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Death and Taxes

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1.

Friday turned down another hallway, comparing the numbers on the doors with the index card in his hand. His duffel bag was slung across his body and his lacrosse stick banged against every doorway in the narrow corridor. He thought they should take it easier on freshmen with these room assignments, because this was torture and he didn't know anyone.

The numbers didn't seem to be in any order, and while the building wasn't huge, the layout was labyrinthine. His index card said, "Dansel Hall, 226." He had already checked the second floor and was now on the third. All the numbers he had seen on this floor were two digits.

He reached the stairwell again and nearly ran into a sandy-haired kid carrying a laundry basket-full of computer crap.

"Hi," said the kid, stopping and walking back down a step to stand in front of Friday.

Friday figured he was probably an RA, or else just weirdly friendly, so he held up his card. "You must help me," he said. "I believe this place is driving me mad."

The boy laughed and peered at the proffered card. Then he blushed, or maybe his heavy-looking basket was just getting to him.

"Oh," he said, still smiling, "That's my room! You must be--" he stopped short. "Er, sorry, it was on the door. Is it... erm... Nn... Nnnya--"

Friday laughed. "No, already it is not that. But you can call me Friday."

"Friday." The boy let out a breath. "Are you sure?"

Friday nodded. "Everyone calls me that."

"Oh, and I'm Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe." He looked around for a moment, set down his basket, wiped his hand on his jeans, and offered it to Friday.

"It's nice to meet you," Friday told him as they shook hands. Then Crusoe picked up his basket and resumed his climbing.

"We're on the fifth floor," he called over his shoulder. "This building is nonsense. I built a treehouse with a more thoughtful floorplan. Here we are." Crusoe kicked the door open and set his basket on one of the beds.

Friday set his bag down too, and put his hand on Crusoe's shoulder. "Brother, you saved my life today," he told Crusoe. "I would have wandered these halls forever."

Crusoe snorted and shrugged. It was a little charming.

"Now," said Friday, "Do you want to give me a tour?"

*

They end up taking the same section of Chem 101, and also the same Milton class in the English department, and while they're playing badminton together one day, Friday convinces Crusoe to try out for the lacrosse team with him.

One of the other guys at try-outs says to Friday, "And you guys are roommates? Don't you get sick of each other?"

"Of course not," he says, and frowns. "I cannot even imagine."

 

2.

Dr. Weir tells the scientists they can explore the city, but instructs them not to turn anything on, open any doors that don't open automatically, or go anywhere without a military escort.

Friday ends up following Crusoe around with his gun out while Crusoe rambles on excitedly about water pressure and other stuff Friday doesn't bother listening to. He doubts he'll be quizzed on this later.

"And that could function as a ballast. If the--"

"That sounds fascinating, Dr. Crusoe," says Friday. "Will that help us out of our current situation?"

"Probably not," Crusoe admits, "But I'd like to bring it up with Dr. Markel if... well." He gestures vaguely. Friday stares at him. If they don't die, he assumes.

Dr. Crusoe had introduced himself to Friday earlier that day in the gateroom in Colorado, and had spent most of their acquaintance trying to talk about science to Friday, while Friday had spent most of their acquaintance scowling and saying sarcastic things.

Crusoe, practically skipping, leads them down another dark passageway and goes back to pointing his flashlight at everything.

"I know our situation isn't ideal, but this is all very exciting," says Crusoe.

"We are under one hundred miles of water--" Friday raises his voice over Crusoe attempting to correct him, "--with an invisible shield that's quickly losing power. Yes, 'not ideal' just about covers it."

"But still, exciting. You can't deny it." Crusoe turns back and smiles at him, open and happy, and his excitement must be wearing Friday down, because he can't seem to muster up another scowl. He pushes past Crusoe to avoid looking at him and points his own flashlight here and there.

"You know, Dr. Crusoe, when I signed onto the Atlantis Expedition, I knew it was likely to be a one-way trip. But this way is shaping up to be a bit oner than I expected."

Crusoe surprises him by laughing brightly, and Friday, glancing up at Crusoe covertly, catches Crusoe glancing up at him covertly. They both suddenly find the walls very interesting.

"Dunno," Friday hears Crusoe say quietly, "I think it's been alright so far."

When they face each other again, Friday has his hard game face back on, but his heart isn't in it.

And when Crusoe's wing of the city floods months later, it just seems practical for him to bunk with Friday.

 

3.

There was a young boy called Robinson who happened to find himself alone in the world at the very tender age of only 10.

He was very fortunate to be adopted by a handsome man by the name of Blackthorn, but considerably less fortunate that, after several months of living together comfortably, Mr. Blackthorn realized that his motive for taking Robin in--this being a modestly ambitious plan that hinged on several levels of deception, forgery, coincidence, and eventually securing custody of Robin's children--was really not a workable investment during a recession.

Deciding thus that his hobby was impractical, Blackthorn further perceived that leaving young Robinson in the woods to die was a quite good idea.

He had his neighbor round for tea one evening and bounced the idea off him.

"Do you think that would do the job?" asked Blackthorn.

"I do. In fact, times are tough; would you take my son as well? I cannot afford a lot of food, and what I do try to feed him, he has no interest in. There is no way they will be able to survive in the wilderness, miles from civilization."

Blackthorn agreed, and resolved to take Robinson and Friday into the woods the very next day. Robinson overheard this plotting, though, so he snuck out during the night and gathered some pebbles, so that he could leave a trail and not be lost in the woods.

It was a good idea, but long story short, it didn't work out. and the children were left to fend for themselves.

The woods were thick and dark and full of scary noises. As the reality of their quandary set in, Robinson and Friday began to feel frightened and alone, although each boy was very grateful for the presence of the other. Over the course of some days they spent wandering in the forest, they foraged for berries and nuts and other edible bits together, but it was hardly enough sustenance and they grew very hungry. At night they would build a little bed out of fallen leaves and hide in the roots of a large tree, huddling together for warmth.

One afternoon, just as they were becoming rather pessimistic about the prospects of ever making it home, the children happened upon a clearing. Weary and dazed with hunger, the boys could hardly believe their eyes when they saw a cottage made entirely of candy in the middle of the clearing.

The pair approached the cottage cautiously, reluctant to believe such a marvelous building could exist. As soon as they reached it, Friday stretched out a cautious hand to break off a sweet morsel of marzipan from the front door. He bit off a shred tentatively, and tasted the most wonderful delicacy he had ever eaten. Robinson saw the delight on Friday's face and both boys tore into the building, ripping off whatever sugary pieces they could lay hands on and stuffing their cheeks. They were so intent on their feast that they didn't notice the old woman opening the door and approaching until she was just behind them.

"Hello, dears," she murmured in their ears. The boys jumped guiltily looking around at her, but the old woman smiled very kindly.

"I am sorry for eating your house--" Friday began, but the woman shook her head and raised a hand to quiet him.

"Don't concern yourself, I am always making repairs. You look tired and travel-worn. It's almost evening. Would you like to sleep in a soft bed for the night?" Wordlessly, Robinson and Friday consulted with each other about the notion of accepting this offer. Ultimately the relief of having somewhere other than a bed full of twigs and beetles won out and they agreed to accept her offer. The old woman cooked them a very large delicious dinner and urged them to finish every bite. The boys didn't need much encouragement, still famished as they were from their days of wandering the forest.

The next morning, the youths awoke not in the nice little beds the old woman had made up for them, but tied up in a large iron cage. The old woman was cackling over a roaring fire in her oven. Friday and Crusoe each tried to fiddle with the ropes that bound them, but neither was able to finagle the knots open and enable their escape. The woman, who had been bustling around the kitchen, feeding the fire and preparing vegetables for her large stewpot, finally noticed that they were awake.

"You, boys! Stick your fingers out of the cage so I can feel which of you is plumper. I want a nice fat little child for my dinner." Robinson recoiled with horror, while Friday kind of rolled his eyes as if to say "this again." The witch was very old and her eyesight was not very good, so Robinson searched around the floor of the cage to find something thin to offer instead of their fingers. He found a single long bone, and offered it to Friday, but Friday refused.

"You are bigger, perhaps she will find both of us lacking." Friday whispered, and stuck his finger through the slats of the cave. Robinson. finding no other option, had no choice but to stick out the bone.

The witch probed each of the arms, frowning. "This will have to do," she said, with a grip on Friday’s wrist. Robinson's heart dropped. There was no way he could watch his companion be thrown into a stewpot. The witch fumbled with a large ornate key in the padlock, turning it until it made a scraping click and the arm of the lock released. Then, with surprising strength, she removed young Friday from the cage and carried him over to the dining room table, setting him next to the pile of potatoes and carrots. Poor Robinson's heart skipped a beat or two and he redoubled his earlier efforts to free himself from the ropes. He placed his wrists over the sharp metal edge of the cage where the gate had been opened and began frantically sawing back and forth in order to free himself.

All the while, the witch was bustling around making further preparations for the Friday stew. She chopped a few onions and dropped them into the pot, wiping her tears a little. Just as Robinson had sawed through to the very last threads of the rope, the witch opened the door of the oven to add some more wood to the already excessive fire. Robinson leaped out of the cage and pushed the old witch into the oven, slamming the door shut behind her and placing the bar over the door to keep it closed. Ignoring her anguished screams, he ran to Friday on the table and freed him from his ropes. Friday leapt up and although Crusoe was telling him there was no time for his grateful embrace, he did it anyway.

 

4.

"Thank you, again, for this opportunity."

If the new guy thanked Rick again, it wouldn't be pretty, Crusoe could tell. He could see Rick's jaw twitch from across the kitchen.

"Friday, that is Crusoe, my head chef. He's the best in the business." Rick came over and clapped Crusoe on the shoulder. "Crusoe, this is Friday. I've brought him on as our sommelier."

"A sommelier," said Crusoe, looking the new hire up and down. "Fancy."

"Yeah, we're gonna put this place on the map, Crusoe," said Rick. "Okay, I'll leave you two to talk about the menu for a while." He walked back toward his office.

"Well, I have read your menu, and your wine list," Friday waved them in the air to demonstrate, "and I have some ideas we should discuss."

"Do you really?" Crusoe asked mockingly. "Not two minutes in my kitchen and you are ready to tell me what I should be serving?"

"Don't think of it like that, Crusoe. We need to work together." Friday stepped close into Crusoe's personal space. Crusoe felt suddenly hot, but raised his chin defiantly. "If we want to take your menu to the next level, we need to act as one person. Each dish will be complimented by a wine. Every flavor, every nuance of your food will have a partner.  Crusoe, we will not merely be selling more wine, we will be creating something beautiful. We will complete each other."

Friday was only inches from Crusoe's face now, and by sheer proximity to Friday's passion, Crusoe was working so hard to control his breathing, he couldn't even work out whether he was still being insulted. He cleared his throat.

"Right. Well let's get started then."

 

 

5.

"So, we meet again."

Crusoe managed to stop himself from looking at the speaker, but only just. He didn't need visual confirmation to know who it was and, not that he minded looking at this particular someone, but Crusoe was undercover, and the less he gave away, the better. Instead, he held his empty champagne glass in the direction of the voice and murmured a distracted-sounding "thank you."

He could practically hear Friday suppressing the urge to roll his eyes.

"I know you do not think I am a waiter."

Crusoe did look over then, schooling his features into a look of mild surprise. It wouldn't fool Friday for a second, but this was all part of their game. "Ah," he said mildly, taking in Friday's nametag and admiring not for the first time what a well-tailored suit jacket did to his shoulders. It's a somewhat stuffy Embassy party, the sort of event that calls for nametags. "Monsieur Bonhomme," he read. "Yes, very good to see you again. I didn't know you were in the acquaintance of the Ambassador."

"We know each other quite well," Friday replied smoothly. "We share a common interest in rare tropical fish." Friday raised his eyebrows and smiled. Crusoe could feel himself smiling back without meaning to. He made a mental note of it but didn't bother to tamp it down as he processed what Friday was telling him.

"Really? So, aquariums and all that?" he asked, sounding uninterested. The most recent intelligence report he had read did mention that Chichlid was a code name for a uranium shipment that was moving soon. MI-6 had picked up some radio chatter about it, but it wasn't part of Crusoe's mission. He didn't even know the Ambassador was involved. The agency probably didn't either, or it would have been in his pre-mission briefing at the very least.

"Yes, we love to spend a Saturday afternoon at the aquarium, taking in the shows. The Ambassador loves the shark show." Friday answered baldly, Crusoe was sure if anyone was listening to their conversation right now, both of their covers would have been blown.

"That sounds like a lovely Saturday. I hear the aquarium gives a senior discount on Saturday." This wasn't code for anything; Crusoe was well acquainted with the details of the local aquarium's admission fees, although this was the first time he had used them to maintain his cover, rather than to go see the penguins. It threw Friday off a little, he just smiled awkwardly and finally took the champagne glass. His thumb brushed against Crusoe's before he disappeared into the crowd. Crusoe stared after him and sighed. 

*

Later, they kissed messily against an office door on the second floor, mouths sliding wetly against each other, hands everywhere.

The guard tapped Crusoe on the shoulder. "You two can't be up here," he said.

Crusoe turned around half-way and focused his eyes on the guard with apparent difficulty.

"We aren't doing anything wrong," Crusoe slurred out in about six long syllables. Friday hadn't moved, still leaning heavily against the door, looking dazed.

"I'm going to have to escort you back downstairs," the guard said, sounding both amused and apologetic. Crusoe didn't want to hit him, and hesitated. In this pause, Friday made a tiny movement, and the guard dropped. Friday shook a small spray bottle for Crusoe to see before he tucked it away in some pocket.

"Very good," Crusoe commended. "Now, Friday, where were we?"

Friday raised one eyebrow.

"Ah yes," said Crusoe, crowding in against Friday again, pressing them together from hip to knee, "I believe you were about to tell me about this uranium shipment next week. Or was it this week?"

Friday grinned. "No, I believe we were about to part ways and pretend we had not seen one another."

Crusoe found this a bit cheeky, and he narrowed his eyes at Friday before turning and walking silently toward the back stairwell.

*

Later still, when they were tied up, dangling from a broken window by two stretches of climbing rope, Crusoe decided it was a pretty good time to talk again.

"Well, this has been quite an evening," he noted, shouting over the sort of ambient noise that was always inexplicably loud nine stories above a busy city. "I hope you don't mind me begging off shortly. Thanks for the loan of the rope. I would be happy to mail it back to you if you'll tell me which government to send it to."

Friday did roll his eyes then, and kicked at Crusoe's feet. "Cut my rope for me," was all he said. After an unfortunate run-in with some goons, they had one hand free between the two of them, and it was Crusoe's.

"You're not one of the bad guys, are you?" Crusoe asked. He wondered what the taxpayers would say if they heard him asking questions like a toddler after his tens of thousands of pounds in training, but he had long known that his slick bravado didn't work quite right around Friday. Crusoe managed to release his back-up knife from the sole of his shoe. "Are you sure about this? I can't untie you from here, but I can climb up and pull you in. Only it does seem a bit silly to drop you a hundred feet with your hands still tied."

Friday considered his options. He looked down, and then up, and then for some reason behind himself. "Yes, I am sure. It will be fine." Crusoe didn't know Friday's plan, but had seen him get out of much hairier situations.

"At least tell me your real name, Friday," Crusoe said, his blade to Friday's rope.

"Perhaps," said Friday evenly. "If you'll tell me yours."

They stared at each other for a long moment.

"Well then," Friday concluded, "I shall see you at the aquarium on Saturday, Mr. Bond."

Crusoe smiled and cut the rope.

 

1.

The days on the island, which tend to seem long and hot at the best of times, grow even longer and hotter as Friday's first summer on Crusoe's island approaches.

They grow into each other during this time, becoming familiar with each other's movements, figuring out how to move in perfect tandem on a hunt, teaching each other about their respective languages, histories, cultures.

Crusoe learns that Friday is smarter than any Englishman he's ever met. Friday learns that Crusoe throws his head back and laughs with his whole body when Friday tells a particularly subtle joke.

Friday learns how Crusoe's gaze is slower to leave him in the heat, and Crusoe learns what Friday's smile looks like on a clear night when the moon isn't out.