Flood of Grief
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Post-BDM. It's a bit longer than i meant to, originally; apologies. Yes, it's a Zoë-centric's about're not required to read it. i'd like to thank valeriebean for editing and for the title; and then also to dedicate to the memory of a really great guy who died and sort of inspired me to write this one. but all characters belong to Joss. Comments welcome.


Rain pattered against the ground relentlessly, forming puddles and squirmy rivulets of water against the cracked ground. Lightning flashed overhead, bringing a momentary flash of clarity to the canyon where Serenity sat silently. The shadows pounced upon the open dock door with the lightning's receding brilliance, attacking the warm glow of the waiting ship. The clean smell of the rain rode the misty winds into that warmth as the crew waited for Inara's shuttle to return so that they could leave the tired moon behind them. Zoë sat just inside the dock door, the mist finding her as she watched the rain fall...letting her thoughts go where they would. It seemed they had more in common with the storm than she would have believed. They surfaced in recognizable words and phrases as quickly as the lightning flashed around her, floundering in dark clouds of confusion and the outpouring of the somewhat-expected grief otherwise. She watched the rain act as curtains for the canyon, keeping details from her line of vision; she recognized the familiarity of the sight. It seemed, not for the first time, that her mind was filled with similar pockets of emptiness surrounded by shrouds of emotional waterfalls. She listened to the thunder rumble in the distance; knew the storm was coming their way. Her thoughts turned, as they often did, to Wash and how she ached to have him near her again. Not for the first time, she wondered why worlds continued to spin, people continued to live and love and go forward after he'd left. It felt as though everything in nature should have been affected by his death. That rain should fall differently, slower, or with more care than it had when he had been by her side. She wanted everyone to be able to see that a good man had passed on, something so tangible and so real that no one could deny a loss had happened. Why didn't everyone know he was gone, and that a hole had opened up where he had once been? Why didn't everyone stop moving and sit down? Why did the rain insist on continuing to fall? Was his life so insignificant? Was he nothing to the 'verse? Everything had seemed hell-bent on introducing him into her life...why was it all in such a hurry to move on now that he was gone? Everything should be affected when a heart is shattered. Everyone should feel that pain that ripped through her. Everyone should feel that void in their chests, that hole that won't fill - not with work, not with food, not with sleep, not with dreams, not with...rain... He was gone...and he had taken everything that had filled her with him, leaving this skin shell to wander hallways at night and curl up in an empty bed alone when the hallways threatened to fill with the living. She felt so alone in the life-altering wake of his absence. Kaylee and Simon had grown closer; River - while seemingly more awake to those around her - was still walking around in a state of foggy reality. Jayne was still...well, Jayne. The Captain and Inara still batted words without doing more than that. Life was continuing. Rain still fell, jobs still paid little more than dirt, ships still needed repairs, thunder still rumbled. Suns rose and set and rose again. Food was bought, cooked, consumed. Dishes were set, dirtied, washed, placed in tidy compartments, and set again. People woke, worked, chatted or argued, went to sleep and woke again in the morning. Her actions had become mechanical; theirs had not. They saw newness in each repeated cycle. She saw monotony, stretching from the moment he had breathed his last to a forever without him. She had watched them all continue on...and move towards goals they wanted to achieve. She had nothing more waiting at the end of the tunnel, beyond the storms of the present. She had experienced love, real love, and she'd seen her share of adventure. He was gone. What more could the universe hold for her? It seemed that only Zoë felt the emptiness radiating from her chest into her arms and legs and casting dark shadows through her mind. She knew it wasn't true; she knew others missed Wash and Book and the others who had died at the Operative's command. But she felt she was sitting at the bottom of a well, calling up to the others were content with each other but had forgotten her. She felt life should pause until...until a sufficient amount of time had passed so she could get up again. Looking back, she could re-write her own history and say that time had stopped for her to mourn properly at the end of the War. But she knew it hadn't. Not really. Families had heard the news that the fighting was done, had picked up their groceries and gone on to live lives again. There had been jails and internment camps and trials and threats and sudden releases for some...some releases took on different forms for many. Time had slowed, but not because life had seen the need to slow down. Time had slowed because time slows when you're so far removed from life that you have to count the days by scratching a chipped rock against a wall. Life hadn't slowed for her to mourn; She had time to mourn because there was no other activity available to her. She heard the boots approaching before Mal spoke. "Nara waved," he said, either unaware of the melancholy overtaking his first mate or choosing to interrupt it on purpose. "Said she's a bit delayed. Didn't want us to worry." Zoë nodded her acknowledgement. "Rain's comin' down hard," Mal noted. "Folks'll be glad for it." "Been a rough season for them," Zoë said softly. "Ain't been easy for a number of folk," he offered. Zoë nodded, grateful for his words. Not for the first time, she was glad they didn't need to say direct words in order to get a point across. Blunt words only made him feel uncomfortable in saying them and her uncomfortable in hearing them. "It'll get better," she commented. "If it don't, you keep me posted," his voice was soft as his hand found her shoulder. She nodded, still not looking at him. He squeezed gently and left her to her thoughts, his footsteps fading. Lightning flashed and thunder responded again. The rain continued to fall, its only change was to increase the rate of falling. Soon, Zoë could only barely see the canyon's wall nearby. The puddles deepened, the sound of the rain filling them changing from splatters to resonanting gulps. Her own heartbeat sounded distant when compared to the sudden onslaught of sound. The wind picked up, as well, closing the gap between the warmth of the dock and the chill of the galloping precipitation. In an effort to stretch, Zoë stood and walked to the encroaching edge of rain-free dirt. She put her hand out, palm up and caught the chilling raindrops. She rotated her wrist, allowing the rain to splatter against the back of her hand. She could feel the hard slap of the rain pull at her skin, seemingly teasing the pain away from her mind. Suddenly tired of letting everything sit inside her, she stepped into the rain, closing her eyes and lifting her chin to face the rain head on. She was drenched within minutes, her hair plastered against her face and neck and back, but she didn't care. She stepped further from the safety of Serenity, letting the rain push at her. If the rain was to blame, no one could notice she'd been crying. She stepped further from the dock, deeper into the rain...closing in on the edge of freedom from her thoughts and fears and mechanical actions of procedural reliability. The cool water streamed through her hair, sending shivers along her spine. She could feel the goosebumps forming on her skin where the rain pelted her. Lightning flashed overhead, illuminating the canyon, reminding her she shouldn't stray too far from the ship. The thunder rolled and echoed around her, never seeming to end. It seemed to come from everywhere, all at once. "Zoë!" Mal's voice had an urgency in it...the thunder continued. She could see again the image of Wash as the Reaver's harpoon took his life from her. She could hear his last breath, that sigh of a soul's release and the Captain's voice, once more...and again... Something was definitely wrong - her eyes flew open. A wall of water was rushing towards her. She turned and began running back to the ship. How had she gotten so far from it? Mal was halfway between her and the ship. He had started running for her when he saw she wasn't where he'd left her. How long had he been calling her? The engines were primed and ready and as soon as their feet touched the loading ramp, Zoë could feel the ground fall away from them. Mal grasped her arm and helped her regain her footing on the now-slick floor. Serenity fought for altitude as the floodwaters rushed below, trying to invade the dock. Both captain and mate fell to the floor as a zealous wave rocked the bottom of the ship. Crates and tools slid along the floor with the impact, the scrape of metal against metal clashing with the storm's own voracious claim to decibel ownership. Mal scrambled to the door controls and slapped at the buttons before allowing himself to fall back to the floor. "What the hell were you doing?" Mal gasped over the din of doors closing against steady rainfall and now rising winds. "Sorry, Sir," Zoë coughed. She blinked water from her eyes. "Won't happen again." "It best not," Mal insisted, still catching his breath. His concern for her was still etched in his features; Zoë looked away, embarrassed at her own folly and how close it had come to injury. "Told her not to park in a gorram canyon," Jayne's voice echoed as he pounded down the stairs. "Knew it'd come to no good." He stopped when he saw the two dripping individuals sitting in puddles of their own making. "We spring a leak?" he asked, his voice bordering on sarcasm. Mal's look showed he didn't appreciate it. "Tell River to put down when she finds someplace safe," he instructed. "And no place near a dam fit to burst at the first sign of rain this time. We're still waiting on 'Nara." Jayne trudged off, muttering about being a messenger boy, as Mal looked back at Zoë. She shivered involuntarily. "Go get changed into something dry," he ordered, his voice only slightly calmer. "No use in both of us catching cold." "Sir, I didn't think to..." Zoë's voice faltered. She wasn't even sure what she was trying to put to words. A particularly strong gust of wind and rain batted against the ship, knocking already shaky balances aside and crates shifted and strained against straps once more. "Just don't let it happen again," the Captain replied. His eyes were wary; he was trying to help, she knew. She just didn't know how to let him. Not yet. She nodded and went to change. In the bunk she had shared with Wash, she shivered as she peeled off wet layers of clothing and toweled off. She sat down heavily on the bed, staring at the walls around her. She could still hear the rain pelting against the ship as River pulled them further from the storm. What had she been doing out there? Even if the dam hadn't burst, as the Captain had indicated, she should have known better than to stand in the pouring rain with lightning flashing around the sky. She tugged a blanket around her shoulder, unwilling to bother getting dressed again. When someone needed to find her, they knew how to call into the bunk. She needed to re-organize her thoughts. Or organize them for a first time. The bed welcomed her as she sought solace in faded memories. Curled on her side, with a blanket around her shoulders, she let her eyes close out the walls that held her in. She remembered how often he had told her to be careful, how he had always been so tender when she'd been injured in any way... She had never needed tenderness like that, and then to suddenly have it...have him...and to lose him... How was it justified? How was that supposed to make sense? To balance anything out? Where was the right in that? Her eyes burned with tears she hadn't cried yet. She took a deep breath and held it, trying to will the tears away. They came anyway. *** "Thank you for the wave," Inara said, coming into the dining room. Mal looked up from stirring the pot bubbling on the stove. "I appreciated knowing you had moved hiding places."

"Well, apparently, the odds that the dam would break before we had to leave were too improbable to be a factor," Mal shrugged. "Or so River said."

"I see," the Companion murmured, staring at the bubbling pot. "Please tell me you weren't in charge of dinner tonight."

"Kaylee is," Mal smiled. "Suddenly had to run and I was walkin' past."

"She will return before"

"Ruin the meal?" Mal finished. Inara smiled in return. "I happen to cook just fine. It's you who don't appreciate a well-cooked meal."

"Well-cooked is, of course, referring to how long you leave it on the fire," Inara teased. Mal continued stirring. He glanced at Inara, noting how relaxed she was. They had somehow reached a neutral place in their relationship; it was a level where they could talk and tease again...without the hurt.

"I told you to stir it!" Kaylee interrupted brusquely, entering the kitchen. "It's gonna burn again, like you did last time!" Mal watched Inara take a step away from him almost immediately. And things were going so well... Kaylee slapped at his hand once before he relented the spoon. She glanced at Inara quickly, sending her a quick smile. "Hey, 'Nara, didn't know you were back already," she went on. "Guess we'll be heading out soon, then?" Kaylee peered carefully at the contents of the pot before sending Mal a mischievous look. "Unless you and Zoë wanna take another run in the rain out there." "It wasn't a planned - " Mal began to defend his actions. Inara looked at him curiously. "You went out in that weather?" she asked, incredulous. "The whole town has been evacuated until the storm passes and all damage can be repaired went out in it?" "Zoë thought she saw something out there," Mal tried lying as he backed out of the kitchen. He didn't seen any reason to share the fact that Zoë didn't seem to know why she wandered so far. "I had to get her attention and it took more than a word." Inara followed him. Kaylee focused on the evening's meal purposefully. Mal turned to see where he was going, knowing Inara would follow him still. It was almost a comfort, if he didn't want to discuss Zoë's state of mind. "Mal, wait," Inara insisted. He stopped walking, just out of the kitchen's earshot. Inara stepped close to him and he could smell her perfume on her. Her eyes were steady on his as she spoke. "Zoë isn't getting better, is she?" the Companion asked softly. "I don't know what you're tryin' to--" "Since Wash died, she's been pulling away from all of us," Inara went on. "She's quiet at meals, she spends most of her free time away from others, she sleeps late--" "She takes late shifts," Mal interrupted, defending his first mate. "She's always been quiet, and she needs time to herself. Her husband died. She ain't just gonna bounce back like it was nothing." "Mal, she's depressed," Inara continued. "She needs to talk to someone." "She'll talk when she's ready," Mal argued. "She does her job just fine. It's her own down time between jobs you see her...she'll ask for help when she needs it." "Like you do?" Inara countered. "Mal, you have to open your eyes. She is not dealing with his loss." "She does her job," Mal insisted. "Does it well." "And then wanders into hurricanes until you have to chase after her?" "That wasn't no hurricane," Mal scoffed. "Just a light rain got a bit out of hand." "Yes, they're always evacuating towns for light rains," Inara replied sarcastically. "Look," Mal said, stepping closer to her so he could lower his voice. "She has her moments where she needs to be called back, but you've got this wrong on her. She'll be fine. She does her job. She lives same place where she met, married and loved her husband. Not everyone has to do that. She needs her time to breathe again." "I understand she throws herself into her job," Inara said after a moment's pause. "Some people repress their grief by doing so." "Then let her repress," Mal said softly. "Time comes for her to scream, she knows she can." He turned and walked away on that. He got to his bunk and paused, glancing at the doorway to Zoë's privacy. He glanced back along the hallway and, unable to see Inara's form, quietly stepped closer to Zoë's bunk. He knocked softly on the frame around the ladder, but received no reply. "Zoë?" he called down. Again, he heard no reply. Insisting he was only doing this out of concern for his friend, he climbed down the ladder to her room. He hadn't come down here since before the marriage. And then, only with expressed invitations. He respected the privacy of his crew as a precious commodity on a ship that all too often felt to be the size of a thimble. He was surprised, now, to see the piles of clothing littering the small space. Zoë had always been a tidy housekeeper, the product of years of military training, and to see her bunk in such a state of disarray concerned him. She was asleep, the blanket from her bed cocooning her from the rest of the world. How long had she been living like this? A vague memory of Kaylee doing extra loads of laundry crossed his mind...had Kaylee been sneaking in to grab Zoë's laundry for her? Zoë stirred in her sleep. Mal looked to see a corner of a Hawaiian shirt clasped in her fist... "Zoë?" he said, moving to the bed. "I need you to wake up." "I'm not on meal duty," she mumbled, keeping her eyes closed. "And didn't invite you in here." "Yeah, I'm not much in the caring mood," Mal replied, looking at the mess around him. "Not too sure it'd help you just now." "Didn't ask for your help," she replied crossly, rolling over. There was more skin flashing than Mal was prepared for. He ran a hand through his hair. "Zoë, are you awake?" An undignified grunt was his reply. He went to the bed and shook her shoulder gently. Her hand shot out and grasped his before spinning him around his own arm to an uncomfortable wrist lock. "Well, at least your reflexes are still sharp," he managed. There was a pause. "Yours could use some work," Zoë said, releasing him. He kept his back to her while the sounds of sifting through stacks of laundry were made. "There's some clean-looking shirts over there," Mal indicated a corner with a stack of folded clothing. "Wasn't expecting visitors, Sir," Zoë said as she made her way to the corner. "Wasn't planning on making housecalls," Mal responded. He waited before continuing. "How bad is it?" "How bad is what?" "Don't play this," he said softly. From his current angle, he could see one of Wash's dinosaurs peeking out from under a pillow. He had torn apart the bridge looking for it when he'd thought he had lost it, and here it was. Under a pillow. "I got disctracted," Zoë's voice was soft in sound, but hard in tone. "And we just got off a job; my laundry fell second priority to keeping the job going smooth." "You ain't tellin' me when you need to stop," Mal said, his eyes on the dinosaur. "I can keep everyone out of your business only so long, Zo. And walking into hurricanes is not terribly subtle of you." "I can do the job, Sir," she argued. "You don't have to prove that," Mal countered. "You have to prove you can do the life part." "Captain--" Mal turned to face her, cutting her off in doing so. "He's dead, Zoë; you're not."

"We've been through worse, came out just fine," Zoë insisted, her actions in pulling on her pants mechanical and stilted. Her shirt was untucked as she stood to lock eyes with Mal. "We've been through war," Mal said slowly. "Lost friends. You never lost a husband till Wash." "Had my share of broken hearts," Zoë quipped. "Broken," Mal said slowly. "Not buried." She flinched as though his words had hit her. He saw the flash in her eyes as she recovered. "Say it," he ordered quietly. "You should have let me die with him," she bit out. "You could have let me try to save him." "You wanna blame me, you can," he replied calmly. "But only if it's going to help you come back to us." "Us?" Zoë laughed bitterly. "There a lot of you in that head of yours? Simon, Kaylee...they have each other. They don't care about what I'm doing or not doing. I have to watch them sneaking off to engage in...I used to have those moments. Are you gonna tell her to let go of him when he's gone? River's too far-gone to notice one more is missing're gonna tell me Inara is just fluttering around here for me? Or Jayne? All for poor, pitiful, grieving Zoë?" "You done with the pity game yet?" Mal interrupted, crossing his arms. "Maybe you haven't noticed, but those people you're convinced don't care are all pulling extra weight so you can grieve. Kaylee's doing your laundry, Jayne's doing your cooking, River's interrupting Simon and Kaylee so you don't have to see them - and while I admit it's not only for your benefit, you still figure in there - and Inara and Simon have been after me to get you help since you stopped coming up for breakfast. I've been re-arranging schedules to keep you busy, but I'm thinkin' that once you come back onboard, you're going to be required on latrine duty for several months." "Back onboard?" Zoë questioned. "You aren't pulling yourself out of this," Mal said sharply. "You wanted work, so I took on extra jobs. You needed rest, so I did all I could to make sure you had that. You wandered off into a hurricane. I can't let you do that. Soon as we can, we'll put down and you will take time off to grieve." "Sir, I can't just--" "You don't know how to grieve, I'll find someone to help you," Mal insisted. "But I need you back in one piece." "One piece?" she choked. "There's pieces of him everywhere. He rewired half the bridge. Those are his dinosaurs that keep us company in the night up there. It's his laughter we all hear echoing when someone breaks the tension. Why do I have to be in one piece when he gets to be everywhere around us?" Tears were beginning to fall from her eyes. Mal watched her brush them away. "You think we don't miss him?" Mal asked. "We don't feel an arm was cut off by his leaving? Why do you think we keep those dinosaurs up there? It ain't about style or practicality. It's about keeping him with us. I'm not asking you to eliminate him from you or the ship or your heart. It's not about that. You think he'd want you to forget him?" Zoë sat heavily on the bed, burying her face in her hands. Mal sat next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders. "He wouldn't want you to be a mess, either," Mal offered, watching her carefully. "You need to talk to someone about him." "He's in everything I do," she whispered. "Everything I see, everything I hear or feel or think. I come back to the ship after a job and I expect him to be waiting." "I know what you mean," Mal answered. "There's days I go up to the bridge, and I'd swear to you he's sitting there, scrambling to put those toys back on the deck before I see him." "I always thought I'd go before him," she went on. "I think he did, too. I was the one out getting shot did he get to go first?" "If I knew that answer," Mal sighed. "We wouldn't have wasted so many years asking." "He's really gone," Zoë murmured, the emotion evident in her voice. "He's really gone." "I know," Mal nodded, though Zoë wasn't facing him. She let her tears fall with abandon, finally allowing someone to comfort her in such a state. She let any strength she'd thought she had been saving up dissolve in a flood of tears. He was really gone. He wouldn't be coming back. "Cap?" Kaylee's voice wavered from the hallway. "You down there?"

Zoë pulled away suddenly and stood, wiping at her eyes furiously.

"Yeah, Kaylee," Mal answered. "What do you need?"

"Dinner's set and ready," came the reply. "You and Zoë coming?"

"We'll be right there," Zoë called up before Mal could respond. She turned back to face him. The only evidence she had been crying were red-rimmed eyes and a slight puffiness to her face. Mal stood.

"You're getting help," he insisted. "I don't care who gives it to you, but you're getting it. I'll tell the crew tonight."

He gestured for her to go up first; she did, her desire to say more obvious but going unresolved. They walked in silence to the dining room - everyone was sitting at the table already - and took their seats.

As the food was passed around, Mal made the announcement.

"Zoë's gonna be taking some time off planet-side when we reach Persephone," he stated matter-of-factly. The silence that followed was the only response. He looked up. Six sets of eyes stared back at him...only one didn't show surprise.

"All of us get time off?" Jayne asked, his interest peaked.

"No," Mal answered. "Zoë needs some time. She'll have it."

"Why does Zoë need time?" Kaylee asked, her gaze shifting from captain to first mate.

"She needs to...take time," Mal responded, glancing at Zoë. Her face was a perfect blend of bland disinterest.

"Is time not available to her here?" Simon asked.

"Time to grieve," River interjected. "Space to leave us."

"No, no leaving us," Kaylee insisted. She looked at Mal. "She ain't leavin' forever, is she?"

"She just needs her space," Mal replied. "To...get back to herself."

"Well, why can't she just get back to herself here?" Kaylee pursued. "We're all here to help."

"Kaylee, it's not that simple," Inara tried to interrupt.

"We already lost enough people," Kaylee said firmly. "If Zoë needs time, she can take it right here with us."

"Kaylee, it ain't up to you," Mal replied.

"Is it up to me?" Zoë asked softly.

"You have an opinion now?" the Captain asked.

"We're a family," Kaylee insisted. "You don't need to go off to figure that out. We're all right here. We'll help."

"Kaylee," Mal warned.

"Hell, Mal," Jayne grunted. "If it's about Wash, we could all use time off."

"It would probably be a welcome respite," Inara murmured.

"You?" Mal spluttered. "You're gonna take this side now?"

"I said she needed to talk to someone," Inara argued. "You're talking about sending her off for self-discovery."

"This ain't open for discussion," Mal warned. "Zoë's getting time off."

"And we are, too?" Jayne asked pointedly. Mal looked from face to face around his table, finally landing on Zoë's bland expression...wait...was she smiling?

"This is helping you?" Mal asked. She shrugged.

"Family is not defined by blood, but by familiarity," River contributed. "Usage of the word within the definition notwithstanding. Therapy is finding family in grief and moving forward in solidarity. One left behind is either lost or retrieved."

"Looks like I'm being retrieved," Zoë finished. Mal blinked at her, grateful she was letting them help her finally.

"But we do get time off, right?" Jayne pressed. "Wouldn't go unnoticed, come Christmas, y'know."


Wednesday, November 28, 2007 8:25 PM


Very, very beautiful. I ached with Zoe as the worlds kept turning against all reason. Favorite lines:

"Everything had seemed hell-bent on introducing him into her life...why was it all in such a hurry to move on now that he was gone?" -> that as an amazingly powerful question.

"Why do I have to be in one piece when he gets to be everywhere around us?" -> And this one tore me through!

"But we do get time off, right?" -> And that's just classic Jayne making me laugh. I like that you ended with a laugh.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 10:51 PM


I think a wonderful description of Zoe's grief. And Mal was so ... Mal, in that he wanted to be there for when she needed him, but not knowing she needed him then. And yes, I agree, ending on a laugh was a good antidote to all that had gone before.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 3:24 AM


This was a great way to describe grief as a contrast between private pain and walls and barriers, and shared grief with companions and the healing it brings. This may well be the best Zoe's grief story I've read yet.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 4:40 AM


I really liked this. I know how hard handling grief can be as I lost my husband young as well. You never really recover but you do learn to cope. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 7:11 PM


Just a great piece of art. Wonderfully worded and a superb piece to not only cry to, but to laugh. :) Thnks for sharing.


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