"Great, ain't he?"
"I don't like him."
"Just somethin' about him bothers me."
From the moment they first met there was something about their new pilot had made Zoe uneasy. Something familiar that she hadn't quite been able to put her finger on.
It had reminded her of the first time she'd set eyes on the Captain. From the first day they met during the War it had been as if she already knew him, his sparkling eyes and crooked, cocky grin calling out to her in a way that had itched faintly in the back of her mind. As though there was something there she was supposed to remember. Some of that sparkle had gone out after the Battle of Serenity, and that grin had appeared less and less, but she still encountered those odd moments when Mal would crack an off color joke, and she would roll her eyes, and it felt almost right... Except for the odd sense that there were pieces missing. She never could figure out what that was, though. Sometimes she thought that feeling was what had kept her at his side for so long, after all those times that martyr's streak he pretended not to have had almost gotten them killed.
As though, if she turned her back on him, she might miss the answer to a question she didn't even know she should be asking.
With Hoban Washburn it had been the same, only so much more intense. When Mal first introduced them, it was like seeing someone she'd missed for a very long time. She'd managed to hide her reaction, though she had to leave the room quickly. She could tell Mal knew something was wrong. And he'd been so eager to introduce them. There was an odd disappointment on his face, and for the first time it crossed Zoe's mind that maybe she wasn't the only one who had felt that odd connection.
That maybe it was a part of why Mal trusted her so much when he trusted almost no one else, and often doubted himself.
Wasn't long after that Mal found Kaylee—or rather Bester did. Zoe wasn't there, all she knew was that she came back from a supply run and found they had a completely new mechanic. Kaylee was a nice girl, who understood more about the world than her innocent smile and sweet nature usually let on, and she knew her way around an engine like no one's business. Still, the change had been unsettling. It wasn't that she was sorry to see Bester go—far from it—but something about Kaylee tickled that strange recognition that Zoe had never really understood. But there wasn't a whole lot she could do about it. She'd already lost the fight where it came to Wash, and she knew it would be a hopeless cause where Kaylee was concerned. The sparkle that had crept back into the Captain's eyes was all she needed to tell her that.
They'd known each other for less than a day and already the man doted on her like a daughter.
"I don't know what your issue is with me. Do I smell? I smell don't I? You know, you should inform a guy when you've based a first impression on a changeable condition like body odor. It's just polite."
Zoe crossed her arms and just stood there, only half listening while Wash babbled. She used to think the Captain liked the sound of his own voice—it had never really been a problem, since she was normally more than happy to let him do the talking for both of them—but this man would not shut up. He talked to fill uncomfortable silences, he talked to fill comfortable silences. He talked when he was alone, through those ridiculous plastic dinosaurs he kept on the bridge.
And he kept talking, right up to the point where her mouth closed over his in a kiss. When he pulled back, he could only stare at her with baffled blue eyes.
She didn't answer his question, smiling at his confusion. She smiled because she'd figured out long ago what it was that had first bothered her about the man. From the moment they first met—perhaps in some strange way even before that—she'd known the only way she would ever manage to stop his mouth was with a kiss.
The first time they slept together, Zoe had strange dreams. Dreams about pale skin beneath her, caressed by dark hands larger and stronger than her own. Dreams about bright blue eyes, and a brighter grin and kisses that tasted like milk and honey. And every morning after that, when she woke to the sight of Wash's sleeping face, Zoe couldn't help but feel that she'd found something she hadn't even known she'd lost.
Zoe really wasn't sure what to think when the Companion took up with them. It was an...unusual arrangement.
It was difficult to understand why they kept her. Even more difficult to imagine why she stayed. He was constantly pushing her boundaries, and she was always questioning his decisions, and the way they got each other riled you would think one of them would be dead within a week.
It had taken her a while to realize that Wash saw more there than she did.
She thought she'd known her Captain well after all these years, but it wasn't until she started watching Wash watching them, the soft smile on his lips that she realized what she'd been missing there. They way they each sought out the other's attention, even when it was disapproval. Like the push and pull was something they each needed from each other.
And the heat that smouldered in their eyes as they argued wasn't always anger.
And Zoe had to admit that, sometimes, Inara's arguments managed to keep the Captain grounded when even his first mate couldn't. Maybe things never quite ran smooth, but with Inara on the ship, sometimes they were a mite less rocky.
The night of her wedding, Zoe woke from a nightmare with silent tears on her face. She'd lain quietly beside her new husband, unable to get back to sleep.
She didn't remember much about the dream. There was pain and fear and cold, and a pale face painted in flashes of red and blue. Bright blue eyes, filled with grief, staring down at her with tracks of tears that matched her own.
Wash had woken up a short time later, noticing the salt when he kissed her cheek. The question had been there in his eyes, but before he could ask, she pulled him close, devouring his mouth with a desperation she didn't entirely understand.
"Forever, baby?" She asked in the silent dark of their home in the black.
"Forever," he answered, without hesitation.
Miles away from any world, in that moment the question felt like the only thing in the 'Verse that mattered.
When they picked up the preacher, it was like everything clicked into place. Which was more than a little feng le, given that what they didn't know about him could probably fill their cargo hold, but then there wasn't anybody on the ship didn't have their share of secrets.
It was strange how everyone took to him like a favorite uncle, even Mal, for all they spent most of their time differing on the subject of the man's Boss.
It was stranger that no one questioned that he belonged there. She knew Jayne knew better than to question the Captain regarding the crew, and that Simon probably wrote it off as one of Mal's eccentricities. But she knew Wash, or Kaylee, or Inara could each have spoken up about it, expecting an answer. That none of them ever did—that she herself never did—was answer enough to the question of whether she was the only one who felt that odd connection between them.
From the way River sometimes watched them, Zoe wondered if somehow she knew.
Sometimes when Jayne was in his bunk and Simon was tending to his sister, it was just the six of them sitting around the galley. She and her husband would sit together on the couch in the corner, shoulders pressed while Kaylee smiled fondly at her Captain, listening to Mal and Inara's banter, and the preacher watched too, silent and amused. Zoe felt this strong feeling of rightness. As though everything were complete.
And as warm and comforting as the feeling was, it often inspired a squeezing feeling of hopelessness in her chest. Because the joy she felt was bittersweet, as one enjoys the restoration of something broken. And the conviction dogged her heels that one day this too would all fall apart.
After Miranda, Zoe felt like a part of her soul was missing. She had long lost count of the hours she'd spent on Haven, overlooking the hill where they had placed the stones for those fallen. The image there never changed, and she always felt as desolate and dry inside as the wasted moon around her. Because each time the holo played, her husband's smile inspired a stab of pain—sharper than any knife and undulled by repetition.
"You'll find each other again." River said softly.
Zoe turned around. She hadn't heard the 'reader come up behind her, though that wasn't unusual. It was early morning and windy, and though the girl had regained the important parts of her sanity, in the blue light of pre-dawn, she looked very fay in her light dress, standing there in her bare feet.
"You'll all find each other again." The girl repeated, with a certainty that brooked no argument. "You always do."
Javier Esposito woke from a strange dream. A dream about pale skin above him, caressed by dark hands slimmer and more dextrous than his own. A dream about bright blue eyes, and a brighter grin and kisses that tasted like apples.
He lay in the dark a long quiet while, before he felt eyes on him and looked over to see Kevin staring, a concerned expression on his face. He could read the question in his eyes, but before he could ask Javier pulled him close, devouring his mouth with a desperation he didn't entirely understand.
"Forever, baby?" he asked in the silent dark of their apartment.
"Forever," Kevin answered, without hesitation.
With only inches between them, that answer was the only thing in the world that mattered.