Title: Virtuoso
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Firefly
Rating: PG-13 for language
Length: Short story (a little over 1000 words)
Disclaimer: Joss is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me.
Written for: Just me. How it might have been...
Notes: How did Zoe go from "He bothers me, sir" to "love, honor, and cherish"?
She couldn't put her finger on it. Something about their new hotshot pilot just bugged the go se out of her.

Maybe it wasn't one thing. Lord knew he had enough quirks to fill the cargo hold. That ridiculous mustache, those horrible shirts, that silly manner of speaking. Other things...

She'd paused outside the door to the cockpit soon after they'd hired him, hearing voices, although she knew he was the only one in there. "'Look! Fire in the sky!' 'Oh, no, we're all going to die!' 'And you will die a little sooner than everyone else! Grawr, grawr, grawr!'" She poked her head in--then went to find Mal, who was in the engine room with Kaylee.

"Sir, a grown man who plays with plastic dinosaurs just ain't right in the head."

"Aw, I think it's sweet," Kaylee said.

Zoe shook her head at the mechanic. Kaylee would think a rattlesnake was sweet, right up until it bit her. "Sir..." she said to Mal.

"Look, Zoe, he's one of the best pilots I've ever seen. Maybe the best. So, get used to him, because he's gonna be around for awhile, at least 'til we find a better. Dong ma?"

"Yessir." But she didn't have to like it. And she didn't.


Things took a turn for the weird when she found a yellow rose on her pillow one afternoon. She stormed into the dining room and threw it on the table. Jayne and Mal were the only other ones in the room, and they stared at it in confusion. "Which of you fung luh bastards left this on my bed?"

Jayne smirked. "Hell, Zoe, you oughta know by now that I wouldn't bother with no wimpy flowers. I wanted you, I'd sling you over my shoulder and take you to my bunk."

"Only if you never wanted to have sex ever again," she deadpanned, not looking at him. "Cap'n?"

He put his hands up. "Whoa! Weren't me. Why would I give you a flower?"

Her eyes narrowed. "That leaves one person." Snatching the rose, she stomped to the cockpit and tossed it into Wash's lap. "What the hell's the meaning of this?"

"Hello to you too." He smiled up at her, and she had one furious moment to realize...

"You shaved your mustache off?"

He shrugged. "Kaylee said she wanted to see what I looked like without it. Thought I'd oblige her. She's kinda cute, don't you think?"

"No fraternizing with the crew," she said automatically. "Speaking of which--a rose. In my bunk."

He lifted his hands in a placating gesture. First Mal, now him. If Jayne did it next, she'd shoot him. "All right, yes, I left it there. As a peace offering. Somehow, I got off on the wrong foot with you, and I don't know why...but I'd like to make it right."

"And you thought leaving a gorram love token in my bunk would help that along?" She put her fists on her hips.

"Whoa!" He actually reared back in his seat. "A yellow rose is for friendship, not love--because, frankly, you scare the go se out of me, Zoe. You could kill me with your pinky, and I'd really prefer it if we could just...get along. You know?"

That stopped her. Had she been rude to him? She'd tried to keep their relationship professional, but maybe she had been colder than was strictly necessary. She opened her mouth to say something--not to apologize, exactly, but to try to smooth things over--but was interrupted by a flashing light on the console and an alarm.

"What the--?" Wash said, flipping a couple of switches and staring in consternation at his monitor. "Well, that's...crazy."

"What?" Zoe asked, a cold chill settling in the pit of her stomach.

"There's a ship nearby, but their core containment isn't...contained very well. They're leaking radiation like mad. But they're not sending out a distress call. And they're coming right at us."

"Son of a--!" Zoe grabbed the comm unit. "Cap'n, we got Reavers."

"Reavers?" Wash looked at her like she was the crazy one now.

"Yes, Reavers. Get us the hell out of here. Unless you want to be raped to death and eaten. Not necessarily in that order."

"Yeah, okay, that would just ruin my day. Strap in."

Mal and Jayne came onto the bridge. Jayne looked uncharacteristically terrified and was armed to the teeth. Well, armed more than usual, anyway. "Reavers?" Mal said. Belting herself into the co-pilot's chair, Zoe nodded wordlessly at the instruments. Mal swore. "Can we outrun them?"

"We can try," Wash answered. "Everyone hang onto something." He flipped the switch that allowed communication with the engine room. "Kaylee? I'm gonna need all the power we got. Boost it as much as you can without blowing us up."

"Doing my best." Her voice was shaky.

"Here we go..."

The sudden surge of power pushed them all back a bit. Zoe watched her instruments anxiously, but the Reavers accelerated to match. Something fired from the enemy ship, and Wash jinked them hard to the side to avoid it. "Harpoons? They use gorram harpoons?" he screeched.

"They want us alive," Zoe said.

"Oh, shiny." He calmed instantly. "All right, Plan B." He turned the ship and headed it toward...

"An asteroid field?" Zoe's head swivelled around to look at him. "The Wu Lin Asteroid Field? No one can maneuver in there."

"Would you rather get raped and eaten, or crash and burn on a piece of rock?"

"This should be interestin'," Jayne muttered.

The asteroids in Wu Lin's Field were frighteningly close together, and they had a bad tendency to move in unpredictable directions as well. Their unstable magnetism waned and surged in response to who-knew-what, which pulled them every which way depending on their proximity to one another.

No one ventured in there unless they had to.

What followed was a piece of piloting Zoe had never seen the like of. Wash displayed nearly inhuman icy tranquility as he shot at full speed through the field. She found herself wondering just who this man really was. Over, under, through impossibly small openings...He didn't even twitch as he slid them between a pair of asteroids on a collision course with each other--and lured the Reavers right along just as the rocks crashed together. The collapse of the Reaver ship would have been disappointing to anyone expecting a gigantic explosion, but it was a huge relief to those aboard the Serenity.

One last barrel roll, and they were out of the field and back in open space. Zoe let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding and unclenched her fists. Even as short as her nails were, they'd still cut into her palms. She glanced around at everyone else. Jayne had bit clean through his lip, and Mal's eyes were rather wild. Kaylee's voice, high and squeaky, came over the intercom. "We okay? We okay?"

Wash, in contrast, still maintained his unnatural calm as he leaned back in his chair. "Well. That was exciting."

The others just looked at him in disbelief. Zoe felt a smile tug at her face and a laugh bubbling out of her chest. Controlling herself with difficulty, she unbuckled, grabbed the rose from where it still resided on Wash's lap, and headed out of the cockpit.

"I'll be in my bunk."

the end