Summary: Sometimes, the thought makes him insecure, but mostly, it just makes him thank his lucky stars. Spoilers for War Stories. Wash/Zoe.
"Seems to me, there's always some sorta...imbalance...in every relationship. Always a person who could do much better, but for some reason, they jus' stick around. Don' make no sense at all."
It's been a long time since he's heard his mother say those words. For the most part, young Wash had always ignored what his mother considered to be words of wisdom and instead focused on his dreams of exploration and star chasing.
But in his head, Wash now hears those words, again, because Zoe has lied to him. She's sided with Mal, she's always sided with Mal, and this knowledge feeds on his insecurities. Their war stories have begun to set his teeth on edge, and Wash tries not to think about how much better she could do with someone like the captain. It's stupid, but he can't help it. Wash knows she loves him, she did say yes to being his wife, after all. But her relationship with Mal...she trusts the man explicitly and Wash thinks of all the times people have mistaken the pair as a couple, and how they always turn skeptical eyes to him when the truth is explained.
He used to think about his inadequacies a lot when he first met Zoe, in mostly innocent forms like why would she ever date me and I don't deserve her and oh my God, she said yes.
Now it's not so innocent thoughts murmuring in his head, making him say things like this marriage needs one less husband. Worse, he knows he means it. He's angry and mad and he doesn't even care that he's being redundant. He feels betrayed and defiant. Just once, he wants to go out in Zoe's place, if only to keep her away from Mal for just a little while. He can't take another story from them, not with his blood boiling this way, and he's not taking no for answer. This is something he needs.
Zoe and Mal both look ready to strike him down at this insubordination, but they allow it because there's no time to argue and it's a supposedly easy drop.
Being kidnapped and tortured by Niska is far from easy, as it turns out.
It's excruciating, like fire burning his insides, and Wash would be bawling his eyes out like a little girl right now if it wasn't for Mal providing harsh but effective distractions.
And then Zoe arrives, ready to buy back their freedom and save their sorry asses, and though he's immensely grateful for it, his first thought is that he wants Zoe far, far away from here and safe.
Niska, the sick bastard, attempts to wrench out her heart and make her choose between him and Mal, no doubt enjoying the personal information that the torture had produced. What he doesn't count on is Zoe's ease in making the decision. She cuts him off before he even gets the words out. "I choose him," she says, pointing at Wash. To Niska, it's a slap in the face, one less fun game to be played.
To Wash, it's a relief that also brings shame. He never should have yelled at her, never should have doubted her loyalties. Niska's men undo his bindings and shove him towards his wife. He stumbles and Zoe reaches out to support him, and isn't she always supporting him?
Wash isn't stupid. He knows he wouldn't have made it out alive, not without Mal. Unbreakable Mal.
He knows he's made mistakes, said and done terribly dumb things, and ultimately helped get them into this mess, but he'll be damned if he leaves the captain behind.
And so, once back on Serenity, they begin to prepare, planning and arming themselves with weapons.
It's a suicide mission, as Jayne rightly says, and Wash can't deny that he's scared of going back. Even more scared of taking Zoe and the entire gorram crew into it as well, but there is no crew without the captain, Wash is certain of that much.
The rescue manages to go off without a hitch.
Yes, there is gunfire and fear and sweat pouring down his brow, but when all is said and done, everyone comes out alive. That's the only victory they really needed, anyway.
Mal's injuries are horrific, and it churns Wash's stomach to think of how much more torture the captain had to endure after his own rescue.
But they manage to get him back aboard Serenity, severely damaged but not broken. Never broken. Wash leaves him with the good doctor and prays that Simon can work miracles, but his job as pilot is to get them the dì yù outta there, and into the safety of the utter Black.
Wash sets himself down at the controls and lets the flying become him. He's once again chasing the stars, just as he dreamed of doing as a kid. It is peaceful here, and it helps to calm his frayed nerves. He breathes in and out, releasing air like memories. This is freedom in its purest form.
Once confident that they are out of harm's way, Wash sets the controls to auto-pilot just as Zoe arrives on the bridge. She places a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Hon. You need some rest." she says gently.
He can't be bothered to argue, so he lets her lead him back to their bunk. When they get there, he immediately collapses onto their bed. He hadn't even realized how tired he was until now. "How's Mal doing?" he asks weakly.
Zoe lays down beside him. "He'll live," she replies calmly. "Doc even managed to get that ear back on."
"Good. He was quite the eyesore without it."
Zoe snorts in amusement. "True."
Wash sighs out, guilt weighing heavy in his heart. "Zoe, listen...I'm sorry. It was dumb of me to suggest - well, I know you follow Mal's orders only when you agree, and because he's our captain. I know it has nothing to do with us. If I hadn't pushed it – "
"Then I'd probably be the one turned into the human socket," she muses.
That fact had been driven from his mind by the torture. The thought of Zoe going through such hell terrifies him, and in retrospect, he's glad he was an idiot and forced his way onto this job. "Zo, don't let me think about that. I worry enough as it is."
For now, she can oblige. She rubs a hand lightly down his arm, letting her fingers linger over his bruised and lacerated wrists from where he had been tightly bound. She pulls his hand towards her lips and kisses the wound. "Looks like you'll be able to boast of some nice battle scars, m'love."
"Z'at make me a wounded hero?" he mumbles idly.
She kisses his palm next, then his bruised knuckles. "You're always my hero, baby."
Zoe, his amazing Zoe. She forgives so easily, and she's given him so much. She makes his life matter in a way that nothing else ever could.
"I am one lucky bastard, aren't I?"
She turns her body to face him and smiles. She runs gentle fingers through his hair. "Yes, Sir. And I'm the lucky woman that gets to be with the lucky bastard. The silly, fried, probably now brain-damaged, lucky bastard."
Zoe curls in against his chest. He wraps an arm around her and sighs with some contentment. "We are quite the fairy-tale romance then. Wacky Wash and Amazon Zoe, taking on the skies and isn't it so lovely, sweetheart?"
"Damn straight, hon. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
Wash thinks about that for a moment, his mother's words from so long ago suddenly ringing in his ears once again. He hadn't realized, back then, that such a mismatch could lead to something so amazing. The perfect imbalance, he thinks. The pilot and the fighter, the beauty and the ordinary, the joker and his queen.
Somehow finding completion in each other's arms.
"Neither would I."