Christmas Countdown: December 16
Bao bei = sweetheart
Go se = dog shit
Tian xiaode = Heaven knows what
Mal Reynolds wasn’t a religious man, so when the rest of the crew wanted to have a Christmas gathering, he volunteered to take the pilot’s chair so that everyone else could enjoy it. Since Wash had already programmed their destination, Serenity was in affect flying herself, so no one was too discomfited by having Mal at the helm. Over the course of the evening, Mal heard snatches of laughter and the murmur of voices. He wasn’t lonely, though. He had Serenity.
Late in the evening, Shepherd Book came to relieve him.
“You looked surprised, Captain,” the preacher commented when he saw the expression on Mal’s face.
“Just thought you’d be busy,” Mal shrugged. “Given the day and all.”
Book’s smile was beatific. “I’m close to my God every day of the year, not just his birthday. It makes me no mind where I celebrate it.”
Mal was feeling too mellow to start a philosophical discussion, so he simply nodded a good evening and left. The walk to his bunk seemed longer than it used to, but then again, he used to only have an empty bunk to look forward to.
Sure enough, there was a light on when Mal slid down the ladder into his personal space. Simon was curled up on the meager bed. A book was pillowed on the young man’s chest and from the way Simon was blinking owlishly at Mal’s entrance, it was obvious he’d been sleeping.
“Bao bei, you didn’t need to wait up for me,” Mal said softly. He perched on the edge of the mattress. It didn’t seem right, for a man to enjoy the sight of someone in his bed so much.
Simon yawned. “I wanted to.”
“You didn’t need to,” Mal repeated as he bent his head close to Simon’s. “But I’m mighty glad you did.”
The two men kissed, tenderly, but without any heat. When they pulled back, Mal nodded at the new addition to the small space. A vest was laid out across the chair in an obvious display. Clearly, it was Simon’s.
“I see you’ve got something fancy and new to wear.” Mal knew about the vest, of course. Kaylee and Book had been having fits over it for weeks.
“Yes, I’m going to wear it tomorrow.” The bunk space was small enough that Simon could reach out and finger the new piece of clothing without having to leave the bed. “It’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever been given.”
Mal’s eyebrows raised. The Tams were Core folk and he couldn’t see how a garment put together by piecing together remnants of worn clothing and such would be better than the gifts that rich folk could afford. His silence caused Simon to look over at him and, some of Mal’s confusion must have shown on his face, because the younger man felt motivated to explain.
“This took a long time to make,” Simon stated, picking the vest up with an almost reverent touch. “It represents a lot more effort than just buying something ready made.” His fingers stroked the soft fabric and Mal had to swallow, remembering how those deft fingers felt when they stroked his skin. “And each piece of the material, it’s like a part of the crew. This square here? It’s from the robe that Inara loaned River, when we first came aboard. And this one over here is from that tablecloth that got ruined when Jayne spilled gun oil on it. When I look at it, I can still remember all the dinner conversations we had.”
Mal didn’t question Simon’s statement, the contented expression on Simon’s face made it all too clear that he was being totally honest. Truth be told, Mal could understand the need to belong somewhere so bad that you could almost taste it. He just never figured that a man like Simon would find that belonging place on Serenity.
“Speaking of gifts, I have one for you,” Mal said. He kissed Simon quickly and popped open a drawer on the built-in bureau.
“I thought that there was just the one gift, from the whole crew?” Simon’s forehead had the worry wrinkle on it that Mal found so adorable.
In a way, the doctor was right. Finances were too tight for Mal’s ragtag little family to exchange gifts all around.
“You think that suffices for Wash and Zoe?” Mal scoffed. “Or that you didn’t get River anything more’n the sketch pad everyone chipped in for?”
Simon blushed. “Well, no. I’m just surprised is all. I didn’t think you’d put us in the same category.”
Mal kissed again. “Oh, I do, bao bei, I certainly do.”
The smile he got in response from Simon was so sweet that Mal was tempted to let everything else slide until morning, but he already had the gift in hand. Besides, Simon’s kisses were a powerful incentive to get the present unwrapping out of the way, so that they could move on to more intimate pursuits.
“Here,” Mal said awkwardly as he shoved the package into Simon’s hands. It was wrapped awkwardly in plain brown paper.
Simon smiled and for once the expression wasn’t shadowed by concern. “You shouldn’t have,” he protested, even as he started ripping the paper carefully away.
Mal watched the doctor’s face intently, otherwise he might have missed it. Simon Tam was a terrible liar, but had mastered the physician’s skill of hiding emotions when necessary. Mal could see Simon’s expression freeze for the barest of moments when the gift was revealed.
“What’s wrong?” Mal demanded. “I didn’t get the wrong one, did I?”
”No,” Simon’s voice was a little choked. “This is for exactly the right model.”
”You did say that you needed a new filter for your nano-medical doodaw, didn’t you?” Mal persisted. He knew he wasn’t as smart as Simon and was worried he’d messed it up.
Simon straightened. “My nanotransfusion biorhythm scanner, yes.” His eyes, when he looked up at the captain, were shining. “I just can’t believe that you remembered me saying it or that you could afford something like this. They’re expensive.”
“You’re a good doctor, Simon,” Mal commented quietly. “An artist, even. Now, I can’t get you the type of facility you really should be workin’ in, but the least I can do is to try to keep the instruments you have running.”
“I appreciate that,” Simon answered softly, his fingers caressing the metal sheath that protected the delicate piece of equipment. “You have no idea how much I appreciate that.”
Despite Simon’s reassurances, Mal wasn’t quite sure if his gift had been a success or not. The captain shifted from foot to foot, wanting to join Simon on the bed, but not sure if it was a good idea to do so.
“I have a confession to make,” Simon finally said. “I have a gift for you too.”
Mal couldn’t help but smile. “Really?” He couldn’t help but tease a little. “I thought there was just the one gift from the whole crew.”
Simon rolled his eyes and smacked Mal on the arm before leaning over the edge of the bed and grabbing a package that had been wedged between the mattress and the wall. It was wrapped in a piece of colorful paper; Mal could see some of River’s drawings adorning it.
“I don’t know when you had time to get me something,” Mal murmured. The Tams were rarely allowed off the ship, due to their fugitive status.
“The others helped me.” Simon shrugged. “Are you going to open it or not?”
Mal was careful as he unwrapped the gift. There was a time when he would have torn through the packaging gleefully, but that was years ago. Gifts were rare enough in Malcolm Reynold’s existence that he knew to savor each one.
When he finally got it open, Mal almost dropped the thing in surprise.
“What?” Simon gasped as he got a good look at his lover’s reaction. “Did I get the wrong one? Zoe was so sure it was right.”
Simon turned to look at the corner of the bunk, to where Mal usually kept his old rifle. The weapon deserved a place of honor. It had accompanied him throughout the war and kept him alive. The thing had been a piece of junk to start out with and had garnered its share of war wounds. It jammed a lot and its old scope was worthless; Mal had talked for years about getting around to fixing it up, but had never managed to do so. The scope that Simon had just given him would give Mal a head start on getting the old rifle refurbished.
And now it was gone.
Simon’s gasp as he realized the weapon was no longer there was clearly audible. With question marks in his eyes, the doctor turned back to Mal, silently asking for an explanation.
“I had to sell her,” Mal said quietly.
There was a painful silence.
“To buy the nanotransfusion biorhythm scanner for me.”
Simon didn’t quite state that as a question, but Mal answered as though it had been one.
There were a few more moments of silence and then Simon bowed his head. Mal heard the younger man make a choking sound and he moved forward to try and comfort him.
“Look, Simon, it’s not your fault or anything,” Mal hastened to explain. “You didn’t ask me to sell her.” The choking noise continued. “Simon, look at me please.”
Simon lifted his head and Mal blinked when he got a good look at the younger man’s expression. Simon was laughing.
“Go se,” Mal grumbled. “What the tian xiaode is wrong with you?”
With a last snort, Simon managed to get hold of himself. “I sold the nanotransfusion biorhythm scanner to get money for your rifle scope.”
For a minute, sheer surprise kept Mal silent. Then the import of what Simon said hit him. “You sold it? You told me that every decent doctor had to have one.”
Simon shrugged. “In the Core worlds, yes, it’s considered a basic piece of equipment, but out here in the Black. . . I’ve learned that sometimes less is more.” His grin was razor sharp. “But aren’t we a pair?”
The absurdity of the situation hit Mal. First he grinned and then he chuckled. Soon, he was giving in to a belly laugh and Simon was right there with him. The two men collapsed on the bed together. When one would finally get himself under control, they’d trade a glance and then peals of laughter would start out all over again.
Finally, exhausted, the couple fell prone on the bed, smiling but no longer cackling and out of control.
“You’ve given me a new home, a new life, and my sister a safe place” Simon stated. “That’s all the gift I really need.”
Mal pulled the younger man into his arms. He wanted to tell Simon that he’d received a gift too, that Simon was starting to heal something that had been broken in Mal for a very long time. Unfortunately, Mal was only starting to heal, though, and couldn’t quite manage to say it. Instead, he gathered Simon closer and hoped that would suffice.
“You sell yours at a pawn shop?” Mal asked.
Simon nodded as he pillowed his head on Mal’s chest. “On Persephone.”
Mal snorted. “Me too. Next job that takes us back that way, we’ll do a trade.”
“I’d like that,” Simon cupped Mal’s cheek. “Just because something is banged up a little or seems too fancy for its environment, doesn’t mean it’s worthless.”
“Not by a long shot,” the captain grinned and lay down on top of the younger man. “Now, let’s see if we can muss up some of that fancy of yours.”
And they did.
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