Friday, June 23, 2006

Loss. Regret. Mal muses on the war, his past, and his sometimes inability to get a good night's sleep. This story idea came to me when I was, oddly enough, unable to sleep. This is my first fan fic. Please let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy it. Comments very welcome, negative or otherwise.


Mal didn't like dwelling on it, but he was aware too often how his life was laid out into three separate parts. There was now, there was the war, and there was that half-remembered time from before. It was as if his life had two red-bright walls built across it. No blending, no transition, just full-stops, walls tall enough and hard enough to knock a person unconscious if run into hard enough.

When he let himself think into his past, the part before the war, it left him unsettled. It wasn't that the memories were painful. What disturbed him was *how* he thought about that time. His memories were inaccurately colored by the war, the war lent them a poignancy he felt they didn't really deserve. His mom, his friends, the calves he had raised, the horses he had enjoyed working with, the single-story ranch house with the wide veranda. His life back then was just a regular, ordinary, decent kind of life, nothing spectacular to call it out from any other similar one. It confounded him that the war made it seem magical, something rareified. A simple, hard-working life shouldn't be rare, like a priviledge. Mal felt it should be more akin to a right. He didn't like thinking that others saw that kind of life as a priviledge that could be taken away without much of a fuss, as if there was nothing in the loss of it. On his not-so-good days, thinking about that loss angered him almost to the point of pain.

That life on Shadow would come to him all in a rush sometimes, unbidden, usually triggered by smells. The slightly acidic smell of cow urine, certain foods cooking, old paper books with cloth bindings, the musky, salty smell off the neck of a well-groomed horse. Even the smell of his own overheated body would take him back, since physical labor was so much a thing of the past now too. That smell would remind him of when hard, sweaty, earthy, dirty, exhaustive exertion was a kind of reward in itself. Oddly though, hard sweat was not like that during the war. Not at all. It was cold, clammy, tainted by other smells, heated metal, exhaust, adrenaline, fear, snot, blood, smoke. And always paired with a mental fatigue so numbing that his own hands felt they belonged to someone else, someone not him. There was nothing good to be found in that type of labor. He never felt better for it, not like he did on the ranch. And on the ranch he could wash at the end of the day. In the war, he stank of it continuously, seldom had the chance to scrub it off. He'd hated that.

Up until Mal commanded his own platoon, his time at war had put him into one of two physical states. One manifested itself as him being almost unbearably bored, physically inactive and mentally restless. The second state was a hyper-kinetic morass of sensations -- the metallic taste that never left his mouth, the heart palpitations, the hard-edged sleeplessness, the heightened visual acuity, where objects were so separate from their backgrounds that he felt he could reach out into the middle distance and move them merely by picking them up, like set-pieces in a diorama. The reality of things around him moving incredibly fast, yet even while moving too fast to be seen clearly, he could see everything. He saw things without registering them. He knew this because often morbidly-graphic, unwanted details from a past fire-fight or bloody exchange would slam unbidden into his mind's eye, causing him to jerk his head as if dodging a physical blow. But these painful fragments were *inside* his head, not something he could defuse with fast talk or subdue with his fists. He couldn't escape these after images, couldn't foresee their arrival, couldn't forget them afterwards. The lightening flashes of unbelievable violence. The things glanced briefly out of the corner of his eye. The dismemberments. The slow deaths. The fast ones. The bleeding. The soldiers dying within the sights of his own rifle. The explosions, both beautiful and numbing in their incomprehensible consumption of everything around them. How could someone, how could some things, be so completely destroyed? In parts so small, almost as if they had never existed?

After he was given his command, the war changed for him. He became capable of ignoring more of the disturbing things, pushing them out of his mind. He focused all of his energy on thinking smart, keeping his soldiers prepared, as rested as possible, and as motivated as possible. He made sure they ate, that they caught some sleep. He made sure they knew they could talk to him. He could even make them laugh during the rough times. He liked that part of the war, the latter part, an odd thing to say. He was busier. He seemed to have some skill in making good calls. Now that his decisions were part of the mix, things seemed to go smoother. He was calmer now that he was in charge of something, and that calmed his soldiers. It was odd, but it seemed to work.

He would often replay a lot of the war in his head, to check his memory, make sure he felt his actions were still sound. He found some things that shamed him, but the majority did not. He did the best that he could back then. He knew that. He was glad that Zoe was still with him, 'cause he felt that she too thought he'd done his best. She would know, she'd been there. He was glad that she knew that about him. And that he knew the same about her. It made it all seem like less of a waste.

Mal never thought it right, the Alliance thinking that Shadow couldn’t have it’s own government, that the outer planets couldn’t. He’d volunteered based on that belief. He didn’t see how a body of overly powerful people on a planet half a system away could do them any good. Figured they could only do bad. So far, they hadn’t proved him wrong. He went into the war distrusting the Alliance, he came out of it hating them. He supposed that was to be expected, considering all that happened.

The time after the war, everything moved so calmly, as if he were walking around wrapped in soundless space. He could talk and walk as if nothing were wrong, that nothing was different, but he was painfully aware of the space between the objects around him, of the gulfs that kept people apart from him and from each other. He'd never felt so separate before. He didn't like it. He missed the home that wasn't there for him to go back to. He even missed leading his gorram platoon, taking into account that they were all dead and all. He was smart enough to realize he didn't really miss that. He in no way missed the war. He just missed being useful.

As more time passed, and the dullness left him somewhat, things improved astronomically after he bought Serenity. He called up Zoe, and together over time they got the crew on board, got the Firefly up and flying. It was busy, challenging, fun. He learned alot. Things were good again. He felt like his feet were under him, like before they hadn't been, and that he could walk anywhere he wanted. It was a good feeling to have.

Oddly though, even now when things were going well, something would still come for him, always at the moments when he was dropping off to sleep. He would snap awake with a sudden dislocation, then a sliding sideways feeling, followed closely by the startled conviction that he'd forgotten to do something that was terribly, incredibly, horribly important. The disorientation was so acute, so bizarre that he never knew where he was, or even how old he was. Was he at home, asleep in his back room at the ranch? Was he in the ravine where they'd taken cover after that third push, where he slept wedged upright against a burnt-out tree stump? Even the solid familiarity of his bunk in the ship seemed alien, altered, strange. And always, always that panic, that conviction that he'd forgotten. Something just outside his memory, something so ever-present before, how could he be missing it now? How could he not know what it was?

After jerking awake, he would sometimes lie for some minutes, casting about in his head in a vain attempt to recollect what so maddeningly eluded his wakeful mind. He knew if he conjured up what it was, he'd likely sleep fine after. He would lay staring at the dim outline of the ceiling struts, 'til the fog of sleep reclaimed him, allowing him to leave the confusion behind.

This happened to him most nights, sometimes more than once.

Mal never thought about these episodes when he was up and around, just thought about how he wished he would stay asleep for longer, 'cause fatigue made him irritable, prone to make mistakes. Mistakes frustrated him, and frustration made him angry, being angry impaired his judgement, led to more mistakes. The irony of this was not lost to him. He knew himself well enough to occasionally see the humour in the connectedness of things. They weren't huge mistakes, not ones like for people to notice. Not even Zoe would take note. Stupid things, really. Like leaving the best ratchet wrench on the bridge and not realizing it til he was all the way down in the cargo bay, even when he knew before he started down that he would need the damn thing. Those types of mistakes. The irritablity wasn't really a problem. Inara, Jayne, Wash, they just thought it was his normal way, for the most part. Only one that could tell was Kaylee, and she never said anything about it, not out loud to call attention to it. He could just tell that she knew he was off somehow. She'd hold her mouth a certain way when she talked to him, like she was trying too hard to please him. He appreciated the effort on her part, which surprised him. Usually that type of consideration from people just made him feel the worse for it.

Book knew when he was off too, but Book's comfort came from a different direction than Kaylee's. It would insinuate itself into their discussions, this comfort, so subtly that Mal didn't think either of them were aware of it when it was happening. Mal liked that about Book, this underhandedness. He appreciated it for it's inventiveness. Mal hated to be preached too, even if the preaching were just a mild sort of pep-talk. Any sign of that and Mal'd just tell him to go to hell. Book knew better than to go there.

All in all, these mental parambulations irritated Mal. He understood the war was done to him. He understood he did the war. It tore his life in two pieces. He figured little could be done to repair that, so he thought about it as little as he could, with limited success. He didn't like being forced to be a contemplative person. He much preferred action and strategy in the physical world. These twists in his own mind served only to lessen his otherwise spirited nature. He disliked being less than he could be.

But even still, after all his revelations, conclusions and attempts to lay certain nightmares to rest, every night Mal would jerk awake on the edge of sleep, then lie restless in the dark, trying to remember what in the hell he'd forgotten to do that was so damn important he couldn't stitch together a decent span of fucking, gorram sleep?


Friday, June 23, 2006 7:13 PM


What can I say about this. I mean... Wow..WOW. You are...WOW

Saturday, June 24, 2006 12:08 AM


This feels very accurate and was very well written. Poor Mal. And it was a surprise that you had Kaylee being the one to know when he was a little off rather than River. I liked your take on Book too, a subtle man. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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Loss. Regret. Mal muses on the war, his past, and his sometimes inability to get a good night's sleep. This story idea came to me when I was, oddly enough, unable to sleep. This is my first fan fic. Please let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy it. Comments very welcome, negative or otherwise.