Turning away from the desert, and the bright, hot sun, Simon walks back inside the wreck of the shuttle. Jayne looks up at him, still nursing his injured arm. "So?"
Simon shrugs, feels the weight of the words as he speaks, "We're going to need water."
The first morning, Simon steps outside to find the shuttle coated in a light dew. It's false dawn, but as the sun rises, the sand and scrub around him almost look pretty. The dew sparkles, bringing everything to life. It must be how the sparse plants are able to survive.
The dew burns off in less than an hour.
When it's gone, the desert looks the way that Simon imagines it: lifeless. Logically, he knows it isn't true; he knows that all deserts contain some kind of life. But he can't shake the feeling. When he turns around, the charred, scarred shuttle only adds to the image. Its passengers are the exception, not the rule.
For most of the day, they stay inside. They're lucky the shuttle sustained only limited structural damage, lucky that it still provides good shelter from the sun. Even with the shuttle door open, even with the windows blown in and devoid of glass, it gets oppressively hot, and it isn't long before Simon has stripped down to his undershirt and pants. Jayne takes off his shirt altogether, grunting as it scrapes over the cut on his arm.
The heat weighs Simon down, makes him slow, enervated. Their situation is dire, he knows, but he feels disconnected from it all.
They take turns fanning Mal with a tattered plastic tablemat, one of the myriad mostly useless things they'd found in their inventory. Simon uses slow, even strokes, trying to minimize the amount of metabolic heat he generates. Jayne takes his cue.
Later, as the sun starts to set, Jayne says, "I'll go look."
Simon wants to object, wants to say it isn't a good idea to go out alone in a strange environment, but it's not as though he can leave Mal by himself. And they will need water, sooner rather than later. The shuttle supplies won't be sufficient, not for any length of time.
So, he stays behind, listens to the rhythm of Jayne's footsteps on the hard ground, heavy and even as they retreat from the shuttle. When he's gone, it's so quiet, without even the sound of expected night insects. It sounds empty, outside; inside the shuttle, it feels almost the same way.
While Jayne is gone, Mal regains consciousness briefly, his eyes focusing on Simon. Simon doubts Mal will fully understand, but he tells him anyway. "We've crashed. The comms are down, although we got out a signal as we started to fall. They'll come for us soon."
But he knows his voice sounds shallow, hollow. It's selfish to let himself speak this way. Even if Mal can't process the words, he at least might be able to process the tone.
Mal looks at him for a little while, and then his eyes flutter shut. Simon watches as his breath evens out, becomes shallow and slow. He sits there and wishes for proper equipment, not just the triage supplies in his med kit. Mal lost a lot of blood in the crash, and Simon stemmed the flow, but he doesn't have blood replacements, doesn't have a transfusion kit.
He doesn't even have the right blood type.
No one has, since Wash.
Without synthetic blood replacements, there's little he can do, except hope that Mal's body is repairing itself. So he sits, watches Mal breathe, and counts the time between breaths.
Hours later, Jayne walks back through the door. "Nothin'. Walked a circle, best I could, and no water."
Simon closes his eyes, nods. "Thanks for trying."
Jayne grunts, says, "Tryin' ain't doin'."
It's tempting to sit there, maybe sleep, but Simon's had an idea about water. He'd guessed Jayne would have little success. So he stands, gestures at the plastic sheeting he'd unearthed, and says, "I need help."
They set it up outside, a little ways from the shuttle. They spread it taut, raised up about a foot from the ground. Simon had already sliced a hole in the centre, and attached tiny rocks to weigh it down. It leaves a swath of plastic, sloping gently towards the centre. He places a shallow dish underneath the hole.
"I don't get it." Jayne says.
"The dew. It will gather, roll, drip into the dish. It won't be much, but it'll be something."
Jayne's silent for a moment, and then he says, "Smart."
Not smart enough, some days, but it's something.
The next morning, Simon wakes to Jayne pressed against his back, Jayne's hand on his chest. Nominally, they've been taking shifts watching Mal, but it's inevitable that towards the end of the night, they'll both end up sleeping.
Lying like this is unfamiliar, unlikely. Adjusting to feel of Jayne's bulk against him is disconcerting; his body still expects the feel of Kaylee's smaller form, even though things between them fizzled and faded rapidly.
But the desert gets cold at night, a damp, bone-chilling temperature, and this kind of contact is especially welcome. He lies still for a while, warm, and watches Mal sleep. Eventually, Jayne wakes up, tenses, and rolls away. "He still alive?"
Simon nods and sits up.
Outside, the dish is a quarter-full of water, and Jayne grins at him, slaps him on the shoulder. "Real smart."
It's a shame they don't have more plastic sheeting. Simon takes the dish inside, pours the water into a mug. It's such a small amount.
Later, as the outside temperature steadily climbs, he and Jayne look at the communication system again. Kaylee has been showing him bits and pieces of the ship's workings, but honestly, he can't tell one wire from another. Jayne seems to have a better grasp of things.
"Can't fix it, though. We're humped."
Instead of thinking about it, Simon asks, "How's your cut?"
Jayne just holds out his arm, and lets Simon look.
On the third day, as Simon's watching, Mal's breathing stutters to a halt. He's been expecting this, but he can't quite accept it. He grabs the adrenalin out of his kit, and almost prays as he injects it.
Mal starts to breath again. So does Simon.
That night, Jayne goes out again. When he comes back, he's holding a small, furry creature. It's limp in his hand. Jerking his head towards the outside, he says, "Let's make a fire."
There isn't any wood to speak of, but they gather brush, and combustible debris from the shuttle. Jayne knows how to build a decent fire. In the end, it doesn't get hot enough to cook the small, furry creature, but Simon had his doubts about eating it anyway.
They sit as the fire dwindles, and finally Simon stands to go and check Mal again. Jayne stops him, hand on his shoulder, and just looks at him for a minute. Simon can see where this is leading – even before the crash, he would have had to have been blind to miss the looks Jayne's been sending him. He can imagine it – the two of them, breath hitching, hands desperate; trying to ignore their increasingly bleak situation. It would be messy and clumsy and noisy. Their sounds, their pleasure, would lend the illusion of life to the desert sands.
The thought isn't unattractive. But before Simon can say something, before he can act, there's a whisper of noise from inside the shuttle; from Mal. Jayne's eyes flicker, focusing behind Simon, and his hand falls away.
Simon turns and walks inside, away from the weak heat of the fire.
Jayne stays outside for a while. When he comes back in, he sees Simon sitting against the wall, next to Mal's head, and says, "He ain't gonna live much longer."
No. Maybe if the others get here soon, maybe. But otherwise no. "I'm afraid not."
Jayne comes and sits beside him. "Can't say I'm real happy 'bout thinkin' what Zoe might do."
Simon's been avoiding such thoughts himself. These days, Zoe is brittle. She does the job, she stays with Mal, she flies true for him. But without him, Simon doubts she'll ever be the same. She'll be alive, but he wonders how much of her will be living.
Sometimes, he wonders how much any of them are really living these days. There was a gloss of life, for a time. Small joys, endless relief. But eventually, everything takes its toll. Something comes and breaks through the surface.
In some ways he wonders if this is part of an inevitable progression. They've lost so much already, although occasionally they've found unexpected things. But nothing ever quite balances out the losses. Is the next step losing Mal? Would they drift apart if they did?
He has his suspicions, but no real answers.
On the fourth morning, Simon stands outside and watches the sun rise. It's hard to believe the desert in the morning is the same one that's killing them.
Their food is running out. The water supplies, even with the dew collection, are dangerously low. Mal, in particular, needs to be kept hydrated, and that is becoming more and more difficult.
As the sun slips above the horizon, he hears Jayne yelling his name. He turns, runs back inside, fearing the worst.
But Mal is awake. He's trying to sit up. "Lie down," he says, sharply, and Jayne reaches out, pushes Mal downwards, gently.
"What?" The word sound shallow, coming from Mal's cracked lips. It's so weak it could almost be a death rattle.
Simon gets some water, brings it to Mal, watches him swallow. "We crashed. The shuttle's windows blew in. You got caught in the shards. You bled. Extensively."
Mal turns his head away, and Simon puts the water down. "We're waiting for the others."
It worries him that Mal doesn't remember any of this from the last time he briefly woke. "Yes, we sent one. But nothing's working now."
Nodding, Mal closes his eyes. He's asleep again in moments.
"So, maybe he ain't dyin'?" Jayne's face is neutral, but Simon knows better.
"Sometimes a person has surges of energy and coherence, even when they're this badly wounded. I wouldn't read too much into it."
He retreats to a corner, and thinks about how they will bury Mal. The ground is hard, gritty. Digging a hole won't be easy. Maybe a cairn would be better.
On the fourth night, Simon wakes to rumbling in the distance, to the sharp roll of thunder. He nudges Jayne awake, and says, "Rain."
The rumbling comes closer, faster than a normal storm, and Simon wonders about flash floods and whether they're in a water-carved canyon. Part of him knows he should get up, get the plastic sheeting, and cover the cockpit windows. Otherwise, the interior of the shuttle will be flooded.
But he can't. He just can't find the will. The lethargy that has plagued him since the crash landing is just getting worse.
Instead, he waits passively for the sharp tap of water against the shuttle's hull, calculates how many containers they have that can be used to catch the rain.
The rain doesn't come. After a moment, Jayne says, "That ain't a storm."
They go outside, where they can see the lights of a ship in the distance. Jayne shoots a flare, carefully aiming it straight up.
There's no guaranteeing it's Serenity. Jayne gives him a gun, tells him to find cover, and they wait it out.
When he hears Zoe's voice call out, "Sir?" Simon feels a sharp spike of relief. It shocks him.
Even in the dim outside light, he can see she's holding a gun in front of her, cautious, even as she comes up to Jayne. She has a bag on her back, and she tosses it to Simon as soon as she sees him. "River thought you'd need these."
He moves to the shuttle, uses the faint interior lighting to look inside the bag. Blood replacements and transfusion kits. Rehydration solution. Painkillers, sedatives, bandages, sutures. Everything he needs for Mal, and for so many other possible problems. Mal can't be moved at this stage, but Simon's infirmary has been brought to him.
For the first time in days, possibly even weeks, he feels something sharp, bright, inside him. Alive.
Summary: The first morning, Simon wanders outside to find the shuttled coated in a light dew.
Notes: Post-Serenity fic. This is for angstslashhope who asked for Jayne/Simon and some Mal. It's the result of too much rain, I must admit. I see this partly as Simon having a delayed reaction to everything that happened in the movie.