Jayne comes to, and almost right away he can tell something's gone wrong. Badly wrong. He's tied down to the infirmary bed, and Simon's holding a knife to his throat. Out of the corner of his eye, Jayne can see the knife's handle, and he recognizes it. It's one of his best knives.
"Who are you?" Simon asks, his mouth grim, his eyes a little wild. The scar down one side of his face is pretty gorram hideous.
"You know who I am." 'Cause it ain't like he's gone and changed his look at all, not like Simon.
"How did you get here?"
And damn if Jayne can answer that question. Last he remembers is some badly-planned job on some crappy moon, a big explosion and lights flashing. Little explosions visible, even when he had his eyes closed.
"Hell if I know."
"You're dead," Simon says, pushing the knife a little harder against Jayne's throat.
But Jayne's already been working at the restraints on his left wrist, has already been trying to pull his hand free, and he ain't gonna be dead if he manages to get Simon dead first.
"You died on Miranda. You. River. Zoe. Mal."
That makes Jayne freeze, makes him stop twisting his wrist carefully. "Yer cracked. Gone the way of little sister."
"Shut. Up." The knife cuts against his skin, and Jayne can feel a trickle of blood. "You aren't Jayne Cobb. So who are you? What are you? Who sent you?" He shifts the knife a little, cutting another shallow line. "Is the Parliament still tracking us?"
Jayne's been around crazies enough to know that sometimes talking just sets them off more. Makes them wilder. Don't pay to try and reason with them either. So Jayne relaxes a little, lets his body go slack, and gets back to working that wrist.
He grits his teeth and closes his eyes so he doesn't have to look at that scar any more. Just a little more, a little bit more and –
When he opens his eyes again, he's standing in a shuttle. Looks like Inara's shuttle, full of fancy cloth and useless little pillows. Some kind of weird smell is in the air, and it almost makes him feel relaxed.
Inara's shuttle, then. Only there are more weapons around, some of them disguised as ordinary things. Even looking around once, trying to figure out what he's doing here, he counts out four knives, two of them hiding in plain sight, and three guns, one mounted on the wall like maybe it's just there to look pretty.
He rubs across his eyes, trying to chase off the headache he feels coming on. None of this is right. And Mal's going to kill him if he finds Jayne snooping around in Inara's shuttle like this.
Even if it turns out Inara is a whole lot more dangerous than any one of them figured. She's the one who's been hiding in plain sight.
He turns, heads towards the door, but before he gets two steps, Mal is walking in, closing the shuttle door behind him.
"Aww. Hell," Jayne mutters under his breath.
Mal smiles, real wide. In Jayne's experience, that ain't ever a good thing.
Mal looks down at his wrist, like maybe he's got a watch there.
Which he don't.
"'Cause I thought we had an appointment set up."
In Inara's shuttle? That don't – unless something's happened to Inara, and Jayne's supposed to be looking for clues. "Yeah."
But Mal isn't watching him. He's fiddling with a tea pot, picking it up, looking at it. Underneath, fixed to the bottom, he finds a tiny disk, something with sharp edges, meant to be thrown. He rips it off and holds it up, looking smug. "Always finding something new in here. Devious."
"Mal, I –"
Fixing the disk back to the bottom of the tea pot, Mal smirks. "So. Gonna make me tea?"
Tea? "This ain't your gorram tea and dumpling house and I don't get –"
Mal steps closer, one hand coming up to clasp Jayne's shoulder. "You dumbing down your language for me, Jayne? Trying to sound like you're from some border moon?"
"What the hell are you –"
Mal's other hand lands on Jayne's waist. "This a game? Another skill you're practicing? Assassin-Companion ain't enough? You gotta add acting to your talents?"
And then Mal's backing him up, and Jayne's too confused to do much about it. He steps back, and back, until his calves hit the bed. Mal's muttering about him saying he wouldn't service crew – or work for them – but that didn't last too long.
When Mal's hand slides down, grabbing Jayne's ass, he can't help it. He decks Mal, watches him go down.
Standing over Mal, who looks about as mad as a rabid dog, Jayne wonders what the hell he's done now. He reaches up and rubs at his temples, his eyes closing.
He's on a battlefield, he knows that even before his eyes adjust. Mostly, it's the smells that tip him off – gunpowder, that burnt air smell the Alliance guns leave, the way blood and dirt and infection all mingle together.
There's the screaming too, the sounds of shooting and dying. He sees a flare in the distance, explosion, and he half-ducks. Then Mal is running towards him, diving, pushing him down to the ground. Jayne braces himself for another explosion, or whatever it is Mal is trying to protect him from.
Except Mal punches him in the jaw, real hard.
"Hey!" This ain't no time for fighting each other.
"Cobb," Mal says, real quiet, "I told you we'd better not meet out here. That uniform worth it? Worth them all dying after you sold us out?"
None of it makes sense, nothing, even when Jayne looks down at himself, sees he's wearing a Fed uniform, muddied up and torn.
"We could've maybe had a chance at winning if she was still here." Mal's eyes are hard, empty, broken. "Least you won't make it out alive," he continues, pulling out his gun, and whipping it across Jayne's temple.
River's face looks down at him, fuzzy through the pain of his head. At least, it seems like maybe it's River. He blinks, and yeah. It's her. Her hair is tied back, real tidy, and her eyes don't seem quite as wild as he remembers.
She's wearing make-up, her lips red, red. They're moving, but she's talking real quiet, and he can't quite hear it all.
"—possibilities," she says, "—disengaged. Cast afloat."
"Girl, just say what you –" But his mouth doesn't work right. He feels heavy, drugged.
"Displaced. Moving," she says. "You'll stop. Eventually."
She reaches down, smiling, and closes his eyelids.
When he opens his eyes back up, he's in his bunk. He sits up real fast. Everything looks fine – guns where they ought to be, girly pictures in the right places. His pile of dirty clothes are in one corner, where he always leaves them.
Dream, he thinks blearily. Rutting creepy dream. Better not be the girl messing with his mind. He wouldn't put anything past her. He wonders if he should maybe say something to Mal about it – if she's starting with him, there's no telling who she might target next.
Then again, Mal might just tell him to shut up, get lost, quit causing trouble.
He's just about decided to keep his mouth shut about the whole thing when his door opens, and Simon starts climbing down. "What the hell –" he starts, because he ain't done anything. It's River who's doing this; Jayne ain't doing anything to her. Not one thing.
Simon jumps off the last rung, and turns around. He's smiling, slow and lazy. "Hi," he says, and starts unbuttoning his shirt.
"Hi?" Jayne ain't sure what else exactly he's supposed to say.
"I thought, it's been busy the last few days, and we haven't had much time to ourselves. I've got a couple of hours, and –" He gestures at Jayne, somehow suggestive.
This ain't right in any sense of the word. First off, except for today, things ain't been busy at all. And second, no way in the 'verse would Simon come down here willingly, looking for a thrust.
Though Jayne has to admit he wouldn't generally say no if Simon did. It ain't like people on board are lining up on board looking to give him some fun.
Simon looks at him, hungry, impatient. "Are you just going to sit there?"
This might not be right, but Jayne's never been one to pass up free sex, especially when there's so much pretty involved. He shakes his head, grinning.
It's fast and dirty, Simon doing things Jayne never figured he would know about. He likes Jayne on his back, likes to take charge. Jayne's doesn't do much, just wraps his hands around Simon's waist, and then around his shoulders, the back of his neck. It's good, great, and afterwards, Simon's come on his belly and chest, Jayne rolls onto his side, bringing Simon with him.
"Wanna do this again, later?"
Simon laughs, low, relaxed. "Don't I always?"
Don't know, Jayne thinks, even as he slips into sleep.
He's screaming even before he opens his eyes. Screaming and screaming, and his throat is raw. Something cuts into his belly, a bright explosion of pain, long and drawn out. It stops briefly, before it starts again, deeper this time.
Over and over, and he can't tell how long it's been. But he knows they started on his arms. When he flexes them, trying to get away, he can feel the way dried blood pulls at his skin.
Too much blood. He can smell it all around him, metallic. He won't last much longer, he's sure.
He can't feel his legs.
"Open, open," something whispers in his ear, a grate of a voice. But he can't. He won't look at it. At them. He keeps his eyes squeezed closed.
The knife goes into his stomach again, twisting, and it's – he can't even scream. He just grunts, sobs out. Something inside him bursts, and he feels everything rushing out. It's hard to breathe, hard to keep his eyes clenched tight.
He's lying in something wet, hot, sticky, and he knows what it is. He imagines it spreading around him, slick and red and thick.
"Open," he hears again, and he stops fighting. He lets his eyes open, slowly, knowing what he's going to see. Reavers, using him for fun. For food, and maybe that's why he can't feel anything where his legs ought to be.
Reavers. He expects them, faces messed up and hideous.
But his eyes open up fully, adjust to the dim light, and it ain't Reavers. Her face stares down at him, so close that he can feel the heat of her breath, the only bit of warmth anywhere. It makes him shiver. Her hair's a mess in a way he never figured he'd see. Her mouth's a wound, and there ain't nothing behind those eyes.
When she smiles at him, it's worse than most things he'd ever imagined.
His eyes slide shut, and he knows they won't be opening again.
"I just never figured I'd see the day," Kaylee says.
Jayne turns around, still gasping from remembered pain. He's holding flowers and streamers in his hands.
"What about you? You ever figure it'd actually happen?"
She rolls her eyes at him, and reaches to take the flowers out of his hands. "Jayne. Come on! We gotta get this decorating done." She points at the streamers and says, "Put them up there," pointing at the railing of the walkway. "It's gotta look nice when they come walking down here. So wind 'em around good. Don't be sloppy."
Flowers and decorating. He goes from having his guts carved out to this. Nothing about this day makes any kind of sense. It's just getting worse.
"Jayne! Quit daydreaming! We gotta finish so you can go and get dressed. You ain't the best man for nothing!"
Kaylee, giving orders about flowers and streamers. It's enough to make a man think the 'verse has gone mad.
By now he's figured out the drill. He closes his eyes.
Each time slips by a little faster, and it starts so he don't even have to close and open his eyes. He just jumps from – place to place? Or whatever – his eyes getting messed up from one thing blurring out as another blurs in. It's making him dizzy as all hell. Ain't right, this whole thing, messing with a man's mind like this. None of it is right.
"Jayne," Zoe says, except her hair is real short and she's missing an arm. "Grab whatever guns you got. We got a crisis." She's already walking away, fast, faster.
"No shit," he mutters.
"Jayne." This time it's Mal, and they're standing over Simon who's all bloodied up. "Gimme the adrenaline now, gorrammit, and quit daydreaming!"
Jayne looks down at his hand, at the biggest needle he's ever seen, at the way he's scarred up to the wrist.
"Jayne!" Mal yells, just grabbing the needle. "We don't got <i>time</i> for your lack of brains!"
"Are you?" Kaylee says, a smile as big as a sun on her face. She's got some kind of flowers in her hair. "Nervous I mean?" She nudges him in the gut, but it ain't hard. "I ain't nervous. Not one bit."
He's opening his mouth to ask what the hell she's got to be nervous about when she fades away.
"Touch her again," Simon says, as he twists the knife into Jayne's shoulder, "and you won't be able to guess what'll I do to you." He twists again, and pushes down. Hard.
Jayne bites his lip so he doesn't yell.
" – run faster!" River yells. "Faster. Run. Come on. Too slow."
It feels like his lungs are bursting. He runs and runs, and he doesn't even know why.
"Jayne," Inara says, her hair short, and her belly big with a baby, "are you sure –"
"No," he says, but he ain't talking to her.
"Jayne?" His ma asks, forehead all crinkled up.
"Pass the soup," Wash says, laughing.
"Stop!" Simon yells, broken and bloodied. "Please. Just stop."
" – wake up?" Someone asks – maybe Kaylee – but Jayne ain't sure exactly who. "He will, right?"
There's a pause, long, too long, and Jayne wants to turn, see what's happening, but he can't quite move. Or open his eyes. It's almost like that time the doc drugged him, made it so he couldn't move.
"Yes. I'm just not certain when." Simon.
"So. He's sleeping?" That's Kaylee. Definitely Kaylee.
"It's – a bit like sleeping." There's rustling, maybe the sound of footsteps, some kind of beeping from a machine. "He might be able to hear us. In some way."
Something brushes across his forehead. "He went traveling," River whispers. "But he's coming back. Almost back."
"Traveling," she says again, like maybe Simon's too slow to get her meaning. It sounds just like the River he knows. Crazy, but certain. Loose in the brainpan, but full up on something the rest of them don't understand.
Heavy footsteps come into the room.
"Captain. Do you know what was in the building when it exploded?"
"Didn't get a chance to ask. Why?"
Simon sighs, annoyed, and Jayne wants to grin, just a little. "It would be useful to know what he might have been exposed to. But I suppose it doesn't make much of a difference."
"Doesn't matter," River says, her tone smart, bright. Full of herself. Hell, it matters, Jayne wants to yell. Because he's been eaten and sexed up and ordered around and stabbed and Mal has grabbed his ass. And now he can't even say one word about it.
"Doesn't matter," she says again, low, right in his ear, and this time he knows it's just for him. "Home now. No lasting damage."
Maybe he might be home, maybe he can almost believe that. But damage? It ain't her call to decide if he's got damage or not. She ain't the one who's going to have to carry the memories around.
Rating: PG-13 (maybe R in one spot)
Summary: Something's gone wrong.
Notes: Birthday fic for Unovis. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! Beta by the lovely valiant. Many thanks!