the shadow that you're standing on
a Firefly story
by dirty diana

for virtualinsomnia in the nsp_ficathon.

shee-ah yuu = rain
Mei-li = darling

They hadn't had a job in a long time. No action to speak of, not since Miranda. They asked around, but it was quiet all over, and the Captain didn't seem as worried as he should have been.

Zoe was running out of money, all of them were, for repairs and for drinking. She didn't complain about it, though, not half as much as Jayne did.

"Don't you think, maybe..." Simon began one day, and Mal shot him a fine glare.

"Ain't interested in no opinions," the Captain answered, and it was how it always had been. Had to give the boy points, though. Never seemed to learn his lesson, or learn to back to down.

Simon shrugged, but his eyes narrowed, and Zoe wouldn't have been too surprised to find that he had actually got an idea worth listening to.

They landed on New Harlem, in the dead cold of winter, and there wasn't any work there either.


Serenity touched down hard in the harsh crunch of snow. The girl said the frozen ground was dead men's hunger, and Mal gave her a funny look. Wasn't nothing but words, didn't mean nothing. Still, Zoe was inclined to agree.

They were getting along well now, River and the captain. Zoe could hear their laughter sometimes, high-pitched, light-spirited arguments floating down from the bridge. Just the two of them up there, surrounded by the black.

And by ghosts. Zoe believed in things she couldn't touch. Growing up on a cargo ship, you got to holding all manner of superstitions, ones so old they kept the ship in the sky like fuel. They stuck with Zoe still, things she knew for true but never thought about.

Zoe believed in ghosts, and sometimes on the catwalk she would stop suddenly, thinking to hear Wash's voice.

She believed in bad luck too. It was a thing that was real, that breathed and could touch you, and if you were smart you stayed out of its reach.

They were meeting bad luck now. Zoe organized her berth, everything in neat groups of eight, and while they were planetside she made sure to sleep with her feet pointing west, but none of it seemed to help.

And Wash still followed, the thin flame of him that was left, that Zoe couldn't see.


They went out drinking, down by the port. Wasn't nothing else to do, or nothing else to want to do. Kaylee was locked in the engine room, elbow-deep in Serenity's guts, and the girl was asleep early, knocked out by her evening dose of medicine. The captain didn't drink much these days, not as much as he used to. It ended up just Zoe and Jayne, like it did most nights, packed in the crowd and smoke of drunken sailors.

Zoe was drunk herself, on cheap, bitter ale, and she lost Jayne early, to a whore in an alley. Zoe didn't much notice. Jayne wasn't any company to speak of.

Though maybe, just maybe, a little better than the ghosts.

A voice at the edge of her vision caught her attention. The attention of her hands, one clenched around her glass, one hanging by her empty gunbelt. "Mei-li, ain't you a fine one? Don't tell me your man run off and left you all by your lonesome."

Zoe only half-glanced up at the brutal, ugly stranger's face before she closed her fingers into a fist, and hit him hard.

Jayne showed up in time to throw a punch himself, and then pull her out of the brawl, both of them kicking and bruised.

"That's another bar we ain't welcome at," Jayne grumbled, the both of them stumbling home, too drunk to see, even under the bright glare of spaceships leaving and arriving. The sounds hurt Zoe's head, and she couldn't hardly hear what Jayne was saying, not well enough to care.

"Shut up," Zoe told him roughly, and Jayne fell to silence.


The doctor sewed her up when they got back, a gash in her arm that was running blood. He made neat, even stitches with his smooth hands. Zoe sat perfectly still.

"Sure you don't want a shot of something?" Simon asked her, but Zoe shook her head.

Didn't need to be any more numb than she was already was. In the morning she probably wouldn't remember kissing him. Couldn't tell, from the darkest blue corners of his eyes, whether he would. She had the feeling, from the taste of his mouth on hers, that maybe she had done it before, but Simon never moved his lips to tell her so. His fingers closed around her knuckles on the chair, skin still stinging with cuts.

She would sleep without stirring, and wake in the morning with a head that ached till splitting, and the rest would be shee-ah yuu. The captain would find them a job, or he wouldn't, but either way it would be a new day, and their luck might be changing. Simon pulled both mouth and fingers off hers. Their breath, cool and warm, still mixed and brushed her hair. "I'm done," he said, quietly. "All fixed. Maybe you should head for bed."

He was right, the doctor was, filled with a rightness that hurt.

"You believe in ghosts, Simon?" Zoe asked him, but if the answer came she didn't hear it.


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