Wash held a chipped coffee mug in his hand. He was standing in the galley staring at the coffee pot, a smile playing over his lips. He was thinking that the fresh brewed liquid reminded him of the color of Zoë’s skin as his hands had slid over it, taunt over her belly, when he was sliding up her shirt. He lifted his free hand and rubbed the knuckle of his thumb over his lower lip reflectively. He knew it couldn’t possibly taste as good as she did and he bit the inside of his lip as he remembered.
This is how the captain found him. Mal wasn’t sure how long the pilot had been standing there, and he took a moment to watch him curiously before he spoke.
“You plannin’ to drink some of that coffee, Wash, or are you thinkin’ to stare it into submission?”
Wash didn’t even startle at the sudden sound of Mal’s voice. His smile just widened for a moment before he looked up. He set his cup down on the counter and started to back out of the galley toward the bridge. His smile went a little furtive, twisting up a bit at the corner. “Nah Mal, I’ve actually already had my coffee this morning,” he said and left the room. Was Mal mistaken or was there a bit of a swagger in that man’s walk this mornin’? What had gotten into him?
Mal turned and took the cup, looking it over in the dim light. Finding it clean he lifted the pot from the stovetop and poured the dark liquid into it. He brought it close, taking a deep breath and enjoying the scent of it filling his nostrils and working to clear the cobwebs in his still tired brain. It was a habit of his, to smell his coffee; didn’t matter if it was the real thing or some prepackaged replacement, didn’t matter if it was bitter or burned, fresh or a bit long in the tooth. He always smelled it. There had been more then a few times in his life when the scent of coffee was all he’d gotten.
Zoë came in just as he was taking a seat at the table. Her hair was down, which was unusual, and she was wearing a red shirt he didn’t remember seeing before. It was flowy like, and, well for lack of a better word, it was kinda girly. She looked altogether softer somehow, as she moved around the kitchen with ease, finding a cup and pouring herself some coffee. Wash predictably reappeared now that she had arrived and Mal smirked behind his cup.
He expected Wash to get a cup of coffee now that he had found a reason to stay in the room. Wash however came straight to the table and sat down. Then he got right back up, went to the kitchen and returned a moment later with a small shiny packet. He sat down across from Zoë and slid it across the scarred table top toward her.
“Zoë doesn’t like cream in her coffee,” Mal found himself saying. He looked at the pilot who had returned with a small pack of breakfast wafers as well as the creamer.
“Oh, I think maybe sometimes she does,” Wash said, and he was still looking at Zoë, and if that weren’t galling enough, Zoë was looking right back. Her face was as stoic as ever, but she was definitely lookin’ at the man. Then she did the most traitorous thing she’d ever done: she ripped off the top of that packet and poured it gracefully into her cup. Wash’s smile widened as he watched her stir it in, and didn’t break eye contact as he took a bite of crisp yellow wafer.
Mal felt a sharp distinct sinking in his stomach. Ta ma da, sub text, that’s what it was. There was a whole line of gorram sub text runnin’ under the surface between his first mate and his pilot. And he didn’t recall authorizing any such a thing. He looked from Wash to Zoë and back again. They were just eating now but there were glances. Oh, he was used to the glances from Wash, they’d been going on since day one, and Mal had started to respect the man’s persistence, but now he was thinkin’ maybe it needed to stop.
“So,” he said into the midst of whatever was goin’ on that he didn’t quite understand, and definitely didn’t like. “How much longer till we hit Heliga?” he asked, his voice was hard and his eyes equally so as he looked at Wash.
The pilot was unaffected by the look, something Mal had noticed was increasing in occurrence. The man turned and looked at him still crunching on the wafers, and said as if he hadn’t just been staring moonily at the first mate, “I reckon we should be arriving by afternoon, Mal. Near as I can figure, about 4:17 pm.” He paused then added as an after thought. “Serenity time.” Was it Mal’s imagination or did Zoë smile at that.
“Well, good to know you’re on top of it,” Mal responded darkly, and pushed back from the table, standing to his feet.
“Everything alright Captain?” Zoë asked looking up as he prepared to leave.
He looked back at her for a minute. “Fine. Everything’s shiny, just need t’ do some work in the cargo bay, you meet me down there soon as your finished here… er with your coffee, I mean. Coffee’s gone, you head straight down. No funny business.” He glanced at Wash as he moved past, and Zoë’s eyes followed him until he disappeared down the aft staircase.
“Hmm,” Wash said, following her gaze, “He seemed happy enough a minute ago, wonder what bug bit him since?”
“I best go see to him,” Zoë said, giving him half a smile.
“Your coffee’s not finished yet,” he said his blue eyes looking at her in disappointment.
“But what about me? I had my heart set on at least another 2 minutes.”
Zoë stood and looked down at him with a grin. “You’ll live too,” she said almost dismissively. She turned to leave but looked back at him over her shoulder. “I’ll be up to the bridge to check on you though. Just in case.” Her voice was utterly serious, and she turned and strode down the hall and then disappeared down the stairs the captain had taken. Wash watched her the whole way with an enormous grin and a roving eye, then took her cup to the sink for her and headed back up to his post to wait.