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AMDOBELL

THE NINE HELLS SERIES: 4. "No Choice"
Monday, July 28, 2003

"Anderson is determined to get what he wants. Zoe gets a shock. The Captain returns to find the past waiting."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3227    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "NO CHOICE" CHAPTER: 4. Sequel to "WHAT WAS LOST" SERIES: NINE HELLS Series AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: No specific pairing RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Anderson is determined to get what he wants. Zoe gets a shock. The Captain returns to find the past waiting." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the gift and property of Joss Whedon. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"NO CHOICE"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Shepherd Book saw him first. Eyes narrowed slightly as he beheld the man's approach. Only the fact that he was alone calmed the stir of warning bells into a quiet distant toll in his head. Book leaned next to the com. Casual and seemingly at his ease, the man still far enough away to not realise what he was doing. He activated the com with his shoulder. "Zoe? We have company."

Her voice floated back over the com. "How many, Preacher?"

The man was drawing nearer. Definitely singling them out. "Just the one."

Zoe's calm voice had a hint of steel in it. "On my way."

* * * * *

Mal was looking at Anderson in disbelief. "You gotta be kiddin' me! Think I'll take a job like that?"

A slow smile spread across Anderson's painted face. It made the Captain feel a depth of unease that did more than just unsettle his stomach. He realised he was sweating. He risked a glance at Jayne only to notice that the big man was sprawled back, mouth open, fast asleep. He went to kick him under th table only his foot did not connect. He frowned. Head a mite fuzzy. What the ruttin' hell was going on? He put a hand to his forehead to steady himself. "What the gorram did you do to Jayne?"

Anderson leaned forward, watching Mal keenly. As the Captain lowered his hand to grip the table Anderson touched his forehead with the back of his hand. A smug look settling on his face. Mal found it hard to keep him in focus which was stupid, wasn't it? "Same thing I did to you, Captain."

Alarm rang through him but it was like it was not connected to anything. He seemed to have no command of his motor functions. Sweat now sliding off him, overwhelming his pores. He did not feel so good. "What was that?"

"I poisoned him."

Mal blinked. "*Shenme*? You did WHAT?"

A smile tugged at Anderson's lips at the Captain's outrage. He savoured the moment as realisation dawned on the Captain's face. The man had gone pale, the colour draining out of him like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. "It was in the food." He informed quietly. He gave a pointed glance towards where Jayne lay sprawled. "If he hadn't made such a pig of himself your mercenary would still be conscious. As it is," he paused and looked back at the Captain "he ingested too much. Another hour, maybe two, and it won't matter."

Mal was finding it hard to follow this conversation. The words had become a muffled blur of syllables pounding his eardrums like some percussive instrument of torture. A surf that followed the ebb and wane of Anderson's taunting voice. The light was beginning to hurt his gorram eyes. Tempted to shut them only his will kept them open. They were in danger. If he closed his eyes he might never open them again and he was useless to Jayne if he was dead. He tried to swallow but his tongue felt like it was taking up all the space in his mouth. He battened down his rising panic. He was the Captain. Time to act like it. "Why's that?"

"Because once it finishes its' journey through his bloodstream to his heart he'll be dead."

The cold logic of that fact hit him like a hammer blow. For a moment his vision cleared. Anger racing through him with a sickening dread. "Are you tellin' me he's dyin'?"

Anderson smiled disingenuously. "You too, Captain."

He paused and raised a hand to the Captain's face. Mal did not have sufficient strength to bat the hand away. His own hands gripping the table just to stay upright in his seat. Determined to give the man no quarter. Anderson drew his fingertips along the planes of the Captain's face, watching them glide slowly through the man's sweat as if his fingers were oiled. He took a perverse delight in knowing that Mal was powerless to do anything about it. He had the man at his mercy now that was what this was all about. What it was 'always' about for people like him. Power, pure and simple. More seductive and intoxicating than any other coin of the realm. Made him harder than sex. More driven than a wanted man. Reaching for his gun would be a thought too difficult for the Captain to complete even if his non responsive body would obey him. Anderson saw that. Revelled in the knowledge. Liked the control it gave him. Got off on it. Was seduced by the sight of having others trapped in his transparent but oh so deadly web. Amused when they tried to struggle. Loved to watch the reality of their increasing incapacity trickle down through slow moving thought proecesses as the brain tried to shut down and block out the toxins.

"I...won't...do...it." Mal gritted out between his teeth.

"Oh, but you will Captain." Purred Anderson, his lips close to Mal's ear.

When had he moved that close?

"But you have to decide quickly. Jayne doesn't have long left."

Mal blinked through the sweat. It stung his eyes and added to the bleary images he was struggling to make sense of. "He's dyin'...?"

"He doesn't have to."

With a supreme effort of will, the Captain tore his gaze away from Jayne and looked at Anderson. He did not speak. His expression said it all. Anderson smiled. Triumphant.

"I have the antidote."

Silence. Mal just stared at him.

"All you have to do is agree to take the job."

"I could agree an' just not do it."

Anderson shrugged. Mildly amused that even looking death in the eye the Captain would argue. Man was stronger than he expected but that was good. He could use his strength against the man. The same way he was using his loyalty now. He had found the Captain's achilles heel knowing he would not willingly let a member of his crew die. Not like this. Not when he held the means to save him. "Then he'll die. A couple of hours later, so will you."

"How do I know you got the antidote?"

"I had the poison, didn't I? And you didn't even see it coming."

The Captain flinched. A flicker of guilt sailed across watery eyes. Anderson nodded to himself. He had read the man right. Mentally he counted off the seconds and waited. He got as far as six before the Captain forced reluctant words from a numbing mouth. "All I have to do is go to Destiny?"

"And deliver the crates. You don't have to meet with anyone. Don't even have to open your gorram mouth. Just ditch the crates when you land and take off again."

Mal began to slump. The edge of consciousness sliping from him as dark claws reached out for his soul. He blinked and realised something was gripping his wrists harshly. Nails not claws bit into his skin. Anderson gripping him firmly so he could not lean back in the chair or more likely slide out of it. It was all Mal could do to keep his attention on the words tumbling from Anderson's mouth. The man must have been expecting this reaction because he began to speak in single spaced words, giving the Captain's ears a time lag in which to catch up with them while his sluggish brain struggled to make sense of them.

"Do we have a deal, Captain Reynolds?"

"If I say yes?"

Anderson tried not to gloat just yet. "Then I give Jayne the antidote."

There was a long sluggish pause. God he felt so gorram weary. Too numb for the pain to hit him yet but it was gathering in his gut for the final push. "An' me?"

A chuckle escaped Anderson's mouth. He took one hand away from the Captain's wrist so he could raise the sagging head and look him in the eye. "I'll give you enough so you can do the job."

"What does that mean?" He slurred.

"It means if you try to double cross me you will die. Not nice and easy. Not slow and numb. But in agony, Captain."

"Might be I don't need you for no antidote. You ever think about that?"

Anderson felt a tiny wave of admiration stir. The way the Captain tried to resist him, to bluff him out even with his own life in the balance, was almost heroic in a dumb stubborn kind of way. It was a fundamental difference between them. Anderson would gamble with anyone's neck but his own. "There is no other antidote, Captain." He said calmly. The words almost gentle. A look in his eyes that even had he not been under the effects of the poison Mal would have found hard to decipher. For now he saw none of that.

"Not leavin' me much choice here." He mumbled painfully.

"Not leaving you any choice, Captain."

A slow laboured silence followed. The pain was creeping right into his gut. On fire now. Tears pricked eyes stinging with sweat and agony. He hoped that gorram *wangba dan* didn't notice but somehow sensed nothing escaped his eye. "Then I guess you got a deal."

Anderson did not move. For a moment Mal wondered whether he had said the words out loud or not. Was about to repeat them when Anderson nodded. "I'll get the antidote."

Mal waved a hand ineffectually. Trying hard not to pass out. "How long...?"

"Until it affects Jayne?"

He nodded, grateful he did not have to finish that sentence. Talking was draining what little reserves of strength he had left. Whatever irritation or anger he might feel towards Jayne at times no way would he leave him to die. The man was changing slowly but surely into someone he was growing to rely on. Respect even. Though he would always keep a weathered eye. Money had always been closer to Jayne's heart than any person. That accepted he was part of his crew. Mal barely noticed Anderson get up and leave. Slumped back into the chair with a heavy sigh and closed his eyes. Just a moment. Anderson returned and injected a full dose of antidote into Jayne then knelt beside the Captain. He put a hand on the fevered forehead then took his pulse, judging how far he was from slipping away. He paused a moment as if working something out in his head, then left to go and get another dose. This time he only half-filled the syringe, giving him enough to keep Mal alive for the mission and no more. Had to give the Captain the incentive to come back, didn't he?

Mal didn't even feel the prick as it pierced a vein. In the dark moving shadows that reached out for him he barely acknowledged the sluffish tide inching its' way towards his heart.

* * * * *

Wash was concerned. "I'm comin' with you."

She turned and put a hand on his shoulder. "Need you here, *zhangfu*. If this turns out to be a problem we may have to leave in a hurry."

"Without the Cap'n an' Jayne?"

"We can come back for them."

Neither noticed River approach until her voice drifted from the doorway. "Won't make any difference. All come, all go."

Zoe frowned. "Weishenme bu*?"

"He hasn't come for you but you'll be glad he came."

Zoe and Wash exchanged puzzled looks. "River," said Zoe carefully "do you know who it is?"

She nodded, a sad smile touching her lips. A far away look in her eyes then she focused again on Zoe and gestured with a pale hand. "He's waiting."

Ignoring the conversation they had just had, Wash got to his feet. Zoe gave him a look but it did not matter. He was going with her regardless. With Mal and Jayne off the boat there were precious few of them to defend the ship though Book did have a way of evening up the odds that reassured and alarmed him at the same time. By the time they got to the top of the ramp Simon and Kaylee were there. Zoe gave them a look, hoping Simon would take the hint and keep River back. From the shadows at the top of the ramp they should be far enough back not to be recognised just in case River was wrong and this was something they should worry about. Wash gave her a nod and they descended the ramp, Book turning his head just a little so he could give them his attention while still watching their visitor. "Asked if this boat was called Serenity."

Zoe's ears pricked up, her right hand straying to the butt of her gun but not drawing it. She could see the man's boots and the bottom of his pant legs.

"Then he asked who the Captain was." Continued Book.

Her heart faltered at that but still she said nothing. As Zoe progressed the view of their visitor became more comprehensive. By the time she reached the bottom of the ramp she was less than three feet away from him. Her mouth sagged open in shock. Eyes wide and slowly filling with tears. Alarmed, Wash took her hand. Zoe never cried.

"Zoe, *xin gan*, what is it? Who is this man?"

Without taking her eyes off the stranger Zoe struggled to form words through fast flowing tears. "*Shushu*? We thought you were dead."

The man who had given his name as Morgan opened his arms and took a step towards her. Zoe flew the last two steps and buried her face against his broad chest, his arms wrapping round her as his own eyes misted up. "Zoe, *tian Yesu! Oh dear heart, yu don't know how much I've missed you child."

He kissed her forehead with slow reverence then hung on tight as he fought back tears of his own. When at last they pulled apart it was no more than a hand's breadth as if neither could stand the separation. The man gently wiped Zoe's tears from her face. A look of deep joy in his eyes, wonder in hers.

"We thought you were dead." She repeated in a soft anguished voice.

He shook his head but did not smile. "No, *bao bei*. I was sent to find Davey."

Her eyes began to mist again. Zoe bit her lip.

"Hush now, *nu haizi*. Ain't no tears gonna water that boy's grave, *dong ma*?"

Unable to stand the suspense any longer Wash interrupted. "Who's Davey?"

Zoe looked at him, a sadness stirring deep in her eyes. Backlit with pain. "Cap'n's brother."

Wash's eyes widened in shocked surprise. "His brother?" In that moment he realised how little he knew about his Captain. A year in the Black and all he was certain of was Malcolm Reynolds' name. He knew nothing of his family,his roots. Nothing but the little of the shared history of the war. A war in which he and Zoe and fought and lost. Now Wash realised the Captain had lost much more than one too many battles.

"Davey was the Cap'n's younger brother. Practically worshipped the ground Mal walked on."

"No practically about it, girl. Never saw a tighter bond that wasn't glued."

Now Wash turned his curious eyes on the big man. He stood a good six four, was stocky but not fat. His clothes made him look bulkier than he was. His light brown hair was fly-away, so fine that it distracted him until the man flashed him a sudden bright disarming grin. The flash of white teeth through his neat beard had a familiar edge to it. The man held out a large capable hand. "The name's Frank Reynolds."

Shepherd Book had been watching in silence, now the surprise on Wash's face as they shook hands was mirrored on his own. He did not notice River come and stand next to him. "You're the Captain's father?" Wash asked,

He shook his head. "No, though many's a time I might have wished differently." They wondered at that. "I'm his Uncle. Malcolm's father - John Reynolds - was my brother." He paused again, his keen eyes searching behind them. Looking for a familiar figure that had yet to emerge to rest eyes weary from looking for him. "Where's my boy?" He glanced at Zoe. A trace of worry creeping into his voice which he could not quite hide. "Where's Mal?"

* * * * *

The Captain stirred. Glad when the room finally stopped spinning. He squinted and wondered what the hell the transparent dragon was doing shimmering and tinkling down at him like some amused and fickle deity posing as a wind chime. His head was throbbing but at least he was able to bring his vision back into focus. A face leaned in and he recognised Anderson sans make up. Something about that smug grin had etched itself into his brain where he would be able to access it readily enough come the time for target practice. He itched to let the thought produce the action but was too sore and disorientated to be able to do much. Not to mention limbs that would not obey him. Least not yet. A loud groan alerted him to the fact that Jayne was slowly waking. At last. Some good news. Or at least some news that was less bad. Anderson tapped his forefinger against Mal's forehead. He flinched before he could stop himself. The headache had gone up a notch from bongo drums inside his skull to a full Carribean steel band. Of coures he had never heard such a *goushi* racket before but the telling of it in stories from Earth-that-was always made him think of a chorus of cats being stoned while someone cut off their tails. Right now that thought was less violent than the pain inside his head. Bright flashes of red like tracer fire across his retinas. Even thinking gorram hurt. Unlike Jayne, this was not optional.

"See, Captain? I did not kill you." Anderson paused a moment, enjoying the spark of anger that flickered in drug dulled eyes. "I keep my promises such as they are."

Anderson laughed quietly. A harsh unfunny sound that had echoes of dark betrayal stitched into it like a seam in the Devil's tailcoats. The only thing missing was horns on his head. Mal was glad he had washed the paint off his face. He wanted to remember every detail of that *wangba dan's* face.

"You know the deal." Anderson reminded him quietly, his face lowered close to Mal's. Whether to intensify his warning or to make sure a waking Jayne did not overhear the bargain he could not tell. Somehow the Captain did not think Anderson was trying to spare Jayne. "You have thirty six hours give or take an hour. Return to your ship. I'll send the cargo to you, should be there within an hour of your return. I suggest you leave as soon as you can and make the drop." He paused to watch his words sink in. "That will give you time to return and find me. Do that and you will be paid in full - no cheating you for work done - and you'll get the other half of the antidote."

"Could lie. Just say I made the drop."

The man shook his head and smiled. Genuinely amused now. "I like my comforts complicated, Captain, not stupid."

Mal blinked. Tried to run that sentence back through his mind to unravel the sense of it. Anderson did not give him that luxury. Clock was ticking. Soon the mercenary would be able to function again and he wanted to drag the deal out of Reynolds before then. A word from him would be as binding as a vow. A promise from Jayne would hold all the watertight properties of a cow passing wind. No. He had picked his man with care. Time to reel him in.

"That so?" Mal mumbled.

"*Qu*. If you say no it won't be just you that pays the price, *dong ma*?"

That was when Anderson straightened and looked off to the side. The Captain forced himself up into a sitting position, beads of sweat forming quickly on his forehead at the exertion. Pain flashing through his stomach and making his bones ache and throat dry and itchy. "*Ri ni*!"

"Really? Are all your crew so expendable, Captain?"

The Captain closed his eyes. Wanted to weep, swear, put his hands around Anderson's slimey neck then twist his head until it snapped. Almost he got enough feeling back into his fingers to flex them with that happy thought but another flash of pain reminded him that he was all out of options. And he really did not want Jayne to die or anyone else. He heard the big man stir, slurred words running into each other. Jayne had no idea of the conversation he was missing. Mal opened his eyes and fastened them on Anderson's face. If he was going to do this he would make it quick. No need for Jayne to know the full of it. "Okay, Anderson. I'm between a rock an' a hard place seems like."

"Deal?" Said Anderson so softly that Mal could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stir. It was all kinds of disturbing.

He nodded carefully, his voice just as quiet. "Deal."

For a moment Anderson just looked at him, holding him to his word, then gave a suddenly wide expansive smile and shifted back on his heels and out of Mal's face. "Glad to do business with you, Captain! I'll let you boys get back to your ship and arrange to have the crates ready to load soon after."

Mal struggled to his feet and took a moment to steady himself, his hands on the back of the deep sofa on which he had wakened. His head starting to clear the moment he was upright. He could do this. The alternative was given no further thought. Jayne was cursing up a storm now but sounded more amused than annoyed. Mal stumbled over to join him and leaned forward just enough to look into the mercenary's face without falling flat on his own. The big man closed his eyes, feigning sleep. Figuring if he did it well enough his head pain and gut ache would give up and leave him be. Didn't work of course but it didn't stop him trying. The Captain nudged him carefully. "Jayne! On your feet, we have to get back."

Jayne groaned but experience had taught him it was well not to play possum round the Captain. Especially when there was work to be done. "Yeah, Cap, I'm awake." He complained. "Wish to gorram I wasn't."

"You an' me both. Think you can stand?"

The big man grunted and pushed himself to his feet. Took a moment to steady himself then he cracked half an eye at the Captain, squinting to get him in focus. "Tell me we had a good time, Cap."

"We had a good time, Jayne. Ate too much - leastways you did - an' I reckon drank too much as well."

Jayne chuckled, satisfied that however bad he felt it must have been worth it. A thought occurred to him and he widened his eyes at the notion. "Did I get laid?"

Mal resisted the urge to smile as dire as their situation was. "Are you sore in that department?"

He thought about it. Was probably the only man who had to. "No." He said slowly, frowning with concentration. "Sore 'bout everywhere else though."

The Captain patted his shoulder. "Then you never got laid."

Jayne gave him a truly dirty look. Completely awake now. "Huh, ya could'a just lied to me!"

They got back just over a few hours later, both men walking with care as if they were treading around a minefield. In a way they were. Mal was deep in thought wondering how much he should divulge. He could ask Simon to do some tests, see if his fancy training could extend to tracking down the poison Anderson had used on them. Perhaps even come up with an antidote of their own. But he knew that would be clutching at straws and he didn't have the time nor inclination to play guinea pig while the hour glass ran dry. Besides, he had agreed the deal. As hateful a thought as it was he could not allow himself to be forsworn. Then there was the question of Jayne. The man had already taken a full dose. His recovery was all the proof Mal needed that Anderson had the antidote. His next thought was to wonder whether he would keep to the bargain and give it to him when the job was done. Mal sighed. Thinking hurt, the pounding in his head making any deeper introspection unwise. No. The best way out of this tangle was to get the job done as quickly as possible then get as far away from this steaming crock of *goushi* as they could. Next time he set eyes on Anderson after that he would send the man to the kind of hell even the Preacher was beyond imagining.

When they got back to the ship Mal paused to look at his boat. All his problems fading into insignificance at the sight of her. Jayne grunted, thinking something was wrong. "*Shenme shi*?"

"*Yiwusuoyou*."

"Ya sure?"

The Captain turned his head to look at him. "I'm sure, it's just no matter how many times I look at my boat she still takes my breath away."

Jayne snorted at that. "You're gettin' soft, Cap."

He got no reply because just then Kaylee came running down the ramp to meet them. Her face awash with smiles that put the sun to shame. An honest to goodness lightening of his heart made the Captain smile back. Then he froze as a little cluster of people crowded down the ramp behind her, his eyes narrowing in on the man pressing to the front while his crew parted to let him through. Wash was watching Mal's face intently, his arm around Zoe. Even Simon and River had crept partway down the ramp wanting to see the reunion first hand.

All the colour drained from the Captain's face. He froze. Ears suddenly full of gunfire and men crying their agony in the heat of bloody battle. Him and Zoe side by side trying to hold off the inevitable until reinforcements came. They never came. The news about Davey missing when the surrender came then hearing about the death of his family. Rounded up like animals along with his neighbours and friends. Locked in the big old farmhouse that had been home to generations of Reynolds. The lit torches making a pretty fire. Those that tried to jump through the windows to escape the flames were shot down and their bodies thrown back through the windows to burn with the rest. Tears ran down his face. He could not move or speak for grief. Swallowed by the pain and loss, as raw now as it had been then from wounds that never healed. His Uncle hurried to him, his own face wet with tears. Seeing in the lean young man he loved like a son the brother he had lost. Knowing as he did so that he was looking at the last of his kith and kin. For close as Zoe was to him, Mal was blood kin. "Malcolm, son, gorramit it's so good to see you!"

Then he hugged him close and told him how much he had missed him. Mal closed his eyes and just held on, letting the tears stream silently down his face. Frank Reynolds prayed for him. Loved him so much it broke his heart to see the boy's pain. Told him gently how it was his mama that had insisted he leave the ranch and go and find his brother. Little Davey intent on following in his brother's footsteps. Determined to fight in a war he did not understand. Gentle, quiet Davey. The boy with the soul of a poet. Seven years Mal's junior but a babe in arms next to Mal. Niave and innocent in so many ways that were precious to those that loved him. Mrs Reynolds had already lost her husband to war. Her eldest son in the thick of the worst of the fighting along with the girl they had taken in as one of their own so long ago. She could not abide the thought of young Davey sharing the horrors of war. The hand to hand fighting of the slit trench. The wall of bodies that would make up their honoured dead.

So Uncle Frank had been urged, begged and forced to go and find Mal's brother leaving the foreman Cheng and a few hands to run the ranch and protect those that had been left behind. He would bring Davey back if he could or die trying. His searching brought him to an open grave so vast it dwarfed the mercy of God. The bodies had been mutilated by bombs and grenades so that it was hard to tell which limbs belonged to which torso, whose brain splattered heads the rags of flesh mocked. He could not find enough to call a body still less be certain it was his but this was Davey's unit. Wiped out by Alliance troops and there had been no survivors. Blanket fire cutting down the flower of a lost generation, cutting the heart out of every woman in the land that had ever given birth.

Bringing back his burden should have been the worst of it until he saw the devastated homestead that greeted him on his return. It was raised to the ground, charred bodies mingled with the ash of wooden beams and the smudge of clothing. He wept as he had never wept before. Found the remains of Mal's mother by the kitchen table, the sediment of ash so deep amid the scorched bones that he knew for a fact that this was where the people had huddled. As the fierce flames licked and roared around them, egged on by their own burning body fat, an accelerant they carried unknowingly to premature graves. The bunkhouse had been untouched. The few possessions of the ranch hands still intact along with Cheng's erhu and one of the boy's harmonicas. Having lost the one son he had been sent to find Frank Reynolds was determined to find the other. Bring his sad burden to rest then not let God or the Devil part them again. Not in this life. And God be praised, he had found him. Oh *tian Yesu* he had found him! And by the grace of the God eternal the last remaining son, Malcolm Reynolds, lived.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shenme* = what *wangba dan* bastard *xin gan* = sweetheart *shushu* = uncle *tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *bao bei* = precious/treasure *nu haizi* = girl *goushi* = crap/dog shit *dong ma* = understand? *zhangfu* = husband *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ri ni* = screw you *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *weishenme bu* = why not? *yiwusuoyou* = nothing

COMMENTS

Thursday, October 13, 2011 6:02 PM

SHINYZOEKAYLEE


Oh ow, beautifully written, painful to read! I LOVE Mals uncle! He had a baby brother... :'(


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