"Wai, Simon, watch that box!"
Simon turns just in time to stop a crate of medical supplies from toppling off the mule. He gets an arm over it and pulls it back on top of the pile while his leg braces another that shifts dangerously every time they hit a bump.
He sighs as he sees the ship come in sight. It will be a relief to get inside. It won't be much cooler, but at least he'll be out of the sun. Sweat drips down his neck, sticking his shirt to his back and armpits, and his hair is hot to the touch. He should have taken the hat Kaylee offered him.
As they roll up the ramp, Mal comes to meet them. "Get that part you needed, Kaylee?"
Kaylee waves an unidentifiable bit of metal in the air. "Got it right here."
"Wonderful. Go get the cooling system working before we all bake in here."
Mal stalks off with Kaylee in tow, which leaves Simon to unload the mule. He rubs at his eyes. They ache from white glare of the sun and from the dust of the dirt streets.
He sighs and starts unloading, the most precariously balanced packages first.
"Watch it, Doc. Don't want to mess up them pretty clothes with actual work or nothing."
"Excuse me. I didn't mean to infringe on your territory. Shooting things and moving heavy objects--that's your purview, isn't it?" He picks up another box, swearing under his breath as a splinter slides into his finger. "And I'm not pretty. Find another adjective."
He sets the box down and peers at the tip of his finger, squeezing gently, hoping the splinter will pop out on its own. Of course, it doesn't.
"Hurt yourself?" Jayne is suddenly looming over him.
"It's just a splinter."
Jayne takes his hand, holding it tight as Simon tries to pull away. "Just keep still a second."
"Jayne, no offense, but those gloves are filthy, not to mention your hands, and I don't really want them anywhere near--"
"Got it." Jayne holds up a speck of wood and then flicks it away.
"Oh. Thank you."
Jayne looks down at him, still holding onto his hand. "I ain't being, you know, sarcastic or nothing. You are pretty. Damn sight prettier than Kaylee, and that's saying something."
Simon tries again to pull away, and this time succeeds, if only because Jayne allows it. "I'm not a girl, Jayne. In case that escaped your notice."
Jayne steps closer, and Simon can't back away any farther. The wire mesh of the storage lockers presses against his back.
"I noticed, Doc. I definitely noticed."
Simon's eyes dart to the door, willing the captain to choose this moment to return. Or anyone at all, really.
"And don't be looking around like you need rescuing, neither. We're having a perfectly civilized conversation here."
"Oh," Simon says weakly. "Is that what we're doing?"
"Yeah, we ruttin' well are. You got a problem with that?"
"No. No problem. Not at all. Do think we could stand a bit farther apart while we...converse?"
Jayne snorts and turns away, hoisting up a box. "You just take a seat, Doc. Pretty don't quite fit right now, as a matter of fact. You look about ready to fall over there."
The idea of a little rest is tempting, but he's not about to start taking orders from Jayne. He picks up a box himself, only to have Jayne yank it out of his hands.
"You're the one said this is my job, so sit and watch me do it."
Simons sits. And watches.
Jayne has exchanged his normal ragged T-shirt for a camouflage tank top, and his shoulder muscles roll around each other, flexing as he works, sheened lightly with sweat. He lifts the boxes easily and stacks them higher than his head.
Showing off, Simon thinks bitterly. And then the thought comes: Showing off for me. He doesn't find the concept as uncomfortable as he would have expected.
Jayne finishes up and comes to stand near him, looming over him again. Simon stands up in self defense, but it doesn't help much.
Jayne is smiling at him like he knows something Simon doesn't, which strikes Simon as being pretty unlikely, but that doesn't make it any less annoying. Jayne leans against the storage locker behind Simon, effectively blocking his escape route. Again they are too close, and again Simon has nowhere to go.
Eventually he can't take the smug silence any more.
"Nothing. Just looking." Smirk.
"Great," Simon mutters. "Do you think you'll be done soon? You may enjoy smelling like this, but I'd like to get cleaned up."
"You smell pretty good to me, but if you're all that worried about it there's a bathhouse in town."
"A bathhouse. Really. And do they provide baths in the same way that massage parlors provide massages?"
"Naw, this is legit. Respectable enough even for you I reckon."
Jayne is grinning now, which can't be a good sign.
"Yes. Well." He searches for something to say and finds nothing. He can't even come up with a decent insult with Jayne looking at him like that. "If you could just move?"
Jayne doesn't, of course. He just looks at Simon, the smirk fading into a thoughtfulness that is even more disturbing.
The air is stifling, and Simon is suddenly finding it hard to breathe. He feels sweat trickling down the back of his neck. He wishes Jayne would say something. Anything. Something insulting would be best at this point. It would put them back on track.
Jayne says nothing, but lets his arm fall. Simon looks at the ground as he slides past. He is still searching for words as he walks down the ramp and out of the ship. They seem to have deserted him entirely.
He didn't plan to end up at the bathhouse. He didn't have a plan, but if he had, that wouldn't have been it.
The streets are deserted in the midday heat. The building is solid stone, the door, thick carved wood. He can imagine the moist air inside and how it would feel on his skin. He never makes a conscious decision to knock.
Jayne's smirk continues to hover in the back of his mind. He suspects a set-up of some sort, but the hostess who greets him at the door is elegant and charming and does not offer him sex in any way at all, which is a great relief.
An even greater relief, after two weeks of sponge baths, is the shower room. He scrubs until his skin hurts, and then plays with the temperature controls--warm and cool, frigid and steaming.
Afterward, he takes the thick, white robe set out for him and wraps himself up in it. He steps out into the hall, where a young man is waiting to escort him to the private bath he has ordered.
The room is just down the hall, and the young man retreats and leaves Simon alone. He hangs up his robe and eases into the water. It is near scalding, just the way he likes it. He stretches his legs out, not even close to touching the far side, and closes his eyes for a moment.
The pool itself and the floor surrounding it is made of some sort of soft, absorbent foam. It cushioned his feet as he walked across it, and now that he is sitting on it, it molds itself to his body.
The air is so full of steam that it is difficult to see the edges of the room, but here and there candles flicker, providing a dim light. Baskets of live orchids hang from the ceiling, their scent just barely discernable.
He considers staying here forever. He will present the captain with an ultimatum: Get at least one working shower on board, or lose your physician.
He sinks lower, letting the water close over his face and opening his eyes. It is a strange, tingling feeling to have that warmth on his eyeballs, but good. When he surfaces, even the steamy air seems chilly by comparison. He ducks under again.
When he emerges this time, he is not alone. A figure stands near the door, half-concealed by steam and wavering light.
"What is it?" Simon asks. The figure says nothing. "I don't need any more towels. Or...anything."
The figure step nearer, and Simon can see his face.
"*Jayne*? What are you doing here? Get out!"
It is unmistakably Jayne, naked except for a towel around his waist. He comes to loom silently by the side of the pool.
Simon would feel better if Jayne was smirking, threatening to steal his clothes, something, but he just stands there.
"I did pay for a private room," Simons says, more calmly.
No reply. Jayne sits beside him on the edge of the pool, his feet in the water.
"They have security here, you know," he says, though he is not sure if this is in fact true. "I could have you thrown out."
'Could' he notes. Not 'I will have you thrown out,' or even 'I can have you thrown out.' With a nearly naked Jayne invading his personal space, he would have thought he'd be more assertive. He notes also that he hasn't moved away. Not even an inch.
Time to do something about that. He starts to stand, but heavy hands on his shoulders bear him back down.
"Jayne, I don't know what you think you're... Oh...."
He trails off as hands begin to knead his muscles, following the line of his shoulders and dipping farther down his back, between his shoulder blades where there has been a knot building up for the past week. It is teased and rubbed and rolled out of existence, surprisingly deft fingers flowing along the grain of his muscle until he slumps forward, giving up all pretense that he is not enjoying this.
Jayne's hands continue their steady progress down his back, pausing once to return covered in oil. They are straying lower than he is comfortable with now, dipping below the water to reach his lower back, but he cannot bring himself to move or say a word.
Some tiny part of his mind insists that this must be yet another practical joke, but he doesn't see how it can be. Jayne is the one doing all the work here, and if Simon is giving into it too easily, well, it's not exactly an incriminating situation.
Just a backrub between friends. Right. Sure.
He feels Jayne shift, swinging one leg around so that Simon is between his legs now. He allows himself to be pulled out of his slump, and hands begin working on his chest. The touch is lighter than it was on his back, but still innocent, if that word can be used in this situation. Nothing Jayne is doing is overtly sexual, nothing that would force Simon to draw the line. Simon wonders vaguely if that is on purpose. He wouldn't have thought Jayne could be that subtle.
As he leans back, there is one thing he cannot miss--Jayne's erection swelling against his back, separated from him only by the towel. Not so subtle.
He should move. He really should.
But Jayne's unexpectedly clever hands are smoothing over his collarbone, down his chest to his stomach, and it's terribly easy to ignore that one little...detail.
One hand leaves him and reappears with a glass bottle. Warm oil is dribbled over his chest, rubbed in with light circles. A thumb brushes firmly over one nipple, and Simon feels himself flush.
He sits up with a start, the invisible line crossed.
"I'm sorry," he says quietly. "I shouldn't have let things get this far, but I think I really have to go..." Jayne's hand cups his face, turning it. "...now..."
He meets Jayne's eyes and swallows, running out of words. Again. He expects Jayne to force the issue now, and he's not sure what his response will be. But Jayne does nothing.
Simon is breathing in shallow gasps, far more affected by this than he wants to be. Nothing is holding him here, and he knows he should leave, still half believes this is a joke and as soon as he gives in Jayne will start laughing, and there are a thousand reasons not to do this...
But the only thing that seems to matter is how much he wants to.
He closes his eyes and leans forward, and that is all it takes. Jayne's mouth is on his, as startlingly gentle as his hands. There is no laughter.
Simon feels himself relax, lets himself lean into Jayne's embrace, half turning so he can run a hand down Jayne's chest. He skims his nails over a nipple, feeling the reaction in the hard cock now pressed against his side.
Jayne's mouth moves lower, across his jaw, down his neck, finding the perfect spot as if by instinct and sucking. First soft, then hard, then with a gently sucking bite that makes Simon moan out loud.
With some fumbling, Jayne's towel disappears, and Simon is pulled up out of the water to sit astride Jayne's lap. The first brush of their cocks melts the last of Simon's doubts, and he pushes forward. His hands find purchase on Jayne's shoulders, and Jayne's arms are around him so that he is as encased with warmth as he was in the pool.
Those hands stroke down his back to mold around his ass, squeezing and pulling him hard against Jayne's body. Jayne takes both their cocks in one hand and rubs along their lengths, thumb tracing the heads, sliding from one to the other and back again.
Simon watches, entranced. He reaches down slowly, and wraps his own hand around Jayne's as far as it will fit. Jayne releases them both for a second and when he starts pumping them both, Simon's hand is under his, moving against Jayne's cock, against his own. Stretched, silken skin, hot and slick with the oil that covers Simon's body. He leans forward, pressing his forehead against Jayne's chest.
Faster and faster, his own hand carried along by Jayne's motion, the skin of his palm feeling as sensitized as his cock now. He kisses Jayne's chest, and his lips find a nipple and close over it. He hears a stifled grunt from above him, and Jayne's hand speeds up.
He mouths the tight flesh, rolling his tongue around it and finally closing his teeth around it. Jayne is panting now, and each heaved breath lifts Simon's head where it rests against that broad chest. His hand under Jayne's tightens, squeezing them together almost too hard, and the body against his is shaking, spurting hot against his stomach and his cock, but it's not quite enough to send him over the edge, and Jayne's hand is no longer moving.
He tries to keep the rhythm up by himself, but his hand is quickly pulled away. Jayne rolls them both over until Simon is looking up at him, lying full length on the soft floor with his wrists held and his legs spread. Jayne lets go of his wrists now and moves down his body.
Jayne's mouth closes over him, taking him deep and sucking hard. Within seconds Simon's hips are jerking upwards out of his control, and Jayne is holding him down as he takes him still deeper, swallowing around him.
Simon shuts his eyes as he comes, his world reduced to his cock and the mouth wrapped around it. Afterward he lies still with no thought of moving. Thoughts drift through his mind, but he can only watch and let them pass, like clouds in the sky.
When Jayne kisses his neck, the same spot he was sucking earlier, Simon's arms go around him automatically, and when Jayne moves them both back into the pool Simon has no thought of resistance. He floats in warm water, supported by Jayne's body.
It is not until his fingers start to wrinkle that he feels any desire to move. He sighs, and flexes his toes. His body has been still for so long that it hardly feels as if it even belongs to him any more, but gradually it comes back under his control.
He slides out of Jayne's arms and turns to look at him.
Jayne is watching him, silent as he has been through all of this.
"You're going to have to say something sooner or later," Simon tells him.
He finds he is bracing for the sound of Jayne's voice, but when it comes it is low and quiet, as if Jayne is as wary of disturbing the peace of this place as Simon is himself.
"Whatever comes out of my mouth around you is wrong. Figured it'd go better if I didn't say nothing at all."
Jayne frowns. "I ain't answering that. Whatever I say, you'll take it wrong."
Simon can't help smiling at that. "You might be right there."
"Words ain't hardly ever necessary. They just get in the way."
"It depends on the words, I think."
Jayne shrugs. "Mostly seems to me they just get people in trouble. We could walk around half the shit we end up stepping in, if the captain would just keep his gorram mouth shut."
"Can I quote you on that?"
Jayne snorts. "Rather you didn't. Mal ain't in the best mood right now as it is."
"How very unusual."
But the mention of the captain has brought certain thoughts back to Simon's mind. Real life. Serenity. The various expressions on the faces of the crew if they find out what he and Jayne have just done.
He looks at the wall behind Jayne's head, and the silence gets thicker and more uncomfortable by the second.
"I think this might have been a mistake."
"Exactly what I'm talking about," Jayne mutters. "Shut the hell up."
He pulls Simon forward against him, and their legs tangle under the water. He holds Simon's face with one hand and kisses him hard.
Real life fades away again, and Simon lets it go.
FEEDBACK Eleanor K.