The Waltz

By Juli

September 2003

A challenge story and, in addition, inspired by a suggestion from my friend, Angelise.


Lese = crappy

Go se = dog shit

Dong ma = understand

Bao bei = sweetheart


It was a good thing that Serenity was on the ground at Persephone, because Kaylee’s squeal sounded as though it could have pierced the hull. Jayne, Book, and Simon looked up from getting ready for their card game in time to witness the engineer throw her arms around Mal’s neck and kiss him soundly.

“Huh,” Jayne muttered. “Thought she were all pissy at Mal?”

They watched as Kaylee tucked a large, flat box under her arm before reaching up and kissing Mal again. The captain, holding a second box that was almost as big as the one he’d just given Kaylee, looked embarrassed.

“It appears as though she got over her pique,” Booked murmured. “I wonder what’s in the box.”

“Kaylee could never stay mad at anyone for long,” Simon added to the conversation. “And it appears to be pink.” The doctor was referring to the length of frothy fabric that trailed out of the box, bobbing like a tail as Kaylee all but skipped down the corridor towards her quarters.

“Aw, hell, it’s that lese frou-frou dress she saw in the market,” Jayne explained. When the other two men looked at him oddly, he got defensive. “Just not fair that the captain bought her a dress and not th’ rest of us.”

“If I find a pretty dress in your size, I’ll keep that in mind,” Mal said dryly. The other three had been so caught up in watching Kaylee that they hadn’t noticed him approach.

“Gorramit, Mal, you know what I mean,” Jayne whined. “All I ask is my share of the take, that’s all.”

Mal looked at him for a long moment, shifting his box into a more comfortable position. “If it’s that important to you, I’ll see if I can get your portion for the next job in dresses, gee-gaws, and the like. Wouldn’t want anyone to think you weren’t getting your fair share.” He turned towards Book and Simon. “Doc, I hope you didn’t have your heart set on playin’ that card game. Little Kaylee and I have to go meet our client and it looks like I’ll need your help to get ready.”

Surprised, Simon blinked. He’d never thought Mal would need his help in relation to a job. “No, I didn’t… It’s not… I mean, of course, I’ll help in whatever way I can.”

“Good.” Mal nodded briskly at Jayne and Book. “Gentlemen, on with your cards.” He turned and made to leave, Simon getting up to follow.

“Don’t you need Zoe?” Simon asked as he walked briskly to keep up with Mal’s long stride. In his limited experience, Zoe seemed a key player in all of the captain’s convoluted plans. “She and Wash are, um, busy at the moment, but I’m sure….”

“You mean they’re fornicatin’,” Mal said with a grin. Since he didn’t turn around, though, Simon didn’t see the smile. “No, I think this once I can do without Zoe’s help.”

Simon blushed but stayed silent. On a ship as small as Serenity, privacy was nonexistent, a fact that Simon was having a hard time getting used to. Soon, the two men were in the cargo area. Mal pointed to the portable Cortex terminal he had sitting near by. “Think you can find us some dancin’ music?”

Flustered, Simon looked from the terminal to Mal. The captain had disappeared behind some stacked boxes and his shirt was soon draped over the nearest container, making it clear he was undressing.

Simon twirled around, even though Mal was safely hidden from view. “Music?” He squeaked.

“You sound surprised, Doc.” Mal’s voice was muffled as he changed clothes. “Think I’m not refined enough to appreciate a little music?”

Simon frowned. “You said you needed my help with a job – I fail to see what music has to do with it.”

“I can’t say as I’m too happy about it my own self, but I gotta go where the job goes and that means meetin’ the client at some big soiree.” The captain grunted, as though wrestling with an uncooperative garment. “That means dressin’ like a man who hasn’t done a lick of honest work his whole life and then goin’ and prancin’ around with a whole room full of the same.”

A look of comprehension spread over Simon’s face. “That’s why you bought Kaylee that dress, so she can accompany you.” Raised in the upper echelon of Core society, Simon knew Mal couldn’t show up alone. Such a social faux paux would get noticed – and being noticed was probably not on the captain’s agenda.

Mal’s snort was clearly heard, even coming from behind the boxes. “Inara’s off whorin’ and Wash an’ Zoe are exercisin’ their marital rights. You and your sister are out, for reasons I’m sure I don’t have to explain. It’s been my experience that a preacher tends to stand out at a party, less it’s a prayer meetin’ and I think we can rule that out too. That leaves Kaylee and Jayne… and I think we both can agree as to which of those two looks better in a dress.”

Simon started to nod but then narrowed his eyes as something occurred to him. He thought it through a minute and then grinned. “And the fact that it gave you reason to buy Kaylee that dress she liked so much had nothing to do with it.” He hadn’t even seen the garment, but it had been described to him and everyone else on the crew in exquisite and excruciating detail.

“That’s right, Doc, that had nothin’ to do with it.” Mal’s voice became clearer as he emerged from behind the boxes. “Haven’t you been able to find any music on that thing yet? I need you to show me how to dance.”

“Dance?” Simon repeated, not realizing that Mal was standing directly behind him.

“You’re doin’ that a lot there, Doc,” Mal said, right in Simon’s ear. “I hope there’s nothin’ wrong with your hearin’. I said dance.”

Simon had startled at the first sound of Mal’s voice, so much closer than he’d expected. He didn’t move, however, until the other man had finished speaking.

“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing, Captain,” Simon said, turning to face Mal. “There’s just something about the idea of combining the phrases ‘teach’ and ‘dance’ in reference to your esteemed self that just - ….”

As Simon got a good look at Mal, his words came to a complete halt. The doctor stood staring at the older man, mouth hanging completely open.

“You were sayin’, Doc?” Mal prompted, leaning against the boxes and folding his arms across his chest.

Gone was Cap’n Mal Reynolds, rakish leader of a rag-tag crew for a disreputable ship. In his place stood Captain Malcolm Reynolds, an officer and a gentleman. The tailored dark jacket had a wide collar and was open to reveal a beige brocade vest. The vest also had a collar and it, along with the jacket, served to make Mal’s shoulders look even broader. A burgundy silk length of fabric dangled from Mal’s fingers and, best yet, there was nary a suspender in sight.

“Wow.” Simon said, succinct but with feeling.

Mal grinned. “Yeah. Way I figure, if Kaylee cleans up even half this pretty, then we’ll outshine Inara and that Asserton fella of hers.”

Simon felt a wave of emotion wash over him at Mal’s statement and was surprised to realize that it was jealousy.

“As splendid as you look,” Simon said briskly, trying to cover up his reaction, “you’re not quite dressed yet.”

“What?” Mal looked puzzled. “I’ve even got my underwear on.”

Simon’s eyes closed briefly. He *so* had not needed to hear that. “Your cravat, Captain. A gentleman, or reasonable facsimile thereof, would never dream of leaving the ship with his cravat untied.”

The doctor was painfully aware that, although he was wearing his gold and brown vest, that it was unbuttoned and his shirt had come partially untucked. Next to Mal in all of his sartorial glory, Simon felt unusually mussed and rather unkempt.

“Yeah, well, I figured I wasn’t supposed to wear it in my hair,” Mal admitted ruefully. “But I wasn’t sure how to tie it.”

Simon sighed. “Here, let me.” He held out his hand for the piece of silk and Mal obediently passed it over. The fabric, when Simon held it, was still warm from Mal’s grip.

“Like this,” Simon directed. Hands moving swiftly, he arranged the cravat around his own neck in the proper manner - not too flat and with just enough poof. He gave Mal a moment to study his handiwork, then untied the material and gave it back to the captain. “Now you try.”

Mal approached tying his cravat with the same focus as a man trying to diffuse a bomb. Unfortunately, he was decidedly unskilled and, had it been a bomb, would have blown himself sky high in short order. Simon could only take a few moments of watching the other man fumble, Mal’s normally deft hands seeming suddenly to be all thumbs, before he made an impatient sound and snatched the material back.

“I’ll do it,” he said. “Otherwise we’ll be here all night.”

Simon reached up and wrapped the fabric around Mal’s neck. Movements that a few moments before had been swift and sure become awkward and sloppy. Under Mal’s penetrating blue-eyed gaze, not to mention the warm puff of air that tickled his skin each time Mal exhaled, Simon’s hands lost their skill.

“This isn’t going to work,” Simon said in frustration. “Turn around and bend over a little.”

“Turn around and bend over?” Mal fluttered his eyelashes at the younger man. “But, Doctor Tam, we haven’t even been on our first date yet.”

Simon blew a wayward curl off his forehead. “You know,” he said conversationally, “Silk is also the traditional material used as a garrote.” He snapped the fabric taut between his hands.

“All right, all right,” Mal said, assuming the requested position. “No need to get all violent on me.”

Simon didn’t respond, mainly because he was breathless from the sensation of pressing against Mal’s back. He bit his lip as he leaned forward, straining to reach around Mal’s body to tie the cravat. He tried not to notice how his crotch just naturally nestled itself against the firm globes of Mal’s ass. He didn’t want Mal to know the close contact was affecting him, especially after the remark the captain had just made.

Luckily, it was a familiar enough task that Simon could accomplish it even without being able to see what he was doing. Finally, he was done. Simon indulged himself with one last sniff of Mal’s distinctive scent and then pulled back. “There. All done.”

“Thanks, Doc.” Mal fingered the unfamiliar fabric, not used to having something constricting his neck.

“Leave it alone,” Simon chided, slapping at Mal’s hand. Realizing what he’d done, he gave the captain a wide-eyed look.

Mal just laughed. “I guess I asked for that,” he said affably. “I did tell you to teach me.”

Simon relaxed minutely. Realizing that his best bet for getting out of the situation with at least one shred of his dignity intact, he decided to wrest control of the conversation. “What kind of event is it?”

His comment was met with a shrug. “Just some fancy shindig,” Mal said. “Why, is there a difference?”

Simon considered. “I suppose, when you get right down to it, no.” He turned to the terminal and punched in some instructions. Soft music soon wafted out into the cargo hold.

“I’ve been to dozens of these type of gatherings,” Simon explained. “They’re full of pretentious people intent on being seen in their oh-so-expensive clothes; talking about the right things to the right people; while, of course, gossiping about those unfortunate souls who don’t quite meet their standards.”

Mal looked rueful. “That’s not exactly the attitude I was expectin’.”

Simon grinned, pleased at having surprised the wily captain. “You haven’t attended one of these things as a young, unmarried doctor.”

“Ouch,” Mal winced. “Let me guess, some folk thought you were part of the buffet?”

“It was a veritable feeding frenzy,” Simon confirmed. Oddly, as he told Mal about his previous experiences, he felt cheerful about it. At the time, however, it had been torture.

Mal scratched behind his neck in what, for another man, might have been taken for a nervous gesture. “When I asked you to teach me to dance, I didn’t think it would bring back any unpleasantness….”

“Oh, I liked the dancing part of it,” Simon assured the older man. “It was the only enjoyable thing about those dreadful affairs.” His voice grew wistful. “I never had quite the flair for it that River had, though. You should have seen her on the dance floor, before the Academy got hold of her. It was like magic.”

“I expect you do all right, Simon,” Mal said quietly.

Mal’s statement bolstered Simon’s confidence. “We’ll start with something traditional – the waltz. Once you have that down, we’ll move on to something more complex, like a quadrille.” His expression grew thoughtful. “Now, which position should I show you?” The young man took another look at Mal and rolled his eyes. “Who am I kidding? You’ll always lead, even if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Hey!” Mal started to protest, but then stopped. He couldn’t quite figure out if he’d just been insulted or not. From the distracted look on Simon’s face, he figured not.

Simon ignored him and gamely continued. “Now, go ahead and put your right hand around my waist. Then, clasp your left hand in my right and hold them at waist height.”

Mal complied, causing his partner to gasp. “Somethin’ the matter, Simon?”

Something certainly was. Mal had pulled Simon tightly to him, pressing their bodies together in an almost uncomfortable manner. Or, to be more exact, a manner that was altogether too comfortable for Simon’s peace of mind.

“N-n-not so close,” Simon stuttered. “Your partner has to be able to breathe.”

“Sorry about that,” Mal loosened his grip but still held Simon firmly.

“This is really a very simple dance,” Simon explained. He found he could talk more coherently if he kept his eyes on their feet. “Glissade and chassee – slide, close, step.” He started to demonstrate. “No, no. The lead dancer always begins on his or her left foot.”

“Like this?” Mal asked.

“Exactly like that,” the doctor confirmed. “You’re doing very well. Now that you have the basic step down, you can zigzag back and forth – alter the step to go anywhere on the dance floor you see fit to go.”

“I am the leader,” Mal said smugly.

“You are at that,” Simon laughed.

In very short order, they were gliding across the cargo hold effortlessly. Simon was pleased; Mal was doing very well for a beginner. Even being partnered by more experienced dancers, Simon would have had his foot stepped on at least once. But, other than some initial hesitancy and a tendency to hold him too close, Mal was faultless.

Effortless.

Faultless.

Something seemed fishy.

Simon looked at Mal with narrowed eyes. “You already knew how to dance, didn’t you?” He tried to stop their movement, but Mal continued to waltz and Simon was carried along helplessly.

“Now why would you say that, Simon?” Mal asked. “If I’m doin’ well, it’s just ‘cause you’re a good teacher.”

“Go se,” Simon retorted. “I’m impatient with everyone but River, I stumble verbally when I’m nervous, and I’m not a very good dancer.” He tried again to stop and this time managed to succeed. “You already knew how to dance.”

Mal looked down into Simon’s indignant face. “And what if I did?”

His amused tone took some of the wind out of Simon’s sails. “What?”

The captain took advantage of Simon’s confusion and began their bodies moving again. “What if I did already know how to dance? What does that mean?”

Simon relaxed into the familiar rhythm of the waltz. Peering up at Mal’s face, he searched it closely. He’d been the butt of Mal’s jokes before but didn’t se any trace of mockery present. Relief made Simon settle down a little bit more.

“You aren’t making fun of me,” he concluded aloud.

“No, I’m not,” Mal agreed. He rewarded the doctor’s deductive reasoning by holding him a little bit tighter.

Simon’s forehead wrinkled as he frowned in concentration. “You didn’t need me to teach you how to dance but this isn’t some elaborate practical joke either,” he mused. “There’s no *need* for me to be here, so I can only surmise that you *want* me here?”

Mal grinned. “I always new you were a bright boy. Top three percent and all that.”

“But… why?” Simon asked.

Mal brought their waltzing to a stop. He tipped Simon’s chin up with one hand before saying, “Because of this.”

Moving slowly and giving the younger man ample time to move away, Mal bent down and kissed Simon gently.

Simon found himself gripping Mal’s arm tightly, reaching up on tiptoe in order to deepen the kiss. Mal gladly obliged him, bringing both hand sup to cup the back of Simon’s head so he could plunder the young man’s mouth more thoroughly.

When they finally broke apart, breathless, Simon leaned his forehead against Mal’s chest. Mal automatically wrapped his arms around his partner and rested his chin on the top of Simon’s bent head.

“I’m not top three percent material,” Mal said quietly. “Been wantin’ to have you in my arms for a while now, just couldn’t figure out how. The dancin’ was just the first good excuse.”

“You didn’t need an excuse,” Simon sighed as he wrapped his arms around Mal.

“I didn’t know that,” Mal responded. The two men started to sway lazily to the music.

Simon lifted his head to look at Mal, a twinkle in his eye. “Besides, this was more fun.”

Mal grinned. Technically, they weren’t lovers – yet – but Simon already knew him too well. “And this was more fun,” he admitted.

The two shared another soft kiss before Simon laid his head on Mal’s shoulder. Sighing deeply in contentment, he let the rhythm of Mal’s heart be the tempo for their movement.

The moment, even as sweet as it was, couldn’t last forever.

“Ahem.”

Mal and Simon turned to see a somewhat sheepish Book on the catwalk above them.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, gentlemen,” Book said. He had a kitchen towel draped his arm as though he were a butler. “But her lady’s made, River Tam, thought you would want to know her mistress, Miss Kaywinnit Lee Frye, will be prepared to leave for the ball momentarily.”

“Thanks, Preacher,” Mal acknowledged. He dropped his arms from hugging Simon, but kept one hand at the small of doctor’s back in a possessive gesture.

“I should have realized that River would want to help Kaylee get ready,” Simon added. The doctor’s eyes were shining as he smiled. “Kaylee’s always helping her and River would enjoy a chance to fuss over her for a change.”

“Yes, I think both girls enjoyed it,” Book agreed. “At least, from what I could tell from the sounds coming from Kaylee’s quarters, there seemed to be a lot of giggling involved.”

The shepherd turned to go but stepped back at the last moment. “I must say, this,” he gestured at the couple, “is a very nice development. Very nice indeed.”

With an approving smile, Book left them alone.

“I agree,” Mal said quietly, nuzzling gently behind Simon’s ear. “Very nice indeed.”

Simon shivered; Mal had found a particularly sensitive spot. “Mal, when you get back, we have to talk.”

Mal stiffened, Simon’s words making him tense. “Talk? I was kinda hopin’ we’d do a lot more than talk – or did I read your reaction totally wrong here?”

Simon sighed, sensing he’d wounded the older man. “No, you didn’t read me wrong.”

“Then what?”

“It’s just that River,” Simon started to explain.

“Comes first,” Mal interrupted. “I got no problem with that.” An uncomfortable expression crossed his face. “And Serenity….”

“…. And her crew are your primary responsibility,” Simon finished for him. “As well they should be. You’re the captain.”

“What’s the problem then?” Mal asked, looking every bit as confused as he sounded.

Simon broke free from Mal’s arms, striding over to the portable terminal. With a couple of vicious key punches, the sound of music abruptly ceased.

Mal came up behind the younger man. “Simon?”

The portable terminal seemed to be of sudden fascination to Simon. He stared at its blank screen as his fingers stroked lightly across its surface.

“When you get back from meeting the client,” Simon reluctantly explained. “And we have a chance to do that ‘more than talking’….”

“Yes,” Mal prompted when Simon’s words trailed off. The other man still hadn’t turned to face him, so the captain put his hand on Simon’s shoulders as a tactile reminder that he was still there.

“Well, you’re going to have to be the one to give *me* dancing lessons,” Simon confessed. “The horizontal kind.”

Mal felt his fingers tighten but was powerless to stop the reaction. “You’re a virgin?” His voice cracked on the last word.

Simon’s shoulders slumped. “I was afraid that would be a problem.”

“Problem?” Mal repeated. He used his grip on Simon’s shoulders to forcibly turn the doctor to face him. “Why would you think it’s a problem?”

“I just thought you would prefer someone more experienced,” Simon admitted. He refused to look at Mal. “I thought it would be best to mention it now instead of when we, um, were in the middle of things. I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed.”

Mal looked at Simon a full minute before responding. The young man squirmed under his calm regard but didn’t dare say anything. Finally, Mal asked, “You ever wonder why I’m so hard on Inara for whoring?”

“W-wh-what?” Simon had a hard time keeping up with the abrupt change of subject.

“On Shadow, where I was raised,” Mal continued, ignoring the other man’s confusion, “sharing your body with someone was sacred. Didn’t much matter if you were married or not, as long as the feelings were genuine.” He gently gripped Simon’s chin with one hand and once more made the doctor look at him. “Ain’t nothin’ we do between us in our bed that’s gonna disappoint me – as long as you’re bein’ honest about how you feel. Dong ma?”

“I think so,” Simon whispered. “you’re saying that making love is acceptable but fucking is not.”

Mal chuckled. “Like I said, you’re a bright boy. Top three percent, right enough.” He stroked long Simon’s cheek with one finger. “What I can’t understand is how someone who looks the way you do managed to stay a virgin?”

Simon blushed but also leaned into the caress. “Top three percent, remember? I was always ahead of the children my age in school, which made them jealous and not inclined to have anything to do with me. My classmates were always older and resented being bested academically by someone several years younger than they were. When I finished school and became a doctor, those horrible balls and parties started and, suddenly all those people who’d loathed me for one reason or another were anxious to get close to me.” He sighed. “The hypocrisy of that kept me celibate and then I received the first strange letter from River….”

“Sounds lonely,” Mal said. He had more than a passing familiarity with loneliness himself.

Simon smiled slowly. “Not anymore.”

“Not anymore,” Ma agreed.

The two men began to kiss when the faint sound of feminine laughter could be heard approaching.

“Gorramit,” Mal cursed. “Their timing is worse than mine.” He seemed loathed to let Simon go.

Simon snuggled close for a moment, then wiggled free. He reached up and re-poofed Mal’s cravat, which had lost some of its shape with their cuddling. “Nonsense. The sooner you leave for that party, the sooner you’re back.”

Mal’s grin became feral. “And we can get to that ‘more-than-talking’ lesson of yours.” His smile faded. “I wish you were comin’ with me, bao bei.”

“I don’t.” Simon smiled shyly. “I kind of like our private dance here.”

“Plenty of time for that later,” Mal whispered. He patted Simon firmly on the butt as Kaylee appeared on the catwalk, a vision in pink.

“I’m ready to go, Cap’n.” She caroled out, voice shaking with excitement. River, Book, and Jayne trailed after her, a shabby but loving entourage.

“And aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Mal responded, still awash in the afterglow of Simon’s acceptance of his advances and unusually generous with compliments. Had Jayne appeared in the dress, he probably would have received the same comment, but from the happiness in her eyes, Kaylee didn’t know that.

Mal nodded to Simon and began to move in Kaylee’s direction. A hand on his arm stopped him and he looked back at the doctor.

“Save the last dance for me, Mal,” Simon said.

The captain looked up and saw that Kaylee and the others were involved with getting the engineer safely down the stairs in her very full and awkward garment. Seeing that no one would notice, he took Simon’s hand and kissed gently. “It’s yours, bao bei. After tonight, they’re all yours.”

Simon watched as the two left, content to let the others see them off for their shindig. He was wrapped up in a private sort of happiness. Simon had the feeling that his dance card had just filled up for life and, as Book would say, it was a very nice development indeed.

~the end~


NOTES: This is a challenge story, written in response to Nancy’s Mal/Simon Schmoop challenge:

Mal/Simon schmoop - in particular...

1 - some kind of 1st date
2 - some kind of 1st kiss
3 - some kind of 1st time
4 - all of the above? (pick 4, pick 4!!)

The only thing I really require is no violence and not even much on the angst front. just something...well...sweet and schmoopy.

 

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