Disclaimer: I don't own this 'verse. But I do love exploring it.
Rating: PG or a mild PG-13 (for some Chinese swearing and implied carnal knowledge between married folk)
Spoilers: Set before and during Serenity, with a bit of foreshadowing if you look. (Specific references made to Serenity: the Movie, "Serenity": the pilot episode, and "War Stories.")
Author's Notes: Just a few fill-in-the blanks . . . moments I felt were needed. Hope you enjoy!
Her fingers remain wrapped tightly around the collar of his flight suit until they reach their bunk. With a sly backward grin she kicks the ladder open and tugs him toward it. Only then does she release her hold on his collar. Zoë grips the rungs with both hands and starts to descend. She pauses, raises her eyebrow in his direction and hurries the rest of the way down to their room.
Wash rolls his eyes. Oh, the injustices he has to suffer in the name of duty! But he doesn't stand there for very long. If there's one thing a practiced humorist knows: it's when a punch line has been delivered. No need for overkill. He's down the ladder in record time.
Zoë stands at the bottom near the bed, her arms crossed and her expression expectant. She hasn't even bothered to remove her jacket. "Well," she says. "I believe I gave you an order upstairs."
Wash makes an honest effort to play along seriously, but he can't control the giddy expression on his face. He takes quick light steps to reach her and she's suddenly surrounding him – her arms around his back and her fingers plunged into his hair. The scent of the Whitefall's dusty, smoky air drifts off her clothes as he kisses her, so he rids her of the first layer.
Zoë's jacket falls disregarded to the floor.
He backs her up until her legs hit their rack. Serenity lurches a bit and they nearly lose their balance. Zoë breaks the kiss in a giggle as they stumble together. Her playful laughter has a high crisp sound, and she only lets him hear it when they're alone. As the ship shifts again, Wash swears overdramatically in Chinese, rolling his eyes to the ceiling.
"Dà nào tiān gōng," he says, sighing theatrically. He pulls away to hold his wife at arm's length. "If the captain can't handle the helm, I'm going to have to—"
Zoë silences him with a playful but stern glare. Her hands grip his arms and the tips of her fingers press insistently into him, pulling him gently back in her direction. Wash looks at her and nods dutifully. "Yeah, so we all go crashing down in flames," he shrugs. "What the hell do I care?"
It's not even an instant before he's kissing her again.
Zoë's knees bend beneath her and she allows herself to sit on the rack. Wash follows her down, never separating from her mouth. She eases back to her usual place on the bed, with her pillow cradling her head and shoulders. Wash settles beside her and, for a moment, they do nothing but kiss.
The close call they'd had with the Reavers – as well as the euphoria from their escape – has left everyone on Serenity more than a little keyed-up. However, not every member of the crew is lucky enough to have such a beneficial method of releasing their tension.
Wash spends a few minutes simply indulging himself in his wife's beautiful mouth. Then his left hand begins its journey. Serenity's second-in-command had given him an order, after all. He starts to unclasp the few remaining buttons on Zoë's red shirt. He peals one side away from her shoulder, then the other. It lies open then, exposing the mail body armor beneath.
It never ceases to amaze Wash – the stark duality of his Zoë. For all her soft curves, womanly graces and private giggles, she is also a soldier, a warrior, an amazon. Sort of ironic that her warrior prowess is what he loves most, and least, about her. It was what had first drawn him to her, of course, but it is also the side of her that he fears the most – because that part of her nature could be what takes her from him someday.
He chooses to banish that thought for the moment. Today they are safe and in their rack and about to enjoy one of the perks of marital bliss – mixed in with some "we-just-escaped-certain-death-by-the-skin-of-our-teeth" relief. Wash decides that this is going to make for a very lovely evening, indeed.
He cradles her face with one hand for a moment, then lets it glide lightly down the skin of her throat . . . and then lower – to the neckline of her body armor. Zoë breaks the kiss to smile against his lips as Wash's palm settles on the spot where the armor covers her left breast.
It's here that he stops.
When he pulls back from her slowly, she doesn't react at first. She smiles and closes her eyes, stretching out beneath him, languid and expectant. When his hand leaves her breast, she quirks an eyebrow questioningly. It is many moments before he finally speaks.
"Lao tiān yě." Wash's voice is a quiet breath.
Zoë smirks. "If you're gonna start praying, husband, I might start to think you'd rather be spending this time with the preacher." Her teasing smile vanishes as she opens her eyes to meet his. There is something off about his expression. He looks back down to his raised hand and turns it over for her to see.
Between his fingers is a small shard of metal. Zoë seems to recognize it immediately and her hand automatically reaches for the dented section on her body armor. There is a spot where the links have been pried apart – where the remnants of the slug from one of Patience's boys must have still been embedded until Wash had removed it.
She looks at him and sighs heavily as Wash's lips purse tightly together – the way they often do when he's being overly concerned. His eyes travel from the slug back to her. "Is this how close I really came to losing you today?" he asks.
Zoë pushes herself back against the head of the bed, bringing her face and shoulders more level with Wash. She tilts her head and gives him a small smile, which he doesn't return right away. Instead he looks down. She raises a hand to his cheek. "Shh," she soothes. "Now that ain't nothing. Just the job."
"That's funny," Wash says, though his voice sounds anything but amused. He rolls the slug around absently in his hand like dice. "It doesn't feel like nothing. Got a bit of heft to it, matter of fact."
"It's why I wear the armor, dear," she replies matter-of-factly. "Not crazy enough to go without it." She runs her hand over his face, trying to smooth away the worry. "Got too much to lose."
"I know," Wash says with a nod, finally looking at her. "I do, it's just . . ." He inches forward to rest his forehead against hers. "Things like this – just make it more real for me, is all."
Zoë takes the hand that is holding the slug in hers and gives it a gentle squeeze. "Know what else is real?" she says. "Me. Here. With my husband, who, if I'm not mistaken, managed his own feat of heroics today."
Wash releases a slight huff of a laugh and manages a small smile. He looks at his wife.
"We do dangerous work, baby," she says. "That ain't going to change any time soon. And, yes, anything can happen. But . . ." she shifts beneath him until her shoulders hit the pillow again, drawing him down with her, ". . . let's don't worry about what might have gone wrong during the moments we should be celebrating what went right."
Wash's smile broadens as his eyes remain locked on her face.
"Now," Zoë concludes playfully as she stretches out beneath him again, "what's say you make good on that order, sailor?"
The slug makes a sharp clinking sound as it slips from Wash's fingers onto the cold metal floor of the bunk. He doesn't hear it; his beautiful warrior is surrounding him again.
After they make love, she waits quietly for him to go to sleep. She's tired tonight, and not just from the activity in their bunk – that had been passionate but slow, mindful of Wash's injuries – but before that. It had been a very long day – filled with stress and worry – and Zoë is ready to slough the events off with a good rest. But not until she's certain Wash is resting.
She settles into her usual place on the rack, where she waits and listens. His body is still and calm, and his breathing is even, but she can tell he is not relaxed – not at rest. It leaves a tension over their bed. He lies on his back for what seems like hours; she stays quiet and waits for him to tie down whatever he's been chasing around that brain of his. Every moment Zoë hopes that the next will be the one when he finally curls himself against her back, rests his arm along the length of her thigh and breathes steadily against the base of her neck.
She knows what must be troubling him. He'd made light of it back in the galley, but she's familiar enough with facing life-or-death situations to know that the aftershocks don't leave a body quite so easily. She wants to give Wash the space he needs to work through it, but she doesn't want him to think it has to be done alone.
Zoë may be a hardened veteran when it comes to that sort of thing, but even she had always had Mal.
She doesn't move when she speaks, and her words are a shock to the longstanding silence. "So, you gonna say what's on your mind sometime soon?"
Wash doesn't move either, but he doesn't seem surprised to hear from her. He had probably been just as aware of her wakefulness as she had been of his. "Just . . . thinking."
Zoë turns onto her back and twists her head to face him. Wash is still looking at the ceiling of their bunk. Zoë's brow wrinkles in concern. "You want to talk about it?" she asks.
Wash turns his face to her as well. He just looks at her for a few moments before he says anything. "I always knew our life would be interesting," he says. "Bumpy and fast-paced and sometimes even dangerous. I was just wondering when, exactly, it became so unbelievably scary."
Zoë nods. She understands.
"All that was just payback for an unfinished job?" Wash asks, raising his head off the pillow for a moment. Then he drops it back again to stare at the ceiling. "Kinda makes me appreciate how my previous short-term employers have handled my numerous shortcomings."
Zoë smiles grimly and raises herself a bit onto her elbow. "A man like Niska doesn't give much thought to decorum – 'less it's his own brand."
Wash looks at her again. There's a world of sadness in his eyes – something Zoë's not used to seeing. "I guess I just never really knew . . . what it was like," he says. "Your life, your job – I never really knew what you faced out there. I'd sit here and I'd worry, and then I'd pick the occasional stray bullets out of your body armor . . ."
Zoë nods again, knowingly, but says nothing.
"But I never really . . . knew," Wash concludes. "And, yeah, it scares me – more than a little."
Zoë finally makes a shushing sound with her lips and places her hand along the side of her husband's face. She strokes the pad of her thumb gently against his cheek, mindful of the bruises he still has. "It's okay, you know," she says softly. "It's okay to be afraid – and to not be able to sleep for it. You don't have to try and hide that from me, baby. Can't have a run-in with a hun dan like Niska and not—"
"No." Wash surprises her by quickly sitting up and shifting his entire body on the bed to face her fully. Zoë sits all the way up to meet him at his level.
"No, that's not it," Wash says, taking her hand. "Call me crazy, Zoë, but I'm glad. I'm glad it happened."
Zoë's eyes go rather wide for a moment; she's not certain she's heard him correctly. But Wash's eyes echo the earnestness of his words and that makes her frown. "That, husband, is crazy," she replies. There's a slight accusation in her tone. "If you think that getting yourself tortured within an inch of your life will give you some insight into what I do—"
"That's not it either." Wash sighs and gathers both her hands in his. "I'm saying this all wrong, and I'm sorry. I'm not fixing to turn this into a way to psychoanalyze my wife's job, and I'm not looking to make it into a competition either. You picked me to leave that room with you, so I think we both realize I'm not up for marking notches on my shotgun barrel alongside yours."
Zoë gets a frustrated quirk to her mouth and starts to open it.
"And I'm not looking for a fight, honey," Wash interrupts her before she can begin. "Did enough of that before today's main event. And I'm even glad of that in a way."
Zoë waits for him to look up at her, but he doesn't; he just keeps his eyes focused on their joined hands.
"Up to now," he continues, "I may not have had a tremendous amount of insight into what you do out there – what you've always done. I may not have really understood your tight connection with Mal, and I'm still not sure I do – not completely. But I saw enough today to know one thing for sure: If it hadn't been me in that shuttle with Mal, if it hadn't been me on that job . . . it would have been you."
Zoë's lips part and, for once, she has no idea what to say to her husband.
Wash shakes his head. "That was probably the scariest thing that's ever happened to me," he says. "But what's even scarier is the thinking back on it now – the fact that I can't remember that room – that whole horrible experience – without picturing you in it every time I close my eyes. And that, my beloved wife, is why I can't sleep." He raises his face to her then, and his blue eyes shine like gaslights in the dark. "That is why I'm glad it was me."
Zoë tilts her head and takes him in. A million thoughts play across her mind and mirror upon her face in that single moment. When she does speak, all she can say is, "Baby . . ."
Wash gives a small cheerless laugh. "Don't get me wrong, sweetie, I was plenty scared for myself. I'm not a one-man army, and I'm not as unbreakable as the captain." Wash shrugs. "I'm no war hero either – I never was like you and Mal. You're the strongest person I've ever known, Zoë, and I'm pretty clear on the fact that you don't ever need me to save you." He releases her hands and places his firmly on either side of her face. "But I was able to keep you from that today. Me. Don't have much occasion to lay myself on the line for my amazon wife, but if ever I can keep you safe, I'm happy to do that. I want to do it."
Zoë looks at him and smiles. "You are a strange man, husband," she says. "And I love you for it."
Wash's smile finally reaches his eyes and he kisses her quickly. "I know you do," he says, and his grin gets larger and sillier, as though he's just discovered a secret. "I really do."
At that, Wash gathers the covers around his waist and clambers over Zoë. She makes a startled noise and eyes him with suspicious amusement as he settles himself, cross-legged, directly across from her on the bed. She sits up against what serves as their headboard to face him head-on. Zoë notices her husband's playful twinkle is back in his eyes.
"What are you doing?" she hisses in a loud accusing whisper, though her tone is still amused and she makes no attempt to stop him. "You're gonna wake up the whole ship."
"I'm starting a tradition," Wash replies. "Right now. A family tradition – a Washburne Family tradition." His eyes don't leave her face.
"I said I was glad that we had that little spat earlier, but that wasn't the whole truth," he says. "Truth is, for a good while today I was fairly certain I'd never get to make it up to you. You've reminded me time and again that we do dangerous work out here, and that anything can happen. I saw that up close today. And Niska, hun dan that he is, proved that it could happen to any one of us. You, me, the captain . . . anyone. So I've decided, in my infinite wisdom, that, spat or not, I won't go a night without telling my wife I love her. And if that means not allowing her to get her beauty rest until after I've said my piece, then so be it."
Zoë's smile broadens. "You're a bit of a madman, dear, you know that."
"That I do, my darling. Now give me your hands."
Wash's palms are calloused and rough where they daily grip Serenity's controls. Zoë knows hers are no better – a warrior's hands. But they seem to forget their other lives whenever they contact each other. Wash can be made as soft as the most polished gentleman, and Zoë – just a girl in love.
"Zoë," he says, "I worry about you. Every time you go out on a job I worry. But I don't ever want one of those worries to be whether or not I told you often enough how much I love you. Because I do, baby."
Zoë's smile turns a bit watery, but she doesn't stop him.
"When I finally broke away from that polluted shell of a planet I called home and saw the stars for the first time, I didn't think I could ever love anything more," Wash says. "'Course at the time I didn't know I'd one day have one of my very own. That's you for me, Zoë: you're my guiding star and I'll always follow where you lead. And if something were to ever happen to you or to me, I don't ever want to leave that unsaid."
Zoë takes in a shaky breath and liberates one of her hands from Wash's hold. She places it on the side of his face. "I love my husband," she says in return. "I know you think I chose to take you from Niska because you weren't strong enough to handle what Mal had to face. But the truth is I'm not sure how I could have handled walking out of there without you. It still scares me to think about. In the war, they train you to get along without a commanding officer; I don't honestly know what I would do without you."
Wash smiles gently. "You'd get along all right. Like I said: you're the strongest person I know."
"But I love that, with you, I don't have to be the strong one everyone else sees," Zoë replies. "Besides my mama, you're probably the only one who has ever seen the real me. I find my peace with you."
Wash brushes some moisture away from her cheek, and Zoë knows that's why she loves this man. Wash is the only one who would never tease her tears.
After a few quiet moments, Zoë gives her husband a considering look. "You really mean to turn this into a tradition?" she asks. "Because I'm not sure I'm made for so much sentimentality."
"A nightly tradition, dear," Wash answers. "So get used to it."
Zoë smiles. "I think I might at that."
She reaches for him and kisses him, drawing his body down to hers. A short time later, he sleeps.
They both do.
Wash stares out of the bridge windows where the ruddy paint stains tint a macabre halo around the edges of the glass. It will be a few more hours until they reach Reaver territory, which leaves nothing much to do . . . except wait and think.
The other members of the crew have left the cockpit for now, though Wash doubts any of them are actually getting any rest. He knows that he could have programmed the autopilot to take over for a while, but he's too restless. He needs something to do.
He certainly isn't surprised when he feels a gentle touch on his shoulder. Wash instinctively reaches up and grips the hand he finds there. He tilts his head to look into Zoë's face and manages a small tense smile.
She doesn't return it all the way, but she gives his hand a firm, reassuring squeeze.
"Might be good if you got a bit of rest," Wash says to her. "Who knows what we're going to find down there." He says nothing about the horde of Reavers between them and the surface of Miranda, as though that will be the least of their worries.
"Couldn't," Zoë replies. Then she smiles. "Seems we have a tradition that hasn't been upheld yet today."
Wash grins broadly in return. It's been months since they started that ritual, and since then they hadn't missed a night. Not one.
Zoë shifts to settle herself on the console beside her husband's chair. It is an unspoken declaration that she will not be moving any time soon. Her hand remains on his shoulder, guiding him as he guides the ship.
"I love you." She says it first this time. "I don't have the first notion of what's going to happen once we reach Miranda, or what kind of errand this is going to be, but I do know for certain that I love you."
Wash smiles and looks outward into the black. "I love you, baby," he says. "This is some crazy tzao gao we've gotten ourselves into." He looks at her and squeezes her hand. "I'm glad I'm facing it with you."
Wash's attention returns to the window, but he keeps one hand on Zoë's. After a few seconds she pulls away and he turns back to see if she is leaving. Her beautiful face meets him head-on; she's very close. Zoë's eyes flick to the window. "We on course?" she asks.
Wash only nods.
"Good." She punches the autopilot button and settles herself onto his lap.
They are sitting side-by-side once again a short time later, when the others come back in.