Infectious by SLynn Chapter 15:  The Other Half

Wash continued looking puzzled.

"What story?"

"The one you started telling before you left my ship," Mal said sitting down. 

Wash thought Mal was enjoying watching him squirm, but he couldn't tell if he was being at all serious with him.  With Mal sometimes it was hard to tell seeing as he never changed the inflection of his voice.

"Now?"

"Good a time as any," Mal responded, indicating for Zoë to sit too, "although you might want to fill Zoë in some.  She missed the first part."

"You're serious?" Wash questioned, getting a bit red in the face.

"I am," Mal said and Wash knew it was true.  "If you want to stay aboard this ship it's time to come clean.  No more secrets here.  I'll promise you that what you say stays here but I am going to know.  Now."

"Okay," Wash nodded and took a seat at the only available spot, his one chair.  "You both know about my father, so there's no point going back over that…"

"How about you start with the part where they made you a cadet."

Wash could tell by Zoë's face that this was news to her.  Not so much her face as her eyes.  She never let her face give away too much, but her eyes subtly betrayed her. 

That had been a surprise.  He'd been positive by now Mal would have said something to her, but he suppose he had waited to hear Wash out.  That had been damn fair of him.

"Alright," Wash said looking down a bit.  "When you turn fifteen on any of the core planets you have to submit to a bunch of tests.  They're supposed to determine what you're good at, how you'd best serve the Alliance."

Wash cleared his throat.

"So I took all my tests, bunch of written stuff and some physicals, and at the end of it they say I should be a pilot.  I didn't argue because, well because you couldn't." 

He paused and they both stared at him.  He knew what they were waiting for.

"That and I wanted to fly."

"What type of pilot they make you?"

'Damn it Mal,' Wash thought as he rubbed his head.

"Fighter pilot," he continued, "They wanted to make me a fighter pilot."

"So?" Mal continued to prod.

"So, at sixteen you enter.  Whatever school they pick out for you at sixteen you enter.  Usually means being away from home three to four years, my case the town we lived in had an academy."

"Is that where you met Lee?"

It was the first time Zoë had spoken since the 'interrogation' had begun, but her voice wasn't hard.  To Wash she sound genuinely interested and he appreciated it.  None of this was easy to talk about but at least now he didn't feel so judged.

"No actually, I grew up with her.  She and I lived a couple doors down from each other most of our lives."

Wash stopped again to collect his thoughts.  Thinking about Lee still hurt.  In a weird way he was going to miss her, despite how she'd turned out.

"It's kind of funny because she was the one that really wanted to be a pilot.  It hadn't ever entered my head till they told me that was what they wanted me to do, but it sounded good.  We both got tagged for it but about half way through training they found a minor heart defect in her.  Wasn't nothing too serious, but they don't take chances like that.  Switched her to engineering."

"Okay," Mal said redirecting him, "you go in, why aren't you flying for them now?"

"I didn't want too."

Both Mal and Zoë looked at him oddly.

"I thought you said…"

"Ah," Wash said interrupting Mal, "trained yes.  I had no choice in that.  You have to go where they tell you or you end up working, well, in fields or worse.  I knew I didn't want that."

"But how then?"

"I failed the exit exam."

"Failed?"

"Miserably."

Mal just kind of smiled at him.

"I always made sure I scraped by on the level tests, wanted as much information as I could get, but I never intended to actually fly for them.  Not after what happened to my father."

"They never suspected anything?"

"Might have.  Don't know for certain, I was never a great student or anything, so I don't imagine they were ever that suspicious.  Lots of folks fail out; those aptitude tests aren't one hundred percent accurate.  If they had of caught on I wouldn't be here that's for sure."

"So you never actually flew for the Alliance?" Mal asked.

"Couple of training missions around Demeter," Wash said truthfully.  "Most of the course work was simulators."

"So that's everything?"

"Just about," Wash said nodding, "unless you want to continue on from where I left Demeter?  We could go ship by ship, but it'll take awhile."

"Nah," Mal said getting up, "I think that's enough for now."

"So I can stay?"

Mal looked to Zoë.


"What do you think?"

"I don't know.  He still seems shady to me."

Wash rolled his eyes.  It was almost as if they scripted this stuff.  Rehearsed it late at night when no one else was awake.

"Yeah, plus that hair," Mal continued, "looks like someone hacked it off with a buzz saw."

"Actually, that's pretty close to true," Wash interjected running a hand over his newly shaved head.

Both of them laughed a bit.

"I'd keep him," Zoë said looking at Wash with a bit of a smile, "be too much trouble to break in a new pilot."

"Reckon you're right," Mal finished.

"Are you two done now?"

Mal and Zoë both nodded.  It was nice that there was no longer a sense of strain between the three of them.

Before Mal started up the ladder, he turned back to him.

"One last thing."

"Yeah?"

"Your father," Mal began, "you find out who turned him in?"

Wash looked as if he'd been hit in the stomach.  Mal hadn't meant for that, he'd just been curious.

"It was my mother," Wash said quietly, briefly meeting Mal's eyes and then looking away.

Mal kind of nodded a bit and then turned to go.

"Zoë?" he called as he got to the ladder.

"In a minute," she said not really looking at him.  She was obviously concerned about Wash.

Mal left without saying another word.

"You alright?" Zoë asked.

"Yeah," Wash said taking in a deep breath.  "I don't think about these things a lot.  On top of everything else, it's been a long day."

 "I should probably go," she said, "let you get some rest."

"Yeah, probably."

Neither of them had moved.  Not one bit.  He didn't want her to go.  He wanted her to stay.  Right where she was.  Possibly forever.

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

They were standing so close he swore he could smell her shampoo.  It was like lavender.  She always reminded him of lavender.  And he couldn't move.  Just couldn't move away from her.  It was like he was experiencing an epidemic of paralysis.

"You'd wanted to tell me something earlier."

She hadn't questioned.  It was a statement.

"Yeah," Wash said finally breaking eye contact with her, "but it can wait.  It's not that important."

She smiled and nodded.  For the second time he thought she might be reading his mind.

"If you say so."

He looked back into her eyes and had opened his mouth to speak but wasn't sure what he was going to say.  Now he felt paralyzed and mute. 

He wanted to tell it all to her.  Tell her what she meant to him.  Tell her how much he just wanted to hold her.  Tell her a hundred thousand things that didn't make sense.

And suddenly he found he didn't have too.

They'd kissed.

He wasn't sure if he'd leaned into her, or if she'd leaned into him.  Maybe they had both leaned in at once.  It didn't matter.

All that mattered at that moment to Wash was that he was kissing the woman of his dreams.

****

Mal had left in a foul mood.

He was glad that Wash had come clean.  Glad to have finally heard the whole of it.  And more so he was glad to find that Wash was as trustworthy as they'd always thought.  However he was not pleased about the Wash and Zoë's now obvious involvement.

These sorts of things were never good.  They complicated things that didn't need complicating.  Worse still, they seemed to spread.

They were both adults, he knew that.  They had every right to happiness and he wasn't about to go denying it to them.  He couldn't very well tell them to knock it off.  But he also couldn't very well have a ship full of moony-eyed lovers.

What he didn't doubt was that Zoë would always be professional.  No matter what happened.  Wash on the other hand he wasn't so sure about.  The man didn't have a short fuse, but he did have a temper.  And without doubt he had an authority problem.

And these things always ended badly.  What where they expecting?  Marriage?  Kids?  No, eventually it would end.  And if push came to shove, if things got bad, Mal knew he'd be out a pilot not a first mate.  That was certain.

'I can just ignore it,' Mal thought as he entered the common room and threw himself into the corner chair.  Kaylee, Jayne and Inara were all there.  They had all looked up but seeing his mood quickly went back to what they'd been doing before he'd entered.

'Could be nothing.  Could just go away on it's own,' he continued in his head.

He looked over to Kaylee and Jayne.  They'd resumed playing cards, laughing about something.  Sitting too close in Mal's opinion.

Mal stood up, fuming.

"Don't you go getting any ideas," he snapped at Kaylee and Jayne before heading for the door.

Neither of them knew what to say nor did they have the tiniest clue as to what that had been about.  They just looked after him briefly and then continued their game.

'It's like a plague' Mal thought to himself throwing one last look their way.

Before he got completely out the door he caught a glimpse of Inara smiling at him as if she understood what he was thinking.

'Yep.  It's definitely infectious.'

The End

****

Story Notes

(moved here to comply with new site guidelines – no changes from previously posted material)

Hope you liked the story, it took me long enough to finish.  I'm not sure if I'll write another Firefly for a while.  This piece is a standalone, although I might write another taking place a few months later.  Although, it should be less dramatic.  I'm all drama'd out.

A few notes on the story.  Consider this a behind the scenes if you will.  You may or may not find this interesting, but I feel compelled to write it.

This story basically came out of one place, Wash's name.

The first time I heard the term 'wash' (aside from the dishes!) was in basic training for the Air Force.  Wash was the term used to describe someone failing.  Some one, if they failed to meet standards was said to have been washed back.

Since I don't believe in coincidences, especially concerning anything in the Whedon-verse, I assumed that this couldn't just be accidental.  So this story is my explanation of that.

Initially the story was going to be a more 'outbreak' centered.  Eden Station was going to play host to where Serenity'd go for help.  For reasons I can't explain, it just didn't happen that way.  When I started writing that it just didn't work.

One of the first scenes I envisioned was the one between Adrienne and Wash at the end, the standoff.  On the show Wash never did much actual gunplay, but I never had him pegged as a coward.  For one, Zoë'd never marry a coward.  In my mind, given that situation, he'd not only stand his ground but would in no way make it easier on the other person.  The original idea involved Adrienne actually going to do it and Mal being the one to kill her.  Again, that involved the 'outbreak' scenario, so although the basic idea for the scene stayed, a lot changed.

 A scene I completely cut is below.  At one time I was going to have Dennly pick up Zoë while Mal and her had spied on the place.  Basically here Wash still was assuming Serenity et al had just up and left him and now he found himself locked up with Zoë.  I loved the final but ended up not using it, so I'm putting it here.

****

Wash walked continuously from one corner to the next.  There wasn't a lot of room but he couldn't let himself sit still.  If he sat he might talk and if he talked he might yell.  The room wasn't big to begin with, but his restlessness made it that much more so.

"Are you going to stop that any time soon?"

He couldn't believe it, still could not believe it.  Here was Zoë, like he'd wished for all these nights, and she was talking to him like nothing had happened.

At first he was just going to ignore her and the question, but he found he couldn't.  Instead he began stammering out some form of the question 'What are you doing here?'

Apparently, despite his enunciation, she'd understood, but before she could answer he interrupted.

"I can't believe this.  Really, can not believe this."

Even a blind man could see that Wash was about to explode but Zoë had to try to get through.

"Let me explain."

"Explain?" he asked incredulously, "Explain?  You left me here as slave labor for these degenerate assholes and I'm supposed to just pretend nothing is wrong and listen to you explain.  Why?  Why are you here at all?  Did you and Mal forget to kick me while I was down and thought now was as good of a time as any?"

Zoë waited and after a few minutes time it seemed most of the anger had drained from him.

"I knew he was mad but I didn't think he'd do this," Wash said no longer sounding angry but more disappointed and almost sad, "I didn't think you…."

"We thought you were dead," Zoë cut in.  It was the only thing she'd done or said so far that had caught his attention.

"We thought you were dead," she repeated, her voice was hollow, "and they carried you off of Serenity on a gurney.  The poison had showed back up in your system, you'd passed out and were damn near delirious before that."

Wash continued to listen to her and sank to the floor no longer feeling the need to pace.

"We didn't want to leave you here.  We didn't know we were.  I can only say that we were all in a collective shock about it and didn't delve.  Mal was the one that figured it out, figured we'd been shuffled away a bit to quick.  Thought it had all been wrapped up too neatly.  We've been watching for weeks, trying to figure out how to get you out again."

Neither of them spoke.  Zoë had been talking to the walk the entire time, avoiding him as best she could in the cramped quarters.  Wash had taken to staring at his feet. 

"I thought I killed you."

Her voice had cracked at the end causing Wash to look up sharply.

She was crying.  He'd made her cry.

"I'm such an idiot," Wash said getting up quickly to go to her, "I'm so…"

"Don't," she interrupted sharply stopping him in his tracks.

The looked at each other for a beat and she had regained herself.

"Don't apologize to me," she continued her tone less harsh then previous but not nearly as warm as it had been. 

****

Last note:  I chose Medea, Aeetes, Chronos, and Absyrtis as names for planets because they all come from Greek mythology.  No particular reason other then that.  Jubilee, I'll admit, I stole from the X-Men.

Thank everyone again and again for your reviews!  I hope you enjoyed the story and the ending.