Summary: Simon doesn’t think he’s as crazy as everyone else on this boat, but maybe he’s wrong after all. Set pre-Serenity.
Spoilers/Timeline: Set Pre-Serenity
Disclaimer: I'm making no profit from this, sadly! Fanfiction writing for money would be a great job.
Author's Note: Written for profcricket in the unexpected_task ficathon. Thanks to srichard for a great beta!
One night Simon finds Jayne cleaning his guns with his boots propped up on the table in the kitchen. If the Captain were there he’d probably tell Jayne to put his feet down, but Simon doesn’t do that. He pauses for a moment and watches Jayne’s hands slide over the gun, back and forth in a gesture Simon almost finds obscene. Ridiculous, he’s only just cleaning it, that’s just polish. Jayne’s eyes are dark with something that looks like mockery.
“You ever seen one of these, doc?” Jayne asks, his tone clearly taunting.
Simon’s cutting an apple with a knife into perfect even sections with surgical precision. He hesitates for a just moment before he holds up the knife. The dull gleam of it in the muted kitchen light is like a challenge, a warning. “You ever seen one of these?”
Flash of memory; River with the knife in her small hand, her pretty face twisted into something dark and unrecognizable. It’s a bad memory on most nights, when he lies in his bunk and remembers how she used to be, his sister. He’s annoyed enough at Jayne that he doesn’t mind bringing it out, but Simon’ll pay for it later when he’s alone in his bunk.
Jayne’s boots hit the floor and he stands up, quick like a fox. Simon hears a click but doesn’t look up, concentrating instead on his apple. The crisp scent of it fills the air and he inhales deeply, as it tingles at the edges of his memory.
Family camping trip, River eating her apple in quick furious bites, laughing at the way he liked to cut his up first before he ate it. “You eat that like a girl, Simon.”
“Yeah. Seen ‘em before. Used one, too. Better’n your sister did,” Jayne drawls, and the memory of peaceful pastoral scenes and the cool shade of pine trees in the summer fades away, until nothing is left but the hum of the ship and Jayne’s mocking voice.
Simon looks up to find Jayne standing right next to him, one large hand braced on the counter with fingers splayed. Jayne’s body is coiled tight, spring-like, and for an absurd moment Simon wants to shove him just to see what he’d do.
Jayne’s guns are still on the table, but that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. Simon feels dangerous, though, and he wonders what they’d do if he started a brawl. A proper one, too, where chairs were swung and bottles were broken in shards. The sort of brawl that usually led to Simon picking glass of some unfortunate man’s skull.
Never believe it of him, that’s what they’d do. Not the doc, the pretty boy with the stick up his pigu. He’s not deaf; he knows what they say about him in low whispers, as if war is the only thing that will bring scars and make a man mean. They don’t know what he’s done, what he will do. How can they? Their war is fought and they lost, but at least it’s over.
His has just begun.
“It seems to me that it takes more skill to slice a man and leave him alive than it does to kill him,” Simon answers blandly, forcing himself to calm down. He takes an apple slice between his fingers and eats it slowly, savoring the taste of something sharp and fresh, something sweet. “Though maybe I’m biased.” He chews slowly, then swallows. “Do you know what that word means? It means that I think that because I have a reason to find surgery more skillful than brutality—”
There’s a flash of silver-white and Simon sees the knife arc downwards, the knife he forgot Jayne had in his boot. Jayne grins fiercely at him, the curve of his mouth just as sharp as the blade. Simon remembers what River says about him, the rough mercenary with the mistrustful eyes.
He likes weapons, Simon, because he is one. Even if he doesn’t have a gun, he could still be a weapon.
Simon looks down to see the knife edge buried in the white flesh of one of the apple slices. Jayne raises the knife and captures the fruit without a moment’s hesitation. Simon’s transfixed by the sight of Jayne eating the fruit, though he couldn’t say why and doesn’t want to reason it out.
He could, though, if he wanted. Simon’s always been good with reason. He rakes a hand through his hair and finds a momentary lull in the pain, which means he’s likely just as insane as everyone else on this gorram boat.
“There’s killin’, and there’s maimin’,” Jayne says with a shrug in his voice, though he’s still tense and his eyes are glittering strangely. Simon doesn’t think he’s as relaxed as he’s trying to appear , though why he would even bother is a mystery.
Simon waits for him to continue, as if Jayne is going to elucidate the difference between the two to him, Simon, who’s seen every manner of things that men like Jayne do to other men. In lieu of further explanation, however, Jayne spears another apple slice, and Simon watches as the succulent, sweet fruit is snapped in half by strong, white teeth.
* * *
The captain’s latest mission is an unqualified disaster, though it seems as if only Simon, who counts it as such since there’s bleeding, bullet wounds and general all-around injuries that require his services, thinks so.
Mal waves his hand airily and disagrees with him, as he usually does, as if he has to just because he’s Mal. “Ain’t a failure, doc, can’t see why you’d think that. Got us a lot of platinum outta that job. Gonna pay for those medical supplies you’re always whinin’ about needin’,” he reminds him, hoping off the table and buttoning up his shirt. Mal is lucky yet again; the bullet barely grazed his shoulder.
“I am in constant need of medical supplies, Captain, because you keep getting the crew shot up,” Simon protests, trying to keep the censure from his voice and succeeding only slightly.
Mal gives a long-suffering sigh, the sort of noise he usually makes around Simon and Jayne, which doesn’t make Simon very pleased. “Right. Think of it as job security.” Mal pats him on the shoulder, but a bit too hard, as if Mal would rather smack him. Simon figures he probably would. Sometimes the feeling is mutual, though, so he doesn’t say anything.
“I care about the welfare of everyone on this ship—“ Simon begins tightly, but Mal’s expression of utter disbelief stops him cold so he asks instead, “Who else got hurt?”
“Me,” a rough voice says from the doorway, and Simon looks over to see Jayne standing there, hand pressed his side and mouth tight with suppressed pain. “Ain’t bad, but Cap’n’ says I need doctorin’ up, so here I am.”
“Have fun with that,” Mal says smugly, and Simon thinks about how nice it would be to wrap some surgical tape around Mal’s face to cover up that gorram smile of his, the arrogant bastard.
“On the table,” Simon orders, slightly surprised when Jayne does so without a single word of protest. Maybe he was hurt worse than he’s letting on to Mal, though Jayne doesn’t seem the type to do something like that. “Where are you hurt?”
Jayne lifts his arm and lightly touches his side; his features are momentarily shadowed by pain and it’s a strange look on a man who’s normal expression is either belligerent or sardonic or occasionally both. “Knife wound. Ain’t even a good one at that, leastaways not one that could kill me. Where was they aimin’, anyhow, to knife a man in the side?”
“For your appendix?” Simon answers drolly, noting the dark stain of blood on Jayne’s shirt. He’s not terribly worried; the wound is too low to be anywhere near the lung. A patch-up job at most. Simon relaxes just a little, his movements confident and full of practiced efficiency.
Jayne gives him a concerned look. “Yeah? That bad, if they get that?” He sounds momentarily worried.
Simon stares back at him with innocent eyes. “Instant death,” he intones. “You were lucky. Few men survive losing an appendix. Now take your shirt off.” He turns away to hide his smile.
“You ain’t even gonna buy me dinner first, doc?” Jayne responds, but there’s enough discomfort in both his words and his gesture to take the heat from his retort. Simon has to help him with the shirt, dislodging it carefully from the sticky mess of flesh. When it’s fully removed, Jayne tosses it negligently to the floor.
Simon opens his mouth to chastise Jayne’s manners and lack of sanitary considerations, but he doesn’t, because his attention shifts to the wound. It is jagged and sharp, cutting across the skin in an angry red welt. Simon pulls on a fresh pair of gloves and touches it gently with his fingers. He presses, just slightly, enough to gauge the depth of it. .
Jayne hisses at that, and Simon looks up at him. They stare at each other for a long moment, and Simon has no idea why his voice is so husky when he speaks. “Did that hurt?”
“No,” Jayne answers back, voice full of bravado. Part of it is false, and part of it isn’t. “Had worse.” Simon doesn’t doubt that for a minute. He sees other scars on Jayne’s body, and it’s obvious that few of them were dealt with properly. Some are silvered and fading away, others are more recent.
Simon thinks about River, wonders if her mind looks like this: a story of violence written on skin. The thought is depressing.
“I expect you have.” Simon shakes himself and turns his attention to the wound. Jayne doesn’t say a word, but he makes a lot of hissing sounds as Simon stitches it up with neat, practiced gestures. When it’s bandaged, Jayne expels a long-held breath and Simon notices how white his face has become.
“Go have a drink,” Simon says gruffly, stepping back. He is suddenly very aware of Jayne’s body, warm and solid, just in front of him. Simon concentrates very hard on the tray with his medical implements. They are covered in blood and it’s strange that the sight of them should be a comfort.
Jayne slides off the table until they are of an even height. “That doc’s orders?” His voice is very low, roughened like the whiskey Simon figures he’ll go drink when he leaves.
“Yes,” Simon mutters. “It is.” He pulls his gloves off and tosses them in the trash, flexes his fingers. He feels restless, energetic in a way he doesn’t really want to think about. He wants another apple. Or maybe some whiskey. Or maybe he wants--
“Guess I gotta do it, then,” Jayne says, but he’s not leaving, still standing shirtless in front of Simon.
Simon raises his head, and suddenly he can’t breathe. It feels like someone’s knifed him, and why is Jayne looking at him like that? Simon remembers the kitchen and the apple spears captured on the edge of Jayne’s knife, disappearing into his mouth.
“Guess you do,” Simon answers softly. He wishes Jayne would put his shirt back on, but then again, he sort of doesn’t. The restless energy rises like a tide within him and suddenly he doesn’t want to worry about it anymore.
Jayne catches him by the back of the neck and kisses him, and Simon wants to think he didn’t expect it, but that’d be a lie. His hands are on Jayne’s shoulders, fingers curling tight over muscles beneath warm skin. Jayne’s mouth is even hotter, like a furnace, and Simon hears someone moan and wonders which one of them it was.
It’s over nearly as quickly as it happened, which is both a good thing for Simon’s sanity and a bad thing for this sudden dark urge he can’t quite contain. They pull back at the same time, and Simon notices with something akin to pleasure that Jayne’s eyes are burning-black, that his face is flushed and that he looks just about as disconcerted as Simon feels.
That’s something, at least.
“Yeah. Well.” Jayne turns on his heel and leaves the room. Simon cleans everything thoroughly, just like he’s been taught, and puts everything neatly away where it belongs. His hands are shaking, but he’s smiling, just a little.
The Captain will likely have another hare-brained scheme that might get Jayne shot again. Why that’s a nice thought, Simon’s not sure. Maybe he’s just as crazy as everyone else around here, after all.