's you been checking out my—assets. Seems to me that you been noticing my table manners and my wardrobe."
Simon willed himself not to flinch as Jayne put his hands on the counter, one arm on each side, trapping Simon. He focused on Jayne's mouth and goatee. Jayne had a weak chin, Simon realized, as his eyes flicked up to meet Jayne's. He had grown the goatee to hide it.
"Yeah," Jayne said, air puffing into Simon's face. His breath wasn't unpleasant. "I wondered if you swung that way. Little Kaylee's getting nowhere with you. But she's not one to take the direct approach." He leaned into Simon, looming large, his size suddenly hulking and threatening. Simon's heart stopped for a long moment, then began hammering. Simon felt the warmth of Jayne's groin against his stomach. When Jayne deliberately rubbed himself against Simon, he felt the beginnings of Jayne's erection. "You got a pretty mouth," Jayne said quietly. He didn't say it insultingly. He said it like he meant it—like he liked Simon's mouth. Simon tried not to flinch when Jayne stroked his face against Simon's. The goatee was silky, not prickly. "Nice skin. Soft. You talk good. You're smart. You got lots of…assets."
"Thanks," Simon said, trying for sarcastic, but it came out weak. Jayne's solid bulk pressed against him. Simon knew that if he tried to duck underneath one of Jayne's arms, Jayne would push him back. He didn't want Jayne to display his power in a physical way. He didn't want to be reminded that in this kind of situation, he was at a distinct disadvantage. It was bad enough that Simon's body was responding to Jayne's. He was hyperaware of the coiled power bunching in Jayne's muscles. Jayne slid slightly sideways, and Simon felt the movement as a shock through his own body. He knew there was no hope that Jayne would ignore his erection, and he was right.
"There we go. That's more like it." Jayne's voice held satisfaction. One of his hands insinuated itself between Simon's ass and the counter. "Yeah." He pulled Simon close, pressing him against Jayne's hard rod, and Simon was suddenly light-headed as all his blood rushed to his cock. "Tell you what," Jayne whispered against his ear. "You come to my bunk, and you use that pretty mouth on me."
"Tell you what," Simon gasped. "You let me go, and I don't knee you in the balls right this second."
Jayne's hand loosened on Simon's ass. "You want it," he said matter-of-factly.
"Not that much," Simon said. "I don't even like you."
Jayne stepped back, taking the heat of his body with him. It was immediately easier for Simon to breathe. "What's that got to do with it?" Jayne asked. "I just want some fun, and you sure could use some, what with your sister being insane and all. It don't mean we're best friends."
"No, it would mean we were lovers," Simon said.
Jayne shrugged. "Have it your way," he said. He jerked his thumb to the door. "You know where my bunk is if you change your mind. Come by any time. You and your pretty mouth. Hell, bring your sister. Think of it as an open invitation."
Simon was too outraged at Jayne's comment about River to speak, but it wouldn't have made a difference. Jayne didn't look behind him as he left. Simon waited until he heard the clatter of Jayne's boots in the hallway before he dared breathe again. Jayne had reminded him that he'd never been any good at dating or talking to people he was interested in—take Kaylee, for instance. He liked her a lot, but he always said the wrong thing to her. Jayne, on the other hand, he could speak to freely. Usually, they traded insults. Despite this, Simon had been aware of Jayne since he first laid eyes on him: Jayne was big, tall, and handsome, and he was either brave or stupid. It was just physical attraction, Simon knew. Jayne wasn't his intellectual equal in any way—not in inherent smarts, and certainly not in education. Jayne said incredibly stupid and ignorant things. He was uncouth and dense. He didn't value Simon's space or privacy. He was mean to River and rude to Simon's face. He'd talked to the captain more than once about dumping Simon and River somewhere. But for all his drawbacks, he had one undeniable asset: his body. Simon wanted it.
Suddenly, he wasn't hungry any more. He disposed of the remnants of the sandwich, put away the ingredients Jayne had left out, and washed his hands under cold water, willing himself to lose his erection. As he dried his hands, he kept remembering the feel of Jayne's body against his, Jayne's big hand cupping a buttock, and he'd get hard again. Jayne had offered him sex with no strings, and he'd said no.
"I'm an idiot," he said out loud, because he was—he was an idiot to want it so much. "Damn it."
"Listen up," Captain Mal Reynolds said, standing up.
Simon leaned back in his chair, brought a leg up, and clasped it loosely. Next to him, Kaylee pushed her dinner plate away. She bounced slightly, and he smiled at her. He liked her infectious enthusiasm.
"Now, I'm not denying that I'm a fool," Mal began.
"Hear, hear," said Wash, raising his mug in salute.
"No, sir," Zoe agreed.
"But my beloved wife, Saffron, ran off with a shuttle, and I want it back, seeing as the other one is rented to Inara here and she don't take kindly to lending it out."
Shepherd Book poured himself some more coffee. "You got any ideas where she ran off to?" he asked.
Mal shrugged. "I figure she didn't get far. Wash, I want you to figure out how far she could go, given how fast the shuttle can go and how much fuel it had. Work with Zoe to plot a search pattern. This neck of the woods ain't all that large."
"And then what?" Jayne asked.
"And then nothing. We take the shuttle back. If I can find her, I'll have me a little chat with Saffron. End of story. I don't reckon it'll take us more than a day or two to find the shuttle. Now that repairs are pretty much done on Serenity, we can make good speed." Before she'd left, Saffron had sabotaged the ship. Serenity had barely avoided being cut up for scrap.
"Sounds good," Zoe said. "Wash and I will get right on it."
Mal nodded. "I'm thinking she may have booby-trapped the shuttle so we can't just waltz off with it, so Kaylee, I want you to come along when we find it."
"Sure thing," Kaylee said.
"Anything else anybody can think of?" Mal asked.
Everyone shook his or her head. "Nope," Jayne said, answering for all of them.
"All right, then. Let's get to it." Mal pushed his chair in to indicate that the meeting was over.
Wash stood up. "We'll get right on that plotting thing. Come on, honey. Let's go plot."
"Plotting. Right." Zoe followed her husband out.
"Lord knows I hate to leave during clean-up, but I've got a passel of work," Mal said.
"I'll clean up," Simon offered. He could use a mindless task right about now. He kept thinking about his encounter with Jayne the previous night. He didn't know what bothered him more: the fact that he was actually attracted to the man, or that Jayne had put him at such a disadvantage so quickly. "Everyone should take the night off. I'll take care of it all."
"I'll help you," Kaylee said immediately.
"Slinky dresses," River said.
Simon swung around. "What?" he said. River was still seated at the table, hunched over, her unbrushed hair hiding her face. Simon had given up trying to help her with it—she tended to scream when he pulled too hard at the tangles, and it unnerved him. Simon shifted his gaze to Jayne, making it accusing.
"Don't look at me. I didn't say nothing," Jayne said defensively.
"Slinky dresses," River repeated. "Inara promised I could try on some slinky dresses. She said she'd put up my hair."
Mal laughed. "You girls go play dress-up," he said. "Do we get to see?"
"It depends on how the experiment turns out," Inara said.
River brushed her hair back. "The experiment doubts it. The experiment dislikes being the object of the gaze."
"Riiiiight," Jayne said, his eyes following Inara and River as they left for Inara's shuttle.
Shepherd Book stacked plates. "I'll do my bit here and then get back to my room to do some reading," he said. "Thanks much, Simon, Kaylee."
"Happy to do it," Kaylee said. She stopped Jayne, who was carrying a cluster of mugs to the kitchen, with a hand on his wrist. "Simon and me, we have it under control. No need for you to stay," she said. "You go have yourself some fun. Polish up your guns."
Simon turned, pretending not to see the intent look she was giving Jayne. He gave Book and Mal a half-smile as they exited.
"No, I'll help," Jayne said, seemingly oblivious to Kaylee's obvious desire to spend some time alone with Simon.
"That's right nice of you," Kaylee said, defeated.
"Can this be recycled?" Simon called, waving an empty can at Kaylee. "It's made of plastic, not metal."
"Oh, yeah, that goes here." Kaylee indicated a bin. "I wish we could see River when she's all dressed up pretty," she said. "Did she go to parties and such when she lived with you, before she went off to her school?"
"Yes, but she was a lot younger then," Simon said, remembering what Jayne had said about River. When had River turned into a woman? He'd missed it. "So she didn't wear anything grown-up and slinky."
"I'll bet you look nice all dressed up too," Kaylee said. "You know, in a suit, or maybe all formal and black." She began stacking plates in the dishwasher.
"Black doesn't suit me. It makes me look too pale and funereal," Simon said as Jayne brushed by him. Jayne's hand touched him intimately on the small of the back, lingering just a second too long for politeness. Simon ignored him as he bent down to place silverware in the dishwasher's holder. "But if you go knock on Inara's door, she might let you in, and then you could see River."
Kaylee perked up. "There's an idea," she said. "Inara has lots of pretty things for River to try on."
"It's Inara's job to be pretty," Jayne said. "Hand me that rag, would you, Kaylee? I'll wipe the table." Once again, he touched Simon as he passed him, hip brushing hip.
Kaylee leaned around Simon for the dishcloth and handed it to Jayne. Simon noticed that unlike Jayne, Kaylee wouldn't touch him.
"She'll do right by River," Kaylee said. "But for us, me and River, all that is just dress-up. For Inara, it's everyday."
Simon smiled at Kaylee. She didn't have a mean bone in her body. She thought Inara was glamorous and beautiful, and she was open about saying so. But he wasn't foolish enough to agree with her out loud. There was no denying that Inara was extraordinary, but Kaylee had her own kind of charm, unaffected and sweet. He'd made enough missteps with Kaylee before. He did all right talking to her until they began talking about her, and all his thoughts and compliments came out wrong.
"There's a couple more mugs out here," Jayne called. "Hold off with the dishwasher if there's room."
Simon checked the top of the dishwasher. There was space at the top. "Got 'em," Simon said, coming around. Jayne had clustered the mugs at one end of the table. "You should get yourself all dressed up too, Kaylee," he said over his shoulder. "You could put on that dress with all the ruffles that the captain had to buy you."
"Oh, no," Kaylee demurred, scraping a plate. "Maybe I'll go look later, but River should have Inara all to herself for a bit."
Simon filled both hands with mugs. He was just turning away when Jayne said, "Hold on there, Simon."
"What?" Simon asked.
Jayne stepped close and held up the rag. "You got something on your mouth, in the corner right here." He indicated a spot on his own mouth. "Hold on. I'll wipe it off for you."
Simon stared at him. He knew Jayne was tweaking him, but Jayne looked totally serious. "Do not touch me with that dishcloth," Simon said coldly.
Jayne shrugged and put his hand, faintly damp from the rag, against Simon's face. His thumb gently caressed Simon's lower lip and stroked against the side of his mouth, tracing a gentle circle in an overt caress. Simon froze. He was aware of Kaylee banging dishes behind him, the water running loudly. His eyes met Jayne's, and as he watched, Jayne's pupils dilated. It was suddenly hard to breathe.
"There," Jayne said. He turned away. "Do you want to play some cards after we're done cleaning up?" he called to Kaylee.
"Sure," Kaylee said. "Simon?"
"I'll bet we can get Shepherd Book to play with us," Kaylee said.
"Good idea." Simon spoke mechanically. He had received proof twice now that Jayne responded to him on some kind of physiological level: the erection last night, and now his pupils dilating with arousal. And he'd received proof that his body responded to Jayne's.
"I thought I'd turn in early tonight," Jayne said. "I was up late last night. What about you, Simon? Going to bed early?"
Simon shot him a quelling glance. "I don't know," he said. "I guess I'll wait up for River. Who knows? I might have to admire her outfit."
Kaylee seemed to sense something, because she looked first at one man, then the other. "The dishwasher's ready to go," she said at last, banging it shut. "Any strays?"
"Don't think so," Jayne said, doing a pass anyway.
"Here, I'll scrub out this big pot," Simon said, picking it up. It wouldn't fit in the dishwasher. "You two sit down and deal me a hand."
It took only a few minutes to wash and dry the pot. He heard Kaylee and Jayne chatting amiably behind him. Kaylee ran to Book's room to see if he wanted to play, but he didn't. Simon hung the dishtowel up to dry and headed for the table. He sighed to see that he was seated at the head of the table, with Kaylee and Jayne on either side.
"What's the game?" he asked, seating himself. "Oh, sorry," he apologized. "Who did I just kick?"
"Me," Kaylee and Jayne said simultaneously.
"Fold," Simon said, disgusted.
"This is not your game," Kaylee said happily, raking in the tokens.
"We could at least play for real stakes," Jayne complained for the upteenth time.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Kaylee said. "Not with only three people. I keep telling you."
"Ante up," Jayne said. "Pears are short."
"I wish you wouldn't do that," Simon complained. "It's confusing."
"I'm the dealer. I can be confusing if I want." Jayne shuffled, then tossed cards.
Simon found himself watching Jayne's hands. They were battered from work, but his nails were clean and neatly trimmed. It made a kind of sense, Simon decided. Jayne spent a lot of time working out; he and Book spotted each other when lifting weights. It only made sense that that kind of care would extend to his personal appearance. Jayne was no fashion plate, and his clothes were often wrinkled, but they were clean, and he kept his hair and beard trimmed. When Jayne grinned at something Kaylee said, Simon was struck by Jayne's teeth. They were perfectly even and white.
"Doc," Jayne said again. "Come on. What are you looking at?"
"Your mouth," Simon said before he could stop himself. He looked up to see a flush begin creeping up Jayne's neck. He resisted the urge to smile. He'd scored without meaning to. "Your teeth," he clarified. "You have really good teeth. Did you have them straightened?"
"Yes," Jayne answered shortly.
"That's a doctor's observation for you," Kaylee said as Simon threw down a card and tossed in a chip. She consulted her own hand. "Wait, plums are short, right?"
"No, pears," Simon said.
Kaylee looked up sharply. "I think I hear them in the hall," she said. She put her cards face down and scooted her chair back. "Inara! River!" she called, bounding up the steps.
"Quit it," Simon said, slapping Jayne's hand away from Kaylee's cards.
"What did you say that about my mouth for?" Jayne said, settling back.
"I said it because it's true. Why did you say it about mine?"
"To mess with you." Jayne pointed at Kaylee's empty seat. "She's sweet on you."
Simon sighed. "I know."
"I'm just saying you can be sweet back."
"I thought I was."
"Not nearly sweet enough."
Simon shrugged. "I like to take things slow."
Jayne shook his head. "Whatever," he said. "I just got to be clear, though, doc. With me, there's none of this taking things slow."
Simon put his cards down. "Are you telling me you like it hard and fast? Is that what you're telling me?"
"I'm telling you that I ain't looking for love or flowers or none of that."
"Direct, aren't you?"
"I thought so, but maybe not enough," Jayne said. His eyes flicked up as women's voices sounded in the hallway, getting close. "I wasn't the only one stiff last night in the kitchen. Offer's still open."
"Remember what I said about my not liking you?"
"You'll like me well enough when I've got my mouth on your dick," Jayne said.
Simon was literally speechless, but only for a second. "God, I don't think you could be cruder," he marveled.
"Want to bet on that?" Jayne said, holding up a chip and grinning as Inara, River, and Kaylee came in.
"Inara says she looked right pretty," Kaylee announced.
Inara smiled. "River insisted on changing back."
Simon turned. River was wearing the same shapeless sweater and skirt she'd been wearing earlier, but she had left her hair up. It had been brushed to a high gloss and pulled back into a low twist. A few artful tendrils framed her face. Inara had also applied cosmetics, deepening River's eyes and highlighting her cheekbones. It made River look much older.
"You do look pretty, River," Simon said. "Come and sit down, all of you."
"Inara brushed my hair for me," River said, sitting in Kaylee's spot next to Simon. "She was so gentle. She didn't rip or anything."
"I'm sorry," Simon said, contrite. "I know I don't do it correctly. Maybe Inara can show me."
"Of course," Inara responded at once.
"What dresses did you try on?" Kaylee sat down next to Jayne. "That gold one that's all swirly? That's my favorite."
River furrowed her brow. "Purple-and-white patterned silk. Beaded black jet. Red synthetic with tickly feathers at the neck. White brocade. The white brocade made me look like a bride, except my lips were too red." She touched her lips, which were vivid with lipstick, then looked at her fingertips. "They're still red," she said sadly. She rubbed at her lips, wiping the lipstick onto her skin, and then scrubbed at her face. "It's covering me up," she wailed. "I forgot about it. What if the mask had stayed on forever? What if I hadn't noticed?"
"Hold on, sweetie," Inara said, hurrying to the kitchen.
"It's all right, River," Simon said soothingly.
"Completely nuts," Jayne said.
"Shut up," Kaylee hissed.
"I looked like a bride, all remote and pure, but my eyes were hot and my lips were red." River sniffed loudly.
"It's just dress-up," Kaylee said. "You dress up, and then you take it off and you're you again."
Inara knelt at River's side. "Here, this will take it right off," she said, handing River a wet dishcloth.
"The red dress was the prettiest," River said, dabbing at her face and wiping her nose. "It made me look tall and beautiful." She turned to Inara. She had black rings around her eyes where mascara had rubbed off. "How do you do it?"
"Do what, sweetie?"
"How do you put on the face and the dress, every day? Pretending to be someone else?"
"Maybe I don't pretend," Inara said.
River paused, struck. "I never thought of that," she said. "But we all pretend, don't we? Simon pretends he doesn't want, but he does. He wants so much it hurts him." Simon bit his lip and steadfastly didn't look at Jayne. "I pretend I'm not scared. Simon pretends I'm his sister and that I'll get better and that I was worth his life."
"Oh, River," Simon said. "You are my sister. You'll get better. You are worth my life."
"Here, let me," Inara said, taking the dishcloth from River and wiping at the black rims around River's eyes. "See, there you are. You were there all along."
"You're sure?" River asked. She was shaking.
"River, it's time for your medication," Simon said. One of the cocktails of drugs he was trying had drowsiness as a side effect, so he administered it to her before bed.
Inara sat back. "Just wash your face when you get back to your room, River, and the rest will come off."
"Time for bed," River sighed, rising. At the doorway, she turned. "Thank you very much, Inara," she said politely. "I had a wonderful time."
"You're welcome," Inara said.
"Good night," Simon called, hurrying to catch up with River. He followed her into the infirmary and pulled an ampoule of the little refrigerator as she sat down on the bed. "It looks like you had fun," he offered as he clicked the ampoule onto a syringe. "Kaylee wanted to see, but she thought you would prefer to spend time alone with Inara."
"Kaylee's very kind." River looked away as Simon sank the needle into her forearm and pushed the plunger. "So is Inara. They worry about me."
"So do we all," Simon said, swabbing the needle stick with antiseptic. "How's that?"
"Fine." River clenched and unclenched her fist. "Hot. I can feel the medicine moving, making me hot."
"Is it helping?" Simon asked. He wasn't sure what they had done to her, and River wouldn't talk about what she remembered. Whatever they had done, it had made her preternaturally aware of her surroundings, of what people were thinking or feeling.
"No," River admitted. "You're seeking to reintegrate the neuronal pathways, but they were disrupted by surgical cuts. The chasms can't be bridged by pharmacokinetic means."
"Oh," Simon said after a pause. He hadn't discussed the treatment with her. "I didn't know that. Are you sure about the surgical cuts?"
River crossed her legs, hid her head in her arms, and nodded. She used this body posture when she was afraid.
"Well, then, maybe the drug will help you forge new pathways that will compensate for the damage," Simon said hopefully. "Come on. Let's get ready for bed."
River unclenched herself and let Simon take her hand. The drug had kicked in: she was unsteady on her feet, and she leaned heavily on Simon as he took her next door to her tiny room. "You're alive, you know," she said as Simon slid her door open. "And I am too. You gave it all up for me. Your life. Your work."
"I would never leave you behind to be tortured," Simon said. "I will always protect you." He didn't know who he was reassuring. He sought to change the subject. "I wasn't thinking. I should have had you get into your pajamas before I gave you the shot. Can you change by yourself?"
River nodded dumbly, and Simon laid out her pajamas so she could just slide them on.
"Good night, little sister," Simon said gently. River looked small and alone, with her face smudged and her hair done up perfectly.
"Good night, Simon," River said. She stepped close and touched his mouth, and Simon froze. She slid her fingers along his lips and to the corner of his mouth, right where Jayne had touched him earlier that night. River's face creased into a frown. "He woke you up," she said, and Simon didn't have to ask who "he" was. "It's a celebration. Like Inara brushing my hair. Touch. It's okay to need it. It's okay to take it."
Simon felt a lump in his throat. It was hard to talk. "I don't—" he started. He didn't know how to finish the sentence. "I don't want you to think badly of me"? "I don't want to want someone I can't build something with"? "I don't want to ruin anything that might happen later with Kaylee"?
River turned away. "You're uncomfortable. It's very personal. I understand. I won't mention it again. Good night."
Simon hesitated, but when River took her sweater off, revealing the shirt underneath, he stepped into the hallway and slid the door shut. His heart thudded. She saw too much. She saw it all. "My sister, the fortune-teller," he muttered as he stepped into his own room across the hall. Was had been done to her at that so-called school? They'd messed with her so she could look deep inside people and say out loud what she saw. Once she had been mistaken for a witch. He didn't think the assessment was all that far off. But it was disconcerting to have your secrets, your innermost thoughts, said out loud, especially when it was about desire and sex.
He got ready for bed automatically. He didn't set an alarm. He'd had his mind made up, he realized, ever since he'd seen the red flush rise on Jayne's neck during the card game, when Simon had realized that he'd scored. He wasn't powerless with Jayne. River was right. Simon needed intimacy and touch.
When Simon stepped off the last rung of the ladder into Jayne's quarters, Jayne barely looked up from the floor, where he was sitting cross-legged in a corner, cleaning a gun. He'd spread out a pristine white cloth, and gun bits were neatly laid out in precision order.
"Took you long enough," Jayne growled.
"Wow," Simon said, looking around. Jayne's cramped quarters had weapons, mostly knives and guns, everywhere—mounted on walls, scattered on almost every horizontal surface. The bed was made. "It's good to have a hobby."
"We all got our interests," Jayne said, polishing the muzzle of the weapon he was holding. "I knew I'd see you here. I clock you in at just exactly twenty-four hours."
"I can't stay long," Simon said. "I don't think River will wake up, but she has nightmares sometimes."
"Yeah, well, we wouldn't your crazy sister to get all scared in the middle of the night, now, would we." Jayne sighted along the barrel.
"We're not going to talk about my sister," Simon said steadily. "In fact, we're not going to talk at all."
Jayne finally looked at him. "Is that a fact." It wasn't a question.
"That's a fact," Simon said. He reached into a pocket, pulled out a strip of condoms, and tossed it onto Jayne's lap. A second later, a tube of lube followed. "Take off all your clothes," he ordered, his eyes not leaving Jayne's.
"Well now," Jayne said at last. He set his weapon down carefully and scooted himself well away from the cloth. He grabbed the bottom of his T-shirt and pulled it over his head. He wadded it into a ball and used it to wipe his hands. He tossed it to Simon, who caught it automatically, and rose to his feet. Simon put the shirt to his nose and breathed in deeply as he watched Jayne kick off his boots and strip off his trousers. The shirt smelled like Jayne, clean and masculine.
When Jayne was nude, he extended a hand to Simon. "Come to bed," Jayne said. He was already hard, his cock as large as the rest of him. He had a red tattoo high up on his left arm. His body hair emphasized his musculature. Seeing him removing his clothing—doing as Simon had asked—and knowing what they were going to do together made Simon stir in response.
Simon dropped the T-shirt as Jayne tugged him up. His hands fumbled as he unbuttoned first his vest, then his shirt. Jayne put his hands on his trousers, unfastening him, and Simon gasped when Jayne brushed his erection as Jayne slid his trousers down. Jayne pulled Simon against the iron of his body, hands sliding down and sinking into Simon's ass, chest pushing against chest, and Simon felt Jayne rub that silky goatee against his neck. Jayne made a noise low in his throat as he rubbed his cock against Simon's stomach. Simon had never needed the touch of another person as he needed it now, from Jayne. They pressed together, body against body, and Simon felt like he could never be close enough.
Simon said, "Oh, god," when Jayne's hand wrapped around his penis. The animal pleasure of it made it hard to breathe. "Your mouth." He pulled Jayne's head up and studied his mouth. Simon was panting, and Jayne's eyes were dark with desire.
Jayne twitched back. "I don't do no kissing on the mouth. I already told you that."
Simon remembered. Jayne had announced it after the captain had been knocked out by a drugged kiss from his "bride," Saffron. "Make an exception," Simon suggested, touching Jayne's lips with his fingers and following it a second later with his own lips. "Your mouth is one of your assets. Plus you've been teasing me." He kissed Jayne again, stroking Jayne's face. "You start at my mouth and work your way down."
"Shit," Jayne said, and a second later, his mouth opened under Simon's, and Simon fell into its heat and warmth. He'd never kissed anyone with a moustache and goatee before. It was a little prickly. But for someone who presumably didn't kiss much, Jayne was pretty good at it, his tongue playful, gentle, and insistent. Simon barely had the presence of mind to steer them to the bed. He could tell that it was going to go fast.
Simon pushed Jayne back onto the bed. Jayne lay back, his magnificent body stretched out. His mouth looked bruised and wet. Simon tossed the strip of condoms on Jayne's stomach and stepped out of his trousers.
"Don't," Jayne said when Simon started to shrug off his unbuttoned shirt and vest. "Leave it on. It sets you off. Shows off your…assets." Jayne unwrapped a condom and smoothed it around his erection. "I want you under me, panting for it, with your proper clothes all improper. Here." He unwrapped another condom. Simon stepped close and Jayne unrolled it over Simon's cock. Simon shut his eyes when Jayne's mouth enveloped him a second later, sucking hard. Simon wrapped his fingers in Jayne's hair, focusing on the heat building up in his body. The condom cut off some sensation, but it would make him last a little longer. And he didn't want it to end, the touching.
Jayne pulled Simon onto the bed. Their cocks knocked together as Simon arranged himself under Jayne's heavy body. And Jayne did just as Simon had asked, or maybe ordered: he started with the mouth and worked his way down. Simon felt throbbing and exposed as Jayne's mouth nipped and licked. He felt as though he'd been asleep for weeks, and suddenly he was awake and alive to sensation. He wasn't in control of his body any more. He let go, barely hearing himself as he voiced his pleasure, barely hearing Jayne's responses. He reveled in the feel of Jayne's hard, hairy body against his, scrubbing his skin, leaving all the nerve endings exposed, so that when Jayne's mouth trailed down a moment later, the caress was so exquisite that he could barely breathe. And when Jayne finally, finally cupped his balls and took Simon's penis into his mouth again, he didn't even try to make it last, because it was no use. He felt the ache in his overfull balls as Jayne exerted the slightest pressure. Jayne's mouth pulled hard against Simon's distended cock. The pleasure exploded outward as the touching culminated in sweet, sweet release.
Simon collapsed back on the bed, heart thudding, breath coming hard, as Jayne released him. "Your mouth," Jayne gasped, climbing over Simon's body. "Now. Your mouth."
"The lube." Simon pointed. He could see the white of his chest rise and fall, his shirt open, like he was offering himself to Jayne. Well, he had.
"Here." Jayne thrust it in his hand and straddled Simon. "I got to come."
Simon fought the heaviness of his sated body as he managed to get lube on one hand. He brought the hand around Jayne's ass and pulled Jayne's crotch close to his face. He closed his lips around the top of Jayne's thick cock, tasting the sharp tang of plastic. It only took a second for the condom to warm up. His lubed fingers probed Jayne's asshole. He opened his mouth wide and sucked as hard as he could as he pushed two fingers in.
"Shit. Shit." Jayne's hips rotated. "Oh, fuck. There. There."
Simon adjusted the depth of his fingers and was rewarded almost immediately as Jayne orgasmed, his asshole twitching as his cock pulsed. Simon could feel the heat of the semen trapped inside the condom. He relaxed his mouth and listened to Jayne moan in Chinese. It subsided into panting. After what seemed like a long time, Jayne pushed himself off and stripped off the condom. Simon watched as Jayne wet the T-shirt he'd cleaned his hands on and washed himself off, admiring the way his nude body was put together, admiring the way it moved.
"Do you got to get back, or can we go again?" Jayne asked, sitting on the bed to clean off Simon next. "Because I got plans for that lube."
Simon pulled Jayne next to him. "We're going to go again. In a minute."
"I ain't one for cuddling," Jayne warned, but he stretched out next to Simon. His penis was at half-mast and cool from the water. Simon clasped it loosely.
"You aren't one for kissing either, but you did just fine," Simon said drowsily. He took in Jayne's clean profile and stroked Jayne's hair. "I need to be touched. That's why I'm here. And I think you need to be touched, too. That's why you offered."
"Nah, I offered because I wanted to get my rocks off," Jayne said. "Just so you're clear that nothing's changed between us."
Simon smiled. "I'm clear," he said. "I wouldn't want it any other way." He and Jayne had shown each other hidden aspects of themselves: Simon direct about what he wanted, ready to take something offered freely; Jayne surprisingly gentle, willing to defer his own pleasure.
"Don't go to sleep on me," Jayne warned, leaning in close.
"Don't worry," Simon said. He touched the silky goatee and traced Jayne's lips. "I'm finally awake."