And the Stars They go Round and Round
And the Stars They go Round and Round
by Lemon Lashes
Wash is alone on Serenity's bridge, heading out on a course that Mal has picked more or less at random. It makes them harder to follow, this running blind, this not quite in a panic retreat. The crew just had a run-in with a ghost ship and the Alliance, a two for one deal with Reavers on the side. Now everyone else is cleaning up the ship. It was the Feds that tossed the place--and they did it thoroughly.
Up here, there was almost nothing to toss. Wash spent less than a minute tightening screws and had everything squared away again. He should go help the others, maybe--pick up the galley, tidy the engine room with Kaylee... but instead he sits at the controls, watching the proximity alarm and wondering if someone else is going to turn up.
With the touch of a key he sends the ship corkscrewing; still on course, but spinning. It's a waste of fuel, but nobody on board feels the difference--Firefly-class ships have top-notch inertial dampeners, and Wash knows how to use 'em. The stars revolve in the front portal. After a moment Wash lifts himself up so he's standing on his chair. From here he can press his head against the portal, watching the sky turn like a wheel.
He's seen people get sick doing this. Not pilots, though. It's practically a distinguishing characteristic--good fliers don't get motion sick, no matter what. No fear of heights, obviously, or confined spaces...
Bold since childhood, Wash has had to grow into an acquaintance with fear. The first person he ever remembered being genuinely frightened by was the guy who taught him to fly, a gusty blowhard named Maurice who showed him seven hundred tricky vacuum maneuvers and four scientifically impossible ways to land an out of control ship in air. Maurice made sincere attempts to kill them both, by Wash's count, six times. From this teacher Wash had his first real taste of terror, a bitter wine he'd never sampled before. He walked away from the last near-crash with a healthy respect for sane people and well-maintained equipment.
Years later, two of those risky lessons would save his ass. He resented the introduction to fear just the same.
Wash isn't afraid of sudden death or sickness or burning or needles, doesn't flinch at sudden loud noises unless he knows damned well something's after him, which has happened from time to time. He doesn't fear snarling animals or storms or deep water.
Sometimes, though, Wash does fear love.
In that, Zoe has been his second teacher. She has taught him to fear loss, loneliness, the pain of being deep in an argument and not knowing how to navigate out. The terror of watching your whole world bleed from a bullet wound while Mal runs out of bandages and he can only fly them at desperate speed, hoping to get to a medic in time. She's taught Wash there's no limit to how deep emotion can run, and that is scary too.
Together Zoe and Mal have also taught him how much damage one human being can inflict on another in mere moments, given the opportunity and a sufficiency of killer instinct. Wash doesn't fear his wife or her capacity for violence... but he knows what's inside her, what it looks like. When he sees the same qualities in strangers he gives them a wide berth.
Maybe he's got a reason to fear that violence now. Wash lets his thoughts ghost over the topic of Simon. Simon in many ways a bundle of fear--for himself and his sister both--and yet, somehow, living with it. Simon naked, Simon nervous, Simon making small pleasure sounds deep in the back of his throat. Wash's cock tingles as he remembers. He pushes his eyes open wider, and watches the stars revolve, makes himself move past it.
There are things to fear in this mess he's gotten himself into, but Simon is not truly teaching them--the poor doctor is just the messenger. No, these are self-taught lessons. Wash wants to run from this new part of himself, the unconcerned vow-breaker, the fathomless hunger that rises out of his depths like floodwaters, swamping, drawing him to the infirmary, to Simon's bare skin, to his open face and air of delicious vulnerability. The quiet indifference with which Wash is risking his love and marriage is as ghastly as anything he's known. The way he can't seem to let go of the sweetness of the other man makes his throat go dry when he considers it. It can only end up in hurt, and he can't stop.
Wash always understood himself pretty well--what drove him, why. Now he's found a wall inside himself, a place he can't seem to look. Things are coming out from behind it, and they're beyond his ability to resist.
A barely audible hiss of static from the console, almost an exhalation, makes his fingers press harder against the steel. He recognizes it instantly--the anti-hijack system. There are three stations on board designed to allow command staff to eavesdrop on the flight cabin. The basic idea is that if someone abducts the pilot or just takes over the controls, the Captain can listen in, get the lay of the land without coming up in person.
The stations are located in Mal's cabin, the engine room, and the infirmary.
Hissss.... someone is listening to Wash. Maybe they've noticed the slow-mo barrel roll the ship is doing? Perhaps they just want to hear if he's up to something. The whole crew, Simon excepted, has been tiptoeing around him of late.
He contemplates the roster of suspects. This failsafe is tucked behind dull, uninteresting panelwork in each of its three locales, allegedly a secret to everyone but Mal and Zoe. They hadn't told him, not when he came aboard. Wash had been ignorant of the system until they'd had to use it. But it's hard to imagine Kaylee not finding it in her voyages through ship systems. And Jayne's seen so many different ships. As for Simon...
... the rush of lust comes again ...
Simon's shown he has a way of knowing things, a way spelled R-i-v-e-r.
Which means the only two people Wash can eliminate from the list of possible eavesdroppers are Inara and Book.
Taking a last look at the spinning starfield, Wash pushes himself upright. Rubbing the mist of his breath off the portal, he lowers himself down into the chair, keying a sequence to stop SERENITY'S lazy barrel roll. The revolve slows. The stars shiver and then fix themselves in place.
"My old instructor once showed me how to land a ship in freefall," he says. "He dropped our kite into atmosphere, bass-ackwards, with the engines shut down. We started to fry. I remember I yelled at him, at myself, something about how I'd known he was nuts all along, and why had I signed on with him? Raving--I was scared. It was actually kind of a first."
"Anyway, Maurice just fired the jets fast in what he called a push-start pattern--it's a sweet move, I've done it twice now myself--and flipped us over. The kite shook like hell but he got her stabilized. When we landed I yelled some more about how crazy he was. He took me for a beer and told me Maurice's Law. Sooner or later, he said we either crash or we burn. What that meant--hell, why it was relevant--I couldn't work out."
"Months later, I realized when he said burned--or he'd say starburned sometimes, 'that guy's getting a bad starburn, Wash'--what he meant was craziness. He believed a pilot who doesn't do a pancake in his boat sooner or later ends up insane. He believed that there's something wrong with pilots, a flaw that makes us unstable."
"And you know..." He scratches his face, finds he could use a shave. "I do kind of think I may be losing my mind."
The one-way buzz in the console whispers away, and he doesn't know who he's been speaking to, or why he shared that little tale. Just another impulse, unstoppable, coming from behind the wall within. And here comes another one, a deep pull toward the back of the ship, toward the doctor. The Feds probably left the infirmary in a hell of a mess. He could help. Give the doctor some consolation, maybe. Talk about finding a time when they can be alone.
Or he could let it go, stop, do the right thing.
Double-checking the settings on the proximity alarm, Wash turns his back on the starlight, struggling to fire the rockets on his wayward heart as his feet carry him down, into turbulent air.