A Lonely Death

A Firefly fic by Merrie

Disclaimer: Firefly ain't mine. If it was, and I was invincible, Fox'd be under new management and we'd be seeing new episodes.

Summary: This takes place during "Out of Gas." It's what happens to Mal and the crew in-between the elusive red button scene and him waking up in the infirmary.

Note: This is just a drabble; a scene I would have liked to see, didn't, and decided to write a fic on. I wrote in between watching episodes on a whim. This is my first attempt for Firefly, please be gentle. Also, as I started this long before the BDM was even a rumour on the fans lips, there are no spoilers for Serenity whatsoever.

Rating: PG-13

Have to get to it. Can't stop. Miracle's here. Have to get to it. Can't stop. Miracle's here. The mantra went through Mal's head without pause over and over again, pushing all other thoughts out. He hardly felt the pain of the bullet wound at his side any longer although he could feel his hands warm and sticky with his blood. Have to get to it…

He stared across the bridge to the bright red button Wash had installed for him, the distance seeming to stretch on for miles. He had thought it was rather silly looking when Wash had shown it to him, almost comically large, but he hadn't taken into consideration that with its size and color it was much easier to focus on should he be gasping for breath or shot in the stomach. But did it have to be so gorram far? He frowned as his mantra had become interrupted by his thoughts, pain shooting through his body once more, making him gasp and moan. Don't think about it Just keep going. You have to keep going. Miracle's here. Air...

At the thought of air he took a deep shuddering breath, attempting to drive off the slight nausea and intense headache he had from breathing in too much carbon dioxide. He took another long look at the button, marveling at the way the light reflected off of it, and took a step.

Agony. He wasn't going to make it. He was going to die on this ship—his ship—alone. We all die alone. He had told Inara that, fully believing it. He hadn't known the real truth of it however until now. When she had asked him to stay, every part of him was screaming at him to accept. To at least die among friends, that he didn't have to die alone. The "can't" had made its way out of his mouth without a fight though, and his hopes had went with it. The numbers had been against him. Four per shuttle, two shuttles, nine people. Someone had to stay behind.

He didn't mind that it was him. It felt right to die in Serenity. The valley had had her chance to swallow him whole, and it nearly had. It was fate, kismet, and karma that he should die in the hands of Serenity. And from the way his vision had begun to cloud as he made an achingly slow progress toward the red button and salvation, it looked like he was about to embrace that death with open arms. He had failed. His crew, his ship, his own self; everything would be dust now. His last thought before succumbing to the darkness was that at least his crew wouldn't have to die alone.

WWW

"Doc! Doc! I think she's waking up! Zoe, darling, lambie toes, can you hear me? Open your eyes if you can hear me," Wash pleaded, hearing his wife's soft moan.

Simon would have asked Wash to step aside and to give Zoe some space, but after a brief glance at him, worry plain on his face, he decided to stay quiet. "Zoe, can you hear me? You took quite a blow during the fire. Don't try and push yourself, but I want you to open your eyes," Simon instructed in a calm, even voice.

"Is she going to be ok, doc?" Washed asked, giving Simon a direct look.

"She's going to be fine. I think," Zoe murmured, opening her eyes slowly and looking at both men. "What happened? I feel like I got tackled by Jayne without warning. Or protection," she moaned. She then took a look around and saw that they were in Serenity's second shuttle. "Why are we in the shuttle?" She looked at Wash. "And who's flying this gorramn thing?" She attempted to rise and look down at the pilot seat but Simon and Wash forced her back down onto the cot gently.

Simon and Wash just looked at each other after her question, both of them managing to look both utterly horrified and amazed at the same time. "River's flying. She won't let anyone else near the controls. She said she'd keep us in the black. Keep us breathing," Wash said slowly, casting a glance over his shoulder to wear River was seated, a determined look on her face as she piloted the shuttle with the ease of a familiarity that she couldn't possibly have had. "She's not half bad for never having flown one before. Not as good as me, mind you, but not half bad. It's all rather unsettling."

Zoe opened her mouth as if to protest what she couldn't bring herself to believe before deciding she didn't have the energy and staying silent.

"What's the last thing you remember?" Simon asked softly, trying not to think about his mentally unstable sister at the helm of the shuttle. He trusted her knowledge to keep them safe; she wouldn't intentionally harm any of them, but he worried all the same. Not that any of that mattered once they ran out of air. He was trying to be optimistic, but it was hard. Maybe if Kaylee had been there with him…

"I remember fire. I pushed Kaylee out of the way of fire. After that, nothing. What happened? Where's everyone else? Why aren't we on Serenity? Is everyone alright?"

"There was an explosion on the ship. That's where the fire came from. Mal was able to vent it off the ship. He saved us," Wash said softly, looking down at his hands.

"The explosion damaged the engine. It stopped working and we were without life support. We had to abandon Serenity on the shuttles in an attempt to seek help," Simon added softly.

"But we're in deep space. Ain't no one out here," Zoe pointed out with a frown. "Wait…you said, the crew got aboard the shuttles and left Serenity. These shuttles only hold four people each. They don't have the air or heat to deal with more. There are nine people on board Serenity. Someone stayed behind." She paused, her face going stony. "Mal."

"Captain stayed to save us all. No one left to save him. Everyone dies alone," River's voice seemed to float through the shuttle.

"We're going back for him," Zoe continued. If she had heard River's comment, she made no sign.

"If we go back now, we won't be able to leave again. The shuttles won't last that long. We'll have to stay on Serenity. We'll die on Serenity," Simon pointed out, not wanting to be the bearer of bad news, but used to it in his line of work.

"Then we'll die. No one deserves to die alone, Simon. No one," Zoe said firmly. "Now turn this thing around and take us back to Serenity."

Simon nodded solemnly and turned to tell River what Zoe had said.

"Docking will commence in approximately five minutes. Flying in circles until the choice was made," River informed them with a nod. Simon and Wash both stood to look out the front to see, Serenity's visage filling their sight.

"It's...the ship's runnin'. It's flying again. Mal must have…" Wash trailed off, not wanting to go on. Why hadn't Mal called them back if he had gotten the ship running?

"Must hurry. No one dies alone," River said, speeding along as quickly as the shuttle would go, knowing that time was of the essence. Mal's life depended on it.

WWW

"For the last time you inept moron, its incense you smell. And since it's my shuttle anyway, anything I do to it is my business," Inara said exasperatedly.

"Yeah, sure it is," Jayne said with a roll of his eyes, not bothering to argue against the moron insult. If the crew thought he was denser than he actually was it would be easier to surprise them when the time came that he needed to. If he ever did. As long as the pay continued to be good and at least somewhat constant then he would let Serenity's crew and her captain go about business as usual without incident.

"Don't argue you two, please. Not while the Captain's… It ain't right, is all. We shouldn't'a left him. Not alone," Kaylee whispered with a frown that drew guilty silence from the two combatants.

"He's not alone, Kaylee. God is watching over him," Book assured her with a kind smile.

"The Captain don't believe in God, Shepard. I reckon you know that better than I. Why would God watch over a man who doesn't believe in Him?"

"That is the nature of God, child," Book said softly. "He believes in us. He'll watch over the Captain because whether he likes it or not, he is one of God's children."

Inara let Kaylee be comforted by the Shepard's words for a few minutes before speaking up. "We're going back."

Jayne spluttered at that. "Are you out of your gorram mind? If we go back, we die. No gorram way. We're staying out here and looking for help like the captain said."

"This is my shuttle and I say that we're going back. Deal with it, Jayne," Inara said sternly. "No one's going to die alone." Especially not Mal. She turned the shuttle back in the direction of Serenity and headed home.

WWW

"There's air," Simon murmured with a hint of wonder in his voice as he stepped off of the shuttle and into the cargo bay of Serenity.

"The Captain must have fixed it," Wash murmured in amazement. "Not that I didn't think he did. Mal's great and all—" Zoe cut off her husband's worried ramblings with a gentle hand on his arm as she lay on the stretcher.

It did seem to look that way. "Come on. Let's get Zoe back to the infirmary. I can better take care of her there," Simon announced, nodding to Wash. Together the two of them lifted Zoe and the stretcher and carried her through the cargo bay and down into the infirmary.

Neither man noticed as River darted off in the direction of bridge, but Zoe's eyes missed nothing and her brow furrowed as a bad feeling crept up her spine. "Where's the captain?"

Both men looked out through the glass windows of the infirmary, half hoping that he would be right there watching for neither man had an answer for Zoe's simple question. "Why wasn't he there waiting for us?"

"Why didn't he call us back?" Wash continued, his voice filled with dread.

"Where's River?" Simon continued, his voice now filled with a matching dread to mingle with Wash's.

All three crew members spoke in unison. "The Bridge."

WWW

River walked with a purpose feeling Serenity crumble around her. She knew she should walk faster, but the air was thin and the ground was hard on her feet. Time was slipping past and the world was growing dark. "No one dies alone," she repeated, walking up through the hallway leading to the crew's bunks and up onto the bridge. "You're not alone," she addressed the unconscious captain, standing at the doorway and looking at him. "You can get up now."

Mal didn't get up. He didn't open his eyes and he hardly breathed. He simply laid face-first on the deck of the bridge at her feet, blood soaking through his shirt and onto the ground. She knew it was there though she couldn't see it.

River frowned at him for a moment before looking across the room at the button that had remained unpressed; the crew uncalled. She could walk over and push it for him but the gesture would be wasted; meaningless. Time was a fixed construct. You couldn't unmake what had never been made.

"They're coming for you," she whispered, crouching down at his side and pushing a lock of hair away from his forehead so she could better see his face. "Your family's coming for you. Serenity doesn't have you yet." She hunkered down against the wall and waited for the others to come.

WWW

River hadn't had to wait long. Serenity wasn't a large ship and people could run very fast indeed when worried for their loved ones. It was Wash who nearly tripped up the steps to the bridge, pressed into frantic action to make sure Mal was alright for he carried both his and Zoe's worry as his own. Simon was close at his heels, the two of them having agreed that Zoe would be alright on her own for a little while. Zoe had agreed, telling them to go and make sure Mal hadn't gotten himself into trouble again.

"River? What—" the question died on Wash's lips as he looked down to where Mal was sprawled on the hard metal grating of the floor, his arms stretched out at his sides as if he were still reaching for the button across the room. There was blood on those hands. "Wu de tyen ah," Wash breathed in prayer. "Doc! Get in here right now!" He needn't have shouted as Simon was already kneeling at Wash's side.

Simon reached forward to press against the side of Mal's neck, feeling for a pulse. "He's alive," he announced though the relief that usually accompanied such words was missing from his voice. "His pulse is weak. Let's get him over on his side, see if we can't wake him—" Simon cut himself off with a gasp that should have been curbed by years of medical training as their eyes came upon the pool of blood that flowed freely from Mal's side.

"Dear God," Wash moaned again. "You've got to help him, Doc."

"Help me get him up. We don't have time to go back for the stretcher now. Grab his arm," Simon instructed in a cool voice, having gotten his initial panicked reaction under control. It was time to do his job.

"Nobody dies alone," River's eerie voice seemed to float over them as Wash and Simon carried their unconscious captain down past the crew quarters and down the stairs to the lower deck, each man cursing the fact that the infirmary wasn't closer.

Zoe had nothing to say when they laid her captain, sergeant and friend out beside her, somehow having sense that this had happened. She simply watched stoically as Simon worked to save Mal's life.

"He's lost a lot of blood," Simon murmured as he placed a wad of gauze on the seeping wound in Mal's side. "And it looks as if he's been in here already," he said gesturing to the bloodied handprint on the door and the used vial of atropine on the floor.

"There was blood in the cargo bay too. Would have drowned you all had you noticed," River murmured, having snuck in behind them.

"The bullet's still in his side. I'll need to remove it before I can close the wound," Simon continued as if he hadn't heard River speak at all. "He'll need a transfusion."

"I'll do it," Wash offered. "I mean you and Zoe can't so that leaves me."

"Alright," Simon said with a nod. He didn't bother asking if Wash and Mal were the same blood type for it didn't matter. Advances over the years and during the Alliance/Independent War especially had made it possible to conform any blood type to pair any other. It was something Simon—and the Captain though he wasn't aware of it—was incredibly thankful for. "Now everyone please step back. I need to work."

WWW

Inara's shuttle returned not moments after Simon had started surgery and he had been forced to play defense as 4 more worried crew members—Kaylee chief amongst them—came with questions about their injured captain. In truth, Simon didn't have any answers for them and was glad when Shepard Book stepped in to calm everyone down as was his gift.

"But is the Captain going to be alright?" Kaylee entreated through the infirmary door, not able to move past the Shepard as he stood guard.

"I'm certain that the doctor is taking the utmost care of him, Kaylee. You know that."

"Yeah…" Kaylee said with some hesitation before brightening noticeably. "Simon fixed me up all shiny. He can do the same for the captain easy."

"And Mal's far too stubborn to leave his ship yet," Inara added softly, notably not including herself and the crew in his reasons to stay.

"He's going to be fine," Simon announced after a moment. "I've already gotten the bullet out and started the transfusion. He'll no doubt wake in a few hours but I've doped him up pretty thoroughly so you might not get much sense out of him."

"The cap'n don't much sense even when he ain't doped up doc," Jayne pointed out though there was the smallest hint of relief in his voice at Simon's words. The blunt comment from the mercenary seemed to be just what was needed to ease the heavy tension in the room for each and every crew member let out a brief laugh or at the very least cracked a smile.

"No one dies alone," River whispered again only the smile on her face was bright and happy. Her family was safe again.

END

A/N: Love it? Hate it? Let me know. :-)