"I'm dyin' right, doc? You can tell me if I'm dyin'."
Simon's lips are a thin tight line, as he cuts away Jayne's shirt, with the mercenary's own knife. "I certainly would tell you if you were dying, Jayne, but you're not."
"Yeah? Then why does it hurt so much?"
"You've been shot." This is Mal's voice, from beside the window. "That generally tends to hurt some. But if the doctor says you ain't dyin', then you ain't. Just relax and let him work."
Simon glances up from examining the wound, Jayne's blood staining his hands. "How are we doing out there?"
"We're alone." Mal replaces his gun into its holster, draws shut the curtain, and sinks slowly to the floor. "For now."
"You're hurt." Simon wipes his hands on the edge of the sheet that Jayne is lying on, and moves over to the window, kneeling beside the captain. "Why didn't you say something?"
"We've got bigger problems just now," Mal answers. In a lower voice he adds, "is that true, what you told Jayne?"
Simon is only partway listening, as he examines the cut on Mal's head. "What I told Jayne?"
"'Bout his not dyin'. It true?"
"Well, it's true for right now. But I'd really like to get that bullet out of him, before...as soon as possible."
"Is that somethin' you can do here?"
"Well..." Simon pauses to glance around the room before answering. The one room cottage that hides them has been abandoned for some time, dust lying thick on the furniture. But it has a stove and running water, and Simon has his medical bag. "It's not impossible. But ideally...I thought you said that Zoe and Wash were on their way?"
"They are. But they had to move off when that Alliance cruiser came by." Mal sighs, and leans his head against the wall. "They'll be back for us in the morning."
"You know, doc, if you don't think you can do this, then..."
"I can do it." Simon has already rolled up his sleeves, scrubbing his hands clean in the sink.
"Right. So just tell me what I can do to help...oh." Mal begins to stand up, and wobbles, clutching the window sill for support.
Simon glances over at him. "You have a concussion, you know."
"Is that all? That ain't nothin'. I've had those before. Why don't we worry about gettin' this here bullet outta Jayne, then we can..."
"Gettin' what out of who?" Jayne voice carries loud and clear across the room, shaky with fear. "I ain't lettin' him cut me open."
"Well, I don't like it either, but we ain't got much choice." The captain has moved to Jayne's bedside. "Ain't nothin' to worry about. The doc'll give you some nice happy drugs, you won't feel a..."
Simon clears his throat.
Mal looks up. "What?"
"I may have used all my anaesthetic on my last patient."
"You..." Mal takes a breath and lowers his voice to a loud whisper. "You what?"
"Well, if I'd known I was going to be performing two surgeries in twenty-four hours, I would have brought more. Not to mention some penicillin. As it was, I was only expecting to be away from the ship for a couple of hours. You remember."
"I remember." Mal glances over at Jayne, turning paler by the minute. Things may be always going wrong, but this seems like the wrongest they've gone in a while. He should have known, when those two strangers showed up at the docks asking after a doctor, that they couldn't be trusted. Should have known. "You know, doc, I would really appreciate it if you'd stop getting yourself kidnapped."
Simon's expression doesn't change, except for a faint flicker of amusement in hard eyes. "I can't help it if I'm irresistable."
Mal makes an indescribable sound from the back of his throat, and turns to Jayne. "Look, Jayne, I think Simon's going to have to do this thing, and there might be a mite of pain involved. But you just hang in there."
Eyes wide, Jayne has grabbed hold of Mal's hand. "Listen, Mal..." he glances over at Simon, to reassure him that the doctor isn't listening. He isn't, busy laying out his surgical implements. Jayne's hand, inside Mal's, is ice-cold, his voice a hoarse whisper. "Did you ever tell him?"
Mal squints, looking for signs that Jayne is delirious. "Tell who what?"
"C'mon, Mal, you know. I mean, it didn't ever seem like you did, but never promised that you wouldn't, neither. And I just need to know that the doc ain't got no reasons to, you know, accidentally cut too deep or nothin'. Cause who could blame him, really, I mean I sold him out an' all, but..."
"Jayne." Mal interrupts with the simple, hard syllable. "I never told him."
"We might as well start." Simon has returned to Jayne's bedside. "Mal, if you could maybe..."
"I've seen my share of share of bullets removed, doc," Mal points out quietly. "I know how it goes."
He sits at the head of Jayne's bed, ready at the first sign of movement or panic to force the big man still. His left hand holds the flashlight that is Simon's main source of light. "If you need to scream, Jayne, you just go on an scream. Ain't no shame in it, dong ma?"
"I ain't gonna scream," Jayne answers through clenched teeth.
"Sure. But supposin' you need to."
The procedure lasts into the darkest part of the night. Mal has seen many surgeries like it before. But he doesn't remember so much blood, and when Jayne squeezes his free hand he squeezes back, both men leaving bruises in each other's weathered skin.
By the time it is over, Jayne has passed out, eyes closed and breathing slow. Simon places the last stitch and checks his patient's pulse.
"Is he going to be okay?"
Simon glances up at Mal's worry-lined face. "I think so."
"That ain't so much a yes, is it?"
The doctor frowns, but doesn't bite, at the challenge. "We need to get him back to the ship. Get him some antibiotics. But the damage should heal just fine. I wouldn't have let him die, you know," Simon adds quietly.
Simon catches Mal's stare, black eyes burning dark. "Not for any reason."
Mal doesn't want to ask him how he knows, just glances down at the mercernary's sleeping figure. He would have killed Jayne himself, almost did. But that was before. "I know."
Simon reaches out for the captain's wrist, to take his own pulse, but Mal pulls his hand away. "I'm fine."
"You should try and get some sleep."
"Someone's gotta keep watch. But you go ahead."
Simon shrugs, and pulls a spare blanket onto the dirt floor. Mal turns off the light and listens to Jayne and Simon breathing peaceful slumber. He's still got all the members of his crew. At least, for one more night. Mal rests one hand on the comforting steel of his gun, and waits for morning.