The Losing Side, chapter 21
Monday, June 12, 2006

Mal finally gets to meet the men he saved in the fire, and finds himself in the midst of a strange but comforting family.


Mal stared uncertainly at the housing unit before him, wondering what he was going to say to the men inside it. The guard who’d brought him out here was considerably irritated by the trip, and he gave Mal a harsh shove into the compound, locking the gate behind him as Mal staggered to maintain his footing. So much for an introduction, he thought, stifling a glare.

This place was sickeningly familiar. He walked slowly up to the door and opened it, standing quietly at the entrance looking in. No smoke, no fire, no panic. The blackened walls had been painted a clean white. There were no armed men racing in his direction. Just faces looking at him with expressions of surprise, puzzlement, curiosity, unease.

“Um – hi?” said Mal, unsure of how to introduce himself. “Name’s Mal - Malcolm Reynolds. I-”

There was a resounding silence from within as Mal faced the uncertain occupants. Suddenly, the pieces clicked into place. “You saved all our lives,” burst out a young, dark-skinned man. “This is the guy!” With that, chaos erupted.

“My God, you’re alive! We thought they’d killed you!” Mal looked rapidly between all of the voices that were speaking from different directions. He counted fifteen men in the building, and they all appeared to be trying to get their words in at once. He threw up his hand, speaking as he strolled forward. “Y’all trying to make me go deaf?” he asked amiably. “We got plenty of time.”

“Don’t you go takin’ all ruttin day in there, Reynolds!” snarled the irritable guard’s voice over the intercom.

Mal startled, then turned and glared indignantly at the small intercom box on the wall, throwing his hands up in the air. “Or, uh – could be we got a magical mind-reading box timing us. Any rate, the heckle-o-matic there sets the mood nicely, don’t ya think?” Appreciative snickers rippled through the cell.

Mal sat down on an empty bunk and surveyed the room. The building was identical, but this was a far different picture from his own nearly empty lodgings. Men were sprawled out on bunks, sitting in the few chairs scattered around a table covered in playing cards and random items, and poking out of what appeared to be a child’s fort made of blankets on the floor between two bunks. He felt as though he’d invaded the home of a very large family of strangers; strangers who now appeared to have been struck speechless.

Forget appeared to be a child’s fort. The boys whose heads were poking out looked to be sixteen, seventeen at the most. In the middle of the bleakness of prison, these boys had built themselves a shelter, a retreat to hide in and soften the hard world around them. The scene tugged at Mal’s heart as much as anything he could think of. He stood and walked over, sitting down on the floor in front of the small structure.

One of the two heads retreated into the darkness; the other boy was staring at him as though he were something from another galaxy; a life form he wanted very much to meet, but was rather afraid of. “Mal,” he said, leaning forward and offering his hand. “What’s your name?”

The boy stuck his hand out, shaking Mal’s. “Wick, sir. Wick Gheran.” He looked down for a minute. “I’m sorry, sir. I tried to help you, but I got knocked out. Everyone here said they beat you to death, I-”

“Hey now,” said Mal, touched and shocked. For all his youth, this boy was a soldier; his manner bore the toughness of one who had learned to survive this world before he had learned to understand it. “Thanks for tryin.’ No need for apologies.”

The young man looked away for a moment, then reached for his silent companion. “Ryan,” he said, tugging on the hidden boy’s arm. “Ryan, it’s okay,” Mal heard him whisper. The second boy reluctantly wiggled forward and poked his head out. He was biting his lower lip furiously and his eyes were filled with tears.

Wick spoke. “This is my friend Ryan Camje,” he said, keeping a steadying grip on his friend’s arm. If such a thing was possible, Camje looked even younger than Wick. “Ryan, he’s alive an’ he’s okay. Please talk to him,” Wick said entreatingly.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, son,” said Mal cheerfully. “But as your observant friend here just happened to note, I’m not dead. Kinda alive, matter of fact.” Inwardly, Mal’s heart was breaking. They’re just boys. What the hell are they doing in a prison?

“I’m sorry,” said Camje brokenly, turning away and burying his face in the blanket. Mal looked questioningly at Wick.

Wick spoke quietly, seriously. “He saw ‘em beating on you, sir. He was watchin’ the whole thing, hasn’t been right since-” Mal nodded to quiet him, and moved closer to Camje.

Mal reached out and put his hand on the boy’s back, patting him reassuringly. “Ryan? No call to worry so much. Pull that head of yours up, you’ll see I’m just fine.” Camje didn’t move, and Mal poked him. No response. Mal poked him again, and then looked at Wick.

“I think he’s the one that’s dead.” Poke. “Yep. Poor fella, shuffled off this mortal coil, all right.” Poke. “So sad, struck down in the prime of his youth.” Poke. “To think of what he coulda’ done.” Poke.

“Missin’ years a’ stickin’ gum in people’s hair, never gonna get to stick any more frogs in lunchboxes….” Mal sighed, and saw the boy’s body convulse with what he was pretty sure was a suppressed giggle. Poke. “Whatcha’ say we doodle a coffin on ‘is face afore we plant ‘im? Heard sometimes it can bring a dead fella back to life.”

Mal reached for the pen he’d just spotted lying on the edge of a bunk, and got down on his elbows. He nudged the boy’s head to the side and started carefully doodling on his cheek, and within seconds a giggle broke out and Mal found himself face to face with a still teary-eyed but laughing kid. Mal grinned at him, returning to a sitting position and glancing at Wick. “Told ya’ it works!”

Camje scrambled out of the makeshift fort and sat. Mal saw his lower lip start to quiver again as he thought about addressing Mal, and broke in quickly. “How old are you, Ryan?” he asked, distracting him.

“I’m eighteen,” Camje said hesitantly.

“Just tell him,” said Wick firmly to his friend.

Camje sighed and said reluctantly, “I’m sixteen, sir. I lied when I joined up, said I were eighteen and they couldn’t check cause of they were having so many problems.”

Mal closed his eyes and buried his face briefly in his hands. He took a deep breath and addressed the boy again. “An’ how long you been in here?” he asked.

“About nine months now, sir. I got caught right off, ‘cause we got into a fight and then my Sergeant said to fall back and everyone was runnin’ off an’ I slipped an’ got my leg stuck, and they run off and left me.”

“Well, now, that’s all kinds of messed up,” said Mal. “I was a Sergeant my own self, an’ I knew better than to go running off and leave my troops behind.”

Camje shrugged. “Thought they was gonna kill me,” he said, trying to sound casual even though his voice was trembling. “Then – I came here and there was the fire. I thought they were gonna burn us to death. It was okay at first an’ then they tried to kill us-.”

Mal cut him off, seeing fear threatening to overcome the boy again. “Ryan, you’re alive, ain’t ya? Really, what’s life without a nice murder attempt to liven things up every so often?” He grinned at Wick, who giggled despite himself.

His irreverent tone had broken through Camje’s tension. “If you’d a’ stayed in that war you woulda had a whole lot more folks tryin’ to kill you than you’ll ever meet in here. Compared to the mess you were in, this place is safe an’ a sight more comfortable to boot,” said Mal.

Camje timidly moved to Mal’s side and gripped his hand tightly. “Are you stayin?” he asked hopefully.

Mal shook his head, speaking gently. “You’ll be okay.”

“I’m scared is all. In the war we could fight back, you know? An’ after what they done to you-”

“I didn’t go into this figurin’ on a pleasant reception,” Mal said firmly. “I shot their buddies, an’ there wasn’t no way they were gonna take kindly to that. You just obey what they tell ya, don’t go shootin’ any folk, and you’ll be safe enough.” Tell that to yourself, he reflected wryly. Safe? Are you ruttin’ insane?

“Or, you could just cower in terror. That’s generally what I do, works better as a coping strategy than ya’ might think,” he added hurriedly.

Mal wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him reassuringly. “Listen. You got Wick here to look after you, an’ if you give ‘em a chance, even some of the guards are decent folk. War’s over, an’ before ya’ know it you’re gonna be outta’ here safe and sound. You’re gonna be okay, Ryan, an’ your friend Wick here too.”

Please let that be true. Mal was reassuring himself as much as the boy. It was a startlingly astute observation Camje had made; the worst thing about being a prisoner here wasn’t the occasional mistreatment, it was the helplessness and vulnerability of being unable to fight back. It hurt him inside to think of these two kids learning to cope with that.

Camje fell silent, and Mal noticed the curious but awkwardly silent expressions on the faces of the rest of the men, mirroring his own reluctance to speak. Suddenly he felt a familiar calm certainty come over him. He addressed the room quietly, no longer hesitant. Taking the lead had a reassuring and familiar feel to it. “It’s on account a’ me you’ve been shut in here all this time.”

He told them how they’d talked about killing him, how Lee had witnessed the attack and spared his life, and about Lee’s proposed cover-up. The men listened in solemn silence as Mal explained everything he could, simply and plainly. When he’d finished, a lean, middle-aged soldier with silver hair came and sat down on a bunk across the isle from Mal, facing him.

“This what you want?” he asked, studying Mal. “This cover-up, is it your choice, or are you being forced into it?”

Mal looked at him appreciatively and shook his head. “No forcin.’”

“Really?” the man pressed. Seeing a look of annoyance cross Mal’s face, he said bluntly, “If you’re being coerced somehow, tell us.”

Mal smiled at the man’s forthright loyalty. “I’m not. Lee’s taking a considerable chance trusting me. He’s an honorable sort, and he’s been kind and decent. That’s it.”

“Well, you’re the guy who saved all our lives,” the man said. “You want it, you got it.” He extended his hand and shook Mal’s heartily. “Thank you.”

One by one, the occupants of the housing unit approached and thanked him with quiet sincerity, and the considerably touched and humbled Mal found he was suddenly happy to be an honorary part of this odd little family. It reminded him of his own unconventional family on Shadow, the ragtag and varied crew of ranch hands who had been fathers and brothers and friends to a mischievous young cowboy, and he was relishing every second of it. Roles might be a tad reversed though, he thought, smiling at the slowly relaxing boy huddled against his side.

It was amazing how the presence of these boys had bound the group together. There was deep tension and weariness in the eyes of these men; in any other circumstance they’d be at each other’s throats or simply apathetic with depression. The strain of knowing their captors had tried to burn them alive, followed by months of isolation and uncertainty locked in this cramped building was written on their faces. But they’d held it together and become a family, and however briefly, he’d become a part of it.

Mal leaned back and relaxed. He remembered lying miserably in the hospital, vowing to leave all of humanity behind. Maybe not all of it, he thought. The Alliance had destroyed nearly everything Mal knew and loved, and the crushing pain of that loss wasn’t something he could forget nor consider experiencing again. Nonetheless, his mind wandered to Zoe, to Wash. There was plenty to leave behind; this prison, the bureaucratic rule of the Alliance, a battle and a valley that would define him forever. But this was a joy and warmth that he was going to take with him wherever he roamed. If they can do it in here, then somehow, somewhere I’ll be able to put together a crew of folks to call family, Alliance or no Alliance. You think you can destroy me? Not while I’m still breathin’.


Monday, June 12, 2006 12:18 AM


Loved this! Was so happy and excited to see you had another part posted up AT LAST!!! It's hard when you're addicted to a story to have to wait between chapters but this was worth it. I just hope it won't be long before everyone gets their freedom. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, June 12, 2006 4:36 AM


Nicely done! The image of Mal with those two young men is just wonderful. And the way this group inspires him to find a similar family...beautiful. Awesome job, as usual. *g*

"I love my captain."

Monday, June 12, 2006 7:31 PM


Ya really have to feel for Mal...knowing that young men only partially through their teenage years were now serving prison sentences for a cause they shouldn't have been fighting for (due to their age, not political leanings):(

Still...wonderful angst and male bonding, jetflair;)



You must log in to post comments.



The Losing Side, Chapter 68 - Farewell to Bars
Mal is finally released by the Alliance, and says his goodbyes to friend and foe before being assigned a job in stapler quality control. In the meantime, Wash rebels against the perfection of his new job by buying dinosaurs and loud shirts. This is NOT the end of the story! :)

The Losing Side, Ch. 67 - Bombshells
Everything changes in the space of minutes when Mal is taken to Lee's office and confronted with two very different shocks to the emotions.

The Losing Side, Ch. 66 - Nature of the Beast
A long chapter full of conflict, trust, and musings....and a cliffhanger! An evil, evil cliffhanger.

The Losing Side, Ch. 65 - Trouble in Paradise
Wash wants to strangle the captain of the shiny new luxury cruiser he's flying, and Mal learns that something dangerous may be afoot....with his name on it.

The Losing Side, Ch. 64 - How to Win a Losing Battle
It's a tricky tightrope between trauma, rage, and finding yourself....but Mal is learning to walk it.

The Losing Side, Ch. 63 - The Art of Insanity
Mal may have more then he bargained for in Cody Patton, the mysterious and potentially deranged artist in his housing unit. Is the one real war criminal among them a threat, an asset, or just a damaged young soldier?

The Losing Side, Ch. 62 - Aiding the Enemy
Mal saves the life of an Alliance guard, and starts having serious doubts about his own mental state.

The Losing Side, Chapter 61 - Juggling Frustrations
Mal keeps on finding new and disturbing facts about one of his fellow prisoners, and Wash learns to juggle (and smuggle) goslings.

The Losing Side, Chapter 60
Wash gets a job, and Mal perfects his Alliance-taunting skills while developing an unlikely fondness for getting shots. Oh, and there's an artist who's a mite off.

The Losing Side, chapter 59 - Sharing the Night
Mal, Wash, and Zoe spend a sleepless night together, and Wash experiences some of the first joys of freedom.