Title: Ex Post Facto

Summary: A reflection on the process of mourning by someone left behind. Reworked from the bones of my very first fanfiction, in response to my trauma over Serenity. Spoilers for the movie.

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon made me extravagantly happy by bringing them into the world -- and broke my heart by taking one of themout. I'm writing this out of revenge. Browncoats forever . . . .

Ex Post Facto

Ex Post Facto. After the fact. It's an old, old legal expression that bounces around in your brain today. After the fact.

The fact being that Wash is dead.

The fact being that you'd be dead — all of you, the whole ship — if not for Wash.

The fact being that Wash took the helm of your shuddering, free-falling boat and did the impossible, landed it safely with everyone unhurt. Wash saved Serenity.

Wash couldn't save himself.

That's the fact.

What happens Ex Post Facto? What happens after the fact?

After the fact you find yourself doing things the old, stoic, rational you never would have thought about doing. Things like sitting in a bar and picking out every passing stranger who looks like a candidate for horrible death and holding them out in a mental Exhibit A — "What about her, God, why couldn't it have been her, why did it have to be someone like Wash?"

Things like taking a sleeping pill before bed, not because you want to but because Simon presses it into your hand with a concerned look; and you don't know how to tell him you still can't sleep because the sheets still smell like Wash.

Things like standing by the ocean, on Eurydice, one of his favorite places, listening to the waves and the seagulls and crying, crying because Wash is on a barren desert of a world, buried in the sand and not here by the ocean beachcombing where he belongs.

Things like going through his things and wondering why on earth he had to leave you such a mess, leave you to go through all the things he left behind — which you've never even really thought about before, asking someone to do that, but now you wonder if you should. Because that's the thing; Wash is dead and that means all bets are off, because if someone like Wash can die anyone can die. Even you.

And while you're combing through all his junk you ask yourself again why he left such a mess, because he knows you don't like clutter — and then you stop and think knew, he knew you don't like clutter, and you sit down and cry and cry for an hour over just that one word, knew.

Things like carrying a toy dino in your pocket, even though the hard plastic is constantly digging into your hip, because you need some piece of him with you, something tangible to prove he wasn't a dream. But all the constant digging really does is remind you that him being dead isn't a nightmare.

Things like saying his name to yourself over and over again, like a chant, like a mantra, and things like lying awake all night alone thinking of ways he might still be alive, instead of dead and broken and buried.

Things like sitting on the bridge watching the proximity alarm and then remembering that he's never going to make another piloting joke again. Or any kind of joke. Things like remembering how he would look guilty when you caught him playing with the dinos, and wishing he had had time to finish telling you about the juggled geese before he died. Things like sitting in the kitchen and for a second, just a second, wondering why Wash is late for dinner before you remember. Wash isn't late. Wash is dead.

Such strange things.

And then comes a day when you wake up and the pain that yesterday was a fierce burning ache is just a deep painful throb today. And like healing, like a splinter that you body breaks up and absorbs, you start to talk about him again. You start to remember silly things like how he folded his underwear. And slowly, slowly but surely you can start to laugh about the way he used to say things, and do things, and the thousand little stories you remember about him start to be funny and bittersweet again, instead of just painful and hard and accusing.

And after that is the day when you stand there on Eurydice again, there where the seagulls are still laugh-crying and the green forest is still sneaking up on the ocean and the 'verse goes on like it has forever before you came and will for a long time after you leave. And you stand by the cold water and listen to the ocean and you know that Wash would have been laughing if he'd seen you before, crying for something he didn't really care about, his body. He would have been laughing because you didn't know then what you somehow do now — that Wash is in a better place, a good place, and if he had to die to get there, so what? He got there in the end and if he did a good thing on his way out, so much the better.

Because that wasn't Wash, that shell that died back there. The part that was Wash can't die and won't die, it just goes on and on forever, and that's what he always tried to tell you. And now that you know, you do something you never thought you'd do, lean down and draw his name in the sand and then take the little dino out of your pocket and throw it far, far out to the sea, and suddenly you feel lighter, and like the old Earth-that-was song said, your heart will go on. And someday, you know, you're going to go join Wash, to see him again and laugh and hold him until forever caves in. You'll meet again. It's a promise, one you know without anyone telling you, one you believe with all your heart.

And after all, it's just one step, that last one that you have to take alone, and Wash took it. And anything he could do, you can do, too.

After all, it wouldn't do for Zoe Washburn to be outdone by anyone.

The End