Dona Nobis Pacem

"No, you can't come in here. You were already here once and you took Wash away with you. But you can't come in again. You have to go away now." River Tam stood her ground in the doorway leading into the infirmary. She'd spread her arms wide, hands flat on either side of the door casing, and she shook her head decisively. "I know it's just your job but you can't come in again. I like your axe. Can I touch it? I have an axe, too. But the Captain took it. He locked it up somewhere. I'll find it, though."

The rest of Serenity's crew, exhausted, emotionally drained, most wounded, some of them already dead, another one dying, didn't pay River's ramblings any attention. To them, it meant simply that she was still a bit off of her proverbial rocker (and after what she'd seen, none of them…Miranda explained a lot), standing there athwart the doorway, talking animatedly to thin air.

But, to River, the conversation, or argument, really, made perfect sense. She was talking to the big scary stranger with the flowing black robes and the shiny weapon (she'd called it an axe, but she knew she was wrong it was more of a…scythe. Like a reaper would carry; regardless, it was pretty. She wanted to play with it) and the skull for a face who'd come for her brother.

She shook her head again, harder this time, more resolute. "No. You can't have him. No. He's mine." She shrugged indifferently and jerked a thumb over her shoulder at Kaylee, who was holding a cool rag to Simon's pale forehead. The flush of a prolonged fever had settled upon his cheeks during the night. "And hers. I guess. So go away. Bye bye."

I HAVE MY ORDERS, said Death; I AM TO TAKE THE BOY. KINDLY MOVE ASIDE.

"No."

Death would have blinked at her a few times, vainly trying to understand her, if Death'd had eyes and not just sockets where eyes should have been.

HE SUFFERS, RIVER TAM. IT IS HIS TIME.

"No, its not."

YES IT IS.

"No its not."

YES IT IS.

"No, its not. Do you always talk so strangely?"

I DO NOT TALK STRANGELY.

"Yes you do. You sound like the ship. Like the engine. Whirring."

Death, for a split second, faltered. I'M NOT SURE WHAT YOU MEAN. BUT DO NOT CHANGE THE SUBJECT, RIVER TAM.

(Kaylee was staring at Simon worriedly. He'd lost so much blood, he was so weak.)

I AM HERE TO COLLECT WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY MINE. I CANNOT BE DENIED WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY MINE.

(There was no doctor to tend to him. He was the doctor. Zoe did the best she could, but was it good enough?)

SO STEP ASIDE, RIVER TAM, AND ALLOW ME TO BRING AN END TO YOUR BROTHER'S PAIN.

(And the fever. Kaylee knew, deep down, than an infection had taken hold. That Death waited just outside the door to rip Simon away from them with his cold, bony hands. If only she knew…)

"I said you can't have him." River crossed her arms resolutely over her chest and actually stamped her foot. Death winced, withdrew an inch. Kaylee never even looked up.

(She'd done all she could for him and he was still going to leave her. All this time they danced around each other and then they finally make some sort of confession and he goes and gets shot by the gorram Reavers and now he was going to die. She could fix Serenity, why couldn't she fix Simon?)

"Now go away." River said finally. "Don't make me do something violent."

(Kaylee stroked his hair. "I love you." She breathed)

I CANNOT BE DEFEATED, RIVER TAM. NOW MOVE ASIDE AND I WILL BE SURE THAT YOUR BROTHER'S DEATH IS QUICK AND PAINLESS. HE WILL FEEL NOTHING BUT RELIEF. Death took a giant stride forward.

(Simon's breathing was getting shallower, more labored. His pulse weaker. Had it not been for the uneven rise and fall of his chest, his cold hand would have convinced Kaylee that he was already gone.

ALLOW ME TO DO WHAT IS NESSECARY. DO NOT BE SELFISH, RIVER TAM.

"I can kill you." River laughed, "With my brain. Poof. Make it like you never existed. I can do it."

THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. I AM EVERYWHERE. IN EVERY LIVING THING. IN EVERY PLANET, ON EVERY MOON. IN THIS VERY SHIP. I CANNOT BE DESTROYED. TO DESTROY ME WOULD BE TO DESTROY THE ENTIRE VERSE. YOU WOULD NOT DO SUCH A THING, RIVER TAM. EVEN IF DOING SO COULD SOMEHOW SPARE YOUR BROTHER MY TOUCH. YOU WOULD NOT.

River blinked once. Twice. Three times. Her face became impassive. "How do you know?"

(Kaylee began to cry.)

Death would have swallowed audibly is Death hadn't been just a skeletal specter.

"I know what you're thinking." River said quietly. "I can hear the other souls screaming. You're wasting time. I'll wait."

(Even Kaylee felt the air shift.)

"I win." Said River.

Death could ignore his calling no longer. FOR NOW, RIVER TAM, FOR NOW.

With that, it seemed that time opened and Death took his leave from Serenity.

(Simon's pulse began to pick up. The blue-green tinge of Death's imminent presence seemed to fade away. His fever was breaking. Kaylee choked on a happy sob, tears of sudden joy. She kissed the back of his hand, his cheeks, his nose, his lips. His eyes fluttered open. "Kaylee?" he said meekly. "River?")

River smiled.

"I win."

The End