Mal walked into the kitchen and got yet another evergreen branch right in the face.
"Captain? Is something the matter?"
He pushed aside the greenery dripping from the doorway and saw his engineer standing on the table.
"Why is my ship suddenly a forest?" He waved around at the pine garlands over both doors, at the holly hung over the stove, at the wreath on the wall. "And what's with that?"
She held up the bunch of green stuff in her hand. "Mistletoe, Captain! Don't you know mistletoe when you see it? Best part of the holidays, far as I'm concerned."
"And you're hanging it over the table why?"
She finished what she was doing and held out a hand. He took it, and she jumped down and kissed his cheek.
"I'm hanging it everywhere, so you just watch out."
She smiled up and him, and he couldn't help smiling back. "All right. I guess I know who the mistletoe's for, but the forest?"
"You said I could decorate."
"I said you could have a tree. I see no tree, just miles and miles of fire hazard."
"There's a tree, too! Come on, I'll show you."
She took his hand and dragged him down to the cargo bay. The tree was propped up against the wall at an angle, and it nearly reached the second story catwalk.
"Isn't it great? Me and Wash found it, and Jayne helped us cut it down. Well, sort of cut it down."
"Sort of?" He looked at the tree. The end was splintered and jagged. Burn marks reached up the trunk for about a foot.
"Well, more blew it up. But it worked real good. And we dragged it back with the mule." She looked up at it, her nose wrinkling a little. "It looked smaller outside."
Mal just shook his head. "Keep that in mind for next year, okay? And the holly over the stove has to go."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. It did look pretty, though."
She looked back over her shoulder.
"Go easy on the doc. He ain't quite used to us yet."
"Sure thing, Captain." She tossed him a cheerful salute and ran up the stairs, hopefully to deal with the holly.
Mal made a mental note to avoid planets with pine forests this time next year.
The tree stood in the middle of the cargo bay, decorated with as unlikely a collection of ornaments as Mal had ever seen. Tube lighting that Kaylee used to poke into dark sections of the engine was wrapped around it in a descending spiral; Wash's plastic dinosaurs peered menacingly from the branches; a few glittery gold things hung here and there, and he recognized many of them as Inara's earrings and hair clips.
Someone had hung up a grenade as well. He took it down. He'd have to explain to Jayne that painting high explosives in Christmas colors did not make them appropriate ornaments.
Assuming it was Jayne who'd done it. River seemed to be picking up a lot of things you wouldn't normally find on a Christmas tree and integrating them into whatever design she and Kaylee were going for. There were snowflakes cut out of foil food wrappers and about a thousand little swans folded out of paper.
He checked the time and started for Jayne's bunk to return the Christmas grenade, only to turn back and dip a finger suspiciously in the punch already set out for the party. He tasted it and frowned. It didn't *taste* spiked, and surely Jayne would have better sense with River on board, but... They could have a word about that, too.
When he reached the top of the stairs, Jayne was already there, peering around the corner toward the kitchen.
"Hold on a minute."
Mal stuck his head around the corner.
Kaylee and Simon stood in the doorway, under the mistletoe. Kaylee had her hands behind her back, leaning toward Simon, looking as cute as she knew how. As Mal watched, her smile faded in response to Simon's words, spoken too quietly to be overheard.
"Mind your own business," he told Jayne quietly.
"It is my business. One of them said my name."
"You've got no call to be spying on people."
"If they're talking about me--" Jayne shut up as Kaylee started speaking.
"Are you sure?" she said to Simon. Then she shook her head. "Of course you're sure. I-- I'm sorry. I don't-- I'll just go now."
She turned away and walked fast down the hall, around the corner, and right into them. Mal caught her as she stumbled back. Tears stood in her eyes.
"Kaylee, is everything--"
He didn't even get a chance to finish the question. Kaylee rounded on Jayne and stabbed a finger into his chest.
"This is all your fault!" Each word was punctuated with another poke, and then she took off down the stairs.
Jayne watched her go with a puzzled frown. He turned to Mal. "What'd I do?"
"Damned if I know. Here." He handed over the grenade. "This is yours, right?"
"I told her you wouldn't like it, but she said it was red and shiny, and it'd be okay if I hung it too high for River to reach. You think that's what she's mad about?"
"I honestly don't know, Jayne. Just keep the explosives off the tree, all right?"
Jayne nodded, and Mal headed off, satisfied. Why in the 'verse Kaylee thought it was Jayne's fault the boy didn't want her he couldn't guess, but Kaylee never stayed mad long. It would sort itself out, hopefully sooner rather than later, or the party would be more interesting than he wanted to cope with.
River swung gently in Kaylee's hammock in the engine room. She watched Serenity's heart turn and beat, beat and turn. She could feel the pulses of electricity as they went out into the ship and returned home. River waited.
When Kaylee came in and leaned against the wall, River jumped down and went to her. Kaylee's tears sounded like silver bells.
"River?" Kaylee sniffed. "Honey, what are you doing here? Does Simon--" She stopped suddenly, turning her head. The silver bells rang loud.
"Simple Simon," River whispered. She smoothed Kaylee's hair back.
Electrical pulses traveled the circuit of her mind. It was so hard to tell the misfires from the true connections, so hard to sort, compile, collate words into language. The gap between vocabulary and communication was sometimes too wide to cross.
"Said Simple Simon to the pie man, indeed I haven't any."
Kaylee smiled. "I know. It wasn't really his fault."
Always so hard, but Kaylee made it easier.
Simon flattened his palms against the kitchen table and let his head hang down. He wanted to go after Kaylee, but there was nothing else to say. He'd said it all. He'd taken the girl who had been his first and only friend out here and hurt her and embarrassed her, and if it hadn't been for his own damned cowardice... He should have said something months ago.
It would have been bad enough without bringing Jayne into it.
He smiled unhappily down at the wood grain. That was a true statement on so many levels. Everything-- his exile out here on the edge, corner of No and Where as Mal put it, his constant fear for River, his ever-present gnawing worry about the future-- all of it would have been bad enough without bringing Jayne into it.
In his conversation with Kaylee, as in everything else, Jayne had made things worse.
She'd looked at him for a long, long time-- perhaps ten seconds by a clock, but far longer in subjective-hell time-- and she'd said, It's Jayne, isn't it?
He'd shaken his head. He didn't know. It wouldn't have been her anyway, but he couldn't deny the Jayne connection.
There were footsteps at the door, heavy, not Kaylee. He knew whose they were. He didn't look up when Jayne spoke.
"What the hell did you say to her?"
"None of your business." He couldn't help wondering why Jayne was asking. Did Kaylee run off in tears? Was Jayne now here to defend her honor? He hung his head further to hide the smile he couldn't suppress.
"What's so damn funny?"
"Nothing." There was nothing funny there at all. The smile hurt, and if he let himself laugh, that would hurt more.
"Huh. Well, it is my business. She says it's my fault. I don't know what 'it' is, but whatever else it is, it's definitely my business. So spill."
"She said... what?"
"Said it was my fault. What've you been telling her?"
Simon straightened up slowly and looked over at him. "She said it was your fault?"
"That's what I said. You got a hearing problem?"
He didn't have a hearing problem, but he was beginning to think it was the only kind of problem he didn't have. At least she hadn't said why, or Jayne wouldn't be asking. He'd be... pounding Simon's head in possibly. Or leering and making unspeakable suggestions. Simon wasn't sure which would be worse.
Attraction was one thing. He could rationalize that. Jayne was big and strong and quite good looking, and Simon was probably subconsciously looking for a protector or something like that. That made sense. Much more sense at any rate than a relationship with Jayne could possibly make.
"I don't know where she got that idea," he said finally.
Jayne leaned over him, his hands resting on the chairs Simon stood between, cutting off his escape.
"You been nothing but trouble for me since you came on board. If you're spreading tales about me now, boy, you better just watch out."
Simon drew himself up and stared back hard. No way was Jayne going to get the better of him in this. He couldn't allow it.
"Whatever Kaylee was thinking, she didn't get it from me. I have nothing else to say to you, and I'd appreciate it if you'd leave me alone. Now."
"Well, that's fine for you, ain't it?" Jayne said bitterly. "Yeah, that's fine for you. You can have her and whoever else you want, and I--" He stopped suddenly. "Well, at least I ain't a liar."
"I didn't say a word about you to Kaylee." It sounded better than 'She brought it up'. And what did he care if he lied to Jayne anyway?
"I heard one of you say my name."
"Her. It was about... something else."
Dammit, he'd *told* her it had nothing to do with anyone else. Why did she have to... Because she was upset, he told himself. And you're the one who upset her, so be fair.
Jayne glared and ground his jaw. "You're lying."
"I'm not. Our... discussion... had nothing to do with you."
"You just watch it," Jayne said finally. "If I find out different..."
"What? You'll tell on me?" It just slipped out. Jayne brought out the worst in him, the kind of snottiness he thought he'd outgrown when he was fifteen.
"I'll make you wish you hadn't," Jayne promised darkly.
Simon found himself very nearly laughing at that and knew it was time for him to make his escape.
"I'm sure you will," he said politely.
He ducked under Jayne's arm and walked away, not looking back.
River sat on Inara's bed, brushing Kaylee's hair and singing to her. The words wouldn't come out the way they were in her head, but Kaylee never seemed to mind that.
Inara's dresses were draped over the bed, over chairs, over every available surface. River would have liked to see them dance, but they were empty.
"No dancing without people," she said, interrupting her song.
Simon would give her a worried look for that, but Kaylee just turned her head and smiled like she understood, and maybe she did. River went back to her song, changing it as Inara stepped out from behind the curtain of shimmering cloth.
"This one?" Inara asked, spinning around.
Kaylee tipped her head back into River's lap and looked up at her. "I don't know. What do you think?"
"Gyroscope," River said. Inara was steady on her axis, spinning around her center.
Shimmering. Shiny. And shiny meant good out here. Inara was always shiny, but not always good. It was because of Inara that Kaylee was smiling again.
"Yeah, I like it, too," Kaylee said. "But could we see the red one again?"
Inara smiled and picked up the red one.
River grabbed the brush fiercely in her hand until thoughts of blood vanished without spilling over into speech.
Jayne sat at the table in the kitchen and rolled the grenade back and forth. He couldn't fathom Simon, simply couldn't.
The boy made him itch. Rubbed him the wrong way right from the start. He'd jumped at the chance to get rid of him, and whatever he'd told Mal it hadn't just been the money. The money was good, or would have been if he'd ever seen any of it, but the big draw was the chance to get Simon out from under his skin.
He stood up and made for his bunk. Best to get the grenade put away. He'd told Kaylee Mal wouldn't like it, but she thought it was pretty.
He climbed down the ladder and sat on the bed, turning it in his hands. He'd taken it off a guy he'd worked for before he met Mal. It was bright red, coated in some kind of enamel. The guy said it was a prototype, twice the power of anything on the market. He'd always been torn between setting it off just to see the blast and saving it for something special.
Hanging it on a Christmas tree hadn't occurred to him, but that was Kaylee for you. She saw the pretty outside and didn't think about the unpleasantness inside. He stowed it away and stretched out on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
He was never going to be rid of Simon now, and he knew it, so he'd tried to get used to him. Couldn't do it. He couldn't get a grip on the boy. Every time he thought he had him figured out...
Hell, and he'd thought Mal was complicated. Simon was fire and ice. One day he was stuttering with outrage at some joke Jayne had pulled, not able to get a coherent word out and looking so pretty with his face all flushed... and the next day he went and jumped that bounty hunter, took a bullet in his leg and jumped him again. Cool as anything. Jayne had worked with professionals who would have been hard pressed to get up so fast after a wound like that.
Simon pushed. Pushed Mal when any fool could tell it'd be better to shut up and follow orders. Pushed Jayne when he was already so mad he could burst. Pushed like he had no common sense at all.
And then he'd turn around and give Jayne this stricken look like he couldn't believe Jayne had said something like that to him, and he'd do the stuttering blushing thing, and Jayne didn't know how to deal with that.
Simon had no right to look at him like that. It wasn't like he'd ever pretended to be the boy's friend. He'd never pretended to be anything but what he was, and he didn't understand why Simon always seemed to expect better from him.
He remembered the way Simon had looked at him after they got back from the hospital. He'd gone to get his head looked at-- Mal had hit him pretty hard-- and Simon had been all smiles and gratitude, but what stuck in Jayne's mind was this one thing he'd said.
*I knew you'd get us out.*
Jayne couldn't even remember what he'd said in reply. All he could think at the time was how *stupid* Simon was. He had nothing to base that kind of faith on. Nothing. Only a fool would trust him that much.
He sighed and fished under his bed for the present stashed there. Kaylee had wanted everyone to do the secret Santa thing, and it was a hell of a lot easier to spend a few credits on some crappy gift than it was to say no to Kaylee when she was planning something. Not that he hadn't tried.
*But it's no good unless *everyone* does it, Jayne, don't be such a party pooper-- and you'll get a present out of it, and everyone'll have a good time, and--* He'd said okay just to shut her up.
He'd drawn Simon's name of course, because that was the kind of luck he had these days. After Kaylee had dragged him out to get that monster-sized tree, he'd gone into town and poked around for a while.
There had been a bookstore, and he'd thought about that, but couldn't face going in and trying to pick something out. He'd wound up in a pawnshop instead, and a nice little semi-automatic had caught his eye. He might not know books, but he knew guns. It would be just right for Simon's hands. He'd even included a box of ammo.
Maybe the boy would take it as a hint and improve his aim to the point where he could actually hit something. There was just no excuse for shooting that poorly. Out here you had to know how to look after yourself.
He still had nothing to wrap it in, and tomorrow was Christmas morning. Kaylee would have something. He could ask her tonight if she wasn't still mad at him.
After what happened today he would just as soon stay away from the party. Hell, he didn't even *know* what had happened today; that was the problem. But ditching Kaylee's party wouldn't be the best way to get her to forgive him. For whatever he'd done.
He sighed and stuck the gun back under his bed. Time to go.
Out in the hall, he stopped dead. For the second time that day Simon and Kaylee were arguing in a doorway, and he didn't want to get involved. All the same, he edged closer, keeping out of sight.
"I'm really sorry," Simon was saying.
"It ain't your fault. And I'm not mad really. I was just, you know, embarrassed."
"I should have said something sooner."
Kaylee laughed. "Or I could have caught a clue. Really, it's fine, and we're still friends, right?"
"That's just fine then." She was smiling, but her voice sounded edgy.
"Yes... except, just one thing. What did you say to Jayne?"
"Oh. Oh! I, um... not very much. Hardly anything at all, really."
"You didn't tell him it was his fault?"
"Oh. Yeah, I sorta did that. Yeah."
"Kaylee, I don't--"
"You do." She sounded almost sad. "I should have seen it before, but I wasn't... well, I guess I wasn't seeing much of anything except what I wanted to see. I didn't mean to say anything to him, and I won't say anything else, I promise. I just was mad, and it kinda slipped out. Forgive me?"
There were footsteps behind him, and he turned. Mal was standing right there, all but breathing down his neck.
"Eavesdropping's starting to become a habit for you, Jayne."
He shrugged. There wasn't much he could say to that.
"On your way to the party?"
Mal nodded. "I was meaning to ask you earlier-- you didn't get any bright ideas about adding anything to that punch, did you?"
Jayne rolled his eyes. The captain sure as hell never expected him to be better than he was.
He hadn't spiked the punch, but there was enough booze to go around anyway. Inara had gotten her hands on a case of champagne, a present from a client, and it looked like most of it would be gone before the evening was over.
Jayne had taken one look at Simon and appropriated an entire bottle for himself.
Simon was dancing with his sister now, swaying to the music. He was wearing grey pants that clung to his legs and sort of shimmered when he moved. His shirt was white silk, open at the throat, and Jayne was having a hard time looking away from that. Something about the way the cloth moved against his skin.
"You're staring, Jayne," Kaylee said in his ear.
He whipped his head around. He hadn't even heard her come up.
"You should ask him to dance," she said.
"You been hanging around with River too much. Looks like crazy's catching."
"I'm sorry about what I said. It ain't your fault."
"I still don't know what you're talking about, girl."
"Just ask him to dance. You want to, don't you?"
He stared at her. "What put that in your head?"
She giggled. "Oh, the way you been staring at his ass the last hour or so."
"I have not!" He hadn't been. He might have looked once or twice, but what was he supposed to do, just ignore it? The boy was flaunting himself.
"Have too. Ask him. He wants you to." She left him and went over to pull Inara into the dance.
Jayne was left to brood. Ask Simon to *dance*? She had to be joking.
He was hit with a picture of what it would be like to have Simon pressed up against him, moving the way he is out there, hips tights against his...
Jayne got up and made a beeline for the punch. He felt the need for something cold, and he was thinking he might just have had enough champagne already.
He scooped out the punch and turned-- and spilled the whole cup right down Simon's shirt. He froze with the cup in his hand, mind blank. Simon had caught himself with a hand on Jayne's arm and was still holding on, looking up at him with wide, surprised eyes.
"Watch where you're going," Jayne managed finally.
It registered finally that Simon was in fact looking up past him, and Jayne followed his gaze to the bunch of mistletoe hanging above them.
When he glanced back down, Simon was looking at him thoughtfully. Jayne could just about see the gears turning behind his eyes. He couldn't guess what was going on in there; he never could. Suddenly he didn't care any more.
When their mouths met Simon made a soft, surprised noise and leaned into him, hands closing tightly on his upper arms. Jayne would have backed off after that, but Simon held him tight, fingers digging into his biceps, and he gave in, bent down again. Light kisses, strung together with barely a pause, and Jayne could feel heat spread through his body. He wanted to pull Simon in tighter, hold him there, but felt helpless to take any more than what was offered.
Simon was the one to break it off eventually, loosening his grip and stepping back.
"I need to soak this." Simon gestured to his shirt. "It'll stain."
Everyone was probably staring at them after that show they'd just put on, but he couldn't look away from the man in front of him long enough to check.
"You could come," said Simon. "I don't think anyone would miss us."
Jayne slid his hand over the damp material clinging to Simon's chest. "Yeah," he said. "I'll do that."
Mal was watching his people, watching Simon and Jayne, watching Kaylee and Inara, watching River, who had been dancing by herself round and round the tree, and now threw herself down into the chair beside his. She looked over at him solemnly.
"Money was too good," she said.
"So you know about that, huh?"
"Can't say I'm all that surprised. And what about that?" He jerked his chin at her brother who was leading Jayne out of the cargo bay.
She shrugged. "Not shiny," she offered.
"No. Jayne ain't shiny. In any way at all."
"Simple Simon. Plain Jayne."
Mal turned that one over in his head. "Your brother don't seem all that simple to me."
She frowned, her lips moving, and he wasn't sure whether she was still with him or whether she was off somewhere in her head until she spoke again.
"He is. Will be. With Jayne."
When he examined the words they didn't make much sense, but the meaning hovered, nebulous, in his mind. River's statements often took him that way, and he let it be to think about later. Unless he wanted to go after them right this second, there was plenty of time.
"So you got no objections?"
It felt foolish to ask-- since when did he take advice from the crazy girl?-- but he had an idea that she was more qualified to judge than he was. And she was the only one besides him and Jayne who knew what had happened on Ariel. If she knew that and still had no problem with this latest development, he would leave it alone.
River tipped her head from one side to the other. "No," she said at last. "I had a present for him."
"For Jayne?" She nodded. "What'd you get him?"
She pulled a folded sheet of paper from her dress and handed it to him.
It was a drawing. In it Simon lay on his bed, asleep, sheets barely covering his hips and nothing covering the rest of him. Mal handed it back, grinning.
"I think he'll like it."
"Doesn't need it now."
"I think he'll like it anyway." He was positive, actually, and he hoped he was there to see his face when she gave it to him. Not to mention Simon's.
River stood up. "I want to dance."
"Well, go ahead. I ain't stopping you."
She held out a hand. "You, too. It's Christmas."
"Close enough for government work," she said in a careful, precise voice.
He laughed and took her hand, wondering who she'd picked that one up from.
River would rather have been dancing with Kaylee, but Kaylee had dressed Inara in white and silver and was holding her as if she was a snowflake, so delicate.
Snowflake and cherry blossom, Kaylee in her birthday cake dress.
Mal moved with her cautiously at first, turning faster, the dance of protons and electrons. So basic. Things that came from bone and muscle, things they could not take from her.
Standing on her father's feet as he shuffled through the steps she was born knowing. He would lift her up, dance for both of them, set her down and watch her spin off into fractals and iterations. Small patterns within large. Steady on her axis.
Mal could lift her up as easily, but he followed her instead, his feet moving as easily as hers, never faltering. He knew his center, and for brief moments she knew hers, too.
Out of the corner of her eye, corner of her mind, she was aware of melting snowflakes and faltering steps. Silver bells and iterations of sadness.
It was not twenty feet from the wall Jayne had Simon pinned against to Simon's room, but they were making no progress.
"Someone's going to see us," Simon said as Jayne sucked at his throat. He was going to have a hickey the size of a small moon tomorrow, but he couldn't bring himself to object or even to suggest that Jayne move down to territory that could be more easily covered by a shirt collar.
Heat was spreading up through his body, pooling at his groin and at the contact point between his neck and Jayne's mouth. If he was scanned now he felt the points would show up in red, two knots of sensation so intense they possessed their own physical reality.
Jayne's beard tickled and made him squirm, and he untucked Jayne's shirt to distract himself. The hair on Jayne's chest was light and springy. He combed through it with his nails, first down and then back up, feeling the taut stomach and the solid muscle just under the skin.
"I'll hear them coming."
It took him a second to remember what Jayne was responding to. "You didn't hear a bounty hunter break into the ship, but you'll hear someone leaving the party over that music?"
Jayne stiffened. "I can't keep tabs on the whole damn ship in my sleep, you know."
"I suppose not."
"You could have yelled or something."
Jayne sounded almost sulky, and Simon smiled to himself. "I could have," he acknowledged.
He wondered why he hadn't, especially if his subconscious was looking to Jayne for protection. He'd thought about calling for help-- for about half a second. He hadn't wanted to take the chance of anyone else getting hurt.
So maybe it was time to admit that the looking-for-protection thing was utter crap and that he wanted Jayne more than he could remember wanting anyone else in his life. Jayne was rough and crude and unmannered, certainly untrustworthy, and without the psychobabble and rationalization he couldn't explain the attraction at all. Unfortunately-- or maybe fortunately-- that didn't make it go away.
"I would've killed him for you," Jayne said.
Simon rested his forehead against Jayne's shoulder and stroked a hand over his ribs. "I believe you," he said.
Simon sighed with pleasure as lips and tongue went to work on his neck again. He stopped worrying about anyone seeing them. After that kiss under the mistletoe it was probably more than obvious what they'd left to do anyway.
If this was to be a one-night stand, he'd rather have kept it quiet. If it was going to be more... But he was getting ahead of himself. He wasn't going to think about PDAs when they'd barely had *private* displays of affection-- assuming you could relate any of this to affection rather than, say, lust.
Not that he had any problem with lust.
Jayne's hands cupped his ass, squeezing rhythmically, and teeth scraped his neck. He was pulled closer and lifted, caught between the wall and solid mass of Jayne's body, hands under his ass, holding him up. Fingers dug into his flesh, ten points of heat, and Simon wanted them against his bare skin. He leaned forward, face level with Jayne's now, and kissed him.
The mouth under his didn't open immediately, but he kept pushing, demanding, and felt Jayne yield to him. He wrapped his legs around Jayne's waist and rocked against his stomach, each motion of his hips proving that he needed more than this teasing friction. His lip caught against Jayne's teeth for a second, tongue thrusting in time with his hips. He took over Jayne's mouth and heard the other man moan from it.
Jayne pushed away from the wall, staggering for a second under Simon's weight.
"I can walk," Simon offered between nibbling kisses.
"No," Jayne said shortly.
Simon felt himself held still tighter and smiled. They made it to Simon's room, and Jayne slid the door shut with his foot and tumbled them both onto the small bed.
A second later Jayne's hands gripped Simon's shirt near the collar, obviously with the intent to rip it right down the middle.
He put his hands over Jayne's. "Hey," he said. "I like this shirt."
"It's covered in punch. You ain't never gonna get that out."
Jayne's hands twitched under his, flexing, stretching the fabric.
"I'll buy you a new one."
"You can't buy them out here."
Jayne's thumb stroked over his collarbone. "I'll give you one of mine."
That was strangely appealing. "Will you wash it first?"
He'd been serious, actually, but he let that go. "The red one with the twenty-eight on it."
"That's my favorite," Jayne all but whined. "It'll be too big for you anyway."
It was Simon's favorite, too, since the Blue Sun one died at River's hands. He liked the way it stretched just slightly across Jayne's chest, and River was right; Jayne did look good in that rust-red color.
"They would all be too big for me. I'll sleep in it."
Jayne blinked at him. "Yeah?"
Simon nodded. "Yeah."
Buttons flew to the far corners of the room. Jayne grinned down at him wickedly and smoothed a hand over his stomach.
"I'd like that," Jayne said. "Knowing you were wearing that in bed, thinking of me." He unzipped Simon's pants and reached inside, stroking roughly. "Would you be thinking of me?"
"Yes," Simon gasped. "Jayne, slower, please, I'm going to--"
"Good." Jayne was looking down at him, studying his face as that rough hand worked his cock. "I want to watch."
Simon closed his eyes and let his head fall back and his mouth open. Heat closed in around him, stealing his breath and making him ache. Some part of him was insisting that their first time shouldn't be a quick and dirty hand job during a Christmas party, but another part was finding it all the hotter for the air of sordid haste. His hand closed on the sheets and found an errant button from his shirt.
He was arched up off the bed into Jayne's hand, heels and shoulder blades digging into the mattress as that hand moved faster and his breath came harsh in his throat.
"Open you eyes," Jayne ordered.
He shook his head wordlessly.
Jayne's free hand grabbed his jaw. "Do it. You ain't gonna pretend you're with somebody else. You're with me."
Simon blinked and looked up into Jayne's fierce grey eyes. "Not pretending," he said.
He kept his eyes open wide and fixed as he came silently and helplessly into Jayne's hand.
Jayne watched his face and wiped the hand down Simon's pants, rubbing sticky warmth into them. Fingers moved across Simon's lips, and he licked at them, tasting himself.
It took him a few tries to get words out. "You're just bent on ruining all my clothes, aren't you?" His voice sounded shaky to him.
"Naw," Jayne said. "Just had to mess you up a little, that's all."
Simon propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at himself. His shirt was torn open, his pants smeared with come. He'd lost one of his shoes. He looked up at Jayne defiantly, feeling his face grow hot.
"Aren't I messed up enough yet?"
Jayne just smiled, not so wicked now. Almost gentle. "Not quite."
"What do you want?"
"You." Jayne rubbed the bulge in his pants. "On your knees, sucking me off."
Simon nodded and slipped off the bed to kneel on the floor.
Jayne was looking at him with slow surprise. "Just like that?"
"Just like that, Jayne. I want to."
"You've done this before."
"I'm good at it."
Jayne sat on the edge of the bed and ran a hand through Simon's hair. "Big talk. Is that all that pretty mouth is good for?"
Simon unfastened the olive green pants and was not at all surprised to discover that Jayne wore no underwear. The thick cock sprang into his hand, swelling at his touch.
He bent down, wrapping his lips around the head and feeling the response, hearing Jayne's gasp from above him. His tongue ran around, over the slit, circling as he sucked gently, holding the shaft and squeezing lightly. The hand in his hair tightened.
He eased his mouth up, taking in smell and taste and letting this fill his senses as the cock filled his mouth. He had forgotten how good this could be. He has always felt there was something pure about this act, giving without taking. He liked the power of it, too, his own control sure and steady while he felt Jayne gradually lose it.
Jayne moaned and pushed into his mouth, and Simon teased with his tongue, with his lips, still squeezing the shaft with barely any pressure, rubbing his thumb up and down it.
"Come on," Jayne said, voice harsh. "Quit it."
"You want me to stop?"
"Stop teasing, gorrammit! I can't ruttin' take it no more."
Simon licked up the shaft. "This is nothing." He pitched his voice low. "I could suck you for hours."
Jayne stared at him, mouth working silently for a moment. "Simon, Yeh-soo, please," he moaned. "Simon..."
No more teasing. He took Jayne deep, swallowing around him, pulling him deeper into his throat and sucking hard. Both of Jayne's hands were wound in his hair, pulling him forward until he could barely breathe. Scent and taste filled his world, and heat from Jayne's body surrounded him inside and out.
Jayne bucked into his mouth and came with a ragged cry. Simon swallowed and swallowed and licked him clean, hands resting on thighs that trembled slightly under his touch.
Jayne stared down at him for a second, then pulled him up into a crushing embrace and kissed him hard. It gentled quickly, and Simon wrapped his arms around Jayne's neck and ended up sitting in his lap, straddling his legs.
They parted finally, but Jayne still watched him with an oddly intense expression.
"What?" Simon asked.
"You ought to see yourself." Jayne touched his neck. "You got a big old hickey. And your hair's all... One look at you and everyone's gonna know exactly what we been doing."
He kissed Jayne's cheek and stood up. "Go get cleaned up. And bring me that shirt when you come back."
Kaylee's tears drew River up to the second story catwalk. She sat down by Kaylee and kicked her feet out over empty air, so full of everything, but strangely not crowded at all.
Kaylee looked over at her. "We forgot the star," she whispered. "You can't have a Christmas tree without a star."
"I have a star." She stroked fingertips lightly over Kaylee's face. "A bright, particular star."
Kaylee's eyes were wide and glazed with silver bell sadness, and River didn't want that. She leaned over and kissed Kaylee's lips and then the tip of her nose.
Kaylee's surprised laughter was sunshine and rain. There was nothing about her that was not beautiful.
Jayne stood outside Simon's room with the shirt clenched in his hand. He would knock in a minute, but for now he wanted to think. He had washed up, changed clothes, grabbed the shirt, and done it all so quickly that he had gotten back here without any pause to wonder how he got here in the first place.
He'd kissed Simon.
He'd kissed Simon in the middle of a party and gone off to have sex with him.
That was fine. He had no trouble with that.
The part that was giving him trouble was that he wanted it again. Now, later tonight, tomorrow morning, and twice a day for the foreseeable future. And he wasn't going to get it.
He couldn't picture Simon going along with that, not when it would be two days tops before everyone figured it out. You just couldn't keep secrets on a ship this size.
But he wouldn't have pictured Simon getting on his knees and sucking cock like a rent boy either, and now he had a damn clear picture of that.
"Come in," Simon called.
He slid the door open and entered. The first thing he saw was Simon's bare chest. The second thing was dark blue pants slung so low on his hips that they were nearly off. A few steps were all it took to have his hands on all that bare skin and his mouth on Simon's neck again.
Simon protested, laughing. "We're going back to the party. You can't mess me up again right now, I just got cleaned up."
He looked Simon up and down and then up and down again. "You go back to the party looking like that, and I won't be the only one wanting to mess you up."
Simon tugged the shirt from his hands and pulled it on. "Better?"
"You're... wearing that? Now?"
"I have no intention of keeping this," Simon gestured between the two of them, "a secret. If you've got a problem with that, you'd better say so now."
He shook his head slowly. "No problem. Does this mean--" He stopped abruptly, not sure he wanted to say that out loud or even think it just yet.
"What?" Simon prompted gently.
He found himself saying it out loud anyway. "Does this mean I get to kiss you whenever I want? Even with people around?"
Simon smiled at him, cheeks going faintly pink. "Yes."
Jayne kissed him, and Simon allowed it for a second before pushing him away.
"But it also means I can make your life very unpleasant if you start acting like a jerk."
"I don't act like a jerk!"
Simon glared at him. "That colony ship? Your little joke? If that had been for real I would have *died*, by the way."
Jayne smothered his grin just in time. "Not funny, huh?"
"If it'd been for real I would've stayed to help you with the suit," he offered.
Simon looked only slightly less irritated, but that was okay. His eyes sort of sparkled when he was mad, and he wasn't moving away. Jayne rested tentative hands on his hips.
"We're not having sex," Simon said firmly. "We're going back to the party."
He pulled Simon closer. "You sound pretty sure about that."
"I am. We're going back to the party, and you're going to dance with me." Simon's face was set in stubborn lines. He looked like he was expecting an argument.
Simon blinked. "Okay? Just like that?"
"Just like that." He could have added 'I want to' like Simon had, but it wouldn't have been strictly true. Dancing was pretty low on the list of things he wanted to do with Simon right now.
He had a feeling he'd be saying okay to a lot of shit he didn't really want to do from now on. And that was... okay.
While Simon picked up a jacket that matched the pants, Jayne slipped a bundle under the pillow. He'd ended up wrapping the gun in a hankie-- clean-- and figured if he was lucky he'd be there in the morning when Simon found it. Maybe give him a few hands on lessons. Very hands on.
It was late. Wash and Zoe had retired to the bridge to do things Mal would really rather they didn't do on the bridge. Book was gone, too. Mal hadn't noticed when he left and he felt vaguely guilty about that, but not enough to go in search of him.
Jayne and Simon were still on the dance floor, and the way Jayne was looking at Simon would have been cute if it wasn't Jayne. As it was, Mal found it just a bit disturbing. At least he wouldn't have to deal with the two of them squabbling for a while. Simon seemed to have Jayne's 6'4" frame wrapped securely around his little finger.
Mal looked up to the catwalk and caught River looking back at him. She raised her hand in a sketched salute. Kaylee was asleep against her shoulder.
Mal felt he should be warning one or the other of them of something-- River was too young, or Kaylee was too innocent, or-- something. Until he could figure out what, best to keep his mouth shut. All the same he could have lived without his crew pairing off all in one night.
"They're sweet together, aren't they?" Inara said, coming up beside him.
"Tell me you're talking about Kaylee and River and not Jayne and Simon."
She laughed quietly. "I think they're both sweet, actually, but I was talking about the girls. It's turned out rather well."
"This whole thing. Weren't you worried at all?"
"Their personal lives are their business." He tried to sound as if he knew what whole thing she was talking about.
"You didn't even know, did you?" she asked, accusing and amused.
"Simon and Kaylee? I knew that. Guess I wasn't paying attention to the rest." He nodded toward River and Kaylee. "That was a surprise."
"They're so young," she said quietly.
He looked over at her. "Were you..." He stopped. There were things they didn't talk about, and this was probably one of them.
She lifted her chin. "It's all right. You can ask."
"You and Kaylee. I mean, was there a you and Kaylee?"
She looked down and shook her head. "It wouldn't have been... appropriate."
"You and..." She hesitated. "Simon?" she guessed.
The champagne and surprise that she would ask combined to make him answer with the truth instead of flat denial. "Wouldn't have been appropriate."
"I think we are both too noble for our own good."
"You might be right there."
There was a moment of silence and then she turned to him and bowed solemnly. "Would you honor me with this dance?"
He smirked and curtsied. "I'd be delighted."
FEEDBACK Eleanor K.