Pairing: Zoe/Wash (sort of) with Mal/Inara and Kaylee/Simon in passing
Spoilers: SERENITY (the BDM)
Summary: He'll be ready when she is. Zoe POV post Serenity.
AN: Very, very unbetaed, sorry. It's as much my stream of consciousness as it is Zoe's, so it's probably a little rough.
It wasn't the first meal afterwards that it happened. For the first few weeks it was too close in everyone's thoughts for even so simple an act to be forgotten. But three weeks later, without thinking, Kaylee lays places for the ones who aren't there. Zoë looks at the empty place by her chair, silently returns the spare plates to the cupboards, and sits back down. She waves away Kaylee's stuttered apologies without changing expression.
They don't know what to do with her. Jayne, after his muttered, head-down condolences, has ignored the problem. She isn't hurt. She knows that he had said his goodbyes in his own way, drinking to their memories, and now he tries his best to forget. She understands that.
Inara, on the other hand, worries too much. Worries that Zoë is about to break, or perhaps worries that she should have. Zoë wonders if Inara is hurt that Zoë avoids her, or perhaps feels guilty that she has her man and Zoë doesn't. Or, rather, worries that Zoë will think it took her loss to bring the two of them together. She shouldn't be feeling guilty, but Zoë doesn't correct her. Inara's guilt is easier to deal with than her sympathy, and she doesn't want that conversation right now.
Kaylee is definitely feeling guilty. It's easy enough to tell by how she breaks off from Simon anytime Zoë enters the room. She blushes even if they are caught just looking at each other. This one, Zoë can't take. Kaylee doesn't deserve this hurt mixed with her love. After the next job, she pulls Kaylee to one side and tells her not to hide it. Kaylee's eyes spill over with tears and Zoë leaves before Kaylee decides to comfort her in return.
Simon has managed to get himself shot again. The boy seems to be making a habit of it now that he has gotten himself started. Zoë stitches him up again (Mal acting as nurse this time) and wanders around the infirmary. She turns on Simon's computer with no real purpose in mind, and brings up the crew records. Seven folders.
Simon comes up behind her, hobbling on his one good leg. He clicks back a few pages and opens a folder she hadn't seen. 'I didn't want anyone to run into them accidentally,' he explains apologetically, but I couldn't just...'
When she turns to look at him, he has already left. She runs her fingers over the name: Washburne, Hoban
Inside is a record of his allergies, injuries he managed to get while Simon was on the ship, and the few from before that Simon could get him to remember. Save that one group inflicted by Niska, there is nothing to indicate that her husband was the type to run into violence often. Nothing that would make you guess that he wouldn't...
There is a note at the bottom, the kind of thing Simon would write to warn a possible successor. Expect Zoë to come in, even during surgery, and expect Wash to demand his dinosaurs. They are, apparently, 'integral to the healing process'.
She turns off the screen.
River never sits on his seat. Instead she curls up in the co-pilot's chair, even when she is doing the flying. Sometimes, though, she walks around the cockpit, and her fingers hover over the dinosaurs. She whispers at them, quiet invocations about breaking of spells. But when Zoë comes in, they are always sitting exactly where they had been left.
'You can't mean to leave it like this.'
'Like what?' Mal asks absently, turning his head to look at his first mate.
'River...' Zoë waves towards the co-pilot seat. 'You're just gonna leave her driving?'
'What do you want me to do?'
'We need to... Captain, you know what you need to do.'
'I do.' The unexpected tenderness in his eyes burns her. She looks away, at the pilot seat, the dinos, the stars. No help from any of them. Mal finishes gently. 'And when you're ready to say it, I'll be ready to do it.'