Author: Eleanor K.
Posted: 22 March 2003
Spoilers: minor for Safe
Series/Sequel: Sequel to Immanent.
Disclaimer: So not mine. Joss, could I please have Mal? Just while
you're not using him? I'd be real nice to him, I swear...
Notes: For Juli because she asked, with much gratitude to her and
Cab for commentary and being generally cool and helpful people.
Mal wakes up every morning with the feeling that there should be
sunlight slanting across his bed. It doesn't matter how many years
he spends out in the black or how many mornings he woke up in a
foxhole with no window and no sun. He suspects he will always spend
the first second of waking expecting the warmth of Shadow's sun
on his face.
It lasts longer than usual this morning. He blinks at the boy in
his arms, trying to remember what he was thinking last night that
somehow made this okay.
Simon asked; he remembers that much. He remembers also the wild
look in the boy's eyes, something he recognized from looking in
the mirror on his own bad days. He couldn't say no to that. And
maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all. Simon seems to have slept
well enough, at least. He slept well enough himself.
He looks down at Simon and imagines the glow of sunlight on his
skin, filtered through thin white curtains. If you looked closely
enough at those curtains, you could see the uneven stitches where
his grandmother hemmed them when she was a child. They were silky
soft with age and thin with repeated bleachings by the time he occupied
that room. If he tries, he can remember the way the ranch looked
when viewed through them, everything soft and cloudy, the muslin
warm to the touch.
Simon's mouth opens, closes. His lashes flutter, dark against his
pale skin. Dark like the burnt edge of white curtains flapping in
a charred frame.
Mal lays a hand against Simon's cheek and kisses him lightly, aware
of a sweet taste to Simon's mouth that he can't explain. His own
lips feel dry and chapped, where Simon's are soft, welcoming, moving
now against his own.
So young. The boy is so damned young.
Simon's hazy eyes blink up at him, and he watches the welcome in
them fade into confusion, suspicion, and worry.
He kisses Simon's cheek and gets up, pulling on pants and shirt.
"I'm going to get us some coffee. You stay put, dong ma?"
Simon nods, and Mal watches his face shift back to confusion.
He climbs the ladder and walks barefoot over metal decks that are
faintly warm. In the kitchen, he watches the coffee drip into the
There should be sunlight here, too, falling across the kitchen counter
onto the floor, warming his feet. He knows, bone-deep, he will never
stop missing that. He wonders what Simon misses, if anything. Maybe
just a time when he thought the 'verse made some kind of sense,
when it didn't seem actively hostile. Mal misses that time himself.
He fills two mugs. The coffee is thick and black, and its ripples
look strangely permanent even as they disappear.
He thinks of how Simon looked last night, sick and unnaturally pale,
trembling to the touch. Scared, and more than that. Shaken. Mal
knows that feeling.
Sometimes you get shaken up so badly that it takes time for things
to come clear again, to see things the way they are in the real
world and not inside your own head. Mal knows he shouldn't expect
windows and sunlight where there are none, but he's been shaken
once too often, and he'll never come clear again.
He doesn't want to, really. There are other, darker things he's
come to expect, and it's those expectations that keep him alive.
It's those expectations that made him go in armed and full throttle
last night to get Simon and River. Just knew somehow it wouldn't
be as easy as sneaking in and sneaking them out.
He leaves the kitchen and retraces his steps, pausing outside his
bunk to shift the mugs to one hand. The grip is awkward, and coffee
slops over the side on the way down. He sets down the mugs and runs
cold water over his hand. The skin is red.
"Let me see."
He turns his body to block Simon's view. "It's fine."
Simon pushes against him and takes Mal's hand, pulling it out of
the stream of water. Simon is still naked, and Mal can see sunlight
on his skin, on his hair, painting it with blue-black highlights.
He stops fighting and lets Simon get on with the examination.
"You should let me dress this. I have some ointment that will help
"Later. Sit down. Drink your coffee." He hands Simon a mug and nearly
gets coffee spilled on him again as their hands touch and Simon
Simon sits stiffly on the edge of the bed. "I should go. I don't
want to impose--"
Mal cuts him off with a wave of his hand. "I'll tell you when you're
imposing. How are you?"
"I'm well. And how are you?"
"Oh, I'm great. Apart from you suddenly treating me like I've got
rim plague or some such. Think I liked you better half-crazy."
Simon stares at him, mouth hanging open for a moment. He shuts it
with a snap. "I already embarrassed myself enough last night--flinging
myself at you, for god's sake. Forgive me for trying to put a little
rutting distance between us while I'm waiting for you to kick me
Hearing Simon swear is always funny, but Mal has the worst time
keeping a straight face when the boy says 'rutting,' which, thankfully,
he doesn't do often. Only when he feels pretty strongly about the
subject at hand.
Mal sits beside him, close enough that he can feel the tension in
him, stretched thin and vibrating with it.
"It was you said just one night. Not me."
Confusion spills over from wide blue eyes and settles in Simon's
mouth and the line of his shoulders. "You don't like me," he says.
"I wasn't wrong about that."
"You remind me of someone I used to like." Mal shrugs and rubs his
hands against his thighs. "I can't offer much, but I'll warm your
bed. Keep you safe and sane as best I can."
Simon frowns down at his hands and speaks slowly. "It sounds like
you're proposing another deal, Captain." He looks at Mal. "What
do you get out of this?"
"You, safe and sane." A chance not to incur any more ghosts. An
assurance that he won't look back in ten years and expect to see
this boy with clear eyes, with intelligence and bravery and unbearable
arrogance and see instead a shadow with his face turned to the past.
"I don't understand." Simon's voice is pleading. Always has to know
Mal leans over and kisses him, feels Simon relax against him, trusting,
if only for this moment. Shoulder to shoulder, the taste of coffee
and that same inexplicable sweetness, the tangled sheets beneath
He pulls back, just enough to speak. "You don't have to understand.
You just have to trust me."
"But why would you--"
"Trust me to do what I say I'll do."
"You said you wouldn't leave without me."
The words are a surprise to both of them, but more to Simon, judging
by the look on his face.
"I came back for you."
"Yes. You did."
"I always will. You belong here now."
"To you." Simon looks at him with eyes that slip sideways without
meeting his. "You said..."
"Yeah." Mal finds his voice rougher than he expected it to be. "Mine.
"You can't expect me to enjoy being treated like some kind of...property."
"Responsibility. There's a difference."
"Is there? The way you see things, I'm not so sure. I don't want
that from you."
"Don't start lying to yourself. That's exactly what last night was
about--someone else picking up your slack for a while. It's okay.
Nothing wrong with that."
"Mal..." Simon looks at him, finally, face steeled for some hardship
he sees coming. "You can't...take care of me like that. That's what
parents do. Not-- Not lovers. Not unless I can do the same for you,
and I don't think you'd let me."
"I wouldn't know how. That's not what I'm offering."
"I can't let you-- You must see how wrong it would be."
"I see it's what you need."
"I'm not a child."
"Doesn't mean you don't need help. Everyone does, sometimes."
"Even you? But you won't take it, will you?" A frown grows on Simon's
face, and Mal can see the gears turning. "Who do I remind you of?"
"You said I remind you of someone you used to like. Who?"
"Oh. Nobody special. Just another kid with too much shit weighing
"What happened to him?"
Mal hesitates. "There was...too much. And nobody to help him. He
didn't-- It was in the war. He didn't make it."
"You. You didn't make it."
Mal forgets sometimes how smart Simon is.
He looks at the wall opposite him, covered in the detritus of this
life he's built. Letters, pictures, the calligraphy piece Kaylee
did for his birthday two years ago, a photo of his mother standing
in front of the barn. Things he keeps to remind himself that he
did make it out, that he is the same person he was before--even
if he knows in his heart that it's not true.
Simon takes his hand, thumb sliding delicately over the patch of
reddened skin on the back. "You're not alone now."
Mal pulls his hand away. "You know what's on offer. And what's not."
"And you know you can't stop me from trying to return the favor."
Simon leans into him, and Mal puts an arm around his shoulders and
runs fingers through his hair. Sun-warmed, softer than silk. He
can admit, if not out loud, that this is at least as comforting
for him as it is for Simon.
Then again, Simon is smarter than Mal ever was. Maybe he knows that
continue to Overturned.