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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Post-war POW drama with Mal and Wash, some Zoe. In this chapter, the guards come looking to crack down after Straaker and Gray attempt an escape.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1013 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Sorry for the long delay, folks. I've been insanely busy, and I wanted to write this chapter with care. It's long and emotionally complex. I hope I got it right.
Special thanks to Guildsister, Mal4Prez, and everyone else who took the time to critique my writing.
“What’s going on?” asked Gray. His question was ignored, and he spoke again. “Look, guys, I’m-“
“Shut up,” ordered the Sergeant, barely glancing in his direction. Mal was watching him closely, trying to size him up. He was a pudgy man, meticulously groomed and holding himself with an officious bearing. A bureaucrat, playing enforcer. Just charming.
“What the hell!” snapped Gray. “I was trying to-“
The Sergeant rounded on him furiously, and before the man could act Khiloh leaned down, his face cold, and grabbed the chain between the cuffs on Gray’s wrists. Without saying a word, he pulled back and twisted hard, driving the metal painfully into his wrists until the man’s protests were silenced, turning into a low, moaning cry. Mal winced, startled by the cruelty of the normally gentle officer’s actions; Gray was clearly in severe pain and Khiloh wasn’t backing off in the slightest.
Khiloh spoke calmly and deliberately, making sure his words would be heard and understood through the pain he was inflicting. “When someone gives you an order, you obey it. If you don’t, you will get hurt.” He maintained the relentless pressure for what seemed like forever until Gray managed to force out a gasping “Yes, sir,” through his quiet whimpers of pain. When Khiloh released him, he went limp and lay silently on the ground, shocked.
Khiloh straightened and looked grimly at Mal, who stared with dismay at the one guard he’d thought he could trust. “You too,” he said, nodding in the direction of the uncertain group of men who had filed out of the housing unit. “Line up and stand at attention.” His voice was cold, and Mal felt his stomach turn. Khiloh’s unwaveringly gentle and considerate nature had always shown through, even when putting on a stern show for a cover officer. What he’d just seen was so unflinchingly cruel that it left him with a chill of betrayal; that had been no act.
The Sergeant slid the gate open hard. Gray was still lying on the ground attached to it, and he howled as the opening gate dragged him across the gravel by his wrists. Nobody appeared to pay the slightest attention to his cries, and the three guards marched across the yard to face their prisoners.
Mal took a deep breath and tried to set aside his shock. At least give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned that much from you. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen, and he wanted to apologize for not having prevented this. “Sir, I’m -“
Khiloh interrupted Mal’s attempted apology furiously, refusing to meet his gaze. “Shut up,” he snarled. “Don’t any of you so much as dare to talk to me. If I hear a single, sniveling word out of any of you, I’ll drag you into solitary confinement faster than you can blink.”
Mal’s breath caught in his throat as he fought the urge to step back. He knew what was happening, knew Khiloh had to come in and crack down on them, knew he would have to act harshly. He’d prepared for that the second he’d seen the faces of those three men, but actually experiencing it was hitting him harder than he could have anticipated. His logical mind knew what was happening was inevitable and not personal, but he felt sick with betrayal. His trust of Khiloh had lulled him; while he was incapable of forgetting that Khiloh was a guard in a POW camp, unconsciously he had come to count on safety and kindness from the young man.
Seeing that broken was all the more a betrayal because Mal knew he’d tricked himself, knew it was his own foolishness to blame for the pain he was feeling. Of course his job comes first. The image of his own self sitting in a battlefield, pulling the trigger on a gun aimed at the back of the head of a woman he was cradling reassuringly in his arms appeared to him with sickening clarity. He’s the enemy. That doesn’t change because he has a heart, or because he’s kind to you. You knew that in every fiber of your being, you fool.
Sad, hurt, and deeply disappointed in himself, Mal braced himself for the next round. In absence of trust was raw fear; it had been Khiloh who had spent months easing the horror in his memories, Khiloh who had shown him a lifeline with which to face the guards without experiencing the visceral and uncontrollable terror that still had the ability to rise up despite his most dogged efforts.
Khiloh looked at the four of them, his expression lethally stern. “You people are a disgrace to your own military and to this facility. Straaker will be spending the next two weeks in solitary for attacking a guard, and the lot of you just lost all privileges for a week. All mattresses and bedding will be removed from that building and the power shut off. You will not leave this yard. Meals will be provided twice a day dependent on good behavior. That week will be extended indefinitely if I see so much as a shred of unprofessional behavior, understood?”
Mal stood in shock, not at what was going to be done to them, but at how much the sincere harshness of Khiloh’s words hurt. He stared back wordlessly, and Khiloh returned Mal’s gaze, a flicker that familiar look of gentle reassurance visible through his grim expression. Mal blinked and looked away. Part of him was deeply relieved, but the more logical side was saying trustin’ you is a lot to ask just now.
“Understood, but-“ Wash started to answer, and Khiloh stepped in front of him.
“Did I say could speak?” he asked harshly. The confused Wash just stared back at him. “I distinctly remember telling you not to, was I unclear maybe? Or do you just feel like disobeying me on general principle?”
Wash looked down silently. He knew it was an act, but having his oldest and most trusted friend treat him this way still stung. He glanced uneasily at Mal, knowing how hard it was for him to trust Khiloh, and wondering if that fragile trust would survive the night.
The Sergeant stopped in front of Mal. “You were involved in the fight, correct?” Mal nodded, temporarily distracted by the man’s incredibly bushy left eyebrow, which waggled up and down taking on a life of its own as he spoke.
“Step forward and face me, prisoner,” said the Sergeant coldly.
Mal obeyed uneasily, his heart pounding. Being unable to fight back when threatened went against his very nature, and he hated standing helplessly in front of a man he could take in seconds given the luxury of a fair fight. But most of all, he hated the sickening fear that wouldn’t listen to any mental logic. Charming. I’m afraid of a guy with a pet eyebrow.
The Sergeant glared at him. “We don’t allow fighting in this facility. We treat you as soldiers, not common criminals, and we expect you to act the part. If you want to brawl like petty criminal rubbish, you’ll be dealt with as such, understood?”
“Yes, sir,” said Mal, exerting every bit of willpower he had to keep his voice steady and respectful.
“Common criminals belong in chains, prisoner.” The guard from the gate produced a set of chains. Mal forced himself to stand impassively as the man knelt down and locked the heavy metal rings around his ankles.
“Yes, sir,” repeated Mal resignedly, proud of himself for not kicking the man in the face. The Sergeant was looking at him with a smirk of satisfaction, the eyebrow momentarily at rest. Mal fought a nearly irresistible urge to pluck it.
“You have fun with those, now. Your friend Gray gets a nice set, too,” said the Sergeant. “You’ll both wear them for the duration of your punishment. Too bad we don’t have a chain gang to put you on.” His eyes brightened. “Maybe I should suggest that.”
Or, maybe I should punch you in the face, thought Mal. Then move on to eyebrow removal. Slow and very, very painful eyebrow removal.
The guards turned away, and Mal breathed for what seemed to be the first time in minutes. Missed your chance to kick 'im, he told himself humorously. Truth be told, he was relieved. As fundamentally enraged and humiliated as he was, he’d feared worse than being saddled with a minor annoyance.
They stood silently at attention as the three guards busied themselves dragging out the contents of the housing unit. No watch was kept on the prisoners at all, as though they were being dared to move.
Mal breathed a sigh of relief as finally the men walked away, and he watched as Gray too was locked in chains. The men stepped out, and Khiloh slid the gate shut. He managed to do it slowly enough that the unfortunate man attached to it was able to wiggle along awkwardly instead of being outright dragged.
He heard a whisper behind him. “All dressed up for the ball tonight there Mal?” It was Wash, teasingly sympathetic and desperate to lighten the mood.
Mal grinned. “Not so sure the color flatters my skin tones,” he replied in a quieter whisper. “You’re welcome to try them on, if you like.”
“Thanks, but I don’t wear girl’s clothes,” replied Wash. “The whole anklet thing just isn’t quite – me, you know?”
“Truth be told, I was anticipatin’ something a mite more bloodcurdling than the latest in bondage fashion,” confided Mal. Wash snorted in laughter, and it proved contagious as snickering broke out among the small line of men. Fortunately for them, the guards were out of earshot by that point.
“I dunno,” said Wash. “That eyebrow had me cowering. Might just be -”
Khiloh called out to the prisoners. “At ease. Mal, report to the gate. Everyone else, inside.”
Mal headed for the gate, and was stopped short by a painful yank on his ankles. He tried looking down to gauge the length of the chain, but the falling light was making it hard to see. He tried a much smaller stride, and was repaid by a lighter tug. He started forward hesitantly, and after a few tiny steps his stride lengthened unconsciously and he once again jerked the unforgiving metal rings into his ankles.
Noticing his awkward and painful progress, Khiloh called out to him kindly. “Take your time, Mal, you’re okay. Just take it slow.” Mal stopped for a minute to steady himself, taking comfort in the familiar compassion of his tone. He wanted badly to believe in that kindness, to listen to the friend trying to ease his struggle.
He took a deep breath, trying to control the emotions that were trying to take him over. That voice belonged to someone who’d just badly hurt one of his fellow prisoners and who’d looked at him coldly as he lashed out at him and Wash, and it made him feel sad and hurt, hearing the reminder of the Khiloh he’d trusted. He was furious with Khiloh for hurting Gray, furious with that pudgy little Sergeant for slapping him in these chains, and furious with himself for not preventing it.
He started to march forward again in anger, not even caring about the damn chains for the brief second until they once again jerked him to a stop and he cried out in pain and rage, cursing unreservedly in Chinese. Pain combined with the fear that Khiloh would think he wasn’t heeding his command left him fighting panic. Their friendship might be gone, but the last thing Mal reckoned he could handle right now was Khiloh personally laying into him for disobeying an order.
Hearing the desperate frustration in Mal’s voice and watching him struggle made Khiloh cringe. He admired how hard Mal tried to endure the indignities of being a prisoner with grace and humor, and he knew how little it sometimes took to reignite the slowly fading terror in his memories. Khiloh wondered hopelessly if he had just destroyed in a single night a friendship he cherished all the more for how difficult it had been to earn.
A gentle voice cut comfortingly through the haze of Mal’s thoughts again. “Mal, don’t panic. You’ll get used to it, I promise. You’re okay,” Khiloh said, softly repeating the only real reassurance he could give.
The kindness behind those words was like salt on an open wound, stinging at his heart. Mal stopped and took a deep breath. Rational. He’s being rational, remember what that is? It’s what you are when you’re not letting a few pounds of metal compound every problem you might’ve dreamed up.
Khiloh’s voice was clear and calm. “Stop trying to walk. That’s chain’s short and it’ll take you a bit to figure it out. Just slide one foot forward until you feel it tighten, then stop and move the next foot. There’s no rush and it’s not far.” The guard glanced down. “Gray, you remember that too.”
Mal followed Khiloh’s instructions and made it over to the gate where Gray was lying on the ground in silent misery. Mal moved to stand next to him and looked at Khiloh, all the anxiety and fury and betrayal spilling over onto his face.
Khiloh looked back, his entire expression and even posture reflecting overwhelming grief and anxiety. The man staring back at Mal wasn’t a confident, stern armed guard; he was a man wordlessly and desperately pleading for understanding and forgiveness, his composure hanging by a thread. Seeing the look on Mal’s face, he looked away in defeat.
Mal took a deep breath, forced to reevaluate everything he was thinking and feeling in the space of seconds. “Sir?” he said softly. Khiloh hesitantly met his eyes again, and Mal felt the panic and anger slip away at the heartbreak he saw in them. It’s okay. Mal didn’t say the words, but they were written plainly on his face.
Khiloh gave him a small, shaky smile of relief and swallowed hard, the exhaustion starting to show in his eyes again as the adrenaline wore off. There was so much to say that it all boiled down to nothing, and they simply stood quietly.
Finally Mal spoke, nodding towards Gray. “How you feel about letting him loose?” he asked. “Can you?”
Khiloh knelt down and looked at Gray. “Are you all right?” he asked kindly. Gray nodded, looking away, and Mal sat down next to him for support.
“So,” said Khiloh, “you two wanted to take my gun? Use me to try and escape?”
“Yeah,” said Gray sheepishly.
“Were you going to shoot me?” asked Khiloh seriously.
Gray shook his head. “No. Comes right down to it – no. You’ve been too good to us. I couldn’t hurt you.”
“You did,” said Khiloh quietly. “I see you guys as people, living and feeling, and I do everything I can to let you see that. You just decided to use me as an enemy prison guard, some generic bad guy.”
Gray looked away, ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s – you’re more than that, I just-“
Khiloh continued to speak. “You wouldn’t have managed it, you wouldn’t have gotten my gun. I’ve been here for more than six years, school of hard knocks and all. I can handle myself, even half dead.”
Gray interrupted. “Uh, I could’ve. I saw you in the window, with Mal and Wash. They could have taken you in a second.”
Khiloh nodded. “They could’ve. But they didn’t, did they? And I trust them enough to put myself in a vulnerable position, only because I know they won’t betray that. You, I hoped you wouldn’t.” He sighed. “But hoping doesn’t make me naïve enough to let you to attack me, just means it kinda hurts knowing you wanted to.”
“And just why are they on your most-trusted list?” snapped Gray.
Khiloh smiled slightly. “Well, Wash I’ve known for about six years now. Mal, because he trusts me.” There was a lot Khiloh couldn’t add to that statement, and he knew it probably didn’t make much sense as it stood.
“Look,” continued Khiloh. “I put myself in a tough spot here. If you don’t give a damn about your prisoners, it’s easy enough to hurt them. Keep compassion and friendship out of the picture, this job’s a lot easier to do. A lot of the guys keep their distance because of that.”
“You didn’t seem to have much of a problem with it earlier,” said Gray, the toughness of his words betrayed by a slight waver in his voice.
Khiloh took a deep breath and looked away. When he spoke, his words were directed more at Mal than Gray. “I didn’t tell them this was an escape attempt. I lied in my reports. So far as anyone knows, this was a fight, nothing more. If they found out -”
Mal took a deep breath and nodded, realizing with a sudden chill why Khiloh had been so unreasonably adamant that they not speak earlier.
Khiloh focused on Gray. “I couldn’t risk you talking, and you’re just too hardheaded to take a hint. Only sure thing was to make you afraid to say anything. I’m sorry.” The pieces clicked together in Mal’s head. That had been the thing that had truly disturbed him, and he relaxed in deep relief.
“Just – never thought you were the kind of guy who had to have us be afraid of you, that’s all,” said Gray, no longer belligerent. Instead, his voice simply sounded lost.
Khiloh looked down, unconsciously glancing at Mal again. “Mal and Wash didn’t obey me out there because they were afraid of me, they did it out of friendship and loyalty. Then I had to come in and tear them down. I work so hard to be someone you guys can trust, ‘cause if I were in here-“ his voice faltered. “If I were in here I’d need that, so badly. I don’t want you afraid of me, not at all. Forcing me to do what I did tonight is about the cruelest thing you can do to me.”
Gray looked away. “I’m sorry,” he said. He fell silent, huddled miserably against the gate. He forced himself to look back after Khiloh gently removed the handcuffs from his sore wrists and patted his arm sympathetically. He stared, touched and confused.
“I’m not mad, and I do care about you,” said Khiloh. “Don’t ever think my getting my feelings bruised translates into wanting to see you suffer, okay?”
“I’m very, very sorry,” whispered Gray, rolling to his feet. Mal remained sitting. “And I really hope your son’s okay.” Gray hobbled inside, clearly feeling like the lowest possible form of life.
Mal watched the retreating figure with utter admiration for Khiloh. He’d managed to rip the recalcitrant Gray to shreds using nothing but humanity and total kindness, and Mal knew he’d done it through a haze of grief and exhaustion. When the door shut behind Gray, Mal looked up and issued his own apology. “I’m sorry,” he said simply.
Khiloh closed his eyes. “Me too,” he said with a small groan. He took a deep breath and forced his eyes open again, looking indescribably miserable.
“Sir,” said Mal gently. “You’re exhausted, and you’re going through a far worse time than any of us right now. How ‘bout if we give you a pass on the having to cope, okay? No apologies, no discussions, you just finish making it through this day.”
Khiloh raised his head, looking at Mal with bleary eyes, and nodded gratefully. “You’ll make it,” said Mal. “I know the world’s fixing to cave in about you, but you’ll come through.” He stood and looked at Khiloh with concern.
“Xie xie,” said Khiloh sincerely, looking back at Mal. He blinked, remembering something. Pulling a bottle out of his pocket, he handed it to Mal. “Painkillers,” he said. “Can’t imagine you and Gray feel too wonderful.”
“Appreciate it,” said Mal. “I’ll get to workin’ on your nomination for sainthood in the morning.”
Khiloh snorted sarcastically. “Don’t file it, they’ll court-martial me.” Khiloh met Mal’s eyes almost timidly as he went on. “So now you’re stuck in chains for protecting me, and there isn’t a single rutting thing I can do about it.” Mal looked back at him, wordlessly reassuring. It’s okay.
He impulsively reached out and put a hand on the weary guard’s arm, and Khiloh leaned limply against the gate with a groan, closing his eyes in gratitude and relief. When he looked back up, they held the most vulnerable expression. “Thank you, so much,” he said shakily.
Mal looked at him quietly, reflecting on the oddity of circumstances. At the end of a day like this, the man most desperate for comfort and reassurance is our prison guard. He spoke softly. “We’ll put the pieces back together.”
There was a certain peace in the moment of shared relief; of two people who’d been afraid of losing a friendship they desperately needed realizing that somehow, it was still intact.
Friday, November 03, 2006 5:17 PM
Friday, November 03, 2006 7:14 PM
Saturday, November 04, 2006 4:11 AM
Saturday, November 04, 2006 7:16 AM
Sunday, November 05, 2006 10:10 AM
Tuesday, November 14, 2006 3:31 AM
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