Blessings against the Thunder: Blackout Zone, Epilogue
Thanks: to rez_lo for hand-holding and beta-reading.
Summary: It's ten days before they're set to meet up again, on a dusty moon at the back end of nowhere, ten days he hadn't really considered except as time to be endured until they could take stock and plan the next step forward.
Blackout Zone, 1
Blackout Zone, 2
Blackout Zone, 3
Zoe's on Adelaide's ramp when the shuttle pulls up at the far end of the dock; John can see the way she's leaning, watchful and casual all at once, when he climbs out. He rests his hand on the shuttle door just a second, the metal cool and smooth; then Inara mutters something and slams it, and the shuttle zooms off, leaving him to walk on his own, down to where Zoe's waiting, arms folded across herself.
Seems to take forever, and not just because every step sends pain lancing up his back. He gets to the bottom of the ramp and stares up to her: it's gonna be awkward if she won't let him onto his own ship. "Your boy Sam seems to think we shouldn't've left you on your own down there," she says.
"Sam don't know everything he thinks he does," he says. And, because he can see the way she's watching him, noticing how he stands and capable of guessing why, he adds, "Dean and Jayne happened along, helped me out a little." He tries a smile, watches her face relax a little. On the way up the ramp to her, he does his best not to let his feet drag.
She wrinkles her nose when he gets close. "What did you fall into down there?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle," he reassures her. "Don't they need you on Serenity?"
"She'll fly without me," Zoe says. "Thought you might like the company, on the way to the rendezvous."
It's ten days before they're set to meet up again, on a dusty moon at the back end of nowhere, ten days he hadn't really considered except as time to be endured until they could take stock and plan the next step forward. "Hunh," he says. He lifts a hand to her cheek, but the movement sends the smell of stale water and dead monster rising up. She coughs a little; he huffs out a laugh. "Better if I go change," he says.
"I'll get her ready to lift off," Zoe says.
That catches him, trying to remember how long it's been since anyone else sat on Adelaide's bridge: Dean, once or twice, in that last year they were hunting the demon. "I'll get the engine turning over, first."
There's the beat of Adelaide's engine, carrying them forward, his own heart pounding in his chest, Zoe's mouth against his; she's holding him up and just for this moment, he doesn't care, lets himself rest against her. After that it's too late, the weariness washing over him all at once, that and the ache in his bones; that and the thought, it isn't finished, it still isn't over.
Zoe draws back and looks at him; there's a question on her face but he has no idea what it might be and no idea what she sees in his. Then she's pulling him back, up the steps to his bunk, kissing him hard and pulling him down with her. But even while she's shuddering under his fingers, even when he sinks down into her, he can hear it in the back of his head: not over, still not over.
Adelaide's a small ship, everything laid out all compact-like for a one or two-man crew; third day out Zoe forgets to duck and hits her head on the way from the engine room up to the cockpit. She curses loud enough for John to hear. He checks her eyes and forehead and doesn't laugh at her the way Mal laughed the one time Jayne smacked his head loading cargo under the main hold stairs.
"You want to tell me what's eating you?" she asks, figures he might answer while he's distracted by the work.
His hands still. "Don't know what you mean," he says.
"I reckon you do realize that you ain't a cheerful man at the best of times."
He meets her stare, his face closed. "I got a lot to think about."
"You ever think about sharing any of that?"
"Not much," he says, like that'll be the end of it. "You check that compression coil?"
Zoe can feel her mouth tighten; far as she can see, a man who gives orders so freely shouldn't complain when they get followed. "You want to check my work?" she asks.
He takes a breath, holds it a moment. "No."
"Then I'll get on with things." She slides off the table and he takes a step back to let her pass. "You told us to leave you there, to go look for Sam and Simon." There's a wary look to his face, like he don't know which direction she'll strike. "You want me to have your back, John Winchester, you need to let me have your back." She's out of the room before he can say a word, spends the rest of the day taking inventory of the ammunition stored down the hold.
He hears her getting up, hears her feet on the steps up to the bridge. There's only one seat up here and he's in it, a blanket wrapped round him; she rests her hip against the console and stares down at him, her back to the stars.
"Bunk's small," she says. "Still, you might consider sleeping in it."
"Ain't tired," he says. The looks she's giving him tells him how obvious the lie is. "I'm used to this chair, anyway."
"Used to working alone," she says.
"I know you have my back," he says. "That ain't it. And Sammy always comes first, him and Dean both." She nods like she understands what he means, though he's not sure she does. "You get a chance to look at those recordings yet, the ones you got from Sam?"
He can see her trying to be patient with the new subject. "You know I have."
"I hunt," he says. "It's what I know how to do, and I'm good at it." There's some pride there, but mostly it's just truth. "I can find evil and track it, and I know how to take it down. But those sessions..."
"They're frightened." Zoe's voice is low.
John looks down. "I ain't used to the idea that demons can be frightened. Of hunters, maybe, or of holy men. But of a company? Something like Blue Sun? I don't know how to fight that."
She's quiet a long time, and when he finally raises his head, he can't recognize the look on her face. "Fool man," she says. "Come to bed."
"You rearranged the cases of ammo."
"You had 'em arranged wrong," she says. He don't reply, so when she's done unscrewing the back of the transmitter, she looks up. "You're running low on silver bullets, too."
"I'll look into that." The irritation's run right out of his voice, replaced by something warmer.
She smiles and puts down her tools. "Wouldn't want you to run out."
"No," he says; when she stands up his hands go to rest on her hips, drawing her close.
"You do use some specialized weaponry, in this business," she murmurs against his cheek.
"Cast 'em myself," he says, right into her skin. "Show you how, one day."
She's pushing the jacket off his shoulders and he's got his hands under her shirt; she pulls back from the his mouth just long enough to say, "I'd like that," and then he's got her back against the cabin wall and there's no need for talking any more.
He knows she's there, but even so he nearly jumps when she rests a hand on his back and kisses his neck. "Don't you know not to sneak up on a man with a knife?"
She chuckles and reaches around him to the herbs. "Don't you use that stuff for work?" she asks.
"Cook with it, too."
"Smells good, anyway," she says.
"It's just protein and broth." He can't remember the last time he cared enough to bring in fresh supplies, beyond the necessary, wonders if that might be another habit worth changing. Wonders if he'll ever get the chance.
She rubs her hand along his spine like she can feel the weight settling on his shoulders. "You hate cooking that much, John, you might've said something."
His mouth twists; he lays the knife down and turns around, leaning back against the galley counter. She settles between his legs, stares him in the eyes. "Landing on Whitefall in another day," he says.
"That's so," she says.
"I ain't asking for anything." The back of his mind calls it cowardice, calls the way his stomach tightens fear, reminds him of dogs he's seen, beat once too often.
"You ain't offered any promises, either."
"Serenity's a tight crew," he says. "You've been with Reynolds a long time."
"She's home," she says simply, and it's just about all he can do not to look away. "She'll be there when I'm ready."
He has to choke down the words, that's not so, it can all be taken in a moment, in the time it takes to draw a breath. Zoe knows that as well as he does. So instead he pulls her close and lets his head rest against hers. "Wouldn't know home if it fell on my head, these days."
"I did notice that," she says, and pulls away just enough to kiss him.
Serenity's already there when they reach the rendezvous, settled in the dirt by an abandoned ranch house. John brings Adelaide down gentle, far enough not to disturb the other ship; he barely needs to think about shutting her systems down, changing life support for planetfall. Zoe's in the doorway to the bridge, watching him work.
"You don't need to wait on me," he says.
"Don't mind," she says.
Truth is, it's only another couple minutes, flicking some switches and a quick trip to the engine room to listen to Adelaide's systems winding down, and there's no more cause to wait. Down to the hold and he opens the hatch to blink at the sunlight shining back from the dry ground. Still manages a grin for her when he says, "After you."
She don't grin back, but she does stand there a moment next to him. Just before she starts down the ramp, she says, "Got a bed for two in my quarters on Serenity. Might find that comfortable, some night."
Next Part: Whitefall