The Losing Side, Chapter 52
Monday, November 12, 2007

Healing. Back at his housing unit, Mal is cared for and supported by friends and enemies alike as he recovers and starts to come to terms with everything that's happened to him.


“How are you this morning?” asked Dr. Morgan. “All things considered.”

“Fine,” replied Mal.

“That’s good,” said the doctor, rising and giving him an injection. “That should feel pretty good, too.” He sat and faced Mal. “I’m here to decide whether to send you back to your housing unit, or hold you here.”

“Oh.” Mal looked away. "You want to know how to treat me, sir?"

"Yes," said Dr. Morgan. Mal got the feeling the answer was sincere.

"Let me crawl off into a corner and lick my wounds. I'll come off okay."

“Do you have friends in there?” asked Dr. Morgan. Mal nodded. "Here's the thing," said the doctor. "I can put you back in your housing unit. I’d leave strict orders to treat you like a hospital patient, not to force you out to meals or push you around or put you in handcuffs. It’s just that I can't guarantee they'll obey. You're in a certain amount of danger, given the mood of things, and it goes against my instincts to throw an injured man to the wolves, so to speak."

Mal considered. "Rather take the chance, sir. Most of our regular guards – they seem decent enough. I don't see them doing me any harm."

The doctor nodded and looked him directly in the eyes. “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” he asked. “You’ve been through some horrible trauma, and you’re going to be confined here for years. I don’t want to rub it in, but doesn’t that make you despair a little?”

Mal looked down. “Yes sir, it does,” he admitted honestly.

“Would you rather die than face that?” Doctor Morgan’s voice was gentle and calm.

“No, sir,” said Mal. “I’d rather live than die. Truly. ”

Dr. Morgan sighed. “Okay, I’ll ask the guard to take you back to your housing unit. If you ever need someone to talk to, or just to get out, tell the guards you’re feeling sick. We’ll help you, even if it’s just to give you someone to talk to or a change of scenery. You’re important to us,” he said, giving Mal’s hand a squeeze as he stood.


Mal blinked. Lined up at attention just inside the gate were all five of his fellow prisoners, holding a solemn salute. He looked at them in confusion, meeting their eyes one by one. Five pairs of eyes met his with deep sincerity, a unified message conveyed without words.

Mal gulped, his chest tightening with emotion at the unexpectedly sincere greeting. He forced himself to face them and saluted back soberly. In a situation that had grown so casual, so demilitarized, the ritual seemed to take on more meaning than he could have imagined.

His eyes wandered to Wash, looking every inch the soldier, his posture sharp and solid and a firm resolve in his eyes. He'd be proud of himself. Straaker, completely in his element and something resembling actual joy behind his impassive, military bearing. Straaker's comfort zone. No wonder he fought so hard to find that here.

The five men had each stepped aside from prison life and found something strong and true within for that moment, and Mal straightened his stance and crisped his casual salute. I will not give up. Ever. We fought for freedom, we died for freedom, and I will never surrender this ground or this memory to anyone.

Khiloh stood by silently, a tear starting to fall. The sheer beauty of that rigid military formation moved him somewhere deep in his soul. He saw his cover officer begin to move and tensed. Prisoners weren't allowed to salute. But the officer simply raised his own hand in a salute, his eyes cast downward.


Mal shifted position, pulling the blankets closer and burying his face in the pillow. Driving rain and hail were buffeting the little building, and all six men were relaxing on their bunks. His eyes drifted shut and he started off to sleep again, a drugged but content sleep. With the rain outside and the warmth inside, the pleasant company and the soothing chatter over the cortex screen, the place could almost be called cozy.

"Hey! That's us!" Matty's suddenly excited voice pulled him away from the brink of sleep. "Mal Mal Mal wake up! Mal! You gotta see this!"

Mal opened his eyes and looked to the cortex screen, where a grave reporter was droning on. "In this breaking news special, we'll examine the details of the scandal rocking the newly formed bond of peace between Alliance and Independent factions. An Independent war criminal is brutally tortured by high-ranking officers at the Tong Yï Containment Center. Center commander Mathew Lee responds by shooting one of his own men point-blank in the head. Some suspect vigilante justice and are even beginning to level accusations that Lee might be an Independent sympathizer. The incident is already sparking street protests, and experts wonder: is peace in danger?"

Fruity Oaty Bars, make a man a mouse…….

"How – endearing," said Wash. "It's nice to know our friend's misery is being used to sell cereal bars."

"A fruity, oaty lining in the darkest cloud," agreed Mal. "Warms an Independent war criminal's heart, really."


Mal had barely stirred when the meal siren sounded, and they were on their way out the door when Wash stopped. He knelt down beside Mal's bunk, remembering his horror at waking up and thinking he'd been deserted. "Mal? Hey Mal….."

Mal forced his eyes open, stirring slightly. "We're going for dinner. Be right back, and we'll bring you something nice to eat."

Mal smiled, seeing right through him. "Xie xie."


It was warm. No, hot. Summer? Mal moved to throw the covers off, the sore tug of cuts and bruises protesting just enough at the sudden movement to pull him awake. Not summer. Winter in a prison camp. Whysit hot? He reluctantly blinked one eye open, then the other. His head was covered with a big pile of – somethings, with just enough room to see out. To see Wash. Grinning.

He swept them off his head and sat up to the laughter of the other five men. “Wash, why the hell’d y’all cover me with jackets and a fluffy puppet?”

“Because you wouldn’t wake up for dinner,” said Wash, as though it was the most normal explanation in the world. He picked up a jacket and handed it to Mal. “This one’s yours. Guards passed them out earlier, guess we’re expecting a big cold snap.”

Mal took the coat and held it up against his chest. It was about three sizes too small, and they started with the laughing again. “Is it the magical person-shrinking sort of cold snap?” he asked.

“No, dumbass,” said Gray, hopping off his bunk and taking the coat from Mal with a grin. “That’s my jacket you’re cuddling with.”

Mal yawned and caught the coat Matty lobbed at him. “Dinner? I know someone mentioned dinner….”


"Mal, wake up. Mal?" Wash's voice nudged its way into his brain, and he groaned.

"Don' wan' to. Iss comfy," said Mal, settling down into the blankets and closing his eyelids tightly in hopes that the pilot wouldn't disturb him further. Too many drugs, too much fun to sleep. Sleep for a year.

"Mal, one of the guards wants to talk to you."

Mal's eyes popped open. "He said you don't have to, but he'd like to talk to you if you're feeling well enough," said Wash.

Mal sat and swung his legs off the edge of the bunk, rubbing his eyes. After a minute he pulled himself to his feet and walked out. The day shift guard greeted him, holding himself a little more proudly than usual with a new set of Sergeant's stripes on his crisp uniform.

"Thanks for coming out, I meant it when I said you didn't have to," said the guard.

"Appreciate the consideration," said Mal. "What's the occasion?"

He looked steadily at Mal. "Word on the grapevine is you're the reason Sergeant Lambert got yanked."

Mal looked back, not speaking. He'd lost his fear of these men; that crippling helplessness was gone completely. It simply seemed that holding his tongue might be the prudent thing to do.

The guard watched him for a minute, realizing he wasn't planning to answer. A faint smile twitched his lips. "Guess you realize we wouldn't normally appreciate a thing like that. In this case though – we all hated Lambert. Maybe even more than you. So long as you don't make a habit of it, you have our thanks."

"No cause for concern," said Mal. "I've no quarrel with you, or anyone who sticks to what's needed to do the job."

The guard stuck his hand through the gate. "Sergeant Riley. I'm gonna give this my best shot. Mistreating anyone'll have no part in it. Guards or prisoners."

The Sergeant’s manner bore the stiffness of one unsure of how to handle command. Mal shook his hand. "Thank you, and - good luck, sir."

Riley nodded. He pulled a small flexi out of his pocket. "You got any idea what sort of a shitstorm you're in the middle of?"

"Bruises give me an idea," said Mal, his voice mild.

"Well – I pulled your record." He tapped at the flexi. "You a mass murderer?"

"Oh, I'm a murderer, all right," said Mal. "I rape kittens, burn up churches, an' even cheat on my income taxes. You're looking at a real, live menace to all that's good and holy, here."

Riley grinned. "Smartass."

"Now that, I just might be guilty of," said Mal.

Riley looked him in the eye and studied him soberly for a long minute; Mal returned his gaze. Finally Riley spoke. "When I've dealt with you, I've seen a good man with no desire to make my job harder then it has to be. Seen a man looking out for his friends, and coping with a rough situation."

"I'm doing my best, just like all of us," said Mal.

The Sergeant nodded. "Truth be told – I'm sorry you got convicted. I was looking forward to seeing all of you walk out of here."

Mal looked away. "Me too, sir."

"Had a chat with the guys who work your yard. We've always respected you, and that's not fixing to change. We're circling the wagons, sir. Someone wants to harm you, they'll have to get through us," said Riley.

Mal smiled his sincere thanks. "Just remember to keep the kittens clear."

Riley chuckled, and the stiffness in him dropped for a split second. "I'll make a note. Hang in there, Reynolds."


A mob flashed up on the screen, with the commentator voicing over. “Meanwhile, even larger protests have sprung up over the alleged torture of the first man to be convicted in the war crimes sweep. Reports that he was hung by the wrists, beaten, mutilated, and tortured with electric shock have shocked not only former Independents, but millions of Alliance citizens. Two men have been charged in the atrocities, another was killed when he attempted to take a fellow officer hostage.”

All eyes were on Mal as the camera panned to a distraught woman holding a sign proclaiming, “A better world does not torture its prisoners.”

“Ya reckon they could’ve made that sound any more horrifying?” asked Mal dryly, shuddering within. Gray came over and sat on the floor next to Mal’s bunk, not saying anything, but sitting by quietly in support.

An image appeared of a group of angry citizens; burly types who looked like they were longing to lynch someone. One of them managed to shout louder than the rest. "Who cares if he got beat up a little?" Someone else elbowed him aside. "He'll catch more'n a beating if we see his kind 'round here." A cheer arose. "Go Alliance!"

“Neanderthal,” muttered Gray.

“Yeeeahhh…..we’re the uncivilized ones, all right,” said Wash.

“I supported unification!” yelled the woman. “But I have neighbors –“ her lip quivered as she fought tears, “- I have friends who fought with the Independents. They’re a part of our worlds, and we need to let them go, not – not –“

The image cut away to show a much calmer man being interviewed. “If prosecuting and torturing soldiers is how the Alliance is going to begin their government, what does this say about the future? I say we go back to war, because this is no civilization I want to be a part of.”

“Let him go, you bastards!” yelled a protester, looking straight into the camera. “If you have any hearts, if you haven’t killed him yet, let him go!”

The announcer broke in cheerfully. “Up next, we look at the man coming under fire from two very opposite directions. Is he a hero or a traitor? Commander Mathew Lee says he just had to shoot alleged torturer Lieutenant Gunderson three times at point-blank range, and some say it's exactly what he should have done."

Gray saw that Mal was no longer watching the screen, and signaled Matty to turn it down. “You okay?” he asked, concerned.

Mal nodded. “It’s just – it’s none of their business. Seems kind of – private to splash across the ‘verse with fancy music and artistic license, I suppose.”


Something smelled….really good? Mal opened his eyes and saw Wash and Zeke arranging plastic dishes on the table. He sniffed loudly, and Zeke looked at him and grinned. "You just lie still. This here is gonna be breakfast in bed."

"Only it's dinner," said Wash.

Mal sniffed again. "No way prison food smells that good."

"Cause it's not," said Gray, almost bouncing over to Mal's side with a container in his hand. "Guess the med staff put their heads together and wanted to do something nice for you, so they made this. Plenty for everyone, and the new Sergeant even helped carry it out here."

"I get transported to an alternate universe?" asked Mal. He took the container and sniffed. "Real cornbread?" Mal bit into a slice and closed his eyes in bliss. It was real, and the most heavenly taste he could imagine. Warm and drizzled in honey and butter. Hot, creamy soup, filled with cheese and potatoes, and so thick he could stand a spoon up in it. Citrall juice, so sweet and tangy he could drink gallons of it. Tender beef, marinated to perfection. Soft bananas, fried in a sweet, crunchy layer of pastry. Not a single bite of protein in the lot. "I like this universe," said Mal. "Wanna stay."

He ate until he couldn't eat any more, then accepted a few more delicious morsels at the urging of his friends. It was the best meal he'd had since Shadow, and it somehow made the world seem whole again. Finally finished, he lay back down and closed his eyes, feeling utterly content.


“Ain’t you a little important to be makin’ house calls?” asked Mal, leaning on the barred gate. He was too weak, and too relaxed from the drugs, to stand unsupported for long.

Kelli smiled. “When I heard what happened, I wanted to see you. How is it you’re capable of pissing off so many people that they just gotta beat on you all the time?”

“I’m not rightly sure. Developing a suspicion that I resemble a piñata,” replied Mal.

“Well, you’re really quite lovable. They need to stop it,” said Kelli with obvious fondness.

“Aww,” replied Mal teasingly.

“I mean that,” said Kelli. “You’re a very sweet guy, and I’d like to know how all these bastards can be blind to that.”

“Folk don’t tend to stop and get to know a guy they’re gonna beat up,” replied Mal. “Imagine it takes away from the fun of it. You to thank for that lovely meal I had yesterday?”

"No, that was Satu. But I have to admit I'm a little jealous I didn't think of it first." Her face brightened. "I did make the soup, though."

"The soup was heavenly. Whole meal was. That was one of the nicest things been done for me in a good while, so – thanks," said Mal.

A smile lit up her face. "I'm glad it made some sort of difference. We wanted to make you happy, even if it was just for a second."

"You did. It was a nice night, and a – it was wonderful."

She reached through the gate and pulled his head down towards her, planting a kiss on his cheek. Mal blinked, looking at her with a surprised grin. "Huh. That was – nice."

"Don't get used to it, war criminal." She fished in her bag and pulled out a syringe. “So, now that I’ve embarrassed you, how about I shove a couple of sharp pointy things into your arm?”

Mal chuckled. “You sure know how to show a guy a good time.” He slipped his jacket off one side and bared his arm. The rush of frigid air made him shiver, and he tensed when he felt the cold needle. “So, when you said you heard I got hurt and you wanted to come see me, what you meant was you wanted to come make sure my arms were as sore as the rest?”

Kelli glared at him, brandishing a second syringe. “You know, I could make this actually hurt if I wanted to,” she teased.

“No no no,” replied Mal hurriedly. “You want to be very, very gentle with the poor beat-up war criminal.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Kelli. She gave him the shot and patted him gently on the shoulder. Their bodies were close, and Mal’s breath caught when he realized he could almost feel the warmth of her through the cold. He squeezed his eyes shut. No. Bad thoughts. What’d she have to go an’ kiss me for? He pulled his jacket back on and zipped it up to the neck.

“Are you okay?” she asked soberly. “Are they treating you okay?”

Mal nodded. “Absolutely. Pampering me to an unreasonable extent.”

The nurse hesitated for a long while before speaking again. "Are – you a killer? A murderer?”

Mal sighed, running his fingers along the gate, feeling the ice melt under the warmth of them. Fingers that had pulled triggers, held knives and grenades, had been covered in blood. “You’re well aware I shot those two guards.”

“Yes,” said Kelli. She waited, knowing that was only part of his answer.

“The war – was like that too. Never killed a man on account of wanting to. I was in a fight, fight I believed in as much as going to the aid of those prisoners. Killing was a part of it, just like with the fire.”

He raised his eyes to look at the nurse. She was listening calmly – even curiously. “Don’t think of myself as a murderer. Not on the whole. But I hear every convict thinks they’re innocent.” He smiled. “Could be I’m the scum of the earth an’ not any the wiser.”

"You don't seem like the scum of the earth," said Kelli. A spark of humor entered her eyes. "Pond scum maybe, but that'd be a stretch."

"They make Cycoline from pond scum, you know. So really, I'm responsible for saving lives all across the 'verse," said Mal.

The nurse was shivering, and a cluster of icy snow crystals dislodged from her hair and stuck to her cheek. Mal reached through and wiped it away, careful to keep his touch a gentle and non-threatening one.

She closed her eyes. “You stay strong,” she whispered. “I know it must not seem like it sometimes, but a lot of us care about you.”

Mal smiled. “I'm getting that.”


“How’d that go?” asked Wash with a telltale grin.

“She called me sweet,” said Mal with a jaunty grin. He didn’t know if Wash had seen the kiss through that window of his, but he damn well wasn’t going to volunteer certain....information.

Wash waggled his eyebrows hilariously. “She’s cute, too.”

Mal grinned. “Don’t think for a second I didn’t notice that little fact. She ain’t gonna go fallin’ for me, but-“

“Pessimist,” accused Wash.

“Fine. I’ll daydream,” grumbled Mal. “There’s one little problem, though. To get a date with her I gotta get beat up, and that kinda hurts.”

“I’m sure it’s an acquired taste,” responded Wash. “You ever get lonely, just piss me off and I’ll bring myself to beat the snot out of you.”

“Why, how obliging,” replied Mal. “And just how would I go about pissing you off?”

Wash rolled his eyes. “Just start talking.”

“Ha, ha.”


Mal’s eyes drifted open. Little by little, he was losing the urge to sleep around the clock as his body started to recover and the doctors slowly eased up on the drugs. Sleeping still held enormous appeal, but now he sometimes woke up and actually wanted to move about.

It was early in the morning, and the others were still asleep, but the building was flooded with light. He stood and walked softly to the window. The yard was blanketed in a thick layer of snow, unbroken except for the tracks of the guard leading to the gate and away again. Small, lazy flakes still fell here and there.

Careful not to wake the others, he pulled on his coat and slipped out the door. Mal drew a deep breath of the cold air and listened to the unusual quiet, realizing for the first time why he enjoyed weather here so much. It was one of the few things that changed.

For a few minutes he simply stood, taking it in. He wondered if it could be like this for ten years, each day giving him some moment of pleasure or comfort to make this life bearable. Six years of war. Surrounded by noise and death and destruction, never knowing which second would be his last. It had driven some insane, but it had driven him to give his all for each one of those seconds.

He knelt down and dug his fingers in the snow. Getting through the days here wasn’t much different from getting through the war if a man looked at it right. Just slower. Different things to fight.

There was only one thing he could do to the Alliance in revenge and defiance, and that was to continue to exist. With determination in every fiber of his being, he was going to live and succeed and show them that they could destroy everything he’d ever known, but he’d still be there, never forgetting and never breaking. If nobody else was there to hold them accountable for the dead and the suffering, he would until the day he died.

He rounded the snow into a ball, packing it carefully into a perfectly rounded shape. He repeated it until he had five perfectly crafted snowballs, and arranged them in the crook of his arm. Standing, he eased the door open ever so quietly and crept into the room, positioning himself strategically.

The first one had Wash’s name on it, but Zeke, Matty, Gray, and Straaker soon joined him in coming awake with a splutter, yelping and cursing and chasing Mal as he ran out the door.

He stopped outside and put his hands on his knees, gasping for breath. Gorram he was in weak shape. Snow pelted him from all directions, loosely packed handfuls carefully gauged to avoid hurting him. He sat and started crafting more ammunition, jackets were donned, and laughter broke the silence.


Mal lobbed a snowball in Zeke's direction, and looked around when he heard a call outside the gate. "Reynolds?" It wasn't a commanding voice, and he saw a slightly familiar figure standing there.

He met the guard at the gate; it was the young cover officer who'd tried to protect him from Lambert. "Sir?"

"Noth – nothing, really, sir. I just wanted to say hi – I'm gonna be the new day shift guard out here."

Mal extended his hand. "Glad to hear it. Never got to thanking you for trying to help me that time."

"Andy, sir. Andy Lang. You're welcome, and – are you okay, sir? Heard you got hurt really bad."

Mal nodded. "Doing shiny, sir. Gotta say, you folk are about as good at taking care of a fella when you want to as you are beating 'im up."

The officer screwed up his face in distaste. "I've never beaten anyone."

"Could we keep it that way?" asked Mal with a grin. He was starting to see how Wash felt sorry for their guards; there was frost forming on the boy's hair, and his lips were an odd shade of blue. It was a nice day to play in the snow, but a horrible one to spend outside on your feet. "Snowball fight?" he asked impulsively. The kid's face lit up, and he reached for a handful of snow with a grin.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007 2:38 AM


I wasn't going to read this again as it's a repost but good gorram, I just LOVED this story first time round and can't resist a second go round. Your writing is absolutely awesome and you made me feel all fuzzy and warm and happy having everyone show Mal warmth and kindness for once after all that terrible brutality. Hope others give it a second read and post feedback to. It is well deserved. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, January 16, 2009 4:46 PM


It is warm and fuzzy to see just how much everyone does care, and for someone who's suffered so much to be at the center of that.

The way the scandal has reverberated is interesting. Not sure how likely it would be considering how - there's no other word to say it - insignificant Mal is in the grand scheme of things. But it's nice to see Mal NOT being insignificant and stepped on by the government like he is in the series.

The draw in the series is that Mal and the crew of Serenity are the lowest section of the totem pole, they don't matter, but to those who look closer at their lives, they most definitely DO. Mal makes a difference just by living; doing it here, too, but in a bigger way.


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The Losing Side, Chapter 68 - Farewell to Bars
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The Losing Side, Ch. 66 - Nature of the Beast
A long chapter full of conflict, trust, and musings....and a cliffhanger! An evil, evil cliffhanger.

The Losing Side, Ch. 65 - Trouble in Paradise
Wash wants to strangle the captain of the shiny new luxury cruiser he's flying, and Mal learns that something dangerous may be afoot....with his name on it.

The Losing Side, Ch. 64 - How to Win a Losing Battle
It's a tricky tightrope between trauma, rage, and finding yourself....but Mal is learning to walk it.

The Losing Side, Ch. 63 - The Art of Insanity
Mal may have more then he bargained for in Cody Patton, the mysterious and potentially deranged artist in his housing unit. Is the one real war criminal among them a threat, an asset, or just a damaged young soldier?

The Losing Side, Ch. 62 - Aiding the Enemy
Mal saves the life of an Alliance guard, and starts having serious doubts about his own mental state.

The Losing Side, Chapter 61 - Juggling Frustrations
Mal keeps on finding new and disturbing facts about one of his fellow prisoners, and Wash learns to juggle (and smuggle) goslings.

The Losing Side, Chapter 60
Wash gets a job, and Mal perfects his Alliance-taunting skills while developing an unlikely fondness for getting shots. Oh, and there's an artist who's a mite off.

The Losing Side, chapter 59 - Sharing the Night
Mal, Wash, and Zoe spend a sleepless night together, and Wash experiences some of the first joys of freedom.