Category: Family, Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Future!fic, Romance,
Character/Pairing: Wash/Zoe, OC
Spoilers: Firefly (specifically episode "Heart of Gold"), Serenity: The Movie, and the one-shot comic "Float Out"
Summary: Zoe's life does not end with Wash's, instead, another begins.
Word Count: 3,568
A/N: This fic took me a ridiculously long time to write. I never write stories like this and especially never with such elaborate original characters. I was super inspired after reading "Float Out" though, so this idea kept itching my brain until it was ~done. That said, this fic does not require in any way knowledge of that comic, everything that happens is explained/self-explanatory. Anyway, I'm kinda super proud of it and I hope you like it :)
The first time she sits in the pilot's seat by herself she's four. Momma tells her not to touch anything, because Serenity's on auto-pilot, though she thinks it's magic. So she sits, leans back a bit and looks out into the black. Except it's not black, not really, not all the time. Most of the time there's more stars than you can count. More than you can even imagine.
She knows her momma is watching her from the other seat, but she doesn't care. She just stares at the stars. Must've until she fell asleep, because the next morning she wakes up in her own bed. She remembers dreaming about them, shining bright in the black.
The first time she held her, she felt warmer than she had in 8 months.
She's perfect. Simon was saying something about genetics and blue eyes but she wasn't listening. Couldn't even if she wanted to, and she didn't. All she heard and felt was the little tiny heartbeat coming from her. Her eyes scrunched up against the light.
Two weeks later, her eyes opened for longer and longer periods of time and each time it was like Wash was looking up at her. It wasn't till a month later, till she'd woken up when most folk were sleeping 'cause Baby was crying and carried her up to the empty Bridge.
Zoe sat in the pilot's chair, which had been fixed up but still felt very much the same. And she whispered about the stars and about Wash.
She hadn't been able to settle on a name yet. It was the first moment she felt like she couldn't do this alone. Mal was getting fed up with calling the baby "Baby", Kaylee offered to run through every girl she ever met to see if a name stuck. It wasn't till they were on the Bridge alone that Zoe remembered Wash telling her different names for stars from Earth-That-Was. They had so many languages back then: some dead, some just starting.
"Stella," she breathed into the air.
Baby opened her eyes for a moment and Zoe nodded. Stella.
Today it is different. Today she is 18. In a couple months she'll be on a core planet, miles away from Serenity, at flight school learning what she most probably already knows but she wants to be better. She wants to be the best. It is her name that helps her get entry. That and the credits the crew saved up for far too long to help pay for the board and fees.
Her momma didn't want her to go, didn't even like the idea of her flying. But eventually, when she saw how she had a knack for it, how Serenity soared in her hands, she warmed to the idea.
She stares at the grinning image of her father. The man she never knew but feels like she does 'cause of all the stories. She turned to see her momma wipe a tear from her eye. This was one of the only times her momma let herself cry.
"Your daddy was made for two things: flying and loving. And he was mighty good at both. He made Serenity feel like home. More than home... He would've been so proud of you."
She puts her arms around her momma's waist, leans against her and stares a while longer at his grinning face.
The tradition started on her 5th birthday. A week before, Zoe kept asking what she wanted, hoping it wasn't something she wouldn't be able to get. She was never one for gifts. But she wanted Stella to grow up with memories of opening packages on her birthday; some semblance of normality in a lifetime of ...whatever life on Serenity is.
"I wanna go see Daddy." She insisted and Zoe's heart sank.
"Honey, you know we can't. I told you before..." She knelt down. The last couple of years, Stella'd been asking about her daddy and she could barely bear it. She'd skirted around the truth, telling her they couldn't see him.
"I wanna see Daddy," she insisted harder. She wasn't threatening to cry, because even she understood that this was bigger than tears, but she looked at Zoe like she understood it wouldn't be Daddy like Mal is Mal or Kaylee is Kaylee.
So Zoe nodded, "Okay, we'll go see Daddy."
She mentioned it to Mal cautiously and he was surprisingly in favour of the idea.
And a week later, together, while the rest of the crew on the ship sat humbly at the dining table drinking to their former pilot, they stepped off Serenity onto dusty red ground and Stella could see three little posts each giving off a purple glow in the distance.
Momma stops her at the front one. And Stella, only a little higher than the post itself, smiles instantly. She recognises him from the video captures her momma and Kaylee have shown her. As he grins at her, she feels warm. Like she can feel his love coming through the glow.
"Stella, honey, this is your daddy." Her momma's voice wavers from it's usual resolve. Stella looks up and sees that her eyes are wet, but there's a smile on her lips.
"Hi, Daddy," she whispers turning back to the smiling face. Her momma's hand on her shoulder squeezes a little stronger.
They stay until Momma stops crying. Stella wipes her cheeks for her and her momma picks her up and carries her slowly back to the ship. Stella gazes over her shoulder until the face just becomes a purple glow again.
They'd barely been back on Serenity three weeks the first time she was sick. Kaylee was worried and urged her to see Simon. Mal was worried and asked her if she was sure she okay (Wash's name hung in the air but she ignored it). Jayne was worried that she got food poisoning and for the next three days he doesn't eats anything that he didn't make himself.
It hit her one morning. She woke up, surprised somewhat to not be running out of bed straight away due to the nausea. She stretched out under the covers, letting the feeling of an all-too-empty bed overwhelm her for a moment. She opened her eyes then, and she knew. She cursed herself for not doing the maths sooner. She cursed the 'verse for making her do this alone. Then she put a hand on her stomach, still impossibly flat, and pictured his grin. He'd be happy, she knew. He'd be worried, anxious, jumpy with nerves, but he'd be happy.
She should have been up by now, they'll notice if she's late. But she gave herself a moment. Her mind did the maths, and she smiled. She remembered it like it was yesterday. Could almost feel his hands on her skin, his fingers tangling in her hair. His kisses leading from her shoulder, past her collar bone and up her neck, finally meeting her lips. She could almost taste him again.
They'd agreed to try. Or at least agreed to stop not trying.
She curled into a ball and bit onto the corner of a pillow–his pillow–and blinked away tears. Her heart felt like it was shattering and rebuilding at the same time.
First time she flies Serenity, her momma's in the cargo hold with Jayne. She's in the pilot's seat and River's flying her from the other seat.
River turns her head, her grin sparkling in the dim room. "You want to fly her." It's not a question.
She looks around the Bridge, feels guilty, knows she shouldn't. Momma would be mad. So mad. "It's okay," River smiles, "she wants you to. She loves you." Her finger runs along the edge of the console. This made her smile.
"Hello Serenity," she whispers as she takes the wheel, "I'm Stella."
She feels River's eyes on her as she slowly gains control on the ship. Serenity glides in her hands. It feels perfect. More than perfect. It feels like home.
That evening her momma catches her sitting on the floor in her bedroom, eyes closed, her shoulders and head swaying rhythmically.
"Honey, you okay?"
"Perfect, Momma. I'm flying," she hums, her eyes still closed. So she doesn't see when Zoe stares at her for moment, a flash of worry moving across her face before it settles into a soft smile.
When Kaylee got pregnant, Simon convinced her to move off ship. She agreed; there was barely enough room for all of them on the ship anyway. But she cried for a week and hired the new mechanic personally and waved them at least once a week and made them stop anytime they're within half a day of their planet.
Stella didn't like that they were leaving, and it made sense. This is all she'd ever known. She didn't know what it's like to live on stable ground. To have to look up to see the stars. Zoe felt a pang of regret that her daughter hadn't had a normal childhood like a ten-year-old should've had.
But after they left Kaylee and Simon, River invited Stella to the Bridge to watch her fly and they raced there, smiles on their faces despite Mal calling out a warning.
It's years before she finds out what really happened, about Miranda, about River. She avoids River for a week and River, understanding, doesn't come near here until she's ready. For a week she's angry and no one, not her momma, not Jayne can talk her out of it.
Then one day, River comes into the Bridge as she's staring at the stars. She sits in the co-pilot's seat and stares at her for a while.
"I'm sorry," she whispers. And Stella shakes her head. She's not angry anymore. Just sad. It's not River's fault.
Zoe didn't know how she felt about this. She was sat at the back of the Bridge, watching River pass the controls onto Stella. River just got them off the ground and now it was Stella's turn to break atmo. This is the first time she'd done anything more than fly in a straight line. And this was the first time Zoe had watched her fly.
At first she hated the idea. Part of it hurt too much, brought back too many memories. Part of her was just worried. Either, she tried to hold it off for as long as possible. But she's as much her daughter as she is Wash's, meaning she won't take no for an answer and flying's in her heart.
"Do you see me Momma?" she asked, and laughed and the ship moved up through the clouds. She's fourteen, Zoe mused, even younger than when Wash started.
"I see you, honey, you're doing great!" Zoe replied trying to be encouraging.
They broke atmo not quite as smoothly as everyone was used to, but Zoe had to hand it to her: she had a knack for it.
"This is amazing!" Stella grinned again, whipping her head around to look at her. "It's like I'm a leaf on the wind."
River's head snapped around to look at Zoe before she could ever register what Stella had said.
Zoe's chest heaved; she couldn't breathe. She got out of the chair, furiously blinking away tears from her eyes.
"I don't ever want to hear you say that!" she snapped, her voice breaking at the last word and she stormed out of the Bridge and into her bunk, slamming the door behind her.
Stella winces at her momma; she isn't one to raise her voice often. So when she did, it meant something. She almost wants to let go of the controls and run after her. But she knows she can't. She's flying Serenity now. It calms her a little.
"River?" she asks, making sure her friend is still there.
"It's okay," River appears next to her shoulder, "It'll be okay. Just a memory waking up in the sunlight, realizing it's still burning."
"What?" She asks, confused.
River shushes her, "Listen to her. She likes you, don't you feel it?"
Stella focuses on back on flying. "Yeah, I can feel it."
"Momma?" Stella calls tentatively, knocking on the bunk door. She's handed the controls back to River, even though auto-pilot is sufficient for the time being.
Slowly, her mother opens up the door and lets her come down. She looks around, taking in her surroundings. She doesn't often come down here. Has her own bunk now, and she can barely remember it from when she was younger. "Are you okay, Momma?"
"Just brought back some old pains, is all." Her mother replies and Stella looks past her, seeing a pile of old video captures on the bed.
"Is that Daddy?" she asks. Her mother nods.
Stella moves over to the bed and sits herself down cross-legged. She picks up the capture at the top of the pile. The image stutters to life as the light hits it.
It's her father at the dining table, the same one not 20 feet from where she's sitting. He's laughing and telling some story about terrible coffee. She can barely hear it over all of Kaylee's laughing, because she's much closer to the mic. Her mother appears in the frame and sits herself down next to her father. He pauses his story to grin at her and give her a short kiss on the lips.
Stella hears her mother sigh, and realizes she is standing right next to her.
"Sometimes," she starts, and Stella looks at her expectantly, "you jus' remind me too much of him. It's like looking at one of these." She gestures to the capture in her hand.
"I'm sorry, Momma," Stella whispers, and she forgets sometimes. She misses her daddy. What she knows of him, she knows he'd be a great father. But her mother, she really knew him. And she's the one that lost him.
"No, you got no need to be sorry," she says, wrapping her arms around her, "You wouldn't be you without him."
It was the sixth word she learnt. The first was "ma-ma", which delighted Kaylee more than anyone else. "Go". "Food", at which Jayne always grinned slyly and Zoe refused to do it anywhere but her bunk. There's "Sen-ty" and "Suh-nee", which Kaylee was convinced were actually "Serenity" and "shiny" so they counted.
It was dinner time. Everyone was at the table but Mal, who was still setting a course on the Bridge. Stella laughed and everyone laughed with her. She put her hand in a bowl of mushed protein and Simon compared her to Jayne. Zoe laughed, pausing to take a bite of her own food.
"Wash." The voice was adorable and high and undeniably happy. Everyone stilled. Zoe stared at her plate, unable to move her gaze as she could feel everyone's eyes moving from Stella to her.
"I didn't..." she looked up to her daughter, not meeting anyone else's eyes. She'd talked about Wash to her a lot, telling her stories she couldn't understand. They worked better than lullabies. But she'd never used his name. Daddy was almost easier. She didn't know that Wash, she didn't fall in love with that Wash, so she couldn't miss him.
"I taught her." River finally spoke up. Everyone's heads snapped to the other end of the table, including Zoe's. River shrunk a little, but her voice grew stronger, "She wanted to know. She knows something is missing, it just didn't have a name yet."
Zoe wanted to get angry. She wanted to get furious; it was not her place to tell her daughter what she was missing. But she knew if she got angry, then she would get sad. Instead she turned to her daughter, who was drooling a little and playing with a plastic spoon. She gently stroked her head.
And Stella smiles.
At school, she's fidgety. It's almost as if her feet can't stand the ground. All she wants to do is fly. She's put in more hours than some of the teachers.
Her father's name haunts her. It's both a gift and a curse.
"Stella Washburne?" they'd ask, "You know a Hoban?"
She never knows whether to nod or shake her head. In the end, she always answers yes and leaves it at that.
They expect a miracle from her, and she gives it to them.
Mal died like he lived. Painfully and impulsively. Gunshots to the stomach and a lung, a shoulder and a thigh. He maybe could've made it, if he'd wanted to. But as Jayne carried him back into Serenity and to the infirmary, Zoe could see his life leave.
She waved Stella, who was off on another ship, piloting medical supplies, doing good work like she should.
They met at Serenity Valley. Mal's body burnt and his ashes scattered around the grounds. He never left, Zoe thought. Sometimes she thought it was because he had no one to carry him away, like she did. But she knew he didn't want to. You leave your heart somewhere, for whatever reason, and you can't ever leave. Same was with her.
Inara left not long after Mal died. She claimed it was because she's older now, she'd get more business staying on a core planet. But Zoe saw the sadness in her eyes. She wanted to say something, tell her she knew how it was. But then she might have had to lie and say it got better. She was never one to lie if she didn't have to.
Jayne pretended he was upset because the ship was losing a Companion, but it'd been a while since he fooled them with his no-strings bravado. River was sad, and it brought the whole ship down. The new mechanic didn't seem to care much. He kept to himself, but told a good joke and kept Serenity running, so she didn't complain.
To get everyone back on their feet, she hired a new pilot. River was good, but she couldn't fly Serenity by her lonesome. With Simon off-ship, and now Mal gone, Zoe reasoned that River needed a break, that they all do. Something in the back of her head reminded her she still didn't trust her completely, but she pushed it away.
The new pilot was fine. He was good at flying and he wasn't too annoying. Mostly kept to himself, though he made friends with the mechanic. He raised an eyebrow whenever she told him to hurry up. He barely knew what they do, barely wanted to know.
She only went to the Bridge when she had to. She was the captain now, although Jayne still called her Zoe and she didn't mind. A title didn't make it so.
For a while, she lives off Serenity... on and off a few other ships. When she has a baby boy, she and her husband move to the same planet as Kaylee and Simon. They have the shuttle from Serenity that used to be Inara's.
When her mother waves her with news she'd rather give in person, she leaves immediately.
Cancer. Simon offers to help, offers to talk to some doctor friends of his. But her momma just shakes her stubborn head.
Stella packs up her family and moves back on board. The new pilot, hired to keep River company, leaves soon after, not being able to live with the questionable morality of their lifestyle and even less with the bond that hangs through the air of this ship.
She avoids the conversation like Reavers, but her mother corners her and insists, "Dead is dead, but I wanna be near him."
Stella nods and hugs her, letting herself cry for the first time since she found out.
Sometimes, when there was nothing to do and Kaylee or Inara or even Jayne offered to look after Stella, Zoe would return to her old bunk. She'd moved out while pregnant because that ladder ain't easy to climb holding a baby. Most of their stuff was still there, would always remain there. There was a whiff of a familiar scent of marriage and a feel of his worn Hawaiian shirts. Mal suggested once that she clear out his stuff. She gave him a glare and he shut up for good. He ain't one to talk about living in the past.
Stella squeezes her son's hand. Her husband's arm is wrapped around her shoulders. She can't be bothered blinking away tears. Around her are the people she grew up with, and in front of her are three posts. The once grinning image of her father is gone, the one she'd come to know, the face she'd loved. Now instead, she sees her parents, glowing purple. Her mother is laughing and leans her head on his shoulder. He's smiling, turning his head toward her, his eyes so bright with love it's almost unbearable.
The purple glow warms her with the love she has felt since she was little. The love of her father and her mother. The love of their partnership, even when they had been torn apart. She is five years old again. Discovering her Daddy; discovering herself.
They would have wanted this; happy and together, as they should be. As they once were.