The Losing Side, chapter 30
Sunday, October 15, 2006

30 chapters already? Egads! Anyhow, post-war POW fic for those of you not already reading it. This chapter deals with the aftermath of the escape attempt.


Nobody spoke at first; the bleak little housing unit served as a home and a refuge, and there was a sense of relief that came from being back inside. Inside might mean grey walls, cement floors, and metal bunks, but also warmth and friendship, even comfort. Unfortunately, it trapped them as well, preventing them from taking time alone to recover from the rush of hostility, fear, and adrenaline.

Wash walked to a corner of the building and pressed his head into the wall, shaking. Tears trickled from his eyes as he thought about what Gray and Straaker had just gone through, and what might happen to them now. In his mind’s eye he saw Khiloh standing before them, exhausted and betrayed. Lacking the ability to do anything about it, Wash pressed closer to his corner and simply grieved.

Zeke sat heavily on a bunk and sighed, burying his head in his hands. A million confused thoughts were running through his head as he questioned whether there was anything he could have changed, any way he could have stepped in to prevent what he’d just seen.

Matty retreated to the back of the building, breathing heavily. His heart was pounding as he tried to process the implications of what he’d just seen and wondered if their easygoing friendships had been destroyed. He relied on the relaxed conversations to keep him sane, and now everyone seemed primed to hate one another. He curled up on a far bunk in misery, unwilling to face the others.

Mal simply stood. He stood just in front of the door, able to see faintly through the back window what was happening outside. His own heart was hammering his chest, but he didn’t notice. Straaker was on his feet and being led out of the yard. Gray was dragged to the gate, struggling weakly, and Mal watched as it was rolled shut and one of the guards handcuffed Gray’s limp form to its bars.

Khiloh walked away with the rest of the group, leaving one of the three other officers outside the gate, and Mal looked away. Almost by instinct, he took stock of the men inside the housing unit. Zeke looked to be stable enough. Matty, hiding in shock and not planning on changing that anytime soon. No harm in letting him mope for a bit. That left Wash, who looked as desperate for support as a man could get.

“Wash?” Mal asked steadily. “How you faring in that cozy corner of yours?”

Wash faced Mal with a groan. “Before I answer that, I need to make a decision. Should I go for false bravado or outright whining? They both have certain advantages.” He looked at Mal with an expression that begged for reassurance. “Is there anything we - what should we have done?”

“Not rightly sure,” said Mal quietly. “Could’ve ended worse.”

Wash nodded sadly, leaning back into his corner. “Could’ve ended a lot better,” he said. “This isn’t really one of those glass half full moments.”

Zeke spoke. “I’m sorry I didn’t do anything, feel like I dropped the ball.”

“Too many people doing too many things,” said Mal. “Didn’t need another.” He looked away. “We made damn fools of ourselves. Put a very decent man in a nasty spot to boot.”

Zeke nodded. “I – want to beat the snot out of those two. But – only when they’re safe.” He looked at Mal. “I’m afraid for them,” he said, worried and quite aware of the irony of what he was saying.

Mal nodded towards the window. “Gray looks to be in one piece. He didn’t hit anyone, do much besides holler and wiggle a lot. They left ‘im here.”

Wash turned and walked over to the window, staring out at Gray’s unmoving form lying on the gravel. He was curled up on his side, his arms pulled above his head and locked to the gate.

Zeke relaxed slightly, relieved by Mal’s calm words. “What about Straaker?” he asked hesitantly.

“They’ll put him in solitary,” said Wash tiredly from the window.

“Think they’ll hurt him?” asked Mal, moving to stand at Wash’s side and looking out.

“Doubt it,” replied Wash. “Can’t speak for what it’ll do to his already sunny disposition, but-“

“He’ll be in more or less one piece? Good to hear.” Mal fell silent for a moment before speaking again. “You seem a mite familiar with the subject.”

“I’ve been here for a while, Mal,” said Wash, his jaw tightening. “Familiar with a lot.” He turned away, and Mal regretted the question.

Wash headed for the door, clearly uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. “Gonna go talk to Gray,” he muttered.

“Bad idea,” warned Mal calmly.

Wash stopped in his tracks. “Wha – what do you mean, bad idea?”

“Ah, inadvisable course of action? Um, poor…… know. I’m not a thesaurus here,” complained Mal with a cheeky grin, throwing his hands in the air.

“Nice dodge,” said Wash, not the least bit amused. He turned for the exit again.

“Wash,” said Mal, his tone inviting no argument. “Do not walk out that door.” Zeke turned on his bunk, watching the brewing argument with unease.

Wash whirled around and marched up to face Mal, clearly angry. “Why, exactly, shouldn’t I go try and comfort our friend? You think we should leave him out there to suffer for a while, is that it?”

“I do,” replied Mal steadily.

“Mal, do you even have a heart?” yelled Wash. “Did you see him? He’s been hurt and humiliated in so many ways he can’t even see straight. Maybe you can’t imagine just how mad and freaked out and just gorram hurting he is right now, but I can! And he’s chained up alone-“

“And that’s just why we’re gonna leave him be,” interrupted Mal. “Right about now he’s psychologically unstable and got an adrenaline high that won’t listen to any sort of reason. Anything we say about now is just gonna rile ‘im. Little time passes, he’ll be tired and bored and lonely. Some chance he might actually listen to us then.”

“Damn,” said Matty, who was still curled up in an almost invisible ball on a far bunk and showed no inclination to move. “You’re about as cold as that guard out there.”

Mal glared at him in frustration. “I ain’t the one shocked the hell out of the guy and chained him to a gate! There are bounds to my evident evilness, you know.”

“Well, I’m just a bit concerned that you didn’t seem the least bit bothered by the fact that we just watched one of our friends tortured in front of our eyes,” protested Wash. “Of all people, I’d think you’d be the one-” Wash cut himself off when Mal stepped towards him with a furious glare.

“You go out there now, you’ll wind up with problems you never even imagined of, trust me,” said Mal firmly.

Wash walked away, disgruntled but finally yielding to the former Sergeant’s advice. He sat heavily on his bunk, and Mal walked to the end of the building and stood with his back to the three men, gazing out the window. After taking a few minutes to let everyone collect their thoughts, he turned back grimly and faced them.

“I feel as bad as any of you,” he said, his voice softer. “That was a hurtful thing to watch. But it ain’t torture. Whole thing was under his control, and if he’d a wanted to avoid it, he could have. If he wants to let his anger and his pride run ‘im, I ain’t gonna cry over the consequences. As for right now, he’ll do best if we leave him be.”

Wash looked at Mal with a deeply hurt expression for a few seconds, and then turned his back in disgust. So much for explainin‘ myself, thought Mal. A moment later Wash spun around and faced him again. “Mal, he’s our friend!” he said fiercely.

“Yeah,” said Mal. “He’s our friend, and he turned on us and he turned on Khiloh. I can’t think of much more despicable than taking advantage of the state he’s in, after all the kindness he’s shown us. Doesn’t put me in the most – ah - caring of moods.”

Wash’s expression changed, fighting tears again as his anger faded. Mal was beginning to realize that anger was Wash’s way of coping with things that overwhelmed him: it was either that or break down and give in to his emotions. For all his blustering about Gray, it was his concern about Khiloh that Wash could hardly stand to face.

“What about Khiloh?” Wash asked. We –we did betray him, Mal. How – I mean, he’s having the worst time of his life and we do - this to him?”

“We didn’t,” said Mal firmly. “We didn’t, and he knows that full well. Straaker and Gray did.”

“How we supposed to deal with that?” asked Wash in a whisper. “How are we supposed to look them in the eye, knowing that they wanted to take advantage of the kindest gorram person in this place? Put a gun to his head? What if they shot him?”

“Was wondering that myself. Can’t say it endears them to me, not that I was wildly in love with Straaker in the first place,” said Zeke dryly.

It struck Mal as odd that the three men who outranked him all seemed to be looking to him as a leader. I’m a rutting Sergeant. When did I wind up in charge of this mess? The thought entered his mind that he was the only one accustomed to being in command, but he banished it hurriedly. It was a comfort zone of sorts, but he reckoned he’d pass on the heartache of being responsible for more of the Alliance’s victims. They killed the last lot, I ain’t watching it happen again.

Mal sighed, coming back to the problem at hand. “Straaker, we can string up by his toenails when he gets back. Or not,” he added hurriedly, catching Wash’s glare. “Gray’s – just not the most stable of individuals. Let him and Khiloh tend to their differences, but if Gray needs our support, we give it.”

“So you think it’s fine he wanted to use Khiloh to escape?” protested Zeke. “And laid into you when you tried to stop him?”

“No,” said Mal bluntly. “But I don’t think he needs his only friends to punish him for it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up a mite traumatized by how hard those guards took him down. Might be he needs us.”

Wash nodded, gratitude in his eyes. Mal gave him a reassuring glance, then wandered off and flopped down on his bunk with a groan. His body was reminding him painfully that it didn’t particularly care to be punched and he lay in silence, disinclined to move about.

As he closed his eyes in an ill-advised attempt to rest, his own anxiety came to the fore and his mind started to race. He felt sore and alone, and his pounding head wasn’t making it any better. Mal was sickly certain this wasn’t over; he doubted even the most benevolent of prisons would simply forgive them for planning to take a guard hostage in an escape attempt, and given his rather painful history here he had considerable doubt about the whole benevolent part.

His fears and insecurities had been easy enough set aside while he was addressing the others, but left to his own devices he found them considerably harder to control. Wonder if that’s how I made it through the war, he wondered. Too busy worryin’ on holding troops together to take notice of how I might be about to get my own head blown off.

“Mal?” asked Wash timidly. Mal opened his eyes and raised his head. “Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I wasn’t playing fair. But – I know what that feels like, and you do too. I just can’t be that cold about it.”

“It’s okay,” said Mal gently. “Don’t think it means I don’t care about the both of you.” If they were all going to be dragged off to a dungeon somewhere, best he knew that. Mal saw Wash’s face soften as he relaxed visibly.

Mal blinked his eyes in puzzlement as something registered. “You know what that feels like? What part of it, the getting beat up or the being left chained to a gate?”

“Both,” said Wash shortly, the hardness in his voice trying to conceal a tremor of hurt.

“You – wanna elaborate on that?” asked Mal, somewhat startled.

“Well…….” Wash paused. “I can think of things I’d rather do, like for instance maybe getting eaten alive by dinosaurs. Or sharks, sharks are good.”

Despite the jokes, Mal could tell that Wash was desperate to avoid the subject. It seemed at odds with his relaxed nature and his trust of the guards, but whatever had been done to him, it had hurt him badly. “Got it, no elaborifying,” said Mal, closing his eyes again. Gonna have to explore that when we don’t have an audience.

After that, time slowed to a grinding halt as the four men fell silent. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Mal pulled himself to a sitting position with a groan. “If Gray’s even half as sore and bored as I am, he’ll perhaps be receptive to some rational company,” he said, standing.

Mal went to the gate and stood quietly next to Gray, who stared at him for a moment before looking away and pressing his face to the gate. Mal waited silently for the guard to approach, and addressed him respectfully. “Sir, may I speak to him for a bit?”

The man studied him carefully. Finally he nodded. “Don’t get him riled up again. Longer he stays pissed off, the longer he stays hooked up to that gate.” He turned and walked away, leaving Gray glaring after him.

“Ruttin’ bastard,” snarled Gray in a low tone.

Mal sat down silently beside Gray, leaning his back against the gate. “Haven’t seen him do anything you didn’t go lookin’ for,” said Mal. “Know he hurt you, an’ I’m sorry for that. But he ain’t abusive.”

Gray’s eyes flashed in anger. “Beating me, handcuffing me, standing on me and shocking me don’t count as abuse in your book?”

“Didn’t say I thought it was right,” said Mal gently. “An’ I’ve no doubt it was a horrible thing to have happen to you. But that don’t change the fact that I don’t think they’d have laid a hand on you if you hadn’t a’ asked for it. You’re in prison, an’ there’s a thing or two about that you’re just gonna have to accept.”

“Yeah, like being ruled by the Alliance?”

“Yes!” Mal said sharply. “They won the gorram war, and you’re their prisoner. Likin’ it and accepting it are two different things, and you need to accept the reality of it. You think it somehow hurts the Alliance, your pulling stunts like this? It hurts you. That’s it.”

Gray glared at him in fury, and Mal stood, turned, and began to walk calmly away. When he’d gone no more than a few paces a much less belligerent voice stopped him.

“Mal?” He turned to look at Gray; he was lying on the ground looking acutely helpless. He didn’t meet Mal’s eyes as he asked awkwardly, “Would you stay? Just for a bit?”

Mal returned and stood looking at him as he considered for a moment. “Take that back. It doesn’t just hurt you. Hurts all the rest of us gotta stand there and watch you suffer.”

Grey’s eyes softened slightly for the first time. “Doesn’t strike me any of you give a damn. I’m just the guy you all want to avoid.”

Mal sat down beside Gray. “I’m here, ain’t I?”

Gray sighed. “I – I didn’t want to be out here alone any longer,” he said, clearly embarrassed.

Mal smiled understandingly. “Company is good. We should get you back inside, -“

Gray snorted. “A little naive, are we?” His voice held an unwilling quiver. “I’m gonna be out here all night. Didn’t think they’d be content not punishing me for that mess, did you?”

Mal reached out and put a comforting hand on Gray’s shoulder. No wonder he hadn’t wanted to be left alone. “Don’t think Khiloh’s like to do that,” he said. “He gets back from his report-writing and what-all, I imagine he’ll let you go if he can.”

Gray closed his eyes in disgust. “Listen. I know you two are friends and all, and yeah, if it was you lying here I’ve no doubt he would let you go. But you’re forgetting I was gonna try and take him hostage because his ruttin’ son was dying. I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t beat me senseless in the process.”

“Self-loathing, a little?” asked Mal, still holding his shoulder reassuringly. “Might be what you deserve, but you know damn well he’s not gonna do it.”

There was quiet acknowledgement in the man’s lack of reply. Gray had deflated, lying uncomfortably on the ground and quite obviously miserable. “You’re gonna be all right, you know,” said Mal. Gray nodded weakly.

He looked up after a minute. “I was pretty vicious earlier. You didn’t deserve that.”

Mal gave a little smile. “No apologies. Been so long since I got in a good, honest brawl it was kinda refreshing. Just too bad a bunch of heavily armed men had to march in and hog all the fun.”

Gray ventured a chuckle. “Greedy bastards.”

Mal saw Khiloh approaching with the substitute guard and a man in a Sergeant’s uniform. The faces of the approaching men were grim, and he squeezed Gray’s arm reassuringly as he stood, stepping back rapidly from the gate. Deliberately refusing to meet Mal’s eyes, Khiloh hit the intercom button and ordered everyone to exit the building and stand at attention.


Monday, October 16, 2006 4:49 AM


So...very...Mal. Just spot-on with his wisdom, introspection, humor, everything. I could totally see him behaving this way to everyone. Nicely done!

I'm on tenterhooks, waiting to see what happens next! And, whee, I'm all caught up. *g*

"I love my captain."

Monday, October 16, 2006 1:07 PM


Always do a little celebration tap dance when I see you have posted a new part and as always you do not disappoint. Loved this, you had Mal spot-on and that was a neat little insight with Wash. Somehow I think things are going to go even further downhill for Gray with Khiloh not meeting Mal's eyes as the gate is opened. Hope the next part is up soon! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, October 16, 2006 8:08 PM


Oh wow...this was a brilliant chapter, jetflair! Especially how you had Mal deal out some hard-earned wisdom to housemates and his conversation with Grey in the end. Though I do gotta wonder about whether Wash's comments about getting beaten and chained up to the fence relate back to his earlier comments about pulling all manner of crazy shit to make himself seem tough for breaking during interrogation...


Tuesday, November 14, 2006 3:19 AM


Sorry I'm so far behind. Excellent chapter. Just be careful of repitition within conversations. Otherwiese, wonderful characterization.

"You got a wife? All I got was that dumb-ass stick what sounds like it's rainin'."

Rob O.


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