It's unfortunate, Wash thinks, that Zoe isn't a fan of dinosaurs.
He had halfway constructed an elaborate scenario, in which he created a lush, primordial diorama on the mess table, using molded protein to sculpt a volcano in the center of it. There might even have been choreography.
That was before she had noticed his stegosaurus balanced on the helm and rolled her eyes.
Upon reflection, he decides the volcano was too obvious a symbol, anyway.
Courtship of Zoe Plan #1: Thwarted.
But he isn't defeated yet.
Plan two is all about subtlety.
Plan two is spending quality planet-time sitting in the mess, fiddling with a broken radio he filched from the engine room, and smiling quietly at Zoe whenever she happens to pass through.
He does this for three days before she stops to talk to him.
"Don't think you're cute," she says.
Then she's gone again.
Wash drops the radio on the table, folds his arms behind his head, and leans back in his chair.
"Wearing her down slowly," he crows to the empty room. "It's only a matter of time."
He runs into a few roadblocks, however.
The captain doesn't seem to like him, for one. Wash is flying at the top of his game, but that damn mechanic, Bester, isn't keeping the gears grinding right, and it makes his takeoffs shaky, and his landings even more so.
He complains, or tries to, but it's no use. "Do your damn job," the captain grits out. "I'll look after the rest."
For another, he can't say he's fond of the jobs they've been doing. He's not a huge fan of the Alliance, but he's not too keen on living a life centered on not being Alliance-friendly. Then again, he's able to fly contraband just as well as not, so as long as they don't get caught, maybe he can live with it.
The other problems are small; he can tick them off on his fingers like a shopping list.
He's no good in a fight. She doesn't like his moustache. (She looks at it skeptically, curls her lip.) He doesn't know where she's from. She doesn't know where he's from.
And he can't, for the life of him, get Zoe to smile.
This is the biggest obstacle, Wash knows. He's not a bad-looking guy, but his strength lies in his wit, in his ability to make a woman laugh.
If he can't make her laugh, how will she know he can make her happy?
Finding the right joke is the key, he thinks. If he can figure that out, everything will fall into place.
Zoe does not like puns. Nor does she like practical or knock-knock jokes.
Wash learns these things the hard way.
The grav boot fails just before they land. Serenity twists, hard, and the engine kicks out.
They're about a quarter of a mile from the ground, and Wash grips the helm, pulls the ship out of dive and lets it skid down instead, bouncing the landing hard enough to send him face-first into the instrument panels.
He's stunned by the blow, and it takes a minute for their not-deadness to register. He tastes blood, puts his hand to his mouth and finds a gash in his upper lip. He feels woozy for a second, then anger and adrenaline rush in.
He whirls out of his seat, strides out of the bridge and through the ship, streaming invective behind him, enough to silence the captain and Zoe as they appear.
And then he's in the engine room, and panic flashes over Bester's face as he slams him into the engine, and Wash lets loose every profanity, every obscene name he ever picked up from his older brothers on the playground.
Zoe yanks him off Bester, pushes him back.
"What the hell's going on?" Mal demands, shoving Bester aside when he attempts to retaliate. "This something to do with that cat-piss landing?"
"Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng," Wash finishes ranting, then takes a deep breath. "The grav boot failed. Spun the engine out."
Bester scowls. "Ain't my fault."
"It's not--" Wash's hands tighten to fists.
Mal puts a hand on his shoulder, quells him with a stern look. "Get yourself to sickbay," he orders. "That's a nasty cut you've got."
Wash considers taking a swing at Bester anyway, but the rush is dying down, and he's getting dizzy.
He sees Zoe and Mal exchange a look, and Zoe follows him down to sickbay.
At Zoe's direction, he hops onto the counter, and tries not to notice when she leans in close to inspect the wound.
She hums under her breath, turns to rummage in a drawer. "It'll need stiches," she says. Holds scissors up. "The whiskers will have to go."
Wash clamps a hand over his moustache protectively.
She raises an eyebrow. "Or we could just let you bleed. Maybe get infected." She folds her arms.
He sighs, makes a mental apology to his follicles, and lets his shoulders slump. "Do it."
He takes the stitches without a whimper, manly-like.
Zoe washes her hands as he twists his mouth experimentally. "I'm impressed," she says over her shoulder. "You barely squirmed."
Wash slides off the counter. "What's a little pain," he grouses, "compared to my lost pride?"
She dries her hands, faces him. "You're kidding."
"Nope." He leans against the counter, touches his bare upper-lip. "Back home, growing a moustache is a rite a passage. Proof you're finally a man."
"Stupid custom," she responds.
Wash shrugs. "Maybe to some."
"Well," she says, "I, for one, am glad to see those god-awful whiskers go."
Wash frowns, tilts his head. "Really?"
She nods. "Now I can finally take you seriously." And she cracks a smile. Looks at him sidelong, slow, and he suddenly understands.
He feels a grin steal across his lips, and he tries to smother it, mostly because he can feel the stitches stretch uncomfortably.
"Come on," she says, turning to the door. "Let's see if that fong luh mechanic knows what we need to fix the engine."
"I doubt that," Wash says, but he follows her anyway.
It's all going according to plan.
Well, not really.
But he can adapt.