A/N: I've got some updates lined up, but in the mean time, I really wanted to write something different between two characters whose relationship is rarely, if ever, explored. Post Heart of Gold, pre BDM.

"And if we should die tonight
We should all die together
Raise a glass of wine for the last time..."

-i see fire, ed sheeran

Recipe for Heroes

He hated the fighting. He could do without it. Every other part about marriage, he liked. The love making most especially, but there was also the cuddling, the someone to always talk to, the delicious and rare wife soup, the never having to sleep alone thing, etc. While everyone else would be wallowing in their lonely misery, he and Zoe had their own bubble, their own little world no one else was allowed to enter. He loved being a married man.

Except, when it came time for him to pick a fight.

That, he did not enjoy.

Although he liked to think of himself as a mostly calm and difficult to anger kind of man, sometimes it was necessary. Especially when it concerned his wife's safety. Which, as of late, was continuously being jeopardized. It had resulted in one ugly verbal assault, and he was now in the proverbial doghouse. For Wash, that typically meant snoozing in Serenity's cockpit, amongst the stars as she made her way through the black on autopilot. This way, when the others would wake up, they wouldn't suspect a thing. He didn't need the rest of the crew meddling in his affairs with his wife. He could easily pretend that he'd woken up early to take his spot in his usual chair without rousing any suspicions of where he spent the night.

Still, it was hardly comfortable trying to sleep sitting up, when he could have been curled up against the naked warmth of his lovely wife.

He'd dragged his tired feet towards the front of the ship, only to realize that someone else was already occupying the cockpit. And his chair.

He half expected it to be River. The small, youthful girl seemed to love wandering about the ship alone, finding nooks and crannies to hide in. It would drive her brother positively insane, but it amused her to no end, like she was playing a game of hide and seek no one else was aware of. It sort of amused Wash, too, watching someone as prim and proper as Simon flounder about, cursing like a sailor.

But wherever River was off to tonight, it was not the cockpit.

On this evening, it was the companion that was lost amongst the stunning beauty of an endless black sky, and its stars. She sat on the chair, her feet huddled against her chest like a little girl. The position reminded him so much of River that it was almost unnatural witnessing the elegant Inara Serra seated in such a way. She was barefoot, wearing nothing but her peach slip and a colourful scarf that was draped over her dainty shoulders for warmth. Her usually well kept, glossy hair, was messy, her curls erratic as if she'd been tossing and turning throughout the night. The inorganic light of the console cast shadows against her exotic features, and the bright twinkle of the stars lit up her deep brown eyes.

Wash suddenly felt as if he was intruding. Even though that was technically his spot she was sitting in. He figured just this once, he'd leave it well enough alone, and find some couch to sleep on instead. If anyone questioned him, he'd tell them to butt out, but nicely. Unless it was the captain or Jayne. Then, he'd tell them to butt out, but not so nicely.

Just as he started tiptoeing back the way he'd came, she'd called out to him; "Wash? Is that you?"

Caught, he took in a deep breath, and readied a smile for when he turned to face the companion's curious stare.

"What are you doing up, Inara?" He asked her casually, burying his hands into his pockets and rocking back and forth on his heels.

He was on edge, and unsure of what to say. Inara made an attempt to fix her unruly hair, running her fingers through it, suddenly self conscious of her appearance.

She steadied her voice when she spoke, "I took a nap earlier on, and now can't seem to fall back asleep. How about you? Isn't Zoe wondering where you are?"

The woman was good. Nothing seemed to escape the sharp inspection of a companion. Wash sighed, and rolled his eyes. "Not really," he stated, choosing not to elaborate.

Understanding dawned on her, and Inara knew better than to pester him any further. She simply nodded, and said nothing more, knowing that the subject matter was too fresh to discuss just yet. He liked that about her; she was good with people.

"Come to watch the stars, too?" she asked, turning back around in the chair to stare out of the glass windows.

Wash took that as his cue to join her, and so he did. It was only a little unsettling, and only because he didn't feel like he knew the woman all too well. Still, perhaps a night of conversing with the cardinal companion might help him take his mind off of other problems nagging at him.

"Actually, I was going to try sleeping, but I think I prefer the company," he told her, smiling.

She smiled back. "I'm sorry if I've foiled your plans. I can leave, if you like," she offered bashfully.

Wash shook his head, "No, no! It's fine, really."

They exchanged an uncomfortable smile, and the silence was awkward.

She was the first to break the tension, just as he was thinking up a crappy joke to help break the ice.

"I've always wondered what your full name is, Wash," she started.

He ran a hand through his hair, and thanked whatever God there was out in the black for saving him from telling a horribly bad joke.

"It's not the prettiest thing. Hoban Washburne is just a mouthful. And really, who wants to be called Hoban? It sounds so angry, and I'm not an angry guy," he explained.

If he was rambling, she didn't indicate that she was annoyed by it at all. Instead, she listened intently, still hugging her knees to her chest.

He told her all about his name, its origins, what on Earth-that-was that had possessed his parents when they'd decided on it, Zoe's initial reaction to it (and his moustache), and how he changed her mind. All the while, she listened to him, hanging on to every word, her eyes never leaving him. She laughed with him, and even laughed at his lame jokes and corny puns. She was a good sport, just like Kaylee.

When he'd finished, she commented, "You really do love her a lot. Anyone can tell."

He was caught off guard by the sincerity in her voice, and her expression. If he didn't know any better, he'd say there was a spark of sadness and longing in her dark eyes. He knew it almost immediately. He could recognize that look anywhere.

There was someone who'd captured her heart, and it was eating her alive how badly she wanted to be with whoever it was. Wash had never seen a naked companion, but Inara was baring it all to him. In that moment, she trusted him.

"Yeah, well, someone has to. It ain't easy being in love with a warrior woman who can crush me with her pinky," he confessed.

A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "I suppose someone does. You're a very brave man, Wash..."

He scratched the back of his head at the compliment, and tried to laugh it off. He wouldn't exactly describe himself as 'brave', although he had a feeling Zoe would. "Nah, that would be the wife's job. She's the hero, I'm just the side kick that does her laundry, delivers her flowers, and writes sappy poetry for her all night," Wash said.

Inara didn't laugh this time. She appeared solemn, and in deep thought.

"I think she needs you more than she lets on, and more than you know. Heroes have their reasons for fighting, but they also need a reason to know when to stop...," her gaze drifted off to the black, endless sky again.

Wash laughed, "You think Mal and Zoe ever know when to stop?"

Her mouth tightened into a thin line at the mention of the captain. This time, when she smiled, it was sad and distant.

When she spoke, she betrayed her emotions, "That man will never stop. I don't think there's a reason in the 'verse that'll make Malcolm Reynolds put down his guns..."

She said the words, but it was obvious that she didn't want to believe in them. The conversation was suddenly taking a turn. Wash found himself recalling why he was spending the night in the cockpit after all.

"Trust me, it isn't like Zoe knows any better...I'm used to worrying by now, but even I have my limits. Marriage didn't help change her recklessness," he admitted, absent-mindedly.

A pause as he came to realize what he'd said. It didn't feel right to be burdening Inara with his marital problems.

"...Is that what you two fought about?" her question was hesitant; unsure if she was maybe crossing a boundary by asking it out loud, in the open.

However, he told it to her true, feeling a little less uneasy now that he'd already opened Pandora's Box. "It's the same fight, over and over again."

They both went quiet, but this time, the silence was comforting. It would be the first time Wash would learn of the companion's true feelings towards the captain. He wanted to speak up, to ask, but felt it wasn't his place to interfere with such a delicate matter. He knew it complicated things, and it seemed like she was barely coming to terms with it herself.

Wash once thought that he had virtually nothing in common with Inara Serra, and that was why they rarely spoke to one another so intimately. Tonight, it had been proven otherwise. There was so much more to the woman than the mask she was forced to put on in front of the others. In many ways, she was a lot like him.

"You're right, though," he broke the silence, turning to face her in his chair.

She looked startled by his sudden revelation. He tucked his feet underneath him as well, and looked across at her with a toothy grin.

"About everything, actually. Those knuckleheads need people like us. If they didn't, who would they be fighting so hard for? Who would they have to feel the need to protect like helpless little lambs? Not that you're a helpless little lamb, quite the opposite actually," he spoke quickly, too excited to slow down.

"If they don't have a reason to stop, then give them one!"

Inara still looked lost. Wash sighed, and leaned forward, using his hands to help him explain. "For example, Zoe's been going on and on about having a baby...I'm thinking, maybe it's about time I give in to her plight..."

Inara gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. "Oh, Wash, that's fantastic news!" She cried enthusiastically.

He couldn't help the grin that brightened his face as he truly realized the meaning behind what he'd just agreed to do; "It is, isn't it?"

Inara nodded.

"We're geniuses, Inara. We should pen a self help book together, it would probably sell millions all through the 'verse...We can call it, 'Recipe for Heroes', for all those other poor folk married to reckless, strong, soldier like individuals. We can even make it entirely dummy proof, simple enough for a child to read. But we'd have to pen it under a different alias, so that they never catch on. And then, we watch the money pour in! What do you say?" Wash continued, rambling onwards as Inara giggled in the background.

They spent the entire night brainstorming ridiculous ideas for the book, and laughing at the absurdity of it all, drunk on the happiness and notion of a possible little one running amok on Serenity, and causing havoc for the crew members. At some point, Inara had started jotting them all down in point form, still laughing as Wash was on a roll.

"The only rule is, never letting them find the book. If they do, it's back to the doghouse with us!" He cried out.

They calmed down eventually, but by the end of it, they had tears streaming down their cheeks from laughing too hard. Inara dabbed at her eyes with her scarf, while Wash wiped his own with his sleeve.

"Captain's a lucky man...," Wash conceded, this time in a serious tone.

Inara looked at him, expecting a joke, but when none came, her smile fell.

His eyes softened, and he repeated what she had said to him earlier, "You mean more to him than you might think...It might not look like it, but he's a changed man around you. A key ingredient in every hero, is love, after all. Plain and simple. Without it, well, they aren't true heroes, just a shell of one."

Her eyes glazed over, and she looked away, her curls masking her face from him. But she didn't deny his words, didn't speak up against them. Throughout the night, he'd come to open up to her, and she'd come to trust him with her deepest secret. It was a mutual understanding, and the exchange had been valuable enough to alter his thought process towards his own marriage.

Wash loved being a married man, but Inara had helped him come to realize yet one more thing he liked about it that he hadn't before; the idea of becoming a father.

The baby was restless. She always was whenever her mother wasn't around. Kaylee would try singing her a lullaby, Jayne would try to make funny (but scary) faces, River liked to hold her close against her breast, and Simon tried to cover all her basic needs.

But, when she was with Inara and no one else, the companion would slip her into her shuttle, lock the door behind her, and pull out a familiar, worn little book from its hiding spot in one of her secret cupboards where she knew Mal wouldn't accidentally find it. She'd first get comfortable on her sofa with feet tucked beneath her skirts, and the baby still crying in her lap, seemingly louder than before.

But the sobbing would subside slowly almost as soon as Inara would begin reading from the familiar book. She'd still in her arms, the tears drying on her chubby little cheeks. It was as if the child was comforted by her father's words being echoed by the companion. She was telling her the story of how she had come to be part of the 'verse, and what she had meant to both Wash and Zoe. Inara remembered the night she helped write the thing, years ago, and was content to know that at least, she could do this much for him.

She would relay his words to his daughter when he no longer could, hoping that one day, love would make her a hero, too. Just like he had been...


A/N: I had some Wash/Zoe feels the other day after rewatching Heart of Gold, and figured I really wanted to incorporate that in this little one-shot I'd been planning. I got to do a lot of things with this piece, one of which was that, and the other being drawing the comparisons with Wash and Inara, as well as formulating a bond that was never really established through the series. It also sort of gave me a chance to explain what might have changed Wash's mind about having a child with his wife. :) Feedback, as always, is appreciated.