Water's Edge
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another wartime fic, and the last of the stash of Zoe and Mal fics on my hard drive. Might last me through the winter. Thanks to those who have enjoyed and commented, these have been fun to post.


A friend musing that "Zoe could probably kick Mal's butt" made me wonder what circumstances might lead to such an encounter. This is where my thoughts led. ------------------------------------------

He didn’t leave her any gorram choice.

Wasn’t what she wanted, and hell knows she was going to pay the price tomorrow, providing they both survived the night. But him bein’ crazy the way he was, set on going the way she knew he wanted, at that moment, to go… He didn’t leave her any gorram choice.

So she hit him.


From behind.

He skidded face-first into the muck of the riverbank, but flipped over and had his sidearm trained on her in the time it took her to draw her own weapon.

Ni zhao si ma?!” he hissed, his widened eyes visible in the darkness. He darted a furtive glance around their perimeter, but she’d been careful to plan her strike beneath the generous cover of the scrub juniper that hugged the water’s edge. “Ni zhao si ma? ‘cause so help me, I’ll give you one!”

She met his glare with an unflinching stare of her own.

“You planning on firing you weapon at me, sir?” Her voice, even at a whisper, carried the cool threat each member of her squad had learned to fear. Wouldn’t scare him, but he’d know she was dead serious.

“I could,” he ground out, shaking with fury, his icy tone matching the warning in hers. He maneuvered into a crouch without lowering his arm. “You just attacked me. I’d be within my rights to shoot you.”

“Reckon you would be,” she replied, voice steady, eyes never wavering from his. “Just like I’d be within my rights to report this unauthorized mission, sir.”

She strained to make out his expression in the dark. Three months ago, hell, three weeks ago she would have staked her life she could’ve predicted his reaction. Tonight she played her card and fairly held her breath, letting it out quietly when he swung his aim away from her and focused instead on the darkness beyond the brush.

“Been through this, corporal.” He spoke without looking at her. “Gave you a command to stay behind not five minutes ago.”

Instinctively they shifted deeper into the shadows, squatting with their backs to the trees. Zoe calmly checked the clips on her belt. “Not planning to sit back, sergeant, while you run a suicide mission with no hope of success.”

“No, you thought you’d give the Feds a hand,” he growled. “They teach you to attack your sergeant in the Lifers?”

“If the ben dan’s fixing to get himself killed, yes.”

“Not good soldiering to disobey a command.”

“Not good soldiering to leave your platoon leaderless.”

“And who’s leading them now, Zoe?” He spun on her in a furious whisper, jabbing his finger into the air. “I left you in charge! They’re leaderless, it’s your fault.”

She didn’t rise to his bait, but willed her voice to remain impassive. “Men don’t know they’re leaderless. Not yet. You come back with me now, won’t ever know it.”

“Can’t do that,” he said brusquely, and she felt a wall slam down between them. He turned away but she knew how his face would look; jaw locked, mouth set, eyes to the ground but mind seeing a vivid vision better forgotten.

“They’re dead, sir.”

“You don’t know that.” She heard the tremor behind the harshness.

“I do know that. Any man more than a day enlisted knows it too. You heard the firefight. Ended quick. Alliance got no reason to keep them alive, not moving as fast as they are.”

Three men. She could see them leaving on the twilight recon the sergeant had been loathe to order. Sent out on a prairie with nary a blade of grass as cover.

Gorram idiot brass. They’ll get us all killed by Wednesday, asinine orders. God, Zoe, not one of those men’ll come back.

Yet to the men, a pep talk. Instructions, inspiration, claps on the shoulder and promise of confiscated whiskey upon their return. A return he was now determined to effect, in a move so single-handedly idiotic as to make the brass look brilliant.

“We don’t know for sure.” Still that resolve in his voice. Like speaking his will could make it all turn out his way. Times like this his blindness gorram scared her.

“And you’re planning to what?” she asked, no longer bothering to hide her amazement. “Walk across the water here, wander past the perimeter guards and have a mosey about?”

“I figure they’re camped in one of those groves,” he pointed to darker shadows across the sluggish river, a mile or two distant.

Ai ya. Ai ya. Tian a, he believed it. Somehow he had rationalized to himself that he could actually infiltrate a camp with 800 troops and waltz out carrying dead men on his back.

“Knowing their location entitles you to entry into the camp, that it?”

“Those men expect---“

She moved in front of him, right in his face.

“They ain’t expecting nothing, sir, because they are surely dead. You had orders to send them, they had orders to go, and someone else ordered them dead. That’s all. And if they were expecting something, it would have to be more than your lonely pi gu, less you’re thinking on just providin’ a social call.”

His face went rigid, shocked at what she was suggesting. “I ain’t risking more men.”

“Just my point, sir. You won’t send your men because you know there’s not a chance in hell of coming back alive. So is that your cue to go in these days? You wanna die that bad?”

He didn’t answer and that scared her more than any threat.

“You won’t risk them but you’ll tell me you can slip in and out. Do you even hear yourself?”

Another torturous silence before he spoke, more to himself than to her.

“I gotta - the rest of the platoon needs to know - “

“Know what? Know that men are being killed left and right? Know that we’ve lost a quarter of our number in the past two weeks? I am pretty damn sure they’ve noticed that, sir. ”

“Know that they’re covered,” he snapped. “Know that they’re not walking out to be left. Know that there’s a chance…”

“There is no chance, sir. Not for those men. You’ll be dying for nothing, sir, and that won’t do much to help them you leave behind.” God, they needed him, those troops, those kids, that’s what they mostly were now. Needed the indestructible Sergeant Reynolds, needed the myth of the Balls and Bayonets. Needed him not dead or they’d all break and run under the Alliance, which was slowly but surely gaining force to deal an inevitable crushing defeat.

He stood, ignoring her, preparing to move on. She blocked his path.

“You’re not going, sir.”

“Get out of my way, corporal.” He moved to step around her and she pushed him back.

“They’re not there, sir.”

He stared at her for a moment.

“Don’t try that again.”

“Don’t make me.”

He paused and she continued swiftly in the opening he left her.

“Sir, I don’t doubt that you’ve got another miracle or two due you, but this ain’t it, and I will not watch you cross that river.”

“Don’t push me, Zoe, so help me.”

“It’s a lost cause, sir. It’s an irresponsible mission and you’re better than that.”

They stood, jaw to jaw. Wo de ma, she thought, they looked like hell. His face was haggard, eyes hung with bags and shadows but still reflecting a wildness, a desperation that laid out her only recourse. They got past this, he’d be himself again tomorrow. She just had to make sure he saw the sun rise. Whatever it took.

He made to step around her and she landed one on his jaw, staggering him.

He righted himself, incredulous. “Are you gorram crazy?

“Might be, sir.” She felt surprisingly composed. “Surely not the only one.”

He shook his head and tried again to pass her and she hit him again, close-fisted, on the jaw.

“You ain’t gonna go, sir. I am not going back and telling those men you’ve left them, dong ma?

“That so?” he scoffed.

“That’s so.” She maneuvered to block him again, more than ready to field a punch and return it. “Not losing another good man today. Not the way you wanna go.”

He stared at her, panting, fists clenched. Zao gao she wished he’d throw a punch already. He should be like to kill her by now, with his famous Reynolds wrath. That was something she could brace for, instead of this strange pain of his not fighting back. Punch me, she willed him. Fight. But as she waited, his face seemed to cave in on itself, revealing a despair that twisted her gut. He wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t hit her. Damn him.

He made again to step around her, and when she shoved him he tripped her, sending her sprawling. Back on her feet, she dodged in front of him, shoving him away from the water and back under the brush.

“Gorramit, Zoe, let me go.”

He threw out an arm to block her; she grabbed it and twisted, forcing him to spin before she hit him again, gifting him with a bloody nose.


He shook his head furiously and charged at her. She sidestepped him and when he turned, met him with a head butt that put him down.

She dropped beside him, scanning their surroundings to be sure they hadn’t drawn attention.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she addressed his prone form. Gritting her teeth, she hoisted him over her shoulder. Her head hurt. Her hand hurt. Figured she couldn’t be lucky enough to get a sergeant smaller than she was.

“It’s just that they’re dead, sir. They're dead. And you’re not.”

She shifted his weight. It would be a long trip back.


Thursday, February 21, 2008 11:06 AM


Your word choices are so perfect, and your knowledge of the military is so up front and personal. Nobody writes war fics like you do! I loved this fic on LJ, and its memory just adds to its shininess. Yes I could see these characters getting into just this fight with Mal being the stubborn, passionate leader and Zoe the cool headed logician. No wonder Mal doesn't want any complications with new people - he feels their loss too deeply. Wonderful writing! What's next?

Thursday, February 21, 2008 12:57 PM


Terrific, again. I loved the idea of keeping Mal safe just long enough for him to come back to himself.

Thursday, February 21, 2008 10:26 PM


Wow, I could so see something like this if the circumstances were as described. And I can't think of anyone courageous enough to dish out the harsh discipline needed to save Mal from himself in such a situation. Tough love is just scratching the surface of a bond like this. Would love to see another little fic with Mal's reaction when he comes to, hopefully a little more in his right mind. I'm thinking that even feeling sour at her he'd be grateful knowing the why of it. Excellent story, terrific voices that are spot-on. Kudos to you, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, February 21, 2008 10:39 PM


This is bloody fantastic! And even more so knowing that if the situation were reversed Mal would be doing exactly the same thing for Zoe. It's all he has left to hang on to, the belief of his men.

Friday, February 22, 2008 3:52 AM



I love your writing!! I only recently discovered it when you posted another war story earlier this month. You've got serious talent, please keep them coming our way, and thanks for sharing!

Friday, February 22, 2008 3:07 PM


Wonderful work, as always. You have a terrific grasp of Zoe and Mal's voice is dead-on! Great job! :D

Saturday, February 23, 2008 12:37 AM


i'm just another notch on yr handle! ha ha - enjoyed this, add me to the list!

Sunday, February 24, 2008 12:29 PM


Zoe is always there for Mal. Always. Even if he doesn't want her to be. That's one of the things I love about their relationship, and you have demonstrated so well. Zoe's loyalty is not a blindness, and this kind of episode is the kind of thing that allows Mal to trust her so completely. I love these two, and I love these little fics you've been posting. Thank you, again, for sharing.

Monday, March 3, 2008 7:19 AM


I was drawn straight into this fic, it totally hit the mark. The dialogue between Mal and Zoe was spot on - I loved Zoe's comeback:

“Sir, I don’t doubt that you’ve got another miracle or two due you, but this ain’t it, and I will not watch you cross that river.”

Look forward to reading more of your work, Homespun - and more about Mal and Zoe.

Sunday, March 9, 2008 11:46 PM


Wonderful. The only issue I have is Zoe being able to carry Mal when Mal is unconscious and all dead weight. Drag maybe, but carry? nope.

This was great though. Your Zoe and Mal were spot on.

Sunday, March 9, 2008 11:46 PM


Wonderful. The only issue I have is Zoe being able to carry Mal when Mal is unconscious and all dead weight. Drag maybe, but carry? nope.

This was great though. Your Zoe and Mal were spot on.


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