Saved You in the War, Chapter 2/3
Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mal and Zoe hone their Big Damn Hero skills saving each other in the war. This is a three-part story inspired by the line in War Stories. It was originally going to be part of my extraordinarily long POW story The Losing Side (as a flashback), but in an effort to focus that tale a little bit I decided to take it out and post it seperately. It only ties into TLS in a very limited way - this was originally going to be a story Mal told Wash, but it didn't work too well that way. It does explain why Mal had that nerve cluster moved in his back, too.


"Easy, sir, easy. Don't try to move, you're okay," said a woman's voice. Mal blinked, trying to conjure where he was. The question was answered for him soon enough. "You're on an orbiting hospital ship, and you just came out of surgery."

Mal tried to look up at the woman speaking, but he was lying on his face, and his head was responding sluggishly to his commands. The slight movement increased the swimming of his head, and he retched, trying to vomit.

He felt a firm hand on his shoulder as though the sensation was coming from a body other than his own. "I told you not move around," she chided gently, pressing an injector against his arm and giving him a shot he didn't feel. "That'll take care of the nausea, just lie still while it takes effect."

His vision and his head cleared after a few minutes, and he started taking in his surroundings. He was lying face down in a hospital bed, with a partial view of an incongruously homey flowered curtain and an unseemly number of tubes attached to him.

"Feeling better?" the doctor asked.

"Yeah," said Mal. "Can I move now? Can't say as this is the most graceful position I've ever been in."

"No," the doctor replied. "You're temporarily paralyzed." She saw the shock on Mal's face and spoke with a tight smile. "Temporarily, Sergeant. You had shrapnel imbedded in a major nerve cluster in your back, and - shall we just say the typical protocols for back trauma don't involve tying the patient to a scrap of metal and dragging them across a rocky battlefield? It saved your life, but it also paralyzed you and caused severe internal and external bleeding. We've already removed the shrapnel and stopped the bleeding, but I need you to decide how to go on from here."

"Um -would it be too obvious to suggest that you de-paralyze me?" asked Mal.

She chuckled, sitting on a low stool next to the bed so that he could see her face. "It's the way we go about it that I need your input on, Sergeant. We can regenerate the nerve cluster, but only within healthy tissue. The slow way is to let the soft tissue in your back heal, then regenerate the nerves. The fast way is to move the nerve cluster, to regenerate it in an uninjured area while your back injury is still healing."

"Fast - seems like it'd be better'n slow," said Mal. He was straining his neck peering up at the doctor, and instinctively tried to roll onto his side. His body simply failed to respond, and Mal fought back the fear that swept through him. You ain't crippled, moonbrain. They’re gonna fix you.

"You are aware that the faster you recover from this, the sooner you'll be back in the field?" asked the doctor.

"That was kind of the point," said Mal dryly. He was forcing himself to focus on experimentation, concentrating on what he could move and feel instead of what he couldn't. His hands seemed to work after a fashion, and his head seemed to obey him.

The doctor smiled, reaching out to pat him on the shoulder. "Not everyone feels that way," she said. "Physically, you'll be good as new, but I should explain something before you make your final decision."

Mal gave a slight nod. "Shoot." He closed his eyes momentarily and drew a deep breath, trying to stop his heart from pounding so very heavily. He felt like the whole world had just been kicked out from under him. He wasn't in pain, and the nausea was gone; in fact he could feel very little. But he still managed to feel sick and hurt, and somehow lost.

"Three hundred years ago, you'd be paralyzed for life. A hundred years before that, you would have died from the internal damage. Thanks to modern medicine, you're going to walk back onto a battlefield in two, maybe three weeks. The thing is, we haven't evolved mentally to accept how quickly we can be healed now."

"Huh?" asked Mal.

"Let me put it this way. Your body knows it suffered a fatal, paralyzing trauma. We've evolved over the ages to recognize injury, and to heal ourselves in a rudimentary way, but deep down we still recognize what should kill or cripple us. When we get hurt, our minds know we can be fixed, but our bodies tell us its over."

"I'm with you so far," said Mal, interested. Explains how I'm feeling right now.

"Okay. Even though we can heal injuries with artificial speed, our bodies still know how long it's really supposed to take. So when you step onto a battlefield a few weeks from now, you'll almost certainly find yourself suffering psychological trauma, trauma that might be lessened if you allow yourself more time to heal. We haven't advanced as fast in the field of psychiatric medicine, not enough to be able to convince the mind that the body really is healed. You'll probably suffer from feelings of intense vulnerability, as though you were fighting wounded, because as far as your subconscious is concerned, you are still severely injured. You might go into shock when you hear mortar fire, or feel pain in areas that have healed completely. These are all symptoms that tend to fade after a few months, after enough time has passed for the body to heal itself naturally."

"This happen to everyone?" asked Mal.

"Almost," she said. "In some it's very minor, and often it stops happening to soldiers who have been wounded repeatedly. They get so desensitized to injury that the psychological impact basically goes away - some of them even do some pretty impossible things while wounded because they've learned that they'll survive even severe trauma."

"Huh," said Mal, thinking. "Still think I want the express lane fix-it solution. I'm finding bein' unable to move powerfully unpleasant." He met the doctor's eyes. "This is scary too."

The doctor looked back in understanding. "Okay," she said with a smile. "I can see that."

"Thanks," said Mal. "Um - how's Corporal Alleyne? She -"

"She's fine," assured the doctor. "Wants to see you as soon as you're up for it. That's one incredible soldier, you two made it into the annals of our 'most couargeous rescue' stories."

"Incredibly stubborn," said Mal with a wry grin.

"I'll say," said the doctor. "She was nearly dead from hypovelemia whe-"

"Hypowhatsis?" asked Mal.

"Blood loss," said the doctor. "She got hit by shrapnel herself, didn't notice and almost bled out. Dragged you over uneven terrain in the middle of an active battle, wrenched her knee, broke two fingers, and still managed to get you to the pickup point before she passed out."

The doctor stood, patting Mal on the shoulder. "I'll send her in," she said, walking away. Mal suddenly felt very alone, stuck in his bed with his flowered curtain and his tubes.


"I came to collect my court-martial, sir," said Zoe, brushing the curtain back and limping up to him. She sat and studied him with quiet concern. Mal, for his part, was doing the same. She looked pale, and her arm and left hand were bandaged, but her eyes were clear and alert.

"Turns out they won't let me court-martial someone I'm nominating for a medal. Reckon we're back to shooting," replied Mal, the playful abuse weaker than usual.

Zoe's face was sober as she brushed the hair back from Mal's eyes and grasped his hand. "You're gonna be fine, Sergeant," she said.

Mal looked back at her gratefully. "How come I was fine with you leavin' me to die in the dirt, but bein' left here gives me a distinct uncomfortableness?"

Zoe gave him a wry smile. "Because this you're gonna have to actually live through, sir. Doctor said you won't be in pain, if it helps any."

Not really, Mal's eyes said as Zoe gripped his hand more tightly. The moment passed, and Mal broke the tension. "Gonna win the war for me while I'm gone?"

Zoe shook her head. "Can't bring myself to finish it off without you, sir. Figured we'd hold off 'til you get back."

"That's my Zoe," he said. "I'd be mighty upset if I didn't get to share in our glorious victory." He looked at her, thinking. "Long as we're repeatin' what the doctor said - appears you nearly killed yourself getting -"

"Let's not," interrupted Zoe firmly, giving Mal an icy look that reminded him exactly how helpless he was. After a moment of silence, Mal simply said, "Thank you."

Zoe looked back at him steadily for a minute, her face unreadable. Then she silently leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. "It was an honor, sir," she said, giving his hand a squeeze as she stood. Then she simply turned and walked out, mercifully sparing the both of them the ritual of goodbyes.


Mal noticed only one thing when he was returned to the field and resumed command of his squad, going through the rituals of greeting and well-wishes as he scanned the handful of strategic updates his harried Lieutenant had given him. Zoe was gone.



Sunday, February 25, 2007 10:57 PM


This was utterly brilliant up until the very end - where's Zoe???? I loved how in character you have both Mal and Zoe and the way you explain how the doctor healed the injury to Mal's nerve cluster fits in so eloquently with what we find out when he is fighting the Operative. Very fine work, can't wait for the next part. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, February 26, 2007 8:02 AM


Still very enjoyable.

So, would it be possible for me to have a couple of nerve clusters moved...?

"You shot me in the back! I haven't made you angry, have I?"

Rob O.

Monday, February 26, 2007 5:38 PM


Another great chapter.

Monday, February 26, 2007 9:06 PM


The doc's gotta point..and I gotta wonder if Mal has ended up like the people she mentioned who would keep going after serious injury cuz they knew they could survive serious trauma? I many wounds has Mal canonically sustained?


Still...this was definitely brilliant work. Though I wanna fugging know where Zoe whent, jetflair!


Wednesday, March 21, 2007 7:30 PM


I'm terribly impatient for the next installment. Your characterization feels spot-on. Mal and Zoe have that unspoken understanding, but it's not as jaded as it becomes post-Serenity Valley. The explanation for how the hell Mal got a freaking nerve cluster moved holds up very nicely. I'm impressed. The only thing I wonder at is Zoe brushing back Mal's hair and taking his hand. They're never very physical with each other, so this surprised me.
Anyway, lovely job.


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The Losing Side, Ch. 64 - How to Win a Losing Battle
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The Losing Side, Ch. 63 - The Art of Insanity
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