blue flamingos

Pyxis (the mariner's compass): Lost At Sea

Fandom: Firefly/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: NC-17

Year/Length: 2007/ ~6797 words

Pairing: Mal/Daniel

Spoilers: Serenity the movie, none for SG1

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Worse things happen at sea, as Daniel's finding out

Author's Notes: For [info]multiverse5000, originally posted to their website. I took Daniel having a translator in 'Fragile Balance', and his comment in 'The Scourge' to mean his Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) isn't too fluent; feel free to disagree

Beta: Beta'd by [info]lady_anemone

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.


"If you've got a better idea, I'm all ears and then some, and I can't speak for you, but I'd like to get back to Earth before either we're killed in the galaxy-wide war about to start in this timeline, or Earth is destroyed in the galaxy-wide war already raging in our timeline. The only way to do *that* is to get back to the one planet with a stargate, and I'm not seeing a lot of people offering to take us there for the pittance we actually have, so unless you've got another suggestion, I say we pay the nice people with the transport ship and get off this rock."

Daniel's decided that he prefers Mitchell mostly zoned out on the medicine Sam got hold of for him. It's a lot less stressful than his oddly chosen moments of coherence, even if they do prove he's slowly recovering; he doesn't want to know how Mitchell managed to get space flu in the two months they've been stranded.

"I didn't say I had a better idea," he says calmly. "That doesn't mean this isn't a bad one though." He wants to point out that he and Sam between them have twenty years gate team experience, to Mitchell's just over two, and that Sam's making the face she makes when she's being too polite to tell someone their plan is stupid, even if they're sick and probably won't remember her doing it. Unfortunately, he knows Sam won't like it if he says this, so he keeps his mouth shut. It's got nothing to do with not wanting to make Mitchell feel worse.

"And we've always had such stellar plans in the past," Mitchell says, glaring. Daniel wants to glare back, but doesn't, with Mitchell leaning heavily on Sam just to stand still and pass as healthy.

"Okay, guys –" Sam looks at something behind the two of them and sighs. "Look, I know it's not the safest plan ever, but Cam's right, we don't have anything better, and we do have to get back there. It's the only planet with a stargate."

"Fine," Daniel says with a sigh. He never thought he'd hear himself think this, but he wishes Vala were here. The one time her ability to steal anything would have come in useful, and they left her behind. Sam picked out the ship, saying it was probably more reliable than it looked, and even if it wasn't, it wasn't like they could afford passage on anything better looking; they'd made a good faith effort to find something and failed. Vala would have stolen a ship in the time it took the three of them to distract the captain. Next time, she's getting put in a disguise if they're visiting a planet where she's wanted for something illegal, no matter what Landry says. "Fine."

Someone clears their throat behind them. "You folks have a mind to join us still?" It's the captain, one hand near his gun, looking at them with blank eyes. "Only we're not inclined to hang around much longer, so if you're not coming, tell me now and we can get going."

"No, we're coming," Sam says. She fishes a handful of notes from her pocket – pretty much the last of what they got selling the three P-90s when it became obvious that they wouldn't be going home any time soon. "Room and board, from here to Xiang-nin."

The captain nods and pockets the notes. "Glad to have you on board. I'm Captain Reynolds, and this is Serenity."

She doesn't look all that serene right now: the girl who convinced them to join the ship is running round the cargo bay with another girl, both of them in boots that thump on the metal floor. There's a man and a woman shoving a heavily-laden trolley up the ramp, the man swearing, another man standing at the top, watching him nervously. The woman looks at both of them as though she'd like to tell them all to shut up. Daniel's not sure he wouldn't do the same in her place.

Reynolds' eyes sweep over the whole scene and he straightens his shoulders a bit. "Right then. You got any luggage needs stowing?" He waits for them to shake their heads. "Come on then. Kaylee will show you your rooms – Kaylee! How about you stop that blessed noise and show our paying passengers their beds so we can get moving before we lose this job too."

"Sorry, Captain." The girl – Kaylee – bounces up to him, kisses him on the cheek and beckons to the three of them. "Come on. Don't mind him, he's just grouchy."

"Good thing I've got you to make up for it, then," Reynolds says, and ruffles her hair. Kaylee bats him away, still grinning, and Daniel thinks of Vala again. Maybe it's the pigtails.

"Yep," she says cheerfully, and beckons them again. "It's this way."

Another girl follows them through the ship, silent and light-footed, graceful, and Daniel feels her calm presence behind him all the way to his cabin, just like Teal'c would be.


"Change to have passengers again," Zoë says when Mal turns on the auto-pilot and goes into the kitchen to steal some of Inara's tea.

"Yep," Mal says. He waves a mug at Zoë and adds more tea leaves to the pot when she nods. "Hope they're less trouble than the last lot." Not that he minds Simon and River so much, now, but things could've been smoother than they were.

"Could be Alliance." She doesn't even sound convinced by what she's saying.

"Not sure Alliance spies have got that bad lately." He pours tea into both mugs carefully. "Or that interested in us."

"Plenty of people know it was River that found Miranda," Zoë says, accepting her mug and holding it in both hands. She does that a lot lately, and Kaylee's trying to figure out how to warm her room a bit more. "Wouldn't take much for the Alliance to decide to come after her again."

Mal's thought about that, even before Simon came and asked if they should leave the ship. He's pretty sure he would've said no, even if he hadn't thought Kaylee might go with them. "Wouldn't do them much good, if it got out," he says. "Alliance aren't exactly in a strong position right now."

"Alliance kept Miranda secret for decades," Zoë says. "River's school too."

"It aint going to happen," Mal says firmly. "Specially not cos of those three passengers. Doubt we'll even see them, stuck nursing the sick one." The one they think he hasn't noticed has common flu, after twenty years traveling the 'verse.

Zoëë lapses into silence, drinking her tea. Mal likes this about her, that she understands what's going on without him having to explain; he spent all afternoon arguing with Jayne about why they weren't taking on any big jobs, or looking to join the war that looks like it's going to break out any day now, and he's got no urge to do it again.

"Plus, they're paying nearly twice what most folks would to get to Xiang-nin," he says. Unfortunately, just because she doesn't ask, doesn't mean that he doesn't feel like he has to convince her he's made the right decision.

"Not saying they don't have merit, sir," Zoë says mildly. "Just that maybe it's not a good idea to have strangers on the ship right now. We don't even know where they're from."

They had, at that, been vague when Kaylee asked them over dinner, only saying that they needed to get back to Xiang-nin as a step to going home, the woman – Mal still hasn't caught their names – nudging her sick friend when he started muttering. Mal might be tempted to ask if they want a ride all the way, but Xiang-nin's a stopping post for ships out to the very edge of the 'verse, nearly into Reaver territory, and there's no-one on Serenity with a notion to go there again soon. "They seem like quiet folk. Don't see there being any problems."

"Believe that's what you said last time, sir," Zoë says, and Mal knows she's not talking about when they took on Simon and River and Shepherd Book, but about Miranda. He can't think of anything going worse than that, even if he never thought they'd end up almost tipping the 'verse into another war against the Alliance. They don't talk about this, when every day he thinks Zoë might just walk off Serenity and never come back. He knows he'd want to, in her place, and every day, he's grateful she doesn't.

"Gotta be right one of these times, then," he says, as cheerful as he can manage.

"If you say so, sir," Zoë says dryly, and goes off to bed.


They're allowed, Kaylee explained on the way to their rooms, in the kitchen and their rooms, or down to the cargo bay with one of the crew. Daniel would give just about anything for something to read, but the one news-sheet he finds in the kitchen is in Mandarin, which he's always struggled with. He works his way through it anyway, missing most of the nuances, and wishes he hadn't bothered. He's used to the ships on Earth, where everyone's allowed to wander pretty much where they like, and there's always someone to talk to.

The first couple of days on the ship, he runs into various members of the crew in the kitchen and at dinner, but, with the exception of Kaylee, who has a lot to say about Serenity that he thinks Sam would be more interested in, they're a closed-mouthed group. They'd make excellent additions to the SGC: Daniel's convinced they're all hiding something, but he's got no idea what, which mostly just makes him more curious.

When he says this to Sam, she nods wearily. She walked along the lines of ships at the dock when they decided they'd have to pay for passage on one of them if they wanted to get home, Mitchell following her, muttering about how different the ships were from Earth ships, how none of them looked like they'd even be able to take off, never mind move in space, English and Mandarin flowing weirdly round them. She picked out Serenity, eventually, and then drew Daniel aside to suggest that maybe it wouldn't be a good idea to advertise that they were armed. Daniel's worked with her for long enough to hear what she doesn't say, so he keeps his side-arm tucked in the waist of his pants when he's moving round the ship.

He generally ends up in Sam's room, Mitchell leaning against the wall, still pale but in another coherent period. This time, they're playing cards, but it's no game Daniel recognizes and they pack it away before he gets a really good look at it.

"Why don't they have hyper-drives?" Mitchell asks. "I mean, if this is the future of our galaxy ..."

"I never said that," Sam corrects, then, when Mitchell looks at her doubtfully, adds, "I said that was one possibility."

"The most likely possibility," Mitchell says and Sam nods, conceding.

"Maybe they lost the technology," Sam says, frowning. "I mean, we know nothing about – about anything, here, other than that Earth's dead. That could have happened for any number of reasons."

She looks uncomfortable with the thought, and Daniel doesn't blame her. If this really is the future of the galaxy, it's like they've gone backwards. Sam thinks Xiang-nin is the future version of P3X-842 that they were supposed to be visiting, and it was crawling with military security who had them transported for not having the right ID. P3X, as Vala tells it, is a peaceful farming planet, and not even in the way Pegasus' planets are peaceful farming planets, right up until they whip out the machine guns. Plus, no hyper-drives, no evidence of any races but humans, no Ori, no stargates that Sam's temporal field detector can pick up, other than on Xiang-nin...

It's fascinating to speculate, but frustrating as well, that he can't do more than this. The planet they just left didn't even have any brick buildings; if it's in any way indicative of the rest of the planets, Daniel won't even be able to find a library, never mind get into one.

'And we're going back to Earth,' he reminds himself firmly. Assuming they don't get arrested again while Sam makes her adjustments to the DHD, so it dials their Earth, not the barren one the human race abandoned.

"You still with us, Jackson?" Mitchell asks, poking him with his sock-clad foot.

"Yeah, just..." He shrugs and Mitchell nods like he understands. He probably does; Daniel doubts any of their thoughts are that different right now. "Wondering how Teal'c is."

"Probably planning all the ways to make it completely clear that we shouldn't ever go off-world without him again," Mitchell says dryly.

Sam laughs. "And making Dr Lee nervous," she adds, and Daniel thinks of Lee's theory that Mitchell and Sam had been shrunk when they'd slipped onto another plane. He's relieved they're not relying on Lee for rescue. "Teal'c would have a point though – there's no reason this couldn't have waited till he was back from the Jaffa. He was only supposed to be gone for another couple of days."

"And have all four of us stuck here?" Mitchell asks. "Like that'd have been any better."


Mal's got used to finding Zoë in the kitchen when he switches Serenity to auto-pilot for the night. She never comes up to the bridge any more, not even in a crisis, offering advice from the bottom of the steps instead.

It's not Zoë, though, who moves suddenly in the dim light, sending his hand to his holster before he thinks about it.

"It's just me," a male voice offers. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I thought everyone was in bed."

It's Daniel Jackson, nursing a half-empty mug at their table.

"Thought the same myself," Mal offers, turning the heat on to make tea. They're not picking Inara up from Persephone for another three weeks, some wedding that apparently needs a month and a half of parties, and she's booked for every single one, so he's got plenty of time to replace the tea, assuming nothing goes wrong with the pickup on Xiang-nin. If she doesn't want them to drink it, she shouldn't leave it in a communal kitchen anyhow.

They had passengers, sometimes, before they picked up River and Simon, but that was years ago, and even back then, he didn't talk to them. Unfortunately, he's had years of exposure to Kaylee since then, and he can hear her voice telling him, "they've all got stories." Not that he wants to hear this doctor's story, but Zoë's right, there's something not right about the three of them, and it's been a good couple of months since anyone tried to shoot up his ship, getting on for being a record.

"Everything all right for you?" he asks, sitting down opposite Daniel, who looks up like he's been caught in his thoughts.

"Yes. Thank you." He sips his tea and smiles, briefly. "Do you get a lot of passengers?"

"Some," Mal says cautiously. He'll never hear the end of it if they really are Alliance spies. "More lately."

"Because of the dissent?" Daniel asks. "People going home?"

"Suppose." Mal drinks his tea, looking down. Everyone knows about what happened after Miranda, the broadcasts damning the Alliance and asking if it would've been better if the Independents had won the war. People aren't going home: they're fleeing before the fighting starts, or getting to somewhere they can join up when it does. Serenity's one of the few ships just trying to stay out of the way, because they've already fought this war, and Mal's not eager to do it again. "That what you're doing?"

"Mm. Hopefully," Daniel says, and drinks his own tea. "You must see a lot of worlds, being a passenger carrier."

"We see our fair share," Mal says. "Mostly the border planets, unless our Companion's with us."

"He's not now?" Daniel asks, and Mal's pretty sure his frown does show this time.

"You got some odd traditions where you come from," he says. He's met a couple of male Companions in his time, but he remembers them *because* they were men, the only male Companions he's ever met. That, and what happened when he persuaded one of them to waive his fee for the night...

"I'm sure we do," Daniel says, with another quick smile, but Mal thinks he doesn't know what he's talking about. Makes him more nervous than if Daniel was an Alliance spy.

"How's your friend?" he asks.

"Better," Daniel says. "Thank you for sending the doctor to look at him."

Mal waves the thanks away. River's doing better since Miranda, and no-one's got so much as a paper-cut in weeks. Simon's getting bored, and common flu's hardly interesting, but it keeps Mal from having to find their doctor draped over their mechanic too often. "Medicine he's taking's as good as anything we've got."

"Thank you anyway," Daniel says, and they finish their tea in silence.


Sam's hunched over a sheet of paper when Daniel ducks into her room. She looks up at the door opening, and her glare lingers for a minute. "Problem?"

She shakes her head, still looking frustrated. "Not exactly. Just – this would be easier if I was sure where we were."

"And if we're not in the future of our galaxy?" Daniel asks. He's not at all sure he wants to hear the answer.

Sam shrugs helplessly. "It depends where we actually are. And how we ended up here – I didn't have a lot of time to investigate before we got picked up." She looks down at her paper again and crosses something out. "On the other hand, if I'm wrong there's a fairly good chance that we'll end up dead."

"Not much point worrying about it then," Daniel says, and she laughs. "Mitchell fending for himself?"

"Sleeping," Sam says, her laughter trailing off into an affectionate smile that Daniel hasn't gotten used to yet. He knows the two of them have been friends for a long time, but Mitchell still feels like the new guy to him, even after two years.

"You don't have to stay with him," he says.

"Someone has to," Sam points out. "I don't think the captain would take too well to Cam wandering round the ship looking for Teal'c."

Daniel nods ruefully. He has no idea why, but Mitchell's gradually lessening incoherent periods tend to lead to him looking for Teal'c and demanding to know where Daniel's hidden him. Mitchell claims not to remember this when he's with it again, and Daniel's not going to ask. "Still. I can keep an eye on him."

"I know. It's fine," Sam says, and pats his knee before looking back at her equations again. "I can work on this while he's asleep. Go on," she adds, waving him out of the room. "Come and get me for lunch, OK?"

Daniel ends up back in the kitchen again, investigating the cans left on the counter, practising his Mandarin, because he still hasn't found anything to read on the ship. There must be something, because even if the crew don't seem the types to relax with anything heavy, they're obviously not stupid if they can keep what even Daniel can tell is an ill-repaired ship in the air.

When he turns round, River is in the doorway, completely still and watching him with her head tilted to one side.

Daniel doesn't know what to make of River – she's related to Simon, the doctor, that much is clear from the protective way he is with her, though no-one says so; she helps Mal fly the ship, so she isn't around much during the day, other than at meal times. Even then, she could be two different people, sometimes teasing Jayne to make the crew laugh, sometimes almost silent and cryptic. He assumes there's something wrong with her, but, like everything else on the ship, nobody says anything about it.

"Find any secrets?" River asks, looking behind Daniel to the open cupboard door.

"Just food labels," Daniel says. "I wouldn't think they'd be very interesting secrets."

"No such thing as a boring secret," River says. She takes a step into the room, her bare feet silent. "Only secrets she doesn't want to hear."

Daniel blinks at her, wondering if he's supposed to know who 'she' is. "I hope she knows people who are good at not telling their secrets then," he says, and River smiles, sweet and private.

"She does," she assures Daniel, stepping, toes pointed, across to him. "She still knows." She leans in close to Daniel, and for a moment, he thinks she's going to kiss him, until she reaches into the cupboard behind him for a packet of tea. "Like you. Not from around here, are you, but she won't tell."

River, Daniel realizes. She's talking about herself. "No, we're not from this part of the – verse," he says calmly. "Xiang-nin's on our way home though."

River tilts her head again, her eyes intent on Daniel. "That's what you tell everyone," she says, holding his gaze until he has to look away. As soon as he does, she moves round him, turning on the heat for water, and arranging two cups. "Doesn't make it true, though."

"I suppose you could say that," Daniel agrees. "But it can still be true, even if saying it doesn't make it true."

River looks at him from the corner of her eye, just like a teenager faced with an idiot adult. She doesn't even need to say anything, and Daniel wants to apologize for the slight, for forgetting that, just because she's hard to understand, she isn't stupid.

She finishes making her two cups of tea in silence, and drifts towards the door again. She's nearly through when she turns back and looks straight at Daniel. "Simon has books in English. He won't lend them to most people, but you should ask him."

Daniel says, "thank you," to an empty room.


Kaylee finds him down in the cargo bay, reorganizing their limited stores, because River practically threw him off the bridge and he gets nervous when she's at the controls without someone there, even knowing there's nothing anywhere near enough for her to hit.

The look on Kaylee's face is the kind of look that means he's going to end up taking a job that will end badly in order to pay for whatever they're going to need to get back in the sky again. Or explaining to Jayne why he's not getting a cut of the transport from Xiang-nin.

"What's up?" he asks, pushing the box away again and straightening up.

Kaylee's mouth twists. "We need to go shopping on Xiang-nin," she says.

"You want to tell me why? I'm not exactly keen on spending more time there than to pick up the cargo." Not that there's anything wrong with Xiang-nin, but they're a mite too keen on checking ID and there's no-one on Serenity who wants their ID looked at too close.

Kaylee tilts her head towards the engine room.

"See?" she asks when they get there, crouching down and pulling a box attached to a nest of wires from the depths of the engine.

"What am I looking at?" Mal asks.

"See the red light?" Kaylee asks, pointing, and waits for Mal to nod. "Means it's running out of power."

"It's not drawing power from the engine?" Mal asks. He's not even sure what the box does, but Kaylee seems to think he knows and if it's not important, he's got no problem with letting her think he does, for once.

She frowns at him anyway. "Uh-uh. Runs off a battery inside here." She lifts one edge of the box away, showing a large silver power cell. "We need a new one."

"How badly?"

Kaylee turns to him, her mouth open, but before she can say anything, someone walks into him, a boot in the base of his spine, and he pitches forward against the engine. "Ta ma de!" Mal exclaims, and a male voice says, "Sorry, sorry. I didn't see you –"

Kaylee's still got her hands full with the mysterious box, so Daniel bends down to help him back to his feet, one hand under his arm. Mal's back twinges when he straightens up, and he reaches out a hand to balance himself, catching Daniel's hip.

He moves away fast, but not fast enough for Mal not to feel the pistol tucked in his pants, covered by his loose t-shirt.

"Are you all right?" Daniel asks, staring at him with concern. He's got one of Simon's precious English books in one hand, still open.

"I'm fine," Mal says, rubbing at the base of his spine where he can already feel a bruise starting. "Watch where you're going next time."

"Sorry," Daniel says again. He looks from Mal to Kaylee to the engine, then nods and leaves.

"You all right, captain?" Kaylee asks.

"I'm fine," Mal says again, and bends down to look at their engine again, instead of glaring after Daniel.


They've been on the ship a week and a half, the same to go, and Daniel's really starting to miss hyper-drive technology and stargates, either of which would have this journey over in hours. Mitchell's over his space flu and getting stir crazy, which throws Daniel a little: he doesn't remember Mitchell being so antsy when they were on the Daedalus going to Pegasus, but then he had plenty of other pilots to talk to.

Mal shuts him down fast when he starts asking questions about the ship and what she's like to fly.

Sam spends a lot of time staring at her calculations and looking worried, and most of the rest of her time in the engine room, with Kaylee explaining how things work.

Daniel tries chatting to Jayne, who's mostly monosyllabic in response, or to Zoë, who answers politely and doesn't actually say anything of consequence; Simon says even less than Zoë does, and Daniel struggles to make sense of most of what River says, suspects she's laughing at him when he pretends. In the end, he gives up, and starts putting himself in the kitchen when he knows Mal will be there at the end of the day.

"You're not from these parts, are you?" Mal asks one evening, stirring his tea and not looking at Daniel. He does this sometimes, and it's always the same kinds of questions, like he's testing Daniel for something. He has no idea what it is, whether his answers are right or not.

"Nope," Daniel says. "Just stopping at Xiang-nin on our way home."

"Live out on the border?"

"Yep," Daniel says, like he does every time Mal asks the question. It's one of his favorites. "I don't suppose you fly out there much?"

"Some," Mal says. He looks up then, his expression twisted with something like regret before he shakes it off, and Daniel thinks, not for the first time, that he's really an attractive man when he's not glaring, which he seems to do a lot. "Not so much lately." There's a pause and Daniel hopes he's going to let the subject go. "Got someone at home to go back to?"

Daniel blinks, surprised, and wonders for a moment if his thoughts showed on his face. "Not really," he says, thinking of Teal'c and Vala, left behind to wonder where they are. He suspects this isn't what Mal means.


"Yes," Daniel says firmly. This is an easier question to deal with. "They're expecting us back soon."

"Don't worry." Mal drains the last of his tea and stands up. "We won't make you late."


They haven't played anything in the cargo bay in months: too busy with Miranda for a while, and then it seemed wrong, without Wash and Shepherd Book. It's Kaylee who suggests it though, all wide eyes and please, Captain, with River behind her, and he's found he can't say no to one of them, never mind two, which is how he ends up switching the auto-pilot on and following them along to the kitchen, positively crowded with Simon, Jayne and Daniel sitting at the table, mostly ignoring each other.

"Please," Kaylee's saying, leaning on Simon's shoulder and looking at him beseechingly. "We'll have odd numbers without you."

"I'm not playing," Jayne says, sounding like it's not the first time he's said it. "Got things to do."

"What things?" Kaylee demands, pushing away from Simon to glare at him. "There's another week before we get to Xiang-nin, come and play."

"I'm busy, I said," Jayne grumbles. "Stop bothering me." He takes his soup bowl and leaves, even though Mal's told him not to take stuff out of the kitchen, it always gets lost.

"Spoil sport," Kaylee mutters after him, then turns back to Simon.

"No," Simon says, before she can ask. "Now you'll have odd numbers with me; the four of you play."

"Not right," River says, then, "has to be six. Four's not enough."

"River ..." Simon says warningly, but Kaylee interrupts him, turning to Daniel. "Why don't you play?"

"Me?" Daniel asks, finally looking up from Simon's book. "I don't think I know the rules."

"Ain't no rules," Mal tells him, and holds his eye when he looks over. "Kaylee's right – no reason for the passengers not to join in."

"Shiny!" Kaylee says. She pulls Simon up before he can object again, and both Mal and Daniel laugh at his betrayed expression.

River insists on being on Kaylee's team and refuses to play with Simon – he plays like a girl. Thank you, mei-mei – so Daniel offers to join them. He's actually not bad, once he gets used to Kaylee's tendency to jump on his shoulders to shoot for the hoop, and he's fast and strong, like he's played before, blocking Mal's team while River runs rings round them all, light-footed as always.

They've been playing for maybe half an hour when Daniel gets the ball again; River's matching Zoë's feints like her mirror, and Kaylee's climbing all over Simon, so Mal runs the length of the cargo bay after Daniel. He's already launching himself at the hoop when Mal body-checks him, sending them both to the floor, Daniel breaking his fall with a gasp as they hit the metal deck.

The ball bounces away somewhere, but Mal barely notices. His hands are on Daniel's waist, holding him in place, and Daniel's looking up at him, breathless. And hard.

Mal's never been so grateful to hear the blare of the proximity alarm in his life, but his pants are uncomfortably tight as he jogs through the ship, and he thinks, "huh," as he watches a chunk of space debris float past.


Daniel's not surprised that he doesn't see Mal for the next couple of nights, even when he lingers in the kitchen. He's not sure why he does it: Mal obviously doesn't trust any of them, possibly Daniel least of all, and Daniel's not really given to sex with mostly-strangers, especially mostly-strangers he's not likely to see again. Mal's not bad-looking, but he's convinced his erection was more exertion and proximity than particularly strong attraction.

None of that stops him sitting up, stirring his tea until it goes cold and he's wishing for coffee just to keep him awake.

Mal finally looks him in the eye over breakfast, three days after the game, and says, "We'll be on Xiang-nin tomorrow evening, all goes well. You folks looking forward to going home?"

"Definitely," Mitchell says with deep relief, and Sam chimes in with something agreeable, but Mal doesn't look away until Daniel nods, like he's seen an answer to some question he wasn't asking out loud.

Daniel's even less surprised when Mal walks into the kitchen that evening and stands on the other side of the table, instead of going to the stove to make tea. "You planning on sitting there all night?" he asks.

"No," Daniel says, draining the last bitter drops of his tea. "Just finishing my tea." He turns to leave the kitchen, wondering if Mal will follow, and Mal says, "My bunk's this way."


When Mal grabs Daniel's hips to shove him against the wall and kiss him, hard, there's nothing under his hands but the slippery material of his pants and the shape of the bone underneath. Daniel groans into the kiss and pushes his tongue into Mal's mouth, not any kind of soft or slow like Mal might have expected, if he'd thought about it.

Daniel's hands fumble awkwardly with Mal's suspenders and buttons as Mal strips him efficiently. He's tanned under his clothes, not like Mal, who's pale from too much time in the black, skin smooth under Mal's fingers as he runs his hands over Daniel's muscles, twisting one nipple to make him gasp. Daniel finds every one of Mal's scars as he undresses him, lingering on each one until Mal hisses and pushes his hand down to the buttons on his pants.

Daniel palms his erection, squeezes, and Mal fumbles the button on Daniel's pants, poking him in the stomach and making him huff out a laugh. "Smooth," Mal mutters to himself, and pushes Daniels pants down, leaning in to kiss him again, sloppy and uncoordinated.

Daniel groans, and shoves Mal's pants away, pressing closer so their dicks rub together. Mal breaks the kiss, his hands on Daniel's shoulders. "You want to –" He nods back at the bed and Daniel nods.

Mal takes a step back, and realizes he's still wearing his boots when he trips over his pants and nearly falls, catching himself at the last moment. "Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng," he curses. He's not usually this clumsy.

Daniel shuffles over to the bed and removes his boots, then the last of his clothes, and when he looks up at Mal in invitation, Mal's mouth goes dry so fast he nearly forgets about his boots all over again. He's about ready to slice through the laces when he finally gets them off, but Daniel's just looking at him, still hard, his expression faintly amused.

That, Mal thinks, won't do at all. He pushes Daniel back onto the bed, gets one hand round his dick and squeezes hard, watching Daniel's face go blank as he thrusts up. "Like that?"
Mal asks, sliding his hand up Daniel's dick. He holds himself up on his hands and knees, not touching. "That what you like?"

Daniel groans, his hands fisted in the sheets by his hip, and Mal's reminded again of the gun, that he doesn't trust this person as far as he can throw him. "Or you want to get humped?"

Daniel opens his eyes to blink at him, agreement in his eyes, and drops his head back, exposing his neck for Mal to reach in and bite him, just hard enough to leave a mark.

He has to break away eventually, get up and walk across the room to find condoms and lube in the tiny cabinet with his razor and toothbrush, not thinking about what this says about his sex life. It's been a long while since he wanted anyone enough to bring them back on board.
Daniel's stroking his own dick gently when Mal turns around, his eyes intent on Mal. "You couldn't wait?" Mal asks.

"Obviously not," Daniel says, but he lifts his hand away when Mal drops the lube on the bed, and starts fondling Mal's ass instead.

It's been longer than Mal really wants to remember since he did this with another man – maybe the Companion on Deran – but it's still familiar, pushing into Daniel over and over as he moves restlessly, pressing back into Mal's thrusts and forward into the hand Mal wraps round his dick, until he comes with a sharp shudder, clenching so tight round Mal it's more like pain, but Mal barely notices, pressing into him relentlessly until his own orgasm rocks through him.

Daniel groans when Mal pulls out of him and gets up to dispose of the condom. "Thanks," he mutters, and it's the first thing he's said since they started.

Mal shrugs. He never knows what to say after. He wants to tell Daniel to go back to his room – he can't shake the feeling that he was expecting to get something else out of this, when he invited Daniel to his bunk, or that he hasn't got it, even if he doesn't know what it was – but Daniel's eyes are closing and Mal can't quite bring himself to do it.

He's not getting back into that bed though; he's never been the cuddling type, and he's got no intention of starting with Daniel. He pulls on clean underwear instead, and starts picking his clothes up from the floor.


They land with the sunset, and Zoë opens the hatch to the same dock they left nearly three months ago. It's a lot quieter than it was then, to Daniel's relief. It's not that they couldn't get through the crowds without getting picked up and deported again, but they don't exactly blend in, and it's a good hour and a half's walk to the stargate without having to avoid the police as well.

"You folks going to be all right from here?" Zoë asks.

"We'll be fine," Mitchell assures her with a smile that has no effect. "Find a place to stay in town and get a transport out in the morning." He sounds pretty convincing when he says it.

"More than welcome to stay on the ship for the night," Zoë says.

Daniel keeps quiet, watching Kaylee coming down the steps into the cargo bay with a bag over her shoulder, turning back to say something to Simon on the upper deck. He shakes his head and blows her a kiss, making her smile.

"No, thanks," Sam says smoothly. "We've got a few things to pick up in town anyway."

"But thank you for the offer," Mitchell says. He catches Daniel's eye when Daniel makes the mistake of turning back to the conversation and raises an eyebrow. Daniel looks back at him blankly until Mitchell frowns and looks away.

"You going into town?" Kaylee asks as she joins them.

Sam nods. "Got to find somewhere to stay for the night. You're going as well?"

"Yep. Got to pick up some batteries, maybe see if we can find some passengers for the journey back. Jayne's meant to be –" She breaks off and turns back into the ship. "Jayne! You coming, or you too busy with 'stuff' again?"

Daniel rubs at his ear without thinking about it – she really can shout.

"I'm coming, don't get your panties in a twist," Jayne grumbles, stamping through another door, fastening his jacket.

"I'm not sure I like you talking about my girlfriend's underwear," Simon says dryly from on the walkway, and Kaylee blows him a kiss as Jayne makes a disturbed face.

"Right," Zoë says firmly. "That everyone for this little trip?" She waits for Kaylee to nod. "Back here by midnight if you're not staying in town, hear?"

"We will be," Kaylee promises, then elbows Jayne, who frowns. "Right?"

"Midnight, sure," Jayne agrees.

"Goodbye, then." Zoë shakes hands with the three of them, her grip strong and sure. "Pleasure having you on board."

Kaylee frowns. "Is the captain not coming to say goodbye as well?"

"Guess not," Zoë says smoothly. Daniel's looking at her when she says it, but he's still not sure whether he imagines the frustration that flickers in her eyes for a second. "Just me."

"No wonder we hardly ever have passengers," Kaylee grumbles, already stepping off the ship.

"More trouble than they're worth anyway," Jayne says, following her.

"Ready?" Mitchell asks. He shakes Zoë's hand again. "Thanks for a smooth journey."

Daniel's the last to leave the ship, so he's the only one who can hear it when Zoë leans in close to him and says, "Our captain can be a bit of an idiot. It's nothing personal."

"Sure," he says, and steps back onto P3X-842.

He doesn't care anyway; they're going home.

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