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[naomi] smiling, [naomi] daddy's carrying me!, [naomi] asleep
flybywash wrote in milliways_bar
Every star's got a story.

Wash has spent so long up there that he knows them front to back, almost every one there is to tell and a couple more on top of it. Some landmarks and constellations never change; some do, of course, depending on how you look, and the story changes with them.

The best thing about finally being somewhere with an unfamiliar sky is that you can make 'em up yourself.

So he's out by the lake with Naomi in his lap, watching the stars emerge, and whispering to her softly as he points them out, one by one.

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"Of course not," he says simply.

Booted feet thud solidly on the metal of the stairs as Jack descends them and comes to stand near Wash, between the pilot's and copilot's stations. Absently, he holds out the bottle of rum-- but Jack's looking out through the windscreen again, and not at the man beside him.

Silence descends, and at first it doesn't seem as though he's going to break it, but then Jack says abruptly,

"Lost me Pearl once."

Wash automatically takes the bottle, but doesn't drink; he's content with the silence. It startles him when it breaks, just as much for what's being said as the fact that it was said at all.

His stomach twists in sympathy as he looks over at Jack.

"You did?"

He nods, still looking out at the bright patches of light against the deep black of space, and brightly-beaded braids swing gently as he does.

"Aye." A beat. "They sank her burning."

He cocks his head, as if listening to some sound unheard by anyone else as he says thoughtfully,

"Thought I'd go mad, when I saw it happen." Jack swings sideways now, and flashes Wash a quick, brilliantly manic grin. "S'pose I did, come to that. 'Daft like Jack,' they say now -- I don't mind it. Much more better that way, savvy?"

Wash frowns.

There had been patches of scorched rigging strung up around the Pearl when he saw her, but nothing like he would've expected had it really been burned.

Another time then, he realizes. And it must have been another bargain, somehow, if he'd found the Pearl again long enough for her to end up like --

Like how Serenity looked after Jethro.

He quells the thoughts before he can speak any of them out loud, and says instead, vaguely amused, "Shi a, there's a lot to be said about underestimating."

"So there is."

He brushes a finger over the back of a miniature dinosaur, then trails his hand absently over the flat metal rail by the copilot's station, picking up a few scraps of brightly-colored wire and toying with them.

"Has an effect, something like that. I think you know what I mean, mate." Jack looks pointedly at him, then turns his attention back to the wire in his hand, which he seems to be shaping into a complex knot.

"Hard to be without what's dearest to you. Leaves you hollow inside. You find yourself forgetting little things-- the way the light flashes off a wave when seen from deck, or the way the sail stands against the blue of the sky. Things like that-- they start to slip away, one ... by... one."

He does know.

There was a week he spent bedridden, and another in the Milliways cells.

There was the six months landlocked right after flight school, when he woke up every morning and could barely think for the buzzing claustrophobia.

There was Serenity's own burning: Zoe lying so still in the infirmary as the air temperature sank to near-freezing all around them, and Mal divvied up his crew into the shuttles to leave him -- and her -- behind.

And now, there's...

There's a hard knot in his throat again, for starters, that doesn't let him do anything but nod as he takes a careful seat on the stairs. His cane taps quietly against the metal as he sets it aside, and he keeps watching Jack in silence.

He turns the colorful wire knot over deftly, examining it, and then nods, evidently satisfied. Jack glances assessingly at Wash.

"Now, there's ways around that sort of thing -- but your hair's not long enough. Seems we'll have to make do without."

He reaches into his pocket once more, and this time he pulls out a piece of rope. It's sea-worn and rough... and to a particularly discerning eye, it might seem just a bit familiar.

It had been attached to the Black Pearl once, and Jack had been holding tightly to it when he returned to Milliways for the final time -- with his ship. Although Wash doesn't know it, the rest of this particular line's coiled neatly in a small chest in the captain's cabin.

He nods again, and starts to unravel it into a series of small cords.

"Give me your hand, son."

He blinks.

A few bewildered seconds pass before he complies.

Jack holds the cords between two fingers and the wire knot in the center of his left palm as he takes hold of Wash's right hand and studies the pilot's wrist. With a deft movement, he shoves the other man's sleeve up, and then braces Wash's hand against the dinosaur-populated metal shelf.

"Hold still." As he talks, he starts braiding a few of the cords into a bracelet around Wash's wrist, with the wire knot firmly in the center of them all.

"See, the trick is to always have something of it with you, savvy? As long as it's right there, you'll always know what it is that you're looking for-- and then you'll be able to find your way back much more easily."

...oh.

"Oh."

Wash, quite suddenly, is having trouble seeing Jack go about his work through the blur in his eyes. He realizes he's still holding the rum bottle and sets it down next to him, turning fully to ease the slightly awkward twist to his arm.

His gaze flicks to the beads and trinkets strung throughout Jack's tangled hair, and just as suddenly he's smiling -- wobbly, but broader than he has all night.

It doesn't take him long, and he finishes by weaving the loose ends deftly back into the braid itself. When he's done, Wash is wearing a sailor's rope bracelet with no end to come untied, and with a few colorful scraps of Serenity herself set like a jewel in the middle of the cord.

"There you are, son."

Jack looks up at him, and locks his gaze with the other man's.

"She'll stay with you, no matter how far away you roam."

His eyes drop to the bracelet, overbright with tears; slowly, Wash rotates his hand from side to side as he pulls it back. His other hand circles around his wrist, thumb running over the wires -- there always seems to be an excess of junk wire on the bridge, cut away and stripped and fallen off during maintenance. Just scrap, but that doesn't matter much.

It's still undoubtedly her.

"Xiexie ni," he whispers. Looking back up, "So much. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

He drops the remaining pieces of rope back in his pocket and absently tests the fastening of a tiny dinosaur before leaving it be.

Jack grins knowingly at him.

"Now, when you come back, son, I'll have to teach you how to negotiate."

That gets a laugh out of him. Wash rubs the water out of his eyes and says, "Good. I could use a refresher. Or more like a learning-for-the-first-time-er, I've never been any good at it."

He picks up the cane, pulls himself to his feet with the help of the rail, still glancing at the bracelet every so often.

"You wanna keep going with the full tour?"

He assesses the other man with a single quick sharp glance, and then gestures grandly.

"After you, mate. Lead on."

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