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"Doc... Simon promise me... promise me," Mal pleaded as Simon prepared to put him into anaesthetic.

"I'm a Doctor I can't..." Simon choked on the words.

"Promise me... if you can't save my legs, don't save me," Mal begged, gentle eyes, filled with pain and a tinge of fear looking up at Simon.

"Captain... Mal... I can't, I..."

"Don't... don't say it, we both know it, we don't need to be saying it... please Simon," Mal said.

Simon nodded slowly, tears filling his eyes. Mal reached a hand up to Simon's jaw, gently brushing away a stray tear.

Leaning down Simon let his lips brush against Mal's... a tender touch that Mal returned, just gently brushing their lips together; nothing more needed to be said...

Simon didn't say a word as he injected the anaesthetic and watched Mal's eyes drift closed. He checked the hold on the straps and moved the bed so he could access Mal's back with the least possible movment to avoid any further damage. But even as he scrubbed up, and made that first incision he couldn't get the images of what had happened out of his mind.

*~*~*~*~*

"Lets just take it easy folks, we don't wanna be doing anything we'll regret later." Mal tried to calm the evidently displeased villagers.

Zoe was calling Serenity to tell Wash to prep for launch, one hand on her weapon, Jayne and Book were beside Mal, Simon and River behind them.

Jayne's big mouth had once again proved inopportune timing and the Serenity crew were now in trouble as the villagers decided to do away with them, and cut Serenity up for her parts... it looked bleak.

The fight had started faster than anyone had time to think about. Simon tried to keep River out of the line of fire as they made a run for it, they were all safely aboard except for Mal and Zoe who were bringing up the rear... they'd been almost there when the shot had come from out of no-where, everything was a blur of motion as Mal had been tossed forward into the cargo bay Zoe a beat behind him, and as Jayne pushed the button to close the door, Simon was at Mal's side and Zoe was ordering Wash to take them up.

There was blood seeping through Mal's clothing, Simon couldn't get a clear look, but he could see enough that the bullet was near the spine.

"Get the body board from the infirmary; we need to move him very carefully." Simon instructed.

His instructions were carried out to the letter, Zoe saw to that.


*~*~*~*~*

Mal had been shot a few millimetres short of his spine in his lower back. If Simon couldn't remove the bullet safely, not only would Mal lose use of his legs, but he'd bleed into himself and die. The bleeding, Simon could stop, but he knew he wouldn't, not if he couldn't save Mal's legs. Simon had never before considered letting anyone die on his table, but Mal has asked him to promise, and Simon didn't break promises, even if he hadn't promised out loud... he had promised.

*~*~*~*~*

They rest of the crew were in the dinning room, even Wash, they'd landed on a near-by moon so he didn't need to fly the ship anywhere, they had a perimeter alert set, they were safe enough, all just waiting and worrying.

Kaylee had been quietly crying on and off, Jayne had been cleaning Vera, Wash and Zoe had been sitting quietly, sharing occasional glances but not speaking, Inara was sitting apparently patient at one end of the table, and Book was sitting with River, mentally praying even as he kept River busy with a game of Chess.

*~*~*~*~*

All eyes turned to the door as Simon entered. It had been almost 7 hours.

Simon's eyes were filled with tears threatening to spill, but he forced them back.

"He's fine... he'll be fine." Simon announced with only a slightly choked up sound coming from his throat.

Everyone, even Jayne looked relieved.

"He'll be out for another few hours, and it'll take a few weeks of physical therapy, but he should be back to normal in about a month or so." Simon told them all.

He was still wearing his surgical apron, and there were more than a few blood spatters on it, but he was saying Mal would be fine, and that was good enough.

*~*~*~*~*

Simon was of course right. In just over six weeks Mal was back on his feet, and running around like normal, it was the six weeks between Simon's announcement and Mal's complete recovery that sent everyone, especially Simon insane.

Mal moaned, complained, bitched, whined, and eventually when he'd done all of the above in spades, cried in utter frustration... Simon had simply held him all night and although he got a few strange looks coming his way when he was seen leaving Mal's temporary room the next morning, he never said a word.

Malcolm Reynolds was a proud man, and Simon knew all about pride, so he bit his lip and took Mal's insults and held him when he cried. And if a few stray tears escaped from him, well nobody needed to know that.

It was three weeks before Mal would venture to the dining room and only when he could walk the full distance himself. He'd needed Simon's help getting back, but he'd put on a brave show for his crew and that was what counted, everyone felt better after seeing Mal walk on his own two feet into the dining room, even if he was a little unsteady on his feet.

Another two before he'd leave the ship, but by week six his limp was gone and he was walking just like before... running still wasn't such a good idea, so Mal made sure to stick to jobs where he didn't need to stray too far from the ship, but all in all, he was mostly as good as new.

*~*~*~*~*

Once Simon was sure Mal was healthy enough and could get by on his own without constant check-ups and attention, the Doctor started to avoid him... sort of. He still had the weekly check-ups, and they saw each other occasionally at dinner, but more and more Simon found reasons to be anywhere but where Mal was and it didn't take long for Mal, and subsequently the rest of the crew to notice.

"Simon hides," River said quite surprisingly one evening at dinner time. She was here, which was strange in itself since normally Simon wouldn't let her in any room with Jayne in it if he wasn't there, but tonight he wasn't here and she was.

"Simon hides because he is dumb," She said.

"River, Simon isn't dumb; he's a very intelligent man," Inara said patiently.

"No, he's not dumb silly he's dumb quiet," River said, giggling like the child she all too often proved he was not.

"I think the Doc has a fine enough voice on him when he's giving his medical orders," Mal smiled affectionately at River.

"He can't speak his heart... he's afraid of hate," River sing-songed, before suddenly getting up and disappearing.

"That is one queer girl," Jayne said, still munching on his food.

Mal nodded distractedly, and everyone else went back to their meal, only Zoe noticed anything was amiss, but she didn't say anything, she knew Mal had to work it out on his own.

*~*~*~*~*

"River thinks your dumb... can't speak... least not from the heart," Mal said leaning idly against the infirmary door.

"River thinks a lot of things Captain," Simon didn't even look up at him.

"Well now I got to thinking myself and it seems to me she maybe right," Mal commented, moving further inside the room and hitting the button to slide the doors closed.

Now Simon looked up, turning around to face Mal square on.

"You said it yourself; we both know it, no need to be saying it," Simon said, a tint of bitterness clouding his voice.

"Happens maybe I'm not always right... Is that why you've been avoiding me?" Mal asked.

"Why because you told me I couldn't say I... how I feel, right after you ask me to let you die! Then you kiss me... and when you wake up act like nothing's happened... don't you get it? I've spent weeks trying to get you back on your feet, watching you falter, holding you when it got to much, watching you succeed and sharing the celebration when you did... and not once, not once in all that time did you ever say anything about what happened... I can't see you all the time and not think about it... but I can't leave Serenity because as much as it may shock you I've come to consider this ship home, these people family!" Simon ran out of energy after his shouting, and just sagged against the examination table in the middle of the room.

"Simon look at me," Mal said softly, moving closer.

Blue-grey eyes turned to meet his own.

"I'm sorry... but I'm the Captain..." Mal started.

"Don't, I've heard it before okay, I've told myself it a million times, it doesn't change how I feel... how you feel, and don't tell me you don't feel anything because I know you do!" Simon snapped.

Mal sighed... this could be bad, very bad, if it didn't work out, it could make things difficult, of course things were already difficult.

"Tell me to leave and I'll go, you'll never see me again, but don't just leave me hanging here," Simon pleaded softly.

"Ahhh, screw it," Mal cursed.

Taking the final step Mal pulled Simon around and towards him, and without giving him time to react kissed him.

This wasn't the tender kiss they'd shared before Mal had gone under Simon's knife... this was passion, unrepentant, unbridled, purely lustful passion, breaking the surface and leaving them both utterly breathless.

"This is gonna cause a whole lot of trouble... you know we're both gonna take a ribbing for it, especially from Jayne," Mal said when he could finally speak again.

"I'm sure Jayne will be small fry compared to River... she has a very dirty mind, heaven only knows where she picked it up from, but I don't care," Simon told him.

"No I don't rightly suppose you do," Mal agreed, kissing Simon again.

Neither of them noticed River's grinning face in the glass of the infirmary door.

"Simon speaks, Simon speaks," River sang happily to herself as she half walked half skipped down the corridor, right past a confused looking Kaylee and Jayne, who soon got the idea when they heard the decidedly none-medical noises coming from the infirmary.

"Guess Simon ain't dumb no-more," Kaylee said, more than a tad sadly, shrugging her shoulders as she continued on past, giving Jayne a good tug to make sure he was following her and not trying to catch a peek into the infirmary.


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