Firefly: All the World's a Stage
She didn't dream that night. No nightmares or memories interrupted her blissful slumber. But Emma woke her up anyway.
It wasn't the first time, and as Zoë returned to the waking world, she knew it wouldn't be the last. One day, she told herself, as she lay on the bed, Emma wouldn't wake her up. Emma would grow, be her own woman, find her own man (or heck, woman), and maybe one day, be woken up in turn by her own child. One day, Emma would wake up on a far-off planet and look upon a universe that had become kinder, crueller, or more likely than anything, remained just about the same.
But that day hadn't come yet. Emma Washburne was only two years old. Emma Washburne was crying. And that meant it was the duty of Zoë Alleyne Washburne to do her motherly duties, get out of bed, and pick Emma out of hers.
"There there," she whispered, bumping her daughter up and down. "Nothing to cry about."
Letting out a wail, Emma made it abundantly clear that there was something to worry about. And that like every other time, it was up to mummy dearest to work out what it was.
"Emma? Emma, be quiet now. People are trying to sleep." Some of them in this very room.
The cabins of Serenity were thick enough to muffle some, but not all sound, which meant that there was a strong chance of waking up fellow crew members. Again. And as Jayne and even Mal had made very clear, "again" was well beyond one time too many.
"Here," Zoë said. "Dinosaurs? You like dinosaurs."
She dangled a giant reptilian creature in front of Emma. Supposedly called a stegosaurus, but if anything, reminded Zoë of a cow that had grown spikes and an attitude. "Rah. Rah."
Emma stared at her for a moment, her eyes wide and teary, before letting out a wail that sent the stegosaurus running. Or, more accurately, causing Zoë to drop it.
"Okay, okay," Zoë said. She sat down on the bed and bumped Emma up and down on her leg. "There there. Come on, little one. Washburnes don't cry."
Emma begged to differ, and Zoë sighed. When she'd come up to the ship, she'd found River finishing a story for her daughter – The Warrior and the Wind, as she called it. A story of the crew of Serenity, focusing on the girl's parents. Wash, the Wind, had left her, the Warrior, taken away by wild men, but not before leaving the Warrior a final gift. One day, Zoë knew, she'd tell her daughter the full story. One day, they'd go to Siren, and she'd show Emma her father's grave. But not today. Today, tonight, Emma had to return to slumber.
"Come on Emma, please…"
Emma continued to wail.
"Okay," Zoë sighed. Without looking, she grabbed one of Emma's books off the ground and headed for the cabin's ladder. "Okay…"
Years of practice allowed Zoë to climb the ladder while holding her daughter at the same time with ease. Over those same years, she'd come to realize something. Emma quietened down when taken out of the cabin, but it was guess work as to where to head next. The kitchen, to feed her? The engine room, to let the hum of the engine send her to sleep? The cargo bay, which was like a giant playground? Or the cockpit? The place where she could sit where her father had, and behold the same stars he'd seen before his eyes had shut forever.
Like how, on a ship far removed from this one, her mother had done for her.
Passing through the dining room and entering the cockpit, Zoë found out that the last one was correct this evening. Moonlight streamed in through the windows, from Miyazaki and Kuan Lo both. Tomorrow, they'd go to pick up Inara, but tonight, the crew of Serenity were sleeping soundly. She sat down in the pilot's chair, accidentally dropping the book as she did so.
"Sorry about that," Zoë said. She steadied her daughter on her lap, while she went to reach for it. "Let's see where we're…oh."
The book wasn't Emma's. The book was one she'd received a year ago. The book had a moustached man looking back at her with cool eyes, and the cover told, nay, reminded her, that his name was William.
"Sorry Emma," Zoë said, as she put the book on the console. "Want me to go back and get Spaceman Steve?"
Emma didn't say anything. She just stared at the book with wide eyes. Smiling, Zoë rested her on the chair, took the book in her hands, and knelt down, turning the cover to face her daughter.
"Someone gave me this book once," she said. "Used to read it a lot."
"Lot!" Emma said, stretching out her hand to touch Will's face.
"Yes. A lot. A man gave…" She took a breath. "A man gave it to me. Not long after I had you. A man who I'll never see again, most likely."
"Like," Zoë whispered. "Man who…well, it doesn't matter. Point is…" She sighed, and turned the book's cover to face her. "Oh Emma. Sometimes there is no point. Sometimes good people die, and you can't save them. And all the writing, all the monologues, all the poems in the world can only make you feel so much better."
Emma remained silent. Looking at her daughter, seeing her eyes, no longer shedding tears however, Zoë could tell she was listening. Maybe not comprehending, but still, listening. Smiling, she caressed Emma's cheek, before clearing some hair from her eyes.
"But the book helped," Zoë said. "After your father died, a man told me about the seven stages of grief. Like, and unlike, the Seven Ages of Man. And I…" She flicked through the book's pages, arriving at one towards the end. Seeing the header on the page, she frowned.
"Story?" Emma asked.
"Yes, a story," Zoë whispered. "One with a woman called Miranda. A name that…" She closed the book and put it aside. "A name that one day, you'll understand, little one. One day, you'll understand the meaning behind that name. And why it'll mean more to you than most."
"Story!" Emma yelled.
Zoë shook her head. "No, Emma. No stories. Not tonight. Certainly not from Will."
"Story!" Emma yelled once more, before puffing her cheeks out and trying to stand up. "Story story story!"
In spite of everything, Zoë smiled. She picked her daughter up and held her in her arms, before walking up to the cockpit's windows. "No story," she whispered. "But how about a song?"
Emma yawned, but stared at her mother with wide eyes. Expecting a song. Demanding it. Begging for it. And, as she always did in the end, Zoë relented, kissing Emma on the forehead before thinking about which lullaby to sing. Everything from treetops, to mockingbirds, to horses galloping across the plains. Songs she'd sung a thousand times, and would sing a thousand times more. Songs that, in their silence, demanded that she sing something else.
"Song?" Emma whispered.
Zoë smiled. "There's a song me and Unkie Mal used to sing," she whispered. "A song sung by lots of people."
"Yes, people. Not a song your daddy sung, but one he knew, especially after…" She took a breath. "After he married me."
She knew she wasn't crying, but she felt Emma's little hand brush against her cheek. And that was all the prompting Zoë needed to clear her throat, steady her breath, and at last, begin to sing.
"Take my love,
Take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand."
Emma began to fidget, but Zoë pressed on.
"I don't care,
I'm still free,
You can't take the sky from me."
It had been a song sung by the Independents. A song of hope, even as the war turned against them. A song of defiance. A song known and sung by every Browncoat.
"Take me out,
To the Black,
Tell them I ain't coming back."
Emma closed her eyes, pushing her head against Zoë's breath as her mother looked up at the stars.
"Burn the land,
And boil the sea,
You can't take the sky from me."
Emma made no sound. She was asleep. The Black had taken her. So as Zoë sung the last lyrics, the one that Mal had added to the song after they'd first left Hera, she knew her daughter wouldn't hear them.
"There's no place,
I can be,
Since I've found Serenity."
But one day, she would. One day, she would sing the song herself, as she charted her own course through the universe.
"And you can't take the sky from me."
One day, Zoë told herself as she sat down and stroked her daughter's hair, they would sing the song together. One day. But until then…
"We're free, Emma," Zoë whispered. "We're free."
She didn't know how long she sat there. How long she sat in the light of moon and stars. The light that illuminated the darkness of the universe, while showing the beauty inherent in that light. She didn't know if there was a hereafter, where her husband, where Emma's father, might be watching them from the heavens above. She didn't know if Tom was still on Nirodha, wondering if the woman he'd given a book to was still alive. She didn't know what her parents had thought before they joined the Black, not knowing the path their daughter would follow. And she didn't know if a man who'd lived on Earth-That-Was a thousand years ago could have imagined that one day, mankind would spread throughout the stars, and that his words would still be read. That a planet and its moon would bear the names of two of his characters. That an Operative would take one name, and lead others who bore the second. That in the cold of the night, so far from mankind's homeworld, one woman would remember those words, as she held her daughter in her arms, and continued to sing. Sing, and reflect, of the road that led from denial to acceptance. Of the road that had taken her from the Torres to Serenity. From Hera to Miranda, from Nirodha to Sho-Je Downs. Of the road already trod, and the road yet to be travelled. Wherever it may lead.
Perhaps the world was a stage. Perhaps she was a mere actor. Perhaps her curtain would fall sooner rather than late. But until then…
"We're free, little one," Zoë whispered, as like her daughter, she closed her eyes. "We're free."
For a moment, in the dark, she could see Wash before her. Smiling.
A moment after that, sleep. Together. Linked, as only parent and child could be. For what was life, if not rounded by sleep?
And what were they, but what dreams were made on?
But release me from my bands,
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails,
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please.
Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
So that's that.
Something you may have picked up on from ch. 7 is that yes, the events take place during The Warrior and the Wind. I'd initially planned to incorporate River's storytelling to Emma directly into the chapter and/or epilogue, but decided against it. First, the timeframe doesn't work, as there's no way Zoë could get back to the ship in time to hear River tell the whole story. Also, even if she did, Warrior and the Wind works as a visual medium, given its reliance on surreal imagery. I didn't think I could translate that into a non-visual medium.
Apart from that, don't have too much to say, aside from the standard stuff. Thanks to those who reviewed. At this time of writing, don't have any other Firefly stories on my "to write" list. Current writing focus is on an Overwatch story titled Alive.