Zoe's world spun sickeningly for a minute as she came to and the dark ceiling above her head slowly resolved into focus. She blinked, confused and disoriented – two states she distinctly disliked being in - and mentally revisited the last thing she recalled. Fire, rushing down the hall towards poor little Kaylee, rooted to the spot in fear – jumping to shove Kaylee out of the way, the force of the explosion knocking her hard – and that's where the memory stopped. The paneling above her now was not that of the infirmary – so where was she?
Zoe dragged herself to sitting with some difficulty, leaning back on her elbows to keep her torso propped up, aiming to assess her surroundings. Shuttle, she thought, she was in Shuttle 2. Her eyes immediately darted to the cockpit, where sure enough Wash sat at the controls. She opened her mouth to call his attention, but a pair of hands on her shoulders took her by surprise, gently pushing her back down.
"You really should stay lying down for now," said Simon, hovering above her, "How are you feeling?"
"Like a ton of bricks – what happened?" she asked, obliging Simon on account of how sitting up made both her midsection and head ache in protest.
He stepped away to pull a syringe from his med kit, continuing to talk, "The force of that fireball slammed you down pretty hard. There was internal bleeding and you suffered a mild concussion, but it looks like you're going to be fine."
She frowned, realizing the doctor had misapprehended the intent of her inquiry.
"Serenity?" she added simply by way of re-stating her question as he injected its contents into her forearm, taking a glance around the rest of small shuttle and seeing only River, "Mal? The others?"
"Serenity's dead in the water," answered Wash as he came to her side and gently slid his hand around one of her own, apparently having set up their helm's autopilot when he noticed she'd woken. She laced their fingers, drawing comfort and strength from the familiarity of his touch as he spoke, "Engine's bust and all auxiliary life support and nav control got knocked out by the explosion. The shuttles were all we had left – Mal ordered us all aboard them, to head opposite directions and see if we bumped into anybody who could help."
Something felt off about his tone, and Zoe immediately got the sense that there was more to the situation than he thought she ought to hear. She could discern his unease from experience; the uncharacteristic rigidity he moved with when discomforted betrayed his emotional state in a very literal, physical way, as well as how his smile just seemed to fall short of those expressive blue eyes. The man was an open book to Zoe, and though Wash's mouth ran often and liberally, a good deal of their conversing happened without the benefit of words.
"The Captain went with the other shuttle, then?" she prodded, nausea rising in her stomach that had nothing to do with her medical condition when Wash hesitated to respond.
"No, actually," Wash said, looking away to Simon to avoid her gaze, who had busied himself with rearranging the supplies he'd brought aboard, "He... insisted upon staying with Serenity. Wanted to be there in case someone answered our beacon."
She slid her eyes shut and cursed in Mandarin under he breath, annoyance mixed with fear on Mal's behalf assaulting her sensibilities.
She opened them again to find Wash watching her once more, concern etched plainly across his features.
"What's the probability of someone answering, or that either shuttle gets picked up?" she asked, quickly sitting up again before Simon or Wash could protest, a business-like manner falling over her emotions like a cloak.
"Low," Wash grimaced, "'Very low, actually, closer to zero than a real number... we're a pretty long way from anyone or anything. Just us and the black."
She nodded, reaching her decision without hesitation.
"Turn us around."
"Turn us-- what?" Wash's brow furrowed, regarding her with confusion, "Zo, that lowers the probability of anyone finding us. Did I mention how very, very low it was to begin with? Zilch, natta, diddily-squat? Barely a chance?"
"I know. So low that it won't make much difference. We got the same amount of air left one way or another."
"Right, yeah, I guess, aside from when we gotta get a seal lock on Serenity, which might short us a few minutes worth, nothing major, but--"
"So turn us around."
They held each other's gaze in silence for a moment, and Wash saw the resolve steeled up in her eyes. They had Mal's orders to follow, but he knew she would never forgive him or herself if they didn't go back for the Captain. He did not even begin to understand the depths of the bond the two of them shared, and it made him a more than a mite uncomfortable at times, but he knew that now, in what was likely to be the last few hours of their lives, was not the time to clash with her over the issue.
He nodded and gave her hand a light squeeze before turning and attempting to disentangle himself and return to the cockpit. To his surprise, she did not release her grip on his hand.
He stepped back to her, confused until she untangled their fingers and instead reached up to place her hand behind his head, drawing his face to hers and placing a kiss upon his lips.
He smiled at her, understanding, calmed by the gratitude and reassurance in the gesture, and once again turned to reverse their heading.
Zoe descended the ladder of their bunk and took in the familiar space, relieved that Simon did not insist she spend another night in the infirmary. One was more than enough; despite the doctor's protests to the contrary, she firmly believed that the warmth and comfort of her and Wash's shared bed healed more effectively than a cold ledge surrounded by machinery ever could.
She unbuckled and removed her boots before loosening her vest and slipping it to the floor, and was in the process of unbuttoning her shirt when she heard the hatch snap open and saw Wash's feet appear on the ladder. A wide smile graced his features as he climbed down and stepped over to her, sliding his arms around her waist and pecking the side of her neck by way of greeting.
"Looks like I got here at just the right time," he quipped, nuzzling her ear and landing another kiss on her neck.
"Looks like," she agreed, her own smile playing around the corners of her mouth.
She resumed disrobing and he released her to attend to his own garments. Once they'd both peeled away their clothes in short order the pair of them settled under the covers together, limbs tangled as they snuggled close, basking in the heat of each other's bodies and the relaxing, open solace of skin against skin.
"Glad you're out of the infirmary," Wash echoed her earlier thoughts, idly working his fingers through the thick tendrils of her hair and sweeping wayward curls away from her face, "Heck, glad we're out of the infirmary. Sleeping in a chair wasn't exactly doing wonders for my back, you know."
His voice held a playful whine, but his eyes were steady and locked onto her own, the weight of the concern he'd felt on her behalf evident in his gaze. She smiled and absentmindedly fingered the bandage on his arm, covering the spot where Wash had given his blood to help get Mal through surgery. She knew he would have spent the night there just to be there for her while she healed, even if he had not also been there to provide Simon with the blood the Captain needed. Zoe was more than grateful for him in both capacities, but the thought also segued into another that had been troubling her, and her smile faded slightly.
"Cap'n mentioned you wouldn't leave my side, after the explosion," she stated, her tone not accusatory but not entirely unloaded either, "Ain't no good to dwell on what's happened 'til you've done all you can to set things to rights. That's how you get yourself killed."
Obviously taken aback by the comment, Wash's brows furrowed with exasperation and he withdrew his hand from her hair to gesticulate as he spoke, "Zo, we thought you might be dying. I wasn't much thinking about me at that point. Or anything else, for that matter."
"I know, bao bei," she said, her tone softening somewhat at his expression, "But you you can't let emotion get in the way of thought, times like those. Can't help me or nobody else by standin' around in the infirmary while Serenity's on the drift. Gotta do the job."
"So you're saying you could up and leave me if I was dying, if you thought the situation dictated you do else-wise?" Wash demanded, incredulous.
"If you can't do anything 'bout it, no sense grieving 'fore it's safe to grieve. During the war I had to leave plenty'a friends-"
"Ni bu dong! This ain't the war Zoe, and I ain't you, I couldn't just-"
"Shh," she touched her hand to his lips, silencing him, "Wash, it's alright. I'm alright. We're alright," Zoe removed her hand and slipped her arms around his back, pulling their bodies closer together so that her front was pressed full onto his, their faces so close that the tips of their noses brushed up against one another, "Jus' sayin' was all, that I don't want you to loose your head in a dangerous situation if something ever happens to me again. Don't want nothin' to happen to you too because of it."
He opened his mouth again looking as if he intended to continue to argue the point, but then thought the better of it when he noticed the equally pained look of apprehension she allowed her face to betray and sighed, wrapping his arms around her in return.
"I love you."
"I know it," she said, the corner of her lips quirking with bemusement and affection, "I love you too, husband."
Wash kissed her then, soundly but gently, and instantly she was responding, her lips parting beneath his and their tongues twisting together as his hands moved across the skin of her back, one sliding down to cup the swell of her pi gu, the other nestling back into the tangle of her hair. Zoe's hands in turn found their way between them and down his chest to his lower extremities, and Wash stirred, breaking the kiss for a moment as he felt himself rising.
"You sure you're feeling well enough for this?" he asked, somewhat breathless, bright blue eyes once again awash with nervous worry.
"I'm always well enough for this," she assured him firmly, her mouth reclaiming his as she propped one leg over his and guided him inside her.
They said everything else they needed to that night without words, and for a time the threatening expanse of black just beyond the bulkhead ceased to exist, as did Serenity and even the bunk they shared – there was only the two of them, pushing in desperately, as if trying to meld their flesh together as seamlessly as they already had in other respects. As one being it seemed they could face anything the 'verse threw at them, stronger for all their differences. And when nearly an hour of tender excursions later they drifted off to sleep together, still a sweaty jumble of sheets and limbs – both understood, and all was well.