Valley of Mercy
Thursday, March 4, 2004

This is shortly after 'The Message'...Zoe doesn't know everything that Mal had to face in the valley...


It's my first fic. It helps if you've read 'Aftermath' and the excellent' Nine Hells' series but not necessary...Let me know what you think...Nods to AMDOBELL, wantmore, Nkyjay, paperwaster, Channain, Hotpoint and HLGEM for all of your great fics this past year...Thank you for the inspiration ***************************

It was starting again…Zoe saw the signs. After he had to shoot Private Tracey, she had been afraid. She could see the tendrils of despair in his eyes…creeping in, seizing him, haunting him. Last time it nearly killed him.

And now she knew.

Standing outside his bunk at night she could hear him…talking, yelling, screaming at them…Pleading with them...them that followed him, them that didn't come back…them that he'd tried so hard to keep alive. If he could have saved them through sheer force of will alone they would still be alive. It was only that indomitable will that kept him going. She knew he had nightmares, nearly every night...but this was different.

He was like this when they were released from the Alliance 're-education' camp. Zoe had to practically force Mal to stay alive- tell him to eat, when to sleep, if you could call what he did sleeping. Waking up, screaming, disoriented, barely able to breathe from the visions torturing him. Many nights she just held him, talked to him about mama, the ranch, anything to keep him from the torment. She knew he was seeing them all the time, couldn't escape them, even during the day, that they wouldn't relinquish their hold on him. He didn't even speak for three months and then it was the minimum response to any question. She had no notion what it was made him come around...

* * * * * * * * *

Inara sensed something was wrong...Mal wasn't looking anyone in the eye, would stand on the catwalk and stare into the mid distance at something only he could see. Whatever it was, the pain on his face told her it was haunting him. He was barely eating and wasn't joining in the dinner table banter that she knew was a balm for his distraught heart. Last night he hadn't even come to dinner . After Uncle Frank left she spent a lot of time with him, talking, trying to get him to unburden his shattered soul...Sometimes they just sat quietly, not speaking, for hours. It seemed to relax him and she was grateful he was letting her in.

She came into the kitchen for lunch and saw everyone there, except Mal, of course. An unspoken question posed in her arched eyebrows as she looked at Zoe, leaning against the counter. Zoe just shook her head slightly, fear and worry radiating from her eyes.

"Well, I think I'll take the Captain something to eat ." she said to Zoe, in a subdued voice.

Simon had seen the subtle exchange between the two women. Knew Mal was the subject. He, too, had seen the difference in the Captain's behavior. He got up and went behind the counter to where Inara was preparing the tray.

" Are you taking that to the Captain ? Do you think he'll let you in ?" Simon quietly asked her.

"I'm not going to ask, I'm just going to barge in like he's constantly doing to me." she replied with a calm but determined look.

"Inara, if you hear him... talkin'...or yellin', you might want to wait." Zoe said. Inara and Simon just stared at her.

"Zoe, what do you mean...talking or yelling... to whom ? " Inara's voice was calm but her face was full of questions.

"I've seen Mal like this before...when we were released from the camp. His nightmares have spilled over and now he can't turn'em off. It started just after he had to shoot Private Tracey." She said this as quietly as she could so the others couldn't overhear. She glanced over to the big table they shared and saw that the rest of the crew were engrossed in some new card game Jayne was teaching them. Wash and Kaylee were accusing him of making up the rules as he went along. Book was acting as arbitrator of disputes, which apparently occured often. River seemed to be winning.

" Who would he be talking to ?" Simon asked as he leaned closer.

" I reckon it's them from the valley. " she said quietly, with a slight frown in her eyes. " This past week or so I've been going to check on him, not so's he'd know, a' course, just lingerin' outside his bunk. I could hear'im telling them to hang on and such, just like he did then. They left us there for so long, without...anything to..." her voice wound down to nothing.

" If this has been going on that long, he must be exhausted. Should we give him something to help him sleep. " Inara said, turning to look at Simon, who was nodding slightly.

" What brought him out of it last time, Zoe ?" Simon asked.

" I'd give a berth in the nine heavens to know that, Doc." she said with a somewhat exasperated sigh, " I came back to our room one day after work and he was up and dressed and making dinner he'd done it every night since we got out. Never really got him to talk on it, though."

* * * * * * He was lying on his back, knees up, with one arm crooked over his eyes. The other hand was gripping the bedframe so tightly the flesh was stark white. He didn't move when he heard his hatch open and footsteps descend the ladder.

" I'm fine, Zoe. " he said so quietly that she almost didn't hear him.

" Mal, I just wanted to bring you some tea and something to eat." Inara said in her softest voice. She set the tray on the table opposite the bed, turned to look at him. He lowered his arm from his eyes, let it rest on his chest and turned his head to look at her...Inara had to supress a gasp. She had never seen a more anguished look in all her life. He stared at her for a few moments then his gaze drifted over her left shoulder, his expression making her actually turn around to see what was there. When she turned back he had moved his arm back up over his eyes. His breathing had increased, catching in his chest between respirations. He was mumbling something, pleading with someone. Inara was by the bed in an instant, on her knees so she could put a hand on his arm, touch him, let him know she was there.

" Mal," she said quietly, just beside his ear, " Mal, I couldn't hear you...what did you say ?"

She didn't think he would answer but when he did it wasn't a response to her question. So softly and with such pleading he said, "No, I can't, please don't ask me...I can't do it."

" Mal, who are you talking to ? " she asked. He was silent for a long time. She decided to gamble...

" Is it someone in the valley ?" she asked with a quiet, even tone.

He let out a soft cry, stunned at the knowledge she seemed to possess. He tried to roll away from her but the narrow bed only let him turn on his side to face the wall. The hand of the arm still covering his face was shaking. His body was trembling. She put her hand in his and he closed his fingers around it. Quiet for a long while he finally spoke.

"Yes." he said, his voice breaking, " After the bombing...I-I had to...go down, look for survivors...send'em back up to Zoe...get idents if I could, maybe find some letters or..." his voice caught in his throat.

" Then I...I could hear'em...before I saw'em, I could hear'em. Prayin' to God to let'em die, to just make it stop...screamin' to God to take 'em away from here just let them..." She gently turned him on his back and moved his arm from his eyes, lay her arm across his chest. He was staring at the ceiling. She dared not speak, afraid he would stop.

" I finally got down there to'em, where they were, there in the mud and all of those bodies but...but they, they weren' can a body be so...they didn't have any...they didn't ...they couldn't..." he was almost sobbing now. Inara was afraid he was going to pass out he was breathing so hard but she knew he needed to get this out. She just held him as tightly as she could. The pain on his face was almost unbearable to watch.

With each sentence his voice continued rising in volume and intensity...and torment.

"Then they were prayin' to me , beggin' me to make it stop, askin' me to help 'em die...wanting me to end it for them..." Mal was shaking his head slowly back and forth. "No, I can't, please don't ask me...I can't do it, please, please I can't, DON'T ASK ME...PLEASE DON'T ASK ME TO DO THAT, I CAN'T, I... !!!!

He was blinking through tears now,respirations coming haltingly.Just as Inara was about to say something he exhaled sharply. When he spoke again it was almost to himself.

" I- I did it...I shot them...I killed them..."

He lay there, unblinking, trembling almost uncontrollably. Inara had moved up onto the bed to sit beside him. She had to call on all of her Companion training to maintain her composure. She put her hands on both sides of his face, tried to turn him to look at her. He resisted at first...refused to meet her gaze but finally let her turn him to see into her face, so full of compassion and sorrow.

" Mal," she began softly, " you didn't kill them, you saved them."

His expression told her he didn't comprehend what she was trying to say.

" Mal," she said softly, "Mal, listen to me...was there any chance you could have found medics to treat them? Were there Medships coming to evacuate them? Could you have carried them out of there ? " She held her hand to his face as he was shaking his head to each of her questions.

" You did what was necessary to save them from any more suffering, Mal, you stopped their pain. What else could you possibly have done for them? "

He was just staring at her, expression blank except for the anguish still living in his eyes. She knew that he lived with it every day but he was very adept at masking it from the rest of them. She couldn't fathom how a man could have been through what he had and still care so deeply for those he had gathered into his sphere of protection. Right now, though, she just wanted him to sleep.

"Here, sit up and drink some tea for me, will you do that ? " she said, needing to give the sleep inducer Simon put in the tea a chance to work. He let out a heavy, ragged sigh but let her assist him to a sitting position on the bed. She helped his shaking hands hold the cup. The hot tea felt reassuring going down his throat, could feel it all the way down, warm, comforting.

He finished the tea and said, " I'm so gorram tired, Inara." With that, he just lay down, she barely had a chance to take the cup from his hand. She removed his boots and put his legs up on the bed. As she pulled a blanket over his shoulders he opened his eyes. Those blue depths pleading, when he asked in a rough whisper, " Will you stay with me a while ?"

" Yes, Mal, I'll be right here." Sliding the chair over by the bed she clasped one of his hands and settled in. He fell asleep instantly but his grip on her hand didn't relax. Even in a drug-enhanced sleep his nightmares never did recede. He was mumbling and jerking in his sleep, still confronting the images that had seared themselves into his unconsciousness.

******* He awoke to find Inara sleeping in a chair by the head of his bed. While he slept he had managed to wrangle his way over to where she was seated, his head pressed up against her hip. He breathed in deeply, filling his lungs with the scent of her. He stretched his full form, feeling the stain of fatigue as though recovering from an extended illness but otherwise feeling pretty good. Inara stirred, opened her eyes and looked down to give him the sweetest smile he had ever seen. He liked having her in his bunk, heart ached that it couldn't be like this everyday.

" How are you this morning?" she asked, as she brushed the hair from his forehead gently.

" Is it morning ? " he asked with a husky voice.

" Well, it's either very late or very early...are you hungry ? "

" I reckon I could put a fair size dent in our food stores...why, are you cookin' ? " He said with that crooked grin/ cocked eyebrow expression she absolutely could not resist.

" Why, yes, I imagine I could throw something together that wouldn't be too horrible." She was grinning now, too.

They got up and made their way to the hatch. Just before she began to climb up Mal stood in front of her. His eyes locked on hers for a long time.

With his eyes still piercing hers, he leaned in closer and said, very softly, " Thank you, Inara."


Friday, March 5, 2004 3:29 AM


That was amazing.

Friday, March 5, 2004 9:55 AM


I really liked this story.

Well done!

Friday, March 5, 2004 9:57 AM


Yeah, that last line kinda took me by surprise. Couldn't have been better. Thank you for sharing this.

Friday, March 5, 2004 1:20 PM


Hey, thanks, you guys...I really appreciate the kind comments...maybe I will do another one...we have lots of time until the BDM anyway, don't we...

Thursday, March 11, 2004 6:30 AM


Excellent job! I really liked your story and thought Inara handled the distraught Captain with her usual subtle grace. Very well done and I am hoping here that you will be writing more stories. Shiny, *xiexie ni*, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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But It's Just Another Day...
The Captain doesn't understand what all the fuss is about...

Valley of Mercy
This is shortly after 'The Message'...Zoe doesn't know everything that Mal had to face in the valley...