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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Zoe becomes pregnant, but before she and Wash can truly decide how they feel about raising a child together, the decision is taken from them.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1829 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
By Fish & RSB
* * *
Wash frowned when Zoe shook her head in response to the bowl of soup he pushed toward her. She had her elbows propped up on the edge of the dining table, head bowed in the manner he recognized as ‘Not feeling well, do not feed the grumpy warrior woman’. She hadn’t had an appetite for a few days, and had been tired and foul-tempered; even the captain had given her a wide berth. “Baby, you have to eat something,” he said with no small amount of concern.
A slow side to side shake of those chocolate curls gave Wash all the answer he was going to get.
“Come on, it’s easy,” he continued, taking up a spoonful of soup. Wash began making engine sounds and maneuvering the spoon in a looping spiral that began to shorten as it approached Zoe.
“Good old soup coming in for a landing!” he announced. The spoon came to a halt in front of Zoe and hovered. “Earth-that-was to Zoe! Come in, Zoe!”
She finally lifted her head and the glare behind her red-rimmed eyes sent the spoon hastily back to the bowl. “Leave it, Wash. I’m not going to tell you again.”
“Look, I know you haven’t been feeling well, baby,” he began.
Zoe’s glare deepened slightly.
“But if you’re not going to eat anything for a couple days, and be cranky with everyone, maybe you should let us know in advance? Or at least go see the doctor? You know, the really socially clumsy one with the sometime creepy sister-girl?”
“Don’t need to see the doctor,” Zoe replied, putting her head back down. “I just need to-“
“See the doctor,” Wash finished. He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “Please. It isn’t as if he’s going to say you only have four weeks to live or you’ve got something planted in the back of your neck or that you need dentures. Just some simple medical advice, maybe get you healthy and hungry again.”
“I’m plenty healthy,” Zoe insisted.
“You were like this during the war, weren’t you? Wasn’t she?” Wash asked, turning to the captain as he walked into the mess hall. “She was, wasn’t she. Walked around bleeding all over green recruits and telling ‘em she’s fine. Those’re the kinda stories I’m always hearing.”
“Don’t right recall that one,” Malcolm Reynolds said as he opened an unmarked tin can. “But you’re near enough to the mark. Had to ambush her once while she was sleeping, dig a little lead out of her arm.” His eyes took on a faraway quality and he nodded once, and then winced. “Still get aches when it’s cold, after that one.”
“She listens plenty to you,” Wash said, sipping at the soup Zoe had turned down.
“She’s ignored me plenty in the past, too,” replied Mal. “I remember this one time-“
“I’m always hearing about how you follow the captain’s lead,” Wash said to Zoe, while Mal carried on in the background. He turned back to the captain and pointed at Zoe with the spoon. “Tell her to go to the doctor and see what’s wrong.”
Mal stood behind Wash and waited until Zoe lifted her head to look at him. He put on a very stern expression and said, “Go to the doctor and see what’s wrong.”
Zoe’s glare made the captain take a step back behind Wash, who had covered his face with his hands. Wash spread his fingers a little to peek out. Zoe slowly pushed herself away from the table and got to her feet, then stalked off in a direction away from the infirmary.
Mal sat down across from Wash. “She’s still not eating, huh?”
“Seems a mite grumpy, too.”
“Not eating’ll do that to a lady,” Wash agreed.
“Think she’s mad at us?”
“Probably fetching some killing implements as we speak.”
“He told me to say it!” Mal yelled after her, pointing to Wash.
Wash hurriedly finished the last of the soup and got to his feet. He wagged the spoon in Zoe’s direction determinedly and started after her. “Time for round two!”
With both arms wrapped protectively around her midsection, Zoe paused and glanced speculatively at her and Wash’s quarters before hurrying off once more down the corridor. She wanted to stay as far away as possible from her mother hen of a husband and, more importantly, from the food he kept waving in her face. Her stomach flip-flopped at the mere thought of eating, and she clenched her teeth against the rising nausea. She thought vaguely about hiding out in the cargo hold, but was stopped dead in her tracks by raised voices up ahead. Peering around the corner, she was annoyed, but not particularly surprised, to see Simon and Kaylee standing on either end of the common area, hands on their hips, shouting at each other. Jayne was sitting in the middle of the couch, arms spread wide on the cushions, looking thoroughly amused, his head bobbing back and forth like he was watching a tennis match.
“And just what do you mean by that?” Kaylee yelped, clearly incensed.
“I just don’t see why you have to be so sensitive about everything. I didn’t mean-“
“Maybe I wouldn’t have to be so sensitive if you weren’t such a jerk all the time!” Kaylee interrupted. She looked around for something to throw. Simon, seeing that the argument was escalating to violence, put his hands up in surrender.
“Okay…um…you’re mad. I got it,” he said before walking slowly out of the room, clearly afraid to turn his back. Seeing the murderous look on Kaylee’s face, Zoe suspected Simon had reason to be cautious. Her target defeated, Kaylee glanced around in frustration before her eyes lit on Jayne. “What’re you doing here?”
Jayne’s forehead scrunched up in thought as he wracked his brain for an alibi. “I live here,” he finally managed.
Kaylee’s eyes narrowed. “On the couch?!”
Zoe, deciding that Jayne deserved whatever he got from Kaylee, stepped into the room and volunteered, “He’s being a voyeur, Kaylee.”
Jayne stared at her, unsure if he should be insulted or not. “I’m…what?”
“You like to spy on people, Jayne.”
Now he definitely looked insulted. “I do not. Anyways, how would you know I’m a…voyager?”
Zoe merely raised her eyebrows. Jayne’s eyes widened in comprehension, and he protested vehemently, “C’mon, Zoe, that was an accident!”
Kaylee squealed and smacked Jayne across the face with a pillow. “Jayne, what did you do?!”
A wave of dizziness crashed over Zoe, and she sank onto the couch before her knees gave way. Kaylee’s face came into view as she blinked to clear the blackness from her vision.
“Are you all right, Zoe?” she asked with roughly the same tone Wash had had for the past three days.
Zoe leaned back irritably into the couch and muttered, “Fine, leave me alone,” arms once again crossed over her stomach. Without warning, the nausea hit again, and she struggled to stand before realizing in panic that it was too late.
Wash stepped off the stairs onto the cargo deck and turned the corner into the common area in time to catch Zoe’s nausea ruin Jayne’s shirt. He rushed over to his wife’s side and put his arms around her shoulders. “Ok, so maybe it was a good idea not to have the soup. Fortunately, the healthy place is right here,” he said, directing her to the infirmary.
His head turned from side to side, taking in Kaylee, looking concerned but unsure of what to do, and Jayne, who was sitting with his arms held away from his chest and his chin drawn back from the vomit soiling his shirt.
“Ok, where’s the doctor?” Wash demanded. Jayne simply stared back at him, while Kaylee chewed on her lip and looked away nervously. “Kaylee.”
“Do you know where Simon is?”
“Will you please go get him here?”
“Uh, o-ok,” Kaylee said, hurrying off with a short glance at Zoe.
Wash guided Zoe into the infirmary, sitting her down on the patient’s chair. He looked around and finally snatched up a towel lying near the sink, wetting it under the faucet and wiping at his wife’s mouth and cheeks. He brushed the towel across her brow and squeezed her hand. “How are you feeling now? Can I get something for you? Uh, apples, or… a book! Do you want a book? Water! I should get you some water, seeing as how you emptied out all over Jayne back there. Do you want some water?”
Zoe shook her head and leaned back against the headrest. Wash helped her swing her feet up onto the footrest and brushed her hair out of the way.
“At least you’re here now, in the infirmary, and everything will be better, except for Jayne’s shirt, maybe, but I knew you weren’t feeling well and I hope it isn’t catching, but people usually feel better after they throw up all over Jayne, don’t they? Are you feeling better?”
“Be feeling a lot better if you stopped rambling in my ears, husband,” Zoe said tiredly, her eyes closed.
“Right,” Wash agreed. He nodded and took a step back. “Right, I’ll stop rambling, and just be a worried husband, over… here, right?”
Simon stepped into the infirmary, propelled by an anxious Kaylee. He looked from Zoe to Wash and asked, “Well, I can see from Jayne’s shirt that something’s wrong here, and I’m guessing that it’s Zoe not feeling well?”
“You guess wisely,” Wash nodded, clutching the towel. “She hasn’t been eating for a few days, which has been the cause of the grumpiness lately and today she didn’t want any of the soup I made her and then she came down here after glaring at Mal and-“
“I think I get the picture,” Simon assured him. He crossed the infirmary and put on a pair of gloves, then walked over to where Zoe lay. “Could you please open your mouth?” Zoe did so and Simon peered down, moving the overhead lamp slightly for better lighting. “Well, you’re certainly dehydrated. Have you been feeling nauseated lately?”
“A little,” Zoe replied, swallowing.
“Ok,” Simon said. He reached down and turned her wrist over to check her pulse. “Pulse is rapid,” he said to himself. “I’m going to check your temperature and blood pressure next. And draw some blood.” Simon looked up to see Kaylee and Wash staring blankly at him. “Maybe you two could give Jayne a quick hand while I take care of this?” He added, “Won’t take but a second,” when Wash lingered at the door.
In the common room, Jayne was in the same position Wash had left him in. “Uh, little help here, guys.”
“You smell like shu ma nyaow,” Kaylee said.
“Feel like it, too,” Jayne replied glumly.
They exchanged puzzled glances about what they were supposed to do next, until finally Wash and Kaylee took Jayne by either of his outstretched arms and pulled him off the couch to his feet. Jayne quickly snapped back into action, desperately peeling his shirt off and wadding it up into a ball. Wash tossed him the towel and ducked as Jayne tossed his ruined shirt at him in exchange. The shirt landed with a wet squish against the bulkhead.
Wiping himself off, Jayne headed towards his bunk to procure another shirt while Wash and Kaylee stared at the wadded fabric lying at the foot of the bulkhead.
“I’m not cleaning that up,” Kaylee remarked. She scratched her head. “In fact, I think I have some work to do in the engine room. So, let me know how Zoe’s doing later!” She stepped hurriedly away from the common room, pinching her nose.
Wash stared at the shirt for a moment. “Yeah, I think I’ll see how my wife is doing.”
He stepped back into the infirmary to find Simon staring at a monitor thoughtfully while Zoe swung her feet off the chair. “Hey, sweetcakes, feeling better?”
“We’re just waiting for the blood test results,” Simon said absently.
“I’m not,” Zoe said, pushing off the chair. “I’m going back to my bunk and…” Her last words slurred and Zoe fell forward into Wash’s arms.
Wash’s face fell in panic, and Simon helped him put her back on the chair, explaining, “Fainted.”
Zoe opened her eyes with a groan, squinting against the harsh overhead lighting. From her position on the diagnostic bed, she could see Wash leaning over her, looking frantic.
“Zoe?” he called, his voice a few octaves higher than usual. “Zoe, baby, can you hear me?” She rolled her eyes and tried to sit up, only to be restrained by a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Not until I get the rest of this liter into you,” Simon said, and Zoe turned her head to follow the tubing that ran from her right wrist to a bag of clear liquid suspended from the ceiling. “If you faint now at least you’ve got nowhere to fall.”
Looking back at Wash, she tried to smile reassuringly and attempted to loosen the death grip he had on her hand. “I’m okay, honey. Although I don’t know if my fingers are gonna make it.”
Wash stared blankly down at their joined hands before releasing his grip with a start. “Sorry, sorry,” he hurriedly apologized, moving his hand up to her forehead instead. A machine in the corner of the room beeped, distracting all of them, and Simon moved over to examine the results it was displaying.
“Hmmm,” he said, fingertips resting absently on his chin.
“Hmmm what?” Wash asked, anxiety creeping back into his voice. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Well,” Simon began hesitantly, clearly nervous himself, “You’ve been feeling ill, Zoe, because you’ve had morning sickness.
Zoe blinked at him. “I’m…?”
“Yes,” the doctor nodded, clearly relieved that she was catching on. Wash, however, seemed to be remaining stubbornly in the dark, and stared at Simon in bewilderment. With a sigh, Simon explained, “She’s pregnant.”
There was a moment of dawning comprehension, after which the color began draining from Wash’s face. Zoe reached up and grabbed his arm. “Honey, are you going to faint?”
“Oh, my God,” Wash said shakily. “A baby. Oh, my God.”
Zoe felt a sharp pinch and looked down just in time to see Simon pull the tubing from her wrist. Sitting up, she was surprised to find she no longer felt dizzy or nauseated. “I’ve given you some fluids and an anti-nausea medication,” Simon told her. “But I want you to rest. Come back and see me if you feel sick or faint again. Otherwise, I’d like to see you back in a week for a pre-natal checkup.”
Zoe nodded and got to her feet. Wrapping her fingers around his arm, she guided her husband out into the common room. “Wash?”
He didn’t respond, his eyes still glazed over in shock. She reached up and caught his chin, forcing him to look at her. “Wash, I’m going to go lie down for a bit, okay?”
“Okay,” he answered, obviously still dazed, and wandered off in the direction of the bridge. With a bemused sigh, Zoe headed for their quarters, her hand resting absently on her abdomen, but for a very different reason than the earlier queasiness.
A baby. A smile came to her face unbidden. How in God’s name has she gotten pregnant? She and Wash had both been very careful, as Wash had made his views on starting a family abundantly clear. Nevertheless, she was. It was amazing, really, how one little mistake would change their lives forever. Her smile grew; no matter what Wash said, it would be a change for the better.
He was sitting in his chair on the bridge. A baby. They were still on course, and possibly ahead of schedule if that was even possible with that dirt-cheap fuel they’d gotten on Persephone. A baby. He felt like he was in some sort of a dream, but no matter how hard he tried, Wash was already awake.
The word kept ricocheting around in his mind, seemed to take the place of every other thought. How could it possibly have happened? What were they going to do? Wash loved Serenity, she was like no other ship he’d ever flown, and she’d brought him to Zoe; for that reason alone, the ship was special in a way that few other ships could be. But it was still a ship of thieves, smugglers, killers, fugitives, and criminals, not to mention one incredibly brilliant pilot.
He sat back in his seat, absently flipping a switch over his head. Images flashed through his mind of all the dangerous jobs they’d undertaken, all the near-misses and last-minute escapes. When they were in the midst of it and all he could see was the flying, it seemed like fun. He had a woman who loved him on a ship that flew like a dream… most of the time. And even that was fun sometimes. But now…
They’d talked about it before. A baby. Serenity was no place for raising a child. Their lives weren’t exactly suited to raising a child.
Raising a child.
His mind was utterly incapable of moving past those words.
The pilot jumped in his seat and finally registered the hand on his shoulder, and the owner of that hand shouting his name. “Every baby’s fine!” he replied with a jolt.
Mal gave Wash a look that suggested he wasn’t sure he’d heard rightly. “As glad as I am to hear that, I was asking if we were still on course and if Zoe was feeling any better.”
Wash nodded. “Still on course.”
Wash was staring off into space again. He picked up his dinosaurs, the long-neck and the tyrannosaur, and held them before Mal. “I fought in the war and am very mean and dangerous, but cuddly and adorable underneath,” Wash said in a high voice, bobbing the tyrannosaur up and down to indicate it was talking. He raised the long-neck up and changed his pitch. “And I am a happy wanderer-type who makes everyone laugh while I fly the ship brilliantly away from danger. Oh, but what is this? I can hardly resist the seductive charms of this tyrannosaur with whom I travel!”
Mal’s jaw dropped, horrified, as Wash continued his narration with the tyrannosaur.
“Although I am capable of biting your head off with my fearsome teeth, I find you manly and attractive! Let us enjoy each other’s company in a very non-chaste manner!”
“I really don’t need to see this next part,” Mal said hurriedly as Wash moved the dinosaur toys closer together and began making kissing noises.
The dinosaurs moved apart and then Wash had the tyrannosaur walk over to the long-neck. “Guess what, my beloved husband who, though I argue with often, I always enjoy spending a night by the watering hole with?”
“What’s that, my fantastic warrior-woman-wife?”
Wash tossed the long-neck over his shoulder absently and held the tyrannosaur close to his nose. “I’m pregnant!” he yelled. Then he and the tyrannosaur turned to wait expectantly for Mal’s reaction.
The captain nodded his head slowly. “Wash, if I’m following this little drama of yours correctly, and a part of me wishes I wasn’t, then I’m led to conclude that you’ve spent too much time in space and need a good long vacation on a world where men ain’t trying to kill us.” Wash and the tyrannosaur continued to stare at Mal. “Or possibly that your wife is pregnant.”
Wash and the tyrannosaur looked at each other and nodded.
“How did…? I thought you,” Mal fumbled for words. He threw his arms up and sat down in the seat opposite Wash. “I’m at a complete loss for words, Wash. Not that I don’t wish you and Zoe every happiness, which I do, but… pregnant? On Serenity?” He shook his head and said with a nervous grin, “This is no place to be raising critters.”
The tyrannosaur nodded in agreement.
Mal opened his mouth to say something and closed it. He spent a minute nearly starting sentences until Wash put the tyrannosaur down and interrupted him, speaking the words on both their minds.
“Everything looks fine,” Simon reassured her, snapping off his gloves. “You and the baby are both healthy. Do you want another injection for the nausea?”
Although Zoe was tempted to say no, she thought of the wide berth Jayne has been giving her lately, swallowed her pride, and nodded. As Simon readied the medication, he asked, “Do you want to know the baby’s gender? You’re far enough along that it was easy to tell on the scan.”
Zoe hesitated, but decided against it. “No, I’ll wait for Wash,” she clarified. Although she was angry with him for not coming with her, she didn’t think it would be fair to start Wash’s relationship with his child on a bad road over this.
Simon returned with the needle and swabbed a bare patch of skin before sinking it into her arm. It burned a little, but she didn’t flinch. The doctor then handed her a bottle of pills. “Prenatal vitamins,” he explained. “I want you to take one every day.”
“Right,” she said as she got up from the chair.
“See you in a week,” Simon said. “Unless you have any problems or you and Wash want to know the gender earlier.”
“Thanks,” she replied as she left and headed up the stairs towards the bridge, looking for her husband, who if, to judge by her mood, was going to be in pretty hot water.
It wasn’t hard to find Wash; he was stretched out flat on his back underneath the navigation console, fiddling with some circuitry. “Tzao gao!” he exclaimed, drawing his hand back as the wires sparked and sucking on his singed fingertips. After a moment, he withdrew them from his mouth and resolutely began his project once again.
Zoe sat down in the pilot’s chair and tapped his protruding feet with her own. Wash started and hit his head on the underside of the console, which gave Zoe a sort of vindictive pleasure. “Husband, is this conveniently malfunctioning fei oo the reason that you were unable come with me to see the doctor?”
“Uh…” Wash rubbed his bumped head with his burned fingers and craned his neck so he could look at her. “Hi…honey.”
“Don’t give me that,” she snapped. “Why weren’t you there?”
“Sorry, I had to do this first,” he said airily; his decidedly unapologetic tone made Zoe bristle.
“No, you didn’t!” she growled, standing up and automatically placing her hands on her hips. “Wash, this is our baby we’re talking about!”
“I know that!” he replied defensively, attacking the circuits with renewed fervor. “Just get off my back about it!”
“Fine!” Zoe spat, realizing that the conversation was going nowhere. Knowing that in the long run it was better for their marriage if she didn’t deck her husband, as appealing as it sounded right now, she turned and walked out. She could hear Wash shout “I’ll be there next time!” after her, but at this point was too mad to really listen. Storming through the corridors, she nearly ran into Mal, who took one look at her face and winced. “Zoe, we don’t have anywhere good to hide a body on this boat, you know that, right?”
Zoe blew out a breath between pursed lips. “That and past marital bliss are all that’s keeping me from skipping right to the ‘till death do us part’ bit, sir,” she said.
Mal raised his eyebrows. “Good,” he said with finality. “Anyway, I was actually comin’ to look for you. I spoke with a client who wants some goods smuggled from Paquin to Beaumonde. Should be an easy run. After we drop that stockpile of firs we got socked away in the cargo hold on Greenleaf, won’t be a hop, skip and a jump over to Paquin.”
Zoe nodded. “Sounds good, sir.”
Mal smiled. “Glad you approve.” He glanced at her speculatively. “You and the baby okay?”
“Everyone’s fine.” Zoe rolled her eyes. “Everyone but the father.”
Wash peered up from beneath the navigation console carefully, his fingers only centimeters away from the wires that were sure to spark and singe his hands again. But the wires held together and the lights on the console told him that sailing was going to be smooth for a while longer. On the boat, anyway.
At least he was done with it now, and could finally get to the mess for some dinner. He’d been hiding on the bridge all day, fiddling with this and that in an effort to stay out of Zoe’s way and to keep his mind clear of anything that could possibly disrupt his happy, happy world. The way a baby would.
He winced as the word jumped, unwanted, into his mind.
Wash ran his hands under the sink and wiped them off on his coveralls before sitting down across from Zoe, who was pointedly ignoring him. Beside him, Mal swallowed a piece of tomato and asked, “Did you get that thing fixed?”
“Yeah,” Wash replied. “I fixed it. That thing you asked about.”
Mal looked from Wash to Zoe, and back. “Well, good then.”
Wash put some salad on his plate and leaned over to sniff it. He turned to Jayne, who had seated himself as far from Zoe as possible. “Does the salad smell like it’s been burnt to anyone else?”
Jayne didn’t say anything, jerking a thumb towards the back, where Simon seemed to be battling with the smoke and some cook-pots.
Wash shrugged and started to eat, glancing at Zoe occasionally. Smoke and the sound of Simon’s coughing hung over the dining table in the absence of conversation.
Kaylee cleared her throat and turned to Zoe and Wash. “So, uh, what do you think you’re going to name the baby?”
“Well, we’re not rightly sure,” Zoe said politely. Her voice took on an edge as she added, “We’d have to know the baby’s gender so’s we didn’t give a name that didn’t sit right.”
“Wouldn’t want to give a girl’s name to a boy,” Wash added, a little more sharply than he meant to. “Maybe something with more than three letters.”
Mal started to make a suggestion, but Zoe and Wash continued to talk over him.
“Well maybe we ought to name it something neutral, for a girl or a boy,” Zoe growled.
“Maybe we ought to name the planet where we’re going to raise it before we name the baby,” Wash retorted.
The conversation lapsed back into silence. Jayne turned and spat over his shoulder. Simon finally broke away from whatever he had tried to cook and joined them at the table. Kaylee cleared her throat and tried again. “So, whatever you decide to name it, or her, uhm, him, the baby, I can’t wait to see him. Or her.”
“Might be a while before you see him,” Wash said, looking pointedly across the table at Zoe. “Seeing as how you’ll be on Serenity and we’ll be… somewhere… else!”
“Serenity is as fine a place to raise a child as any Core planet, and better than any border moon,” said Zoe, raising her voice.
They had gotten to their feet and were leaning towards each other across the table.
“This is no place to raise a baby!” Wash exclaimed, slapping his palms down. “There’s strange people with guns on it all the time!”
“This is as much a home as any place I’ve lived,” Zoe replied icily.
“A home that’s tried to kill you any number of times!”
“This isn’t about the ship! It’s about you not wrapping your head around the fact that we are having a baby and we’re going to raise it on this ship, and you’re going to love it! ”
Wash understood, somewhere in his head, that there was not going to be any movement past this point in the conversation. It was a milestone, a rest point, a customs station that wasn’t going to let anyone past until the official said so. And he was going to have to accept that. So he took the only course of action left to him.
“Well okay then!” Wash yelled, throwing his napkin onto the table.
“Fine!” Zoe snapped.
“Fine!” Wash repeated.
They turned in unison and stalked away from the dining hall, leaving Mal to meekly offer, “I think its okay, really, if you want to raise the baby here. Wash? Zoe?”
Zoe snarled as she slammed her closed fist into a bulkhead in frustration. With a yelp, she drew her hand back sharply and rubbed at her abused knuckles, leaning against the railing of the catwalk. Running her hands through her curls, she fought the urge to tear her hair out. Wash seemed determined to make this as difficult as possible for everyone on board Serenity, but was saving his worst behavior just for her.
Hearing light footsteps, she turned to see Inara walking her direction. With a sigh, Zoe looked out over the mostly empty cargo hold, unsurprised when Inara stopped beside her.
“It sounds like you and Wash are conflicted about having a baby,” Inara observed, resting her elbows on the railing and mimicking Zoe’s posture.
“I’m not conflicted, Wash is,” Zoe replied defensively.
“Yes,” Inara agreed. “He’s also afraid.”
Zoe threw her hands up into the air. “And I’m not?” she exploded. “Having a baby is a big responsibility, it’s scary. But I don’t see why Wash’s response to all of this is to run away and hide. Leaving Serenity won’t solve any problems; it will create a bunch more.”
“I think Wash is hoping run away from those problems.”
Zoe stared at her for a moment. “Well, that’s stupid.”
With a laugh, Inara nodded. “Yes, it is stupid, but right now it is also how Wash is coping with all of the changes in his life.” She hesitated a moment. “I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but…”
“No, its okay, I’ll take all the advice I can get right now,” Zoe interrupted.
“Talk to him. Tell him that you’re both in this together.” Inara held up a hand to forestall Zoe’s protests. “I know it seems obvious, and…well…stupid. But I think Wash needs to hear it.” With a gentle smile, Inara bid her goodnight and left for her shuttle. Zoe rested her chin in her hand and looked out upon the piles of firs stacked in the hold.
‘I’ll talk to him,’ she thought to her self with a smirk. ‘But tonight, he’s still sleeping on the couch.’
* * *
Wash picked up a pillow and held it in his hands for a second, turned, and was about to toss it on the end of the couch where he had collected as many other loose pillows as possible when he paused. He stared down at it for a moment, letting it slip to the crook of his elbow for just a moment. Then it was an old, dirty, repulsive pillow again and he flung it across the common room and sat down on the couch, kicking his boots off.
The bulkhead stared back at him. This was no place to raise… He stopped before the thought could finish. If he finished the thought he was going to have strange dreams again. It just wouldn’t do.
Wash patted the cushions and put his head down on the pillows. He’d spent more than a few nights on the couch since this business with the… since this business had started. He was starting to think of naming the couch, or putting up a sign that said “Couch of Wash” over it. What would be a good name for a-
“Would you like an extra blanket?” Shepherd Book asked as he headed towards his room in the passenger area. “We have more than a few handy, and this old boat gets chilly at night.” Before Wash could reply, Book disappeared around a corner and returned with a woolen blanket, setting it on the couch arm next to Wash’s head. Then Book sat in the chair next to the couch, and Wash slowly sat up.
Book tapped the fingertips of one hand against the other for a moment and said, “A child is a wonderful gift from the Lord.”
“Couldn’t He have sent some platinum or high-grade fuel our way instead?” Wash replied softly.
“He works in mysterious ways.” Book shrugged.
They sat in a protracted silence, the engine sending a gentle thrum though the quiet ship.
At length, Wash held his palms out atop his knees. “What am I supposed to do? I mean, we’re having a baby. We’re having a baby on this ship. And I’m going to love it apparently. No ‘Maybe we can raise the baby someplace that doesn’t have wanted criminals constantly coming and going’, or ‘Let’s leave this life of high-risk crime behind for the sake of our…the baby’. One morning, all of a sudden, there’s a baby on the way!” He snapped his fingers. “And that’s that.”
Wash put his hands over his face and leaned back against the couch, making a noise of frustration.
“This child is a product of both you and your wife,” the Shepherd began. “That means you both have an equal say in how you decide to raise it. An equal weight in a civilized discussion.”
“It just seems like I did my part in producing that baby and now my job’s done!” Wash said behind his hands.
“Apart from any place in the world, any moon or planet, where would you want to be, for better or for worse?”
“At Zoe’s side,” Wash answered slowly, getting a handle on the direction the Shepherd was taking him.
“And what do you intend to do about the child?”
There was something thick in Wash’s throat, but he spoke past it anyway. “Raise it.”
Book shrugged. “Then that’s all you’ll need. The Lord will provide the rest.” The Shepherd got to his feet, said goodnight and headed for his room.
Lying on the couch with his hands laced under his head, Wash stared back at the bulkhead. The baby was his, his and Zoe’s. He had a say in raising it, too, but more than anything, he wanted to be with Zoe, wanted to be by her side. It was an unsafe time to be bringing a little person into the ‘Verse, sure, but that little person was on it’s – his - way, and there was nothing to be done about it now.
Wash made up his mind about it. Raising a baby - a son, maybe – on a ship named Serenity with the woman he loved? Maybe he could handle that.
A yawn escaped him and he rolled over, letting his tired eyes finally droop. What was a good name for…
Zoe tossed and turned for most of the night; it seemed that every time she started to doze off, she instinctively rolled over towards Wash’s side of the bed, only to find it empty. At around 3:30 she got up and stumbled into the bathroom, splashing some cold water on her face. With a sigh, she looked at her water-logged reflection in the mirror. The circles under her eyes told her just how much of a toll this little ordeal was taking on her, both physically and emotionally. Groping blindly for a towel, she wiped the water from the bottom of her chin, thinking of what Inara had told her. We’re in this together. It sure didn’t feel like it right now. Making up her mind, she grabbed her robe from its hook on the back of the door, slipped her feet into her boots, and stole out into the quiet corridors of Serenity.
Wash was fast asleep on the couch in the common room, flat on his back, snoring softly with his mouth open, covers bunched around his ankles. With a little smile, Zoe reached down and rearranged the blankets, tucking them securely under her husband’s chin. He shifted in his sleep and his fingers curled around her hand; he smacked his lips and sighed contentedly as his head rolled back against the pillows. Zoe sat on the edge of the coffee table and reached out to smooth Wash’s rumpled hair with her free hand. He was going to be a wonderful father, she knew. In the middle of the night, alone, the responsibility of raising a child in the messed-up universe they found themselves in was staggering, almost overwhelming. But watching Wash sleep, she felt safer, more sure of herself. She had wanted this child so much it used to ache when Wash said no; now, she just wanted Wash to love this child as much as she already did.
Zoe gave her husband’s shoulder a gentle shake, nudging harder when he stubbornly refused to wake. He drew in a quick breath and his eyes snapped open, watching her with an expression that seemed to vacillate between apprehension and concern. “Zoe? What’s wrong?”
She sighed. “We’re both wrong, Wash. I couldn’t sleep. Can we talk?”
He rubbed at his eyes and nodded, and Zoe kicked off her boots and curled up under the blankets next to her husband. “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she said.
“Me too,” he replied. She could feel his warm breath on the back of her neck. “I’m definitely sorry you yelled at me.” She tapped him in the shins with her heel and he quickly added, “And I’m sorry I yelled at you, too.”
Zoe scrunched against his chest and pulled the blankets a little higher. “Wash?”
“You know that we’re in this together, right? As parents, I mean.”
There was a long pause and Zoe heard what sounded suspiciously like a sniffle before Wash’s arm snaked around her chest and pulled her close. “Yeah, baby, I know.”
Zoe smiled in the darkness and let her eyes drift shut. She was nearly asleep when Wash asked, “So…what do you want to name the baby?”
She snorted. “Anything but Wash.”
He was practically bouncing off the walls of the infirmary, except that he was standing in place, pushing up and down with his toes, so that he was a bobbing wall of child-like excitement. Wash could scarcely contain himself. He was grinning a thin, nervous grin, and Zoe reached over to take his hand, giving it a squeeze.
“Settle down, husband,” she instructed patiently, an expectant smile on her own lips.
Wash stopped bobbing. “Sorry. I’m just wondering where that doctor fellow I’ve heard so much about is.”
“I’m here, sorry, I’m here,” Simon said, covering a yawn with the back of his hand. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. “I’m here. So what can I do for you? Have you been feeling well?”
“About as well as I’m supposed to,” Zoe said. “Wash decided he couldn’t take the suspense anymore.”
“She wants to know whether it’s a boy or a girl,” Wash said in response.
Simon nodded and retrieved something from the cabinets, motioning for Zoe to have a seat on the diagnostic chair. He held some instruments over Zoe’s abdomen and directed their attention to the monitor. “And if you squint really hard, you can see that you are going to be the proud parents of a healthy, baby girl.”
“Something about that not sitting right with you, Wash?” Zoe asked ironically in response to Wash’s surprised expression.
Surprise gave way to a wide smile. “Not in the least,” he replied. True, he’d somehow been expecting a son, but a daughter was every bit the same kind of blessing. It wasn’t just a baby anymore, or a child. A daughter. “Let’s hope she takes after her mother.”
“You could name her Jayne,” Kaylee suggested, her eyes wide and innocent as she took a large bite out of a rather bruised apple.
“Jayne ain’t no girl’s name!” Jayne protested, glancing up from cleaning his fingernails with the tip of his knife. Zoe laughed and scribbled the name right under Gertrude on her ‘definitely not’ list. Admittedly, that was the longest list so far, but at least it was giving her a fair idea of what her baby daughter shouldn’t be forced to go by.
“Perhaps something biblical?” Shepherd Book offered. “Eternally popular, that’s to be sure.”
Wash shrugged. “No offense, Shepherd, but I was hoping for something more…”
“Unique?” Kaylee supplied. Wash pointed at her and nodded his confirmation to Book.
“What about Beatrice?” Jayne asked, attacking a particularly obdurate bit of dirt under his thumbnail. Zoe made a face and added another one to her ‘not’ list. Noticing that his suggestion was met only by grimaces, Jayne said defensively, “It’s a good name! It’s my mom’s name!”
“It is a good name, Jayne,” Wash said placating. “But we’re trying to christen a baby here, not an 80-year-old woman.”
Simon wandered in, followed by River, and watched Jayne’s grooming process with no small amount of trepidation. “Uh….are you sure that’s a good idea?”
Jayne glanced up. “Haven’t cut my fingers off yet, have I?”
Simon shook his head and wandered into the kitchen, looking for a clean mug. “But when you do, you’re going to wind up on my doorstep.”
“Danielle?” Kaylee interrupted.
Zoe thought for a moment, then shook her head. “I like it, but it’s too long.”
They batted names back and forth for a while longer, but in the end made no real progress. Finally, Zoe got up from her seat and stretched. “I’m gonna wander on up to the bridge, husband,” she told Wash. “If you come up with anything, give a holler.”
She pecked him on the cheek and then mounted the short flight of steps to the bridge, where she found Mal staring pensively at the blank view screen. “Cap’n?” she asked curiously. He started and spun in his seat to face her.
“Zoe,” he answered evenly. “Hi. I was just thinkin’.”
“’Bout what, sir?”
“’Bout this smuggling job we’re supposed to be pullin’ off in a few days time.” He eyed her appraisingly. Zoe scowled back; when he got that look he was usually about ready to tell her something she didn’t want to hear. “Might be a bit dangerous if things go south. I want you to pilot, stay in the shuttle. Me and Jayne’ll handle the delicate business transaction, as it were.”
“Sir, I’m not about to-“
“Zoe, that wasn’t exactly a request! I’m not of a mind to start putting you in the path of a bullet if I can’t help it, especially now that you’ve got a baby on the way.”
Noticing the way his jaw was set, Zoe relented. It was obvious that this was one argument she wasn’t going to win. “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” he said, slapping his knees and getting to his feet. “I’m…uh…well, I’m glad that you and Wash decided to raise your baby on my ship. Honored, like.”
Zoe smiled. “Wouldn’t raise her anywhere else, sir.”
Mal raised his eyebrows. “It’s a her, now, is it?”
“Yes, sir. Shall I name her after you anyway?”
“I knew there was a reason I picked you as a first mate, Zoe,” Mal chortled, clapping her on the shoulder before moving towards the mess.
Zoe sat down in Wash’s seat and absentmindedly picked up his toy dinosaurs, staring out into the void. A baby girl. A daughter. With a wicked grin, she took out her list and wrote Mal firmly under ‘not’.
Wash thought for a moment and then said in friendly, even tones, “I’m going to try and be as diplomatic about this as I can. We’re not naming the baby Matilda!” Kaylee and Simon joined his laughter, and even Jayne cracked a smile at his own expense.
Inara poured some tea for herself and offered, “How about Tristan?”
Wash shrugged, looking thoughtful, then shrugged again. “I think we might take to throwing darts about it in the end.”
“Long as you’re not throwing them around me,” Mal said, stepping down into the mess. He patted Wash’s shoulders and nodded towards the bridge. “The missus was calling for you. I think being pregnant has made her a teensy bit more bossy-like.”
“A human pregnancy is remarkably similar to a parasitic invasion of a host by Echinococcus granulosus. Signs and symptoms resemble those of a space-occupying tumor.”
Wash turned, along with the rest of the crew, to stare at River, who was standing innocently at the far end of the mess, halfway through the door. She had a hand on her belly, then raised it to eye level, turning her head quizzically to look at it. She gave Wash a hooded glance, then went and sat down next to Kaylee and Simon on the couch in the corner of the mess.
“That’s more or less what my mother said about me bein’ born,” Jayne said, spitting on his knife and wiping it off on his shirt.
Mal gave Wash another pat on the shoulder. “You’re brave man to be raising a girl here.”
Heading up to the bridge, Wash grinned, “You’re a brave man to let a girl be raised here.”
He stepped quietly past the crew bunks on his way up to the bridge, thinking about names. He’d been working under the assumption that his first-born was going to be a son, but now that it was going to be a girl… There were some names he thought could still work. Not Jayne, he told himself. Definitely not Jayne.
Tip-toeing up to the bridge, Wash leaned around the doorway to see Zoe sitting his chair, playing with his dinosaurs. His jaw dropped and he raised a finger in surprise. He’d always suspected that Zoe played with the dinosaurs when he wasn’t looking. She liked to tease him about the toys every now and then, but didn’t seem to care one way or another. Said it was part of why she loved him. And now here she was!
“…a fearsome tyrannosaur, and you’re a meek,” Zoe paused, unsure of what to call the long-neck. “You’re a meek little dinosaur with a long neck! Our romance is obviously not meant to last!” The tyrannosaur turned away from the long-neck, but she made the less fearsome dinosaur catch up with the carnivore. “Wait! I love you! We will find a new place to call home, a place where we can be with each other happily! We will find a new land, and call it-“
“This land!” Wash finished for her, chuckling. Zoe dropped the dinosaurs and put her hands in her lap, looking around nonchalantly. Wash leaned on the back of the chair and said, “Ah ah ah! I caught you this time! You were playing with the dinosaurs!”
“Maybe,” Zoe offered, neutrally, a guilty smile on her face.
“And that means I get to shoot somebody next time we get into a firefight, right?”
“No, husband,” Zoe corrected him patiently. She got up and put her arms around Wash. “Did you come up with any good names?”
“I came up with some pretty bad ones,” Wash said, pulling her close. “Captain said you were calling for me?”
“No, but now that you’re here, I’m not complaining.”
They maneuvered back around to the pilot’s seat, and Wash dropped into it, with Zoe seated across his lap. “I was thinking something with a kind of old-time feel to it,” Wash said. “Cinderella, maybe.”
Zoe gave him a playful punch in the arm. “We’re not naming her ‘Cinderella’.” She cut him off before he could make his next suggestion. “Or Snow White.”
“Snow who?” Wash replied innocently. He pulled his wife a little closer and gave her a kiss. “Did Mal have any good ideas about names for the baby?”
“No, just job details. I’m going to be piloting the shuttle in, it’s just going to be him and Jayne making the drop.”
“Rightfully so,” Wash nodded. “Smuggling and trading money with bad men is no place for my baby. Both of them.”
Zoe leaned her head against Wash’s. “That’s sweet. I don’t think its going to be a dangerous job, but I guess that’s the way it’s going to be from here on.”
“Maybe he can start taking Simon instead. Make a right menacing scoundrel out of him.”
“That’d just put us in more danger.”
“I’ll always be there to catch you if you fall,” Wash assured her.
“And I’ll kill the big scary men with guns,” Zoe said.
“I knew I married you for a reason.”
They laughed together quietly in the blissful privacy of the bridge, and Zoe rested her head on Wash’s shoulder until a bark from Mal summoned them both back down to the mess.
“What do you think of Tabitha?” Zoe asked as they headed down.
Wash turned them name over in his head and nodded. “Sounds fierce.”
Wash stopped so suddenly that Zoe nearly ran into her stunned husband, and she peered around his shoulder to get a good look at the mess. While they were on the bridge, the rest of the crew had apparently decided to do a little redecorating, for there were streamers hanging from the ceiling and gifts and any manner of foodstuff littering the table. She looked up at Wash, whose mouth was hanging open, and gave him a little shove.
“Dear, you’re going to attract flies.”
Wash shut his mouth with a snap, and the two of them stepped into the mess, where they were promptly greeted by Kaylee. “What is all of this?” Zoe asked her.
“It’s a baby shower!” Kaylee chirped. “I know it’s a little early, but it’s been kinda rocky lately so we wanted to cheer you up. D’you like it?”
Zoe reached over and gave her a hug. “It’s wonderful, thank you, Kaylee,” she assured her, and Kaylee beamed at the praise.
Everyone piled their plates with food, and as soon as they had finished Kaylee shoved several of the packages under Zoe’s nose. Zoe smiled at her somewhat indulgently and picked up the first package. Tearing away the paper, she revealed…a wrench?
“That one’s from me,” Mal announced. Wash leaned over and stared at the strange gift in confusion. “I hope you like it, Wash, cause you’re gonna be getting awfully close to that wrench. We’re gonna tear out that old smuggler’s hold we never use so you two’ll have more room for the baby an’ all.”
Wash picked up the wrench and frowned. “There’s something ironic about putting a baby in a former smuggler’s hold, I just know it…”
Zoe stifled a laugh and said, “The extra space’ll be wonderful, thanks, sir.”
“My pleasure,” Mal replied with a wink. Zoe grabbed a rather large cardboard box that had “from Jayne” scrawled across the top in big block letters. Reaching in, she pulled out a small handgun and a pair of knit booties.
“So’s she’ll be able to fight proper…when she grows up, like,” he amended when Zoe shot him a bemused look. “And the sock-things are from my mom.”
“Thank you Jayne, that was very…sweet of you. Be sure to thank your mom for us, too.”
As she reached for the next gift, Kaylee squealed, “That’s from me!” and then blushed. Zoe struggled with the intricately tied bow, firmly refusing Jayne’s offer of assistance of his rather uncleanly knife. She finally got it undone and pulled out a handmade mobile with little origami cranes dangling from a wood frame. Shepherd Book took the mobile from her hands and hung it on a rod that dangled over the cradle he had made.
They received a straightforward photo album from Inara, but Simon and River’s gift was also rather cryptic. Zoe stared down at the capped hypodermic needle nestled in the tissue paper and admitted, “I’m sorry, I don’t get it.”
“I’ll get your daughter a full set of immunizations,” Simon clarified. “There’s something else, too.” Zoe lifted the tissue to reveal a framed black-and-white image of their unborn daughter.
Wash whispered in her ear, “Look, honey, we’re having a baby static!” Zoe punched him in the arm and thanked Simon politely.
River stared at her in that creepy way of hers that always made her skin crawl. “A meteor entering planetary atmosphere glows briefly in the night sky, delivering wishes before it burns up,” she said, her eyes large and luminous in the flickering glow of the candles that had been set out on the table.
“No night is complete without hearin’ somethin’ spooky from that one,” Mal observed, leaning back in his chair and resting his boots on Jayne’s shoulder. Jayne snarled and hit Mal’s feet away, causing the captain to nearly topple over backwards and eliciting laughs from the rest of the group. A timer beeped, and Kaylee disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a large cake, which was devoured as the night wore on.
After everyone else had finally gone to bed, Zoe and Wash sat alone in the midst of the remains of the party. Zoe yawned and rested her head against Wash’s chest as she tapped the cradle Shepherd had given them, gently rocking it back and forth.
“They’re good people, Wash,” she observed sleepily.
“Yep,” he agreed, stoking her hair. “You won’t fine a better place to raise a child.”
Zoe smiled and reached up to pull his head down to hers and kissed him softly.
Wash was sitting on one of the counters in the infirmary, drumming his fingers impatiently. He jumped off the counter, walked to the other side of the infirmary, turned around and walked back the way he came, hopped back onto the counter long enough to tap his fingers on any convenient surface and repeat the process. He managed to cross the infirmary several times before Simon arrived.
The doctor paused as soon as he caught sight of Wash, waiting expectantly. “Is everything ok, Wash? Where’s Zoe?”
“I’d like to know that myself,” Wash said, folding his arms and leaning forward on the balls of his feat. On cue, Zoe appeared in the doorway and slipped past the doctor, freezing as she caught Wash’s gaze. “Where have you been? I’ve been here for fifteen minutes, waiting!”
“You’ve been here for fifteen minutes?” Simon repeated, surprised at the change in Wash’s punctuality. In the weeks before the baby shower, only days past, it would have been amazing for Wash to show up at all; and now he was waiting fifteen minutes early. Simply amazing.
“The captain and I were talking about the job. You know, that thing that people do to have money to feed their children?” Zoe crossed her arms and met Wash’s stare.
“Don’t you need to make sure you’re going to have a healthy child before you start worrying about feeding it?” Wash returned.
Simon led Zoe over to the diagnostic chair, increasingly familiar with the strange mix of banter and argument that characterized Wash and Zoe’s marriage. He asked her the usual questions and got the usual answers. “Everything seems to be in order,” he announced, eager to slip out, just in case this turned into a real argument, although those had been rare lately. “I’ll see you next week?”
“And on the dot!” Wash called after him. He turned to Zoe, allowing a smile to brighten up his stern expression. “So what’s going on about the job? I thought it was another one of those simple smuggling things. We land, you take the goods out in the shuttle, come back with nice, shiny money, and we fly off to our next caper. Except now you don’t get shot at.”
“That’s right, dear,” Zoe said, getting to her feet. “Now I get to stay all cozy like in the shuttle while the bad men shoot at Jayne and the captain. Maybe I’ll start knitting.”
They stepped out into the cargo bay and began climbing the stairs up as Mal started down.
“Zoe, Wash, good,” he said, meeting them on the walkway. “Look, we’ve got an eensy bit change of plans.”
“Change of plans?” Wash repeated, looking dubious.
“Something wrong, sir?” Zoe asked, all business.
Mal shook his head. “It’s probably nothing. Can’t get a hold of Hauser on the comm. Zoe, you’re with me and Jayne; Wash, you’re piloting the shuttle. Bring as many guns as you like.” Wash raised his hand. “No guns for Wash.”
”You think someone topped Hauser?” Zoe asked.
“Wouldn’t be the first time someone’s tried,” Mal agreed, heading down. “If someone did, though, the deal should still be good. But I don’t want to be caught unprepared, like. We’ll make the drop, get some decent wage, and head off. No chances, no maybes, and if it gets bad, we get gone.”
“Hopefully after we get paid,” Jayne grumbled, following past the captain.
Wash and Zoe left it to Jayne and the captain to get the goods loaded on the shuttle and went up to their quarters to get ready. Wash frowned the whole way.
“No chances?” he repeated. “Aren’t we already taking a chance by assuming that the new guy won’t be some psychotic criminal mastermind who doesn’t like to pay hard-working parents as much as Hauser?”
“We’ve been in these kinds of situations before. Sometimes the middleman gets shuffled off and we deal with his replacement. It’s that easy, Wash.” She stopped him in the hallway and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t worry; I’ll shoot any bad men who try to come after you. And you catch me when I fall. That’s the deal, right?”
“Till death do us part,” Wash said cheerily. He made a face as they continued on. “I’ve always hated that line.”
Zoe leaned down to adjust her thigh holster as she, Wash, Jayne and Mal boarded the shuttle. Sliding into the copilot’s seat, she went through the standard pre-flight checks with Wash. As soon as they were free from Serenity, she leaned back and watched the atmosphere burn to plasma through the window as they fell out of orbit to Beaumonde. Beaumonde was closer to the Core, and was better developed than the planets Serenity tended to frequent because of it. As they broke through the cloud cover, the planet’s largest city, Naias, sprawled beneath them, edging its way out onto fingers of land that jutted into the sea. Wash guided the shuttle towards a large building in the shadier part of town, by the docks, and set them down on the roof with a gentle bump.
“Zoe, Jayne, let’s get the cargo out,” Mal ordered, pointing to the three large containers sitting behind him. “Wash, stay here and don’t fly off without us.”
Unloading the cargo went smoothly, but after ten minutes all four of them were justifiably nervous. Finally, the door at the far end of the roof opened, and four men joined them on the roof.
“I don’t believe we’ve met before,” Mal said casually to the man who was in the lead. The man stopped on the other side of the boxes and eyed Mal warily.
“No, we haven’t,” he said at length. “I’m Jordan. Hauser got caught up with another deal. I apologize for our late arrival.”
“Well, there’s your goods,” Mal said, pointing at the cargo. “You just give us the money and we’ll be on our way.”
Jordan’s eyes shifted to the roofline. “Yes…about that. My employer instructed me to give you fifteen percent, no more.”
Mal raised his eyebrows. “Twenty is what we agreed upon when we took this job,” he said as he nonchalantly flipped back the hem of his jacket to reveal the gun that was holstered to his side. Jordan’s eyes flickered once more to the building’s edge, and Zoe, her suspicions raised, moved over to investigate. Her heart leapt into her throat as she leaned over the low wall to get a good look at the street below.
“Sir, we’ve got company,” she announced in a deceptively calm voice. “Lots of company. The unwanted, Federal type.”
Mal’s weapon was drawn and aimed before she had finished the sentence. “You want to tell me what this is all about?” he asked Jordan.
“Let’s just say that the Alliance pays a lot better than your former friend Hauser,” Jordan sneered. Zoe noticed him fingering something in his pocket, but before she could react the shipping containers exploded in a fury of heat and shrapnel. Zoe threw herself to the ground and covered her head with her hands. When the noise had died down, she was back on her feet with her gun firmly in her hand. Bullets were already flying through the smoky air, and as Zoe dropped the nearest thug with a well-placed shot to the chest she heard Mal shout, “Wash, start her up!”
“I can’t!” Wash answered. “The blast shorted all the circuitry, I need someone to hit the manual reset and we better pray the board isn’t dead when the power comes back on!”
The gunmen were headed for the stairwell, no doubt looking for cover on the inconveniently vacant roof. Zoe shouted, “I’ll get it!” and began to run towards the shuttle, trying to face front as much as possible. Reluctantly holstering her gun, Zoe stood on her toes and wrenched the service panel open. “Which one is it?” she yelled.
“The one that says ‘manual reset!’”
Zoe stared at the switches and handles in frustration, ducking as a bullet whizzed by inches from her head and buried itself in the shuttle’s hull. “NONE of them say ‘manual reset,’ Wash!”
There was a pause. “Then look harder!”
Despite the situation, Zoe rolled her eyes and, after a moment’s hesitation, began to flip every switch on the board. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Finally, she heard Wash’s yell of triumph, and started to move away from the shuttle and out of the line of fire.
Suddenly, she stumbled.
Falling to her knees on the concrete, she looked down at the bright red blood that was spilling uncontrollably from the burning hole in her abdomen. She opened her mouth to call out for help, but horror struck her mute. Pressing her shaking hands to the wound, gasping with pain, she watched as blood ran between her fingers. Then Mal was kneeling next to her.
“Oh, no, Zoe, Zoe…” There was so much blood. She barely felt his body against hers as he picked her up. “Jayne, leave it! I said, GET OVER HERE! Wash, we need to be home yesterday!” So much blood. “Zoe? Stay with me here!”
Her vision was blurring. She thought she heard Wash’s voice just before everything faded.
Wash. The baby.
He was sitting at the shuttle’s controls, racing away from the rooftop, away from the scummy port town, away from the planet. He was barely aware of piloting through a brief cloudbank, clutching at the controls to keep the shuttle steady. The shuttle broke atmo and minutes later, Serenity appeared as a speck against the starfield. Beside him, Mal radioed Kaylee, told her to get the engines started, to have Simon ready the moment they landed.
He didn’t quite register Jayne saying, “I got the whoo dahn shot her. And the money. Bunch’a candy-loving shu ma nyaow.” Jayne stopped and was quiet for the rest of the short trip back to the ship.
Mal was in the rear, attending Zoe best he could. Wash knew he was back there. He knew his wife was back there, had briefly glanced back as the shuttle lifted off, seen Jayne firing his gun, Vera, down at the Feds as the shuttle door closed. He’d seen blood. Too much blood.
And then his attention had been on the flying. Another time, he’d have simply headed straight for Serenity, bucking any Alliance gunships that tried to swat them down. But there were no gunships, and a straight burn for Serenity would have given them away, and been too rough. Too rough for Zoe.
The shuttle connected solidly with the docking rails and slid partway into its nook over the wing. There was a clang and bump and then they were docked. They were back aboard Serenity. Safe.
He unbuckled the harness and stood up, heard commotion behind him. Someone called his name. But he didn’t want to turn around. He didn’t want to face it. If he turned around, he’d see his beloved wife, that brave warrior woman, with too much blood on the outside. He’d see the years they’d spent together flash by, hear her tell him how much she loved him, all the little moments they’d share together. He’d hear her remind him how she’d shoot the bad men, and that he was supposed to catch her when she fell. The last thing he would hear was her speaking a name. The name of their daughter.
He didn’t want to turn around. To his surprise, while his vision of the future had unfolded in his mind’s eye, his feet had made the decision for him. And the rest of his body had gone along with it. He’d helped move Zoe onto the stretcher, grabbed the rear handles while Mal was at the head, following Simon urgently, carefully, down to the infirmary.
They lifted her onto the diagnostic bed, and Wash took a step back. Simon moved with the confident grace and skill of the genius professional he’d always said he was. The doctor, quite unknowingly, moved to block Wash’s view of his wife. All he could do was stare. The Shepherd slipped past and the doctor quickly put him to work, getting tubes and tools out while Simon got Zoe’s armor off so he could see the wound. All he could do was stare.
“Wash?” It was the captain. He should say something. He was supposed to do something.
“I’ll set us a course,” he began haltingly, still staring at the doctor’s back, and what he could see of Zoe’s feet.
“I’m going to take care of that. Just, stay out of the doctor’s way. Let him work his trade. Zoe’s been through worse. She’ll make it.” He was gone, leaving Wash to stand alone, completely uncomprehending of the scene playing out before him. Simon and Book moving here and there, tubes and wires connecting his wife to strange machines. He’d been in hospitals before, had seen the infirmary at work like this before, but it just wasn’t registering. He wasn’t really seeing it. He wasn’t seeing Zoe.
Someone was calling his name. The doctor. “Wash? You need to leave.”
The Shepherd ushered him out of the infirmary, setting him down on the couch. Book lingered a moment, then headed back into the infirmary, shutting the doors behind him.
The bulkhead stared back at Wash. He thought about the many times Zoe had cheated death. He thought about the narrow escapes and the nights spent together, warm in their bunk. He remembered meeting her aboard Serenity, back when he was still wearing that silly mustache. Getting married. He remembered dozens of arguments and reconciliations.
He remembered the baby.
Her name exploded in his mind and a pain and fear that were not entirely physical, not entirely emotional, somehow conspired to aid him in slipping off the couch, landing awkwardly on the deck, still staring at the bulkhead.
Minutes stretched into hours, and it felt like years went by with only Wash on the deck and the bulkhead across from him to keep company. At some point, the terrible picture show of his mind started playing the life story of his daughter against the bulkhead. He watched her happy birth, being raised on a daring ship of honorable thieves, growing into a beautiful young woman who could shoot in her sleep and fly a ship just as well. He saw her start a family. He saw her grow old and…
“Wash?” The doctor was standing halfway outside the infirmary; one foot in, one foot out. Wash got to his feet somehow; his legs felt like jelly.
“How is she?”
“She lost a lot of blood, but I managed to repair the nick to her aorta in time. She also has some damage to the spleen, but…well, her body couldn’t tolerate surgery much longer, and with any luck the damage should repair itself. I’ve got her on oxygen support and two large-bore IVs. She’s not out of the woods yet, but assuming the sutures hold, it doesn’t look like she’s in immediate danger.” He hesitated.
“Wash,” he began slowly. “It’s about the baby.”
Wash’s breath caught. He wanted to grab the doctor by the collar and shake the answer out of him, but his arms wouldn’t move. “What about the baby?” he asked, raggedly.
“Zoe… lost too much blood and your- the baby… Wash, I’m sorry. The baby’s dead.”
Simon was still talking. “There was nothing I could do. She’d lost too much blood too fast and I… I’m sorry. You can see Zoe now, for a few minutes.” He stepped aside and Wash walked into the infirmary with stiff, halting movements. Simon waited at the door.
Wash took Zoe’s hand in his and held it to his lips. His vision had blurred, but he wasn’t looking at anything. He couldn’t see anything. The baby. He felt wet tracks on his cheeks. The baby.
And when it came time for the doctor to usher him out, Wash found himself once again staring at the bulkhead with only one thought in his mind.
She heard voices, faintly at first, filtered through the soft hum that filled her ears. Hands occasionally brushed against her forehead, her palms. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open. Something was in her throat. She couldn’t breathe.
“Zoe?” She looked up, seeing her expression of wide-eyed panic mirrored in her husband’s face. “Doctor, she’s awake, something’s wrong!”
Simon moved into her field of vision. To Wash, “Try to keep her still.” Then, “Zoe, I need you to stop fighting and look at me. There’s a tube down your throat that’s helping you breathe. When I count to three, you need to breathe out, okay?”
She stared back at him, terrified. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t helping her breathe, quite the opposite actually. But she obeyed, and then it was gone. Zoe took a deep lungful of air and began to cough in earnest, wincing in pain. Simon slipped a mask over her face; she tried to push it away, but he grabbed her hand and said, “You need it, Zoe. Leave it.” Weakly, she nodded and dropped her hand back to her side. “I’m going to give you some medicine for the pain.”
“Wash,” she said thickly. Her throat was sore.
“I’m here, baby, I’m here.” She felt his hand on her forehead again and leaned into the touch.
Wash shook his head. “The doctor says not yet.”
She sighed, letting her eyes drift shut. “The baby…is the baby okay?” she mumbled. It felt like her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth.
There was a long pause. Too long.
She didn’t want to open her eyes, didn’t want to see the tears running down Wash’s cheeks as he told her that their daughter was dead. She began to cry, drawing great, wracking breaths that tore at her stitches and her soul. Slowly, everything began to fade out once more.
Oh, no, no, oh Lord, please, not Tabitha. Don’t take my baby girl.
With a final sob, she murmured the name of her dead daughter and fell into a fitful sleep.
Wash flipped the switches above the navigation console, made a minor adjustment to the course, and sat back in his chair. They were en route to a fueling station to refuel and pick up supplies, then off to meet another potential employer. Life went on.
His eyes lighted on the long-neck dinosaur balanced on the console beside a palm tree and a three-horn. He kicked at it, missed, and swore loudly.
“Wash, are we set?” Mal asked, stepping onto the bridge.
Biting back a sharp retort, Wash managed, “Yeah, we’re sailing.” He clenched a fist and tried to will the captain away. He didn’t want the conversation that was about to come find him.
“How are you doing?”
Wash rolled his eyes. There it was. The good captain’s generous inquiry into his emotional health. He turned around in his seat and stood up. A half-dozen different responses flashed through his mind, but once he’d settled on one, his throat had already thickened.
“No chances, no maybes!” he snapped. “If things look bad, we get gone! Do these sound like familiar words to you?”
“They’re my own,” Mal said calmly.
“Well, we got gone, just after things got bad! Sir!” Wash continued. “We got gone a little too slow and things got real bad! Pretty gorram bad!” The captain didn’t say anything. And he got it, Wash understood what was going on. “And I’m supposed to feel better after this little shouting fit, aren’t I? I’m supposed to lay all the blame on you and get it all out of my system and move on!
“Well, screw that! It is your fault, Mal! It’s your fault that my daughter is dead! It’s your fault that Zoe got shot! It’s your fault because you and she fought in the war together and became great pals, and you bought a ship, and needed a pilot! It’s your fault that I have a wife! That I had a daughter! And that I lost her!
“It’s all your fault!”
Wash’s fist rushed towards Mal, but the captain neatly sidestepped it. Wash stumbled against the bulkhead, and leaned against it, exhausted by his outburst. “It’s your fault,” he repeated, panting. He stumbled back to his seat and collapsed into it.
Mal waited patiently for Wash to regain his composure, seated across from him.
“Everything,” Wash said thickly. “That’s happened is your fault. And if I could have gotten you shot instead of Zoe, I’d do it myself. If I-“ He faltered. “If I could trade you for my daughter back…” He turned away abruptly.
Wash felt Mal’s hand on his shoulder and half-expected another burst of fury. He wanted to lash out, at someone, anyone. But Jayne had already killed the bastards, and if it was Mal’s fault that he’d lost a daughter, it was also Mal’s fault that he’d had a wife in the first place.
He let his head hang and hid his face behind his palms.
Sometimes it was still hard to believe that her daughter was gone. And sometimes, it was hard to believe that she’d been there in the first place. Tabitha had flitted into their lives, an unexpected and initially unwanted miracle. She’d brought them joy and anger, bliss and sorrow.
Zoe carefully rolled onto her side, hissing at the sharp pain that ran along her spine. She was on the mend, still hurting, but Simon assured her it would get better with time. If only he could say the same thing about her heart. Settling her head back onto the pillow, she stared blankly at the wall. The wall that would have been torn down to make room for Tabitha, when she was born. She thought at this point she should have cried herself dry, but the tears started again. At that moment she would have done anything to make the dull, persistent ache go away. Anything to have her daughter back.
A knock on the door startled her from her revere, and she hastily wiped the tears from her face as Kaylee walked in holding a tray. “I brought you some soup,” she said, setting the tray down on the nightstand.
Zoe turned back to face the wall. “I’m not hungry.”
“You have to eat, Zoe,” Kaylee pleaded. Zoe ignored her. She could hear the pity in her voice.
After a while Kaylee left, clearly discouraged. Zoe didn’t care. The soup cooled on the nightstand, untouched.
The mobile hung over the head of the cradle, the origami cranes turning slowly in the still air of the cargo hold. Shepherd Book stood at one end of the cradle, his Bible held against his chest, while Zoe and Wash stood together at the head, holding each other.
“I’d like to close with a passage from 2 Samuel,” Book said solemnly. He opened his Bible and read, “David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into the house and spent the nights lying on the ground.
“But on the seventh day the child died.
“Then David got up from the ground and ate. When his servants questioned him, he answered, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.” But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.’”
The Shepherd closed the Bible and bowed his head. “May the Lord God send blessings of peace upon Tabitha Zoe Warren and fill the hollows she left with bountiful love. Amen.
“Wash, Zoe, I’ll leave the final words to you.” Book took a step back, and then turned walked away, leaving the mourners to the words they had prepared and the empty cradle.
Wash took a moment to steel himself, then produced a neatly folded scrap of paper from his pocket. “Your mother and I had a lot of arguments over whether or not we were going to have a child. We both wanted to, but I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t think it was a good time to be raising a child. To raise a daughter.
“And the day I found out you were going to be a part of our lives, I was stunned. But your mother, and the people you’d’ve called ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’, got me past that and helped to realize what a… what a gift you were. One of the best surprises of my life.
“I got used to the idea of a baby girl. I was looking forward to it, could hardly wait. After all that, I wasn’t ready to lose you. At first, I could hardly get my mind around the thought of you entering our lives, and then I couldn’t wait for it to happen. For you to happen.
“But now I think it’ll be a long time before we see each other again, but when we do, I’ll be able to tell you all about your brothers and sisters, and the family that you’ll always be a part of.”
Zoe let the tears run unchecked down her cheeks. Wash wrapped his arms around her tightly as she lifted her own paper and began to read. “I don’t know how I became pregnant with you; it was either an accident or a miracle, and probably a little of both. But I was so excited, so excited to have you brought into our lives. I loved being pregnant, knowing that you were curled up warm and safe inside me, but more than anything I couldn’t wait for you to be born.
“I had so many plans for you, my daughter. I wanted to see your first smile, your first words, your first steps. I wanted to hold you when you cried and comfort you when you were sad. I wanted to watch you grow up strong and healthy and happy.
“No one told me that I shouldn’t make these plans, Tabitha. No one told me that you would be taken from me as quickly as you were given.” She swallowed roughly and forced her words past the tightness in her throat.
“I didn’t get a chance to say hello, and now I don’t know how to say goodbye. But when I see you again, even though I never got the chance to see your beautiful face, I will recognize you, my daughter. I love you.” Her voice broke, and she and Wash gently lay their letters in the empty basinet, beside the empty photo album and empty booties, next to the grainy image of their daughter.
Monday, August 29, 2005 3:26 AM
Monday, August 29, 2005 7:07 AM
Monday, August 29, 2005 7:18 AM
Monday, August 29, 2005 10:35 AM
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 11:16 PM
Thursday, November 10, 2005 7:37 PM
Wednesday, May 10, 2006 8:23 PM
Sunday, December 04, 2011 7:03 PM
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