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|Title: Secrets to Tell
Author: Eleanor K.
Pairing: Mal/Wash/Zoe, sort of.
Spoilers: for War Stories, minor for Out of Gas
Series/Sequel: Sequel to Suspended.
Disclaimer: Render unto Rome what is Rome's; render unto Joss what is Joss'.
Warnings: Angst with a captial ANGST.
Notes: Thanks to Cab, Comma Nazi and beta genius. It is impossible to praise her enough.
I'm going to kill Mal. I really think that's the only viable solution.
He doesn't remember. He can't remember, or he would never have said-- Oh, who am I kidding, of course he would have. This is Mal we're talking about. He's *insane*. Honest to god, the man is loop the fucking loop.
Casually, *casually* he mentions to my wife that I said--during torture, I'd like to point that out again--that I wish he'd slept with her. Which isn't true, by the way. I don't want that at all. Not exactly.
Is it too twisted even for me that I'm jealous of both of them?
I still remember how it felt to kiss him. What he sounded like. How he looked at me.
The thing is, that wasn't Mal. That was Mal hopped up on painkillers and happy not to be dead. The real Mal is the one who makes me carry heavy boxes because he likes to watch me suffer and goes around narcing on me to my wife.
Here comes the narc now. He nods to me. I nod back. He sits down across the table from me.
"I don't see any bruises." He's grinning, the bastard. "Did you two make up?"
"Did you have to *tell* her?"
Of course he did. We've been through this. It's Mal.
"Of course I did. Come on, that was too good to keep quiet." He smirks, which he does uncommonly well on account of all his practice. "You should've seen your face."
"You should have seen hers when she got me alone."
Mal chuckles into his hand, way too amused for the situation. Like Zoe couldn't kick his ass, too.
"Screw you," I tell him.
"Haven't we already had this conversation?"
"Hah fucking hah."
"Your language is going right downhill there, Wash. You want to watch that."
"This is all your fault."
It *is*. If he hadn't had to be the hero and stay behind and get hurt and then *look* at me like that, I wouldn't have kissed him. If he hadn't stayed behind this time and saved my sanity... Maybe I wouldn't want to do it again. All his fault.
"Ain't my fault you couldn't keep your mouth to yourself."
What? *What*? He doesn't remember. He can't remember.
He's smirking again.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask cautiously.
"Don't give me that. You know what I'm talking about. I'm just saying, it could've been worse. I could've told her about that instead."
He does remember.
"Language. What did I tell you? You're gonna end up sounding like Jayne."
"I didn't say that out loud."
"If you say so."
"Shut up, Mal. I mean it. Just... Now would be a good time for you to leave."
Let me wallow in my guilt and confusion alone. If Zoe finds out about this, they may be all I have left.
Naturally he doesn't leave. Instead he comes around the table to sit next to me. Gorrammit. He smells good. This is so wrong.
"Listen," he says, and then stops.
"I'm sorry about that," he says.
Sorry? Mal's apologizing? To *me*? Where are the plagues of locusts and rains of fire?
"About the infirmary. You know."
"Mal, you were practically unconscious! Do you have to take the credit for absolutely everything that happens around here? I was damn well taking advantage of you!"
He shrugs. "I'm just saying. I wouldn't necessarily want Zoe to know about that either."
It was decent of him to admit that. I guess. Can I still be bitter and pissed off at him? Oh, yeah, I think I can.
"Okay. So we won't tell her."
"Tell me what?"
Did I mention, oh fuck?
"Zoe! Sweetie! What are you doing here?"
"Interrupting your manly plotting, dear. So what aren't you going to tell me?"
"It'll be torture next, mark my words. Don't break or we're both done for," Mal mutters, sotto voce, but plenty loud enough for my loving, homicidal wife to hear.
This turns her attention to her captain. Phew.
"And what's your part in this, sir?"
"I've been tortured by experts. You'll never make me talk."
He's grinning again. I think I hate him. This is *serious*, dammit.
"Those experts didn't know your weak points like I do."
Mal has weak points? This could be interesting, actually. Carry on, love of my life. Make him squirm.
"Carmine City," she says. "August thirteenth."
Mal looks pale. "You said you wouldn't bring that up again," he mumbles.
"You always said you didn't keep secrets from your second in command."
"What happened in Carmine City?" I ask innocently. All right, pseudo-innocently.
Their eyes turn to me, Zoe smiling evilly. Mal points a finger at her. "Don't you dare," he says.
"Fine. You tell me, and I won't tell him. Deal?"
At this point it looks like she's got the upper hand, so I have to break in. "No! No deals. No deals at all in any way. No one's telling anybody anything. Right, Mal?"
"August thirteenth," murmurs my beautiful, vicious wife.
Mal pales further, which I didn't think was possible. Electrodes and knives and god knows what else and he doesn't even think of giving in, but give Zoe two minutes and she's got him squirming like a worm on a hook. I love that woman.
I have to fess up. Better if she hears it from me. She'll forgive me. Eventually. I mean, it's not like I had *sex* with him... Oh, god, could I please stop thinking about sex with my captain while I'm trying to confess marital infidelity to the woman I love more than life itself? This isn't *fair*!
"I kissed him," I say.
They both turn to look at me. Mal looks as surprised as Zoe does.
"In the infirmary. After we stalled out and you both got hurt. I didn't mean to. It just...sort of...happened."
Wow. It just sort of happened? I win the Lameness Award for that one.
"Really. It didn't mean anything... I mean, obviously it didn't. He's Mal, and you're you, and you're the most beautiful woman in the universe, and he's like this crotchety bossy guy, and..."
"Hey," says Mal. "Crotchety bossy guy?"
"Well, you are."
"I'll remember that next time I'm making up the chore roster."
"And vindictive. Did I mention vindictive?"
"Shut up. Both of you."
Zoe's arms are crossed, and she's doing her Aztec goddess impression, all stone-faced and looking like it might be a good idea to sacrifice something to her right quick if you don't want trouble.
"You kissed him?" I just nod, hoping vengeance will be brief. "Why?" she asks.
"I... I don't know." Are we going to go for the award-winning line again? Oh, I think so. "It just happened."
She shakes her head. "Things 'just happen' with Jayne. I know you. You think everything to death. Why?"
I have been thinking about this actually, though 'to death' seems a little harsh. I guess a lot of it had to do with all of us nearly dying, and more than I like to admit it had to do with the way he turned his face into my hand. I'm not used to seeing him that vulnerable, and it did a number on me. Still does when I think about it.
But how am I supposed to say any of this to Zoe, especially with Mal right there watching?
"I just wanted to," I say finally, after far too long a silence.
"Do you still want to?"
Can't lie. It just wouldn't be right. "Sort of."
"So do it."
"Huh?" Mal says.
"Do it." She stares hard at me, every line of her face saying she's dead serious. "I'm sick of you dragging him into our marriage, and it's no better when you're blaming yourself than when you're blaming me. We're having this out right now, and then it's going to be done with."
I glance at Mal to see how he's taking this. He meets my eyes and shrugs.
"Best do what she says. I would, with her looking like that."
The look that Zoe shoots him for that comment has sparks flying off it.
"Shouldn't he get some say in this?" Hell, shouldn't *I* get some say in this?
"You okay with this, sir?" she says, looking straight at me.
"I'm okay with this," Mal says levelly. I wonder if he's half as unconcerned as he sounds.
"Zoe..." I give her a pleading look. This is no time for pride.
No dice. She doesn't even shake her head, just looks at me.
I turn to Mal again, hoping for support, but his face is utterly blank. I have no idea how he feels about this at all. Insane. The both of them are in-fucking-sane.
Okay. I can do this. If it'll make her feel better...
Glaring at Mal, daring him to make a move, I lean forward and quickly brush our lips together. I turn to Zoe.
"Was that supposed to be a joke?" she asks. "That was a kiss you'd give your mother."
This has gotten so far out of hand so fast. I just don't know what to do.
"I can't," I tell her.
"Thought you 'sort of' wanted to?"
"Well, not with you watching!"
She rolls her eyes at me, and she's got that look that says we're really going to get into it now, but suddenly Mal is standing between us.
"Enough," he says quietly. He turns his back to me, taking Zoe's shoulders. "I'm just as tired of this as you are. More so, I'm thinking. Are you sure about this?" I see her nod. "Fine then."
He turns back to me, catches me around the waist, yanking forward, off balance, and then pulls me against him. I try to see past him to Zoe, but Mal tips my face back so I have to look at him.
And then... Warm, soft lips meeting mine, and he cradles my head in his hand and kisses me harder, and my lips part. I just can't help it.
When he pulls back, my hand is locked onto his shirt, and I'm licking my lips, and we're both breathless. I'm going to have to let go of him in a minute and look at my wife, but I'm happy to see that he looks as dazed as I feel.
We blink at each other, and both of us step back at the same time. I turn to Zoe, who looks a bit dazed herself.
She steps behind me and puts her arm around my waist. Kisses my neck. "I'm sorry," she says.
What could she possibly have to apologize for?
Mal starts to back away, though I notice he's not *looking* away.
"You stay right where you are, sir," Zoe says quietly. "If we're ending this, maybe we'd better end it the way we started it."
Mal is looking right through me, and I can see from his face he knows exactly what Zoe's talking about. I wish he'd fill me in, 'cause I don't have a clue.
"It's been a while," he says slowly.
"Maybe that's been the problem all along."
"I never had a problem," he says.
"Like hell you didn't, sir."
"It's your marriage," Mal says after a pause. "You sure this is how you want to fix it?"
"I'm not so sure it's broken. Just stretched. And I'm thinking maybe that's my fault."
A smile passes over his lips, fading quickly. "Maybe you're right. I got used to it, I guess. Then you changed the rules on me."
She smiles back briefly. "And you never were too quick on the uptake, sir."
"Uh, guys?" I say, trying to convince myself I haven't turned invisible in the last minute or two. "You want to fill me in on what's going on here?"
Mal ignores me, still looking past me at Zoe. "In the kitchen?"
"Not in our bunk. Not in yours. Kitchen's a good a place as any."
Mal walks toward me, but I'm not terribly interested in him right now--until he takes my hips in his hands and kisses me. Again. Hard. Oh, fuck, in the kitchen...and he's undoing my pants.
"Whoa," I say. "Wait a minute here."
But then he's on his knees in front of me. Mal. On his knees.
I've had dreams about this.
"You okay with this, baby?" Zoe whispers.
I jerk my head down and up in a nod and swallow. Yes, fine, just fine. I can't believe *she's* okay with this. I risk another look down. Mal is looking past me, as if waiting for her permission. Both of them seem fine with this, and it hits me abruptly that they've done this before. With someone else playing the filling for the sandwich.
Maybe I'm not so okay with this.
Something changes in Mal's eyes. Permission granted, apparently.
I should stop him.
I'm not going to.
He pulls my pants down around my thighs, puts his hands on my hips and just *swallows* me. No messing around, just all at once...heat and wet and right down his throat, and oh, god...
Zoe's hand is over my mouth, but I can't keep quiet. I grab his hair, wanting so bad to thrust, almost wanting to make him suffer for this because as good as it is, I can't help thinking that I'm hanging helpless in my wife's arms while another guys sucks me off, and it doesn't help that Mal is that guy, and this is so fucking wrong, but it feels so fucking good, and it was Zoe's idea and somehow that makes it even hotter.
I'm so close, and I shove into his mouth just once, just once, and he takes it, not even trying to stop me, and I come with him swallowing around me, Zoe's hand half in my mouth to keep me quiet and her lips on the side of my neck.
When I get my eyes back open, Mal's looking up at me, wiping his mouth. I don't think either of us are quite sure what to say.
He stands up, kisses me, slow and deep. He looks past me, and the depth and intensity in his eyes when he looks at Zoe is too much, too private. I have to look away.
He turns and walks out without looking back.
"What the fuck was that," I gasp, trying to get my pants back up.
She stares after Mal a second longer and then turns to me. Her eyes are sad, her shoulders slumped. "Ask me later, okay? Right now just take me back to our bunk and help me forget for a while."
I can't say no to that. Even knowing she and Mal used to...whatever. I don't know anything, not really.
I take her hand and lead her away.
My mouth aches from his kiss. For his kiss? I can still feel Zoe's lips on my neck, her arms holding me while Mal... And I can't stop thinking about the two of them together.
Ask her later? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I already know too much.
Mal walks out of the kitchen on shaky legs. His knees ache. Leaning against the wall, he listens as Zoe and Wash leave through the door on the other side of the kitchen, heading for their bunk. Their footsteps fade away, and Mal is alone. Well and truly alone.
He wipes a hand across his mouth and stares at the wall. Memories replace the present so thoroughly that he doesn't even see it.
Mal walked through the general store, picking up cans almost at random. Zoe was an aisle away looking over the wilting produce, glancing at him now and then. He could feel her eyes on him every time, looked up to meet her gaze every time.
It had been like this for weeks, since the treaty, since the medships. Since they got out, only they were just beginning to realize that they'd never really get out. Since they'd left the hospital they'd seldom been more than a few feet away from each other. They slept in the same room, sometimes in the same bed, clinging to each other like they were the only real things left in the 'verse.
He dumped his cans on the counter, and Zoe added a few limp vegetables.
"How 'bout this heat, then?" the man behind the counter said in a gentle drawl. "Not what you'd expect so late in the year. My ice cream's darn near sold out."
Zoe stood beside him, silent and stoic, and Mal was left to muddle through, searching for inconsequential words and remembering a time when every word out of his mouth meant life or death for someone.
"Yeah." His fingers slipped on the credits he was counting. "Hot."
He handed the money over, hoping it was the right amount.
"Can't get no more neither," the man said. "Still, reckon these shortages are a thing of the past now the Alliance is in charge and those rebels aren't causing trouble no more. There you go."
The man held out a bag full of their purchases, but Mal could only stare at it. Zoe's hand was clamped hard around his upper arm.
"Let's go, sir," she said quietly.
He picked up the bag, turned and left, feeling some triumph at the fact that he hadn't smashed the man's face in. Maybe a time would come when he wouldn't want to.
Back at their hotel room he sank onto the unmade bed, face in his hands. Zoe sat beside him.
"We're going to make it, sir." She had tried calling him by his name for a while, but it just sounded weird to both of them. "It'll get easier."
"What do you know about it? You're the one who broke that guy's wrist last week because he wanted to buy you a gorram drink."
She sighed, patient as ever. "We'll go out tonight. You didn't kill that guy at the store. The least I can do is let someone buy me a drink."
It was a neighborhood bar, a block from their hotel, and they had been there before. The bartender nodded to them as they sat at the bar and served them without asking what they wanted.
All they had to do was wait. Mal knew what he looked like now--something the cat had dragged in, mauled, chewed on and spat out--but nothing could cloak that beauty of Zoe's. Not even what they'd been through.
This was the bar that had witnessed the wrist-breaking incident, and the men were cautious. Mal watched her watching them, saw her set her jaw like she used to when the mortars were hitting the ground all around their entrenchment and they knew it was death to run but running was what they most wanted to do. Fighting against instinct. That was what they learned to do in the war, but the war gave them new instincts to fight against.
She didn't want anyone to touch her. Mal knew that as surely as he knew his own name, as surely as she knew how hard it had suddenly become for him to walk down the street without throwing himself against a wall at the first loud noise.
He couldn't be sure what she was thinking, but he had an idea that it had to do with Jamie Fox. Fox and Zoe had been fucking for two weeks--a long term relationship by wartime standards--when he got hit in a night incursion. She'd woken up next to his body, lying in a pool of his blood. She'd never said a word about it afterwards, except to snarl at Mal's offer to help her with the body.
And she sat here calmly, or at least with appearance of calmness which was the best either of them could manage these days. It was stunning to see, and it made him achingly proud of her, which would probably make her laugh if he ever told her about it.
The door opened, and both of them turned automatically. Mal knew the second he saw the boy--eighteen, nineteen, fire red hair, absurdly young looking. Bright green eyes that went right to Zoe.
It took the kid a while to work up his courage. Mal kept quiet when he finally approached, trying to pretend like he wasn't straining to catch every word.
Halfway through the conversation, Zoe reached for Mal's hand and held it in an almost bruising grip. She was smiling and sounded almost normal as she spoke.
When the boy finally got around to some stammering invitation to go somewhere together, Mal thought she'd balk, almost hoped she would. It was too damned hard to watch her suffer.
He should have known better. Zoe never backed down. She stood, still holding Mal's hand, and kissed the boy on the mouth. Then she turned to Mal.
"Got to get over it sometime," she said quietly. "Now seems a good a time as any."
He nodded, tried to let go of her hand, prepared to find something to do with himself for an hour or so and let them have the hotel room. She wouldn't let him go, just looked at him steadily, as close as she'd ever come to asking for help.
It wasn't that hard to convince the kid to add one more to the party.
In their hotel room, lights off, clothes gone, he knew her hands from the boy's when they strayed onto his skin. He knew the texture of her body and pushed away the knowledge because he had no right to it.
He never thought of her like that. Even the second time, the fourth, the tenth, with his body stirred to pleasure as much by her inadvertent brush of fingers across his cheek as by some man's hand on his cock, he didn't think of her like that.
It was never about the sex, and that should have made it easier to let go.
Mal's palms are flat against cool metal, feeling Serenity's ever-present vibration, a sort of tactile hum that brings him back from the past.
He pushes off the wall and walks away. Away from the kitchen, away from the crew quarters, which is where Zoe and Wash will be headed. He can hear them from his bunk sometimes. By tonight, he'll be okay with that. By tonight, he'll be fine.
Right now... It's a big ship. He can find somewhere else to be for a few hours.
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