Wash stared out into the black.
He just stared.
He didn't want to think. He didn't want to feel. He didn't want to remember right now.
He more felt Mal coming up beside him, than actually saw him.
Wash closed his eyes. He could still hear Mal's screams echoing in his memory.
"How do you do it?" he asked finally, breaking the quiet. He leaned back in the pilot seat and looking over at the captain.
"How do I do what?" Mal asked, leaning against the consol to face Wash.
"How do act so--normal after everything that happened?"
Mal sighed and winced, rubbing his chest gently. "I don't rightly think I've ever been quite normal. So, I'm not sure exactly what ya mean."
Wash chuckled dryly and winced himself as not quite healed bruised ribs protested. He sighed. "This is just so screwed up. I'm supposed to be the one who takes care of Zoe. Well, as much as she lets me, and I'm supposed to be the one who holds her at night when she wakes up from a nightmare about the war, and tells her it's okay, that she's safe and I'm there. It's not supposed to be her holding me while I—" he caught himself and cleared his throat, straightening up in the pilot chair a bit. "Like I said. This is just screwed up."
Mal nodded solemnly. "Yeah, it is screwed up. Niska, the whole-very screwed up."
"How do you do it? I mean Zoe's told me stories about you in the war, but there with--it was--how," he stumbled for words. "I would have broken. I had never--it hurt so much. I didn't know a person could hurt that much and not pass out or die or something, but you keep on me about Zoe and that stupid—" he sighed. "I was jealous. Before all this. I was jealous of the time you and Zoe spend together. Out on jobs, me back on the ship wondering what was going on, if someone was going to come back hurt, if Zoe was going to come back hurt. Stuck on the ship like—" He closed his eyes and scrubbed his hands over his face, flinching when he pressed too hard on his bruised right cheekbone and eye.
"You really want to know what I was thinking when Niska was working us over?" Mal asked finally.
Wash lifted his head and looked up at him. "What?"
"All I kept thinking about was what Zoe would do to me if I let you get killed. That woman loves you somethin' fierce. She'd move heaven and hell to get to you if she had to. Nothin' Niska could do could compare to what that wife of yours would do if I let that shiong-mung duh kwong-run kill you."
Wash couldn't help the smile that turned the corners of his mouth. He leaned back in the pilot chair.
Mal settled himself against the consol. He crossed his arm and gave Wash a pensive look. "You're not the only one who was a mite jealous. You've been able to do something I've never been able to in all the years I've known Zoe, which is quite a few more than you."
"What?" Wash asked.
"You make her happy. I ain't never seen her smile so much as she had since she met you. Heck, I'm not sure I ever heard her laugh until she met you. Don't you worry about losing your woman to me, Wash. We know each other far too much for anything like that to ever happen."
Wash nodded and leaned his head back, staring back out into the black. A shiver crept over him. "He still out there," he said finally.
Mal glanced over his shoulder and out the view screen beyond. "Yeah."
"He'll want to kill us now more than ever."
Wash signed. "Now what?"
Mal leaned forward and clapped him on the shoulder. "Now, we get on with our lives."
"Yeah, right," Wash said sourly.
"You know Zoe needs to be there for you just as much as you need her," Mal commented.
Wash stared down at the consol and one of his dinosaurs stared back at him accusingly.
"Right," he said softly.
"You think she picked you when she came in there to try to buy our way out, because she thought you were weak and couldn't hold up to Niska's torture, don't you?"
Wash looked up at him squarely. He already knew the answer to this. "She did."
Mal shook his head. "Not no such thing. She picked you because she knew she couldn't leave you there. She knew she couldn't live with herself if she left you there and you died."
"Mal—" he started, but the captain cut him off.
"No, you know I'm right. You pulled her out of pretty dark place when you fell in love. I may not think you deserve her, but I can't argue with what your relationship with her has done for her." Mal straightened up. "You got this boat on auto-pilot?"
Wash nodded. "Yeah. Gotta couple days until we'll be back to Persephone."
"Then get on to bed. Your wife sent me up here to find you a while ago. I'm surprised she's not up here herself by now." Mal jerked his head toward the rear of the bridge. "Get on with ya' now."
Wash hauled himself to his feet and paused. "I never got the chance to tell you thank you."
Mal just nodded and Wash headed back toward the crew quarters and his wife.
Jayne stared at his torn bloodied t-shirt mournfully.
"Gorram idgets! Shot my gorram shirt! How the heck am I supposed to find another shirt like this? Ya' think ya' find a place that gives 'em out for free on every planet?" He huffed and then sighed deeply. "Only thing left to do with it is to use it to clean my guns. Though it might work to bring out a purty shine on Vera's muzzle." He held the mangled bit of cloth out at arms length to examine it.
Shepherd Book gave him a sour look. "Are you done?"
Jayne put the shirt down and sat up straight. "Sorry."
The Shepherd went back to bandaging the man's side. "You sure you don't want Simon to take a look at this? It looks clean. It did just nip you, but I'd feel better if the doctor looked at it."
"No," Jayne said, and then added quickly. "We don't need to bother him. He's got his hands full with the captain. Gluing his ear back on or what ever the heck he's doing. Cap' looked pretty rough when brought him back. Wash don't look none too pure either."
"They've been through a very trying ordeal," the Shepherd said, as he moved to wrap the strip of gauze around Jayne's midsection. "That Niska's an evil man."
"Shiong-mung duh kwong-run, is more like it," Jayne spat.
"You're not far off there," Book commented as he finished with the bandaging job. "How's that feel?" he asked.
Jayne stretched a bit holding his side. "Good 'nough." He glanced back at the Shepherd. "Thanks." His eye narrowed a bit. "Ya' seem to know a heck of a lot about shootin' and bandagin' and like than any other preacher I've known."
"Caring for a flock can sometimes mean a little more than just taking care of their spiritual needs," the Shepherd answered.
Jayne stared at him and just grunted, "Huh."
"Now, there isn't some reason you're avoiding the good doctor, is there?" Book asked with a raised eyebrow.
Jayne tried to look as innocent as he could. "Naw, he's just busy with the captain and all. Heck, even Zoe got a little bunged up from this job. Kaylee's all actin' funny and ain't seen hide nor hair of that crazy little sis of the Doc's since we left the skyplex."
Book nodded. "Everyone's a bit jumpy yet. Though it's relaxing now that the good doctor let us know the Captain's going to be fine."
Jayne stretched checking just how much his injury was going to restrict his movements. "We're probably not gonna pick up a job until folk are all healed up." He gingerly pulled a clean shirt on. "Though it was kind impressive in all how Wash pulled himself together to go after the Captain."
"There's a lot more to the pilot than one would think at first glance. Makes it bit more understandable why Zoe chose him to be her husband."
"Ya' think? Cause that I don't get. I mean, look at her," he made gesture with both hands to hint at her curves. "And then look at him with his flashy shirts and skinny butt. Man ain't much more than chicken bones. What has that woman got goin' on in her head? Ya'd think she'd go for something with a little more manliness," he said, puffing out his chest a little.
"Someone a little more like you, right?" Book smiled a little.
"Heck, yeah," Jayne snapped.
The Shepherd just shook his head, heading back towards the common area. "There are days it's a wonder you've lived as long as you have."
"What?" Jayne asked, watching the Shepherd's retreating figure.
Jayne sighed and picked up his ruined shirt. Maybe it just would work for cleaning.