Chapter 1: Falling Apart

Wash was beside himself and fast losing all hope. He drummed his fingers on the console while his eyes scanned the expanse of space before him. No way that his luck could be this bad – there had to be a way out! Maybe he had miscounted...

He turned again to the computer screen and called up his personal calendar. One, two, three... twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one... thirty-five, thirty-six.

"Oh, son of a gorrum..."he yelled, jamming his fist against the console to instantly close the screen. In the next moment he had swept all his dinosaurs onto the floor.

He hadn't been mistaken.

She had won. He was certain of it.

He dropped his head into his hands and tried to calm himself. Problem was that it wasn't doing any good. For the first time he could recall, he was angry, really seriously angry... with his wife. Worse yet, he was afraid. As tired as he had become of the constant dread and fear he had felt in the last two weeks, finally having his worst fear realized was infinitely harder to deal with.

He just couldn't even imagine how Zoe could possibly make up for what she had done. It just couldn't be undone.

She had used him. Used him very badly, indeed...

"Well, not that badly..." a small voice in his head spoke up.

"In fact, you weren't complaining," another chimed in.

"Shut up!" he yelled aloud. "It wasn't right! She shouldn't have!"

"Uh... who you yelling at?" Kaylee asked, looking a bit spooked. She had come on up, as was her habit before turning in for the night. She always looked in on Serenity's pilot before going off shift. The two of them were what kept the boat both fair and flying.

She had stepped onto the bridge just in time to see his display of temper, something which was never associated with the even tempered fly boy, except when...

"Oh!" she said, comprehending what it had to be. "Zoe got you all upset again, Wash?"

Wash stared at her with bloodshot eyes and it looked as though he had actually been on the verge of tears.

"Are you OK?" she asked, suddenly very concerned. This wasn't like him at all! True, he hadn't been himself for the last few weeks... but for him to be this upset... well, it really frightened her.

"No," he answered, tersely. "and I doubt I ever will be again!" Jumping up, he left the bridge.

Kaylee did a quick check, noted that the ship was on auto-pilot and relaxed a little. She followed him out, but stayed just far enough behind him to see where he was headed without drawing attention to herself. Turned out that he was headed into the quarters he shared with Zoe.

"Fei hua !" she said aloud, feeling that something truly bad was brewing between the pilot and his wife. She wished she could do something to help, but Wash had made it pretty clear that he didn't want anyone's sympathy at the moment. Shaking her head sadly, she retreating to her own berth.

In their shared quarters, Simon awoke to find his sister talking in her sleep.

"Angry. So angry," she mumbled, moving restlessly beneath her blanket. "Scared! Not right! Underhanded! Took advantage..."

"Who's angry?" Simon questioned her. He knew her abilities better than anyone and he knew she had to be reacting to one of the crew.

"Love her. Need her, but for her to do this..."

"Who, River? Who did it?"

Her answer was loud, a yell which was echoed by another, "Zoe!"

"Zoe!" Wash's simultaneous scream of the same name died away in the background as goosebumps rose on Simon's skin.

"Spooky..." he whispered, before climbing back in his bed and pulling the covers up to his chin. It was a long while before his heartbeat slowed back to a normal level.

Still, he found he couldn't sleep.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds dismounted and turned his horse loose. On either side of him, his second in command, Zoe, and his hired muscle, Jayne, did likewise.

They slapped the horses on their rumps and watched them trot off back towards town before turning and boarding the boat.

It sure felt good to be back on Serenity.

He turned a pleased smile on Zoe, who didn't smile back. She hadn't been herself in recent weeks and there was a definite strain in her relationship with that strange husband of hers. Still, for her to be so guarded even when returning from a successful financial venture... Well, it boded no good.

"If you won't be needing me, sir, I have some things to see to," she said.

"Have at it." As she started to move off after Jayne, he snagged her arm. "You know if there's anything I can do..." he began.

"No sir, don't see as how there is anything you can do to help me," she answered. "Let's just say that I made a mistake and now I have to live with it."

"Told you that you shouldn't marry him," he replied before he could help himself.

Zoe's face hardened. It was the look she wore just before she shot someone dead. "Wash will NEVER be a mistake, Captain," she ground out. "Right now I dare say that he doesn't feel the same way about me. If you want some advice, you'll have him fly this boat to the nearest port where you're likely to find a decent replacement pilot."

Mal's mouth dropped open in shock. "My God, what did you do to the man?"

"The one thing he begged me not to do, sir," she sighed. "I'm serious. We should dock somewhere and plan on staying for a while. In the end we may or may not still have Wash as our pilot. Don't know as yet about the husband part of that..."

She turned and stormed off.

Mal suddenly realized that the pilot had not met them in the cargo area, something he always did when his wife was returning. Zoe's advice hit home hard. If Wash hadn't greeted her, then chances were that he wasn't waiting for her in their quarters either. Best that he get them into the nearest port now then.

He took the stairs three at a time and moved briskly up the corridor into the bridge.