Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events.

A/N: For Alpha Flyer, because I abandoned ship in the Delta Quadrant, and for Laura, who told me to watch it. Multiple times. Post Serenity.

Could Be Bumpy

You don't wear dresses anymore. Leastaways, not when anyone's looking. You didn't wear them all that much before, but at least you wore them some. Like the time when Inara threw a birthday party for Kaylee and insisted that you wear a dress, to make her feel special. So you'd worn the blasted thing. Even Mal had worn one, horror of horrors. Unfortunately, it wasn't the last time – for you or for him.

Then there was the time he shoved you down the ramp on your second date with Wash, handing you a scowl of his own when you planted your feet. They're impractical, you'd grumbled, and Mal had grumbled right back that it was true, but you looked mighty fine in the darn thing, so you might as well get over your dislike of it and have fun.

You'd had fun, and it'd only taken six hours to stop jumping whenever the skirt touched your legs. It just didn't feel right. But Wash liked it, and you liked Wash.

So you wore it anyway.

. . .

Some days you can still feel him, right there at your elbow, touching you, kissing you, tugging at your curls and laughing when you yelled Mal's name and swung around to smack him. You miss him, the teasing, the harebrained ideas, his way of smarting off at the most inopportune of times. How he hated the sight of blood, shying away from war stories and the like. Not that you talked about them much. Just the funny ones.

Maybe he'd only been jealous of Mal.

But not really. You knew him better. The jealousy was there, but truth is, he wasn't cut out for war. Or battle – of any kind.

In some ways, his death was a mercy. He never would've made it out of that barricade alive. But that stake… and the senselessness of it…


You close your eyes and clamp down on your lips, long strong fingers bone white against the handrail, your knees. Serenity, you think, tears searing beneath your lids, refusing to fall, Serenity hold me together. You're all I've got. All there's left to remember.

Two years, and you still can't shake the image of him dying before you could say goodbye. Blink, and you would've missed it.

Sometimes, you wish you had.

. . .

"You think she'll hold together?"

"She's torn up plenty, but she'll still fly true."

"Could be bumpy."

"Always is."

. . .

You've never been one to indulge cowardice. Worry, yes, fear, certainly, but never weakness. You saw the worst of war for longer than you care to remember, and it was hard, but you pulled through. So did Mal, and a handful of other Independents. You were there when a bullet sprayed a friend's blood on your face, warm and coppery and wrong, or when shrapnel tore into the wall of dead bodies you'd helped stack for lack of a better barricade. You and Mal were always the ones to close their eyes, fold their hands (if they had any left), whisper a goodbye, even if you only knew their faces when covered with grit and gore. Oft-times it was hard to tell 'em apart on washday. Only their voices helped you out. But that was only once a month. Maybe twice, if you were lucky.

You saw more death than you'll admit even now, to the stoutest of hearts, but it never shook you like his did.

. . .

Wash… Wash was a part of you. And you were a part of him. Together, you were like Serenity's engines – a bit mismatched, prone to spark and groan – but ultimately right, stuck together in such a way that no matter how unlikely you looked, it worked. Thing about you and Wash was, no one questioned you once they knew you. That was the power of togetherness. That was you, two and one at once.

That was once upon a time.

. . .

Now… the breath is shaky in your lungs. You suppose you're still like Serenity's engines, mismatched and moving, but there's a cough deep inside you, something even Kaylee in her genius can't fix.

You're one mismatched part too short, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it except stand here and grip your knees, the rail, his memories, and breathe.


. . .

You don't wear dresses anymore. Leastaways, not when they can see you. To Mal and Kaylee and Jayne and Inara, you're the same old Zoe, only with a few more scars in you than last, and not all of 'em on your skin. They look at you and see their friend, first mate, the only one who can best them in a shootout with one eye closed. And they're right, you are those things. You haven't changed. You'll still fly true.