DISCLAIMER: I do not own Firefly/Serenity, I only had a brainwave from those last few seconds of the movie ;)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Several weeks passed and everything returned to normal. Everyone went about their business as usual, working hard to keep going. Keep flying. All of them moved ahead, without Wash. They grieved for him, cried over him. They gave him a place in their hearts and they moved on. All of them did.
All of them but me.
Wash had been my husband. He'd been my best friend, my companion, the one that got away with murder. He changed me, strengthened me, moulded me into someone I loved. He was my buddy, my soul mate, my saviour. He took me in when my world was falling down.
After the war I just moved on. Mal bought Serenity and we flew. I was so numb back then. Numb from the war, from all those deaths, from the defeat. I hated Wash. I hated him for not fighting with us, for not choosing sides, not even now the war was over. It took him ages to break through my shell but when he did I knew I'd be forever his. I know Mal had a hard time understanding why I'd go for a man like that but that was exactly the reason. He wasn't my type and that was exactly what I needed.
In those weeks after his death I didn't know what to think. I felt myself coming full circle. When I saw him sitting there, that moment when I first realized he was dead it broke me and I felt the numbness return that had haunted me after the war, before I knew Wash. The daze wore off fast. The moment I felt that blade strike my back and the fiery pain blazed, I knew full well that he was dead and I fought for my own life from that moment on, just as I had done if this was still the war.
It were the weeks after that. The weeks in which Simon and Kaylee announced their engagement and in which Mal taught River how to fly my man's ship. Inara left soon, Mal still missing the nerve to tell her how he felt. Part of me was glad about it. I couldn't have handled another couple. Not with River sitting where Wash used to sit. It had taken River weeks of effort to show Mal she could do the job. When Mal had eventually agreed, she was added to the payroll fast. With Wash gone, there was an available position after all.
I hated the little girl. Part of me was happy for her, she was getting better. She was still one of the weirdest people I had ever met, but she was more lucid, more there. Not as unpredictable. Still, she had taken Wash's position and I couldn't cope. I projected every bit of pain and anger on her.
That first night, three months after Wash's death, she was lucky I didn't blow her brains out. I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wishing that I could cry, could let it out. Three months had past and not a single tear had left my eyes. I couldn't let him go, couldn't grieve. I also wished I could sleep because I hadn't been able to get any sleep last night, nor the night before and it was beginning to interfere with my work. I was slipping, losing it and I knew it.
I must have fallen asleep eventually because when I woke up, an arm was wrapped around my waist and soft lips were brushing my shoulder. For a second I thought it had all been a dream, that Wash wasn't dead because that was exactly how Wash would wake me. He'd pull me to him and graze my shoulder and then he would whisper in my ear
"Good morning sunshine." River's voice sounded in my ear at the same time Wash said it in my head and I jerked around fast. Big, deep, brown eyes stared at me, revealing nothing. I kicked her out of the room faster than I could draw my weapon. It probably saved her life.
Two more nights past this way. I had no idea when she came to my room but she would always wake me up like Wash would have done, lying on his place in my bed. All three mornings I kicked her out. The third time, however, I couldn't just kick her out, shower, dress and ignore her. Something was rapidly breaking in me, my anger was reaching a point at which I would either let it out and punch her lights out or I would explode.
Seething and confused I sat down on the bed, gun in hand and for a second I thought about blowing my brains out. Or River's. I didn't do any of that though. No. I only noticed my decision when I felt the wet tears hit my hand, covering the gun.
I couldn't cry for Wash yet, but I could cry for what I'd lost. These morning wake-up calls, his smile, the beautiful, beautiful children we could have had. I cried for the years we would never have and I cried for everything Wash had to offer the world but had never been able to give.
And when no more tears came, I cried without them, my body shaking, jerking on the bed I'd fallen on and I screamed into my pillow. When I was absolutely exhausted, ripped of everything, I took a shower and dressed and went into my day as I always did. Nobody noticed the change and I pretended not to notice River while she did the same with me.
The next night she didn't come to me, nor the one after that and much to my confusion I was going insane without her. She had held me, she had kissed my skin, just like Wash would have done. She knew what he did and what he said to me. Had read it in his mind, no doubt. River was my last link to Wash and at that time I was so desperate, I would have done anything to have at least that bit of Wash back. But there was also my pride. I couldn't ask her for it but when I woke up that sixth morning, encircled by a pair of arms, it was the happiest and relieved I'd felt in a long time.
She brushed my shoulder, called me sunshine and when I hadn't kicked her out yet, she turned me over. I closed my eyes and imagined it was Wash when I felt her lips flutter against my jaw. That it was him that caressed my side now and that it was him who kissed me when her lips met mine. It wasn't the same, of course, and I almost pushed her away but she pulled back, whispered sweet nothings Wash would say and tried again. I lost it, the panic, and parted my lips when she tickled the right corner of my mouth like Wash used to do. The resemblance of his kiss was uncanny. The taste and texture was different but her movements, her sounds, it was exactly the same and for a second I could forget it was River that was kissing me and I felt my man so close to me.
Then suddenly she pulled back and left me crying in bed, escaping up the steps. I was broken and I cried again, letting it out. It wasn't so violent as the time before but it was good. It was fuelled by longing for him and guilt over what had just transpired between me and River but when I went out, she treated me like she always did and I took her cue. No one noticed, no one said anything about it and when I went to bed that night it didn't take long for her to join me.
I hadn't locked my hatch since the fifth night, but it wouldn't have stopped her even if I did, the nights before a testimony to that. Locking the hatch would just have taken longer and I couldn't wait any longer.
I watched her descent and it was only through visual that I noticed she was there. She was so silent it sent a shiver down my spine. She knew what I wanted and she didn't waste time. I made it easy for her by going to bed naked. I closed my eyes when I couldn't see her anymore without turning my head and pictured Wash, his beautiful body, his body when I could see his want for me plainly in his eyes and his crotch.
When she touched me, I shivered because I felt his hands. She mimicked Wash's performance every step of the way, the only difference being that when she penetrated me, it was with her fingers because she had nothing else to do it with. The sweet nothings she whispered as she set a slow rhythm, her free hand teasing my taunt nipples, it was so right and so wrong all at the same time. I didn't care about the wrong though. I needed this and I got it and when her small fingers made me come, it was my man's name I called out, right before the dam broke and I cried with every fibre of my being.
And this time I cried for Wash. For the beautiful man he'd been, for how much I missed him and again for the children we had never had. I cried about everything, I grieved him. I grieved him like I had never grieved anyone before in my life. It lasted an eternity and when it ended, River was gone. I hadn't noticed. Guilt washed over me again and I cried anew. I was using her, even though it had been her who had come to me. She was just caught in the circumstances and I couldn't use her like this.
Still, I didn't kick her out of my bed the few nights of the following weeks she came. I let her kiss me or fuck me or just hold me when I fell asleep or when I woke up. I never stopped her when she left again. I never called out her name when I came by her hands. And she never said a word to me that didn't belong to Wash.
Until that night. Six weeks had passed in which she'd come to me increasingly. When she wasn't there, I didn't sleep and I was listening for her every second of the night. When she did come, well, then I could sleep. Nothing had changed outside of my quarters. Not between me and River, not between any of the crew. None suspected anything and the guilt was eating me alive. But when she came, it would always vanish, only to re-emerge with a vengeance when she left.
That night she came to me and kissed me. I lost myself in her, my eyes closed as always as she fucked me. She never said a word, never a word that wasn't a sweet nothing Wash would have said and I wasn't prepared for what she said when I rolled over to fall asleep.
"Here lies my beloved Zoe, my autumn flower, somewhat less attractive now she's all corpsified and gross..." It was a whisper, not like Wash had said it all that time ago when we were lying in bed post coil and joked about Jayne, slitting my throat now I was acting captain.
I stiffened visibly and slowly turned to her. Anger was rising but my curiosity, guilt and gratitude held me back. I didn't want to kick her out. I did, however, want her to stop talking. I didn't want to hear her voice, not like this, not with those words but she was relentless. She looked me right in the eye and followed, voice soft and a distant tone to it while she was so close to me, my naked body still enwrapped to hers, dressed in a flimsy summer dress. She didn't speak for herself, she spoke for Wash and I didn't fail to notice.
"I'm corpsified and gross now. I left you and I'm so sorry." It was as if she was translating his thoughts, his fears and I was mesmerized, unable to think, I could only ravel in her and listen. This little girl. This reader. This woman who was in my bed, the one thing I still had to remind me of Wash.
"I wanted you to know that I loved you so much. You made my life worth living, my warrior woman. You taught me never to regret anything but I do regret one thing. I wish we could have had our baby. He or she would have been so beautiful, with your power and my rugged and manly body, well, only manly if it had been a boy of course. I'm sorry I died before I could give you that." The words faded and her hand which had come up to stroke my hair out of my face left. I felt her move off of the bed and I could only stare at her. I didn't stop her. I held on to her words in my mind, afraid to lose them if I moved. So I didn't. I let her walk out and then I cried again, much to my anger. I was sick and tired of crying. Sick and tired of being this pathetic.
River broke me that night and I refused to admit it.
She didn't come to me for two weeks and I was up against the ceiling. Mal finally caught on and asked me what the hell was wrong with me. He thought I was doing better but now he wasn't so sure. I reassured him, everything was fine, nothing was wrong. I was just coping. It was a stage in the grieving process, I told him and he, impressed with my make-believe honesty, dropped the subject.
Whenever River was in the same room as I was, I would be even more on edge. I even yelled at the doctor once about nothing, really. And River only looked at me from her spot in the corner. She'd look with those big brown eyes and I could read the world and nothing at all in them. It was then, after the doctor left in anger, Kaylee on his heels, Jayne and Mal staring at me in disbelieve, that I broke down for her consciously. Outward nothing changed. I pleaded her in my mind to come to me tonight. I opened my feelings to her and I saw her winch in her corner, head lolling back against the wall, mouth slightly ajar and I knew she understood. Then I left the three of them without a word and I spent the rest of the day cleaning my guns in my quarters, trembling about what I had just implied to River.
That night she came minutes after I'd gone to bed. Unlike ever before she came in shyly, standing near the stairs, not lifting her head to look at me. I asked her to lock the hatch, which she did, and then I sat up, exposing myself to her as I had done so many times before. But that hadn't been her. It had been her channelling Wash or something and it felt different. Scary but arousing.
She looked at me now and I saw nothing of Wash there. It was just her, her way of carrying her body, her way of looking at me. And she, bless her heart, looked at me like she saw me for the first time. It was at that moment, that I read her own personal love and arousal in her eyes, that I felt my old self connecting with me. Wash would have a place, always, I knew River understood that but by breaking me through Wash, she'd done what he had done so many years ago. She had made me hers and I, now, was well aware of that fact.
So I stepped out of bed and took the initiative. I took her hand and pulled her to me, meeting her lips softly as she pressed herself against me. Her hand trembled against my back as if she was afraid I would hurt her.
I pulled her towards the bed and made her sit on my lap. I kissed her until she was panting and her eyes were wide. I watched her, mouth slightly opened, wet tongue sliding past dry lips. I watched her as I took off her dress and pressed her naked form to me. I inhaled her scent deeply as I kissed her neck. She held on to me like a child, not like a lover but I could see in her eyes that what was happening pleased her.
I made love to her slowly and silently, watching ever movement, studying every part of her. She was overwhelmed and overwhelmingly beautiful. Her soft whimpers were a pleasure to me and when she reached for me to hold her through orgasm, she whispered my name into my ear. It was, in that moment, the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.
When she had calmed down she looked at me, eyes still as wide as those of a child. She waited to see if I would send her from my bed, again, and my heart broke for her.
"Never again," I whispered. "Never again." And I meant it. And she felt it. With that reassurance, she grew bold. She made love to me with joy and enthusiasm and most of all, with love. And this time, when I came for her and her alone, I whispered her name. And this time she was the one whose eyes watered up and it was me who held her.
She slept in my bed every night from that moment on. We talked and she let me see the real her. Under all the confusion was a very intelligent and warm woman. She was stable and when she wasn't, she let me hold her and she believed me when I said it was going to be alright. We never told the others. They found out one at the time when they walked in on an intimate moment, caught a glance or just asked out right.
The reactions varied but all resigned eventually, staying clear as they had done with Simon and Kaylee. Simon had been my greatest fear. After all, I was sleeping with his seemingly very impressionable sister but he had seen the change in her and he saw it was a good one. He promised me that he would kill me if I'd ever hurt her and he left it at that.
Every now and then she will do something that reminds me of Wash. She always notices and looks at me for a reaction. It's all so frail and yet so strong, so like her, it's been a very wild ride. But I am sure about her, about my feelings for her. She broke me, made me love myself and now I am hers. It's simple, really.
I watch her sometimes, from the door of the cockpit, as she handles the Firefly. I'm sure she knows I'm there but she never turns around. It's at those times that I see her for who she really is and I feel my heart ache out of love. I never question it, I grab it and hold it close to me because before the day is done, every bit of it can be ripped away. And it is that what she gives me. This moment and a promise for the next.
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