Disclaimer: All standard disclaimers apply. I don't own the 'verse, just the story. Hope it's enjoyed!
Author's Notes: Once more, I'd like to extend a very warm thank you to those who took the time to offer a bit of feedback: Thanks so much! I had a wonderful time writing this fic for the first Z/W ficathon, and I certainly hope those who have been reading enjoy the conclusion of the story.
Begin the Beguine
Chapter 5 – Movement the Last: Coda
Mal crossed his arms as he stood beside Wash's chair and stared at the screen above the bridge's console. It had been several hours since Shuttle II's return to Serenity, and the crew had been watching the Cortex to see how actively they were being pursued.
They had settled into an orbit around New Xian's nearest moon. However, the possibility of leaving this quadrant altogether didn't look very promising at the moment. Serenity had burned a good bit of her reserve just to reach New Xian, and while it was possible to put out a wave to another, more reliable, contact, Wash knew the definite lack of fuel and funds meant that the odds of reaching an alternative job were pretty slim.
Yet the captain seemed to be in strangely good spirits. At first Wash thought this peculiar, considering the southerly direction last evening's mission had taken. But as he listened a little more carefully to the latest newswave coming over the Cortex, he had to admit: it made the prospect of being super-poor, unemployed and stranded seem a little less bleak.
"Well, isn't that interesting?" Mal observed.
"What's that, sir?" Zoë stepped through the bridge's hatch behind them and came to stand beside Mal.
"Our friend Thornton made the Cortex for a few reasons last night," Mal replied. "Looks as though he received an official commendation for aiding in the arrest of six alleged smugglers . . ."
". . . And an official penalty from the local magistrate for reckless endangerment," Wash added with a grin. "Seems a good number of the party guests were none too pleased with Mr. Thornton after being manhandled in last evening's commotion."
Zoë raised an eyebrow, a corner of her mouth quirking upward. "Really?"
"Guess Thornton got his wish," Wash said. "The society bulletin on the Cortex is positively buzzing about him this morning."
"Not all good, I take it?" Zoë said.
"Upper class folk can be downright nasty when they want to be," Mal replied.
"I actually feel kind of bad for the guy," Wash added. "He was just looking to impress. Now I hear tell he has to reimburse quite a few people for damage to personal property during the feds' routine seizure and frisking."
"Aristocratic bigwig doling out compensation, and we can't even consider demanding lost wages," Mal lamented lightheartedly.
"Wouldn't that be nice?" Wash agreed. "I have the feeling our speedy getaway means I'm out the security deposit for my suit too. Shame, because we could sure use the funds. Serenity's going to need to run on a little bit more than happy thoughts and mythical fairy dust if we ever want to make it out of this sector."
"We may not be so bad off as you think," Zoë assured Wash as she turned to Mal. "You said six smugglers were detained last night, sir? Anything about us?"
"Not so far," Mal answered. "No mention of the one that got away. And I'm willing to bet there won't be at this point. Thornton's probably suffered about as much embarrassment over this little nán dù as he cares to."
"There's our solution, then," Zoë nodded.
"I'm not sure I follow," Wash said, glancing up at them both.
"Thornton's public image is a mite precarious right now," Mal answered. "The Alliance may be pleased as punch with him, but his fellow highbrows don't seem to have the same appreciation for being caught up in his little sting last night."
"Don't need too many guesses to figure whose opinion he cares more about," Zoë interjected.
"He'll be eating plenty of crow in the days ahead," Mal said. "Admitting that a pair of potentially dangerous criminals actually escaped might only compound his public humiliation."
"It's likely he'll bury any evidence of us being there," Zoë added. "The invitation that was unaccounted for, the docking log of the shuttle that fled . . . The security speedsters were his too, so he can cover up the chase and the accident pretty easy."
"The feds in the garden weren't his," Wash reminded them. "Can't they confirm an escape?"
Mal shrugged. "Can't prove it. Not without Thornton's testimony to back it up. As it stands, for all they know, you two were just a couple of panicked guests."
Wash grinned. "So our back-stabbing host has become an unwitting ally," he mused. "Shiny."
"Which means we don't have to clear out of this sector in such a hurry after all," Mal said, smiling in satisfaction. "If they ain't looking for us, we're free to inquire as to some honest work right here in this quadrant. Or . . ." He shrugged again. ". . . some less-than-honest-high-paying work. Preferably on a world where I'm not a wanted man."
"Yet," Zoë added dryly.
"Yet," Mal confirmed with a definitive nod. "Wash, check our fuel, then get on the Cortex. Let's see what we come up with."
"Can do, cap'n," Wash replied, cheerfully spinning his chair toward his instrument panel.
"And, Wash?" Mal was hovering in the doorway, grinning broadly, when Wash turned back around. "Good work last night." And the captain left the bridge.
Wash stared at the empty hatch with a self-satisfied smile. As he spun the chair back his eyes fell on Zoë. She was also smiling. It seemed such a natural sight now, as though she'd been gracing him with easy smiles since he'd come aboard. Again he found it difficult to take his eyes off her.
"It was," she said, confirming Mal's appraisal.
"Well," Wash replied, ducking his head with a mix of pride and modesty, "I hadn't exactly known I was signing on as a professional getaway driver when I took this job, but I can't say it hasn't been fun. And I do like to earn the paycheck that we occasionally get."
Zoë nodded and crossed her arms. "Oh, you're a damn good pilot, Wash. No question," she said. "Captain wouldn't have hired you otherwise. So I wouldn't have expected any less last night."
Wash crossed his own arms and sat back in his chair, grinning. "Yeah?"
"I was referring to the rest of it, though," she clarified. "You handled yourself really well back there. And let's face it, if you hadn't seen those feds the way you did, we would both be cooling our heels in a local prison right now. The whole crew, most like, if they tied us to Serenity."
"Oh," Wash said, sitting up straight in his chair. His expression had changed from genuine pride to slight surprise. The flying part, that was second nature, but the rest . . . "That was really just luck," he said.
Zoë shrugged, her grin unfading. "Out here . . . in this life . . . most good jobs are."
Wash digested that for a moment, hoping to respond with something articulate and meaningful. But Zoë's praise in conjunction with Zoë's smile had temporarily overloaded his brain. "Thanks," was all he could manage.
After a beat, Zoë turned to face the black. "Guess that means good luck for your friend Asbach too," she said. "Since Thornton most likely destroyed the invitation we gave him, the feds probably won't be tracing that name all over the Cortex."
"Bah," Wash droned with a dismissive wave of his arm. "I doubt they'd find him. It may not have even been his real name." Off Zoë's sideways glance, he added, "Skilled in duplicity, remember? Really good at covering his own tracks. Besides, the guy owes me one. More than one, truth be told. I'll have to tell you the story sometime."
Zoë turned back to him with her hands on her hips. "You may have to at that," she said with a nod. She began to walk for the door.
When she turned again to face him, Wash was on his feet. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd gotten up so fast. Zoë took a step back in his direction, an eyebrow raised expectantly, and Wash managed to gather his thoughts.
"I'm not doing much here," he said, indicating the empty pilot's chair with a backward toss of his hand. "I mean, we're in orbit at the moment, so there won't be any need to, you know, steer for a bit. Even the fishhooks I'm sending out in regards to a job may take a while to get a response." He took a step toward her. "I have time . . . now," he said, softer. "If you do."
Zoë regarded him with an unreadable expression for a moment. "I should probably help the captain do an inventory and assess our reserve," she said. "When we do hear about a job, we're going to need to know where we stand in terms of getting to it." She smiled after speaking, and her expression was all at once soft and womanly and sly. "Nothin' that can't wait a bit."
Wash smiled, but only for an instant. A second later he reached for her, and Zoë's mouth was beneath his for the third time in less than twenty-four hours. It was slower this time, more careful – not nearly as punctuated as the one they shared in front of Thornton, nor as frantic as the display on the balcony. Even as such, it was enough to reaffirm for Wash just how badly he wanted this woman.
Zoë had met him halfway and, as Wash's hands settled on her hips, he felt her arms drop to her sides. Then they were suddenly wrapped around his neck, fingers in his hair, drawing him down into something warm and full and very mutual. He pulled her nearer, closing the slight gap between them, and felt himself shiver as she sighed softly against his lips.
Wash thought he was well acquainted with flying. Apparently he still had a few things to learn.
Too soon they broke apart, though their foreheads continued to rest against each other. Zoë smiled. "What was that for?"
Wash shrugged with a slightly giddy grin. "Just making sure I didn't imagine last night," he said.
Zoë stepped back from him, though her hands still lightly gripped his forearms. "I also seem to recall something about a drink," she hinted.
"Right!" Wash broke away from her quickly to program the alert sequence, in case they were hailed about a potential job while he was away from the controls. "I thought I smelled coffee brewing in the galley."
"I had something a little better in mind than Jayne's idea of coffee," Zoë replied. "Got some decent moonshine in my bunk." She raised a suggestive eyebrow as she turned for the door. "Interested?"
Wash faced her. His expression became the picture of intense, if ironic, wariness, and he wrung his hands dramatically. "Oh, I don't know," he droned. "Been warned about that variety of beverage back in flight school. Leads to all manner of iniquity and loosened tongues."
"Mmm," Zoë affirmed with a nod. "Among other things, I'm told." With a final glance she stepped out of the hatch and down the stairs.
Wash waited until she was out of sight before he smiled broadly. Zoë Alleyne, he thought. The woman was severe and curt and as deadly as she was beautiful. He'd also had the good fortune to learn that she was breathtakingly radiant when she smiled and mind-blowingly good at kissing. Even after all that, he'd be lying if he still didn't think she was a little bit scary.
He punched the confirmation button for the alert sequence. Then he strode purposefully after her.
After all, Hoban Washburne was no coward.
nán dù - problem
Additional Author's Notes: Again, little details as to Wash's history with Mr. Universe (whether fans consider it canon or not) can be found in the novelization of Serenity, as well as at the "Firefly Timeline" (found online).
Thanks again for reading!