Black on Black

A love story

Disclaimer: We all know who owns the 'verse. It's not me.

Author's note: This story is dedicated to The Ro-chan who I at first inadvertently and then deliberately insulted. I hope it is taken in the manner it is intended; as being a work inspired by her writing. I apologise unreservedly for my ungentlemanly words.

It is said that a man's heart is a barren place and that only the hardiest of plants can take root there.

From the first moment he sees her it is something stronger than love. It is destiny. She is standing in the street, leaning against a heavily laden quad-cart, thumbs hooked in her belt, a wide brimmed hat down low over her face. She has a presence about her. Wash watches from his stool in the window of the barroom as the flow of the city moves around her as it would move around a statue. No-one jostles her arm, or trips over her boots. She is an island of coiled stillness amongst the morass of humanity; utterly unique in every way.

A brown-coated man throws a canvas bag of goods at her and she catches it across her chest. She turns her back to the bar where Wash lurks in anonymity and effortlessly heaves the bag on board the back of the quad. She wears tight, tawny strides that cover her legs like an animal's pelt. Her stance is wide and strong and as she lifts the bag her short jacket rides up her back revealing a trim waist above a beautiful behind, perfect, like an inverted heart. The man climbs on the quad and starts the engine and shouts something to her. She turns to reply to him and his response causes her to laugh. Warmth spreads across Wash's chest. Her face is impossibly beautiful to him. Enormous eyes that seem to radiate sunlight float above a gloriously red mouth that is simultaneously regal and carnal.

She leaps onto the back of the quad as the man starts to move off. Her hat is thrown back off her head and long dark hair blows about her shoulders. She brushes it away from her face and turns and looks directly at him. But she can not have seen him. He is seated on the other side of the glass, frozen, staring right into her eyes as she momentarily regards her reflection in the passing window.

Her aspect strikes him like a punch to the lungs. His response to having her look straight at him is physical, emotional and spiritual; combinations of sensations that surpass desire, or want but represent something frightening and extreme: an urgent need to realign the universe. Until that moment in time Wash has never realised that the shape of his soul-mate has existed in his mind like a silhouette just waiting to be filled. It is like being violently confronted with the knowledge that your life is tragically incomplete, that there is an 'other' shaped void in your existence. That you are meant to be together.

And then she is gone.

It is said that first impressions last a lifetime.

Wash shaves off his straggling ginger beard and trims his remaining facial hair into what he considers is a most impressive moustache. He stares at his reflection in a full-length mirror and places his hands on either side of the small gut that has taken residence above his pelvis over the last few months. He feels disgusted with himself and the slothful ways he has allowed his life to slide into. Wash hunts about for something to wear that will either disguise or distract from his belly. He finds something that does both: a loose-fitting shirt with a vibrant print of palm-trees and dancing girls on it. He puts the shirt on, perches aviator shades over his eyes and nods to his reflection. He decides that from this day onwards he will name this look 'This Look'.

He stands in the scrap-yard and looks up at the hulk of the Firefly above him. It has a density to it that he finds intriguing. It is more like an anvil than a ship and yet he has heard stories about this model all his professional life. The loading bay door is down and he walks into its shadowed interior. He slaps the inside of her hull and listens to the impact echo throughout the cargo-bay. It sounds solid but dead; cold and lifeless. He is here for a job interview. He is expected but there does not seem to be anyone to greet him. He is about to turn and leave when he hears the unmistakable sound of both barrels of a shotgun being cocked. A woman's voice says "State your business or get used to life without a head." He comes to learn that it is a more generous warning than she gives most people. He raises his arms in surrender and the owner of the voice steps out of the shadows and into the light. It is her. His soul-mate. Destiny he thinks.

It is said that love is an exploding cigar that we willingly smoke.

Wash meets the captain. He is an intense man but is making an effort to be amiable. He seems desperate. Wash checks out the systems and understands why; the ship is a death-trap. He would be insane to take this job on. He is introduced to her, she is the first-mate and her name is Zoe. He shakes her hand. She looks underwhelmed. Throughout his inspection she stands at the back of the room. She only looks at him to glare. He wonders whether the captain and she are husband and wife. He can see no rings but that means little. He does not care. He just knows that he has to be here. Wash does not consider himself to be a great pilot, during the war he had crashed; people had died because of his ineptitude, but for her he will become great. If the only role he can play in her life is to be her charioteer through the black then that is what he will do. While Wash is at the stick she will have nothing to fear, he will keep her safe from harm. He accepts the job. As the captain and Zoe leave the cockpit he can overhear them talking. He hears her say she doesn't like him. She doesn't know why, she just doesn't like him. Wash swallows hard. Being in her presence is like being repeatedly struck about the face.

It is said that one's first love is always perfect until one meets one's second love.

Crew come and go. A muscled engineer with more tattoos than brains is replaced by a young country girl who calls herself Kaylee. Wash and she are fumbling in the engine room. There is licking and some flesh but it feels all kinds of wrong. He stops and backs away apologising. She laughingly shrugs it off. He steps into the walkway and meets Zoe's eyes. She turns and walks away from him.

It is said that to love is to forgive.

Zoe walks into the canteen. Wash is sitting there alone. She never talks to him directly, he does not know why. She stops and looks at him and takes a deep breath. Her hands go onto her hips and she drops her head into her chest. She lets out the air noisily and reaches a decision. She appears to have decided that this state of affairs cannot go on. She gives in and begins to talk to him. She offers him a cup of green tea. Wash cannot abide green tea. He abhors its taste and it does nothing for him but give him chronic indigestion. "Yes please," he says.

It is said that to love and to be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.

Wash and Zoe are in one of Serenity's shuttles skimming across the yellow ocean on the southern hemisphere of one of Gorgomaw's moons. The light being reflected into the cabin is golden and peaceful. She is talking of her time in the Independents army during the war. He tells her he flew transport ships for the Alliance during the war. She nods and tells him she knew but she doesn't hold it against him. Wash tells her he was shot down, of how he had lost control and of how passengers and people on the ground had died. She tells him of one time she had laid a small mine-field and how she had watched in horror as a squad of Independents had wandered into it and been blown to pieces. She says that she hasn't even told Mal about that.

It is said that love is the difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.

She comes into the cockpit with a cup of green tea for him. She collapses into the co-pilots seat. This is becoming a habit of hers. They sit and talk late into the night while the others are asleep. He has worked out how to make her laugh. He wonders if it is possible for them to become friends. She is commenting on how he has let his tea go cold. He decides to come clean.

He tells her that he never cared for green tea. She asks him why he never said anything before. Why he never told her no. Wash hesitates and the air between them becomes instantly charged. The fact that there is a truth to be revealed has been released and it can never be caged again. He feels a blush turn his face burgundy. She is sitting slouched down in the co-pilots seat, her hips forward on the edge of the chair. She turns her whole body to face him and slowly spreads her legs wide apart. His eyes spend an instant staring at the concentration of v-shaped creases that fringe her crotch. He knows she has seen him look. He cannot meet her eyes. "So," she says, "It's like that then is it?"

She stands and leaves the cock-pit. Wash hears the metal door to her bed chamber open. She leaves it open. Wash takes a deep breath and walks over to the dark opening that leads to the room under the walkway. He kneels down. "No," he says into the darkness, "It's not like that at all." He pulls the door closed and goes back to his chair.

It is said that when two people fall in love it is like the interaction of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction both are transformed.

He has not seen her for a few days. She is placing a mug of coffee on the panel before him. It is late and he has been navigating by sight through a debris field for almost forty hours straight. He is exhausted but her quiet presence invigorates him. She looks relaxed. She is barefoot and her hair is down. Her white shirt is not tucked into her strides and is unbuttoned slightly at the neck showing the faintest shadow of caramel cleavage. His back aches and he pulls a face as he changes his position in the seat. Her hands settle on his shoulders and massage life back into them. She stands behind him until they pass through that region of space.

He settles back in the chair and engages the autopilot. Her hands stay on his shoulders, gently rubbing the muscles under her fingers. "Do you like that?" she says and for the first time Wash hears vulnerability in her voice. "Yes," he says, "very much." And then because he is an idiot and cannot help himself he adds, "How much do I owe you?" She makes a very feminine sound, an intake of breath that is half a gasp of shock, half a laugh at his cheek. She slaps him on the ear with a quick flick of her fingers. It is sore. Very sore. He cannot contain a yelp. His hand retaliates involuntarily. He reaches behind and slaps her once on the ass hard enough to bounce the front of her thighs off the back of the chair. Her hand turns hard and finds the side of his throat. She pins his head in one place. He can feel his pulse pound against the palm of her hand. Her fingers curl round and the back of her nails trace a line down his neck into his shirt. Her touch is ecstasy. Her hand slides down his chest and his vision is obscured by her hair falling around his face as she lowers her head. He can feel her breath against his ear. Wash kills the ship's lights and turns the chair into her. She falls into his lap. He puts a one hand on her hip and the other under her arm and pulls her closer. She looks at him and touches his face. She combs her dark fingers through his light hair. "So," she says, "It's like this then is it?" "Yes," he says, "I'm sorry to say it is." She smiles. She is exquisite and he tells her so. Her eyes roll closed and her lips part as he raises his head to hers. Their first kiss is illuminated by the ancient light of a billion distant stars.

It is said that when you die your whole life flashes before you eyes.

This is incorrect. Only the best parts take the time to reacquaint themselves with you, like old friends recollecting and laughing about the past over a drink.

As the last drops of life run down Wash's chest, as Mal drags his distraught wife away, as more of the Reavers' missiles fill Serenity's cockpit, the succession of memories of his and Zoë's lives spiralling together visit him for one last time.

At the very end, as Wash dies, his proudest and most precious memory leans down and lovingly kisses his brow goodbye, it is Zoë on the day she said "I do".