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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Mal worries about Wash and has trouble coping with his guilt about having led the pilot into trouble, and he unleashes his foul mood on the other prisoners. One of them gives him some painful advice, and he deals with it in a mature and manly manner: by hiding outside in the rain. Oh, and we find out what happens to Wash.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1522 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Full, easily readable/navigable archive of all previous chapters on my website.
The small group awoke early the next morning, looking around hopefully as though Wash might have returned in the night without their knowing. He was still gone, the absence of his easygoing, cheerful presence making itself known in the form of an unusual sobriety in the air.
Mal stood with a groan, fingering the wound on his forehead and glancing down at his arm, which had developed into vivid shades of purple. Gray lay motionless on his bunk with his eyes closed, and Straaker was making a valiant if misguided attempt at sitting and pretending nothing was wrong. Mal swallowed one of the pain pills he’d been given at the hospital and limped over to Gray, the ache in his leg reminding him his arm hadn’t been the only place that hun dahn had hit him.
He knelt and touched the miserable young man on the arm. Gray opened his eyes and looked at Mal in wordless greeting. The same person who’d glared and snapped at him from behind a mask of bitterness and distrust not so very long ago was now looking at him with genuine friendship, and Mal smiled. “Brought you something,” said Mal, giving him one of the pills.
“Not – in pain so much,” said Gray. “Just – sick.”
“Take it anyway,” suggested Mal. “Make us feel better for you if nothing else.”
Smiling weakly, Gray swallowed the tablet and laid his head back down. “Thanks,” he said. Mal gave him a brief rub on the shoulder and turned his attention to Straaker.
“The suicidal guy doesn’t need pandering to, thank you very much,” said Straaker coldly.
“And a shiny mornin’ to you as well,” responded Mal, pivoting and punching him in the cheek. The still-seated Straaker jerked back, holding his face in pain but otherwise remaining silent. The slightest flicker of hurt flickered across his face, but Mal ignored it, his dark mood not suffering fools easily. “Zeke, beat on him for a while an’ hand ‘im a razor blade.”
Straaker’s jaw dropped, and he turned his head away as though he’d been slapped. “Please, do beat me up,” he said in a small voice. “Seems being in the pits of misery is ‘bout the only way to get sympathy from you lot, so go ahead. Put me there.”
“Thought you didn’t want ta’ be pandered to,” said Mal harshly. “Seems the opposite.”
Straaker didn’t respond or defend himself; he simply stared silently at the floor, his hands shaking slightly. Mal looked wordlessly at the others, seeing the questions and the anxiety on their faces. After a pause, he turned and walked out. It was raining lightly, and after pacing around the yard a few times he leaned against the back wall out the housing unit just under the eve. He was sheltered from the rain and out of sight of the guard and his fellow prisoners, but hiding from his own self wasn’t nearly so simple.
It was a futile cycle, wondering where he was and what was happening to him. Whether he was suffering, and if it was Mal’s fault. Wash’s cry of pain in the cafeteria kept ringing in Mal’s ears. He doesn’t deserve to be hurt. He’s innocent by so many definitions of the word I can’t count ‘m all. If Mal had had any deity left to plead to, he would have done it at that moment.
Mal raised his bowed head as footsteps approached, crunching through the damp gravel. “Hey, dead guy,” greeted Zeke with an affectionate smile in his eyes. “So – now that your deep, dark secret’s out, are you going to stop holding the lot of us at arm’s length?”
Mal looked back, speechless. “I – I don’t-“
“You do,” replied Zeke. “Wash was the only one stubborn enough to force himself behind that wall of yours, but the rest of us kinda care about you too, you know.”
Mal looked away. He’d no interest in developing friendships with more people the Alliance could take from him, nor in seeing them hurt or killed on his account. It’d made him queasy doing it with Wash, and now the softhearted pilot showed up missing after protecting him. You fool. You selfish fool. You’re a prisoner of the Alliance. You think trust and friendship have a place here?
He squeezed his eyes shut momentarily, holding the image of the affection on Zeke’s face in his mind before facing him squarely. “You shouldn’t,” he said coldly. “You think I care about that gorram pilot? I don’t. I care about me, and about getting out of here in one piece. He serves my interests, dong ma?”
Zeke looked at him in shocked silence, the warmth vanishing from his face. “You – bastard,” he said finally.
Mal turned and began walking away, but Zeke grabbed the back of his jumpsuit and jerked him back. Mal whirled, furious, and punched him in the jaw. Zeke grunted in pain and put his hands on Mal’s arms, not holding him but pushing his fists away. “Don’t,” said Zeke softly, so that Mal had to strain to hear him as he readied another punch. “Don’t hit me.”
Mal lowered his fists, and Zeke kept the light contact on his arms. “If they line us all up against a wall tomorrow and shoot us, I want to die with friends at my side, not strangers,” said Zeke. “Even if it’s agony to watch you fall.” Zeke’s words ripped through Mal and his many hurts and fears, and he stood speechless, momentarily stripped bare.
Mal looked down silently, and Zeke tightened his grip on Mal’s arms. “We may be in the hands of the enemy, but I don’t plan on surrendering.” With that, he let go and walked away, and Mal sat down heavily, holding his face in his hands.
He was still there hours later when Zeke reemerged, sitting down beside Mal. “Always been my view that when a man wants space, he should get it. Especially in a situation like ours.”
“Except where I’m concerned, it appears,” said Mal with a low glare worthy of use as a lethal weapon.
Zeke smiled tightly. “Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but collectively we’re not doing so hot.”
“I’m feelin’ better ‘bout things already,” muttered Mal. “Shall I bash your skull in too so you’ll fit in?”
Zeke sighed. “Listen. You’re a natural leader, and a good one.”
“And outranked by every man in this housing unit,” said Mal shortly.
“And at this point, it’s irrelevant,” said Zeke. “Every time the chips are down, you assume that role without even thinking. And we follow you, gladly. But you can’t just turn your back when the crisis is over. You’ve got a building full of hurt people, and the one person they’ve started to turn to in times like this is run out on them. You pretty much devastated Straaker in there, by the way. You do to Wash what you did to him, I’ll kill you.”
Mal raised his head and looked at Zeke, his expression cold. “Their first mistake was to follow me. Not my problem these arrogant qü decided to lock us in a prison and xië wëi with our lives.”
“Mal – “ Zeke sighed and shook his head. “What was it you said to Gray about sulking? We’re going through a hard time. A friend may very well be in trouble for protecting you, but it’s what any one of us would do for the other. It’s hard, but we need each other right now, and we need you. You can’t get out of this by blaming yourself an’ hiding against a wall, and it’s not going away.”
Mal took a deep breath and sighed, hating Zeke deeply for having the nerve to possess insight and logic. “And, Mal?” said Zeke. “We’ve pretty much put the pieces together with you, and the fire, an’ the shape you were in after they threw you back in here. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but – “ he looked away, his voice faltering, “- we respect you deeply.”
“Another mistake,” said Mal coldly. “Wouldn’t be turnin’ me into a martyr if I was you.”
Zeke rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “Would you like to beat me up? Would that make you feel better? Or should I try’n kill myself, so you can have yourself a nice crisis to attend to ‘stead of actually facing the situation at hand?”
Mal looked away. He didn’t like being read so easily; it made him feel uneasy and violated. “Go xië wëi a háo zhüe dao zhì si wáng, an’ stop tryin’ to analyze me,” he snarled. He was hurting in more ways than one; worry for Wash and the pain of Zeke’s sincere offer of friendship were only amplified by the ache of his injuries.
“You’re doing this to yourself, jackass!” said Zeke harshly. “I got too much respect for you to let you wallow around making yourself all hurt and guilty when you got a whole building full of guys who’ll stand by your side if you’d let them.”
Mal readied his retort, close to accepting Zeke’s challenge to beat him up, but the expression in the former pilot’s eyes stopped him. It was too sincerely caring and open, not the least fazed by Mal’s abuse. “Don’t,” he snapped, robbed of words.
Zeke didn’t reply. He just kept looking at Mal with the plain and simple affection that ripped Mal to pieces inside. It was Wash and every loyal soldier who’d died without blaming him for giving the order that killed them. He wanted to be blamed, wanted someone to fight and hate besides himself. “Don’t,” he repeated more softly, his voice thick with pain.
“Mal?” said Zeke, his own voice incredibly soft. “I can see this hurts you, and I’m sorry. You talked about watching friends die. Well, I – have too. I flew a cargo hauler, had to make a forced landing. We got picked up by an Alliance field battalion, and they killed my crew while I watched. I never knew I could hurt that much for another person, or feel guilt that unbearable.”
Mal looked up at Zeke; the deep pain in every fiber of his voice and expression of the stable, good-natured Lieutenant was humbling. It clearly cut Zeke deeply to speak of, and Mal was filled with shame. Shame at lashing out at someone who was suffering, shame at trying to turn his back.
Mal looked down and closed his eyes tightly, fighting a myriad of miserable emotions. Zeke stood and extended a hand to Mal, pulling him to his feet and ever so briefly wrapping an arm around his shoulders in a tight hug that Mal returned simply by not fighting it. It was a brief moment of solidarity and understanding between two deeply hurt men.
Zeke spoke to him quietly. “Wash is my hero, has been since long before I ever got stuck here. If he comes back, and if he’s hurt, I’ve got to know you’ll be there for him.”
Mal didn’t go inside, and he barely spoke to his fellow prisoners during the morning meal. He simply couldn’t face the other men, couldn’t cope with the growing depth of caring within their small group and within his own soul, the worry about Wash, or the questions they’d have about the fire. So he stayed outside in the rain and paced until his clothing was soaked and his hands and feet went numb. He kicked viciously at the ball lying abandoned in the gravel, picking it up and hurling it against the chain-link fence over and over until a sharp order from the guard stopped him.
After lunch he sat back down under the eve against the building, staring unseeing at the ground in front of him for hours until mid-afternoon when he heard footsteps outside the gate. “Mal?” questioned Khiloh.
Mal stood with a groan and walked to the gate with his stomach tied in knots. There was finally someone on duty that he was comfortable asking about Wash, but he wasn’t so sure he wanted the news.
“Where’s Wash?” he asked with no greeting or introduction, his voice tight.
Khiloh frowned. “Where is Wash, and what happened to your face?” he asked, looking at Mal with confusion and no small amount of concern.
After listening to Mal’s hurried explanation, Khiloh pulled out the small tracker that he carried and was tapping on the screen. Finally he glanced back up at Mal. “He’s in solitary confinement. Seven days, disciplinary action for level three assault on an officer.”
Mal turned away to keep Khiloh from seeing the look of worry and rage on his face. Here he’d been getting pampered in the hospital, and his friend had been locked up alone in a cell, being punished for protecting him. He’d feared far worse, feared that one of his own enemies had spirited him away somewhere for revenge, but his fears were replaced with anger, not relief. What sort of a place was this, where people could treat him with so much decency and care, yet coldly punish a man who’d acted with no malice?
“Mal,” Khiloh said, his voice soft, “They won’t hurt him. I don’t know if it helps any, but I’m worried too. He’s a good friend, hurts to know he’s probably miserable right now.”
Mal turned back to face Khiloh. “He was protecting me! He’s being punished for helping me.” This time he didn’t care if the guard saw the emotion on his face.
“I’m sorry, Mal.” Khiloh stepped closer, speaking kindly. “Just remember, he knew what he was doing, and I don’t imagine he wants you to be miserable on his account.”
Mal looked at him with worry. “It’s just that-” he faltered, voicing the words “-I don’t see him as the sort of fella who’d handle it particularly well. He’s social and kind and-” Mal’s voice cracked and he looked away. And Straaker tried to kill himself when he got out. What’s this gonna do to Wash?
“He’s not,” said Khiloh, still speaking quietly. “He doesn’t handle it well at all. Mal, he’s spent more time in there than you might imagine, even sent him in a couple times myself.”
Mal jerked his head around in shock. “You-“
Khiloh nodded. “I take it he didn’t tell you? Wash and I have a – actually pretty violent history.”
“No, he – he trusts you, likes you-” Mal threw his hands in the air. “Khiloh, what the hell!”
Wash didn’t know how long he’d been alone in the dark, lying on the unyielding concrete slab in his tiny cell, but he’d been here enough times to know minutes tended to turn into eternity. His hands were numb; it was always kept cold in solitary confinement. He wished the rest of his body would go numb; there were only so many positions you could find to lie or sit on concrete before everything hurt. A slight grin crossed his face. Maybe he should count them. Wash’s Guide to Solitary Confinement for Tourists.
He pressed his hands against his face and drew a deep breath, sitting up. He was plainly and simply lonely, and he was also scared. He knew that feeling lonely would lead to remembering the early, devastating weeks here when he had nobody and nothing except his own fear and shame. After a few days in solitary confinement, his thoughts would become so real that separating memory from reality was difficult, but he had no more control over them than his dreams. At least he didn’t. Seemed Mal didn’t find it overly difficult.
That hell of waking dreams was all the worse than the night kind, because they were real. There was no waking up and escaping his life, only endless suffering and waiting for the moment when he’d be released and dragged back into a world of blinding light and noise and overwhelming stimuli that would make him want to beg to be returned to the darkness and safety of the solitary cell.
He though about Mal, and his gut twisted. Mal, lying beaten with his face covered in blood. Please, God, tell me they took care of him. Tell me they took him to the hospital and treated him kindly, tell me he’s not lying in one of these cells right now. He couldn’t imagine the nightmares that must have been running through his friend’s mind during that attack. Zeke. Zeke’ll take care of him, if the cranky bastard’ll let him come within ten feet.
Sunday, April 1, 2007 3:31 AM
Sunday, April 1, 2007 9:10 AM
Tuesday, April 3, 2007 4:19 PM
Friday, April 6, 2007 1:42 PM
Tuesday, April 10, 2007 4:20 PM
Thursday, April 12, 2007 4:42 PM
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