Categories > TV > Firefly

At Ends

by Northlight 0 reviews

Zoe: before, during and after.

Category: Firefly - Rating: R - Genres: Angst, Drama - Characters: Zoe - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2005-05-20 - Updated: 2005-05-20 - 1634 words - Complete

5Insightful


They had played at war. Pointed their mamas' brooms and spatulas and broken twigs at each other: bam! bam! bam! you're dead! and had collapsed to the earth with their hands dramatic against their heads or bellies or hearts. Started to twitch bare seconds later and had clambered to their hands and knees and rejoined the fight: forefingers pressed tight together in a point, aimed around corners and over rocks. Went home hours later with scrapped knees and bumped heads and broken brooms and couldn't wait for tomorrow and the day after and the day after.

Years later: Zoe lay flat on her belly in bleached sand. Covered by a sandy tarp that trapped the heat and made her breath turn rough and laboured in her throat. Lay still, so very still, as her back burned and her thoughts sizzled away to nothing in her lowered head. Palms slick with sweat and tension and heated metal. Swallowed dust and shot at distant blurs of darkness against the impossibly blue horizon. Decided that when the war was over, she'd put aside her weapons and set up house somewhere still and quiet with green grass and a mellow sun.

Later yet: Zoe spent weeks in bed, the covers pulled tight and close over her head. Cried at odd moments and shuddered at loud noises. Woke up to wet bedding and threw up as often as she ate. She bought a new gun the day that she finally pulled herself out of bed: five months after the end of the war, two months after Zoe had trickled out of the Alliance prison camp with a thousand others like her. Shorter and lighter than the weapon she'd worn during the war and Zoe had spent hours learning the feel of it in her hands, riding against the starved angle of her hip.

*

Mama made chicken and mashed potatoes, sliced beets and bright green peas. Zoe barely tasted it, sucking back thick lumps of potatoes while her mind twisted round and round picking at words. Her chest tight and heavy as she looked at Mama and Pa and Deidre over their Sunday-best china. Swallowed her milk quick when Pa pushed back from the table and put her glass down too hard: I've decided to join up, she said, too sudden, too loud and hours later was still listening to Mama heave and choke on her dinner.

Years later: Zoe ate from metal tins, crouched and hunched so that her thighs and knees and shoulders ached. Pre-cooked meat sealed in grease, dried fruit like plastic in her mouth, hard squares of tasteless chocolate, pre-mixed tea powder and the cigarettes they played for in card games. Lit the tins on fire and burned her fingers and mouth because it was barely edible at all, cool. Ate something they called chicken for three weeks straight and nearly cried with relief when she came across a tin marked "steak." Would have been grateful for anything at all at the end, when the supplies stopped coming and her body started eating itself.

Later yet: Zoe was nothing but dry skin, loose hair and sharply brittle bones by the time she left the prison camp. They had spent hours--a minute at a time, here and there--talking about the meals they'd had, the food they'd eat again: chicken and steak and sizzling slabs of bacon, fresh-caught fish and shiny apples and peaches so fresh they exploded wetly against one's tongue and Jed Timmons reminding them again and again that: the little woman makes the best durned brownies you've ever dreamed of. There were no chickens and steaks, apples and peaches to be spared for hundreds of jittery skeletons. Belly so small and tight, the food she'd dreamed of would have killed her in any case.

*

They had spent all Saturday wrestling with bedding: Mama and Deidre and Zoe. Pulled winter sheets and blankets from wooden frames and lugged heavy tangles of cloth into the sunshine. Fought with water and wet sheets and stubborn stains; smacked dirt free from quilts and comforters hung on twine. Sunday night, Zoe's bed still smelt of soap and fresh spring air. Her sheets tangled about her legs as Zoe turned and turned and did not sleep. Listened to the creak of her parents' bed as Mama twisted, night-heavy steps against the floorboards as Pa paced. She felt sick and angry and turned her pillow wet beneath her face.

Years later: Zoe had been given a blanket, rolled tight among her other supplies. She wrapped herself in it and slept in wet trenches and on hard ground and strangers' beds found whole in ruined homes. Curled tight beneath it in the cold, bunched it beneath her head in the heat and was too bone-weary to care about the stains and lice that lived in the fraying weave. Slept lightly in minutes and seconds snatched between burst of explosions, during bumping rides on transport ships and woke more tired than she'd been.

Later yet: All the prisons had been filled: men and women without weapons or food or hope loosing one last fight or giving up. Zoe lived out the last months of the war in a converted factory: met new insects and new smells in the thin mattresses laid out side by side on the cold cement floor. And people cried and screamed and prayed in the darkness, but the sky did not light with explosions and the ground did not shake and it was--peaceful. So hungry and weak and drained that she could sleep and sleep and sleep even when her eyes were open and her mouth was moving.

*

Mara's lips had grown thinner and thinner as each days went by. Her dark eyes were hard with disapproval and she nearly spilled Zoe's secret a thousand times. She was as angry as Zoe had ever seen her but she flung her arms tight around Zoe's shoulders that last day. She pressed her wet eyes and nose and mouth into Zoe's neck and squeezed so hard that Zoe gasped. Blurred her words against the cotton of Zoe's shirt and begged Zoe to come back home, to come back safe and whole while Zoe said: I will, I will--you know that I will. I'll be home before you know it, she said and believed herself.

Years later: Zoe spat up vivid red bubbles and clung tight to Jane Vaughn's good arm. Tugged and tugged until Jane looked away from the smoky bright horizon and down at the trampled ground and Zoe's twitching body and bloody mouth. I'm dying, Zoe thought, I'm dying, and said: look after them for me, Mama and Pa and Deidre. They all made impossible promises to each other, lied in good conscious and Jane stroked Zoe's knuckles and promised. They both pretended to believe in themselves and each other because it was the only thing to do.

Later yet: Zoe wasn't a liar and she'd go home some day, when she was safe and whole and something like the woman she wanted to be. As for the rest, those impossible, earnest promises: Zoe had lost letters and trinkets in firefights and scrambled searches for cover and had blurred names and messages and worlds in her mind. Left a dozen people who never knew that they were waiting on her faulty memory. The Alliance had taken the rest: stripped Zoe's pockets and boots and belt of folded letters and pictures and a golden cross on a chain given to her for safekeeping.

*

The world had been different when Pa had been a boy, and he still kept a riffle suspended by the kitchen door. He taught Zoe how to load it, shoot it and put away as neat and clean as if it'd never been used when she was done. The sheriff and his men kept order and Mama didn't like skinning animals, so Zoe had only ever shot at fence posts and tin cans and hay stacks and didn't ever point a gun at a person after Pa smacked her for aiming at Billy McGiverns. The only thing she knew of violence was stories about the old days, the sheriff leading surly drunken boys down the street. The only thing she knew of death was Gran: still and cool and stiff and Roger with his matted fur, buried quickly to the sound of Deidre's wails.

Years later: Zoe had nearly gotten herself killed her first day on the front lines. Stunned by the sound of gunfire, by the stench of blood and shit and gore, she had stood wide-eyed as someone (she never learned who) screamed: gorram newbie, get down! And Zoe didn't want to die, so she learned to duck and shoot and fear settled deep into her bones until it was so normal that she stopped feeling anything at all. The war changed again, and Zoe got close enough to see the face of the boy she'd just shot--she'd never, she'd never and hunched among debris, Zoe puked on her own boots and cried so hard and often that she made herself useless.

Later yet: Zoe tried not to dwell on the war, but: the ground she walked on was uneven with the memory of shellings, broken earth that wouldn't heal for years yet. She visited towns that startled the eyes: shining newness built around and over and between buildings scarred and shattered by fierce battles and distant generals' orders. Zoe met men and women and children without eyes and arms and legs but scars puckering their skin. She learned that all the worlds in the 'verse had grown older and harsher and that as many people hated her as those she had believed to be the monsters of the war.

~end~
Sign up to rate and review this story