First Mate
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Wash is injured-- physically, and by Zoe's reluctance to make him her first priority.


Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Intended for fun, not profit.

Note: Written for Philomel. Ask and you shall receive. I hope it's just right.

Thanks: To maguinan for a great beta and the excellent title suggestion.

Feedback: I would appreciate your comments and constructive criticism.

First Mate

“Do I want to know how this happened?” Simon sighed, his brows knit.

“Probably not.” Zoe kept a hand on Wash’s shoulder as he stepped over the threshold to the infirmary.

“Hun dan,” Wash cursed, holding one arm to his belly. An oily slick of sweat stood out on his forehead and chest. Both he and Zoe were dressed lightly and her hair was piled on top of her head with an impossible conglomeration of clips and sticks.

“I actually do need to know,” Simon said.

“Calvinball,” Wash said tightly, grimacing. He hitched in several deep breaths and when Zoe laid a hand on his back he shrugged it off, then grimaced doubly at how the movement jostled.

“I just need to do a scan,” Simon said quietly, moving quickly to the wall of diagnostics behind the exam table.

Jayne peeked around the corner. “Cap’n wants to see Wash soon as he’s fixed up.” He practically whispered it, keeping the port frame in front of his body. Wash fairly growled but Zoe shooed him away with a stern look. Jayne stood for a few more seconds looking apologetic before hardening his features and barking, “Well, you shouldn’t go for leap shots you know you can’t make.” He stomped away and Simon caught Zoe rolling her eyes.

“Did you land on it?” Simon maneuvered Wash’s arm onto the bottom half of the imaging platter as gently as he could.

“No.” Wash’s voice was strained and dry. “He did. No reason to play like a fulan de gao wan.”

“You were playing fairly enthusiastically too, dear,” Zoe remarked.

“I was winning,” he hissed at her. “And whose side are you on?”

There was a pause in the conversation as Simon activated the imager and they all blinked against the flash of green light.

“That’s really broken,” Simon said, inspecting the monitor. Next to it, the visual record of Wash’s pulse visibly sped up.

“How broken, now?” Zoe walked away from Wash toward Simon. Wash frowned into her back.

“I can reset it,” Simon said confidently, already formulating the steps of his plan. “It’s an ugly break, but I can set it with osteoadhesive. Let me give you something for the pain.” He worked quickly and had a hypo against Wash’s neck in seconds. Wash visibly relaxed and the flaring red color in his face faded gradually until there were only spots of pink left on his cheeks.

Simon spent a few minutes manipulating the broken arm from the diagnostic platter to the more stable exam table. Zoe started to pull a seat down from the wall by the door, but almost immediately reconsidered and pressed it back into place.

“I’m going to see what the captain wants,” she remarked quietly. Wash glared at her with unmitigated reproach. She frowned and turned.

“I’ll let you know the outcome,” Simon said, more to ease his own discomfort than to reassure anyone.

Zoe gave a curt nod and walked away. Wash watched Simon watch her jog up the aft stairs.

“She’s just trying to help,” Simon offered quietly. He turned and began to arrange instruments for himself.

“Yeah, thanks, Doc.” Wash was terse, barely humoring the doctor.

“You’re in pain. I understand,” Simon offered. “But if you feel too much pressure let me know, but this should be relatively painless but for the initial anesthetic.” He made three quick small injections and Wash barely reacted. “If you’d like to lie back, that would be fine.”

Wash complied, leaving Simon to rearrange his arm on the exam table and fill a huge pneumatic syringe with vile looking serum.

“The adhesive will set the bone once it’s in the right place. You’ll have to wear a sling.” Wash was pleased that Simon had the decency to frown when saying it.

“How long?” Wash lolled his head to the left just in time to see River dash up the steps to the upper deck, Book close behind her. “River?”

Simon looked up at Wash but not at the stairs. “I’m sorry?”

“She just ran by. Book, too.” He pointed across his body with his good arm. Simon, point of the needle already pressing into Wash’s skin, remained focused.

“If Book followed, I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Simon said, reassuring himself and maintaining dialogue with Wash, testing to see if the pilot cared to keep talking or go silent again.

“A sling, you said, doc?”

“Yes. An unfortunate necessity. You won’t have to wear it for very long.” Simon calculated his pressure on the plunger of the injector, tilting his head. “A week at most. This adhesive is potent. Leftover from Ariel.” At the end, his voice trailed off, making Wash frown and look down at his arm where the skin was shifting and rippling unnaturally.

They spent several minutes not speaking. Wash reclined on the exam table, eyes closed against the brightness of the overhead lights. Simon finished the procedure, bandaged the hole the injector had made and did another scan to make sure the adhesive had filled and sealed the crack. When he was confident it had, he splinted it and wrapped it in an elastic bandage.

“Sit up, please,” he asked Wash. Wash opened his eyes and saw Simon holding a sling in front of him, almost like an offering.

“This is absolutely necessary?”

“Yes, unless you want to risk a rebreak and nerve damage. Can you feel your hand now?”


“Imagine what that might be like forever.”

Wash nodded, rolling his eyes, and Simon looped the sling around his neck, pulling the half-casted arm close to Wash’s body.

Wash turned and left, muttering the fastest, lowest xie xie he could and started to trudge up through the cargo bay toward the fore stairs. Halfway across the practically empty bay he turned to find Simon pacing him.

“I’m fine, doc. Thank you. Thank you for fixing me up.”

“You’re welcome,” Simon said with more aplomb than Wash deserved. “I’m going after River, who you said was upstairs.”

“Oh. Yeah,” said Wash and started to hike up the stairs with Simon first at his heels, then practically alongside.

They walked over the threshold to the dining room, Simon uncharacteristically in front of Wash. He turned back slightly to make sure Wash didn’t lose his balance coming down the steps, but Wash waved him off. Book, Kaylee and River sat in the lounge area. Kaylee and Book sat opposite one another, Kaylee on the couch and Book on the ottoman that also functioned as a table. Book leaned toward her, elbows on knees, his hands clasped under his chin. His face was tight and serious, but relatively uncreased by worry. Kaylee sat unnaturally erect, her eyes wide with fear. River, next to Kaylee, looking generally bored, leaned away, her arm across the back of the sofa, one hand making inscrutable finger puppets, the other lying in her lap.

“What’s wrong here?” Wash asked it and Simon practically bolted to Kaylee. She didn’t speak, but did clutch at him.

“You should get to the bridge, Wash.” Book said it without looking up or opening his eyes. Wash didn’t wait.

He strode up the steps, down the quarters hallway and up more stairs toward the bridge, irritated at the way his arm, still numb from the procedure, flapped against his belly like dead weight. Jayne’s body filled the doorway. Wash confronted his back and said, “Move.” Jayne complied without even looking. Mal and Zoe stood in front of him, looking down at the console, shoulder to shoulder. He could tell that Mal’s arms were crossed, but Zoe had her hands clasped behind her back.

Mal turned as Jayne slid toward the copilot’s side of the bridge. “We gotta stop playing that damn game,” he noted casually. “Get reavered every time.”

“Reavers?” Wash felt more dumbstruck than he sounded. He naturally moved toward his seat and the console. The chair was warm, as if someone had recently been sitting there. The screens were tuned to the ship he could see out the windows, but the readings were unfamiliar.

“Could be. Can’t make them out, but they’re running contained, so it could also be something else.”

“No mag signature coming off ‘em either,” Zoe added.

“What happened to your arm?” Mal’s tone was jarringly conversational.

“Jayne,” Wash huffed. Zoe dropped her head to hide a small smile.

“Didn’t mean to,” Jayne barked. Mal nodded sagely and let his gaze float between the ship on the bridge’s horizon and Wash, studying the readings.

“No mag signature, full containment,” Wash mumbled. He twisted slightly toward the keyboard and raised both arms, only to drop one with a frustrated growl and begin tapping with one finger. “Their heat’s low. Could just be out of fuel.”

“Or they could have rigged their sensor panel to make low temp look like core containment and low fuel. Beacon?”

“No beacon.”

“What’s their static?”

Wash reached up with his healthy right arm to flip switches on the communicator.

“Normal.” Wash stared hard, tried different combinations of switches and looked for patterns none of the three of them would ever be able to recognize, but kept slowing nodding back and forth. “Just, normal. They’ve got no beacon. There’s a quiet signature, could be the engine, could be their life support, running fine. Still a hundred kilometers out and their heading…” he trailed off, tapping slowly at the keyboard with one good hand. “Their heading isn’t going to precisely intersect ours anyway.”

“Where’s their grappler?” Zoe asked. Wash stretched his neck up to see more of the ship filling the windows, but kept shaking his head.

“Don’t have one. Don’t even have much of a forecouple.” He pointed and looked to Mal and Zoe, who both nodded at him.

“Their heat is low, but it’s there. Could just be running a skeleton crew and keeping the resources tucked. Especially if they’re on a long haul.”

“Contact them, sir?”

“No, no,” Mal answered right away. “No sense in that. We’ll just keep an eye on them. Sure as hell they got an eye on us.”

“If we’re not sure, how come they’re in there giving their last confession?” Wash nodded back and over his shoulder, remembering the fear in Kaylee’s eyes.

“River said,” remarked Zoe quietly. The four of them on the bridge looked at one another seriously until Wash spoke.

“We’re this worked up because River said it was Reavers?”

“Girl’s weird,” interjected Jayne. “She knows things. Cap said.”

“I did, Jayne, but don’t seem likely that everything comes out of her mouth is true. We’d all be dead ten times over were that the case.”

“Captain’s right,” Zoe said. “Can’t start taking everything that comes out of the poor girl’s mouth as prophesy.”

“Best to hold course, I think, until we’re well out of range,” said Mal by way of halting further discussion. “Keep an eye on their readings as long as we can, quiet as we can. First move they make that’s not away, we run. We’re not far out, are we?”

Wash looked down and quickly tapped several more buttons. “Ain’t long out of Jianying, but we bring a boatload of Reavers down, settlers’ll kill us first.”

“Oh, we’ll see that we don’t,” Mal said, before turning and leaving the bridge with a curt nod to Zoe. Wash shot her a look meant to question what she thought of Mal’s cavalier attitude. She only tilted her head to the side some, pursed her lips and then followed him out.

Wash huffed at her back and wondered what he had done to warrant the more-silent-than-usual treatment. He swiveled back toward the console and noticed Jayne still sitting in the copilot’s seat looking anxious and uncomfortable.

“Get the hell off my bridge!” Wash shouted it, seething, channeling all his anger at Zoe toward Jayne. To his credit, Jayne didn’t speak or even gesture, just left the bridge quickly and quietly.

Wash tried not to concentrate on how Zoe had left him again, but found he couldn’t. And now he was alone, on the bridge, the one guy on the whole ship whose responsibility it would be to get on the comm and say, Mal, the Reavers are attacking. He thought about how much he hated being that guy. He only wanted to be the guy that flew. He looked at the black and only saw black, not anything beautiful.

He could hear them talking in the mess. Mal’s voice was louder than the others. He heard Inara say something in Chinese. Heard Jayne shout, “gorramit!” and the embarrassed silence that followed it. And though he couldn’t really make out any of their words save Jayne’s curses and Inara’s pleas to the Buddha, he knew he heard his wife’s voice and that she was upset, but not as upset as the others. She sounded resigned and put-upon and he knew that she was.

He watched the noise on the cortex screen not change for a long while. He looked to the Spinosaurus sitting on top of the console holding down a nav chart for the last system they went through, but it only inspired contempt.

He stared for a while at the bandages on his arm and at the sling. Simon had splinted it for good measure, but had not used a pressure bandage. The tips of the splints shined dull silver at his elbow and wrist, outside the plain dun color of the flexible wrap that held them. The sling was shiny white nylon, never used before. He thought briefly that before the doc came on board, with his Reaver reading sister, they probably would have doped him until they could get to a doctor who would have probably set it wrong. Or just amputated it. The thought almost warranted mirthless laughter, but he heard footsteps behind him.

“Can you fly?” Mal’s voice was soft and although Wash could tell he was asking it as nicely as he could, he didn’t want to give him credit for it.

“No,” he answered flatly.

“Well, comes to it, we’ll need to have Zoe here and you running comm.”

“Understood, sir.” Wash squeezed the words out from between clenched teeth.

“Wash,” Mal began, knowing he shouldn’t. He never had before. He knew he risked breaking whatever uneasy truce the three of them were working under, but he pressed on.

“I understand, sir,” Wash repeated. He didn’t look up, or even move from his spot, staring at the cortex screen, watching static, trying to distinguish patterns from the noise of the stars. In any other case he would have been leaning on his left arm, but that was impossible.

“Okay then,” Mal said, still feeling like he should have said something. “Yeah.” He left the bridge.

And then Wash was back to the blackness of the sky and the dullness of his dinosaurs. He heard Mal’s footsteps recede, but no noise replaced them. Still staring at the static, he figured someone, probably Inara, made a pot of tea in the mess and then left again. The monitors on the console told him that Kaylee was systematically checking the engine should they need to run. He kept one eye on her and one eye on the comm screen and kept mentally turning over and over to the sound of his arm breaking.

He’d been going for a spectacular lay-up, taking a pass from Kaylee on the fly. Jayne leapt from on top of one of the last crates they had stacked in the bay and came down on his upraised arm. They landed Jayne on top of Wash, Wash on top of the ball. Wash still had his arms around the ball with his knuckles on the deck plates when Jayne shifted. The ball rolled away, but his arm didn’t move with it. They landed in a heap. He figured then, that their bodies must have muffled the noise to Zoe and Kaylee, but he had heard it well.

“Get up, you two,” Kaylee had said, breathing heavily.

“Tamade,” Wash had tried to roar back, but it came out more like a plea.

He didn’t have much of a memory after that, until he remembered he was angry at Zoe for leaving. And then he remembered to be angry at her for practically taking Jayne’s side. And then he remembered to be angry at her for holding his arm when he tried to slug Jayne and not giving Jayne so much as a dirty look.

His arm ached more and more. He got ready to comm the doc to bring him another shot when he heard footsteps, low and stealthy. It could only be Zoe.

“Yes?” He kept his back turned, arm against his belly, chin on his fist.

“Got you dinner in bunk tonight. It’s not much, but it’s warm.” Her voice was less matter-of-fact than it might have been and he felt himself soften. “Come on, now.” Zoe’s voice was soft and gentle and he had to remind himself to not punish her. “Are you in pain?”

“It aches a little,” he answered, turning toward her. She held a hand out but he stayed slouched. “Doesn’t Mal want me up here to the last minute?”

“No.” She walked to him. Light from the hall scattered around her, giving her a full-body halo. He realized he ached for her far worse than his arm hurt. “Jayne earned himself a night of watching the sky. He’ll be up in a minute. I told him to wait, though. Figured you didn’t want to have more to do with him than you had to.”

“Nice of you,” he noted and turned back to the console. “I’m going to lock it out. Everything but the comm.” He tapped for a moment, locking in their heading and speed. “I’d hate to wake up on fire.”

“Me too,” Zoe said, sliding a hand onto his shoulder. He reached across his body with his right arm and up to his shoulder to take her hand. The gesture was awkward and familiar at the same time. It was the position they should have taken as soon as Mal mentioned Reavers.

She bent and kissed his ear, cheek and neck. He leaned into her touch. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“I don’t know when I’ll understand, Zoe. I need you.”

”So does he,” she said and felt her husband tense against her hands and her voice. “You’re strong and he’s not.”

“Zo?” He finally stood, but she turned before he could confront her. He followed her to their bunk. She climbed down in front of him and he tried not to be too self-conscious as he climbed down. It wasn’t so much different than trying to bring a drink down, but having his arm so close to his body threw off his balance. She kissed him when he hit the deck, wrapping her arms around his waist and pulling him to her as gently as she could.

“Sometimes things are different,” she said. “I knew I could leave you to stew about things. Couldn’t leave him. Doesn’t have it in him some days. Today was one of those days.” Wash nodded and then rested his forehead against hers.

“When do I get to be first, Zoe?”

“You always come first, baby.” He sighed hugely, then, and kissed her on the forehead. He walked to their desk, spread with her paperwork and his nav charts and sat down, propping his feet on the bed. She walked over his legs, sat on the bed, and started to untie his boots.

“You don’t think we’ll go to bed only to wake up getting eaten, do you?”

“I don’t,” she said, pulling a boot off and then pulling his sock after it. He smiled at her.

“No, me either,” he said as she started on the other foot and they both smiled, relieved.

He wrapped a piece of protein in a hunk of warm bread and started to munch. He set his sandwich in his lap and craned his good arm around to grab the plate and hand it to her.

“Bread’s good,” he noted. She nodded, chewing and absently patting his shins. They finished eating in relative silence, looking up occasionally at noises from the ceiling, still slightly on edge.

“It’s a strange place to be in, honey,” Zoe said, after a silence that was long, but not uncomfortable. “I love you. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything. I look at you and see the future. But I can’t let go of the past until it’s really the past. There’s a sealpack of applesauce back there. Dessert.”

He stared at her for a minute before twisting again and grabbing silver sealpack and spoon. The applesauce was marked with the five stars of the Alliance and he carefully avoided looking at the packaging date. He handed them both to her and gestured for her to take the first bite. She did, then held the spoon to him. He accepted it and she angled the package toward him. He had the spoon in his mouth before she spoke.

“It almost tastes like apples.”

He smiled at her, nodded enthusiastically and swallowed with only a minimum of effort. She laughed under her breath and tossed the still full packet into the trashcan under the desk. Then she stood and straddled his legs. She made to sit and he pulled his feet down from the edge of the bed, putting them flat on the floor and slid forward to give her more lap.

“I love you,” he said, wrapping his good arm around her waist. She fingered the edge of the sling. She kissed her fingertips and then pressed them gently to the side of his arm.

“Does it hurt?”

“Not so much,” he answered, thinking he’d need to call Simon for another shot before morning.

“It’ll heal,” she said and he knew then that it was to reassure herself.

“It’ll heal,” he agreed. “Come here.” He slid his arm up her back and pressed her toward him. She leaned, moving to one side, resting her head on his shoulder, feeling the coolness of the sling strap against her cheek.

“I feel like we’re in a poem that doesn’t rhyme, Wash.” She sighed and he kissed her top of her head.

“We don’t need rhymes, Zoe. We’ve got each other and we’ve got sky.” She sighed again. “We’ve got rotten applesauce. This is the dream.” She laughed and he laughed with her.

“This is the dream,” she repeated, closing her eyes, feeling his heart beat against hers. He kissed the top of her head again, and loved her.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004 3:39 PM


Wow, that was a nice bit on Wash and Zoe! :-)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004 12:59 AM


really interesting...nice subtext...I found myself really wanting more (a good thing).
Thank you!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004 3:03 AM


Sarahetc, you always amaze me with how well you write Zoe, Wash, and their relationship. I want to be able to do that when I grow up!

But seriously, this is quite a lovely piece of work; thanks for sharing it.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004 9:43 AM


Great story, and I liked the hint of more going on than was said with a little sprinkling of pathos in Zoe that added a nice touch. Very much enjoying this, so very shiny! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, December 3, 2004 1:56 AM


Calvinball, indeed. Actually could be, though, at the moment, I thought that it was just a Bill Watterson reference, indicating you are a woman of great comic taste.

Not that you aren't...

Good myth and good night,

Keep flyin'

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 8:15 AM


you mean it wasn't a bill waterson reference? damn! still good.

Monday, August 21, 2006 7:54 PM


This is genuinely beautiful. I love these quiet moments between Zoe and Wash. Excellent and delightful to read!


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Red Rocket, White Candle
I ain't sayin' there's any peace to be had, but if there is, Wash will find it in the Western sky.

Married and Madly in Love
In the aftermath of Saffron, Wash and Zoe talk marriage, stars, and geese.

Consistent Resurrection
A short history of Zoe.

First Mate
Wash is injured-- physically, and by Zoe's reluctance to make him her first priority.

Laid Bare
Ever wonder what happened to that ambulance? A little bridge between Ariel and War Stories.

Natural Talent
Kaylee and Wash? It could have happened, but it didn't.

Over and Over and Over
Moments of Zoe, in the spaces of War Stories.

Extreme Unction
The living heart of Serenity bleeds to death. A volley at Succatash.

The Heart of Her
Wash proposes.

Mood to Burn Bridges
Mal's original edict on shipboard romances