The elevator doors clanged shut. He was having trouble breathing and his vision in his left eye was blurred and slightly red. He wasn't sure why. His hand was pressed firmly to his bleeding side. Then, he staggered out into the corridor where his crew was.
"Sir?" Zoe called.
"It's done," came his response.
Zoe let out a sigh of relief, relaxing just barely.
He looked over his crew. Inara had blood on her cheek. She was over Simon. Simon was holding his gut, probably a gunshot wound. Kaylee was on top of some crates reaching out towards either Simon or Inara, it was hard to tell. Zoe was leaning against the crates, looking pretty roughed up. Then Jayne was next to Zoe propped up against the wall looking sleepy. He instantly knew he was missing one: River.
"Report?" he asked nervously, still looking around for the girl deemed his albatross. Maybe she's behind a crate curled up or hiding. I can't see all of the gorram corridor. He thought hopefully. Zoe looked up at him sadly.
Inara looked up at him with teary eyes. He was sick at first. After everything she had been through she had to be taken out by Reavers. Then his sickness transferred quickly over to rage and pain. First Book, then Wash, and now RIVER? It was his fault. If he had just decided to keep the gorram message then River and Wash would be alive. To think that he was just going to let her walk away a few days ago was mindboggling. Before he could even begin to fully mourn his loss or understand why he was feeling so heartbroken, a sudden noise that sounded like doors opening drew his attention to the end of the corridor.
The doors were opening. At first it was just a glimpse of a silhouette of someone's head. As they opened up more, he knew it was River. He recognized that milky white skin anywhere. Then her shoulders, her bodice, and then he saw all of his albatross. She was holding onto an axe in one hand and a sword in the other. Bodies were everywhere around her. That crazy assassin had taken down a room of Reavers and lived. That was his girl alright.
He was so relieved. He wanted to run to her and just hold her and never let go, but his injuries wouldn't allow it. The wall behind her was suddenly ripped out. Blinding light flooded both rooms. Then, troops entered behind her.
He looked at her nervously. They were both panting from their fights. Her big brown eyes looked at him with a dark and dangerous tint. He knew that she was thinking about taking them down.
"Drop your weapons!" one shouted.
"Do it now!" another added.
"Put the weapons down!"
"Hands in the air!"
"Do it! Do it now!"
Everyone except for River and Mal put their hands up. They were fighters. That's just who they were. He loved that about her, but he hated it to. Sure he wasn't raising his hands, but he didn't have any fight left in him. He knew that River was a warrior, hell a human weapon, but these guys were heavily armed with guns and she was an army of one with a sword and an axe. There was no way that she could kill them all without getting shot or getting everyone else shot. It was impossible. And he couldn't lose her too. He just couldn't…
"Do we have a kill order?"
River looked back at the troops calmly. He knew that she was waiting for the moment to attack. He couldn't run to her and help her. She'd be on her own and he'd be left to watch her die.
"Do we have an order?"
Mal got that sick feeling in his gut again as he watched River grip the axe tighter in her hand. Don't do it, River. Don't do it. He pleaded in his mind.
"Stand down! Stand down…it's finished…we're finished…" the Operative coughed.
River turned around, her gaze falling on her captain. Mal looked at her breathing heavily from the intensity of the events that had just unfolded. His heart was still pounding. He couldn't believe that it was over.
The troops just stood there awkwardly with their guns lowered. River dropped the weapons and walked into the corridor, dropping beside Simon. She smiled at him.
"I told you that you wouldn't leave," she said shakily. He smiled weakly in return.
"Give them medical attention," the Operative ordered. The confused troops went to get the field medics.
Mal was too stubborn to sit down, so he remained standing. River got up and glided over to him. He took his arm and put it around her shoulders, supporting more of his weight than he thought that she would be able to. If his face didn't hurt so badly he would have smiled.
"Thanks, little one…" he said slowly, enjoying the feeling of her tiny body tucked so perfectly against him.
"No. Thank you, Captain."
She helped him stand while the other members of the crew got whisked off on stretchers. Then, they walked together to the waiting medical vehicle. He refused to lie down, so she made him sit beside her.
"You need to sleep," she said quietly.
"I don't have one of them fancy phrases to knock me out like you got," he teased.
She didn't reply. Instead, she wrapped her tiny arms around his arm. He jumped at the sudden contact, but didn't mind it. He actually liked it, although he didn't want to admit it. She just barely set her head on his shoulder mentally and physically exhausted. A doctor finally got to work on him after stabilizing Simon. He made Mal lay down, despite his grumbling and arguing. He looked over at River. She reached out, barely touching his hand.
"I'll be here when you wake up, Captain."
His mouth curled into a painful smile. "Guess that's my phrase…" he muttered before drifting off into a restful sleep.