The Losing Side, Ch. 64 - How to Win a Losing Battle
Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's a tricky tightrope between trauma, rage, and finding yourself....but Mal is learning to walk it.


It was a pretty morning; crisp and clear with the subtle flash of melting snow dripping from the chain links of the fence. Tiny specks of fluffy cloud were sprinkled randomly about in the sky, and Mal drew in a deep breath of fresh air that felt oddly free. He pretended to ignore the approach of two guards, but they called his name and he walked to the gate, resenting the interruption of a perfectly nice moment.

The resentment deepened as he was ordered politely out of the yard and stood up against the fence to be searched. As usual, there wasn’t a word of explanation, and he wondered just who had made the huang tang decision that the ‘verse would collapse about itself if one deigned to tell a prisoner where he was being taken, or why.

There was nothing unkind in Lang's manner, nothing different about the demeaning routine he'd endured so many countless times that it almost seemed like an ordinary way for a fellow to say hello. How are you today, Sergeant Reynolds? Let me lock your hands behind your back and make sure you're not hiding a gun in your pi gu. Oh, yes, it is a lovely morning, isn't it?

Nothing remained of the fear Khiloh had so patiently eased him past when Lang locked the first cuff firmly around his right wrist. Just anger, raw rage that made blood pound in his ears while the world shrank to this one moment. Mal jerked away furiously and spun, throwing Lang off balance and facing him, handcuffs dangling.

Lang grabbed his arm, startled, and Mal punched him. The rage fueling him wanted to beat the kid’s face in, to slam him against the fence and show him, this is what it feels like to be hurt. To be defenseless. To have your world destroyed. But something stronger, some innate protective instinct, stayed the force of his blow. His fist caught Lang’s cheekbone, landing just hard enough to make him let go with a startled yelp.

"You honestly think I'm this dangerous?" he asked. "Figure I should beat ya’ to a pulp just so's there's an actual reason to treat me like this?"

The fear on Lang’s face made him lower his fists even before the cover officer drew his weapon and aimed it. The world was spinning into focus again, some internal safety switch taking over and telling him that here, he was the one causing hurt.

Mal looked at the cover officer. Tense, scared, his determined expression betrayed by a slight quiver of his hands as he held his gun trained on Mal. The utter lack of any sort of a mean streak in these men made the whole mess all manner of complicated.

He lowered his head briefly, opened his palms. "I got no plan to attack you boys." At that moment, he meant it. Ten seconds ago had been a very different matter. The gun was lowered slightly, faces relaxed.

"What's happening?" The crisp voice belonged to Sergeant Daniels, arriving at a run.

Lang gulped, unable to look Mal in the eyes, but equally unable to turn away from him. "We tried to handcuff him, sir. He fought me, jerked loose." He finally managed to look Mal in the face, his expression one of betrayed anger.

"He strike you?" asked Daniels.

"Yes, sir. Not - hard, sir." The innate fairness of the man came doggedly to the forefront with his hurried qualifier, trying to shield Mal from misplaced wrath despite the fact that he looked as though he might secretly like to get in a few licks of his own before anxiously asking if they were still friends.

Daniels studied Mal in silence for a minute. After a moment’s consideration, Mal met his eyes; the gaze was a friendly one. He was trying to understand. It was frustrating beyond belief, being trapped in a situation he wanted to fight, had to fight. He'd take any beating, any punishment just for the freedom to lash out. If a man locked you in a concrete building, handcuffed you, and stuck guns in your face, it was only fair to at least be given the freedom to hate him.

When Daniels finally spoke, his voice was sharp. "Take the free cuff, hook it to the gate." He watched carefully for Mal's reaction.

Mal glared at him, unmoving. Make me. Please make me. Don't stand there and be kind and fair, let me hit you. Let me hate you.

Daniels looked him directly in the eyes with a complete lack of anger. Mal's disobedience hadn't ruffled him in the slightest. "Please," he said, his request sincere. Mal looked away. Gorram it. He cuffed his wrist to the gate, hating himself the second the unyielding metal held fast against his instinctive tug away. No.

"Why in the ninth sphincter of hell do I keep submitting to you people?” he snapped, as outraged with himself as he was with them. “Because you're well intentioned? None of those good intentions kept me from fighting you in the war, and I'm sick of not fighting you now."

Daniels motioned to the cover officer to put his gun away, and brushed Lang's arm with his hand. A reassuring gesture from a good leader. Lang relaxed visibly. The Sergeant stepped forward, just out of Mal’s reach. "Because you had a chance of winning the war, I imagine. But through all your anger and all your spirit, you must know you can't win here."

"Might be – winning’s just a matter of refusing to surrender," said Mal.

"Maybe," said Daniels. He put his hand on Lang's shoulder. "Go ahead and cuff him properly. Be gentle about it." He focused his eyes on Mal. "Steady, Sergeant. This boy actually cares about you, just remember that."

If it was an indignity cooperating, this was worse. Of course it was. Yet another layer of control. Let them destroy your soul, because they care. With the Alliance, there were only two options: surrender everything, or fight and be beaten. Lang unlocked the cuff from the gate, and Mal chose once again to fight, consequences and hurt rutting feelings be damned.

Jerking free, kicking, punching. Hitting a kind person whose cry wasn't just of pain, but betrayal. It took longer than it should for the three officers to stop trying to wrestle with him and draw their batons. Lang was too gentle, and Mal grabbed his weapon and used it to strike back at the cover officer who was shocking him repeatedly with the end of another baton, looking baffled by the fact that Mal wasn't going down. Lang tried to grab him in a choke-hold, and Mal kicked out savagely, unleashing all his pent-up anger.

He felt a blow impact his body, a bone-jarring strike that had to have come close to breaking something. He heard himself cry out. But it didn't hurt, not in any way that mattered. He staggered, recovering and throwing himself out of range, but Daniels was in no hurry to repeat the blow.

Lang and the cover officer grabbed him and tried to force him to the ground. One of his arms was twisted behind his back by the cover officer, and Mal kicked furiously at his shin until he let go. Daniels swung his baton at the back of Mal's legs with all his strength, and he felt himself fall. They were hitting him, but pain, for the moment, was something driving him forward rather than crippling him. He rolled and tried to launch himself back on his feet.

"Shock him!" yelled Daniels. "Try not to hit him. Pin him down and shock him!" Mal struggled, but muscles stopped cooperating in his fight against the electrical current ripping at his nervous system. He felt like he was in a dream, trying to run but feeling his body ignore his commands. Finally, he was staring at the gravel pressing against his cheek.

It was swimming about, and he was chasing one little black rock around in circles when he realized he'd been handcuffed and hands were pulling him into a sitting position. He blinked, the gravel gone, replaced by stars, and he was floating again, spinning in circles and trying to throw his arms out to stabilize himself. Finally he gave up and relaxed, closing his eyes as the spin stopped.

A voice was speaking, someone holding him upright. "He's coming around, just got a little shocky there. Easy, Sergeant, you're okay. Don't struggle, just relax."

Mal blinked his eyes open. It was bright, and he was surrounded by guards who were all - wobbly. He closed them again, preferring his other reality. He felt himself being pulled carefully across the gravel, and the hands holding his upper body eased him back against the gate for support.

Are you injured? Why did you fight us? Do you need to go to the hospital? His arm is bleeding, we should put something on that. He finally got his eyes to see straight and glared at the officer who was carefully painting antiseptic on the scrape. "You beat me into submission, why all the after-care?"

Lang's nose was bleeding profusely. He wiped it on his sleeve and glared back. "It's called the high road, jerk."

Mal sighed. "Isn't that my line?"

"What was this, tryin' to make sure I didn't take your saving my life too personally?" Lang was genuinely hurt.

“Wasn’t personal,” said Mal.

Daniels knelt down in front of Mal. "This business – imagine it's hard for anyone to have to put up with, but if someone tortured me and chained me up in a cell, I'd probably want to kill the next hun dahn who tried sticking me in handcuffs."

Mal didn't answer. There didn't seem to be a point. He was trapped. In every sense of the word. He was trapped in hell by decent men, the ultimate gilded cage. Daniels spoke again, his voice firmer. "Hey. You're a prisoner. It’s not pleasant, and you know I'm not just saying that. But that's your fate right now, Sergeant."

Mal nodded. He looked directly at Daniels. "Sir, don't take it personal. I won't see it as such when you punish me. But I can't live with this on account of y’all being nice people."

A frown creased Daniel's pleasant face. "I just watched you lay into two guys I've come to be very fond of. One of them happens to owe his life to you. It doesn't get much more personal. And punishing a man who's a torture victim? How am I supposed to do that? I'm not gonna go down this broken road, Sergeant."

Mal laughed bitterly. "Ya got ten years to go down it, friend. Few 'a your guys messed up real good, made me not afraid any more."

"I've never asked a man to be afraid of me," said Daniels in a mild voice. "You plan to be a pain in my arse for ten years?"

"Yep," replied Mal with a distinct sense of pleasure.

Daniels shook his head. He looked down for a long time, considering his next words. "I don't care how defiant you are. I only have one concern, and that's for my men. They're my responsibility, and more to the point, I care about them. I know bloody well you can relate to that."

Mal met his eyes, and Daniels looked at him, unwavering. "If you hurt one of my men, I will hurt one of yours." Mal stopped breathing for a split second, knowing Daniels had found his Achilles heel.

"I don't believe you," he replied. "You're too decent a guy to hammer an innocent."

Daniels raised an eyebrow, and something in his expression went cold. "You don’t want to ask me how many I killed in the war, no less innocent than the boys in there with you. It won't make me feel shiny and fluffy inside, but I'll do what I need to protect my men."

Mal lowered his eyes. He'd been trumped. Daniels recognized the tacit surrender and spoke more gently. "For the record, I believe you're too decent a guy to have enjoyed turning on someone who liked you and meant you no harm."

Mal didn't speak, just studied his fellow Sergeant. Despite his speaking more like a British gentleman than a rancher, he had more than a smidge in common with the man. Knew how to lead, knew how to use force, knew when to care.

Mal glanced down and spoke quietly to Lang and the cover officer. "Listen, I won't be your submissive lapdog, not ever.” He paused. “But without anyone to hear I might admit you’re good people, an’ I appreciate every kindness you’ve shown me. Including being slow to do me harm out here today.”

Lang, clearly still shaken, started to speak but couldn't hold his voice steady. He busied himself dabbing unnecessarily at Mal's arm again. He was only making the raw skin more painful, but Mal carefully held himself back from flinching away. Finally Lang managed to get the words out, mercifully stopping the obsessive scrubbing.

“You saved my life. And I respect you and I swear I’ve never, ever seen you as a rutting lapdog.” He smiled slightly. “A wolf, maybe. The sort you don’t want to tangle with, ‘cause even though he sits by the fence all quiet, you know he’s got teeth that can rip you to shreds if he chooses.”

Mal grinned with the side of his mouth that didn’t hurt when he moved it. “Kinda like that image.”

A flicker of deep sincerity crossed Lang’s face. “I feel for that wolf, though. He’s not the sort that should be caged.”

“Easy on the metaphors,” said Mal. “I don’t want to get to the part where I lick your hand, or go fetch help from the farmhouse when you’ve fallen down a well somewhere.”

The cover officer also spoke sincerely, trying to suppress a snicker at Mal’s words. “Sometimes trying our best to be kind is the only way we have of saying we’re sorry, you know.”

Mal blinked in mock bewilderment that had a string of truth in it. “That is just not something a guy who just beat me up should be saying. This place is twisted, you know that?” Behind the banter, his understanding glance was equally sincere.

"It's an imperative for you, isn't it?" asked Daniels. His face had softened as he watched Mal speak to his two guards. "Being free?"

Yes, thought Mal, almost desperate for one of these kind men to actually understand. "I fought a war for it. Bein' here – doesn't mean it isn't a thing I'd still die for."

Daniels gazed back for an eternity, forming an understanding. "Or, die without?"

A lump formed in Mal's throat, and all he could do was nod. Lang read the desperation, reaching out timidly and putting a hand on his shoulder. Daniels pulled him away gently. "Try to understand, not sympathize."

"You will be free again, one day," said Daniels. "I know ten years seems like an eternity – is an eternity. But it's – not forever. It's not your life, it's a period of intense pain that will end."

Mal laid the side of his face against the bars of the gate, and let his vision focus on the smooth texture of the metal inches from his eye, blurring out the rest of the world and listening through the heartbreak.

"I'm standing here, on the other side of that," said Daniels. "Looking back on something I thought would never end, unless maybe I had the good fortune to pass on."

"Were we that horrible to you?" asked Mal, clearing his throat. It was too tight.

"No," said Daniels softly. "We were treated very well. With – a sort of honor I never quite knew existed before. Nature and the supply gods weren't so good to us. We were all freezing and all starving, even the guards. It's what happens when you're in the hands of an enemy with no resources, and it's a lot crueler than most men are capable of being."

"We fought like that," said Mal.

"I know," said Daniels. "And – I think the Independents might possibly be the bravest, most determined, and the finest army ever assembled."

Mal looked away from his gatepost, and Daniels met his eyes. Yes, I mean it. Mal found himself smiling, and nodded. "I – happen to agree. Suppose that comes as no surprise."

We were. One of the finest armies ever was. Losing doesn't have to change that any. Sure as hell doesn't change what we did. Final gorram two weeks included. I'll spend the ten years dying in here for the honor of having held that valley and having led the men who did it.

"Sergeant Reynolds?" Daniels' voice cut into his thoughts. "You can be very proud."

Mal looked down and smiled. Just like that, the pain was gone, turned off. Happened a lot lately, Zoe would be proud. "I am." He couldn't stop smiling, even though his next words were serious. "You can go ahead and put me in solitary or whatever now."

Daniels gave him a conspiratorial wink and shifted his glance to the guards. "It's my opinion Sergeant Reynolds needs counseling for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder."

"Wait just one gorram minute!" protested Mal. "Is it possible I just don't like being in prison? Most people don't, er zhi."

"Because I feel you're suffering from depression so deep it led to your striking a guard, and you need treatment. Or, you're the blighter that took a swing at a guard and needs a week in solitary to settle his attitude," said Daniels.

"Feeling a bit depressive," said Mal. He felt a smile growing across his face. Or, perhaps, feeling something closer to human.


Saturday, May 10, 2008 10:07 PM


Brilliant yet full of so much melancholy. Just one question. Are you going to keep this going for ten long years? I can fully understand Mal striking out and am just glad that his guards understand the why of it I just don't know why you don't give the poor guy at least some hope of a reprieve, a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Please tell me you have some plan besides just keeping Mal locked up. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, May 10, 2008 10:30 PM


No, he's not going to be there for ten years. He's actually getting out very, very's just that *he* doesn't know it yet ;)

Saturday, May 10, 2008 10:37 PM


Thanks jetflair, I am so relieved I could hug you! Shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, May 11, 2008 1:22 AM


Wonderful chapter! It has many layers of meaning to anyone who ever felt trapped in an impossble situation that never seemed to end. You described Mal's emotional state perfectly and compassionately, and you've shed light into a very gray area of PTSD. Hopefully you've taught other people some coping skills with this - either as a victim or as a supporter. Great job - looking forward to more.

Sunday, May 11, 2008 1:53 AM


Amazingly written chapter. And I can so feel for Mal. What's so good, though, is that for once the Alliance are shown to be men, good and bad. It makes such a change. And I am also ecstatic that Mal's incarceration is soon to be over ... the man needs to be free.

Sunday, May 11, 2008 3:39 AM


Fantastic writing s usual. Very insightful into PTSD and depression. Are you sure you aren't a psychologist?

Monday, May 12, 2008 12:47 AM


great chapter - i just wish this could all get filmed!:)
i've said it before - i'll say it again, The Losing Side is one of the greatest things to happen to fan fic:)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 2:28 PM


I have to say, that this is one of the most complete, deeply moving, fufilling pieces of fiction I've read.
Thanks Jetflair, you've made a rotten morning seem bright again.

Friday, May 16, 2008 3:06 PM


Excellent work. Your Mal is becoming more and more the Mal we met at the beginning of Firefly. Kudos for a subtle, thoroughly engrossing character study!

Friday, June 27, 2008 2:57 PM


I'm far behind on reviewing this wonderful tale of yours, but then again maybe a very late review will inspire you to give us a new chapter!

This was a strange and fascinating twist you took with Mal and his reactions. I was surprised at what he did, and not surprised at the same time. It fit and it worked.


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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
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