"She called me 'honey,'" Simon said morosely.
Jayne swung his legs around and lay back on the sofa. "When?" he asked.
Simon leaned over and slapped at Jayne's shoes. "For god's sake," he said. "Take your shoes off if you're going to put your feet up. People sit on here."
Jayne lifted his feet and looked at them. Instead of removing his shoes, he scooted forward and stuck his feet over the arm rest. "How's that, doc?" he asked.
Simon sat back in the easy chair. "Fine," he said. In a fit of anger two days ago, he'd called Jayne a trained ape without the training. He was trying to decide whether he should apologize, because it was just the two of them right now, but he didn't want to. Maybe Jayne had forgotten. And maybe Simon didn't care one way or the other if he hurt Jayne's feelings. Jayne's bad manners drove him insane.
"Honey," Jayne prompted.
"Oh, right. When that partner of yours—"
"—When that ex-partner of yours beat me up." Simon lifted up his arm to display the bandaged knife wound. "Kaylee saw me lying in the dirt like a pathetic—a pathetic—"
"Ape?" Jayne suggested. "A pathetic trained ape?"
So much for Jayne not remembering. "A pathetic trained ape," Simon agreed. "And she helped me up and called me 'honey.' Do I look like a honey? Am I that kind of person?"
Jayne opened his mouth.
"No, don't." Simon waved his hand to shut Jayne up. Jayne grinned at him, undaunted. "Don't say a word. Please. Forget I said anything. She helped me up. Because I was so pathetic."
Jayne folded his hands on his stomach. "So what, you want to be all manly for Kaylee?"
"Do you want my advice?"
"Good. Because I wasn't going to give you any."
"Thank you. Thank you very much."
"Don't tell me your troubles with Kaylee is all I'm saying."
Simon gave an unamused bark of laughter. "You don't seem to have any trouble with women," he said. "You made a friend back on Canton."
Jayne closed his eyes and smiled. "Mmm. Yes, I did," he said.
Simon shook his head. "I don't get it," he muttered. It wasn't entirely true.
Jayne pointed at Simon without opening his eyes. "You talk too much and you're too damn smart," he said. "All intellectual."
Simon beat his head against the back of the chair. He couldn't get anywhere with Kaylee, always saying the wrong thing, and she thought he was a weakling. "You got to be steely," she'd said to him. "You can't be letting men stomp on you so much." She was right, and Jayne was right. Simon's background and training fitted him for civilization, not the frontier. Good manners were not getting him anywhere. He hated to think he'd have to be like Jayne to get by in the black.
"You talk to Kaylee like you talk to me and your problems are over," Jayne continued.
Simon sighed. "I thought you weren't going to give me advice."
"It's not advice. It's the truth."
"I insult you," Simon pointed out.
"And I don't care," Jayne said.
"Yes, what's that about?" Simon leaned forward. "This is a test. A man ape gone wrong. A trained ape without the training."
Jayne shook his head slightly. His eyes were still shut.
"Nothing," Simon said, impressed. "It just rolls right off."
"And some girl calls you 'honey' and you dwell on it," Jayne pointed out. "'Honey' isn't bad. Honey is good. Honey is sweet."
"I don't want to be sweet."
Jayne cracked his eyes open. "You are, though," he said. "Sweet mouth. Sweet ass. Sweet, soft skin."
"Relax. Ain't no one around. Ain't no one to hear. Ain't no one who knows." Jayne pushed himself up and put a hand on Simon's knee. "Some kid took a bullet for me," he said. "He was lying there in the dirt. He didn't get back up. He died right there. It don't make no sense and it troubles me." He stood up, suddenly looming large. "So I don't want to hear about Kaylee thinking you're sweet. I want you to come by my bunk tonight and be sweet for me, without none of your talking. Can you do that?"
There was a long pause.
"Yes," Simon whispered at last.
Simon followed Jayne with his eyes as Jayne left the common area. Jayne had surprised him, and it wasn't the first time. Here Simon had been obsessing about how badly things were going with Kaylee, and Jayne had listened, and then trumped him. Simon knew Jayne wasn't stupid, but he wasn't articulate, and it was hard for Simon to credit Jayne with meaningful emotions when Jayne couldn't describe them. Jayne couldn't use words like Simon used words, as tools. That didn't make Jayne's feelings any less complex.
Simon sighed, got up, and headed to the infirmary for condoms. The irony of his relationship with Jayne was not lost on him: they didn't get along, they argued all the time, and they insulted each other. Simon was all brain and Jayne was all brawn. During the day, they circled each other and bared their teeth. But at night—at night, it was much, much different.
Simon tucked the strip of condoms into his pocket before turning around. "River, what are you doing up?" he asked his sister. He shut the drawer and straightened a few items on the counter. "It's late."
"Ah." Simon crossed the room and put his arm around her. He tried to touch her a lot, because he thought she needed the human contact. The women on Serenity touched her too, but everyone was skittish around her. "Come on. I'll tuck you in."
"You don't need to tuck."
"I want to tuck."
River pushed on his chest with her index finger. "You have somewhere to be," she said.
"Not really," Simon said. He steered her to the door. "Come on." Jayne had said no one knew about them, but Simon knew better. River knew everything. The only thing that made that knowledge okay was that she never said anything direct about it, so they could both pretend. It occurred to Simon how very civilized that was. "How did you do without me here? Did Shepherd Book take good care of you?" Zoe had told Simon that River had taken fright at Book's hair, which Book had taken out of its ponytail. River had hidden herself in a cranny and had to be coaxed out.
"His symbols confused me," River said, unhooking herself from Simon as they entered her small bedroom. "All words. Words, words, words." She pulled the covers aside and crawled into bed. "They need to be sorted, but he won't sort them, and he thinks I do it wrong."
"It's hard to sort symbols." Simon knelt by her bed and adjusted her blanket. "Okay, I'm tucking now." He brushed her long, dark hair back, feathering it out on the pillow, and kissed her on the forehead.
"Sometimes words mean more than one thing," River said. "A floating signifier. It's what makes language flexible and complex. It's what makes symbols hard to sort."
"Why do you have to sort them?" Simon asked.
"My mind just works that way, I guess." River sighed heavily. "You need to be like Shepherd Book. He takes the patterns on faith. But you're like me. You want to sort."
Simon leaned back on his heels. "I guess I do," he agreed.
"It doesn't have to mean anything at all," River said. "It can just be."
"But then it's not a symbol," Simon said.
"Exactly," River said, as if he'd just made her point for her. "And they're everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Making patterns that need to be sorted. It drives me crazy."
"I so don't understand how your mind works," Simon marveled.
"It's a sorting kind of mind," River said. "They altered it, but it was always a sorting kind of mind." She extended one hand, and Simon took it automatically. "I'm going to sleep now, so you should go," she said. She squeezed his hand, and Simon knew that she knew he was going to Jayne's room. How did she sort and categorize this information? "Goodnight."
"Goodnight." Simon set her hand on her stomach. "See you tomorrow."
He slid the door shut behind him and stood in the hallway, uncertain. He should probably wait until River was asleep before he headed down, but it was getting late. It somehow seemed impolite, improper, disrespectful of River, even though she knew about him and Jayne. If he went to Jayne's bunk right now, it might, to River, symbolize the wrong thing. She would make the wrong meaning from his actions and perhaps take offense. He needed what Jayne gave him, but he needed his sister too, because she needed him in a way Jayne never could, a way Jayne was incapable of. If he had to choose between them, he would always choose River, because she was wholly dependent on him and he loved her. And really, he'd gotten them into this mess by spiriting her out of that school where they'd been performing tests on her. He owed her. He needed to do whatever it took to help her, to make it okay, to bring her back. In contrast, if he stopped going to Jayne's room at night, Jayne would just grin and tell him it had been a whole hell of a lot of fun, and Simon was welcome anytime if he changed his mind. Jayne didn't need him on some fundamental level, the way River did.
"Go," River yelled through the door. "Your thoughts are keeping me awake."
"I'm going," Simon yelled back, and he started down the corridor.
The crew quarters were in a different section of the ship. Everything seemed dark and quiet, even though all the lights were on as usual, because there was no activity. During the day, there were always footsteps and voices, but at night, all Simon could hear was the hum of the engines, the faint, high-pitched noises of some of the pieces of equipment that comprised the ship's systems. He imagined River listening to all the sounds and making patterns out of them. His little sister was a genius, after all, and wasn't that the ability to see connections and patterns among things previously thought unrelated?
Simon paused at a juncture in the corridors, checking to make sure everything was really as deserted as it seemed, before continuing on. He'd had a close call with Wash once. When he got to Jayne's door, he didn't bother knocking. He pushed it open and, with the ease of practice, swung down the ladder.
"Hey," he said to Jayne, who was lying nude in his bunk, arms crossed behind his head. A blanket covered his lower body. All the lights were on.
"Hey," Jayne said.
Simon pulled the condoms out of his pocket and held them up. "You've got the lube, right?"
Jayne took the green strip of condoms. "Yep," he said, indicating the little bottle on a nearby shelf, next to a slew of knives.
Simon started taking his clothes off. "You used a condom with that girl, right?" he asked, because he was, after all, a doctor.
Jayne sighed. "Yes," he said, as though Simon were incredibly dense. "And I didn't kiss her. I save that for you." Jayne had a no-kissing rule, but he'd broken it for Simon.
Simon undid his trousers. "Tell me what you need," he said.
"How about I let you know."
"Fine." Simon stepped out of his shoes but left his socks on.
"It don't look too bad—the bruises," Jayne said, eyeing him critically.
"Nothing broken, anyway. Vest on?" Jayne liked it when Simon wore something—his vest over nothing, or his unbuttoned shirt.
Jayne set the condoms next to the lube, then turned to watch Simon finish preparing. When Simon pulled the blanket down, Jayne spread his legs. His penis wasn't hard yet but looked full and heavy. Simon climbed between Jayne's legs and spread himself over Jayne, supporting himself on his elbows. This was the moment Simon always anticipated: when businesslike turned into something else. Simon felt Jayne move a little under him, and Jayne's big, warm hands cupped his ass. Simon touched Jayne's hair.
They looked at each other steadily. Simon's breath came a little faster as he felt Jayne grow fully hard, and the warmth from Jayne's hands went right through him to his own cock. Simon looked down at Jayne's mouth. Jayne's lips parted slightly, and Jayne slid a hand up underneath Simon's vest to lie on a shoulder blade. Simon ducked his head and stroked the side of Jayne's face with his nose. When he looked at Jayne again, Jayne's hands increased their pressure, and Simon knew Jayne was about to break.
"You want sweet?" Simon asked.
"Like honey," Jayne said.
Simon kissed him, slow and deep, and Jayne opened his mouth under his and sank back into the pillow. Simon let his body weight fall on top of Jayne, and Jayne put a leg around him. They kissed for a long time, eventually ending up in their sides. Simon ripped two condoms off the strip and sheathed Jayne, then himself. Jayne couldn't seem to get enough of Simon's skin. He rubbed, stroked, kissed, and licked, careful of Simon's cuts and bruises as Simon was careful of his, until they were both throbbing, hard, and gasping.
When he turned his back to Simon, Simon knew what Jayne needed. The cool lube warmed quickly as Simon slicked himself up, then reached around and did the same to Jayne. Jayne's hand covered his as Simon pumped Jayne's large cock. When Simon moved his hand away, Jayne's stayed on. Simon could feel Jayne masturbating as he ran his fingers down Jayne's crack. Simon played with the rim of Jayne's asshole as Jayne's breathing grew more and more labored.
When Simon centered his cock and pushed himself in, it was Jayne who gasped, as though Jayne were responding to the sensations Simon felt. Jayne was hot and dark around him. Simon steadied himself with a hand on Jayne's waist as he began to thrust. He felt totally in control, strong and hard, like he could go all night. Jayne began moaning. Simon used the sounds to help him gauge the depth of his thrusts, until Jayne's voice became a continuous low keening. Jayne rippled around Simon's cock. Simon could feel Jayne's body change when Jayne came: he clenched up, his asshole involuntarily tightening around Simon, and he thrust, out of control, so Simon had to pull Jayne back by the hip so he could shove himself in. Jayne's moaning turned into sobs, little catches of breath, that Simon found intensely erotic. Simon kept himself in check as he rode Jayne through orgasm.
When Jayne's asshole relaxed and his sobs turned into panting, Simon pushed hard into Jayne, fingers clenching as he drove his strong penis into Jayne's warmth. He needed the heat and pressure. He needed to lose himself. Simon let himself go, abandoning himself to a kind of pleasure that had no room for words, the place where he and Jayne could meet as equals. He bit Jayne's shoulder, and the salt taste of skin somehow combined with the heaviness in his cock. He pounded Jayne hard, smacking his balls against Jayne's ass, driving in deeply, driving himself to his climax, until he came in a rush, an outpouring of heat and liquid red ecstasy.
"Oh, man," Jayne gasped.
Simon rubbed his cheek against Jayne's shoulder. Both of them panted for a long few minutes. "Was that what you needed?" Simon moved his leg off Jayne and pulled out.
"Yeah," Jayne said.
Simon turned his head to kiss Jayne's upper arm. "I should get rid of this condom," he said, but he didn't move.
Jayne turned onto his back. Simon settled into Jayne's side, enjoying the feel of Jayne's chest hair. "Like honey," Jayne said drowsily. "Your mouth. Your dick making me all like water inside."
"What does it symbolize?" Simon asked. He buried his face briefly in Jayne's armpit, inhaling the faintly acrid, utterly masculine scent. "When we do this. What does it symbolize?"
"It symbolizes that we like to come," Jayne said.
"No, that's literal, not symbolic."
Jayne grinned at him. "You think too much. You talk too much. It don't symbolize nothing."
Simon touched Jayne's silky goatee. "It does if we make it—if we find a pattern," he said.
"Tell you what." Jayne took Simon's bandaged hand and sucked a finger in. Simon smiled as Jayne's tongue caressed him. Jayne twined his fingers with Simon's when he released him. "You find all the patterns you want, and then you fuck me some more, to make new ones."
"I guess I want things to mean something, to have an explanation. Do you have an explanation?"
Jayne shook his head. "No," he said. "Some kid died because he thought I was a hero, and I'm alive. You just proved it to me."
Simon laid his head on Jayne's broad chest. "Sounds like an explanation to me," he said.