Seven Ways to Grieve
Spoilers for the big damn movie!
Zoë opened her eyes. She hadn't really been sleeping anyway. Sleeping alone was hard for her after so long with the weight of him in her bed, the warmth of his body and the touch of his skin; it was too soon for her to forget. However, she was determined to lay down every night and close her eyes, her logictold herthat if she did it enough times eventually her body would get used to it and one night she would simply drift off. Eventually didn't really appeal to her, but she was trying. For a long moment, she stared into the emptiness next to her, a black void sapping at her emotions. Moving mechanically she detached herself from their bed and got dressed, strapping on her vest and pulling on her boots with little effort. The hard part was looking into the mirror and pulling back her hair, splashing her face with water without thinking about the action itself. It didn't take long for her to get ready.
Outside their bunk she took two steps towards the kitchen and changed her mind, Mal would be awake, probably already in the cockpit by now, it would be best to check in with him first.
"How'd you sleep?" he asked before she got the chance to announce herself.
"Fine sir." her eyes fixed on Mal, she took in his intent expression, staring down at the controls, going over something entirely different in his thoughts. There was a list of information scrolling upwards on the view screen pertaining to a man by the name of 'Terrance R. Smith' Zoë cocked an eyebrow.
"A new job sir?"
"Prospective at least, got a wave early this morning 'bout a crate needs transporting." Zoë decided not to comment on the fact that it was already early in the morning, it was no secret that the captain hadn't been sleeping much of late either.
"From where sir?"
"An unterriformed moon some place, that's the trouble, the last person picked this up had to dump it when they thought the alliance might be catching on."
"So we pick up this crate, which may or may not be marked, transport it a few sectors, drop it off, and get paid?"
"Something near that fashion."
"Why haven't these people done it themselves that easy? There must be a catch."
"Well if there is, he aint talking."
"Wouldn't think so sir."
"His file checks out fine."
"Well things aren't always how they look."
Mal glanced in her direction, running his eyes over her face, hard as rock, not letting on to anything. "Don't I know it."
"We taken the job then?"
"Only one thing will keep her in the sky, Kaylee has been asking for a new compression coil for long time, still trying to pay of the repairs." Mal turned to Zoë with a look of defeat, and she shrugged. "There's always a catch, and we're bound to find it." he smiled at her with obvious affection, Zoë was the best he had, had always been, he was worried about her and though he tried to hide it, she could blatantly tell. "Get yourself some breakfast Zoë, brief Jayne and the others, prep the suits; we'll be there in 'bout three hours."
"Yes sir." She turned and left without any preamble, or goodbye, leaving Mal with a sick feeling in his stomach and an ache in his shoulders he could only attribute to the anvil of guilt he dragged everywhere he went.
Kaylee was crying again. She had been doing a lot of that lately. curled in the corner of the engine room she wiped her greasy hand on her overalls, succeeding only in picking up more grease, before transferring it to her face in a clumsy attempt at wiping away her tears.
"This is not the time to be crying." Wash told her, sitting across from her, leaning against the engine, wearing the flight suit he had died in, hair a muss, crooked grin, looking at her lopsided as he leaned his face in his hand.
"Remember when you first came on this boat Kaylee, never been up in a ship, never seen the vastness of space except in your imagination. All you knew was your home and your folks, and I showed you the stars. Sure Mal helped some, and it was a good thing we had Serenity to take us up, but I took you there, I brought her off the ground for the first time, after all your hard work. We showed you a life more brilliant than all the seven suns. This became home. Serenity became family. This is no time to cry, not when I love your smile so much, love the way you light a room. Just keep smiling Kaylee."
She tried again to wipe her eyes, sniffing, she put on a brave face and gave Wash her best smile.
"That's my girl," he cooed, "look how pretty you are! I always had the suspicion that you have the damn prettiest smile in the verse, next to my Zoë of course. I know Simon thinks that, not the Zoë part I figure, but it's true, he told me."
Kaylee blushed; giving the wiping of her eyes one last effort and turning pink all over her cheeks and nose.
"He did! He thinks you're the prettiest thing about this boat, and that's damn impressive."
Kaylee giggled quietly, trying not to show how abashed she was.
"Come on," Wash continued with barely a pause, "You know he thinks that. 'Oh Kaylee, hi, wow, you have grease on you' really means he's sayin', 'damn, how can a woman look so beautiful with engine grease on her' if I wasn't faithfully married, I would have beat Simon to you a long time ago." he raised an eyebrow, "'cause you're so pretty."
Kaylee laughed, she felt like she had had this conversation before, but it didn't matter, it was making her feel better.
"Kaylee?" it was Simon this time, coming into the engine room looking slightly confused, which seemed to be in his nature, Kaylee shot up startled, but Wash looked nonchalantly over his shoulder at the doctor as though he had been waiting for him this whole time. Kaylee looked at the doctor, than looked back at Wash once or twice, wondering why Simon didn't think it odd that Wash, dead these few months, was sitting next to the engines smiling at him.
"Kaylee, you have, grease on your . . . your face." Simon stammered and Wash raised his hands, silently mouthing, "What did I tell you!" She giggled again and Simon looked somewhat startled, following Kaylees eyes to the spot at which she was repetitively looking.
Wash motioned Kaylee towards Simon, but deep down she didn't want to leave him, she was afraid if she left now she would never see the pilot again, "Go on", he hissed, practically laughing, motioning her forward again.
"S . . . Simon, why don't we . . ."
"Eat?" Wash suggested hopefully.
"Eat!" Kaylee repeated, the hopefulness in her voice making Simon smile.
"All right," he told her, nodding slowly. "I came to talk, but ok, lets have a bite then."
Kaylee lit up like the engine she loved, glowing like a firefly in the night, she hooked her arm through Simons and led him off towards the kitchen. Wash waved as she went.
Zoë was glad to be out of the cockpit quickly, she didn't like to spend any more time there than necessary, there were too many memories, especially after coming from their bunk, then again, he was everywhere on this ship. Simon and Kaylee were in the kitchen, eating breakfast and laughing as Simon attempted to wipe the grease already smeared across Kaylees face and only succeeding in getting it on his washed and ironed clothes. They stopped talking as Zoë entered the room and Kaylee smiled up at her.
"Want some breakfast Zoë?" she asked, making to stand up but Zoë motioned her back into her seat with a shake of her head.
"Job afoot Kaylee, gotta get ready."
Kaylee nodded and went back to chattering with Simon
"Did she say a job? We have not had one of those in quite awhile have we?"
"Don't think I don't know it, I've been waiting for my compression coil for months, it's about time we get a touch more spending."
Continuing towards the cargo bay Zoë nearly ran straight into River coming around a corner much too silently for Zoë's taste. The girl practically slid past Zoë, staring intently at something directly in front of her, but she stopped, seeing Zoë for the first time it seemed, and she frowned.
"What are you doing River?" Zoë asked softly, trying to keep her hands away from her gun. it wasn't that she didn't trust the girl, or that she didn't like her, she even felt a bit maternal for her, it was just at times like these, when she was creeping around it made Zoë a touch nervous.
"He's taking me somewhere, told me to follow him." River told her flatly, "but he couldn't leave you without stopping."
Zoë, honestly enough, had no desire to know who 'he' was, it was too early in the morning and she was already too drained for this kind of talk.
"Alright River, go ahead then." She watched as the girl went back to following her invisible friend down the corridor. Shaking her head, Zoë continued on her way.
Wash was beckoning River forward with a mischievous grin on his face; he was wearing an outfit somehow resembling an army official of ancient earth and riding what appeared to be a small dinosaur. River had been not at all surprised to see him, and that seemed to have startled him more than being suddenly in the common area on the back of a prehistoric beast. She had asked him for a ride almost instantly, but he had smiled down at her and shook his head casually.
"Doesn't take well to strangers." he explained. This answer satisfied her, perfectly logical now that she thought of it, and she had begun to follow him.
What was interesting to her was that she could not read his thoughts. It had been a shock for her the moment he died, his thoughts so pleasant, suddenly frantic, but only for a moment before ceasing altogether to exist. Simon hadn't understood the face she had made. Hardest had been hearing Zoë's thoughts resounding in her head as she tried to comprehend, and Mal, more hurt than he knew, and then, reliving it again in the others. One person was not made to feel seven different ways to grieve. It was good to see him again.
"Where are we going?" she wondered, and he smiled down at her in that way that people smile when they want to be especially endearing.
"To my castle, Princess." He told her and she raised an eyebrow.
"You don't have a castle; we're on a space ship." She told him, putting her hands on her hips and rolling her eyes as she had seen Jayne do.
"I have a dinosaur don't I?"
"Well I suppose I can see your point." She watched him closely, absorbing the way he moved, the way he looked, the way his eyes stared fixedly in front of him while he guided the beast he rode as though it were the controls of the ship and he were just flying.
Half way towards the kitchen in the corridor they met Zoë, she looked tired and sad, her eyes darker than usual, set back out of the light where the world seemed less potent. She stared distrustfully down at River, the same way she looked at everyone else, and her fingers twitched towards her gun. River was going to keep walking but Wash had stopped his dinosaur, looking at Zoë as if the world were before him, vast and beautiful, the stars he knew and the nebulas he didn't. River wanted to see what he saw, so she looked. She was surprised it was just Zoë.
"What are you doing River?" Where are you going looking so intently? What is so interesting? Why don't I see it?
River continued to stare for a beat, wondering exactly what it was that Wash saw in her eyes that she didn't, a part of Zoë that even River could not see, maybe that part of her had died and only Wash could see it now because it was a memory, and so was he.
"Wash is here on a dinosaur and he's taking me with him to his castle, I think he must be a memory, a figment of my imagination spliced with the different ways that I came to perceive him, come here to help me discover a part of myself that I do not at the present moment understand. I'm following him to his 'castle' and I don't think he planned on seeing you here. Neither had I." Zoë only heard what she wanted from this, and River was surprised that that encompassed so little.
"Alright River, go ahead then." Don't talk to me about him when it still hurts, I don't want to be a part of your delusional fantasies.
Zoë dismissed her quickly and River left without another thought, she walked four steps before realizing that Wash was no longer there, like a puff of smoke he had vanished. River span around, searching for any sign of the dinosaur or its rider, but not even a footprint was left her. She was disappointed; she had been anticipating a castle.
Zoë left River with an ache starting in her head already. The headaches had been starting earlier and earlier everyday and River always seemed to be one of the greatest antagonists. It was probably the very idea that she could be reading your thoughts even as you thought them that set Zoë's brain to hurting. Of course, she hadn't asked for Simons assistance, not for something as small as a head ache, just didn't seem logical.
The cargo bay was empty of its usual racket, Jayne obviously not out of his bunk yet, and Zoë walked past his usual haunt, the exercise equipment, without a second glance. She would prep the suits before attempting to make contact with the resident alien life.
Hefting three of the heavy garments from their rack, she laid them out and began her inspection of the different equipment involved, always better safe than sorry, and better prepared than not. As she worked, she thought detachedly about the coming job. Standing on an uninhabited, unterriformed moon, incapable of supporting life of any kind, stuck to it with the barest amount of gravity, it just wasn't her idea of a desirable past time. Not that she had never done it before, many times in fact, but staring up when the vastness of space seemed a little more accessible still didn't appeal. Wash had always found that kind of thing exhilarating, one of the reasons he loved to fly. Staring out of the cockpit at constellations so close you can practically feel the heat, (Seemed just as cold to her as everything else) that was one of the things that made him so special. Looking down at the buttons to adjust the amount of gravity generated by the boots she was to wear, Zoë had a sudden urge to turn them off. Float into space; simply hang in the darkness moving slowly round and round, spinning, until she got close enough to a star to simply burn up in a puff of obscure gasses. On the other hand, maybe she would touch one after all, hold it in her hand, squeeze it and feel the heat in her palm until it seared and branded her flesh, leaving the mark that would last a lifetime. Dismissing her thoughts idly, Zoë finished her task. This was not the time for delusions; this was the time to be practical. She turned back to the kitchen.
Jayne carefully dusted down his favorite gun, Vera, feeling her curves beneath his hands and tenderly touching her in places he imagined made her uncomfortable. He scrubbed at the small spot near the trigger he could see blood had dried until she was spotless and gleaming in the light of the lamp. It was early in the morning yet. Jayne hadn't been sleeping as well as he was famous for. There had been times he had missed an entire battle just because he was a sound sleeper, able to detach himself from the world and feel nothing, think nothing.
"Not like that's much different from what you do in the day time." Wash interjected from where he sat, slumped back in Jayne's most comfy of chairs, his hair mussed up, wearing the flight suit with the hole in the chest, a dark bloody mass that Jayne tried not to look at. He had seen it before.
"Gorramit, why can't you leave me alone?" Jayne snapped back, annoyed and angry, he hadn't been that attached to the little man, why would he have been? All he ever got from Wash was sarcastic insult. He hadn't been getting much of that lately.
"It's not my fault; do you think I want to be here? You're the one who's thinking about me."
"That aint true!"
"Isn't it? Than what am I doing here? I'm still mystified that out of five million sperm you were the winner."
"How am I supposed to think of somthin else, you sitting there lookin at me . . . like . . . like that."
"Disdain Jayne, I believe it's called disdain." Wash started humming contentedly to himself and when Jayne recognized the tune, he rolled his eyes and went back to staring at Vera intently.
"You are a hero you know." Wash said suddenly, interrupting his own song, seemingly as startled at his words as Jayne was, who quite nearly dropped his gun.
"Saved my life, by saving Zoë's."
Jayne stared dumbfounded into Wash's face, a look familiar with him.
"You saved her Jayne, pulled her behind the lines when she could have died. Thank you for that."
"My job," Jayne insisted, flabbergasted and confused, "Couldn't let her die like that."
"You could have, and you would have too, when we first met. But like it or not, you've become part of the family here, and though I hate to admit it, I never thought I would utter these words alive," he paused and smiled, "I'm proud of you. So is Mal."
Jayne sat aside Vera, mouth slightly agape, not quite believing what he was hearing, and not noticing that as they had spoken, Wash's body had become whole.
"I . . . I gotta go and work out some."
Wash raised an eyebrow and smiled, and as Jayne stood up to leave Wash stopped him with a word.
"Thanks for everything Jayne, I count you a friend."
Zoë bumped into Jayne on his way to the cargo bay and she motioned him to follow her to the kitchen, he hesitated, but complied. Kaylee and Simon were still sitting around flirting pleasantly when they appeared. Once again, Kaylee offering breakfast to them both, both declined. There were still nine chairs at table, and Zoë found the emptiness of two of them oppressive, something Jayne and her actually agreed upon. However, Kaylee and the captain had joined forces to insist that the chairs remain.
"So what is this job we're taking?" Simon asked
"Job?" Jayne was confused per usual.
"There's a crate, possibly marked, been dumped on an unteriformed moon not far, should be near time now, our job to pick it up and transport it to an outer planet 'few sectors off. So far things are soundin easy, which probably means they're not."
"Perfect." Simon sounded exasperated and Kaylee took it upon himself to encourage him to see the bright side of things.
"You know the captain and Zoë,"
"And Jayne." Jayne interjected.
"Are perfectly able to take care of anything may happen."
"She's right doctor." Zoë echoed, "Shouldn't be a problem. Jayne, captain and me will go to the moon surface, retrieve the crates, and then we'll take off. May need your sister to help with the flyin."
"I'll send her to you."
The captains voice split the conversation from the ships com system. "You guys ready for landing? We'll be putting down and it will probably be bumpy."
Simon stood, "I'll get River."
Zoë nodded and quickly scanned the room, "Anyone seen 'Nara?"
Inara sat with her hands crossed in her lap; sitting on her bed in the shuttle she called her home. Silks hung delicately draping the control panels and walls. Incense burned steadily, sending up an aroma resembling something botanical, and the woman herself, beautiful, body draped in silk lace and gauze. She stared fixedly across from her, her eyes round and wide with something near to fear.
"I'm just your imagination Inara, nothing to fear." Wash sat across from her in a stiff backed chair, his hair smoothed back with hair wax, wearing a black suit and a tremendously hideous orange tie with a blue Hawaiian motif.
"My imagination is not usually this . . . potent." She managed, not sure what to think. Her spectral figure looked at himself and grinned at her.
"I had no idea you thought of me like this! No idea!"
"You were always ... gentlemanly."
Wash grinned lopsided, settling deeper into the chair, "Well I always do try."
A couple moments passed, the room was penetrated by a thick silence, Inara could feel it like a wisp of smoke from a candle, curling around her and leaving her short of breath. Wash stared through her, into her, around her and at her. It was all she could do to remain calm. She clasped her hands.
"You're a big girl 'Nara. You can take care of yourself. But sometimes you have to look in order to see."
"I don't understand."
"This is going to hurt."
"I'm going to tell you the hardest part about dieing is living it. It took seventeen hours, count 'em, seventeen, just ask my mother, seventeen hours to bring me into the world and all of fifteen seconds to take me out of it." He snapped his fingers, "like that. Man has never figured how to create life, and yet it has five thousand ways to end it. How fair is that? The hardest part was leaving Zoë. I have no illusions about it, things have been hard on her, she sees me you know, in everything, and she doesn't know how to handle it. The hardest part is thinking about the things we could have done, settled down, built a family, and had babies' lots of tiny babies with ivory skin and freckles. We barely had a chance to live before it was all ended. I was so afraid 'Nara, I was so afraid to bring a little person into a world where I wasn't sure if their mamma would survive the next shoot out. Where they know how to use a gun before a pencil, where they know death before they know life. I was so afraid and I let it stop me from fulfilling my life with Zoë, it left our relationship so full and yet partially empty. And it's my fault she suffers like she does."
"Why are you telling me these things, are not my sorrows already enough?"
"I'm not here to make you cry 'Nara." Wash leaned forward in the chair, putting his hands on his knees and leaning so close she imagined she could feel his breath on her face. A piece of his slicked hair fell forwards into his eyes. "I'm here to make you think. No more, second-guessing Inara, no more maybe, later, and perhaps. Stop second-guessing your heart."
"My heart tells me that one of my good friends has died and now I am imagining him here in my shuttle and he is telling me things that are making it harder to keep from crying. Things are so empty without you."
He smiled, "Don't worry about me, I'm here to make sure that you're happy before I high tail it into the beyond, you follow. Once your imagination has given you proper closure, you can move on and go back to living your life. Sound good?"
"I don't want to forget."
"You don't have to; you just have to look ahead now, dong ma? Follow your heart. You know what you want, now go on and get it."
Inara let herself smile for him, gracefully and thoughtfully, mulling over her thoughts carefully.
"Figment of my imagination?" she wondered, Wash smiled and leaned backwards, getting comfortable once more.
"Indeed. Think of me as the ghost of Christmas past." Inara raised her eyebrows.
"So there will be two more of you before midnight?"
Wash blinked back at her, "Lets hope the rest of me doesn't look like this."
"And you're teaching me how to love again?"
"Something like that."
Suddenly the whole ship began to shake violently, Inara scrambling to keep the incense righted and the breakables from smashing to the floor of the shuttle.
"Feels like we've landed . . ." she began but when she turned her face back to Wash she was surprised to find him disappeared. The chair he had occupied lying on its side.
The crate was exactly where they had said it would be. It weighed a surprising amount once inside the ship and after the airlock was sealed and decompressed.
They all three removed the suits and replaced them on the rack before further inspecting the crate. It was sizable, metal, and sealed in three places.
"Let's see what's in this thing."
"Deal never mentioned opening." Zoë reminded him but the captain shook his head, since the botched train deal he had been rather insistent on the opening of all packages brought on board.
Jayne waisted no time in breaking the locks, wrenching the lid from the crate and peering inside. There was a moments pause.
"Do those look like rocks . . . to you?"
"I would say so Jayne."
The three of them continued to peer at the stones, each one no bigger than a mans fist, dirty and jagged. Mal picked one up and hefted it up and down experimentally before dropping it back into the crate.
"Why in the blazes would we be transporting rocks?" Jayne exclaimed, digging through the crate looking for something that may be hidden at the bottom, his search came back futile.
"Maybe diamonds?" Zoë suggested helpfully.
"Don't look like no diamonds to me."
"Aren't diamonds supposed to be shiny?"
They continued to stare down at the rocks, mulling over all the options available to them.
"A trap, do you think sir?"
Mal nodded solemnly, "Perhaps so."
"What do we do?"
Mal replaced the lid of the crate and stood back a stretch, brushing off his hands. "We do the job, we get paid. Only thing to do."
Zoë nodded, Jayne spat and Mal pushed the crate into one of the hidden compartments of Serenity's cargo hold.
Well that's part one of two, hope you enjoyed it, we have the continuation of this particular job, and three closure spots (Simon, Mal, and Zoë) to look forward to. Hope you stick around!