The Anniversary
by dafnap

It was The Anniversery. The day, the month, a year (or four? five?) since Serenity, since Zoe tried to forget. Blood is always remembered, every day, every month. Bone too, ash. But then there's the sound, reverberates even now, across lightyears and miles and feet and mere inches in her ears the sounds of mortar blasts and the cracking skulls.

It's the sound that always wakes her, now, today, a month, a year (or two? three?) since Serenity.

She's strong: gun strapped to thigh, arms taunt and ready, a little smile because it's better then frowning. Gotten soft, she tells herself because she is so easy to laugh now, so easy to fall into easy rhyme of jokes and love.

Wash loves her. She loves Wash.

So she tells herself a thousand times before she goes to sleep.

Easy familiarity breeds trust breeds comfort breeds laziness. The sound, of mortar and glass, of iron nails flying through her arms and legs.

Wasn't paying attention because she was so goddamn tired of being in the gutters of the battlefield, of being in the trenches and behind the wire. She paced the goddamn enclosure a hundred times -knew it like the back of her hand.

Knowing breeds familiarity.

Over coffee and grits and Lowhorn was smiling and snorting coffee through his nose before an iron nail ripped it off. Laughing and smiling he was, before an iron nail pierced his skull and glass shards scratched out his eyes so he screamed and bled into her coffee. Arterial blood turned her grits pink, then red.

Then the iron nails pierced through her arm and her upper leg, pulling apart tendons and breaking her favorite goddamn cup. Screaming, god she was screaming, so loud, so gorram loud because she couldn't hear herself because glass shards had punctured her left eardrum and her right was still echoing Lowhorn's screams.

This was war.

She remembers everything and she remembers her Captain (Commander, General, wrong guy at the wrong time)sitting next to her and pulling dirty bandages off and sealing wounds and trying his damndest to save her arm. She remembers him cracking dirty jokes she couldn't hear but knew had to be bad because the nurse would slap Mal upside the head.

The tent is where she perfected her sardonic smile and her attempts at normalcy. When she could talk again she shook off the bandages (two days later, too late) and left the tent without telling anyone.

This scared the shit right out of Mal because when he caught up to her (two miles down the trench, two miles away) he paid no mind to her weeping arm and slammed her against the dirt trench and shouted at her, "Don't EVER fucking do that to me again."

Couldn't hear him of course, one ear and it still echoed. But all those dirty jokes and she could read lips like the best of them and she told him, promptly, "Fuck you sir," and shoved him down to the ground, hoisting her gun onto her good shoulder and stepping over him.

He didn't touch her again, not like that again where he was this close to something real.

She shot and killed twenty Alliance soldiers that day, with one bad arm and a ringing in her ears.

This was war; this is where she found herself.


This is where she wakes up, breathing so heavy so loud that her arm hurts and the echoing in her head is without end. Wash is all tuckered out, curled up on his side of the bed -cold because Zoe's twisted off all the covers. They lay strewn on the ground away from doing any sort of good.

This is nothing. She's seen worse, felt worse, been worse.

Lowhorn laughing, and then his cornea floating in her coffee.

This is nothing.

But she stumbles out into the hall, forgetting that Wash will wake up the second she leaves the bed, and because he loves her he will follow, though he knows he can't do anything.


Mal was giving orders one night when half his team was shot dead by a stray sniper with an automatic loader. Was giving orders to the nurses as to where to start working and the next moment they were all dead. She remembers vividly how tight his jaw went, how his eyes turned impossibly dark before she had to wrestle him into the ground. He was going to end it he said, "End this whole fucking thing now." But she pulled the gun from his hands shoved him down so he wouldn't lose his head either. He cursed in too many dialects to count, but she held tight and soon tired out.

He was angry for a day, and then he needed someone to go to camp 14 and tell them all their medics were dead. He chose Zoe and they were even again.


Zoe remembers the war; remembers who she used to be; who she used to want to be; who she ended up as. She remembers the laugh lines she used to have, the tattoo that was on her left arm before it burned away. She remembers the echo in her ears and Mal's hand impossible strong. She remembers everything and now a day, a month, a year (or two or three or four) later she remembers who never had a chance to /want to be/, to /end up as/.

Mal's door is open, unlocked and creaking on its hinge. She doesn't remember pushing it open, doesn't remember banging on it so loud that he had to calm Kaylee down over the coms and tell her that her precious ship was alright, go back to sleep.

Zoe stands in his room, her pajamas wilting on her frame from sweat and bad dreams (memories, sensory touch). He's not even dressed for bed, still slumped against his only chair, his fingers gripping something that burns and sticks. A cup is offered and she sinks beside him and falls asleep against his shoulder, her hair smelling of ash in his face.

Wash has his ear pressed against the wall, his fingers clenching slightly when he hears her sob. This is not Zoe, not the one he knows that giggles into his shoulder as she pushes her hips down; the sheer vitality of her open mouth when she clenches. This is not the Zoe that he knows and he stumbles backwards and away, his feet skidding on the metal. Course corrections need to be made, plans mapped out and coordinated with the 3D rotoscope. He's got work to do. Stuff to fix, to see to, to push.

It's been one year, two years, three years, four and five and her senses don't die, don't fade. This is The Anniversary but tonight she's never really left.

(left behind. blood still moves, still warm.)


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