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|A Day Unlike Most Others|
"What in the name of--?" came a bellow worthy of just one man: sure enough, as Simon watched the doorway, his fork halfway to his mouth and frozen there, Mal stormed into the mess room. He flung himself down into a seat and slapped his palm on the table, swearing fluidly.
Simon set his fork down warily. "Can I help you?"
"No man's experience," Mal said fervently, "can exceed mine in the peculiarity stakes this week," and then he swore some more, almost whispering, the expletives a long way beyond Simon's grasp of the vernacular.
"Right," Simon said, and picked up his fork again. "I thought it might be something like that." He chewed.
"Your husband," Mal said vehemently, and Simon inhaled a lumpy bit of protein, then looked over his shoulder with streaming eyes and began to choke, because Zoe was right behind him and he hadn't known it, even after weeks of audio training, "just tried to kiss me."
Simon gave up and reached for his napkin.
Zoe laughed, folding her arms. "That's okay, sir. I said he could."
Simon secretly took a pinch of his wrist's skin between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed, hard. It stung.
"Did *I* say he could?" Mal was demanding, "because I don't recall saying any such thing, and in fact, had such a suggestion been brought to my attention, I can guarantee that I would have been very much against it."
"Well, I'm sure he won't try again," Zoe smiled.
Mal was spluttering, "oh yes, in that you are correct, he doggone will not," and Zoe was hiding her amusement extremely badly, and at that moment, from one door to the other, blurred Wash.
"Are you saying my one true love's an unappealing prospect?" Zoe demanded, still grinning, but dangerously now, and Simon pushed back his chair.
"Excuse me," he said. He lifted his plate, and headed in the opposite direction to the one that Wash had taken, trying to ignore Mal's outraged crescendo of a reply. All he'd wanted was a peaceful bite to eat; was that really too much to ask?
Apparently. He ran into the preacher before Zoe's laughter was out of earshot, and the preacher informed him that River was asleep on the floor around the next corner, and that after last night's shouting visions, he was sure Simon wouldn't want to risk waking her again.
"I... no, of course not," Simon agreed, and tried navigate a way back to his bunk without going through the mess or past Jayne's newly installed "workshop" (no wonder River couldn't sleep, sensitive as she was - the noise of metal on metal hardly suggested the lilt of a lullaby), and found himself nose to nose with Wash on rounding an evasive corner. He jumped back, of course, and his plate fell to the floor.
"Oh-ho, Jesus, *hush*," Wash hissed, jumping about three feet in the air himself, "can't you see I'm hiding? get down! shut up!"
"Hiding. In a corridor," Simon observed, and Wash waved at him frantically, then sprang off the floor and tugged Simon around another two corners. Simon decided the food could clear itself up. Somewhere amongst all this, he'd lost his appetite, which was good, because Wash clearly had no intention of feeding him. More, dragging him into a dry-storage closet and pulling the door closed behind them. Right.
"Shh," Wash said swiftly, when Simon made a questioning noise. Something in here smelled of synthetic apricots. He hoped it wasn't some unforeseen by-product of Wash's anxiety, because that didn't look likely to be dissipating any time soon. "Mal's on a rampage," Wash told him, earnestly.
Simon sniffed. "He is not," he said, and felt about for a light. Nothing. "He's sitting at the table in the mess, being harassed by your wife - I don't think you have anything to fear. Would it be too much to ask that you open the door a fraction? Maybe even enough that I can *get out*, and go about my day?"
"You've seen me," Wash said. "Compromises my position."
Simon looked at where the ceiling would be if he had any light. "The last thing Mal's going to do is come after you," he said. "If anything, he'll be coming to me for trauma medication. What possessed you, anyway?"
Wash sighed hugely: the sigh of the oppressed. "I think he's overreacting," he said. "Wouldn't you call this overreacting? I would. There wasn't even any actual physical contact, and he's hopping like a flea on fire."
In the dark, Wash's voice sounded very close - and very gloomy. "Okay," Simon said, as calmly as he could. "You're probably right. Now," and he tried to slip this in under the wire, tried to make it just the natural expenditure of the same breath, "why was it you tried to kiss him, again?"
There was a huger sigh, muffled now, as if Wash had buried his face in his hands. "Zoe," he mumbled. "We were up late last night drinking that fermented Zarglikan sugarwater, and she started telling me about her pre-war days, when she was, you know, exactly as beautiful and strong and independent as she is of course now, but also young and free and single... And then she broke off, and I wanted to *know*, and she said I *couldn't*, and here we are."
Simon frowned. "I'm sorry?" He thought for a moment. "You... right. You were intoxicated. You're *still* intoxicated? I don't understand."
Wash moaned softly into his fingers. "Not so loud," he said, and then, "why does everyone always shout? Is it so hard to keep things below ten decibels? five?"
"I don't understand," Simon stage-whispered, thinking, that answers the intoxication question, at least.
Wash heaved another sigh, this time with a definite edge of exasperation, quite possibly at Simon's obtuseness. "Zoe said she'd only tell me about her sordid adventures in the past if she knew I could cope with it," Wash said heavily, and then, "and she dared me to... do what I did, to prove it wasn't idle curiosity."
Simon raised his eyebrows, not that Wash could see them. "Um, you'd *want* to know that sort of thing?"
"It was with a dancing girl," Wash hissed. "My wife. went on adventures. with a dancing girl. What *wouldn't* I do?"
"Nothing, apparently," Simon agreed. "And here we are, hunkered down in a cupboard, proving that very statement."
"I don't think," Wash said, matter-of-factly, "she actually wanted me to prove anything. I'm beginning to suspect that she didn't do it for any reason except it's funny. For her."
"Oh, and for me," Simon assured him. "And Kaylee. I'm sure Kaylee will be very amused. And Inara will love it. And *Jayne*--"
"Enough," Wash said, and then groaned. "Oh, man."
Simon laughed softly, rubbing his eyebrow with one knuckle. "Why didn't you just tell her you'd done it," he said, smiling, "without actually scarring Mal for life? No offence."
"She has ways of making me talk," Wash said darkly. "She would know."
Simon's eyes were open, drinking in the dark. He was beginning to relax. It was fun, hunkered down in a cupboard, teasing. "I think you should be worried, personally," he said. "Most people would make their husbands do all the chores for a week, or eat something horrible for their amusement. This, though? She's clearly out to get you killed."
"Well, she didn't say kiss *Mal*, she just said kiss a guy."
"Oh," Simon said, "really?" and wasn't sure why his voice had changed.
"And Mal was the obvious choice. Risky, violent, but straightforward. In retrospect," Wash added, sucking in rueful air, "more violent than anything else."
"Hm," Simon nodded. He felt odd, for some reason. Off-balance. He assessed the feeling quickly, and began to suspect that he was taken aback because this was yet another indication that the others had their playful boundary-pushing social networks and he, he had his surgery.
"Mm," Wash agreed.
Into the seep of the quiet, Simon heard himself ask, lightly, "You didn't think of... anyone else?"
"It'd be wrong to kiss a preacher," Wash said instantly, and shook his head quickly. "Very, very wrong."
"Or an ape," Simon guessed, and Wash nodded, equally quickly.
"Absolutely not. But I figured the Captain, well, he's a man of the world, seen a lot--
"You didn't consider me?"
Wash was silent for a moment, then barked a laugh. When Simon didn't join in, he stopped again. There was a pause. "Oh, come on, if the Captain wouldn't, you think you're more likely to?"
"I might," Simon said, contrarily. He probably wouldn't have, but now there was principle at stake. He was *not* unapproachable, damnit. "I wouldn't have scared you into a cupboard with promises of revenge and castration, if I hadn't wanted to."
"Mal promised castration?" Wash gulped.
"Right before he considered throwing you out the airlock until you'd come to your senses," Simon agreed. He was on safer ground, here, and began to relax again. "This was when Zoe stepped in and suggested he was overreacting."
"I love my wife," Wash murmured.
"Well, then Mal said it wasn't overreacting if he could prove you were a danger to yourself and others, which, he claimed, the course of action you'd chosen clearly indicated, as any jury would agree."
"Anyway," Wash said quickly, "you'd kiss me?"
The question brought Simon up sharp, literally - the top of his head brushed against something he hadn't known was above him. He hunched down again. "Would I..." he said, drawing the syllables out to avoid thinking about the fact that the question threw his thoughts into a strange panic, and then he gave himself a little shake. Come on, Doctor. Indecision is weakness. "Sure I would," he said, confidently. He grinned. "I mean, if Zoe was not one-hundred-per-cent happy about it then I fully understand I would lose at least one limb during the proceeding minutes - but if it was all above board, then why not?" Apparently I'm not the prude Kaylee thinks I am, he thought. Kiss a buddy for a bet - that wasn't prudish, now, was it? No.
"Wish I'd known that this morning," Wash said, and sighed. "Ugh, my legs. And I'm hungry. You think Mal's gone?"
"I should think he's... calmed down," Simon hazarded.
"Well, if you get to Zoe first, you should be fine."
"Hm," Wash said, and then, "oh, how bad can it be?" and pushed open the door, bounding out into the room. Simon followed, more sedately. The light stung slightly, and Simon's face went hot as he realised he was watching Wash shake his legs out. "Nnnng," Wash strained, stretching his hands high and rising up on the balls of his feet, and then he exhaled all at once, the strings cut, his arms flopping to his sides again. His hands looked nice.
"I'd better go clear up that plate I dropped," Simon heard himself say, and Wash shot him a fearful look. "I won't say anything, if I see Mal," he added, and Wash nodded, face relaxed again.
"Right, okay. Cool. That's cool."
"Right," Simon nodded, and hoped all the heat was gone from his cheeks, and hurried out of the room.
It took three hours and two of Wash's secret supply of bottled beer to make Mal admit he'd forgiven him.
"A man needs to know what's what," Mal kept saying. "It's not right, suddenly finding your pilot's jonesing after you, when there you was thinking that said pilot only jonesed for his goodly wife. Not right."
"I wasn't," Wash said, through gritted teeth, "*jonesing*. It was a joke."
"Funny joke," Mal said, and took a swig of beer.
Simon watched Wash's mouth move and felt slightly disconnected from reality. Wash had offered him one of the secret bottles as well, but Simon had declined. Now he watched Wash drink, and wished he'd said yes, if only for something to do with his hands.
The steam from Inara's cup rose like a veil over her face. "I'm sure it wasn't like that," she was saying, smiling indulgently at Kaylee, whose eyes were even brighter, whose tea sat untouched on the table.
"You don't know though, do you? I bet-- *Simon*," Kaylee cooed, delightedly, as she noticed him in the doorway. She patted the seat next to her. "Come in, sit down!"
"Thanks," Simon said lightly, hoping he'd walked in on something feminine and complicated. He liked listening to these two talk gender. He learned things. "What's happening?"
"I heard Wash *jumped* on Mal," Kaylee said, excitedly. "Like, out of nowhere. He was trying to get into his pants!"
"He was not," Simon protested, and Kaylee grinned at him, and steepled her hands together, and rested her chin on them.
"Oh no?" she drawled. "You were there? You better tell me what really happened. Set my facts straight."
"No one else will gossip with her," Inara said helpfully, and blew on her tea.
Kaylee didn't look away from Simon's face. "So?" she prompted.
"*Nothing*-- nothing happened," Simon said, sharper than he'd intended, catching himself. "It was a dare, and Mal freaked, and Wash spent the afternoon in a cupboard until he'd calmed down."
"But were you actually there? Did you see? How did Wash do it? Was there actual kissin'?"
"There's *no* gossip here," Simon said, exasperated, and Kaylee's eyes sparkled.
"Oh, you know there is. You're just not gettin' round to tell me yet. But I have ways of making you talk."
Simon remembered Wash saying that, in the cupboard, about Zoe. He decided against asking for some tea, and went over to make a new batch himself, waving down Kaylee's protests. While he was boiling the water, Jayne came in and sat down at the table, elbows planted, knees splayed. He was still wearing his metalwork apron, his fingers were stained shining grey, and filings glinted in his hair.
"'Sup," he said, and Kaylee drew breath to answer him, and then Wash charged in, Zoe striding at his heels.
Simon glanced up, startled, then backed up against the counter as Wash saw him and beelined. Wash's hands went to Simon's head, holding Simon's ear near Wash's mouth. "You know what you said earlier?" he whispered, really fast, "it better still hold," and kissed him. Firm. Not quite close-mouthed.
Simon squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the images of Jayne's gape and Kaylee's huge eyes and Inara's thoughtful smile-frown. He thought, buddy, buddy, as he parted his lips and felt Wash's hands gather him closer. Wash's jaw was rough, and their noses bumped. Wash's lips were soft, and his tongue slowly played into Simon's mouth. Simon was getting lightheaded with not-breathing.
"What the--" he heard Jayne say, as if from a different planet.
Simon dared flicker his tongue, and with that - the flare of heat, the sudden quickening of Wash's breathing - the kiss was over. Wash released him all at once, took a step back and looked at Zoe, then turned abruptly back to Simon and muttered, "I owe you," before moving back to his wife. "You *see*," he said triumphantly, and waved a backwards hand in Simon's direction. "I really, *really* want to know."
"Then, I guess, I'll have to tell you," Zoe said slowly, with a wide, wolfish smile.
Wash made a noise that sounded suspiciously like *yay*, and bounced on his feet, and followed her out.
"Bye, Simon," Zoe called back, before the door shut behind them.
Simon looked at the table, at Kaylee's frozen incredulity. Inara was looking expectantly at him. Jayne was twisting a finger in his ear, as if that might fix the problem with his eyes.
"Um. Simon," Kaylee said, brightly. "You never said."
No, Simon thought. He certainly hadn't. He made his tea, and came to the conclusion that he just couldn't cope with the third degree right now. "I'm going to my room," he said, and then, when Jayne snorted, "not like that! I just - I need some sleep." He shook his head, trying to clear his vision from the haziness round the edges. "It's been a very peculiar day."
He left before they could catch up with him, though on a ship this size, he probably had til he opened his hatch tomorrow to work out his story. He'd probably try for the truth, he thought. Wash couldn't cry foul at that. It might even impress Kaylee, showcasing his unprudish ways.
He'd probably try the truth with a few excluded details, he amended, a moment later. There was no need for anyone to know about the jump in his stomach, the enduring glow. No need at all.
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