BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

BIGGRSTAFFBUNCH

five stages of grief that zoe washburne never/probably/definitely went through (or, an elegy for a pilot)
Monday, June 11, 2007

maybe kubler-ross got it right after all. five steps zoe took in the days following her greatest loss. [post-bdm, spoilers for the whole entire damn series/movie]


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2377    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Written for the LJ Zoe/Wash ficathon, for the prompt: sex under auspices of tragedy. Sorry for those of you still in wait for Moving in a Non-Linear Fashion and This is Your Brain on Drugs. They're coming! Promise. :) Now enjoy, and feedback is love.

- - -

i. denial

It's been five months since Hoban Washburne died, and Zoe Washburne don't believe in ghosts.

Won't let herself, more like, if she's to be honest. And ever since that harpoon sailed its way through Serenity's window and into Wash's heart, Zoe's tried her best to stay truthsome with her own self. Tried her best to communicate to the crew, to her very reflection, that Wash is dead--and that he ain't coming back. Tried her best not to dwell on how gutted she is, deep and clean and hollow. No use in trying to fill them empty spaces up, 'specially not by hankerin' for a sandy-haired phantom to touch her shoulder when the moments get too hard, or when the job gets too rough. That sort of thing is just too romantical for the likes of her.

"But that's me, sugarlips. Romantical even unto death."

Yes, Zoe's tried to stay on an even keel, but there are things that could rattle even the most unshakeable wills, the most level of heads. Hearin' her lover's voice--even though she put him in the ground herself, dirt hitting the coffin like gunshots against dead flesh--is one of them things.

The voice is sing-songy and dry, and pure Wash. So purely Wash that it's damn hard to ignore. Zoe should know, because she always tries. Her breath catches in her chest, hitching for just a second, before she's taking a drag of air, in and out. Sometimes, just breathing is hard enough to do these days. 'Specially with the dregs of her own darkness coming at her in the most unguarded times, the go se left at the bottom of the coffee cup when all the good's just been drained away.

The shirt she's folding falls out of her hands, puddling to the ground in a bright, soft pile. She blinks down at the flower print, unseeing, till the oranges and whites and blues blend together in a blurry maelstrom of color. Enough to turn a girl's head, if she stares at it long enough, but Zoe can't quite look away. It calls an image to her mind that won't let go, holding her captive in some sort of numb stasis as the air in her bunk grows cool and the voice whispers again.

"Looks like the lakes on Ares, baby. Remember? The sun rising over the water and your eyes glowing like the coin we'd just pocketed."

Their first job as husband and wife. Zoe does remember. She kneels woodenly, reaching for the shirt. Her fingers are trembling, and cold seeps through her skin, smoky and unsubstantial like dry ice, making her shiver as she breathes in the chill.

She ain't so weak as to be fooled by her own gorram mind. She ain't. Worked too hard, lived through too much to let herself dream while she's wakin'.

"You--" Zoe starts to speak, but her voice is less than strong, and she hates herself for it.

"Our honeymoon, Zo. You shot a man in the leg and took his money, and then we went for a swim. Call me crazy, but I think it's a fine life when crime funds some nuptial naughtiness." A gentle pause. "This is the part where you call me crazy, sweetie."

Then comes his laugh, the sound filmy and dry as rice-paper. So close that she stands and whips her head up, looks around the room, blue fury raging through her veins. Blue like his eyes, and a spasm wracks her body-- jerks her around like a damn toy-- as she recalls his smiling gaze, his sweet, familiar face.

Her own face is stiff with the force of keeping expression wiped blank, and she don't need to look in the mirror to know her eyes are flat like the lowest of plains. Every time she remembers Wash now, it's a bullet to the belly, each recollection piercing her skin so that if she ain't careful, she just may heave all her breakfast onto the floor. It makes her hurt, low down in her gut, that her husband's memory is sullied by her own madness. Her own inability to figure out once and for all that he's gone, gone, gone.

She can't think of him and smile, 'cause she's too busy thinkin' of him and seeing him around.

Crazy. Zoe can surely call something crazy in here, and if it ain't the fact that a figment of her imagination has got to manifestin', then she reckons she don't know what crazy really is.

"You ain't him," she says finally, fiercely, to the heavy air of the bunk. "He's dead. Never coming back. Not ever, you hear?" Her voice is low and tight, and her hands form fists as the frustration cramps at her fingers, makes her skin itch with the need for some violence.

Not sure who she's talking to anyhow, the ghost or herself. Or are they one and the same? Zoe shakes her head, her breath coming in shorter, harder draws. She ain't dead yet. No use going around like she is--though that's what comes from talking to thin air. Person's liable to lose pieces of themselves right along with their own damn minds.

"Why won't you just admit I'm here, bao bei?"

A caress, like a tear sliding down her cheek, and then all at once, nothing. Like the airlock opened and oxygen got sucked out, and Zoe reckons this is what it feels like to be a shell, with an ocean of grief rushing through all the empty spaces. The moment hangs suspended, a vortex whorling in her belly, till it's almost like a bomb exploding in the soft cage of her body. She's containment for some core that's been burnt the hell out, and in the privacy of her loneliness, no crewmembers or hallucinations to peer in on her, Zoe gives up. Quietly, unobtrusively, with a little breath as her only announcement, she gives up.

Been so long since she could just be Zoe Washburne, wife, 'stead of Zoe Washburne, widow, warrior woman and first mate. Right now, it's all she can do to kneel back down to the floor and pick up the abandoned shirt, continue with her marital duties of folding her some shirts.

Ignore reality a bit more. And the rest of the time, keep chugging along as best she can. It's all anyone can ask of her, and it's all she can demand of herself.

Her hand grasps the soft, worn material and brings it up to her chest, then her face. There's silence as she breathes in the scent that's no longer there, the one imbedded in her mind so deep that whenever she passes by the engine room or sips some tea, the smell of grease and chamomile thrust her violently back into this place.

This place of mourning, of uncertainty and regret and memory lurking in all the shadows of a bridge that, when she closes her eyes, still glows red.

Zoe sits carefully on the bed where she and her husband once made love, keeps her ears pricked and body still.

And as the minutes wane on, each just another moment that she's living without him, Zoe leans her chin against her hands and tries not to hear his voice in her head.

- - -

ii.anger

Thing is, Zoe don't really think she's going moon-brained. Not exactly. Just that... she's possibly believin' in things that can't be happening.

Things that shouldn't be happening.

She's always known, after all, known at least since she was knee-high to a grasshopper, that there ain't nothing super nor natural about death. People died? They stayed dead. Disease, old age, tragic accidents, war...hell, just plain fate--plenty of ways to go, but only one place to end up in the end.

The ground. Six feet under with nothing more than a headstone marking the grave--if a person's lucky.

Ain't no spiritual belief around that can change the facts or make them more bearable. Ghosts are just a way to make a body feel worse than they already do 'bout death, whether it's giving hope where hope has no place, or pushing another someone into an addle-brained, early grave. Either way, it's all just illusions, and Zoe don't have no use for that sort of trickery.

Only it's different when the person doing the tricking is her dead husband, ain't it?

At first, it's little things. Wash's things where they ought not to be, or the covers rumpled where she ain't been sleeping. In the beginning, she blames the rest of the crew, 'cause who else is there to be messin' with her so gorram bad? Everyone, even the good Doc and sweet lil' Kaylee, falls under Zoe's suspicious eye. For awhile, she takes to sleeping with one eye half open, or snapping at mealtimes, just to see if anyone jumps or looks guilty. It's tense on Serenity, and with every single trinket that ends up moved, or item of clothing that finds its way out of its proper place, the atmosphere grows even thicker.

Don't help none that she's been a walking time-bomb since the minute she left Wash's body in that pilot's seat. Everything seems to make her mad these days, a silent, seething anger that she does her best to keep hidden from the rest. Mal's the only one who can tell, and Zoe figures he must recognize the certain bit of hypocrisy in his tryin' to talk her out of her inner battles. So they do their day-to-day, and Zoe shakes off the crimson burn of righteous, clawing anger whenever she catches a glimpse of something that reminds her of her husband.

Watchin' River, wondering if the girl knew beforehand what would happen. Wondering if what Zoe had to give up was worth what River got to gain back. Wondering if the girl enjoys that tea she's sippin', that game of hoopball she's playing, knowing Wash won't never get to do the same.

Coming onto the bridge, looking at the chair they all patched up nice and new. Hating that sewing up some leather and soldering some metal can fix up Serenity's hurts, but that there ain't nothing in this 'verse that can patch up her own.

Listening to the chatter of the crew, watching them all smile or laugh or fight or worse, fall in love. Thinking that every little minute they're spending lookin' into one another's eyes is another minute they're all forgetting that Wash is dead. Thinking that the burden of remembering all the plans and secrets she and Wash shared...thinking that the burden of all those lost hopes that'll never be realized, it's too much for her shoulders alone.

Yeah, she gets plenty angry these days.

It all comes to a head, though, the afternoon she whales on Jayne something awful, convinced he's been sneaking through her wardrobe and pulling out Wash's things. Somewhere in between shaking the red drawers with the chickens on 'em in Jayne's stupid face and getting her hand all messed up, Zoe finally finds it in herself to wonder what exactly would motivate the people she flies with--her family--to hurt her like she's been supposin'.

Hell, even besides that, what would motivate Jayne to risk certain death just to go lootin' through her husband's underwear drawer?

The answer is nothing, and so she pulls her last punch and spends dinner in her bunk, cradling her bruised and broken hand and ignoring the doc and Mal as they shout their concern from behind her closed door.

She ain't never been unreasonable in her whole damn life, and not that Jayne hadn't been just begging for a fist in his face, but... over this? No. Never over somethin' like this. Her grief is her own, and she ain't got no business making others pay for it.

Next day, she gives Jayne one of her favorite firearms that he'd been coveting, and the apology isn't in so many words, but it's there. From then on, Zoe don't make the mistake of blaming her own crew for her troubles. Now she knows something else less familiar than ordinary pranking is afoot, and even if she ain't quite sure what it is, that don't mean she's gonna stand for it.

Whatever "it" is, anyway.

She wakes up in the morning and there's Wash's favorite pair of boots, lying at the foot of the bed as natural if he'd kicked 'em off after a long, tryin' day the night before. For a moment, the righteous anger burns clear through her, gives her focus even through the frantic, inexplicable blur of tears in her eyes.

"Who the gorram hell--" she begins to bellow, before she remembers the look in Jayne's eyes when she was slammin' her fist in his face. The look that said Think, ya crazy bitch! Think this all through! Never seen Jayne look so 'fraid in his life, and maybe that gives Zoe a little cause to fear herself, too.

So she takes a deep breath, clutches her sheets to her chest, and peers over the edge of the bed at the dirty, unlaced boots.

"Just who am I supposed to yell at now?" she mumbles to herself. And she wants to yell. She wants to scream and rage at the unfairness of it all, wants to grab a gun and shoot a coupla holes in some innocent standerby. Wants to take someone like her own has been taken from her.

Retribution.

Wants to track down an Alliance officer, a fat beauracrat who don't know war from his own left foot. Wants to break his face over her knee, feel the bone crunch and watch his widow cry. Wants to rip apart every Reaver in the 'verse, tear their fool heads off and swing 'em around like a trophy, show them at all angles what happens when man lets go of the civilized and sheds blood for sport.

Wants to let all the burning anger seep out of her pores, watching the steam rise in the air till all the bad feelings are sweated out into some flickering, volatile flame--solid and tangible enough for her to extiniguish, skin melting under the radioactive heat of her mourning.

She wants reprieve from the aching, unending sad, so she turns to the angry.

"Just who am I supposed to yell at now?" she whispers again, her voice tight. "Huh?" The boots sit there on the ground, mocking her. They look all normal and not a bit out of place, even though they've been shut up tight in the closet for going on a month now. Way they're arranged, looks as if Wash is just using the head, like he'll be back in a moment to put 'em on and head out to the bridge. But that ain't gonna happen. That ain't gonna happen, 'cause he ain't--

"'Cause I'm not here, right?"

The voice again, soft and teasing, right down to the gentle sarcasm dripping off every word. Zoe's eyes slam shut and she fights the urge to scream as loud as she can, to rage at the wispy vision she knows is starin' right at her. The bed dips slightly and her eyes open wide at this new development, her head turning quick as lightning.

Her heart stutters to a stop, then begins again at a gallop, racing in a way that makes breath come in stuttery little gasps.

Sitting on her bed, as casual as you please, is her husband. Her dead husband, who must've been pranking her all this time after all, 'cause he's right in front of her and he sure as hell ain't no wispy vision. Her hand reaches out on her own volition, touches skin. Warm skin with light hair and muscles firmly wound underneath. It's familiar skin, down to each little freckle and the birthmark on the inside of his wrist, and when she gets to the square, bitten nails on his strong fingers, fingers that have touched her low and held a gun to defend her and flown a ship like it was a bird in the sky...when she gets to those fingers, that's when she knows that this is really Wash.

The realization shatters her to such tiny pieces, such slivery, dangerous fragments, that she can only stare at her hand on his wrist, till her senses narrow to just the little freckle over the pulse that's beating strong and steady under her thumb. She squeezes, and the action almost hurts her, it must hurt her, 'cause she cries out like she's never been in more pain.

That's when the anger comes. The anger that's eaten at her, eaten at her, eaten at her, till she was all full of holes and cracks and jagged lines. She's a damn wild mess as she beats at Wash's chest, as she grabs his collar and hauls him to her, shaking and whispering without sound and saying no words except "Why?"

The how of it doesn't matter, maybe it never will, but the why...the why will always matter. "Why are you here?" and "Why now?" and ""Why did you leave me?"

His voice as he mutters her name is infinitely tender. Fingers wiping away tears she didn't even realize she was shedding. A port in her storm, he only holds her as she rages, as she punches at his chest and punishes him with bruising kisses, as she clamps her thighs around his waist and wills him with her breath to keep breathing forever, to be real and to never, ever leave again.

And later, eons or seconds or eternities or mere moments later, Zoe's not quite sure any longer, when she is too tired to move and Wash tenderly asks: "Why are you so angry, baby?" all she can do is answer honestly, if a bit brokenly.

"'Cause you're not here," she says, her voice so low she isn't even sure she's spoken. "'Cause you're not really here."

He doesn't say a word, and she spends a long time staring at Wash's profile in the dull morning glow, knowing that sooner or later, all that'll be left is the cold burn of righteous, desperate rage at God and Fate and her husband for making her wish like this.

And an empty bed, 'course.

Always an empty bed.

- - -

iii. bargaining

But he don't leave, funny enough.

When Zoe slips into her clothes and leaves the bunk, determined not to buy into another feng le vision, she goes about her day knowin' that when she gets back to her quarters, it'll be as if no one was ever there. But when she comes down the ladder again, it's after a distracted, monotonous day of ship repair and maintenance, a day fraught with odd looks and sympathetic voices and long silences where she spent her time thinking too hard on what had transpired in her bunk. And so she's in a real bad, jittery mood when she hops off the last rung and pins her eyes on Wash, sitting on her bed just the same as he was when she left.

"You," she begins, 'cause she don't know what else to say, "are beginning to lend to my days a whole heap of trouble." She sounds a mite stupid even to her own ears.

Wash smiles, his face so brilliant it's as if a million suns have come out behind the cloud of her small, dark bunk. "I'm just fulfilling my husbandly promises, dont'cha think, sweetling?" He cocks his head. "Told you the day I married you that our life was gonna be full of mayhem and mischief." He waggles his brow. "Maybe a little bit o' rough and tumble." Off Zoe's mildly murderous look, he holds his hands up high. "Okay, time and a place. I get it, baby."

Despite everything, she's held out that little piece of her all damn day, not wanting to get her hopes up for something that might've been just a waking daydream. But his expression is impish and achingly intimate, exactly Wash in ways even Zoe's vivid memory couldn't replicate this well. He's been sitting here all day, most likely, just waiting patiently for her to recognize him for who he is.

Wash. This is Hoban Washburne, without a considerable doubt. He's really here, really ain't going nowhere, and that's really--

Rutting hell. Scary, is what it is.

'Cause now Zoe's forced to entertain the possibility that maybe she didn't just have the grandaddy of all breakdowns. That maybe her dead husband really is here, and maybe she's been wrong for saying ghosts don't exist.

That maybe she's been wrong for saying there ain't nothing miraculous 'bout God's work after all.

"Couldn't work all day," she comments in quiet wonder, voice even, eyes never leaving Wash's. She steps closer, the air feeling thick and warm. Sweat gathers at the nape of her neck, prickles against her skin, and her gut clenches something awful. She stops in front of Wash, lets his knees bump up against her legs. His eyes are shockingly blue, like the sea after a storm's rolled through, electric and bright as he places a hand on her stomach tenderly, fanning his fingers so they press against her skin. Her own hand goes out to lay flat against his shoulder, to feel the dip of his collarbone from his neck, the way his muscles cord under her touch. The combined heat of his gaze and his skin nearly burns Zoe straight through.

"Thinking of me?" Wash asks, his voice low. He seems eager for the answer, face tight with anticipation. His teeth are clenched slightly, and he's agitated the way he always used to get when he was trying to reign himself in. Zoe traces a trembling finger down the sloping angle of his jaw, lets her thumb glide across his lower lip, before dipping into the sudden, wet heat of his mouth. He kisses her finger, swirls his tongue around the rough pad of her skin, and Zoe draws a breath so sharp, it feels as if all the air's left her body.

"Always," she replies, and it ain't no kind of lie. "Always thinkin' of you, every second of every gorram day." She leans over Wash, feels moisture run down the valley of her breasts, a slow trickle that captures Wash's intent gaze. Her fingers clench against his shoulder, and then her other hand reaches out to tug his head slightly back, fisting in his short, soft hair. His eyes raise to meet hers again, and that electric current zips her once more, frazzles her nerves so that she gasps, almost collapses onto Wash. Her knees fold and give out, and his hands come up to catch her body, and then he's pressed against her, kissing her so hard that she's sure he'll leave her lips bruised.

She closes her eyes and vision gone, every other sense heightens.

She hears the roaring in her ears, the thud-thud-thud-thud of Wash's heart and the tha-thump, tha-thump of her own. Her gasps and his groans are in tandem enough that it sounds like some sort of symphony, the rise and fall of it abiding by a cadence she didn't even realize till now that they've set.

She tastes the clean, sweet heat of Wash's mouth. He always used to taste of protein and tea, gritty and saccharine, and this new taste to him now is foreign enough to give her a bit of a pause. And there's something else, something that is bitter and salt-- sweat and tears, if Zoe's guessin' right. Down and dirty, human as they come...they never were much for the pretty, were they?

She breathes in the earthy, muddy aroma of Serenity, the gunpowder and dust that's so deep in her clothes there ain't ever gonna be a way to get it out, and the cottony, powdery smell of deodarant and linen. It smells like home, and Zoe remembers long afternoons on the bridge, her nose nudging Wash's neck, just inhaling the scent of her husband, her ship, her life. And then the emptiness when he was gone, and how all she could smell for weeks afterwards was the metallic tang of blood.

She feels Wash's fingers like steel bands in her hair, spearing through her curls and clutching her so close it's as if he's afraid to let her go. Her own fingers are hooked through his belt loops and tangled in the nape of his hot, damp neck. His tongue is a rough slick against hers, and his stubble is scratchy on her chin. She scrabbles up on him, pushes him onto the bed and entwines her legs through his, forces his wrists down next to his ears as she licks a line from his pulse (beating strong and steady, ai ya, so grateful) to earlobe, nibbling at the soft, fleshy pink.

She opens her eyes at his whimper and takes in the tremble of his fingers, the hard lines of his forearms, the hooded, deep-water blue of his eyes.

"If we do this, you can't go," she says, striving for a commanding tone, but settling for a mite desperate. "I won't let you go again, if this is gonna happen tonight. You can't give me something like that only to--" her voice gives out and her cheeks heat. Wash is and always will be the only person in the entire 'verse to make her go all emotional and woman-like. Time was when she didn't mind none, but now ain't one of them times at all. Now's one of them times that Zoe wishes she was as bulletproof as the armor she wears on particularly hairy jobs.

She can't handle another break like the one before, is her silent plea. She can't handle crackin' clean down the middle like that again.

Wash's eyes are heavy-lidded, but his smile is sad, curling at the edges in a way that would almost be dark, if this was anyone but her husband, her man, her light at the end of a tunnel that was always so long and wearisome before he came along. "Putting conditions on our marital relations?" he asks mildly. Zoe's fingers snake to his pants, rubbing the erection that's nudging at her thigh. She doesn't say anything in response, but his throaty chuckle is enough to fill the silence. "Ah, Zo." He clamps his eyes shut as she rubs harder, stroking through the material.

"I can't promise you a flipping thing," he says finally. His voice is rough, and maybe the uncharacteristic bitterness in it is what finally breaks the muted tension of the moment, like a wave crashing against the shore.

"I can't promise you I won't leave when we're basking in the afterglow, or that I won't disappear in the middle of giving you orgasmic bliss. I can't promise you I won't vanish two minutes from now, or two hours from now, or two day or two weeks or two years from now. I can't promise you anything because, baby, I don't even know why I'm here! I didn't ask for it, or wish for it, it's not some grand higher purpose or even me watching over you. It's, much like all things in my stupid existence--or non-existence, I guess--pure luck. And you know better than most, Zo, how fast luck runs out up here in space."

Zoe's eyes feel like stones, heavy and sharp around the edges, dry. There's no more tears left in her to cry, even at Wash's harsh, unfamiliar tone, even at what he's admitting. The uncertainty of it, the fact that it could be--probably will be--taken away any second now.

His hands come up to cradle her jaw, his fingers cupping her neck and his palm a smooth, soft pillow against her pulse. "All I do know," he starts, voice unspeakably yearning, "is that when I'm with you, even though I didn't ask for it, I want to stay on this ship more than anything I've ever known, this 'verse or the next."

Zoe's fingers, stilled by his admission, resumes stroking his erection in the aftermath of silence. She kisses his neck, licks at the tang of his skin. He groans. "Zoe, dearheart, the art of rendering women speechless is, of course, one of my most excellent and cunning skills, but are you listening? I'm telling you that you're the only thing keeping me bound to the earth. You're the only reason I--"

"I ain't going nowhere," she interrupts, and a fierce glow seems to envelop them as she rises and crawls over Wash so that her body settles fully against him. She cradles his erection between her thighs, rubs her apex against his hardness and bites her lip at the friction. "I ain't going nowhere, and so's I figure it, neither are you."

She unzips his pants then, and they undress in frantic, rustling darkness. Neither of them bothers to voice the opinion that things don't quite work like that, because out in the black, laws are made to be broken. Even so, Zoe casts a silent prayer to whoever's listening, and it's the first time she's done so since that battle on Hera.

"Do this, Lord, keep him here, and I won't never take him for granted again. We'll surely do that beach on Ares, that lake on Ariel, that amusement park on Osiris. We'll have us a child and a true home and I won't never make him wonder what it is I'm thinking. I'll tell him, I'll talk to him every single day this time, kiss him goodnight every gorram night, do all them wifely things--hell, I'll even make him soup more. Just, Lord. Please, keep him here with me now."

God's served Zoe by His own whims since she last prayed, but she can only hope that she drives as hard a bargain now as she ever has.

It occurs to her that this is unnatural, that the way of it, begging and pleading for a dead man to remain on this plane of existence, that it ain't right at all. It occurs to her, but it don't seem to matter none. Not anymore. 'Cause Wash and all he is to her, it's the only thing she's ever thought is worth begging to keep. Anything less and she'd never let her lips form the words, but for him--for this--

She'll say all the "Dear Lord's" she's got to.

- - -

iv. depression

Sex has never been like this before. Not for Zoe Alleyne, and certainly never for Zoe Washburne. It's been rollicking and hard, sweaty and slow, covert in the dark, brazen out in the open. It's been a spectrum of things, from scarily dull to mighty pleasant to knock-her-boots-off-good.

But it's never been so...

Longing. So aching and careful, like a bruise being coaxed to come into color, dark around the edges and tender in the middle.

Wash's lips are chilled against hers and for a moment, Zoe's thrown back to the moment she stepped foot on the bridge once the battle with the Reavers was over. How cold everything was, and empty. Her fingers clutch at Wash's arms as she remembers the stench of burnt metal and felt the crunch of broken glass beneath her feet. The press of Wash's chest, sticky with sweat, is similar but different to the press of her palm against his middle--back then, sticky with blood. She gasps in Wash's mouth, lets her thumb press into his bicep, feels the muscle twitch in response.

"Pulled that harpoon right outta you," she gasps, and Wash folds his arms even tighter around her, whispers soothing nonsense in her ear. "Got a real good hold on the thing, wouldn't even let Cap'n help. Had to do it myself. Heard your damn ribs break, felt the give in your body. Wife should never have to bury her husband. Should never make 'em bleed..."

Her voice trails off and she kisses him again, tastes him as wholly as she can, tongue sliding against his. He tastes like the rain, clean and cool and moist. His hands trail up and down the curve and dip of her back, fanning at her shoulder blades like wings. Like she's some sort of angel, though she knows that's the farthest thing from what she is.

She's got so much guilt, buried under all the tumult, and the sound of his bones snapping flutters against her ears like buttefly kisses.

"I'm right here, Zo," Wash's voice is the steel anchor buried in the sand and silt, keeping her adrift among the waves. "I'm right here and whole and you haven't broken me." His erection pulses between Zoe's thighs, and she slides against his body, feels the jump in his nethers. "I understand what you had to do, sweetheart."

"How can you?" she asks, voice low. "We left you there." She reaches down, strokes his dick. It's hot, and lengthens in her hand, and she's relieved that one part of Wash doesn't remind her of death, at least.

"Had to. Had to go, had to fight. Hold the line." Wash cups Zoe's breasts, his thumbs running over her nipples. She sucks in a breath and tilts her body to give him better access. He ducks his head, and then he's swirling his tongue around each tip, teeth grazing her skin. Zoe feels something like thunder hammer down her spine, and tendrils of electricity tickle each nerve as her body parts tighten in response to Wash's wet, hot mouth.

"We--we saved River." Zoe tosses her head in blind need, something rising within her, something overpowering and pleading, begging for release. "Saved River, but couldn't save you." Her toes dig into the sheets and her knees knock against Wash's hips, a silent request.

He gets it, 'course. Always has.

Wash's mouth trails down from her breasts, leaving a warm breath path across her torso and stomach. He rests above her center, cheek resting on her thigh. "You done good," he reminds her. "And I didn't need saving so much once my heart stopped beating." His fingers lace through hers, pressing her wrists against the edge of the bed, and Zoe's spread-eagled now, at the mercy of her husband.

When has she ever not been at the mercy of this man? Can be as high-handed and "independent woman" as she wants, but there's never been a time since she first laid eyes on that nan kan moustache of his that her heart, her actions, her hopes haven't been, in her secret soul, dictated by Wash.

"Wash," she breathes. "Come on."

Don't mean she's gonna start begging, though.

"Coming will commence, my tasty little berry." Wash's lips flutter against her inner thigh. Zoe's stomach muscles contract. "I'll show you a little of what you missed."

His mouth ghosts over her center, breath tickling her skin.

Zoe's fingers convulse around Wash's. The edge of the bed bites into Zoe's wrists as Wash exerts a subtle pressure. Then his tongue slicks a perfect, heated line down her folds, from top to bottom, his nose nudging at her clit in a way that makes her jump.

"Missed you," she pants, "That's what I missed." Wash's lips spread into a small smirk as he continues licking, friction generating heat in her core, so hot it's like a pot of tea set to boil. The arousal bubbles in the pit of her stomach as she wriggles and tosses her head. The pressure begins in the small of her back and her heels, and she clasps Wash's hands, making inarticulate sounds in the back of her throat.

He releases her hands when she starts reaching beyond his grip, and gets his fingers in on the act. Zoe's hands reach up to grab at the pillows propped against the head of the bed. Her fingers squeeze as she gasps, moans, groans in tandem with each stroke Wash's thumb takes against her clit. He rubs and rubs and rubs till there's a firestorm crackling in the tips of her toes and the pads of her fingers. His tongue is making her belly flutter and jump, and as the shaky pleasure cements into something rubberband-tight, her voice keens a little higher.

She almost sobs when the rubberband finally snaps with one roll of Wash's tongue, and in the sparking aftermath, she's dimly aware of the sight of Wash's mouth, glistening with moisture, inching towards her own. Then she's kissing him, tasting herself on his lips, sucking at his lips, his tongue. His skin is slippery and sweaty, finally warm, and the blush is tinting his collarbone an appealing red.

Zoe leans in and nips at Wash's neck, biting and then laving the flesh. He moans quietly in appreciation.

"Still raring to go?" he asks, amused. "Not too tired? Don't have to, oh, I don't know, wash your hair?"

In answer, Zoe pushes Wash against the bed, positions reversed. And then her hands trap Wash's wrists against the bed, and her head ducks, and she gets to work.

He tastes the same. His skin is still hot and velvety, like melting butter in the sun. And the feel of him, heavy against her tongue, has her in her element.

Guns or men--she knows how to work 'em both, as Wash always used to say.

She reaches down to cup his balls, savoring the fullness and the sounds of his gasps. Soundtrack that's haunted her dreams all these months, but for once, the feeling in her gut ain't haunting, or painful. Now, that feeling is powerful pleasure and gratitude for the moment, and everything that only Wash has ever made her feel.

His balls tighten in her hand, and she hushes his gasps, crawling up his body, taking ahold of his shoulders, and slipping him in.

Home. Complete. Everything that only Wash has ever made her feel.

Zoe throws her head back, her curls skimming her shoulder blades, as hers hands press over the hollows beneath Wash's ribs. She rolls and sways her hips, and Wash thrusts, stroking in and out till the white-hot halo lights behind his head and then a supernova of sensation rumbles through her.

"Wash," she gasps. "God, yes." She will always remember the sight of him, ethereal and pale in the dull glow of the bunk, his lips curved in a reckless smile and his eyes wide and bursting with some nameless emotion. She won't never forget that sight.

She comes, slumping slightly over him, feeling his heart race under her hand. Her hips keep moving, and he opens his mouth to speak and then--

He's gone.

Flickering in and out, then her hand goes through his chest. For one moment, she's horrified, remembering the sight of something else going through his chest, and her inability to help--to change it--to bring him back.

She sits like that, naked and vulnerable and suddenly chilled, crouched over the spot where her husband was not two seconds ago. And though he warned her, though she knew the risks, it's still too much. Too much to actually see him go.

Ain't that always the case? Zoe breathes in and out, in and out. Tries to process losing Wash once again. Knows he'll be back, knows he has to be back. He can't leave her alone like this again.

She spends the night with her knees tucked under her chin, tears she hasn't cried in five months just dripping down her cheeks. The next morning, Wash is back, staring at her in her reflection in the mirror. They make love that night. And the next, and then the week after, when he disappears and comes back then disappears and comes back.

He always comes back after leaving, these days. Small comforts.

Zoe still cries, though. Can't seem to stop. Doesn't know if she'll ever stop.

- - -

v. acceptance

It's been seven months since Hoban Washburne died, and Zoe Washburne still don't believe in ghosts.

Ain't no such thing as unfinished business, way she figures it. Just moments that could've been, if life followed the path everyone figures is pre-set. Zoe knows now that there ain't no such thing as pre-set paths, either. If there was, she'd likely be smouldering underground on a dead planet as a result of a universal war. Or maybe shot clean through the heart on a botched job in some dusty little village. Possibly even traversing the black as nothing more than a space-mad cannibal, ripping hearts out with her teeth.

'Cause there's been plenty of times Zoe shoulda died, or been made less than what she is, and it's only ever been quick thinkin' and the love of those around her that's saved her hide. Ain't nothing pre-set about lightning-fast reflexes or Malcolm Reynolds seeing a dirty military brat and takin' her under his wing all those years ago, she thinks, and that's her opinion on that.

Humans build relationships and persevere over their odds through sheer strength of will and hard work. No Fate to put 'em in the right place at the right time, just luck so's that they're smart enough to recognize it.

So no, Zoe don't believe in ghosts.

She believes in Wash, and the power of their union. Believes in the strength behind the words they said in a hurried ceremony on an empty rock somewhere on the edge of the galaxy. Believes in the bond they forged through tenacity and determination and, as Wash had put it, "really, really, intensely sexual attraction."

Believes in the laughter he gave her, and the tears he dried, and the past he never told to anyone but her.

She believes that when a body loves another body, the only real sort of barrier that death provides is physical. So maybe she ain't got him in front of her every minute of the day. Maybe that aches something powerful. But maybe she don't need to touch Wash to know he's there.

She understands it a little better, these days: Maybe Wash is a figment of her imagination now, after all. And maybe that ain't such a bad, or moon-brained thing.

"Or maybe you're just getting used to the idea of me as the Amazing Imaginary Friend," a voice gripes. Zoe cracks open an eye, the sounds outside and above telling her that the morning's just begun.

"Never had an imaginary friend before," Zoe acknowledges, stretching. Her voice is almost teasing. "You'd be my first."

"Baby, I have it on good authority that I'd be the first for a lot of things when it comes to you," Wash says, leering. He scoots close, playing with a curl. "I pity the plain vanilla fools who subjected your glorious body to standard missionary all those years before me. What was your life before the Backwards Wheelbarrow? Or the Riding Cowboy?"

"Less limber," Zoe responds dryly. "And don't whine, husband. Day you can fully explain to me what this is?" She picks up his hand and presses a warm, moist kiss to the center of his palm. "Is the day you go from imaginary to modern-day miracle."

Wash's eyes are curious. "Might never happen, you know," he says. "Might go forever like this, all corporeal in the confines of our bunk, and a whole lotta figment-y once you step out into the real world. Who's to say this is even happening, right, honey-tongue? You could just be going bug-crazy and not even know it."

Zoe nods thoughtfully. "Possible. But then again..." she swings a leg over Wash's hip, tugging him close. "Don't matter if this is really real to anyone else but you and me, now does it?"

Wash answers her with a kiss and a playful swat on the bum. And then Zoe is up and out of bed, just like those days when she knew Wash would follow. This time, though, as soon as she steps to the mirror, folding out the head so as to take a morning leak and then clean up, the air in her bunk dissipates slightly, and she don't need to look to know that Wash is gone.

That's the thing, that's the rub--

Wash is gone.

He's dead. Zoe pried his body from that harpoon, and then that black, bloody seat all by her lonesome. She picked out his favorite flight-suit for him to buried in. She wrote him a message that got tied to a rocket sprung into outer space. She wore a slinky dress to the goodbye. Despite whatever has gone on in these past several weeks, Zoe knows now without a shadow of doubt that Wash is dead.

Just the part of whether or not a person can come back from the dead, or at least their spirit, that was givin' her trouble.

She knows now that the spirit and the body ain't really two separate things, not when each thing is ruttin' useless without the other. Knows that even as she felt him fill her up and burn her to cinders that first night he appeared to her, it wasn't the whole Wash--not the man she married. 'Cause the man she married, his real and true body is nothing but a brittle bunch of bones under drifts of earth and a grave of stone.

But it don't hurt her anymore, that realization, not really. 'Cause she keeps the best part of Wash, his soul and everything he was to her, inside. Locked up tight where no Reaver or God can get to it. So even if his body ain't paying her late-night visits, whenever she wishes it, she can pull out a piece of Wash that no one else got. Keep it for herself.

Only time in her life she'd admit to any sort of greed.

In the end, she's pretty sure that she was the one moving Wash's things around without even realizing it. Blacked out on her cocktail of grief and fury and pain, pulling shirts to the floor and boxers from the dresser and boots from the closet. Waking up and desperate to believe it was someone who's been long gone for awhile now. Sort of impressed with what her brain can come up with, how real everything is. Sort of frightened of it, too, and maybe a little disgusted with herself.

But in the end, she's also a mite glad of it.

Sure, she has to concentrate awful hard in order to skim her hand down any length of Wash. And sure, there ain't no possible way she can do that anyplace but in the privacy of her own bunk. But missing Wash like she did, missing him every day without reprieve, missing even just the smallest indication that he was there, Zoe's learned to appreciate the small stuff. Moments like this that she creates for herself, and the belief that maybe, just maybe, there's a chance that one day she'll see him again.

The little things she can appreciate in the face of the big, immutable truths.

"Watch who you're calling little, minx."

Zoe closes her eyes, letting the voice echo through the spaces in her, the holes that haven't been quite filled, but--

She smiles. Puts one foot in front of the other. Goes on with her day, knowing her nights are gonna be a little less empty than they were.

"She's tore aplenty, but she'll fly true."

And she will. Just needs a pilot to steer her right.

- - -

finis

COMMENTS

Monday, June 11, 2007 6:53 PM

MAGHAFFAR


Very GOOD! World-class talent, yah got there. You are definitely on the A-list of my FanFic writers for this site. Xie xie.

Monday, June 11, 2007 9:50 PM

AMDOBELL


I love how you have Zoe go through the different emotional states and I can so see Wash trying to come back in some way to show Zoe she isn't along and that he will always love her. Powerful and affecting because we all love Wash and still miss him. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, June 11, 2007 11:20 PM

JANE0904


Wow.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 10:50 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Utterly brilliance wrapped in a blanket of superb awesomeness, biggrstaffbunch! This is so great it could have been an episode post-Miranda had the series gone on long enough;D

BEB


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