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AMDOBELL

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 6. "Friends You Choose"
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It was a sound he recognised from the War, didn't forget the sound of a man drowning on his own blood.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2683    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "THE FRIENDS YOU CHOOSE" CHAPTER: 6. Sequel to "SERENDIPITY" SERIES: THE DICHOTOMY SERIES FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Tracy RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "While some friends are made enemies do seem to keep crawling out of the gorram woodwork."

"FRIENDS YOU CHOOSE"

A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Pain, his one true constant. Waking, sleeping, neither made any impact on the fragmented tatters of his mind. No North, no South, East or West. No Up or Down, no Night, no Day. Where the good gorram was he and when would this nightmare of nightmares end? Or perhaps he was already dead, he just didn't know it? He blinked, or thought he did, but nothing happened. The inky darkness that had swallowed him whole was unrelieved, unchanging, an endless midnight of the soul. Like Jonah in the belly of the gorram whale. Wriggling his fingers produced nothing at all, no feeling, no sensation. Did he still have fingers? *Wode ma* this must be *diyu*, it was the only thing that made sense yet if that were so where in the nine hells was that fiery furnace, the sulphur and brimstone? Or maybehaps it was worse than that and he was in the world between, where the ungodly gnashed their teeth in eternal frustration unable to see let alone approach the gates of Heaven.

* * * * *

Wash was puzzled. "Where're we goin'?"

"*Fang xin* somewhere safe."

"You really a Horse Doctor?"

Book smiled, the aspect of his face shining like some benign Buddha. Wash blinked and the man called Book was just a man again. "I am what I am."

"That's no answer."

A dark warm chuckle rumbled back at him. "You are a very suspicious man, has anyone ever told you that?"

"*Ni shi shei, zhende*?"

"A friend." Book stopped and Wash turned to face him. "You don't have to come with me, I just thought you could use a hot meal. Somewhere safe to sleep for the night but if you have a better idea..."

Wash stared at him, tried to figure out what the man wanted from him but Book made no demands. Gave him the freedom to come or go as he pleased and he had saved his life. Wash sighed, weary from trying to work out why a complete stranger would not only come to his rescue but put himself out to help him further. Perhaps he was just a good man? It had been so long since Wash had seen one that his suspicions had flared, looking for some sign that he was being deceived. A weariness began to creep over him and Wash started as Book began to walk away.

"I wish you luck, Wash."

Alarmed, Wash called after him. "*Qing , deng*! I'll go with you, it's just a long time since I found anyone I could trust."

Book flashed him a smile, letting it reach his eyes with genuine pleasure. "*Wo dong*."

Wash fell into step with him and began chattering away, Book letting the words bathe him in deep content only rousing to speak when his companion paused to ask a question. "So where're we goin'?"

"To the best eatin' house in town. You'll think you died an' went to *tiantang*."

* * * * *

At last. Zoe's quick frantic search turned up a couple of broken metal struts obviously pieces of scrap but just the right size to used as weapons. Had a good heft to them too. She was about to hand one to River then thought better of it, not sure the girl would take it let alone know how to use it. River turned her head away from the gate and glared at her, a hand reaching out for a weapon to fill it.

"She knows and she comprehends."

The words chilled Zoe. Why was River talking in the third person? That was when they heard the scraping sound, meant to be all quiet and stealthy like but loud to their listening ears, the quiet of the compound amplifying the threat just beyond the gate. Zoe didn't hesitate a moment longer but handed a metal bar to the girl, part reassured and part disturbed that River seemed to be perfectly at ease with the makeshift weapon. With a jerk of her head, Zoe flattened herself one side of the gate and River took the other side.

A splintering sound alerted them to the fact that the gate would not hold much longer. Holding their weapons in both hands they waited and as the gate burst open they sprang to the attack, Zoe aiming for the elbow of the first man's rifle hand, the loud satisfying snap of breaking bone only drowned out by the man's startled pain filled cry. His companion started to turn his head towards him when River struck, the bar hitting him across the back of the head, his rifle falling from his hands as the man fell unconscious to the ground. The third man tried to back away but Zoe was quicker, her anger not so much restrained as channelled into cutting off his escape. Seeing he was about to get his head caved in he panicked and raised his hands.

"I ain't armed, I ain't armed *dong ma*?"

Zoe dragged him through the broken gate and watched him glance nervously at the men on the ground, one sitting in a great deal of pain and cradling his right arm while the other lay insensate face down. He raised frightened eyes and seeing the cold hard look in Zoe's eyes felt his heart quail within him. He almost jumped when River spoke, all his attention being on the one he saw as the biggest threat.

"Breaking and entering is still a crime and you came with guns."

"W...we're lookin' for a f...fugitive."

"That mean you gotta warrant?"

For a moment it was comical. The man stared blankly at Zoe as if the word was not in his vocabulary. River's look darkened. "He doesn't have one, isn't even a man of the law."

"D...don't hit me, I'm a bounty hunter!"

"Never seen a bounty hunter that wasn't armed." Said Zoe in a cold uncompromising voice. The man realised she did not believe him.

"I am, *chengshi*. Check my pocket, upper inside right, you'll find the papers right there."

Zoe made no move to touch him. She picked up a fallen rifle and now held it in her hands, then kicked the other rifle towards River. The girl did not pick it up but stood on the weapon. Zoe frowned. River still held on to the metal bar though. "No touching guns," she explained. Well, wasn't that shiny?

Her attention back on the bounty hunter Zoe gave a short jerk of her chin. "Take the papers out real slow, I see any move I don't like an' I'll blow your gorram head off, *dong ma*?"

"T..that would be murder." The man stuttered.

"It'd be self defence, you broke into our place in the dead of night. Had to defend ourselves. Now I want your name, who it is you're lookin' for an' why. "

"Dalton, Hiram." Slowly he took some folded papers from an inside pocket and went to hand them to Zoe.

"River, take the papers."

The girl took them from Dalton and quickly scanned the pages. "Says he's looking for Jayne Cobb."

Dalton sneered thinking he was getting the upper hand now. "He burned down a barn with his old man in it, burnt his father to death. Was due to be hung at sun-up but he broke outta gaol."

"What makes you think he came here?"

Dalton pointed to the man with the broken arm. "Tracked him here."

"May have come this way don't mean he's here now."

The man shrugged. "Still have to look. Make sure."

"An' you couldn't do it in the mornin' when folk were awake? Knock on the door like a civilised man?"

Dalton stared at Zoe. "The man's a killer."

"So you say."

Something clicked in his brain. "He's here isn't he? You're hidin' him from the law."

"Ain't hidin' nobody an' I ain't seen your fugitive. All I've seen is three men takin' the law into their own hands an' damagin' property that don't belong to them. Scarin' decent folk from their beds."

The man wanted to laugh, really. Decent folk? From their beds? To his mind the women had ambushed them which meant they had known the men were outside. Now how would they know that? Zoe answered his unspoken thought before he could voice it.

"Before you get all cocky," said Zoe in a voice as cold as permafrost "last night one of you shot my friend in the gorram head, nearly killed him. Figured we'd have to keep watch in case you tried anythin' else. Don't hear you apologisin' for that."

All the blood drained from Dalton's face. His hands were shaking now, sure that his own end was near. "Wasn't me!"

Zoe nodded. "*Wo zhidao*, you weren't carryin' a gun." At his energetic nod her eyes narrowed on the man with the broken arm. His teeth were gritted together as he cradled his arm, as if he was trying to keep from screaming out loud in front of the womenfolk. "You the sharp shooter?"

The man shook his head. "Nah, just hired for the job."

Zoe looked over the rifle in her hand then sniffed the end of the barrel. It had not been fired. She glanced over at the man River had knocked out. "River, check his rifle. See if it's been fired."

"Now no need for that, any misunderstandin's can be explained."

Dalton trailed off when Zoe gave him a death glare. He watched Zoe glance back towards River, noticing the woman kept everyone in view the whole time. Woman wasn't taking any chances and if he was being honest he couldn't blame her. River made a face. "It's been fired."

Zoe kicked the unconscious man's foot but he did not stir. River checked his pulse and flashed a quick smile at Zoe. "He's just knocked out, still breathing."

"I'm thinkin' we should maybe call the sheriff. Have charges laid against you three for attempted murder an' breakin' an' enterin'."

Dalton was sweating, he looked down at the man with the broken arm. Annoyed that he was not saying a gorram thing to help. If things went south he could lose more than his licence. Didn't fancy being put in gaol or even worse ending up at the end of a gorram rope for attempted murder. Might not have pulled the rutting trigger but it was on his orders the shot was fired. "Cat got your tongue, Evans?"

Evans looked like a man with the fight taken right out of him. "We went about this wrong, *laoban*."

Angry, Dalton could have hit him but not in front of Zoe and River. "*Shenme*? Ya should lay charges of your own for that injury. Looks broken."

The man hissed. "Reckon it is." He turned his head and looked Zoe in the eye, making no attempt to get to his feet. "Reckon it was deserved ma'am, should never have busted our way into your yard."

Just then the third man began to stir, a deep pained groan oozing out of him. River carefully turned him onto his side after checking the back of his head. Impressed that it was not bleeding, just an egg sized lump coming up on the back of it. She stepped back with a satisfied look on her face. "He'll have a headache but doesn't need stitches."

Evans frowned. "What about me?"

"You really want that I should set that arm, angry as I am?" Said Zoe.

He swallowed awkwardly. Realising that as bad as it hurt now he could be in a lot more pain. "*Bu qu* ma'am, don't know what I was thinkin'."

The third man sat up slowly, a hand going to the back of his head as his eyes flashed open then squinted at the flash of agony. "What the *diyu* hit me?"

River beamed brightly at him. "I did."

He blinked, the picture of the slim waif like girl not making a lick of sense when weighed against his aching head. Then he noticed Curt Evans cradling a broken arm and the boss looking ready to wet himself. "*Fasheng shenme shir la*?"

Zoe glared at him. "What's your name?"

He was about to tell her to go to *diyu* but the boss gave him the nod. Confused he did as he was told. "Ben Parker."

"You shot my friend last night, then with your friends here crept round in the early hours an' broke in." Zoe pointed to the busted gate. "You got that crack on the head when we hit back."

Parker blinked. "We?"

Zoe turned back to Dalton. "You need to take your men an' go while you still can. Don't wanna see your sorry faces back here otherwise we'll be pressin' charges, *dong ma*?"

Dalton nodded then offered a hand to help Evans up. Ben Parker looked a mite dazed but followed suit. Dalton hesitated. "If we could just have our rifles back we'll be on our way, ma'am."

"*Wo bu zheiyang xiang*. Call it insurance against you attackin' us again."

"Ma'am you have my word we won't be comin' back."

"See that you don't. Now go, we got a gate to fix."

* * * * *

He was frantic. Despite looking everywhere he could think of Simon could find no sign of his sister. They had been talking about leaving the Field Hospital, moving on, but Simon had been reluctant. River said it wasn't safe but he had wanted to stay, it was the only place where he felt as if they could find a home. Not a permanent one of course, but it was good to be needed. Now those thoughts brought nothing but worry to mind as he imagined all the awful things that could have happened while he had been sleeping. Had his sister been right? Had some *tamade hundan* snatched her in the night?

Just then the tent flap was flung back. Simon turned a hopeful eye in that direction, ready to tell River off for scaring him but it was not his sister. The medics hurried in with the heavy stretcher, a man bleeding from what looked like every part of his body. A big mountain of a man but in as sorry a state as Simon Tam had seen anyone. Immediately his training took over and while his worry for River did not lessen the man before him was in greater need. Would bleed out unless he worked quickly.

* * * * *

The food was sumptuous, a veritable feast to the newly starved. Wash looked at Sally as if she were the shiniest person in the entire 'verse. She smiled at him as she wiped her hands on her apron.

"Now don't you go gettin' any unseemly ideas, *dong ma*?"

Wash tried to talk and swallow at the same time. He ended up nearly choking. Book gave the woman an apologetic smile then thumped Wash on the back until his airway was clear.

"One word of advice?" Sally said as she leaned in close. "Tryin' chewin' afore ya swallow."

Book's laughter rang in Wash's ears as the woman disappeared out back leaving the two men to finish their very fine meal in peace. As Wash finished cleaning his plate, mopping up the last of the gravy with bread, he cut Book a sideways glance, his voice dropping low. "Don't know how to tell ya but I don't have any coin."

For a moment Book just stared at him then a slow gentle smile softened the look on his face. "*Fang xin*, I have coin. No King's Ransom mind, but enough to pay our bill."

Wash's eyes narrowed slightly. "An' how am I supposed to pay ya back?"

* * * * *

It was getting mighty hard to breathe. He still could not see his assailant and was all manner of worried about what could have happened to his friends. It was the sound of wood cracking that made him turn his head in the direction of the compound gate, the blade against his throat forgotten until it slashed him. The cry was small, more gurgle than yell. Not enough air to speak let alone call out.

Tracy had been sleeping in the other room but sprang awake without knowing why. He lay quiet as the grave, letting his ears inform him while he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Carefully he crept forward, looking for something to grab as a weapon. Felt naked without his gun and what with someone taking pot shots at the Sarge last night he wasn't feeling too trusting right now. As he reached the door he heard a soft gurgling sound from within. It was a sound he recognised from the War, didn't forget the sound of a man drowning on his own blood. Immediately slipping into the next room he kept to cover, creeping up on where he had last seen the Sarge, startled when he saw a large figure gripping Mal round the throat from behind. Without even having to think about it he edged close enough to swing the lump of wood in his hand, feeling the satisfying crack as it connected with the intruder's head. The big man grunted then fell, not backwards but forwards taking the Sarge down with him. Tracy swore, not happy that the big man had fallen on top of Mal.

No need for stealth now, he hurried over to them and rolled the big man off, alarmed to see blood seeping from Mal's neck. "Gorramit, Sarge, can't leave ya alone for five ruttin' minutes without someone tryin' to kill ya."

Quickly he tore a sleeve off his shirt and began to bandage the cut, not sure how deep it was but determined to take no chances. Where in the nine hells were the others? Once he had the Sarge settled he turned his attention to the man who had attacked him, noticed he was well over six foot, a little taller than Mal but heavier. Body was lanky but well muscled, looked like the man maybehaps worked out. Tracy searched his pockets but found nothing useful. Next he hunted around until he found a ball of thick twine then bound the man hand and foot. He was just turning to take another look at Mal when he heard the steady thunk, thunk, thunk of someone banging. Sounded like it was coming from the entry gate. *Wode ma*, the last thing they needed was more trouble.

With an apologetic look in Mal's direction for leaving him, Tracy hurried in the direction of the sounds. Once off the river boat he slowed down and was more cautious, who knew how many of them he would have to face and him with just a lump of wood? As he reached the gate Tracy froze, eyes wide in disbelief as he watched Zoe and River take turns hammering planks of wood over the damaged section. Without turning her head, River called out to him.

"Don't just stand there gawking, Tracy. Need you to give us a hand."

Zoe paused and turned her head, happy to see Tracy but frowning when she saw the look on his face. "*Shenme cuode*?"

"Had a visitor. Attacked the Sarge, managed to knock the *tamade hundan* out an' tie him up but someone needs to check on the wound."

Immediately the gate was forgotten. Zoe started to walk towards him. "How bad is it"

"*Wo bu zhidao*, got a cut across his throat. Can't see how bad it is but I tried to bind it as tight as I could an' still let him breathe."

Zoe swore, cast a quick look at River who waved her away, then was racing off with Tracy in her wake. River examined the gate, muttered to herself and got back to work. She used old nails she found lying around, using a bit of metal to flatten the ones that were bent. Beggars couldn't be choosers and they needed to make the compound secure.

With everything else her friend had been through lately, Zoe was anxious that they get Mal patched up and healed as soon as possible. Until then it was best they all stayed put. Fortunately the cut was neither very long nor that deep and Zoe declared that it didn't need stitches, just something to stop the bleeding until it clotted. Nature would do the rest. Zoe realised her friend was exhausted by earlier wounds that had not had time to heal, but the good news was that he would mend. Getting to her feet Zoe turned around and wondered where Kaylee was. Tracy shook his head when she asked him, worry lines forming on his amiable face. Maybe she was still sleeping in the master bedroom? River's eyes widened then her look darkened as she gazed down at their unconscious prisoner.

"He tied her up. Gagged her too."

Zoe frowned. "Is Kaylee hurt?"

River shook her head but looked upset. "Just frightened. Thinks he's going to rape her."

Just then they heard a low pained moan and all eyes turned to Malcolm Reynolds. He cracked his eyes just a little bit and winced but didn't close them again. His voice sounded like someone had sandpapered it. "Why's everybody tryin' to kill me?"

"Not everybody, sir."

Mal raised an eyebrow.

"I haven't tried yet, sir."

He huffed, not amused. "*Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"

"Think we found our sniper, sir."

Mal raised a hand to his throat. "He the one who cut me?"

"*Qu* but you were lucky, sir. It wasn't a knife."

At his look of surprise, Zoe picked up the small bloody object. It was a little jagged piece of slate, small but sharp enough to do the job if someone was determined enough. "Huh, where is he?"

"I tied him up, Sarge." Said Tracy pointing to where the big man lay trussed up like a parcel nobody wanted to collect. He would just as easily finish him off if the Sarge gave the word but Mal was not one for killing a body out of hand, not unless there was no other way. What Mal wanted most was information but first his eyes kept glancing round and coming up one short.

"Where's Kaylee?"

Zoe explained.

"Tracy, go with Zoe an' find Kaylee, *dong ma*? Keep your eyes an' ears pricked real sharp. Don't know how many others there may be hidin' out in here."

"*Fang xin*." Zoe held up the rifle she had taken and River did the same. Mal's eyes widened. Quickly Zoe recounted what had happened at the gate. Mal nodded, relieved and impressed with the action taken. Not nobody better than Zoe when trouble came calling. He watched Zoe and Tracy hurry off to find Kaylee.

"I helped." Said River.

Malcolm Reynolds turned to her and smiled, he couldn't help it. The little waif was growing on him and he had to admit she was all manner of helpful, sometimes in the oddest ways. "You know you ain't quite right?"

The girl smirked back at him. "Neither are you. It may be the popular opinion but that doesn't mean it's right."

"That so?"

"You should rest."

"You a doc now?"

River shook her head, checked that their prisoner was still unconscious, then settled beside Mal. "*Bu qu* but my brother will be here soon. Won't be pleased that you've been getting yourself in trouble."

"You do know not none of this was my fault?"

Her smile was a gentle, fey thing. "*Shengyu*."

"You also know you can't order me about on my boat, *dui*?" Mal said as he settled back, his body dragging him down when he wanted to stay awake, alert. Had to wait to see that Kaylee was okay. River knew what he was thinking, how he worried about them all, even when they were little more than strangers. She knew why. Could have told him but like Alice down the Rabbit Hole some things you just have to find out for yourself.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wode ma* = mother of God *diyu* = Hell *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *ni shi shei* = who are you? *zhende* = really *qing* = please *deng* = wait *wo dong* = I understand *dong ma* = understand? *chengshi* = honest *wo zhidao* = I know *laoban* = boss *shenme* = what *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fasheng le shenme shir la* = what has happened? *wo bu zheiyang xiang* = I don't think so *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shenme cuode* = what's wrong? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *qu* = yes lit. go) *shengyu* = rest *dui* = correct

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 2:59 PM

BUCKSHOTPILOT


How could Jayne hurt Mal?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 6:44 PM

AMDOBELL


With Mal, Zoe and Tracy fresh from the end of the War Mal and Jayne haven't met yet. Might seem a bit confusing but as the story opens out it will all start to make more sense. Thank you as always for the feedback which is much appreciated, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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