Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Sharp-Dressed Man
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Simon was lying in his bunk, reading a book, minding his own business (he would emphasize that to himself, afterward, with a kind of hysterical moral outrage, as if it should make the slightest bit of difference on this ship), when Jayne and the Captain came bursting through the door like the Reavers were chasing them.

"Get up, Doc," Mal said urgently, yanking the book from Simon's hands and tossing it across the room. "On your feet! Let's go!"

"Wha- huh?" was all Simon managed to get out as he stood, before Mal grabbed his shoulders and gave him a disconcertingly close once-over, from head to foot. "What's going on?"

"We're gonna need paint," Mal tossed over his shoulder at Jayne, who shook his head in agreement.

"And lots of it," the mercenary said, looking Simon up and down. "This ain't gonna be easy, Mal."

"Never is." The captain stepped back from the doctor and nodded firmly. "Take off your pants."

"What? No! Why?" Simon stumbled back a step, staring at Mal in shock. He was pretty sure he'd had nightmares that started like this...

"Oh, for God's sake," Jayne muttered irritably, stepping forward and spinning Simon around, easily batting away the doctor's frantic hands. He wrapped his arms around Simon in a bear hug from behind and easily lifted him a few inches off the floor. Mal went to work undressing the doctor like a doll.

He'd definitely had at least one nightmare like this, and possibly even two.

"What in the ni ta ma de se-niou verse is going on?" he wailed, trying to thrash against Jayne's encircling arms, and jen dao mei, he'd pried bullets out of the man, he knew he was made of flesh and blood, but it felt like steel cables were holding him still until Mal had him stripped down to his shorts. At the captain's nod, Jayne casually tossed Simon onto the bed.

"Got a problem," Mal said, hurrying over into River's part of the room and flinging the drawers open. "There was a small incident in town."

"An incident?" Simon carefully rolled into a sitting position, wrapping his arms around his bare torso protectively and shooting a wary glance at Jayne. The mercenary hadn't come any closer, just stood leaning against the wall and smirking to himself like the whole thing was extremely funny- which it probably was, to everyone who wasn't stripped down and very confused- that is, everyone who wasn't Simon. "What kind of an incident? And why can't I have my clothes on while you explain it?"

"The kind of incident where Mal ran his mouth and Wash don't know when to quit and an officer of the law might sorta have gotten punched in the mouth," Jayne said, studying his knuckles with an extra-high degree of nonchalance."

"Which means the kind of incident where the Port Authority is gonna be all over this ship in about fifteen minutes," Mal said, holding up one of River's sweaters, frowning, and tossing it onto the bed with a long black skirt and some kind of lacy shawl. "And when they get here, I'd like the ship to be clean."

"Clean as in no fugies," Jayne added helpfully.

"Oh." Simon swallowed hard, trying to put this together. "So...River and I...we need to get off the ship? Go hide somewhere? Wouldn't it be easier to do that if I was dressed?"

"No time to get you off the ship," Mal said, tugging a little lace camisole from River's underwear drawer and stuffing socks into the top. "Going to have to do this the messy way. Put these on." He held out the pile of clothes. "Chop-chop, doctor, the clock is running."

"I still don't understand," he protested feebly, getting to his feet and fumbling with the skirt before Jayne felt the need to hoist him off the floor again and let Mal dress him.

"You got the stuff from Inara?" Mal demanded. Jayne nodded at a bundle on the floor by the doorway. Unfolded, it held a length of veiling and a small cosmetics kit. Mal unwound the soft violet gauze of the veil and shot Jayne a dubious look. "Do you know how to do this?"

"She showed me," Jayne said doubtfully, tugging at the end of the veil, which looked positively absurd in his big hand. Simon fumbled with the buttons on the sweater, still not quite able to figure out how cross-dressing was going to make the Port Authority think he was in any way legitimate.

"Well, as long as you can't tell he's got short hair," Mal muttered, opening the box and frowning at the colorful little vials. "Gou za de, why couldn't she do this herself?"

"She's got her hands full with River," Jayne said, rolling his eyes and trying to fold the veil into some semblance of order. "Her and Kaylee both, in fact. Girl's a ruttin' maniac."

"What are you doing to River?" Simon demanded, wincing as Mal grabbed his face and began to smear some creamy stuff across his eyelids. "Ow."

"Don't talk, it makes your face twitch," Mal scolded him. "She's fine. Inara and Kaylee are turning her into a boy, that's all. Flop the ages and genders, the local law won't even think to put it together."

"As long as she can keep her damn mouth shut." Jayne struggled ineffectively with the veil for another moment. "Wo de ma, Mal, don't Inara have any wigs in that shuttle?"

"She said not...hold still, doctor..." Mal made a final swirl of lipstick and stepped back, studying Simon critically. "What do you think, Jayne?"

Jayne stared at him with blatant disgust. "I think he makes the ugliest girl I've seen in a long while. Good thing we're covering most of it up." He stepped forward and wound the gauze around Simon's head and neck a few times, tucking the ends in clumsily. "How's that?"

"Awful," Mal said, "but it'll have to do. Come on, Dr. Tam, you're now Miss...what name did we decide on, Jayne?"

"Molly," Jayne replied with a smirk, gathering up the cosmetics box and Simon's clothes. "Molly Faye Tamarin."

"Miss Molly Faye Tamarin, late of Persephone, now a Companion-in-training with Inara Serra. And you've taken a vow of silence."

"Companions don't apprentice directly," Simon pointed out as the other men hustled him out of the bunk and down the hall to Inara's shuttle. "And they don't take vows of silence..that would hardly make sense when one's learning seduction..."

"PA boys ain't from the Core, doc, they won't know any of that." Jayne tossed Simon's clothes down the open door of a bunk. "That's Wash and Zoe's room- you can pick 'em up later. Mal, I'm gonna go make sure they got the cargo bay straightened up right." He gave Simon a solid slap on the ass as he moved past them. "Give 'em a good show, Molly Faye."

"Captain, is this really necessary?" Simon asked as Mal's firm arm across his shoulder simultaneously propelled him up the stairs into the shuttle and blocked his retreat.

"Yes," was the brief reply. "Inara! Your apprentice is ready!"

The Companion appeared from behind the curtain dividing the shuttle and stared at them for a moment. She rolled her eyes. "Jayne clearly didn't pay any attention whatsoever to how to wind the veil. Come here, Simon, let me fix it."

"Her name's Molly," Mal said, patting Simon's shoulder and pushing him forward. "Don't mess it up, now, Inara."

"I think I can handle my part," she said, rolling her eyes and gently rearranging the veil. "Why don't you go on and crack the whip over the rest of them? River's delighted with the idea of being a simple-minded cabin boy, by the way. She even has a voice picked out. I'd say the girl was born for the stage."

"Please tell me you didn't tell her that," Simon said faintly as Inara studied his face with a critical frown and adjusted the eye makeup with the side of her thumb. "She won't be happy until we run away and join a circus or something."

"Isn't this enough of a circus for you, doctor?" she asked with a grin. He stared at her in dismay.

"You're enjoying this! Inara, I thought you of all people might be on my side..."

She shrugged cheerfully, guiding him over to a chair in the corner. "It's all in the interests of getting off this planet with our credit accounts and legal status intact, Simon. And it's an adventure. Live a bit." She stepped back and looked at him again. "God, that makeup really is awful. Mal usually is much better than this."

He choked. "Mal's done this before?"

"Several times," she said serenely, adjusting the fall of her sari. "Usually he's making up himself, though. He really takes an almost childlike delight in putting on a dress."

"Very much more than I needed to know," he groaned, going to bury his face in his hands. She caught his wrists and stopped him.

"Don't, you'll smudge your makeup," she scolded gently. "Be a lady, now, Simon. I mean, Molly." She grinned and glanced at the still-open doorway. Faintly, Simon could hear the massive cargo bay doors rolling open. "Ah, there they are. Remember, vow of silence!" She hurried over to the couch and arranged herself in a casual lounge, taking a book from the table.

Simon stared at her for a moment, then up at the ceiling, then down at his hands. For lack of a better idea, he folded them together as if he were praying. Maybe he should pray, actually, for some small modicum of mercy or sanity. He felt quite sorry for himself, sitting there composing an earnest entreaty to his ancestors and the gods, veiled and muffled with sticky stuff all over his face.

And for the love of Hippocrates, why hadn't anyone ever mentioned to him how much female undergarments itched?

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