After explaining everything he had to River and Zoe, the room became uncomfortably still. The man had been through hell. Not only had he survived the war, but he had survived Niska, bullet wounds, knife wounds, his ear was cut off and reattached, he beat a ship losing oxygen and heat, he survived the Operative on Mr. Universe's moon, he had walked away from a sword fight, one that he won, and yet three little bullet wounds might do him in for good.

"What happened exactly?" Simon asked. Somehow, that hadn't come up. He didn't really need to know. He knew it was bullet wounds, but other than that they had no idea what went down.

"We told River to go up ahead with the crates and wait for us. We got there and she was gone along with the crates. Mal knew instantly somethin' was wrong. We went into their cottage and were surrounded by gun hands. Emerald showed up with a gun to River's head, insistin' on us leavin' without pay or she'd die. Mal turned to us and said that River said she could take him if we gave her cover. How he knew this, I don't know. So we did and she kicked him in the head. We got out of there in a hurry. They started to aim for River, so Mal leapt in front of her. 'Fore I knew it he's down and she's beside him. We kept shootin' 'til River went and killed them all," Zoe explained.

"Why'd they take River?" Kaylee asked.

"They found out they was together 'n all. Said he found Mal's gorram weakness. I'm glad your lil' sis snapped his neck," Jayne growled.

"He took three bullets for my sister?" Simon asked.

"Sure did."

"Honest doc, he gonna make it?" Jayne asked.

"There're a lot of if's, but he has good chance if things go his way."

River held his hand tightly. She tried to hear his thoughts, but she couldn't hear anything. It scared her. She had always heard his thoughts. She had become accustom to hearing his voice floating around in her head. Without it, things seemed empty.

"You need to wake up and fight this. I know you can. I'm sorry. I knew about the snakes and the deceit, but not in time. If I had, maybe things would be different. I'm sorry…"

She felt his hand barely squeeze hers. He was there, but only just and she couldn't tell for how long. She put her head on his shoulder and tucked it under his neck, trying to avoid the large incision Simon had made. She listened to his heartbeat. She knew something was wrong. His heartbeat wasn't the same. She knew his heartbeat anywhere.

"SIMON!" she shouted. Everyone outside jumped. Simon scrambled into the room with Zoe hot on his heels.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"His heartbeat, it's wrong."

"What do you mean by 'wrong'?"

"I know it anywhere, just check."

Simon listened to his heartbeat and sure enough, it wasn't right. He also checked his breathing and it was off too.

"This might mean anemia. It occurs with blood loss. I need to test to see, but this only occurs with severe cases. It might be nothing, maybe even the trauma. I'll check to make sure."

Zoe walked over to River's side and placed her hand comfortingly on her shoulder. They shared a common feeling. They both loved Mal. He was their rock. Without him, life wouldn't be the same.

After the test, it was confirmed. He had anemia.

"What does that mean?" Zoe asked.

"I'll give him some vitamins. That should help. If it doesn't, he'll need a blood transfusion. This is the most I can do here. He needs a hospital."

"The closest hospital on this world is a few hours away, but I'm worried about being linked with the shootout."

"We might have to take that risk. Right now, River's blood and the vitamins are enough if it'll just be a day's journey."

"There's a world with some good facilities a day or so away."

"Let's go."

Zoe left quickly with a barked order to heat Serenity up. They took off shortly after that. Simon sat in the corner of the room, watching River and Mal intently. He wasn't about to leave again. He watched River caringly wipe some of the sweat off of his forehead with a cloth. He could see the love in her eyes. The man took three bullets for her. Maybe, maybe…he wasn't the worse guy in the world. If Mal always acted like that, then maybe he was wrong about him.

The day dragged on. River was feeling weaker. She had already given more blood than she should have. Yet every time Simon tried to get her to stop, she wouldn't let him anywhere near her. She drifted into a light sleep. He tried to take the line out then, but she swatted him away without even waking up. What woke her up was the sudden change in Mal's breathing. She sat up suddenly and looked down at him. His breathing was labored and sounded off. Simon noticed it too and was already listening to his chest. He heard extra heartbeats. Cao, this can't be good. He thought.

"What can't be good?" River asked.

"I think his heart is failing, left side. Sounds like fluid against the lung and the chest wall. I need to drain the fluid and operate. I can't wait until we get to the hospital." He ran to the intercom. "Zoe I need you down here."

"Can't. I have to fly this boat. What's happening?"

"His heart is failing."

"Ai ya."

Simon needed someone to help. River wasn't in the right state of mind. She was hugging Mal's head closely to her chest with tears in her eyes. He darted out into the common area to find Inara sitting there. She'd have to do.

"I need you to help me with surgery, now."

Inara didn't stop to think. She was up and at Mal's side before Simon was. She was never one for blood and guts, but this was Mal. She'd do whatever it took.

Simon put Mal to sleep and then got to work, reopening the chest again. The surgery was going pretty well, until something went wrong. Mal went into cardiac arrest. Simon tried to revive him, but it didn't work. He tried again and again. Inara was crying and so was River. Simon stopped. He had lost him. Malcolm Reynolds was dead. River wouldn't accept it. She grabbed his hand and then looked down at him.

"You aren't going anywhere. Remember? You told me that. You're a man of your word." She bent down and kissed him and whispered against his lips, "Come back."

To Simon and Inara's amazement, Mal got a pulse. A very weak one, but a pulse nevertheless. Inara couldn't believe that River's love brought him back. She decided right then and there to step aside. She couldn't fight love like that. And if Mal was happy and alive, that was enough for her.

Simon was able to finish the surgery successfully. For now, he was somewhat stable. River was out of blood to give, but they were only a few hours out of the hospital. Zoe had already set up the meet. They landed on the planet shortly after that. The medical crew was already waiting at the docks. Simon and River decided to be the two to go with him on the airlift to the hospital.

River grasped his hand tightly. She kissed his forehead and looked down at him once again. "Time to wake up."

Slowly, his eyes flickered open. He saw River smiling at him. "Five more minutes."

"Okay. Five more minutes. Don't stay away for long," she grinned.

"I ain't goin' anywhere, little one…"

Simon watched in amazement. They got to the hospital where Mal got a blood transfusion. Simon had patched him up pretty well considering. River never left his side. He woke up later that day. He felt River's lips against his before his eyes had even focused yet.

"Where am I?" he yawned.

"A hospital."

"I'm still alive."

"Yes you are."

"Where is everyone?"

"Outside waiting to come in."

"Bring 'em in."

"You up to it?"

"Everythin's shiny darlin' as long as I'm breathin' the same air as you."

She got up and got everyone to come in. She was on an IV herself, since she gave an unsafe amount of blood. Kaylee hugged him carefully, Jayne patted him roughly on the shoulder, Inara simply smiled, Simon nodded, and Zoe smiled with a simple sentiment. "Welcome back sir."

"It's good to be back."

"The doctors will only let two people in at a time, so some of us will have to leave." Simon said.

"That's a gorram shame," Mal sighed.

"It is sir. But we'll all take turns annoying you."

"Make sure that you do," Mal called after them. Simon hung back to talk to him.

"I wanted to thank you."

"Why you thankin' me, doc? You're the one that kept me alive 'till I got here I reckon."

"River had a part in that too. She gave you blood."

"You did? Maybe you aren't an albatross after all," he joked. River smiled and set her hand on his.

"Anyway, you took three bullets for her. And I just…I'm sorry. I believe that I misjudged you. I'd like to apologize for the trouble. And…" he swallowed hard. "I think that I can accept this."

Mal smiled widely, but not as wide as River was. "Thank you doc. That means a lot."

He nodded and then left River and Mal alone.

"You scared me, you know…" River began.

"I'm a mite sorry 'bout that, but you know that I always got you."

"I got you, too."

The end


I feel bad that the plan from Simon and Inara didn't have a bigger role, but when you think about it River would know about it…anyways thanks for reading! I hope you liked it!