When Heroes Fall by MonkeyAbu
Chapter 10 by MonkeyAbu
Chapter Ten




The dark was even blacker than the deep of the Verse and all consuming. It felt like it had swallowed Simon whole, merciless in its captivation, and unrelenting in its strong hold. Simon tried to fight it. He clawed and grasped at nothing and cried out for someone to hear his pleas, but silence was his only companion. Like an entity all in its own, the silence mocked Simon and made it clear that it had no intentions of letting him go. The more he fought it, the tighter it grabbed hold of him and the more tired Simon became. The darkness laughed at his determination to break free and yet soothed him at the same time, telling him it would all be okay if he just stopped...fighting.

Every inch of his being told Simon to just let go. The fight wasn't worth the pain. Give up and give in, the darkness insisted. Your time is done; this isn't a battle you can win. You're no hero and you have no hero to save you now. It was cruel and haunting in its torment. How easy it would be to stop struggling to reach the surface he wasn't even sure still existed. But there was a fire still in him, a fire that burned with small flames of hope. Simon didn't want to give up. Something at the core of his soul told him to keep fighting. He had to.

River...Kaylee...

Simon grappled for the surface again only to feel as if he were sinking further. The despair welled within him as he tried to picture their faces, but the darkness closed in more. It was them he kept searching for, them he needed to reach, and they only seemed to get further and further away. How could he do this to them? And his child. Simon needed to get to his child. Everything just hurt too much. So easy it would be give up and stop fighting...

'Simon...' River's voice called out to him. It echoed through the darkness and stirred the pain. 'I wanna help you.'

'River?' Simon tried to call back to her. 'River...I...I can't...' He stopped moving and attempted to curl in on himself, begged the dark to leave him be. Sleep. Peaceful, unfeeling sleep. Nothing would be able to hurt him anymore if Simon allowed himself to let go. No more pain, the darkness assured him. 'River, I'm sorry. Tell Kaylee I'm sorry.'

An image of Kaylee's sweet face flashed through Simon's mind suddenly and her expression of sorrow jolted him with regret. It happened so quickly and then he saw nothing more once again. 'Kaylee?' he choked out desperately, needing her more than he ever thought he could possibly need someone. 'Forgive me. I'm so sorry.'

'Simon, you're gonna be okay,' River told him. Her voice sounded like it was circling around him, echoing on all sides. 'Have to be okay. Come home.'

Simon curled in on himself more and clenched his eyes shut. The darkness was no different now than it had been before. 'I'm so tired, River...' he told her weakly. 'It hurts. I didn't mean for this to happen.'

'Serenity is hurting, too,' River insisted. There was a fretful quality to her voice and Simon wanted to make sense of it, but he couldn't. He didn't understand why his sister sounded as if she were so far away. It was the unending torture of the darkness, the mind games it liked to play, giving Simon that taste of hope before yanking it back from him.

'R-River?' His voice trembled and the sound of it barely projected. 'I can't...I can't do this.'

'Have to,' River answered him sternly. 'Have to because I had to.'

This was all Simon's fault and maybe in the end it was truly what he deserved. He had managed to mess so much up, even though his intentions had never been to do so in the first place. Simon's perception had become clouded, though he'd just wanted to make everything better. That's all he ever wanted to do, make things better. Simon wanted to fix what was broken. That had started with River when he'd rescued her from the Academy and now had ended with Kaylee all because Simon had proven just how foolish he really was. He couldn't fix anything after all.

'You're wrong,' River's voice broke through Simon's thoughts once more. Simon could only imagine her stubborn nature had she actually been beside him in that moment. It was almost bittersweet. 'Can't always be right. Not this time.'

'Mei Mei...' he whispered. It was harder to form clear thoughts and try as he might to continue listening for her, Simon began to slip deeper into the defeaning weight of the darkness. 'I...I love you. I'm sorry I failed.'

'No, Simon,' River answered him urgently. 'Still need you. Sebastian needs you.'

Simon's unswollen eye pried part way open abruptly as the sound of River's voice faded completely. The name spoken remained at the forefront of his mind and tugged at his heart, ushering in the overwhelming guilt. Simon knew that name but his sluggish mind couldn't wrap around it. Inhaling a shallow breath, a muffled groan passed his lips, accompanied by the pain that flared through out his body. He tried to speak, but he couldn't get his voice to project and the next breath he took hurt so bad, it felt like his chest was on fire.

A hand gripped Simon's shoulder and he summoned just enough energy to shift his blurred gaze upward. Jayne was kneeling beside him and the sight of him confused the doctor. The mercenary couldn't possibly be there with him. Simon had long since resigned to the idea that the crew of Serenity wouldn't be coming for him like he hoped. The image of Jayne had to be nothing more than a delusional vision, which made no sense because Jayne was the last one Simon suspected would ever come to his rescue. The captain and Zoe maybe, but Jayne...

The mercenary looked worse for wear too as his lips moved in silent speech that Simon was unable to hear. A dried stream of crimson seeped from his nose and his bottom lip was busted. Simon couldn't clear his vision enough to make an adequate assessment, but it also appeared that there was some bruising discoloration to Jayne's left temple. He looked tired and hurt and Simon couldn't recall many times he remembered seeing Jayne in a state of vulnerability, but this was one of those moments.

A vision of Jayne was not who Simon wanted to see when he was knocking on death's door...

"You listenin' to me, doc?" Jayne's voice suddenly became unmuted and was too loud, too gruff. It hurt Simon's ears. "Can't have you checkin' out. Ain't taken a beating for you for nothin'. Understand?"

No, Simon didn't understand and he couldn't find his voice to question what Jayne meant either. It didn't matter though. Soon enough, nothing would matter. The vision of Jayne would fade and Simon knew he would no longer have the energy to keep fighting. The darkness would beckon him again and this time he wouldn't be able to turn back from it.

"You ain't listenin'!" Jayne spoke sharply. "Just like you didn't listen before. You're supposed to be some gorram genius, but if you give up now, that just makes you a ruttin' fool. And I don't fight for no ruttin' fools."

Jayne's attention snapped in a direction Simon was unable to see just as it sounded like a door was slammed open. Simon recognized that sound and knew what it meant. It always ushered in more pain and brought the reality of death that much closer. He wanted to warn Jayne, tell him that he needed to do something to protect himself, but Simon couldn't get his voice to project. No, that wasn't right, because any moment now, the vision of Jayne would disappear and he would be left to face the torture again on his own.

"Well ain't you relentless," Jayne growled as the corner of his mouth curled up in annoyance. He pulled away from Simon and started to rise to his feet. "I'll take me a fair fight."

Simon watched through fading vision as Jayne hit the ground hard and a pair of black muddied boots moved towards him. "Still don't know how to keep that mouth of yer's shut," a heavily accented voice spoke up. Thick hands reached down to yank Jayne off the ground by the collar of his shirt.

"Ma reckoned I was born stubborn," Jayne snorted in return. He struggled to dislodge the man's hands from his shirt. "Pretty sure I said a fair fight."

"If yeh consider killin' yeh a fair fight," the voice snarled.

"I do fancy me a challenge," Jayne returned, only to double over in clear pain when a knee roughly connected with his stomach. He cursed in an unintelligible manner as he was knocked back to the ground. "Not what I had in mind."

"Aye, lad," the man replied and Simon finally placed the voice as belonging to Jethro, the one who had reigned plenty of terror upon him. "Guttin' yeh is more of what I have in mind."

Jayne spat at the ground. "Dirty play. I can handle that." He groaned when Jethro kicked him over again.

Jethro pulled a gun from the holster on his hip and pointed it in Simon's direction as his eyes turned dark with sinister intention. "Don't figure yeh have words for yer friend now, do yeh?"

"Now wait just a gorram minute!" Jayne growled as he tried to push himself upward. "Why you wanna be shootin' him for?"

"That's simple," Jethro answered as he leveled the gun with Simon's head. "He ain't dead."

Jayne struggled to keep the anxious fear from showing on his face. "He'll be dead soon enough! You wanna put a bullet in someone, you put a bullet in me!"

Jethro shook his head. "'Fraid you ain't the one giving the orders 'round here, lad. Say goodbye."

Simon knew what was about to happen and he eased his good eye shut to prepare for the blow when the bullet pierced him. It would be a fatal shot; he had no doubt about that and there was not a thing him or the vision of Jayne could do to stop it. All he could hope was that it would be quick. As he heard the sound of the gun cocking, he inhaled a final shallow breath and allowed his mind to drift to one last peaceful thought of Kaylee and River. 'I love you both,' Simon thought. 'I'm sorry this happened. Forgive me.'

The last thing Simon heard was the sound of River's terrified screaming in his head.

*****


Mal wasted no time jumping out of the mule when Zoe brought it to a stop outside of the rickety run down house just on the far edge of the shopping district. Just as both Jayne and the bar keep had described, it hadn't taken him and Zoe long to locate it. Now it was a matter of getting in, finding Jayne and Simon, and getting them both out and back to the ship. Didn't help matters none that they would have very little time to do that and who knew what kind of trouble they would find themselves faced with when they made it inside.

Zoe's feet hit the ground with a thud as she hopped out of the mule and came around to join Mal at the front of it just as he was pulling his gun out of its holster and checking it over. "How many are we looking at, sir?" she asked as she focused her gaze on the house.

"Three or four," Mal answered her distractedly before looking at the house also. "No telling really. Jayne mentioned four. So at a minimum, that's what we're looking at."

"Should be an easy take down," Zoe nodded.

"We've managed worse," Mal agreed. "Expecting bullets to fly if necessary, so you keep yourself covered."

"Don't think you need to be worrying about me, sir," Zoe told him and it took all she had not to roll her eyes at his statement. "Just consider this routine. We get in and we get out. Don't be making any stupid moves."

"Me? Make stupid moves?" Mal scuffed inwardly. "Have a little more faith."

"That's what worries me," Zoe chuckled dryly. She checked the gun fastened to her hip and the back up knife she'd brought with her. She didn't anticipate needing it, but she wasn't about to take any chances going in unprepared and something told her there was a chance of needing more than one option if Mal went in all hot headed like he seemed to be ready to do.

Mal gripped his gun tightly in his hand and nodded towards the house. "Don't figure sneaking in is an option. Seems to be very few entry points just by looking at it."

"Bust in through the front unannounced?" Zoe suggested.

"Surprise factor," Mal grinned. "I like your way of thinking, Zoe."

Zoe shook her head. "Just said what you were thinking, sir."

Mal squared his shoulders and gave a firm nod. He lips parted to speak, but the sound of a gun firing from within the house cut him off before he could get a word to project. His eyes snapped back to Zoe briefly and he quickly started to move towards the house without further hesitation. Mal didn't wait for Zoe to follow. He knew she would be quick in his wake and she was damn near at the front door of the house before he was. When they reached it, Mal lifted a foot and roughly kicked the door open, paying no heed to the way the intrusive sound echoed loudly and the door frame splintered from the force.

Zoe shoved herself past him into the house and held her gun up, poised and ready for use. It wasn't long before a thundering of foot steps could be heard racing down the stairs from the upper floor and another shot was fired from down below them. Three stocky dirty looking men stormed into the room where Mal and Zoe were at and shouted in surprise upon seeing them.

Mal aimed his gun at the men as Zoe did the same. "Hey there, fellas. Are we late for the party?"

"Jethro!" one of them yelled out in a voice that was heavily laden with an accent. The other two scrambled to grab guns from the waistband of their pants.

Zoe cocked her gun threateningly. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

The first bullet that rang out came so close to hitting Mal that he felt the buzz of it as it flew past his face. He fired his gun out of reflex, which quickly ignited an explosion of chaos. Within moments, bullets were flying on both sides and both Mal and Zoe found themselves taking cover behind a wooden bench that had clearly seen better days. Mal looked at her. "Friendly bunch," he gruffed and lifted his gun to fire a haphazard shot over the top of the bench.

Zoe scowled as the men shouted at them. "First shot we heard came from below. My guess is a cellar. Could be where Jayne and Simon are."

Mal fired another shot over the top of the bench, his face flustered. "Problem posed is getting past these kwong-juh duh [crazy] idiots."

"Go and I'll cover your back," Zoe told him before peering around the edge of the bench and firing a calculated shot. The bullet pierced the chest of one of the men creeping towards the bench and he dropped to the ground unmoving. The other two started cursing in an unfamiliar language, giving Zoe the opportunity to glare at Mal. "I said go, sir!"

Mal hesitated for only a second before he scrambled to his feet and raced towards the closest open doorway, narrowly dodging a bullet that flew in his direction. It ricocheted off the door frame he passed through and he whipped around to fire his own gun defensively in return. He didn't wait around to see if it did any good though as he caught sight of another open doorway across what appeared to be a cluttered kitchen in disarray.

Gripping his gun even tighter, Mal crossed the kitchen and stepped through the slanted doorway. His boots echoed against the stone stairs leading downward and he moved slowly in effort to quiet his approach, but it did little good even with the periodic gun fire coming from above in the living room. The air dropped in temperature the further down Mal went. However, it wasn't until he reached the very bottom that he realized there was no sound coming from the area like he'd initially expected. No gun fire. No chaos. Just utterly odd stillness.

Keeping his posture defensive, Mal crept along the hallway, looking behind him once to assure he wasn't being followed by one of the men from upstairs. Mal didn't trust the silence or the stillness surrounding him or why nobody had followed him down. Eventually he came upon a partially opened heavy doorway and poising his gun ready for action, Mal reached out and gripped the handle to yank the door all the way open. He nearly stumbled over the body sprawled out on the ground in front of him as he whipped into the room, prepared to start firing if the need arose. Mal afforded one glance down at the man whose vacant eyes stared up at the ceiling, dead from a single gun shot to the forehead.

"'Bout gorram time you showed up," Jayne's familiar voice called out to him. Mal turned to find the mercenary on the ground not too far away, leaning against the stone wall as he gripped his left bicep with a grimace. "Sonofabitch shot me, Mal."

Mal was at his side within moments and crouched down next to Jayne to look him over. "I don't suspect he shot himself afterwards."

Jayne managed to smirk lightly within his grimace. "He was gonna shoot the doc. Couldn't rightfully have that happen on my watch. Too damn messy."

"Where's the doc, Jayne?" Mal demanded.

The mercenary nodded to a spot behind Mal. "Over there...if he ain't dead yet."

Slowly standing straight, Mal turned again to search where Jayne had motioned to. Sure enough, it didn't take long for his eyes to fall upon the crumpled form of the ship's resident doctor and from where Mal stood, he couldn't help but question how true Jayne's ending statement really was. Simon wasn't moving and there was no way of telling from where Mal stood if the doctor was even breathing. Mal cursed under his breath and approached him. "How bad is it?" he questioned back over his shoulder.

"He wasn't doing good when I found him," Jayne answered and slumped a bit against the wall. A single gun shot fired on the floor above them and then heavy silence fell. Jayne looked towards the ceiling. "Zoe up there?"

"She's taking care of it," Mal muttered as he kneeled down next to Simon. "Doc?"

"You left her up there?" Jayne hissed in disbelief.

"I did what I had to do. Zoe can handle her own," Mal dismissed him. He pressed two fingers to the pulse point on Simon's neck and frowned openly when he couldn't register a pulse of any kind. Mal shook his head, pressing his fingers a little harder against Simon's pulse point. "C'mon, doc..." he muttered.

"Is he breathin'?" Jayne called out to him.

Mal withdrew his hand and carefully rolled Simon over onto his back, taking in the extent of his appearance. Simon was so badly bruised and bloodied, that the captain barely recognized him. There wasn't much that shocked Mal these days, but this proved more than an exception. It made his stomach clench as he pressed his fingers to the pulse point on Simon's neck again.

"Gorramnit, Mal! Is he breathin'?" Jayne shouted at him.

Mal leaned his head in close to Simon's mouth, searching for evidence of any kind of life, but the more the seconds passed, the more he realized he wasn't feeling the soft puffs of breaths coming from Simon's mouth or nose. Simon had no pulse and it was clear he wasn't breathing, which was exactly what Mal had feared he would find. "Doc ain't breathing-"

Zoe stepped into the room at that moment, breathless from exertion. "Sir?" she questioned when she saw Mal kneeling beside Simon.

Mal looked at her knowingly and shook his head.

Zoe's face became unreadable as she came over and kneeled on the the ground opposite of Mal. She gently placed her hand against Simon's cheek. "He ain't cold yet," she noted before she positioned her hands against the doctor's chest in determination. Mal immediately recognized the look in her eyes. He'd seen it many times before and for plenty of reasons, but this time felt different and Mal couldn't blame her, nor could he tell Zoe to stop when she began to perform a series of chest compressions on the doctor.

"Is the doc dead?" Jayne timidly asked.

Mal scowled, keeping his back to the mercenary as he watched Zoe work. "I'm not losing another one of my crew."

"Go fire up the mule, Jayne," Zoe commanded. She leaned down, closed off the airway to Simon's nose, and blew a breath into his mouth.

"Do what she said, Jayne!" Mal growled when Jayne began to argue about the order. The mercenary looked ready to argue some more, but he struggled to his feet and hobbled out of the room.

Blowing another breath into Simon's mouth, Zoe resumed the chest compressions with continued determination. "C'mon, doctor, I know you're in there," she mustered and pursed her lips tightly together with each compression. "You're not leaving this crew. You're not leaving Kaylee and that baby either. I won't allow it. They're not gonna go through what Emma and I had to go through."

Mal watched the confliction pass over his first mate's face. "Zoe-"

Simon released a sudden gasp for breath and Zoe stopped the chest compressions to press her fingers to his neck. "He's got a pulse, sir. It's weak," she stated and finally looked at Mal. "There's a shot of adrenaline in his med bag on the mule. I brought it with. We need to get him back to the ship."

Mal wanted to ask Zoe if she was okay, but he stopped the words from projecting and followed suit when Zoe began to lift Simon's body carefully off the ground. There was no time to be wasted on unnecessary conversation. Something told Mal that Simon didn't have that time to spare.


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