Infectious by SLynn

Notes:  This all takes place before well before the series begins, about a year after the core crew was assembled.  I'm doing a lot of assuming here.  Hope you like it. 

And for the record, I hate Fox.  Damn them and their stupid millionaire.  Not that I'm bitter.

Chapter 1:  An Old Friend

Wash sat in his bunk enjoying a rare night off, going over transmissions from friends and such that had been backed up for the last month.  Mal had decided he wanted to play pilot for awhile and since the course was already laid in and the were hundreds of thousands of leagues away from anything, Wash had agreed.  Agreed is perhaps too strong of a word for it, Mal was the captain after all and calling the shots.  After nearly a year on Serenity Wash was still adjusting to that idea.  He'd never had anyone telling him what to do, at least not since he left home.  Even on other ships he'd really been left to do his own thing.  But now he was part of a crew, and crews took orders.  He didn't like it, but the pay was good and so was the company.  He liked Mal, had respect for him, which made taking orders easier.  Not easy, but easier. 

Quickly deleting three unopened transmissions that were too old to bother with, Wash skipped ahead to one that looked promising.

Adrienne Lee.

Wash smiled and shook his head a bit.

'Man it's been a long time,' he thought.

Reading it over, twice, his smile grew larger.  She sounded exactly the way he remembered her:  brash, hard-assed and arrogant.  Only thing that seemed to have changed was her address.  She was now living on an out of the way planet called Medea.  More importantly, she wanted to see him.

Wash jumped off the bunk and headed up the ladder to the bridge.  As he expected he found Mal there with Zoë.  He didn't understand their relationship.  When he'd first come on board he'd kind of assumed they were together, but it didn't take long for him to see it wasn't like that.  If anything what they had, though seemingly platonic, meant more.

"Hey Mal," Wash interjected as soon as possible, "how close are we going to get to Medea when we drop off our latest cargo?"

Mal looked up at him for a minute and kind of shrugged.

"You're the pilot.  You tell me."

Wash thought he'd seen the corners of Zoë's mouth lift momentarily, almost smiling.  He was taken back a bit, in thought.

'She should do that more.'

"Wash?"

"Yeah," he said whipping his head back towards Mal's voice, not really sure what he was responding too.   

"I asked you 'Why do you want to know?'" Mal repeated, stressing each syllable.

"Oh, a friend of mine is there.  Has cargo that needs transporting to Jubilee.  Willing to pay too, credits or foodstuff, your choice."

"What kind of cargo is it?"

"Five crates, didn't say what.  I didn't think we cared."

"We don't," Mal said, his voice remaining flat.  "So what's this friend of yours do for a living?"

"Lee's a Bio-Technology Engineer."

Mal and Zoë just stared at him.

"You know, develops new ways to produce foodstuff and the like on desolate planets."

Still they stared.

"What?  I know smart people."

Finally Zoë laughed and Mal smiled.  Wash tried looking indigent, but truth was, he was kind of amazed he knew Adrienne too.

'Wait till they see her,' he thought, suppressing a smile.

"Should I transmit back, let 'em know it's a go?"

"Yeah, sounds good.  Tell them we want credits.  We can buy foodstuff anywhere."

"Will do," Wash said as he turned to go.

"Wash," Mal called back, stopping him before he got a few steps out of the door, "this isn't Alliance work is it?"

"No, definitely not.  From the sounds of the transmission, they wanted us to avoid the Alliance.  Sounded like black market stuff to me."

"Good then," was all Mal said before turning back around.

Wash lingered a minute, not sure if he was done or not.  Zoë just gave him that look, one she reserves for times when she thinks Mal's being a bit too Mal.  Wash smiled back at her and left them to their chat.

On the way he allowed himself a brief moment to reflect on Zoë.  She was a mystery to him.  It was no secret that she hadn't liked him when he'd first gotten the job, but gradually she'd come around.  They talked and laughed now like friends.  It was nice.  Lately though, something between them had begun to change.  She looked at him more and he, who was never opposed to looking at her in the first place, looked back.  She laughed at his jokes, all of his jokes, and seemed to want to make him laugh in return.  It was special and uniquely theirs.  He didn't know what it was, or if was anything, but he didn't want it to stop.

As soon as he got back to his bunk he transmitted the reply to let Adrienne know when to expect them.

'This is going to be great,' was all he could think before finally drifting off to sleep.

****

Two days later found them landing on the only large port Medea had to offer.  Medea wasn't really a full fledge planet, but a moon.  It was small and sparsely populated.  Lately, largely due to bio-tech engineering, it had begun to grow.  No one wanted to move to anywhere that couldn't at least sustain life, and Medea just barely qualified.

"Gee," Kaylee said surveying the so-called port town, "and I left home for the splendor that is this."

"Yeah, it's a something isn't it," Wash laughed, "You interested in seeing the sights?  I'm suppose to meet up with Lee at what I understand is the only watering hole this planet has to offer."

"I think I've already seen the sights," Kaylee replied, "I should really check over the engines again anyways.  I don't like the sound they've been making on take off."

"Now I know we're in a hellhole if little Kaylee doesn't even want to leave the ship," Jayne said, coming up and startling Wash a bit.

Wash still wasn't comfortable with Jayne.  Of course he was a mercenary, and most normal people weren't comfortable with mercenaries.  Jayne wasn't all bad, he was just unnerving. 

Jayne, never one for chatting, just kept on walking down the loading ramp and into the town.

"So, when do we meet this Lee?" Mal asked, the next to show up with Zoë close behind.

"Yeah, we want to see your smart friends," Zoë smiled.

Her smiles had a way of melting him.  He knew she was tough as nails, but there was something about her that made him almost giddy.  She'd kill him if he'd ever said that out loud, but it was true.

"Right this way," Wash said, leading them down the ramp and into the town.

It hadn't taken long to reach the place; it was notably the only one around actually doing business.

"So, where is…" the words died on Mal's lips as a woman who could only be described as stunning approached.

She was petite, tiny really, with thick auburn hair tied back loosely.  Despite being dressed in field clothes, you could make out her slim figure.  She immediately went up to Wash and hugged him tightly.

"It has been way to long," she smiled up at him, completely ignoring both Mal and Zoë.

"Yes it has," was all he could say in response.

"Wash, do you mind?" Mal interrupted.

"Oh, sorry.  Mal, Zoë, this is Adrienne Lee."

"Nice to meet you both," she said, hardly turning from Wash, "come on, I saved us a table in back."

Wash and Mal followed her closely, while Zoë hovered for a minute first.

"Just great," she muttered, finally turning to go with them.

****

It hadn't taken long to come to an agreement.  They'd take the five crates to Jubilee for 1,000 credits.  It was quite a bit of money for such small cargo, the crates altogether were less then a meter squared.  Adrienne's only stipulation was that they were under no circumstance to be opened.  At first, Mal hadn't liked that idea.  He didn't like not knowing what was coming aboard his ship.  They finally agreed to a compromise where Wash would at least watch the crates being packed.  That being done, Mal and Zoë left them alone.  They weren't leaving until the next morning and Wash, aside from being a big boy, had his communicator if they needed to reach him.  Only Zoë seemed to object to that last part.

"You don't think that this is a bad idea?" she asked Mal on the way home.

"Why?" he asked in return, somewhat baffled by her reaction.

"She's a client Mal, and there is obviously something going on between the two of them.  Don't you always say you shouldn't mix business with pleasure?"

"I'll admit, it complicates things, but I don't see anything wrong here.  We'll be gone tomorrow.  It's not like she's coming with us."

"I just don't like it," she said as they walked up the ramp.

As she headed off to her room, Mal just stared after her not knowing what to think. 

****

The next morning Kaylee and Inara were already in the mess having breakfast.

"So he really didn't come back last night?" Inara was asking as Zoë came in.

"Yeah," Kaylee answered, "I don't know where he was but it wasn't on this ship."

"Who?"  Zoë asked, afraid she already knew the answer.

"Wash," Kaylee replied, just finishing up and taking her plate to the sink.

Zoë stood still for a minute and then continued what she was doing.

"You saw her, right Zoë?" the girl asked, "Capt'n said she was pretty and all over him last night.  Is it true?"

"Don't see what difference it makes," was all she said, her voice a bit too sedate, even by her standards.

"What's this," Inara interjected a playful smile on her lips, "are you jealous?"

If looks could kill, it would have been the last thing the companion ever said.

"No," Zoë said calmly, "I just don't think it's appropriate.  It's business.  He can't go off jumping into bed…"

It ended there as Wash walked in.

"Morning," he said, seemingly unaware he was just being discussed by the three.

"Good morning," Kaylee chirped, "how'd you sleep?"

It was Kaylee's turn to get the look of death from Zoë, which she promptly ignored.

"Fine," Wash answered a bit skeptically, "and you?"

"Never better," Kaylee said barely suppressing a laugh.

"We were just leaving," Inara said getting up and pushing Kaylee out of the room.

"What's wrong with them?" Wash asked to Zoë, also oblivious to the glares she was sending his way.

"Who knows," was all she said as she sat down to eat.

"Got the cargo loaded and in the storage bay," he continued, unsure where all the tension in the room was coming from.

"Good," she replied curtly.

"Yeah," he said, "guess I should go make sure we're ready to take off."

"Probably."

He was about to leave, but instead stopped in the doorway for a second.

"I didn't sleep with her," he said without turning around.

Zoë said nothing, but did stop eating.

"We don't have that kind of relationship, Lee and I." he continued, feeling the need to clarify what they did have.

"Doesn't matter," Zoë said, but her voice had lost all of the terseness that had previously been there.

"Yeah well," Wash started, but then just decided on leaving.

Zoë, alone in the mess, smiled.