Killing Simon

By  Juli

November 2003

Wo de tian a = My God

Simon insisted on placing his sister’s body on the gurney himself.

Mal watched as the younger man tenderly arranged River’s limbs on the narrow metal surface and then smoothed the hair back from her slack face. Loyalty was something he respected – some folks might say that it was the only thing he respected. With a job as big as the one at hand, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to be sentimental. Nonetheless, Mal made the time. He told himself that he just needed Simon as steady as possible and that it had nothing to do with the look in the doctor’s face as he’d carried his sister from her quarters to the converted ambulance shuttle.

Mal had seen that look on many a battlefield: bleak, determined, scared.

“I thought you said the effect was temporary-like?” Mal asked as he approached, careful not to startle the other man.

“It is,” Simon said absently, caressing River’s cheek one last time before turning to face the captain.

“Then why the long face?” Mal didn’t feel guilty for pressing the boy; Simon had done as much to him upon occasion.

“It’s just seeing her like that…” Simon gestured towards his sister’s body, “I guess it bothers me more than I thought it would. For so long, I thought getting her back dead was the only way I’d see her again and now she really is dead – and it’s all my doing.”

“We’ll need to be leavin’ soon,” Mal reminded him. “It’s a little late for second thoughts.”

Mal hid a smile as he watched the effect his words had. If Inara had been there, no doubt she would have fussed at him for being insensitive. She would have been wrong, though, because it was immediately obvious that Mal had found just the right thing to say. Simon’s expression changed and Mal could almost see the boy’s resolve firm up at the same time as his jaw.

“No, no second thoughts,” Simon said quickly. “It’s a good plan.”

“It is at that,” Mal agreed. Simon seemed startled at the ready praise but Mal just shrugged. “If I’d known that you had that kind of criminal mind, I would’ve put you to work planning earlier.”

Simon smiled sheepishly and turned away to fiddle with his medical equipment. “If it weren’t a hospital,” he said, “I don’t know how much use I would be.”

Mal shook his head. “I’m not sure about that.” He let the matter drop when he saw how unconvinced Simon looked. Squaring his shoulders, Mal set his mind on an unpleasant task.

“I suppose we ought to cover her up,” Mal said as he reached for the metal shell that would fit over River’s body.

“No, don’t,” Simon protested, reaching out to grip Mal’s wrist firmly.

The captain stopped at the almost panicked tone in the younger man’s voice. Looking at Simon calmly, he waited.

“Please don’t cover her up,” Simon asked. “At least, not until I’m… dead.”

“All right,” Mal readily agreed. It wouldn’t take any extra time and if it kept Simon from getting spooked, it was a small enough thing to do. He watched as Simon’s eyes closed briefly in relief and felt the pressure ease off as the hand still gripping his wrist relaxed.

Simon apparently had realized he was still holding on to Mal and dropped the older man’s wrist all together. “Sorry. You must think I’m ridiculous.”

Much to his surprise, Mal thought nothing of the kind. “I think you’re a man who’s putting everything he loves on the line. Being nervous is nothing to be ashamed of.” He tried hard not to regret the cooling of the warmth lingering from Simon’s skin touching his.

“It’s just that,” Simon hadn’t seemed to hear him, “She begged me not to. Said she didn’t want to die.” Simon looked away, his jittery gaze resting on anything but Mal or River’s still form.

Mal shivered. He wasn’t seeing River Tam’s face, though. He was seeing the faces of soldiers that were scarcely any older than she was. He knew what River’s pleas not to die had done to her brother – it was probably the same thing those young soldiers’ pleas had done to him.

“She’s not right in the head,” Mal said quietly, his voice as close to gentle as it ever got. “And even a sane person doesn’t want to die, even if it’s only for a little while.”

Simon nodded slowly but hadn’t yet formed a response when Zoe and Jayne stuck their heads into the makeshift ambulance.

“Ten minutes, sir,” Zoe said in a clipped voice.

“Thanks,” Mal responded, eyes not leaving Simon’s tense face. “Why don’t you help Wash do one last exterior visual of this crate. It wouldn’t do for our pretend Alliance ambulance to have chipped paint. Lord knows you can’t save lives if the paint is chipped.”

“Will do, sir.” She looked meaningfully from Mal to Simon. Realizing the captain likely needed some alone time to settle the young man down, she easily accepted the dismissal and stepped back, head disappearing from view.

Jayne didn’t take the hint. “You give the pretty boy his shot yet?”

Mal turned his head slowly to glare at Jayne but the mercenary ignored him.

“Cause if you haven’t yet, I wanna do it. I’ve been wantin’ to kill me a Tam.” He leered at Simon and stepped one foot in the craft. “Drop trou, boy, and present your ass. This’ll only sting for a minute.”

Zoe’s hand appeared through the entryway. She grabbed Jayne by the collar and yanked him back.

“Hey -!” Jayne sputtered as he tumbled out of sight. Mercifully, his complaints were instantly muffled. That fact likely saved his life. The look on Mal’s face could have killed; if Jayne had made a second step in, they would have had three corpses to deliver to the hospital – and one of them would have been real.

When Mal turned back to Simon, the young man’s cheeks were stained with red. “You should have let him,” the doctor said.

“Nah,” Mal responded easily. “He would have enjoyed it too much.”

Simon wouldn’t meet his gaze and knelt by his medical bag. Pulling out the already loaded injector gun, he started at it as though it held all the secrets of the ‘verse. “This will work, I’m sure of that. It’s just….”

“It’s just that you and your sister will be totally helpless and in the hands of folk you don’t know or trust too well,” Mal finished for him.

“No, you would never leave a crew member behind. After Jiangyin, I know that better than anyone,” Simon corrected, his eyes glued to the gun. “We’re as safe as can be, given the circumstances.”

Mal frowned, trying not to count the seconds flying by. “Then, what?”

Simon shrugged and looked up at Mal through his lashes, sheepish. “I guess I don’t want to die, either. Even if it is only for a little while.”

Mal squatted next to Simon. “You want me to do it?”

His offer was immediately rejected. “No.” Simon shook his head. “I don’t want you to feel at fault, if I *did* miscalculate the dosage and something were to go wrong.”

Something about that statement didn’t feel quite right to Mal. “Wait a minute, Simon. There’s no gorram way you’d give your sister her shot if there were any doubt….”

Simon lifted his head a looked at Mal squarely. “Of course not, but I had only a limited amount of the correct medications. I used those up on River’s injection. On mine, I had to improvise a little.”

“But you just said you were sure it would work,” Mal argued.

“And I am,” Simon said, then he sighed. “Mostly.”

“Forgive me, Simon, if I don’t find that reassurin’,” Mal retorted, glaring daggers at the younger man. “I think we need to re-think our plan, I see a whole lot of not-smooth happening when you use the word ‘mostly.’”

Simon opened his mouth to respond but Jayne’s voice calling to the captain preempted him. Mal stabbed one finger at Simon, keeping him silent, then turned to answer.

“Just hang on a gorram minute,” Mal yelled as he stood and walked the few steps to the hatch. “We might have a change in plans.”

There was a soft metallic clatter behind him. Mal’s heart dropped, knowing what he would find even before he whirled around to look. Simon had injected himself and then dropped the gun. Already pale and sweating, he crouched on all fours, gasping.

“Wo de tian a,” Mal swore softly. Not aware of how he crossed the small space, the next thing he knew, Simon was cradled in his arms. “What’d you do that for? ‘Mostly’ ain’t good enough, Simon. Ain’t nearly good enough.”

Simon was limp, allowing himself to be pillowed by Mal’s body. “My plan, my risk,” he panted as a shudder wracked his body.

Mal settled on the floor, pulling Simon across his lap to keep the doctor off the hard, cold surface. He didn’t see Zoe and Jayne pop their heads in the hatch again. This time, Zoe didn’t need to forcibly remove the mercenary; Jayne took one peek and all but dove out of sight. Zoe shot Mal a concerned look and followed more slowly.

“You’re crazier than your sister,” Mal claimed, his tone much softer than his words.

Simon tried to speak but another shudder ran through him. Instinctively, he grabbed on to Mal, every breath already a struggle.

“What’s happening?” Mal asked, the word ‘mostly’ haunting him. “Weren’t like this with River, she just went to sleep.” Mal knew that for a fact; he’d been keeping watch right outside the girl’s quarters.

“Sedative,” Simon managed to say, whole body shaking. “Didn’t want her… to feel f-full effects.”

“Well, why didn’t you use some for your own self?” Mal asked, torn between worry and exasperation.

Simon shut his eyes. “G-g-ot to s-s-save it, for-for River.”

“You and me are gonna have a long talk when this over,” Mal said through clenched teeth. He wrapped his arm around Simon’s back and pulled the shivering man even closer. “You hear me, Simon? When this job is over, you and me are gonna have us a long talk.”

“O-okay,” Simon opened his eyes as he answered Mal, pupils dilated so far that his irises looked black. He gasped as a violent shudder shook him, clenching tight to Mal’s arms.

“Simon!” Mal reached down and kissed the younger man, kept kissing him as Simon became limp. He felt the last breath Simon exhaled, the instinctive struggle to live fading as the young man’s body shut down.

Mal’s mind flashed back to battlefields and other young men he’d held as life drained from them. Unconsciously, he began to rock, Simon still cradled protectively to his chest. Those others had been soldiers, fighting for a cause they believed in. Some of them were damn young fools who had no business setting foot off their farms but, still, they’d been there by their own choice. He’d been their sergeant; their trainer; their leader.

And not a damn one of them meant as much to him as the one he currently held.

Death had a way of showing you what was important and Simon’s death, even if it only lasted a little while, had just blasted the blinders off Mal’s eyes. At least, where Simon Tam was concerned.

Mal set Simon aside long enough to stand and then he bent and picked up the doctor’s still form. He tenderly laid it on the gurney next to River’s, only then noticing that Simon wore an expression of surprise. At least his kiss had managed that much, distracting Simon from the fear his body was putting him through as it shut down. Brushing a lock off Simon’s forehead, Mal looked over at the metal shells that fit over the gurneys. He looked at Simon, then at River. Sighing, he picked up the shell and grimly fit it over Simon’s still form. It was silly, Simon was dead for all practical purposes, but given how Simon couldn’t bear to see River covered before, Mal figured it was the least he could do to leave her last.

Only when Simon’s was fastened, did Mal turn to River. “You are a whole lot of trouble, little girl,” he muttered as he slid the cover into place. “I hope you know how lucky you are.”

Mal heard the others approaching and knew he had to get his game face on. Turning, he lightly stroked the lid to Simon’s container with gentle fingers. “Yup, we’re gonna have us a nice, long talk.”

By the time Wash, Zoe, and Jayne clambered in, Mal was ready. The plan, Simon’s plan, was a sound one. As for the drugs Simon had improvised for himself, Mal would trust Simon Tam’s ‘mostly” a hell of a lot more than other people’s 100% guarantee. He knew he would feel differently later, when the money from the job started paying for a whole lot of necessities. For the moment, however, the job was just an obstacle.

He had a conversation to look forward to with a certain stubborn doctor and Heaven help anyone or anything that got in his way.

~the end~

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