BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JETFLAIR

The Losing Side, Chapter 60
Monday, January 28, 2008

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.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1304    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

"Get back in line, gorrammit!"

"And good morning to you too, sir," replied Mal, tired. The cold, gray morning was a poetical end to the stressful night; depressing and unpleasant. The marches to meals were tensely controlled, but a decent way to break up the day. Too bad the guards running this one thought they were controlling deadly criminals.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" asked the guard as Mal made his way the the front of their small line.

"Leading my men, sir." The only way he could think to support the monumentally disheartened lot was to take advantage of the few familiar military rituals that could remind them of a strength they’d once had.

"What part of this don't you understand?" snapped the guard. "You exit and get scanned in alphabetical order, you march in alphabetical order. Got it?"

Mal blinked like an extremely stupid person and started counting names off on his fingers as he wandered up and down the line like a lost puppy, finally inserting himself between Cole and Gruenberg with a happy smile. The other prisoners tried to control their laughter as the aggravated guard grabbed Mal by the sleeve and towed him into place.

"Good boy," sneered the guard, patting him on the shoulder. Mal added him to his would-really-like-to-punch list, and they started the march, through the gates and joining the line of prisoners from the other nearby yards, past Daniels.

Daniels threw up his hand. "March, halt." He spoke to the guard. "I'd like Sergeants and officers to assume leadership of their groups whenever it’s practical." He glanced at Mal, giving him a pleasant nod. "Let's get Sergeant Reynolds to head the march."

Mal stepped out and assumed a position at the head of his line with a wink at the red-faced guard. The fact that Daniels couldn't have been aware of the earlier conflict made it all the sweeter.

They were halfway to the cafeteria when a bright red and black bird landed on a nearby fence, and Mal followed it with his eyes. A baton thumped against his upper arm. The blow was light, not intended to cause any pain, but it was an insulting gesture. The guard was out to settle the score.

"You march with your head forward, eyes down. What do you think this is, nature camp? You're prisoners!"

"Oh," said Mal, looking startled. "Um – where's the nature camp then? I think I must've wandered into the wrong line."

A second officer walked up, frustrated. "Lay off it, Wilkins. You're holding up the march. And if Daniels catches you striking a prisoner to catch his attention, you'll be transferred before you can blink." He fixed Mal with an equally frustrated glare. "What are you, five? Don't taunt people for sport, you'll have it a lot easier."

"Well, apparently bird-watching is off limits. Doesn't leave me with an overabundance of entertaining options." The guard rolled his eyes, but hearing the muffled snickers from the line of prisoners, he left well enough alone.

Simms slid into the seat beside Mal in the cafeteria. "I think I've just found my new best friend." It was the first time Mal had seen the quiet young man grin.

"Rutting awesome!" said Cole, high-fiving him. Davies sat silently, but there was something resembling a spark in his eyes for the first time.

"So – this Alliance-taunting – you win competitions in it?" asked Simms.

Mal pointed to the lingering yellow bruises on his face and grinned. "Grand prize."

Simms winced and looked away, but most of the others laughed. There was a sense of relief at having something to laugh at, and the guarded glances they'd been giving Mal were shifting to ones of affection. Mal nudged Simms with his elbow. It's okay. Simms' face relaxed in a smile.

~~~~~

A young private named Cody was lying on the top bunk of a bed near the center of the room, sketching while the others were outside. Always sketching, never talked.

“Show me one?” Mal asked, breaking the silence.

Cody rolled over and looked at him, almost afraid. “Sure,” he said finally.

Mal looked at the page; it was a perfectly rendered drawing of himself, standing in the opening of the doorway. He was looking curiously at the sketched figures in the foreground, sad eyes at odds with a playful hint of a smile. Bruises darkened his face, looking broodier and more dramatic on paper.

He flipped the page. Two friends stood just inside the building, the door closing behind them. Thompson was looking straight forward, his chin set in determination. His arm was around Gruenberg's shoulders, the younger boy looking as though he would vanish without that hand gripping him. The face was blurred slightly, the shoulders hunched away from the room and his head down. They gave the people and setting an air of human beauty that was easy to overlook in person.

"They're a thing of wonder," said Mal.

"Thanks, Sarge," said Cody. "Only thing I know to do, you know?"

There was Cole, standing there staring into the room with his fists clenched, daring it to start something. Simms was shown standing with his hand resting lightly on the door, his head angled down meekly, but his eyes pointed straight ahead and were exploring with that pleasant expression of his.

"You start this after the leg?" asked Mal. The young man hadn’t spoken of it, but Mal couldn't help noticing he used an artificial leg.

"Sort of," he said, shy. "Always did a little drawing, but-" he decided to continue. "I lost it in the battle of Sturges. The leg I mean. I was mostly dead when they brought me here – when I woke up, I was in the hospital. My wrists were strapped to the bed; there weren't any windows, so it wasn't like I'd been wandering around scoping the place out. But – I knew where I was and how it was laid out, right there in my head. The doctors thought I was delirious, or crazy or something."

He smiled and looked at Mal, flipping the pages to the far back of the book. Kelli was shown in profile, her head down in concentration as she injected something into his IV line. What was shown of her face in the drawing was soft; he'd liked her. "She thought I was dying," said Cody. "She visits you, doesn't she?"

Mal nodded, somehow not startled by the observation. "She listened to me, though. A couple days later, she came in and gave me this book and the pencils. She undid my wrists and asked me to draw where I thought I was, and I did." He shrugged with a grin. "After that I think some of them were scared of me."

"I'm – a little scared," said Mal, smiling. He wasn't sure the story was true, but there was something to this boy that made him believe it.

"I drew a lot in the hospital – every time they'd let me - I explored in my head and drew more of the prison. When I got into the hospital housing unit I could draw all the time, and I started drawing people. I'd see them go by outside and I made up stories for them and drew them."

Mal handed the book back and stood. "You've got a talent." He walked out the door, thinking. Battle of Sturges. Before the cease-fire.

~~~~~~

Wash held the capture, his fingers not quite touching record. Adam was lying across his lap, utterly content and absorbed in the game he clutched in his hands. He was like a friendly little alien, Wash thought. He wasn't much used to children, but he was finding he quite adored this one.

"Is he distracting you?" Amy asked, poking her head out of the kitchen, where she was ostensibly fiddling with lunch. Ostensibly, because Khiloh hadn't left for work yet and the giggles emerging from the kitchen seemed excessive for peanut butter and jelly. Wash shook his head, smiling, and Adam gave a satisfied wiggle. Wash closed his eyes, indescribably happy for a moment before guilt nagged him again.

How do I tell Mal I just got my dream job? That I'm leaving? All of Mal's brave words and well wishes had been betrayed in his heartbreaking inability to look at them when they left. Wash remembered feeling that devastation, years ago. Sitting in the corner of a maximum security exercise yard, a coward and a traitor ready for life to end. He looked up when another dismal figure was thrust into the little gravel yard. Thrust in, but it had been an act of kindness, putting the two pilots together. The joyful light that flashed into Zeke Hamilton's tired eyes when Wash introduced himself….In those few minutes, he'd learned that he was a hero. That he wasn't forgotten and rejected, he was loved.

Adam tugged at his arm. "Are you okay?" Wash raised his head and took Adam's small hand in his, nodding.

"Very okay."

"You look sad."

Wash shook his head. "Sometimes – when you're so happy you can't believe it – you can get that mixed up for sad." Major Meyers had hugged him, said he was proud of him. His picture was on the wall at Lyndono, framed with the sort of sober respect that befitted a captured hero. And he was about to start a career flying for a former Independent general. His life hadn’t been over in that little yard, it had just been beginning.

He thought again about Mal. You've done your time. More than six years as a prisoner. He knew ten years was terrifying his friend, but an indeterminate future waiting for years of fighting to end sometime had been almost more awful than knowing. If only some kindly soul had been able to take him aside and tell him, you'll spend six years here. We'll treat you well enough, and at the end of it, you'll have lost the war but you'll have respect and a good job.

He pressed record. "Mal – you're gonna make it. I'm looking back at all the hard bits, and now –I wish I'd had someone to tell me I'd make it, that I was going to make it out of there and life would be – cool. Hang in there and enjoy whatever scary lightning storms you can and trust me that the world’s still out here on the other side, okay?” He grinned. “Parts of it are even in one piece, still.”

Adam had been listening intently, and he set the game down and sat up to look into the capture. Wash rumpled his hair with uncertain affection, not knowing quite how to respond to him. Adam waved at the screen. “Hi Mal.”

The boy suddenly looked very grave. “I'm sorry you’re locked up. My dad says it's not very fair. I hope they let you out, Wash is really nice."

"Good job, kiddo," said Wash. "I'm liking the flattery. Always flatter ex-prisoners who come stay at your house." Adam smiled with a giggle, and Wash addressed the screen again. "I've got a job. Good job, flying cruises for the rich and high-horsed and making obscenely large amounts of money. Actual stacks, I think.” He grinned.

“They fly me out tomorrow, figures they wouldn't let a pilot fly himself. Especially when it’s, you know, me. Anyhow – I spend about a month on some backwater they're flagged out of, getting trained back up and seeing how much nonsense I forgot while I was locked away, and then – well, on with -“ he caught himself rambling and looked down.

He forced himself to look up and continue. "It's beautiful out here, Mal. I'll wave to you every time I see that godforsaken rock, and send messages whenever, and – you hang in there. It's worth it, it really is. Even though we lost – it's not such a bad world with the Alliance in charge, just – more paperwork."

He squeezed his eyes shut for a minute before finishing. "Say hi to a pilot out in the lonely world every so often, okay? Make Khiloh wave me coded messages in electronic lemon juice or something. ‘Bye." It was the last word that caught up nastily in his throat.

~~~~~

"Where'd ol' Gus go?" asked Mal as he sat in the barber's chair. The friendly old Browncoat was replaced by a scowling man in Alliance uniform.

"Got let go," snarled the replacement, grabbing his hair and jerking his head back. Mal startled and swatted and the man's arm, which produced a stream of curses Mal was happy to return.

"You fixin' to rip it outa my head?" asked Mal. "Cause I'm happy to return the favor."

"Enough!" said Khiloh, rebuking them both.

The man's eyes blazed with the sort of deeply personal hatred that had infected Gunderson and his men. "I want him chained to this chair. I didn't sign up to risk my life handling war criminals with –"

"No," said Khiloh flatly. "He's under doctor's orders, no restraints. I'd take care with him, unless you want some pissed-off brass on your case, and I'll be one very unfriendly witness against you." The guard's voice bristled with bravado; he was scared by that anger.

"Watch if you're still sayin' that when he stabs me to death," muttered the barber, grabbing a pair of shears and forcing Mal's head back with one hand. "I will rutting kill you if you make a move on me."

The moments that ensued caused Mal no small amount of unease, being as an openly hostile person was subjecting his scalp to sharp cutty things, but the barber released his head with no blood drawn. "I think I went an' make you look real purty. Brung out your 'inner beauty,' ya' know?"

As soon as Mal leveled his head to look in the mirror he cottoned to the reason Khiloh had been watching in such open dismay. He'd been given the starkest of buzz-cuts, his scalp shaved bare save perhaps an eighth-inch of stubble. "Now that's – invigoratin'," he commented. "Enough to wake a man from the dead, that is."

"Now you listen real good. Doesn't take much for a blade to slip around a fellow like you. You get lucky, you an' I'll be seein' each other for a good many years." He stroked Mal's stubble-covered head with a mock fondness laced with sheer hatred that made him shudder inside. "Might even get to be friends, baldy. So watch that mouth."

"Touch me again, and you'll be watchin' your mouth for my fist," warned Mal.

"Shut. Up," snapped Khiloh, looking slightly pale as he hustled Mal out.

"What?" complained Mal. "He conjures I'm a bloodthirsty felon, I should at least get to act the part."

~~~~~

Mal tilted his head forward against the cold metal of the gate, closing his eyes momentarily.

"You look terrible," said Kelli. "You okay?" She left her hand on his arm after giving him the shot, and he nodded, willing her not to move away. Her touch was the only moment of refuge he’d found in the cold day. When Kelli arrived, he’d been outside in snow that was turning to sleet, staring at fences and concrete.

He didn't want to concede that the barber had rattled him, but the lurking sickness in his stomach hadn't gone away after the hun dahn touched him. It was a wonder, the difference between that and the soothing effect of the nurse's gentle contact. Her daily visits comforted him more than he was keen to admit.

Mal nodded. "Just some minor difficulty in the sleeping department, is all." Kelli knew he was lying, and didn't move her hand.

Lying in bed early that morning, he’d carefully explored his body. His face was tender, and a few particularly nasty bruises on his ribs made his breath catch when he pressed on them. But the rest had faded, even the carefully doctored cut on his stomach healing to a near invisible line. He wondered if he’d gone batty, wishing he’d stay beat up so’s to have an excuse for a nurse to stick needles in his arm. Yep. Batty. That mean I need more shots?

"We can give you something for that." Mal shook his head. Her face softened. "You having nightmares?" Mal hesitated for a second before nodding. "That could be our fault. We tweaked your meds, stopped giving you a couple things."

Mal looked at his arm where the needle had pierced the skin. "Not –entirely sure I want to be drugged into being okay," he said, tired.

The nurse raised a quizzical eyebrow. “What is it you think I just gave you? Apple juice? Ketchup?”

He had to grin at that. “Is ketchup good for nightmares?”

“No.” She touched him again, this time on the hand, an appeal. “But Dyzacline is, maybe….”

He decided to be forthright. “Said goodbye to some folk. Imagine –“

Kelli cut off the painful words by squeezing his hand tightly, suddenly understanding. They stood like that in silence, Mal wrapping his fingers lightly around hers.

“Nice haircut,” she said finally. “It’s got that 21st-century cancer-patient chic to it.”

He laughed out loud and she stepped close to the gate and looked right into his eyes. "You'll make it. You'll make it even if I have to come out here every day and tell you as much. Dong ma?"

Mal stepped closer his own self. "You think I need help getting through this?"

"Yes," said Kelli calmly.

"You're right," said Mal. "I do. But I'm only fixing to admit that the one time, dong ma?"

"Sounds fair," said Kelli, her eyes sparkling.

~~~~~

COMMENTS

Monday, January 28, 2008 4:44 AM

SLUMMING


Excellent...though I am in mourning for Mal's wonderful head of hair!

Monday, January 28, 2008 10:43 AM

AMDOBELL


I'm wondering if that nasty barber is Sweeney Todd. Hope Mal takes a care with that crazy *hundan*. Loved the glimpse of Wash leading a more kindly life though it hurts that Mal is still locked up and like to be for another ten years. I am going to be old and grey my own self before you give that poor man any kind of reprieve. You sure you ain't Alliance? Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, January 28, 2008 5:42 PM

NCBROWNCOAT


Wonderful chapter. I guess the haircut was inspired both by Sweeney Todd and a certain actor in a buzz cut in a certain movie about WWII?

I liked the contrast between Wash's life and Mal's life now. I can't wait for more.

Monday, January 28, 2008 7:46 PM

SPACEGIRL32


Yeah! So happy to see your new chapter! Love how Mal has a "Would like to Punch List"

Keep writing!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 3:14 AM

KATESFRIEND


So glad to see more! Loved the admittance to Kelli that Mal didn't think he could make it. But that made it even more clear how he used his snarkiness and baiting as a coping mechanism against losing himself in this place. Loved the hints you gave about the artist's unusual talents, and wondering where you're going with that. Glad to see Wash happy and remorseful at the same time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 3:30 AM

JANE0904


This is wonderful, but I can't help thinking there's more angst in the offing. And it would have to be something bad to make Mal the way he was before the series. In the Serenity pilot he'd lost everything on Hera, but here he seems to be more like the Mal from The Train Job to Objects in Space. Still, all the human touches, the descriptions of his fellow inmates and the guards ... just give him a light at the end of the tunnel soon, dong mah?

Thursday, January 31, 2008 11:19 AM

UPPERSON


Yay! New chapter! And enjoyable as usual! Thank you!


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