FRIENDS AND ENEMIES: 6. "Needle In A Haystack"
Sunday, March 23, 2008

"With Jayne back on Serenity Simon battles to save his life while the rest of the crew try to come up with a way to find and retrieve their missing Captain."


TITLE: "NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Mal. Jayne. Crew. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "SOME YOU LOSE" ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "With Jayne back on Serenity Simon battles to save his life while the rest of the crew try to come up with a way to find and retrieve their missing Captain." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It took longer than he expected to drag the heavy body with River guiding their route back along a circuitous path only she could see. Simon had stopped questioning her when it became obvious she would not explain further. The brief authoritive 'there is only this way' would have to do. Simon did not want to admit how much he was worried about Jayne. The big man was in a bad way and getting worse. The only good thing was that Serenity would be waiting with a fully stocked infirmary to receive them when they got there. He just hoped they would not be too late.

Every now and then they stopped and pressed up behind rocks or a deeper drift of snow. River unerringly knowing when and where to hide until the sound of rough voices drifted away again. Simon frowned. His sister had said they weren't looking for Jayne, did that mean that the Captain was out here? A nudge on his shoulder brought him out of his reverie. Turning his head Simon watched River mouth the words 'time to go'. With a nod he gripped his side of the board tighter, unable to feel anything through his frozen gloves but reassured when between them they got the makeshift sled moving again.

* * * * *

Inside Serenity Kaylee fretted. The soup was as ready as it could be so she had turned the heat as low as it would go and put the lid on then hurried up to the bridge in case anyone tried to check in. She tried raising Zoe again - nothing. Not even a crackle of gorram static. She was just about to try Simon and River when broken transmission made her jump.

"K..Kaylee? C...c...can you h..hear me?"

"Simon?" The relief was so profound she wanted to weep. "Tell me ya found 'em?"

" the d...door."

She frowned. Simon didn't sound right and why the good gorram couldn't he open the door himself? Not wanting to dwell on what might have gone wrong she flew off the bridge and clattered down the metal staircase, punching the red button and skidding to an anxious halt just as the ramp began to lower and the next ice age swept in. Teeth chattering, Kaylee couldn't believe how much colder it seemed to have gotten. With a jolt she realised River was telling her to close up again and she did so gladly. As the cargo bay was sealed again from the outside storm she realised that Simon and River were not alone. Lying on a board covered in snow was Jayne Cobb. Her happiness at seeing the mercenary was belayed by concern at her first good look at him. "Is he...?"

Simon was stamping his feet, little clouds and icicles of snow scattering into melting puddles on the floor. He was no longer stuttering now that he was out of the bitterly cold weather raging outside. The warmth of Serenity making his extremities prickle painfully as the feeling began to return. "No, but I need to get him to the infirmary *mashang*." The mechanic nodded then looked over her shoulder at the stairs. "Simon, I don't think..."

River cut her off. "Rope and pulley."

Kaylee and Simon stared at her. "*Shenme*?"

The girl knelt beside Jayne, brushing the snow off the injured man and wishing she had a blanket to drape over him. "Can't carry him - too heavy and we might drop him going up the stairs. Rope and pulley."

She was about to say they didn't have one when Kaylee remembered the train job and her face brightened. "Don't go anywhere, I'll be right back!"

The doctor stared after her then looked at his sister, mumbling words not really directed at anyone. "Who's going anywhere?"

* * * * *

"Ain't your fault, Shepherd."

Somehow Zoe's reassurance just made him feel worse. "*Xie xie* but it was my idea to bring us here an' now we're stuck until the storm passes."

"Actually," mused Wash as he flicked a couple of switches "we're not."

The Shepherd raised his eyebrows. "*Ni shuo shenme*?"

Zoe didn't look at the Preacher, she was staring at Wash. "*Zhangfu*, have you been holdin' out on me?"

His grin seemed incongruous given the circumstances. "*Bu qu*. The weather's defintely got colder but the wind *is* dyin' down."

The first mate was frowning now. "Tell me why this is a good thing."

His smile vanished and was replaced by a serious look. "It means the flyin' is safer than it was just hours ago."

"An' if the wind picks up again? You know, the smash us into little bitty pieces kind, then what?"

"I didn't say we were goin' to take off, *bao bei*."

Book felt an absurd trickle of hope but had to be sure they weren't all suffering from a sudden bout of wishful thinking. "Then what are you sayin'?"

"I think the worst is over."

Zoe's eyes narrowed slightly. "An' is the worst over for the Cap'n an' Jayne?"

She wanted to snatch back the words the moment they left her mouth. The look on her husband's face crumpling into sadness and a dusting of guilt. Looking miserable he shook his head, his voice softer as if he was afraid the words might break her. "All I know is that as soon as we can lift off we can skim further over the planet. Maybe get a clue as to where they might be."

"Already tried that."

"Yeah, but we only covered part of the planet surface."

As they stared at each other the sudden activation of the com startled them. Wash recovered first and hit the transmit/receive switch. "River, is that you?"

Assorted Chinese swear words and blessings mixed over the airwaves for a few seconds then Simon's voice took over from River's. "We found Jayne but he's in a bad way. Where are you?" "Still by those minin' shafts we saw. We checked them out but they haven't been used in a long time. Most are collapsed or under water, either way we came up empty." Book explained.

River came back on the com. "Don't go anywhere, we'll come to you."

"River, this is Zoe. You sure you wanna do that? Maybe best to wait until this is over."

"No time." Simon cut in, sounding a mite breathless as if he had been running. "Look, I'll explain when we get there, *dong ma*?"

* * * * *

Saffron wasn't stupid. It didn't take her long to realise that they were being followed. Whoever it was they were good, didn't expose themselves or make a single wrong move. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, an itching in her palms as if they needed to be holding a gun. Preferrably a rapid repeater or the Lassiter. What was it with her luck and Malcolm Reynolds? On her own she would have made a perfect getaway but no, she had to saddle herself with the ultimate bad luck charm but there was just something about him. Like the two of them had a connection and it had nothing to do with the hokey cooked up marriage ceremony on Triumph.

But the little con artist was also the ultimate pragmatist. Able to adapt to any circumstances and while this hadn't been her first plan it was on the list. She stopped walking and half helped the Captain in a controlled fall. He was out cold before his head touched the snow. Saffron crouched down next to him, keeping her face downturned while peering up through her lashes to see if she could spot their tail but no such luck. They were too professional but it had been worth a try. Saffron brushed a hand through snow encrusted hair and spoke to the downed man, knowing he couldn't hear a gorram thing she said. "*Duibuqi* sweetie. Change of plan."

Quickly she tugged his damp stiff clothes more snugly round him then got to her feet and brushed herself down before turning and walking back the way they had come. She did not try to be quiet or make any attempts to move from cover to cover. Just because she couldn't see them didn't mean they couldn't see her. She was a good fifty yards from where she had left Mal when a slight noise told her the men tracking them were close. Very close. Saffron stopped and put her hands on her hips. "You can come out now. This'll go a lot quicker if you help me, the *tamade hundan* is much heavier than he looks."

Three heads bobbed out slowly from behind the rocks. Two tall men and one shorter and a little nervy. Saffron thought he should have stayed back home with his mama, looked like a kid trying to do a man's work and not making too good a job of it. But boy or man it didn't matter, all three of them had guns levelled at her head. It did not phase Saffron one little bit.

"Who the *diyu* are you?" Boomed a deep voice.

"Someone a lot more efficient than you." Saffron ran a practised eye over the big man. Noted the impressive muscularture, the confident stance and steadiness in his eyes. Yep. This was obviously the one with the borrowed brain cell, it would remain to be seen how well it worked without any back up. "I'm an associate of Adelei Niska." She watched the suspicious eyes widen just a fraction before hardening. Well aware that he was waiting for a name and having no intention of giving him one. "Now, are you gonna help me get him to Niska or do I have to explain why the prisoner you lost an' I found froze to death?"

* * * * *

For all the formalilty of the Guild House, Inara liked the less than rigid framework that allowed more time for quiet contemplation between teaching assignments. It was smaller than House Madrassa and the House Mistress more accommodating but Inara was not fool enough to think that this gave her more lee way. You did not rise to such a prestigious post within the Guild without a host of very impressive skills. She had no intention of underestimating her host. But such considerations were minor blips on the horizon and easily dealt with. The bigger worry was how her friends were faring in the hideous weather conditions for as fine a ship as Serenity was, the Firefly was an aging transport not some sleek hot off the line modern vessel. Not that she would say as much to Kaylee or the Captain but things did from time to time have a habit of falling off while the ship was in flight. It did not help that Inara could not contact any of her friends which caused a growing feeling of disquiet to impinge upon her outward calm.

The last class for the day had ended and Inara was sitting alone in the beautiful elegant conversatory, relieved at last to have some quiet time to herself. The arched toughened glass walls providing no impediment to the spectacular view. Exotic plants adding to the feel of oriental luxury with their expensive scents filling the air with heady yet complimentary perfumes. The comfortable heating adding a warm balmy atmopshere in stark contrast to the viscious weather scouring the countryside outside. Slowly she drank her tea, the fine semi-transparent cup a testament to the highest quality china money could buy. Inara took another sip and tried not to worry. They would be fine. It was just a storm. But for someone as practised in the ways of a Companion as she was, Inara knew a poorly crafted lie when it stared her in the face.

* * * * *

Zoe could not put into words the relief she felt when Serenity landed. For a moment the welcome bulk of the Firefly mid-range transport was lost to the swirl of snow and ice crystals displaced by her descent. Wash quickly docked with the ship then the three of them hurried off the shuttle to join their friends, worried about Jayne and anxious to find their missing Captain.

"What happened?"

They were quickly brought up to speed as Kaylee met them en route to the infirmary. When Zoe stepped into the infirmary she could see why. Hesitating only a second in the doorway, the first mate composed herself so rapidly that if you weren't watching for her reaction you would miss it. But River was sharp, attentive. Knew the first mate was worrying whether they had got to Jayne in time to save him and what that might mean for the Captain. Neither thought was voiced as if doing so would make the worst case scenarios come true. River knew. Understood. They were crew. Family. What hurt one, hurt them all even if the scars were never seen and the pain kept behind closed doors. They gave themselves away in their actions when they hesitated or hovered over each other when anything went wrong, were there to pull one or other of them out of some *shen goushi* without a thought of walking away and keeping their own selves safe. Crew. Family. Even if they did take so much looking after they were hers and Simon's now and she was hurting too.

Kaylee twisted her hands together, her eyes anxious and darting down to Jayne's still bloodied body. To Simon's hands, surgical gloves covered in the big man's blood, so intent on what he was doing that the rest of them might as well not have been there. But they knew he was aware of them on the periphery of his senses, pushed to the sidelines while the more important job of keeping Jayne alive occupied all his focus. River stood just a little to one side of him, the tray of surgical instruments laid out ready. Handing him what he needed a fraction of a second before he could ask. Even though he had a mask on she could sense the little smile of thanks on his lips, reflected in his eyes. Then Simon was all business again and it was up to River and Kaylee to fill the others in.

Reluctantly Zoe, Wash and Book retreated back into the corridor. Kaylee cast a look behind her then joined them, softly closing the infirmary door. She saw River turn her head and look at her and for a second it was a moment frozen in time. A hundred un-named things flashing between them in the blink of an eye while the 'verse around them was on hold. Kaylee didn't think about it, just gave a little nod through the glass and bit her bottom lip to keep the tears from falling. Afraid that Jayne would die and they wouldn't get the Captain back. Terrified that she was losing her family a piece at a time. Being mechanic on Serenity was living a dream. Flying through the Black with such shiny folk an unknown wish come true. The adventures, not so much, but here she felt alive. Needed. Loved and respected as an equal among them. It was precious to her and she hated that the spite of one twisted old man held everything she loved in jeopardy.

In that one moment Kaylee was convinced if she were facing Niska and had a gun in her hand she really would be able to pull the trigger. It wouldn't be like killing a 'person'. Hardly murder at all. More a balancing of the books. Vermin control. She almost laughed then realised that Wash had a gentle hand on her shoulder, his look concerned as he peered into her face. It made her lip tremble but she nodded as if to say she was alright, the words beyond her for the emotion trapped in her throat holding back the tears. It couldn't end like this, it couldn't. She let them turn her round and guide her to the commons area. Book gently suggesting he put the kettle on and everyone gravitating to the big old table where they took their meals. Kaylee looked at the table and felt a tiny twinge of vertigo, her eyes glistening with a wall of unshed tears as her eyes caught on the Captain's chair. Head of the table. Empty. It was too much. Quickly Zoe changed places with Wash and put an arm around her, leading the tearful mechanic to a chair then sitting beside her. Book joined them and passed two steaming mugs then went to get his and Wash's. No one spoke. Raising a tear streaked face to look Zoe in the eye, Kaylee managed to speak.

"We're gonna find him, ain't we?"

Zoe was the solid foundation of the universe. No trace of doubt on her face or in her voice. Authority and assurance in one hit. "Won't stop lookin' 'til we do."

"An' Jayne...?"

Shepherd Book took a seat opposite them. "He's tougher than he looks, don't count Jayne out yet."

"Oh, I ain't Shepherd, it's just..." She broke off and steadied herself, Zoe's arm around her shoulders a comfort she had not been expecting. Her voice faltered. "He looks so... small.. an' kind'a lost. An' there's so much blood..."

"Simon's a good doctor." Said Wash. "Best in the 'verse. If anyone can pull Jayne through this he can."

"*Wo zhidao*, it's just..."

Zoe cut her off. "Jayne'll pull through. In the meantime there's work to be done."

The mechanic gave her a blank look. Work?

"Shuttle took some damage, not much but we wouldn't have been able to come back without a lift from Serenity."

Immediately the tearful aspect of Kaylee's face took on a new concern. One she was uniquely equipped to handle. Tears forgotten, there was only room for the professional mechanic. Wash silently applauded his wife's judicious use of the truth. A tiny little bit of a problem with the com system and the port thruster, nothing that a couple of hours tinkering wouldn't fix. Which was the point. It was something Kaylee could fix and she was not the only one who needed that kind of diversion.

* * * * *

For some reason Saffron had convinced herself that Niska had an underground complex deep in the mines. She was not prepared for the reality though in hindsight it should not have surprised her. The men did not take them below ground but over a rocky ridge that fell away quite sharply to a tumble of rocks within which was cunningly camoflaged a small but sleek ship. It was bigger than a shuttle but smaller than Serenity. From the look of it the ship was Alliance in design but with no weaponry she could see. Not that it meant the vessel was unarmed just that anything it did carry was hidden to casual view much like the malignancy that lurked under the disingenuous smile on Adelei Niska's face when she was brought before him.

"Ah, a surprise!" Niska's smile was brief, his eyes sharp and beady behind the small round lenses of his glasses. His wrinkled skin framing a face that could be kindly one minute and joyfully evil the next. Saffron knew that there was not actually a dividing line between the two just the artifice of normalcy to draw the unsuspecting in until it was too late to exit. Now his eyes flickered to the man being dragged like a dead weight between Bran and Buchanan, Niska's eyes lighting up with genuine pleasure. "A gift!"

Saffron resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Niska was at his most dangerous when he was pleased. She watched him walk up to the unconscious Captain like a child on Christmas morning deciding which present to open first. Only through a force of will did she prevent a shudder of revulsion as the *heishoudang liumang* stopped in front of Malcolm Reynolds and ran a finger down the side of the Captain's face. Blood was encrusted on the man's cheek, almost blended into the black and blue bruises on his swollen cheek. Niska glanced up at Bran, such a happy expression on his face that it made Saffron feel physically sick. "Not yet *huai li*, yes? But soon I think."

With a wave of his hand Niska indicated for Bran to hit the Captaiin. To Saffron's surprise Niska's henchman used the flat of his hand not a fist, the slap ringing in her ears as she watched Mal's head rock with the blow. He did not stir. Niska nodded and tented the fingers of his hands together and tapped the fingertips to his lips as he watched Bran strike him again, three more times before a deep painful moan spilled from split lips making them bleed again. Niska looked almost delirious with happiness, a sparkle in his eyes that boded no good for Serenity's benighted Captain.

"Mister Reynolds, you should know better than try to escape Niska - yes? Is bad for reputation."

Mal would have spit if he could get up enough energy but everything was too much gorram effort. His mind and his memories were all muddled and all manner of confusing. He blinked slowly through a sea of pain, the movement sluggish and heavy. Niska waved towards a chair and Bran half dragged, half lifted the Captain into it. He had to put a meaty hand on the man's shoulder just to keep him upright. The Captain tried to whet his lips but his mouth was dry, throat all rough and filled with the growing dread that this was not a dream but a waking nightmare. That was when he saw Saffron. His eyes would have widened a little in recognition had they not been so puffy and crusted with blood but she saw the spark of recognition in them and just stared back. "You workin' for Niska now?"

His voice sounded high pitched, the words breaking at the end of the sentence denoting his surprise, something that might have been disappointment and a look that bespoke a desire for revenge for her betrayal that would probably never now happen. They both knew how deeply he was screwed. She gave a sweet smug little smile. "Million square job, sweetie."

It all clicked sickeningly into place for Mal. Her presence on Sentosa, how she *knew* where to find him let alone why she even bothered. He had been sucker punched and a fool to believe Saffron had actually wanted to help him. Leopards didn't change their gorram spots but there was a part of him that had always respected woman-kind. That wanted to believe that on some level there was a part of Saffron that was redeemable just not seemingly by him. Even when Patience had twisted and shot him a second time he couldn't bring himself to kill her. Just went against the grain killing a gorram woman and now he was paying the price for that outdated remnant of chivalry. The bitter taste of bile was ashes in his mouth. Barely able to take it in when Saffron turned to Niska to ask for her money calm as you please. Vaguely he was aware of the *liumang* snapping his fingers and a lackey going to get her payment. Then she was gone and his worst nightmare leaned in close and stared him in the eyes. "Yes, you understand now, Mister Reynolds, what it means to cross Adelei Niska."

"We already had that dance."

"There is no one to rescue you this time, *dong ma*?"

Mal tried to hide the flutter of anxiety that thought produced. Where the good gorram was Jayne? Had he gotten away or had the sick *tamade hundan* killed him? And what of the rest of his crew? Before he could wrap his befuddled brain around what was happening, Bran and Buchanan dragged him from the chair and off the bridge. His head spinning it was hard to stay conscious but with every part of his body in pain Mal felt sick and disorientated by the time he was brought to a specially kitted out room of the ship. Each wall of gleaming chrome blinding him with the reflection of the overhead lights.

"Now," said Niska in a smooth silky voice as the Captain was chained to one shining wall "is time to meet the 'real you'."

Head still spinning, Mal could not focus. All his senses were shot, muscles in agony, blood leaking from more wounds than seemed healthy but still. Niska did not like that his head was hanging down and indicated for Bran to yank the Captain's head up, the better to enjoy his discomfort and agony when the torture recommenced. But in his eagerness to resume tormenting his captive Niska had stepped a little too close and as Mal's head was yanked back he vomitted over the crime lord.

For a split second time froze. A look of shock then disgust quickly turned into anger as Cassidy tried to wipe the mess off his *laoban's* face. Niska snatched the cloth off him and cleaned his face, barely able to articulate words in his fury. "For this you will pay!"

In the first flurry of blows the Captain lost consciousness again but Niska didn't care. Temporarily forgetting in his rage that he wanted the torture to take days if not weeks.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*mashang* = on the double/at once/immediately *shenme* = what? *xie xie* = thanks *ni shuo shenme* = pardon (me)? (ie didn't understand/hear) *zhangfu* = husband *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *bao bei* = precious/treasure *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *diyu* = hell *shen goushi* = deep shit *wo zhidao* = I know *huai li* = broken *heishoudang liumang* = gangster asshole/bastard *laoban* = boss


Sunday, March 23, 2008 5:31 PM


Yikes! Niska is one scary hundan. Poor Mal!


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.