only one of his four answers is actually true.
mal/simon, pg-13, 2241, an alluded spoiler for "serenity."
When the issue first comes up, Inara tells them she has a place in mind that will work perfectly. The Alliance will never dream of looking for any of them there. (She doesn’t tell them what this place is, exactly, just the coordinates. Only River seems to go around with a knowing smile when she announces this.)
Simon asks why River can’t come with them. Mal points out that River can clearly take care of herself, and besides, she needs to pilot the ship in his absence. Simon says he doesn’t need a babysitter. Mal says he doesn’t give a laoshu de pigu what Simon thinks he needs or doesn’t need.
Simon looks like he’s about to punch Mal. He stops and walks away.
Inara sighs and thinks that if they don’t kill each other within a week, they will be lucky.
River walks around the ship and looks at Mal and Simon like she knows something that they don’t.
Inara’s learned to put up with Mal coming into her shuttle unannounced. These days, she merely comments on it for tradition’s sake, since nothing she says will stop him anyway.
“Watching the doctor ain’t exactly my idea of a fun vacation,” he says as he walks in.
Inara doesn’t even bother turning around. “Then who would you suggest to stay with Simon while the rest of us draw the Alliance away? We could hardly send Jayne, could we?”
Mal sounds almost horrified at this idea, if he did things like horrified, which he most certainly does not. “He can’t stay there by himself?”
“Not if you want him to have a chance of making it should the Alliance double back and find him.”
Mal leaves, clearly not happy with this answer. Inara notices that he never questions Simon surviving the Alliance. That, at least, is fact for Mal.
Serenity flies off somewhere in the distance, leaving Mal and Simon standing in front of what is clearly a shelter built for companions.
Simon speaks first. “What exactly is this-”
Mal’s already started inside, regretting agreeing with Inara’s fengkuang plan. Although Inara was right. Mal would rather be here with Simon than let him be here on his own.
He tells himself it’s because Simon is part of his crew. He wouldn’t let anyone on his crew fend for himself. Malcolm Reynolds looks out for his own. Besides, Simon isn’t exactly someone who can take care of himself in a gunfight.
At least that’s what he says to himself as he takes in the opulent carpets and the smell of incense.
The first day is difficult. Mal isn’t used to being idle for so long, and Simon drives himself (and Mal) crazy worrying over River. Mal feels like he should say something, but it’s not exactly in his nature to be comforting or coddling, so he keeps his distance. The fact is that River can take care of herself, even if Simon can’t see it.
They don’t say much to each other at all until the evening, when they realize that Inara forgot to mention that there is only a single bed in the entire building. “Juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan,” Mal curses under his breath, wondering if the fates were conspiring against him. He doesn’t want to babysit Simon, and now, he not only is stuck with that job, but also has to share a bed as well?
Simon hears him. “I can take the floor,” he starts uncertainly.
Mal is tempted. The bed looks nice and soft compared to the floor. “It’s big enough for the both of us, ain’t it?” he asks before he can stop himself.
No, no, that’s not what he meant to say.
“Well, yes,” Simon says, “but you didn’t sound very pleased with this…uh…situation.”
Mal is not pleased with this situation at all. He’s stuck in some…he doesn’t even know what this place is. A Companion house? There’s a doctor who is going to wear a hole in the carpet if he keeps up his pacing as he had been doing all day. Mal himself feels like he’s going stir-crazy, being grounded for so long. Normally, he deals with it well enough when he has to be on land, but there’s always punching people out in a bar or getting guns pointed at him to look forward to, and when the job’s done, he’s always back on Serenity
Who knows how long it’ll take for the ship to come back for them this time?
Mal starts towards the bed. “I’m going to bed. I don’t especially care if you join me or not.”
Having the bed to himself would be better anyway. Much more comfortable.
Mal knows that Simon does not need to be taken care of. Even if he did, Mal is not the right person for the job.
His ship (whenever it comes back) needs a doctor, though, and Mal can’t waste time trying to find a new one if this one wastes away worrying about someone who single-handedly destroyed a group of gorram Reavers. So he forces Simon to meals (whoever Inara’s contact is has done a very good job of keeping the eating area stocked) and makes sure he does something other than pace.
He feels like someone’s mother.
And he may be many things – thief, killer, soldier – but Captain Malcolm Reynolds is sure as hell not anyone’s mother. So why is he behaving like he is?
Answer Number One: He wants a functioning doctor on Serenity. That’s the short answer. The easy answer. But Mal is sure that if he didn’t watch Simon, he wouldn’t starve himself or go crazy. There would still be a functioning doctor when they got back to doing crime. Just because Simon is worrying about River every two seconds doesn’t mean he’s prone to becoming loopy in the brainpan. That’s River’s job.
Answer Number Two: River would kill him if Simon came back in worse shape than he had been when he left. Another easy answer. Only probably not entirely accurate. River is protective of Simon, but she also understands Mal and how he works. She knows that he doesn’t mother people. As long as Mal doesn’t beat Simon up, he’ll probably be safe from their psychic assassin.
Answer Number Three: He takes care of his crew, and Simon is part of his crew. But Simon is an adult, fully capable of taking care of himself. Besides, since when did Mal watch over his crew like this? If Zoe were here in Simon’s place, Mal definitely wouldn’t be hovering. Granted, that may have been because Zoe would break his arm if he did. Or his face.
Answer Number Four: So that leaves Simon himself. There’s something about Simon. He’s hard as nails and – dare Mal think it - tough when it comes to River, but there’s something vulnerable about him. He’s not used to this life of running and hiding and killing like the rest of them. He’s a born and bred aristocrat. And Mal, for whatever reason, wants to keep him safe. He doesn’t want Simon to lose that…whatever it is that made him Simon. The rest of the crew can fend for themselves in a tough situation, even little Kaylee. They’re used to the rough and tumble.
Simon is different.
That’s the best reason Mal can come up with. It’s also the most truthful.
Mal isn’t sure if he likes the truth.
Surprisingly, Simon is the one to start the conversation. “I don’t mean to…don’t take this the wrong way, but is there a reason you’re, ah…fussing over me?”
Mal looks at Simon like he’s grown two heads. “Where’d you get that gorram idea? I ain’t one to be doin’ any fussing, you hear?” Then, he looks down at what he’s holding – a bao that he’s about to put on Simon’s plate. He abruptly changes his mind and keeps it for himself instead. “Fussing,” he snorts.
They eat in silence for a bit. Then, just when Mal is about finished with his meal, Simon says, “I just meant you’ve been…nicer than I thought you’d be.” He winces, presumably at how that statement came out.
Mal has four answers prepared for him. He recites them in his mind: Functioning doctor, River, crew member, and…Simon.
“And it’s not because of your ‘I take care of me and mine,’ thing, because you’ve never gone to this extent before. For example, you don’t put food on people’s plate-”
“That bao was for me!” There went answer number three.
“-when we’re all eating together on Serenity.” Simon continues like he hadn’t heard Mal. “So I’m just a bit confused right now as to what you’re doing.”
Mal shoves the rest of the bao into his mouth so he doesn’t have to answer, because he suddenly finds himself very close to answering with answer number four. He grabs his plate and leaves before he finishes swallowing.
He’s getting ready for bed when Simon approaches him again. “I want to apologize for the conversation earlier,” he starts. “I’m…” he pauses, looking like he’s afraid Mal will put his gun out and shoot him.
Mal merely raises an eyebrow.
Simon rushes through the rest of his sentence. “I’m grateful you’re here.”
He turns and leaves to the bathroom without giving Mal a chance to reply.
Mal tries to sleep. He really does. Simon is asleep next to him, judging from the rhythmic rising and falling of his chest. Mal stares up at the ceiling, and then at Simon.
There’s a reason he doesn’t do feelings. Things with Inara had been complicated because of it, and Mal doesn’t want to get tangled in this again. But clearly, he’s some sort of masochist, because here he is, watching Simon sleep and wondering what the diyu is wrong with him.
Simon rolls over, and for a moment, Mal thinks that Simon will catch him awake. But Simon’s eyes don’t open. He looks so relaxed when he’s asleep. Mal wonders if he ever looks this relaxed himself. He doesn’t feel like he’s really relaxed since…well, since the war.
At least until he came here.
It must be due the nice furnishings and the lack of people pointing guns at him. Certainly, it has nothing to do with the company.
Simon looks at him strangely over breakfast, and Mal is inclined to ask him if he has something on his face. “Did you not get any sleep at all?” Simon finally asks.
Clearly, he had to do something about his insomnia.
“It ain’t anything to worry about.” Mal waved Simon’s concern away, though he felt something – glad – that Simon had noticed and asked about it.
“If you say so.” Simon looks doubtful, but he doesn’t try and press further. Mal is grateful; explaining why he couldn’t sleep would undoubtedly be a difficult and messy affair that he just doesn’t want to get into.
When Mal stands up to take his dishes to the sink, Simon stops him with a hand on his arm. “I said not to worry,” Mal says as he tries to brush Simon’s arm away.
Simon isn’t having any of that. “I’ve been thinking about what we talked about last night. And I can only come to one answer, but…” He bites his lip. “It’s mad. It’s crazy.”
Mal stares at Simon. He’s not sure if he wants Simon’s mad, crazy answer to be right or wrong. He’s not sure he likes Simon being able to read his feelings, his intentions so easily. Mal prides himself on not getting his emotions mixed up with his duties, after all.
But part of him wants Simon to figure it out correctly. He wants Simon to know. Simon is the type of person to understand feelings, much better than Mal does.
“And what do you think you know?” he asks, trying to stay calm.
Simon still acts hesitant. “If I’m wrong, I don’t want things to be…” He trails off.
“Then you’d best not be wrong.” Mal realizes in hindsight that if he’d wanted Simon to tell him what he was thinking, he probably should have phrased it differently.
Luckily, Simon seems to be on a roll. “No, I guess not.” He smiles in an almost self-depreciating manner. “You’ll have to forgive me if I’m interpreting things incorrectly.”
Mal forgets how to breathe for a moment.
Simon leans forward and kisses him lightly.
Mal realizes that he’s probably going to the special hell. And right now? He’s okay with it. It feels much more like heaven.
Mal’s not the cuddling type, but Simon has somehow ended up in his arms in bed anyway. Mal finds that he’s not exactly complaining at the moment.
“What are we going to do when we get back to Serenity?” Simon asks suddenly.
Mal knows what he means. He’s the captain, and Simon is part of his crew. He’s supported relationships between his crew members before, but this feels different. This is different.
“I don’t rightly know.” Mal’s never been one to shy away from honesty. “I ain’t exactly thought about it yet.”
“Don’t you think we should think about it?”
“I reckon so. Don’t mean I want to do it right now.”
Serenity probably wouldn’t come back for a while, after all. Even when it did, they most likely still have a long time until they’re truly safe.
And yet, Mal finds himself feeling content.
Laoshu de pigu: Rat’s ass
Juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan: Oh, this is a happy development!
Bao: Chinese steamed bun