Cunning and Unbalanced

Simon's sure he'd stepped into the wrong store when he hears Jayne say, "I'm lookin' for somethin' cunning."

Carefully, he peers around the corner. Jayne is leaning against the rough counter, talking to the shopkeeper.


"Yeah." Jayne scratches along his belly, and sighs. "Folk in my line 'o work can see a gun coming a mile away, even if it's hidden behind a coat or in my boot. I want somethin' cunning, a weapon they ain't expectin'. To give me an edge."

The proprietor – snaggle-toothed, messily unshaven, and named Hank, if the sign outside the store was to be believed – takes on a pensive expression for a moment. "Hmm. I got some ideas. Price any object?"

"Nope. Just show me what you got."

Simon had walked into the store – yet another pokey shop in a dingy town, this one proclaiming metal working and knickknacks – looking for something, anything to do for a few hours. Wash and Zoe were fighting, Inara, Kaylee and River were holed up together doing things of scarily feminine proportions, and Mal was – inappropriately gleefully – occupied hovering around doors listening to Wash yell and Zoe stare.

Zoe had a disturbingly loud way of staring.

All in all, it had been enough to drive Simon and Book into the town; the Shepherd had predictably been sidetracked by tales of woe and requests for salvation.

For the first time in a long while, Simon has time to himself. He has no idea how to fill it. Watching Jayne drool over weapons seems like something – a time filler, anyway. So Simon quietly moves into a position where he can better see the counter. Leaning against the wall, he waits, watches as Hank brings out one thing after another.

"So. We got some real tiny knives." They flash silver, even in the dim light, as the proprietor waves them around. "Sharp. Ten platinum for five." He smiles, and Simon looks away. Basic dental hygiene is rare, out here. Horrifyingly rare.

But Jayne isn't impressed. "I got some of them."

The proprietor's smile dims – thankfully – the smallest amount. "Gotcha. I got some of these," he holds up star-shaped objects, "sharp as hell too."

Stepping back, Jayne crosses his arms. "Quit playin' with me."

Eyes a little wider, Hanks nods quickly, jerkily. "O.K. Sorry. Fine. I got these miniature grenades. Size of the ball of a man's thumb, pack a big explosion. Fit in your pockets and look like maybe yer just carrying rocks. Or coin."

"Yeah?" Simon can't see Jayne's face, but he can tell that Jayne's interested. It's in his voice, his body language, and when exactly did he learn to read Jayne like that?

"Sweet little beauties. Expensive, but worth it." He bends down under the counter and pulls out a small box. Opening it carefully, he pulls out a small object and hands it over.

Jayne rolls it around in a hand for a minute, inspecting it, and then asks, "How much?"

"Five plat each."

There's a pause, but Jayne says, "You got a tester?"

"For free?"

Jayne starts fingering the knife on his belt. "Course."

"Uh. Yeah. I guess I could do that. You wanna try it out back? We could –"

"In a minute. If it's any good, I'll give you four plat each. What else you got?"

Slowly, they work through Hank's arsenal, Jayne discarding one suggestion after another. Too clunky. Too big. Too cheaply made. Too volatile – "I ain't interested in blowin' my own hand off, dumbass" – or too dull. Hank seems to be bringing out the dregs of stock after hooking Jayne with the tiny grenades.

By the end of it, Jayne's looking annoyed, and Simon's feeling frustrated himself. But surprisingly, he isn't bored. It's fascinating to watch Jayne think about, try, weigh different options. He's never given much thought to the man's skills, but he obviously has them.

Finally, though, Jayne loses patience and bangs his fist down hard on the counter. "Gorram it! Don't you got nothin' else? I said cunning. Not dull. Not stupid. Not the same ruttin' go se I see all the damn time!"

"Sir, I –"

"I ain't no fancy 'sir'. Show me what else you got. Folk 'round these parts said you were the best."

"There's nothing else. Only –" and he stops, clearly uncertain if he'll set Jayne off.


"My wife. She. Ah, she makes things. Small things that look like something else."

"Like what?"

"Just. Let me get 'em." He goes through a door, and a few minutes later comes out with and ornate, shallow box. "I doubt these're what yer looking for –"

"Just show me."

Hank opens the box slowly, carefully, and Jayne looks down. There's silence, and Simon's sure that's not a good thing. He's bracing himself for Jayne to explode, bracing himself to come forward and diffuse any impending violence.

But instead, Jayne says, "Huh. You serious?"

"Mostly she makes them for the locals, but she gets calls now and then – from some of the Companion Houses. A few others who got money to throw around."


"Sometimes even," Hank lowers his voice, "assassin types."

Jayne's back straightens just the tiniest bit. "Assassins?" He said the word quietly. "For real?"

Hank's nod is the barest incline of his head. And Simon knows – he's hooked Jayne on whatever is inside the box. The next few minutes will just be about settling on the price and quantity. "They come out to these far parts to pick up stuff. Ain't nobody looking for them out here. Scary motherfuckers. Shifty-like. You know."

Reaching into the box, Jayne grunts, and maybe it's the tiniest bit suspicious. Hank seems to pick up on it too, because suddenly he's talking smoothly, carefully. "The tips are sharp, way sharper than they look. Deadly. They're real well balanced. Can throw 'em. Or cut with 'em. Hell, I even got something you can tip 'em with, knock a man flat out on his back. And they don't all gotta be flashy. We got fancy or plain. Folk see 'em, they don't pay 'em no mind."



"Don't figure I'd use 'em all the time." Jayne speaks slowly, running a hand across his head. "Save 'em. For when I really wanted to throw someone off." He pauses before saying, "Leave 'em unbalanced." It's almost like he's trying to convince himself. Like he wants to be convinced.

"That'd be real cunning. If people saw these –"

"They'd know I weren't anyone to mess with. Man who shows he has these shows he ain't afraid of nothin'."

"Nothing at all."

Jayne looks up. "Plus, they'd be distracted. 's always good. How much?"

"They come in pairs. You want the basics, they'll cost you 35 plat. You want something flashy, we're talking 45, to start."

"You gimme them two," he gestures to the bottom left of the box, "for 25, you got a deal."



Hanks steps away from the counter, arms crossed. "Well. All right. 'Cause I like you and all. I'll wrap 'em." He lifts something out of the box, but Simon can't quite see what they are. Something flashes, metal and bright, but they're wrapped in a cloth before he can make them out. "You want them tiny grenades too?"

Jayne tears his eyes away from the box, and nods. "I can try 'em out back?"

And then they're heading to the backroom, Hank carefully closing the ornate box before they go.

But he doesn't put it away. Simon knows better – he knows better than to snoop around, to get curious. It always leads to trouble, especially with this crew. But in the last few years, he's hardly been very good at keeping himself to himself. As quietly as possible, he crosses from his watching place. The cheap floors squeak underneath his shoes, but Hank and Jayne don't come back. He's opening the box as he hears a small explosion, followed by raised, excited voices, behind the store.

Quickly, he opens the box, intending to look and leave. Instead, he blinks once. And again. What he sees makes no sense.

"It doesn't compute," River would say, if she were here. He can just imagine the wonder and confusion in her voice.

"No. It doesn't." He closes the lid, then opens it again, wondering if it will change what he sees.

It doesn't. Inside are four pairs of combs. Hair combs, with tiny, sharp spines. Three pairs have bright designs of jewels along the top; the fourth is plain, silver with gold highlights. There's a space in one corner, room enough for two more.

Absently, and through the shock, Simon wonders what the pair Jayne bought look like. And then he imagines Jayne coming to dinner wearing them.

He bites on his tongue to stop the laughter that's threatening to bubble up.

" – hell, I'm gonna take as many of them things as I can –" Jayne's voice carries to the storefront, and Simon has to go. He really has to go. Closing the lid of the box, he turns and walks away, before he starts laughing and can't stop.

Stepping out into the sunshine of the street, he smiles up at the sky, and reminds himself to get off the ship more often. Especially if Jayne is going too.

Characters: Jayne, Simon
Rating: G
Summary: Jayne's looking for a cunning new weapon. This is somewhat crack-esque.

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