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New Fic: Happy Birthday, Baby

Happy Birthday, Baby
Fandom: Firefly
Rated: PG
Category: Zoe/Wash, with some Mal angst and River quirkiness on the side. Tissue alert.
Spoilers: The BDM
Summary: After the BDM, Zoe is missing Wash, Mal is being Mal, and River knows a secret.
Word Count: 687
Note: Written for rundmc3po ’s birthday, but posted late because, well…it’s not a happy b-day gift. But happy belated birthday anyway, Sean! Honest! I mean it! Hope you're well (and warm)!

xxx

He knew she’d be here.

There was never even a shadow of doubt in his mind.

And so he watched, not entirely sure why.

He watched as one of her hands ran along the console lovingly, then traced the back of the chair.

He watched as she sat in that chair and looked to the stars before heaving a long sigh.

He watched as her lips whispered to those stars, and he strained his ears to catch her nearly silent words.

“Happy birthday, baby.”

And finally, he could watch no more. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

But still, he didn’t move.

He didn’t leave.

He stayed rooted to the spot, as if he’d grown there.

If anyone had asked him why, he’d have said he was there for her; to support her; to be sure she was alright.

But the one who secretly watched him as he watched her knew better.

She knew precisely why he was there. She knew he was there for himself.

She also knew that he wasn’t there for comfort, as one might suspect - far from it.

No. He was there for the opposite. He was there to hurt. To tear scabs off old wounds. To open them again and then allow them to bleed freely. For he could not allow himself to heal. That would rob him of his guilt, and that simply wouldn’t do. Not for him.

And so River Tam sent her own sigh into the night, knowing that the grieving widow in the cockpit would be alright long before the captain in the hallway on this most painful of nights.

After a moment, River turned away. She shrugged and then actually grinned. It was all she could do not to giggle outright and reveal herself.

Her expression might have seemed incongruous to the scene in front of her, but her mind had conjured an image that was much more gratifying than the morose old soldiers of Serenity, and she chose to dwell on that instead. As she made her way to her usual nighttime haunt of the cargo hold’s catwalks, River allowed the laugh she’d been holding in to bubble out of her. She couldn’t help it.

For if there was one thing besides the constancy of Mal’s self-punishment that she was sure of, it was that Hoban Washburne was having one hell of a party on his first birthday in the afterlife.

Zoe had wished him a happy day, after all, and River had no doubt Wash wouldn’t disappoint her.

The next morning, Simon would find River still on her catwalks, sleeping peacefully with a dopey grin on her face. He’d heave his own sigh then and start to put her in bed, but for once she’d wake and eat breakfast with the rest of the crew. She’d even remain lucid through the whole meal, which for Simon counted as a win. He’d never know that River’s entire being was focused on Mal and Zoe that morning, and that her whole mind was filled with only one thought as she watched them both play with their food.

They really should have come to the party.

And eventually, they would. It would take a few years, but in time, the anniversary of Wash’s birth would bring more smiles than tears to Serenity, and everyone would toast a life well-lived, rather than mourn a death too soon. River would smile on those days, and she’d let everyone think her expression was caused merely by their celebrations, but as always, she would keep her own secrets. She would enjoy the company of Serenity’s crew for a time, but eventually, she would always slip quietly away to join the man of the hour himself at his own party.

She always enjoyed that party more. After all, it was a rare thing indeed that being half-crazy and able to slide one’s consciousness between dimensions came in handy. But on Wash’s birthday, when he simply wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, River was always very glad that she had a standing invitation to the best party the spirits had to offer.

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