It's a couple of weeks before Zoe stops telling Mal what a damn fool he is for hiring this pilot right in front of Wash, couple months before she stops doing it in private, he's pretty certain. Lately, though, it seems that she more than doesn't mind his existence, even if she still rolls her eyes when he sighs with eternal, unrequited love as she walks past. He can't help it, though. She'll go and do something beautiful, like just walk past him, and everything in him tells him to sigh.
Right up until they stop at some dirty bar on some godforsaken planet, he thinks that sighing is all he'll ever get to do. Then he gets clocked over the head with a bar stool when the local sports team isn't doing so hot, and he sighs from the ground as Zoe knocks the guy's lights out, and really, he'd be happy with only that, her clocking some jerk for his sake. No insult to his masculinity if he didn't see it coming, right?
But then she's kneeling next to him. The bump on his head still hurts when she puts her lips to it, but damn if it isn't the happiest pain he's ever felt.