musamea: (Zoe Grief)
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Title: Burning in the Garden of Gethsemane
Author: Musamea
Fandom: Firefly
Pairing: Mal/Zoe
Warnings: Adult (it IS a one night stand challenge, after all); spoilers for the Big Damn Movie.
Summary: "She's been the one constant in his life, and damned if he's going to let her down now." Moves back and forth in timeline, but includes spoilers for the events in Serenity.
A/N: Written for [livejournal.com profile] inlovewithnight's "Mess Up My Head, Mess Up My Bed" one night stand challenge. The title and opening quote are from "Full Moon" by Robert Hayden. Zoe's Chinese myth is the story of the Moon woman. Finally, Tom McRae's Black Heart Rodeo is, in my head, the soundtrack for this fic.


Some I love who are dead
were watchers of the moon and knew its lore;
planted seeds, trimmed their hair,

Pierced their ears for gold hoop earrings
as it waxed or waned.
It shines tonight upon their graves.


---

I.

There's an old story Zoe knows, about a hunter who shot nine suns out of the sky and his wife, who stole his immortality from him and floated to the moon. It's not a story that ends well, or happily, and she tells it to Wash before she lets him into her bed, trying to shock him out of his muddle-headed notions of loving her, maybe.

He refuses to be shocked, only ducks his head and tugs at the buttons of her shirt with a look of determined concentration on his face. "If anything," he says, voice even like they might just talking about map coordinates or ship parts, "you're the hunter. You go shoot down the sun. I'll wait at home." And he looks up at her with such a sweet smile that her every defense comes tumbling down, doubts vanishing like the last ghostly sliver of moon when dawn invades the sky. She's had enough of soldiers, of men who might lay their lives down for causes foolhardy or brave. She decides then and there that Hoban Washburne will suit her just fine.

II.

Zoe's taken to sleeping in Kaylee's engine room, curling up in the bright hammock as if she can disappear into the fabric, or into Serenity herself. Not that Mal's complaining. For three days after they buried Wash, Zoe locked herself into their bunk and refused to come out. His ship's walls are strong, but also damn thin in places, and the paneling between his bunk and Zoe's is one of those places. He used to think nothing could be worse than being woken up in the middle of the night by the gorram sounds of his pilot and first mate's grappling, but now he knows better.

The utter silence on the other side can be worse. Zoe crying can be worse.

She only cries once. He catches her staring down at her hands in the cargo bay, and when he reaches out a hand to touch her shoulder, she says without looking at him, "I just got my monthly. I'd hoped..." She stops there, turns on her heel and clatters up the stairs to the rest of the ship, but he stands still and hears what she left unsaid. There ain't going to be a baby. Ain't going to have nothing left of him but a marker on some backwater moon. He hears her sobbing that night, and he paces the space between his sink and desk, keeping silent vigil with her, fingers wrapped around the pistol in his belt, helpless in the face of her grief.

III.

Once, when it's just the two of them up on the bridge, the whole ship asleep and nothing but the black in front of them, Wash asks her what Mal has against him.

She smiles down at him from where she's sitting perched on the console, sharing the space with his dinosaurs. (And was there really a time when she found his made-up creation myths obnoxious rather than endearing?)

"The captain'll come around," she tells him. "It ain't really you. It's us."

"And when you say 'us,' you mean... you and me? Or you and him?"

"Likely both."

Wash has the good grace to blush when he asks, "So you and he... um... before..." He can't finish the question, and she loves him for that, even as she laughs aloud at the absurdity of what he's saying.

"No, we didn't 'um.' Ever. It ain't like that... we came through a war together. I mean, he's the captain, Wash."

"Some explanation." But he's smiling, she suspects because he thinks Mal's his only real competition on this ship, no matter what Jayne Cobb might look like whenever he takes his gorram shirt off. (Which is quite often these days now that Kaylee's on board.) She thinks that Wash ain't entirely wrong in this, but it's not something she can explain, not something she feels she has to explain. Just like she doesn't have to explain her and Wash to Mal. The two men in her life are just going to have to accept each other and stop being such hùndáns about the way things stand now.

She leans down to kiss the corners of Wash's mouth, he runs sure hands up and down her thighs as Serenity hums beneath them, and Zoe feels like she's just filled up with light and wonders if she can't be seen two hundred thousand miles away.

IV.

They're still on the run, and Mal never forgets it, never lets his crew forget it, for all that the Alliance is busy trying to contain the damage from the Miranda Reports, as the incident's become known. He teaches River to fly, because he needs someone to know how to handle his ship if anything ever happens to... if anything ever happens. He likes her presence on the bridge; her crazy pronouncements are just as soothing as her silences, somehow, and both are utterly different from Wash's chatter, which is what he needs -- what they all need -- right now. There's no one else that Zoe wouldn't resent in Wash's seat, he thinks. No one else he'd let into it, anyhow.

They don't touch the dinosaurs, except to right them whenever River banks an especially sharp turn that knocks over everything in the ship that ain't nailed down.

V.

Zoe likes Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds from the very start. He gives her a once-over when Captain Waters introduces them, but it's the quick, calculating glance of a military man, for all that he's a volunteer. And it's respect and not lust that she sees in his eyes when he nods and says, "Corporal Alleyne."

"Sir," she replies.

They come through a war together. Zoe learns within a few weeks that Mal hates to keep his head during battles, passionately supports Independence, and is fiercely loyal to his platoon. They share rations in Du Khang and sleep back to back through the long campaign in New Kashmir. She watches him lose his God at Serenity Valley and sees him find his soul again the first time they step into Serenity.

There's never any question of if she's going to fly with him. Not much left for her in the military, now that the purple-bellies have taken over. The war's nothing but a memory and a nightmare and a shoestring from her old boot wrapped around her neck now. Besides, she ain't about to leave Mal. He's a fixture in her life, constant as the sun in the sky, and even though she thinks this crappy Firefly-class transport ship he's gone out and bought is going to kill them all, she turns to him when they reach the bridge and says, "I've got about two hundred platinum hidden on Beaumonde."

The smile lights up his whole face, and that's all she needs.

VI.

He sees how Zoe watches Kaylee and the doctor, sees the glimmer of hurt she ain't able to hide, at least not from him. They both know Kaylee would never do anything to hurt her, not deliberately, but she and Simon have got the glow of new love all around them, and ain't no one can hide that. Once was a time when Wash and Zoe honeymooned all over the ship like that, and he's not sure if the memory of it makes things easier or harder for her.

Her grief shines out to him like a beacon, for all that she still does her job, maybe does it better than before. There's a new streak of recklessness in her (not as reckless as he himself is, but it's Zoe, and any form of defiance seems to him like a whole part of her he's never glimpsed before). He knows it's because she ain't got anything to lose anymore.

VII.

The first time she goes on a job after she and Wash get hitched, she almost tears her comm link out of her ear halfway through their negotiations with another one of Badger's shady "business partners." When they make it back to Serenity, he's waiting for her just inside the airlock, and she marches right up to him and demands that he explain just what the gorram hell he's doing, asking her every five minutes if she's all right, like he's a green kid ain't ever flown a ship, much less assisted in their numerous getaways.

When she finishes her tirade, she realizes that the cargo bay's empty, even though the loot ain't stowed yet. Mal and Jayne must've hightailed out of there as soon as she began talking, and the instant of amusement that their actions give her calm her down a bit.

"I can take care of myself, Wash," she says.

"I know."

"Then--"

"Ain't going to keep me from worrying," he says. "It's not just you you're risking out there, you know? It's us."

That shuts her up, and he has barely enough time to add, "But I'll try to keep the chatter down" before she yanks at his shirtfront and presses her mouth to his.

VIII.

He finds Zoe on the bridge one night. River's going through one of her bad spells, so Simon and Kaylee have got her in the med bay. Jayne's off polishing his guns, whether literal or metaphorical, Mal's pretty sure he doesn't want to know. And Inara's planetside, meeting a client, and he feels like they're back to zero again, any uneasy truce they have just waiting to be torn down by their next argument.

It's quiet up here, nothing but some clicks of equipment to break the silence and the gentle thrumming of the ship, like a benediction or a song half-heard.

She's standing behind Wash's chair, hands on her hips, staring out at the black, and the soft glow of the bridge's lights cast shadows in her hair and around her feet.

He comes up next to her, waits, and he ain't surprised when she turns and touches his face, kisses him hard.

They don't speak. Not when she pushes him into the co-pilot's seat (not Wash's, never Wash's, because it ain't his place and they both know that) and straddles his lap, not when he pulls her shirt off over her head, not when she's gripping him, hot and hard, in her hand. Whatever words they could say would all be a load of fèihùa anyhow. This ain't love, not as either of them would define it, and it ain't just sex, either. They've never depended on words -- not with each other, not to explain themselves to others -- and they don't need them now. He ain't about to make promises she doesn't want and she's not going to tell him that he's filling some void in her life.

He knows she needs this, knows it like he knows the sky's blue over Whitefall, and he knows this will never happen again. So he cups her breasts with his hands, rubbing callused thumbs over her nipples, kisses the underside of her jaw as she slides him into her. She rides him slowly at first, because this is a first time as well as an only time, and for all that they've patched each other's wounds and counted each other's scars, this slide of flesh against flesh is completely new.

But they find a rhythm, give and take, push and pull that feels as natural as firing their guns in alternate order on a job, covering each other's backs. She moves faster over him, panting a little, forehead glistening with sweat, and that almost does him in, except he knows she's not close enough yet and he ain't about to go where he can't take her. She's been the one constant in his life, and damned if he's going to let her down now. So he slips a hand down to where they're joined, rubs and presses until he finds the spot that makes her gasp and shudder apart in his arms.

When he finishes, they lean against each other, foreheads pressed together, for an instant before she pulls away. They clean themselves up with whatever's on hand and dress, and Zoe presses a final, chaste kiss to his lips before leaving.

He stares out into the black for a long time after she's gone, half afraid that he's given her everything he can, and that it still ain't enough.

IX.

Wash walks her to the shuttle they're taking down to New Canaan, brow slightly furrowed as Mal and Jayne go over some last minute details for the job.

She stops and lets the other two go ahead, turns to her husband and says, "I'm coming back. I promise."

He smiles and reaches out, touches the back of her hand with two fingers. "I know. I'll be here when you do."

I'll always be here. He doesn't have to say it for her to feel the truth of it fill her like the light of nine suns or the taste of an immortal elixir. He's her North Star, her lodestone, and whatever dangers he frees her to hunt, she knows she won't ever let any of them keep her from returning to him.

-finis-
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September 2007

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