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Status: Completed 4/13/2008

Archive: Ask first.

Disclaimer: Firefly and its characters belong to Joss Whedon, Fox, and whoever else has a claim to 'em. I, sadly, am not one of them.

Word Count: 3,224

Author's Note: I was watching the episode, "Out of Gas", again, when I got the idea for this. I started thinking that I would have liked to seen them finding Mal, and to have seen a little more of the crew's reactions to what was going on. Thanks, as always, to my beta reader, Cyn.


Finally! The catalyzer is in. Now he can start up the hall toward the cockpit. Seems a whole lot longer now then it did a few hours ago, but he makes it. Just has to get up the stairs now. Easier said then done. But he does it.

Just a little bit further. Hurts so much. He can make it though. He has to. They'll die if he doesn't. So will he for that matter. It hurts so badly. Hurts to walk. Hurts to move at all. But he just has a few more feet to go. Damn, but that really hurts. What did the ruttin' BUN tyen-shung duh ee-DWAY-RO bastard have to go and shoot him for? He'd've given the man anything he'd wanted for that part. Anything to save his ship. To save his crew.

The pain just keeps getting worse and he can feel his life just leaking outta the hole in his stomach.

Been a while since he's been gut shot. Forgot just how much it hurts. He'll hit the button to call his people home then he can rest. Doc'll patch him up good and he can just sleep for a spell. Just... a few... more... feet....

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Zoë opens her eyes slowly to see her husband's worried face.

"Hey." He whispers.

She responds in kind. Then she smiles at him, which gets him to smile too. Which, of course, is what she was tryin' for.

"Do you remember what happened?" Simon asks, he sounds worried, looks a might bit tense. She thinks it has more to do with something else then her injuries, but she can't put her finger on what.

Zoë is silent for a moment then nods. She does remember. "There was a fire. An explosion. I got caught hit by the concussion blast from it." She pauses for a moment then, remembering more, adds, "Is Kaylee alright?"

Simon nods, apparently satisfied with her answer then says, "She's fine. Rest now." She gets a small, rare smile from him. He should do it more often in her opinion. Don't seem quite so serious when he does. Makes him look kinda cute too.

And what was with doctors and telling people who just woke up to rest anyways? Seeing as she's been lying on her back for God only knows how long, she figures she'd been resting a while. Doesn't plan on moving any time real soon neither. Her chest hurts a bit and she's pretty sure it'd hurt a whole lot more if she tries to move much.

She glances around and sees that River is looking at her, a peculiar look on her face. An odd mix of fascination and worry.

"You okay?" River asks.

"Shiny." Zoë answers. She takes a good look around for the first time since she opened her eyes. This don't look like the infirmary. Don't smell like it either. Matter of fact, it looks a lot like one of the shuttles.

"What are we doing on a shuttle?" She asks, looking back at Wash, who has suddenly found the floor to be really interesting. "Where is everyone else?"

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Wash gulps. Zoë isn't going to like what he has to say, 'specially the Mal staying behind, part. He isn't going to like her reaction. He can already see her getting angry. Thinks she already suspects what maybe might be going on. Nope, not gonna like her reaction one tiny little bit. He gulps again then decides it'd be best to just bite the bullet and get it done, it'll only piss her off more if he stalls or lies, so he tells her what happened after she got knocked out.

"You left Mal behind? Alone?" The anger he sees in her face startles him, and from the look on the young doctor's face, scares the bejeezus out of him. He doesn't blame Simon, Zoë is down right scary when she's pissed.

Being her husband, Wash has seen her pretty ticked off before, and has often been the reason why, but not like she is now. If she wasn't hurt, he's pretty sure he'd be ducking right now. Or hitting the floor. Hard.

"He made us leave. Split us up onto the shuttles. Four a piece. Said it evened the odds and that he wasn't leaving Serenity." She doesn't look appeased in the slightest. If anything, she looks angrier. He quickly adds, "I put in a button he can use to recall us if he fixes the problem."

She fixes him with a glare that's cold as ice. "We're goin' back for him. Now."

Wisely, no one argues. Even River says nothing. Merely nods and finds a spot to sit. He can't help but think that River agrees with Zoë. She don't think they should have left Mal alone. Wash isn't sure what he thinks about it, merely nods and heads for the flight controls.

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She thinks she maybe might be in love with him. Not that she'll ever tell him that, or the others. Barely even admits it to herself. For the life of her, she can't figure out why, or even when it might have started. They're about as different as two people can be. She was all set to not like him much from the beginning. Who can blame her? What with him calling her a whore all the time.

Want to or not, she's pretty sure she's falling for him. Hard. And she just left him to die, all alone, on a dying ship.

She can't help but wonder what he's doing right now. Has the air run out yet? Is he lying on the floor gasping for air and dying? Or maybe sitting in the pilot's chair with one of his army blankets wrapped around him, freezing to death as he stares blankly into the cold vastness of space?

She hears the whispers of her shipmates behind her, but mostly ignores them. It's just idle chatter. They're all scared, though she knows Jayne will never admit it.

It dawns on her just then that Jayne hasn't tried to take over yet. Not even once. She thinks, just maybe, he cares about Mal more than he's willing to admit. Wonders if he even admits it to himself. She doubts it. Which brings her to think about Kaylee and Simon. Wonders if Mal is as clueless to how she feels about him as Simon is about how Kaylee feels about him.

Inara is so deep in her own thoughts, she doesn't hear Jayne come up behind. A loud sniff then Jayne saying, "'Nara, there's something wrong with your shuttle, smells funny," startles her. He sniffs again for good measure and scowls at her. She sighs in frustration and shakes her head.

"It's incense, Jayne."

As he walks away shaking his head, he mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like, "Jien tah-duh guay!". She's not sure if he's being his normal aggravating self, of if he's just trying to cover up that he's worried about Mal. That a small part of him does actually care about the captain. He rejoins the Shepherd and Kaylee. She returns to her thoughts. Thinks back on her first meeting with the captain.

After a few minutes, their voices get a bit louder and she can make out parts of their conversation. Kaylee, mostly. She wants to go back, but, at the same time is scared too. She thinks we did wrong by him, leaving him to die alone. Book is torn as well. She can't hear what Jayne's saying. Thinks maybe he's leaning towards not going back.

Screw him. This is her shuttle. They're going back for their captain, their friend.

The man she loves.

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They arrive back at Serenity to find that Simon and the others are already back. They see the other shuttle as they come in close to Serenity and dock. The first thing she notices as she steps back onto Serenity is that she's able to breath just fine. She don't need to go to the engine room to know he did it. Atmo is working. Her captain fixed the ship. She knew he'd find a way. He always does. Their first stop is the infirmary - Zoë has already been moved there. She's awake. Kaylee gives her a smile that beams like an early morning sunrise. She's power glad that Zoë's doing better. Worried as she's been about Serenity, Kaylee's been just as worried about her friend. She looks around and her smile fades.

"Where's the captain?" Kaylee asks no one in particular.

"We don't know," Wash answers, "we just got back a few minutes ago and have been getting Zoë settled."

Kaylee nods. "I'm going to look for him."

As she leaves the infirmary, she hears Zoë's voice. "I'm settled. Help them look for the captain." Then she hears the scuff of a chair on the floor and footsteps coming up behind her.

Wash and Jayne go off to check the cargo bay; Inara and Book head off towards the cockpit. Kaylee goes to check the engine room.

She gets there in no time and smiles broadly again to see the engine turning. She runs to it. Rubs her hands over it. And the smile fades again as her hands come into something sticky and wet. She gasps as she gets a good look and sees that it's blood. It can only be one person's blood 'cause she knows she weren't bleeding 'for they left, and there's only two people who really ever come in here.

Fast as she can she races to the engine room and skids to a stop. Book and Inara are already there. She's crying, he looks grim. And there's blood. So much blood. She wonders, briefly, how so much blood can come outta one person and that person still be living.

"Cap'n!" She rushes to his side. He can't be dead. He just can't be.

"He's alive, child," Book assures her. "He badly hurt though. We need to get him to the infirmary now."

Just then, Jayne and Wash come running in to the cockpit. "Mal's gotta be hurt or something," Jayne says. "There's an awful lot of blood in the cargo bay." Then he looks down. "Oh."

"Don't just stand there, Jayne," Kaylee all but hollers, "help us."

Wash and Jayne spring into action. Each grab a leg as Book gently grasps under Mal's arms and they all lift together.

She covers a gasping sob as Mal's head lolls limply to the side. She pulls a clean cloth from her pocket and puts pressure on his wound as they walk, quickly and carefully as possible, to the infirmary. It don't help much. After only a few seconds, the cloth is soaked clean through. She don't dare move though. The pressure might still be helping.

Inara trails behind, looking like she feels as helpless as Kaylee does. She wonders if Inara cares a lot more about the captain then she lets on. Wonders if it's more, even, then just as friends.

She doesn't have time to think on that now. They have to get the cap'n to Simon. Simon will fix him up good as new. He just has to. She can't lose him.

She just can't.

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He's glad, now, that he insisted on taking blood samples from all of them when he'd agreed to stay on as the ship's medic in exchange for room and board for himself and River. He took the samples for a few reasons. To test for any diseases and to check blood types being the two main ones. Mal's pretty bad off. He's going to need a blood transfusion. He knows that Wash is the only one with a compatible blood type.

Jayne and Book lower him gently on the table, then back away. There are two words he never thought would ever be in the same sentence, Jayne and gentle. Simon doesn't ever recall seeing Jayne actually look so worried. It surprises him, but he doesn't let on. He'll have time to think on that later. Right now, he has a patient to tend to. He gets to work without delay. First order of business is to clear out his infirmary until only him, the Captain, and Zoë remain. He'll call Wash back in when he needs him. Then he gets to work, removes the captain's makeshift bandage, and then rolls him onto his side. No exit wound. He'd suspected there wouldn't be one, but had to be sure. Rolling him back on to his back, Simon begins prepping the captain for surgery.

It's a good thing he drew blood from each of them to store on board when he took the samples for testing. The captain is going to need it and this way; he can use the stored blood while he does the surgery so no one else will have to be in the room. He hates being crowded. It's also a very good thing that methods of storing blood have greatly improved since people left Earth-that-was. It stays good in storage a lot longer now. Besides, he knows the captain will need more blood than that, so there was no question that he'd need Wash after the surgery is done.

He looks at the open drawer, notes the missing needle, and hooks up the necessary equipment so he can monitor the captain's heart rate closely. He uses a disinfectant wipe to clean the captain's left arm where he'll be putting the IV. That only takes a minute and he quickly sets up the IV. Readying his tools only takes another few minutes. He glances over to Zoë, sees she's fallen back asleep, and she seems comfortable enough. Then Simon makes his incision.

Several hours later, he's finally done. The bullet is out, the internal damage repaired. As he figured, the captain needs more blood. It's truly amazing just how much blood there is in the human body, and even more so that the captain actually accomplished what he did and survived when he'd lost more than half of his. Knowing that all of them actually listened to him about getting some food and rest, he can see them in his peripheral vision, loitering outside of the infirmary. He calls for Wash, explains what needs doing and waits for Wash's reply. After all, he can't force the man to do this if he doesn't want to. Wash doesn't hesitate. Just takes off his shirt and sits in the offered chair. Simon sets up the IV in Wash's arm and connects it to the captain.

He's done all he can. It's up to the captain now. All they can do it sit and wait for him to wake up. And, in the case of Shepherd Book, maybe say a prayer or two. Simon thinks, maybe just this once, he'll join the Shepherd.

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Wakefulness comes back to him slowly. He hears voices, but can't make out what they're saying; they're all jumbled up. With just a little effort, he can open his eyes. The voices become more distinguish able. He turns his head as he hears Zoë's voice. Thinks that, for reasons he can't recollect just yet, he should be very pleased to hear he talking and turns his head towards her. Seeing her lying on a table by the wall, he remembers what happened to her and why it's so good to hear her voice.

"Welcome back, sir." She says with a smile.

Huh? He thinks they're the ones that left, not him. His head's a little fuzzy though. "I go someplace?"

"Very nearly." He was asking Zoë, but doesn't much mind that Book answers. His brain still ain't working right and he's not sure what the Sheperd means by that.

"We thought we'd lost you."

He looks towards Inara.

Wait a minute. Didn't he order them to leave? "I've been right here." How could they have lost him when they knew exactly were they'd left him?

He looks back towards Zoë, and wonders what's wrong with Wash. "Wash, you okay?"

What's he smiling like that for? "Yeah, Mal, I'm fine." Oh.

Yeah, well, if he's so fine, why's he got that thing in his arm? "You got a thing in your arm." He knows what it is, just can't remember what it's called at the moment.

"Yeah." He laughs at Mal again.

The doc speaks to him this time. "Try not to speak. You're heavily medicated and you've lost a lot of blood."

Ahhh. So that's why his speech is a might bit slurred and his brain kinda feels like it's just floating around up there.

"Ohhh." He pauses a moment. It's all starting to come back to him now. "I thought I ordered you all off the ship. I call you back?"

"No Mal, you didn't."

Okay, so he wasn't dreaming that he fell flat on face a few feet from the button.

"I take full responsibility, Captain. Won't happen again." Zoë, he should have known.

"The decision saved your life."

No kidding doc. Even drugged up, Mal can figure that much out on his own, knowing as he does now that he didn't call them back.

"Won't happen again, sir."

"Good. And thanks, I'm grateful."

"It was my pleasure, sir."

He doesn't even want to think about what he'd do without her. Their bond is one of friendship, even closer really, than that. He can't put words to it. Doesn't even want to try.

He's really starting to feel sleepy again and starts to drift. Then Jayne has to get his say in.

"Hey, We'd have been back first, except there's somethin' wrong with Inara's shuttle. She done somethin' to it, Mal. It smells funny."

He wants to laugh at the look on Jayne's face, and the looks the other's give Jayne, but he's too tired to manage it.

"I told you. That's incense."

"So you say."

Fight nice children, he thinks.

"Hey, captain."

He knew he was missin' someone. "Hey."

"You fixed the ship. Good work." She smiles at him. He loves her smile. Always lights up the whole room no matter where they are.

Yeah, he did. Didn't he?

He smiles for her. He always has a smile for his mei mei.

"All right. I have to insist - the captain needs his rest."

Doctor Tam to the rescue. "Yeah. I think the doc might not be wrong about that one." Knows he isn't wrong. All he wants to do know is just sleep for a spell. "Just going to need a few...." He starts to drift off then wakes and jerks his head up a bit to the side. There's something he's gotta make sure of 'for he sleeps. "You all gonna be here when I wake up?"

"We'll be here." Book says as he touches Mal's leg.

He's sure they will be. Book wouldn't lie to him. "Good. That's good." As he drifts off to sleep, he hears that ship salesmen's voice.

"Yep. Real beauty, ain't she. Yes, sir, a right smart purchase, this vessel. I'll tell you what. You buy this ship, treat her proper, she'll be with you for the rest of your life."

That she will be, if he has anything to say about it. That she will be.

THE END

BUN tyen-shung duh ee-DWAY-RO. = Stupid inbred stack of meat

Jien tah-duh guay! = Like Hell!

mei mei = little sister