"What?" Mal would have yelled louder in response to the tapping on the door to his quarters, but even the subdued knocking sound reverberated in his sore head like a bell.
"Captain, can I come down for a moment?"
Simon's voice was muffled but Mal could still detect the tone in the younger man's voice. It had the quiet authority that Mal had come to connect with doctory issues and not the prissiness that meant that Simon was having a hissy fit. Thankfully, as Simon adjusted to his new non-aristocratic environment, the latter had decreased significantly, but Jayne still had the ability to set the fugitive physician off.
"Okay, but it gorram well better be for a good reason," Mal reluctantly gave his permission. Leaning back in his chair, he watched as Simon deftly made his way down the ladder. To his surprise, Simon not only had his black physician's bag with him, but also a towel-wrapped bundle.
The doctor took a moment to look Mal up and down with an assessing gaze. "You have a headache."
Mal frowned. He'd assumed that Simon had been concerned about someone else's health and had let the young physician in out of concern for his crew. "Sorry to disappoint you there, doc, but you're mistaken. My head's not on too straight but it's feelin' just fine."
Simon snorted, the most inelegant sound Mal had ever heard from the man. "Really? Is that why you've been avoiding the few areas of Serenity that actually have decent lighting?" Mal opened his mouth to protest, but Simon talked right over him. "You also snapped at Kaylee during dinner and there's a pain crease that's taken up permanent residence on your forehead."
The captain snapped his mouth shut. Simon was a little more observant than he'd given him credit for. "That's not a pain crease, it's from worryin' about where the next job's comin' from." He fumbled for additional explanations. "As for Kaylee, didn't mean to snap at her, thought she was Jayne." Simon's eyebrows went up so far at that statement that Mal knew he'd made a mistake. Damn pounding head made it hard to think. "An' I'm staying away from brightness, not 'cause my head hurts, but because I've been told that subdued lighting makes my complexion look more even." He gave Simon a look that dared the younger man to defy his excuses.
"So sorry, my mistake. People get Kaylee and Jayne mixed up all the time," Simon said. Mal winced; the doctor had sharpened his sarcasm until it had a razor keen edge. "Be that as it may, humor your physician and let me help you." The dark-haired young man grinned at Mal. "Anyway, I'm out of practice on doctoring techniques that don't involve patching up gun shot or knife wounds."
Mal sighed and internally acknowledged defeat. He was a goner from the moment he'd allowed Simon into his quarters. Admitting that to Simon, however, was totally out of the question. Something he was sure the doctor knew, since he'd given Mal a face-saving out for accepting help.
Oddly enough, it didn't bother Mal as much as it probably should have that Simon knew him well enough to manipulate him.
"All right, in the interest of keeping you in practice," he conceded. "Wouldn't want a member of my crew to have to suffer needlessly because their doctor couldn't remember how to treat a headache." Mal made a point to clarify that last statement. "A headache which I don't have, let's make that clear."
"Crystal." Simon said with false cheer. Having received permission to proceed, he walked to Mal's desk and set his burdens down. Moving briskly, he pulled out an injection gun and motioned at Mal's arm. "Pull your sleeve up."
Mal looked at it askance. "I said I'd help you practice, but I don't want to use up any medical supplies." His head thrummed, the pain a counterpoint to his claim but he ignored it. He hated the way drugs made him feel fuzzy. Fuzzy could equal dead, out on the rim.
Not really surprised, Simon put the injection device back in the bag. "All right, then. Take your shirt off and lay down on your stomach."
The captain looked at him blankly. He'd been braced for another argument, so Simon's easy acquiescence and unexpected suggestion had really taken him off guard. "Excuse me?"
Simon had turned to his towel bundle and looked up briefly when he heard the confused tone in Mal's voice. "If you're going to refuse a simple analgesic, then we'll have to resort to nontraditional methods to ease your pain. Off with your shirt, please, and on the bed." At the other man's continued befuddled expression, he added, "We're going to try therapeutic massage."
There seemed to be a good reason to question that direction, but with the pain in his head, Mal couldn't think of what it was. His fingers thought it was a good idea, anyway, and they quickly undid the buttons of his shirt. In short order, his suspenders were down, the shirt gone, and Mal was stretching himself across his meager mattress.
Behind him, Simon was grinning widely at the sight, dimples out in full force. The doctor's voice, however, when he addressed his patient, was totally professional. "For centuries, we've known that some headaches can be alleviate be relieving the tension in your neck and back muscles." He undid his cloth bundle and took out several palm-sized dark objects. Walking two short steps to the bed, he carefully placed them on Mal's back.
"Heated stones," Simon said, using one hand to press Mal's shoulder back down on the mattress. "Relax, let the warmth sooth you."
"If I knew you were just gonna pile hot rocks on me, I coulda boiled my own," Mal grumbled half-heartedly. He had to admit, the sensation of warmth seeping from the stones into his body felt good. So good, that he forgot that he was supposed to be doing this simply to give Simon a chance to practice, not that he actually had a headache.
"I had a feeling you'd like that," the doctor tried not to be too smug. He waited until he could see Mal's body visibly relax and then removed the stones. They were rapidly cooling down, in any case.
Besides, Simon had something else in store for Mal.
"Next, we're going to try the therapeutic massage," he informed his patient. He'd grinned again at the almost wistful moan Mal had let out when the rocks were removed, but he was careful to keep any traces of a smile out of his voice when he addressed the captain. A bottle of fragrant oil had been nestled in the towel and it was still warm from their heat. Simon had rolled his sleeves up while Mal had lain under the stones and he next poured some of the liquid into his hands.
"I'm not gonna smell like some gorram flower, am I?" Mal asked. He was so relaxed from the previous treatment, though, that he sounded merely curious instead of suspicious.
"No," Simon laughed, "Heavy perfumes can trigger headaches or make them worse. I found something light and all natural. I think you'll find it's a scent more worthy of your manliness."
Mal was prevented from responding to that comment by Simon's hands touching his skin. Unseen by the other, both men closed their eyes at the contact.
"O-oh-kay," the doctor stammered as he kneaded Mal's neck, "you're still really tense here." The young man was a little overwhelmed by actually having his hands on the man. "You shouldn't let yourself get tied up in knots."
"Mmmmm… part of being Captain," Mal responded. "You're good at that."
Simon moved his hands lower, stroking slowly over the expanse of smooth skin bared for his ministrations. "I took an elective course at the Medacad one semester on massage." He stopped for a moment at the memory but took up the movement again when Mal uttered a soft groggy protest. "My father was worried that I would be diverted into the world of nontraditional medical treatment methods. It wasn't nearly as respectable, you see, as 'real' medicine. Nor as profitable, I might add." Simon grinned suddenly, careful this time not to stop kneading the firm flesh under his hands. "What Father didn't know was that my interest had more to do with the professor than with what was being taught."
"S'nky," Mal all but purred.
"Yes, it was sneaky of me. I suppose you could say that I've had criminal - or, at least dishonest - tendencies from way back." Simon smiled tenderly at the utterly lax state of Mal's body. Not wanting to ruin his good work, he let up the pressure of his massage, his movements just short of being caresses. "You see, Robert, that was the teacher, he was… well, he was poor. Besides teaching an occasional session at the Medacad, he tended to work at charity facilities and the like. Not the sort of person my parents would have wanted me to see romantically at all. And he was something of a scoundrel, didn't have a lot of respect for the Alliance. For all that, he was a gentle man and I learned a lot from him, even if it wasn't necessarily what my parents wanted me to learn."
With one final stroke, Simon ended the massage. Having just been reminded of his sneaky habits, he knew it was time to get to the heart of this visit or he'd risk alienating Mal with his duplicity. The young man bit his lip and took a deep breath; this was the risky part. "Robert was rather like you, I think… and there are things that I think that you could teach me… rather, that we could do together…." Simon winced at his own stammering and took another deep breath, glad that Mal was still facedown on the bed and unable to see him blush. "I mean, I find you attractive and was wondering if you would be interested in pursuing a relationship other than Captain and doctor."
Simon held his breath for the other man's reaction but there was only silence. "Mal?"
A soft snore was his only answer.
Walking quietly to the head of the bed, Simon looked at Mal's face. The captain was asleep. Sighing, he realized that the older man had probably drifted off during his whole commentary about Robert. Simon's declaration had been delivered to a sleeping man.
"Why doesn't anything ever go smooth?" Simon whispered to himself. But, looking at the uncharacteristically open and gentle expression on Mal's face, he couldn't really complain that it had been time wasted. Mal's headache, obviously, was gone.
The doctor gathered his materials together and turned to leave. As he got to the foot of the ladder, though, he stopped and went back. Bending down, he carefully pressed a tender kiss to the back of Mal's neck. "Next time," he whispered.
Resolutely, Simon climbed up the ladder and left. The young doctor never saw a still-asleep Mal smile, murmur "Simon," and snuggle deeper into his pillow.
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