Quite pre-series. As always, none of this is mine.

Wash is in the mess, having a bottle of beer; after today's dramatics, he reckons they've all earned their vices. As ought be expected, the pick-up had ended in gunfire, and even with the advantage of it being on their ship, it hadn't ended pretty. Mal's in his bunk, sleeping off a stitched-up leg and the corresponding painkillers; Kaylee wasn't even in the fight direct, but she's tucked in bed too, shook up and twitchy.

Zoe took a shot, but in her Kevlar, she's not but a bit bruised. Most interesting to Wash is the way she took it, though: he'd snuck down, thinking to help, but one of the gun hands snuck up on him, and Zoe managed to interfere, stepping in the bullet's way. Given how they've been falling into each other's arms and beds lately, there's not much surprise, but there is a certain contentment.

She appears soon enough, unplanned but quite welcome. Instead of taking a similar bottle from the icebox, she sits at the table with him straight off. As usual her expression is no-nonsense.

"Evening," he smiles.

"I need to talk seriously with you," she says.

"A-all right," he hesitates. That's rarely a positive but then, Zoe doesn't often abide by conversational politenesses and mores.

"There's nothing unusual 'bout how today went," she begins. "Honestly, it's pretty lucky when it goes smooth's it did."

"Yes," he agrees. He's not sure where she's going with it, but that's a truth.

"But, it's got me thinkin'," she continues.

"On what subject?"


He shouldn't have taken a swallow of beer just then, as now he's choking on it. "You – you'd class you and I as an us?"

"Wouldn't you?" she asks archly. (This wasn't unwise, was it? She hopes not.)

"Of course," he exclaims, breath short. "We've certainly grown closer, haven't we? And I care for you very much."

"That's just the thing," she says, and when he just looks at her inquisitively, she presses on. "I care for you, too. Maybe more'n I'd let myself previously admit."

"To who? There's been admitting?"

"To myself and to you," she explains. "The rest comes after."

"S'pose that's fair," he agrees.

"The point of my sayin' this," Zoe continues, "Is that I'm sure now of something."

Whatever it is, she's certainly building to it, isn't she? "Oh?" he asks.

"Fact is," she says, locking eyes with him, "I'm in love with you, Hoban Washburne, and I wanna spend the rest of my life with you."

Wash's mouth just hangs open a moment. "As in, marryin'?"

"If you're agreeable," she nods. "Just it struck me today how much a life shared with you's better than the alternative. I wanna wake up with you, have you with me every day, know we're our own l'il family."

"And you're not just sayin' on account of all the near-fatal gunfire?"

She rolls her eyes, smirking. "I been in plenty firefights didn't give me such a feeling," she chuckles. "The thought of havin' lost this's one I ain't comfortable with. Not without knowin' I done all I could t'make my thoughts known."

He's had enough time to really process this, now, and he's just grinning at her. "You're proposing to me, baby," he says.

"Guess that I am," she replies with a laugh. "You're not giving a straight answer, sweetie."

His smile grows even further. "I'd imagine 'yes' is the answer you'd rather hear."

"If it's your true one."

"It is," he declares, and he rises to put arms round her, kiss her softly. "Yes, wŏ de ài. Yes a thousand times."

When next they're in town, Wash slides outta chores and does a few of his own, feeling at once devious and loyal and loving and sneaky. He'd always imagined proposals to be an extravagant affair – there'd surely been enough fuss amongst folk back home, it's understandable he'd expect. He does know that Zoe's not one for fripperies, and the bluntness of her asking was just so her he couldn't not love it (and honestly he found it a smidgen sexy), but he's the showing-off type no matter the occasion.

There'll be no ring; it wouldn't be practical, nor would it be Zoe. He figures they'll have to tell Mal and Kaylee soon enough, anyhow, and he may as well make it fun. Make it just so him, too.

Supper rolls round, and Wash's spending the whole meal giggling to himself. More than once, Zoe grabs his hand surreptitiously, whispering, "Somethin' got into ya, honey?" Kaylee's started to pay attention, noting each hushed exchange, though Mal's not seen it (or he's chosen to think nothing of it, either's possible. The energy in the air has an odd charge to it.

When the table's cleared, Wash hurries to the icebox, in which rests a small, shop-bought ice cream cake, one he's festooned as a personal touch with two of his dinosaurs. Geoffrey the brontosaurus wears a tiny paper top hat; Diana the gallimimus has a bitty veil of crinkled white tissue. And as soon as she sees it, Zoe's actually, truly blushing.

"Figured we should celebrate," he says with a smile.

"Celebrate what an' why're your dinos dressed for a fancy party onna cake?" Mal asks.

"You wanna tell 'em, baby?" Wash asks Zoe, all blitheness.

She's actually thinking that maybe she'd rather not be the one to, but that's silly, and she knows it. "Wash an' I," she starts, "We're – we're gonna get married."

Kaylee's eyes light up. "Jingçai!" she exclaims. "Congratulations, you two!"

"Uh, yeah," Mal agrees awkwardly. There's so much uncomfortable about this, in his opinion, but he's at least gonna pretend to try? "Zháùhè on… that."

Wash sets the cake on the table and reaches behind for places and utensils as he speaks. "Most've the details are still to be set, but it's going to happen pretty certainly."

Zoe smiles over at Kaylee, then, anticipating her question. "Even if it does just wind up bein' a civil service, I'd be happy to have you my maid of honor, mèimei."

"And you can be the, what's it called, the best man," Wash tells Mal.

"Shiny," Kaylee giggles. Mal's not looking thrilled, but he again nods. (That does it, he'll be having words with Zoe later, but even knowing that she doesn't care. She's too happy.)

Then the brontosaurus is getting pulled off the cake, and Wash makes sure to get a dab of frosting on his muzzle before he makes the little guy "kiss" Zoe's nose.

"Hope you know what you're gettin' into," Mal says dryly.

"Believe I do," Zoe says calmly. "It would seem t'be right, though." She gives Wash a frostingy nuzzle, and that makes them both laugh.

"I'll take her word for it," Wash deadpans. If someone as rational as Zoe is believes it, he's more than trusting, and happy to be.

wŏ de ài - my love

jingçai - brilliant, shiny

zháùhè - congratulations

mèimei - little sister