Mal stood at the edge of what had to be Mr. Universe's generator. The back up unit was across the way over the giant…turning…scary…fan…thing.
"Hard to get to? That's a fact!" he scoffed as he tore off his coat.
He climbed up onto the railing and was just about to attempt to get over to the station when a searing pain hit his back. He slipped and fell down. He used the railing to get back on his feet.
Turning to the Operative he cried, "You shot me in the back! I haven't made you angry, have I?"
"There a lot of innocent people being killed in the air right now," the Operative shot back evenly.
"You have no idea how true that is," Mal replied as the image of Wash impaled on the pilot's chair flashed before his eyes again.
They stood for just a moment in silence staring each other down.
"I know the secret," Mal began slowly. "The truth that burned up River Tam's brain," he added, bitterness and hatred dripping off of every word. "The rest of the 'verse is gonna know it too…'cause they need too."
"Do you really believe that?"
He had a flashback. Shepherd, dying and bloody, clutching his neck. "I don't care what you believe, just believe!" and then he was gone.
"I do," Mal said forcefully as he returned to the moment.
"Are you willing to die for that belief?"
Another flashback. River, the terror in her eyes as she had trained that piece on him in the Maidenhead. He could tell that she wasn't in control. Then she fell to the ground gracefully, like everything else she ever did, the gun beside her, covered in blood that wasn't hers all because some Fruity Oaty Bar commercial pressed the wrong button.
"I am…" he finally said although her image was frozen in his mind.
The Operative gave a little nod. Mal pulled his gun out and shot at him three or so times. He took cover behind some containers.
"Of course that ain't exactly plan A," he spat as he ran back towards the station. He leapt up and caught one of the beams.
He made some distance, although it wasn't the easiest thing in the 'verse. The Operative caught one of the chains and bumped into him with force. He went hurtling down towards the scary fan thing. He frantically reached out and caught one of the other chains. His first thought was, Gorramit! Why couldn't this be easier to get to? His second was, Don't fall. Don't fall. The Operative messed with the chain and he collapsed onto the flooring of the station. He clung to it.
Third, You didn't come this far and get all them people killed to fail now. You didn't come this far to fail her too. "Her" being River.
The Operative landed in front of him. He leapt, a bit startled by the sudden drop in, and quickly recovered. He finally pulled himself up, determined to send the message, kick the son of a whore's ass, save his crew…save her.
The second he got up the Operative tackled him and his gun went flying. He was on top of him and they were struggling, coming very close to gorram edge. He pulled Mal to his feet only to punch him, push him, and then kick him into the railing. Mal tried to punch him, but he was too fast and he wound up falling down again only to be picked up to take more of a beating.
This continued and continued. He got in a few punches, but mostly he was getting the go se beaten out of him. Every time he felt like giving up, that face of hers would flash before his eyes like a transient meteor and he'd go back to fighting.
He grabbed a screwdriver while he was down and shakily stood. He was staring down a sword. They took just a moment to breathe before the fighting commenced. They struggled over the bigger of the two weapons. He was winning until the Operative kneed him and he stumbled. He saw the sword approach him, but he didn't realize what had happened until he felt the pain surging through his entire abdomen.
That's when it all came flooding back. First meeting Simon, then opening the cryo-box, then peering in at the poor girl, and then watching her emerge terrified and naked. Other memories surfaced, watching her talk to the cows and the breeze catch her hair, watching her run around the cargo bay laughing with Kaylee, standing on his ship with her among the stars, various times when he watched her sleep, carrying her home, talking to her on the bridge…
"Do you know what your sin is, Mal?"
He found strength somewhere within him, no doubt from the odd girl he took in eight months back. "Ah hell. I'm a fan of all seven," he managed a smile just before head butting the hundan.
The Operative stumbled back and then recovered by attempting to kick him. He rammed the screwdriver into his foot while the sword remained in his gut. The Operative fell and he pulled the sword out slowly.
"Right now," he saw her in his mind again on that cargo bay floor, naked alone and shaking like a leaf. They did that to her. "I'm gonna have to go with wrath…"
He brought the sword down but the Operative avoided it narrowly. He was kicked again and again he fell. He scraped himself up off the floor only to get a hand wedged into his back with a muttered, "I'm sorry."
The Operative walked in front of him. "You should know that there's no shame in this. You've done remarkable things-" Mal knew that the Operative thought that he was helpless and he had to fight the urge to smile "-but you're fighting a war you've already lost."
It was dumb of the Operative to mention the words "war" and "lost" in the same sentence around a Browncoat.
Mal easily grabbed his arm as he went in for the kill and hit his throat. The Operative stumbled in surprise.
"Yeah well, I'm known for that."
He cracked his back and sat him down. He knew that he had won and went about calmly explaining to the Operative that he had that nerve cluster removed as he picked up the sword.
"Sorry about the throat. I know you'll want to say you're famous last words right now. Just one trouble…" he threaded the sword through the loops on the back of the Operative's shirt. "I ain't gonna kill ya." As much as he wanted to, he couldn't.
"Hell, I'm gonna grant you're greatest wish."
He got to work typing out where to send it. He paused and looked down at the message in his hand. This one thing destroyed an entire girl's life. An innocent girl's life. A sweet girl's life.
"I'm gonna show you a world without sin."
He looked at it one last time before putting it onto the reader. The recording appeared on the screen. He took a moment to let it sink in that it was over. He sent it. She didn't have to carry it anymore. He hit a button and grabbed his gun before staggering across the walkway to get to his crew. They had to know that it was over, it wasn't all in vain, and he had to tell her that she was free now. She didn't have to keep it inside. It was time for her to wake from her nightmare…if she was still alive…she was. She had to be…