Chapter 1: Drunken Shaving
Pretty much what it sounds like. Drunken shaving.
“Shhhhhh.” Kaylee uttered, pressing a finger to her lips. “We’re gonna wake him.”
“Don’t worry none, girl. He’s passed out good and proper. Ain’t gonna be waking up any time soon.” Jayne grinned at her, a bottle of engine brewed booze still in hand. The shiny little mechanic brewed up some fierce stuff, he’d give her that.
They both watched Wash for a moment, blissfully passed out with his feet propped up on the table and a bottle of mostly empty alcohol in the crook of his arm. A snore escaped him.
Jayne and Kaylee turned to each other and burst out laughing. This idea was too evil. Too horrible. But it would be fun. And they were doing their pilot a favor, really.
“Now, this won’t take a second.” Jayne drew out a wicked looking knife, and Kaylee squeezed her eyes shut, but let herself peek. In spite of being near falling down drunk, Jayne still was able to handle a knife well and shaved that damn silly moustache right off of Wash’s face. Not a single nick, cut or scrape was to be seen. Kaylee was impressed. “There, idiot looks almost not stupid now.”
“Kinda handsome.” Kaylee peered closely at his face, studying the pilot’s new profile. It was less fuzzy, that was for sure. She stood too quickly and felt dizzy, stumbling backwards a little. “Whoa... I’m thinkin’ that means its time I headed off. G’night Jayne!” She went to the engine room instead of her bunk, not wanting to deal with the ladder right now.
Jayne grunted. “G’night Kaylee,” he said before making his way to his bunk.
The next morning Wash woke up to see Zoe staring at him with a quirked eyebrow. “Looks like you finally decided to shave the damn fool thing off. About time too.”
Wash decided that he was never that fond of his moustache in the first place. And Jayne and Kaylee deserved a thank you.
Chapter 2: Thought-prints in Snow
River after Tracy's death.
Dead for real this time, not like before when she could still hear the mummer mummer of his thoughts; his mind from under the smoothers but still there. She had liked him that way, cold and quiet but still alive. Now he was just a body; it wasn’t even him. Just the thing that had held him once.
But he was still quieter than everybody else. With their grief and pain and confusion she didn’t like being inside. Too close, too warm, too alive. Too much life. So she slipped out, away from them and out the door. Into the cold.
It bit at her, sharp teeth on her fingers, toes and nose. It wrapped itself around her, insulating her from the bright and glaring mass of thoughts all jumbled in the hunkered and bowed rows of concrete housing. Light and thoughts spilled out the windows, chasing her into the darkness, but she was soon out of their range.
She walked, not barefoot like she wanted to knowing that sometimes shoes were unavoidable, leaving footprints behind her. Then his headstone loomed before her. A fine layer of snow already coated it, settling into the carved words. Her head tilted to the side, hair falling in a clump over one shoulder, and she wondered. If the words get worn away, are they still there? Without the words was it still his stone?
River brushed the snow off the stone, her fingers tracing the letters that were his name. Yes, she decided, it was still his. Her hands held the snow from his grave, off the top and from in between the gouges a fine blade had made. She considered the snow for a moment and then ate it.
It tasted good.
Chapter 3: The Good Kind of Surprise
Pre-married Wash/Zoe, Wash gets it right.
“What’cha doin’ Wash?” Kaylee asked, eyes wide as she saw him wrangling a box into the galley.
“Me? I’m not doing anything in particular. Not at all.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, you are hauling a crate around. Not something you normally do, but I could be wrong. We haven’t known each other long.”
He grunted as he set the crate down. “You’re right, I don’t normally do heavy lifting of any kind. Actually, that’s why I’m a pilot, but don’t spread that around. I’m just... well, you know what holiday’s coming up, don’t you?”
If possible Kaylee’s eyes got even wider. And Wash would have sworn they sparkled a bit. “You mean...” She gave the box a pointed look. “Gifts?”
“Kind of.” Wash gave a crooked little smile, aiming for an air of mystery and failing. Some things couldn’t be accomplished in a Hawaiian shirt.
Later, when Zoe and Mal came back from the job, they were greeted by the sight of hundreds of little lights strung up all over the galley, hanging like icicles from exposed pipes and beams. And in a little corner stood a small tree with a tiny star on top. Captain and trusted Second exchanged a look. It said: why the hell would someone—I don’t know, sir, but it’s not all bad.
Mal left Zoe to suss out who and why, though his money was on Kaylee, the mechanic fingered Wash as the culprit.
“Why’d you do it, pilot?” Zoe asked, trying to keep the impatience out of her voice. She’d had a long day and dealing with the pilot was going to make it longer.
“Do what?” He threw back at her over his shoulder as he sat in his chair on the bridge.
“Put up all the lights and the tree.”
“Oh, that. Well, I seem to recall someone saying something about how Christmas was their favorite time of year, even if they were only ever out in the Black come time. But they always hung up lights and put up the tree and were family. Even on a ship. And I kind of thought that person might miss that tradition, and well, it’s not a bad one. So... that’s why.” Wash didn’t look at her the whole time, just stared right ahead at the stars while he flicked switches and pushed buttons.
Silence reigned for a moment.
She had said that in passing to Kaylee at dinner once, to help the girl get over a bit of homesickness. She’d thought she’d said it low enough to keep Wash and Jayne from hearing, but it looks like it wasn’t good enough. And it’d been months ago. Months. He’d paid attention and remembered. So, the pilot had an attention span after all.
“Next time, ask the Captain before you go and decorate like that. He doesn’t care for surprises much.” She turned to leave.
“Zoe,” he said. She stopped. “How do you like surprises?”
“As a rule, not much. But sometimes, they aren’t all bad.” She let the statement settle a bit and then, “I’ll see you at dinner tonight, Wash.” And she was gone.
Wash watched her go, an idiot smirk on his face, then spun to look out at the stars shining in the Black as he leaned back in his chair. At least she was saying his name now.
Chapter 4: Nature of a Weapon
Jayne's thoughts about River.
She weren’t no little girl, that much he knew. Not anymore. Mighta been a little girl once, ‘fore the Alliance got their hands on her, but now she’s skin over muscle over bone with not much left in the brainpan. He thinks they mighta been lookin’ to get rid of the brain parts all together. Weapon ain’t worth much if it thinks it shouldn’t be killin’ what you tell it to.
What scares him is she’s the only weapon he don’t know how to handle.
He’s got guns and knives aplenty, things that he can use, things he’s known how to use since he weren’t no taller than a grasshopper’s knee. He keeps ‘em clean and shiny, in good workin’ order for whenever they call for him. Bullet from hundreds of feet, knife in the throat, hell he can brawl with the best of them if he has to. He knows ways of puttin’ a man down that he’s sure’d surprise Mal some. Bullets, blades, hand and feet, he’s the one tellin’ ‘em where to go, what to do.
River’s a weapon without anyone using her.
Scares him more than he’d care to admit. And she knows it. And he knows she knows and well, it goes further from there. Point is they both know what they know.
She’s a blade without a sheath, a bullet fired mad-like into a crowd.
Ghostin’ around the ship, she walks all scared like, like if there was a breeze on Serenity it’d pick her up and carry her away, but she don’t always know where she’s going. He can see it in her eyes, how sometimes she’s surprised to end up where she does. She’s a spirit made touchable, something that haunts more than helps.
Girl’s a curse, and one day she’s gonna bring it down on all of them. That’s the nature of a weapon without a purpose.
Chapter 5: Not Quite a Haunted House
AU, future-kid-fic. Zoe and Wash's kids on the ship at Halloween.
“Jayne, you done yet?” Wash asked from the doorway. He looked over his shoulder and waved at someone down the hall. Jayne couldn’t tell who.
“Almost, little man. Don’t rush me ‘less you want a bad lookin’ Jack-o-Lantern, and then where’d little Jessie and Aaron be?” He carefully turned the knife through a curve like, with little more difficulty than if the pumpkin were warm butter. A gruesome mouth began to take shape as he followed the pattern River had drawn.
Wash eyed the knife and then retreated back into the crew cabin. “Just a bit longer, guys,” his voice came, followed quickly by the voices of two children protesting having to wait longer.
Mal grinned as he entered the mess to find Jayne putting the finishing touches around the eyes, blowing away the bits to dust leaving the edges smooth. “Well, that’s a mighty fine piece of artwork there, Jayne. River did a good job of makin’ ‘em scary.” He looked over the merc’s shoulder and frowned. “Maybe a bit too scary.”
“They won’t be scared.”
Everybody in the mess looked up, startled, to see River standing in the center of the room, a beatic smile on her face.
“They know there aren’t monsters on this ship. No monsters in the stars.”
“Right,” Mal said, dismissing River, turning his attention to the rest of his crew working in the galley. “Everything ready?”
“Near about!” Kaylee chirped. “Just gotta let a few things cool down a second or two more and then we’ll be set to go!”
“Good. You all know where you’re supposed to be?”
“I believe we do, Captain. And looking at us, I’m beginning to wonder if we’re looking forward to this more than the little ones are.” Book grinned, holding back a chuckle.
Mal shook his head and tromped up to the crew cabin to find Wash and Zoe putting the finishing touches on the costumes. He had to admit, the little ones were pretty damn adorable, what with Jessie all done up like a princess and Aaron as the least scary pirate in existence.
“Please tell me things are ready now,” Wash pleaded. He had a bit of a frantic look to him, undoubtedly his precious little ones were giving him a hard time for not being able to get their candy yet.
“A moment or two more, is all, but I reckon you all could get going. Inara’s probably back in her shuttle by now so’s you might want to go there first.”
Zoe stood, placing Aaron’s hat on his head, and taking hold of the boy’s hand. “Gotta say, sir, it was awful nice of her to make their costumes.”
“Yeah well, she’s helpless when it comes to the two of them.” Mal made his way past them into the bridge, waiting for them to come back.
Wash took Jessie’s hand and followed Zoe and Aaron out and to Inara’s shuttle. Inside were all kinds of hangings that obviously weren’t normally there. Black candles dripped wax on skulls and a fake raven quorked as they entered.
As one Aaron and Jessie held out their little bags and said, “Trick-or-treat!”
Inara came out from behind a hanging, all done up in witchy attire. “Oh, what sweet children you’ve brought me,” she cackled. “I’ll have to make them sweeter, though.” She smiled and dropped some caramels into their bags.
“Thank you, ‘Nara!” A quick hug and they moved on, back to the engine room.
It was the complete opposite of Inara’s shuttle, bright and happy, with Kaylee in her pink dress. It had been decided that she should be some kind of fairy, not being able to pull off anything remotely frightening. A bit more candy and they went to the cargo bay where Jayne’d set up all the Jack-o-Lanters and turned off the overhead lights, making the cargo hold a cave of glowing faces. Jessie and Aaron didn’t seem much bothered by it, though.
They were startled a bit when the preacher came out of nowhere, hair unrestrained, acting all zombie like. Lurching and with halting steps he dropped candy behind him as he went through the field of pumpkins and back into the darker parts of the cargo bay, leaving the children to pick up what he’d left.
Zoe and Wash carried them up the stairs, not wanting to risk a fall in the dark, and into the passenger cabin where they found River in a patient’s gown looking more crazy than normal.
“Trick-or-treat!” they called, bags held high.
River turned with unearthly grace to stare through them, head tilted to a side. “No tricks, not tonight. My brother said only treats. I would have been the best trick of all, but they stopped me.” Then she smiled and led them into the infirmary where Simon was done up as a mad doctor, fake blood splattered all over him.
“Ah, so what has my assistant brought me today? New subjects, I see!” With frantic glee he selected candies and with bird-like movements dropped the sweets in their bags. “There, and if you happen to die after eating them, I can’t be held responsible. Now, who wants to help me test my new toy?” He started up the bone saw and chased them out, Jessie and Aaron giggling madly all the while.
In the mess they found Jayne sprawled, a convincing looking wound on his chest, and a plate of candy right next to his hand. Carefully, slowly they snuck up to the plate and took one piece after another until the plate was empty. They left walking backwards, sure that Jayne was gonna wake up at any second, but he never did.
Finally they went into the bridge to find the Captain looking exactly the same as he did before. Without much ado he handed over his cache of candy, sending the kids off squealing over their haul.
“So, I thought everyone was supposed to try and be scary,” Wash remarked.
“Hey, I am scary. I’m a mean old man, they should be afraid of me!”
“Sir, they’re too used to you to be scared,” Zoe said, but she frowned as she paused to listen to her children talking about how much they were gonna eat tonight. “No you aren’t!” she called. “You know the deal.”
“One piece a night! We know, but it’ll be haaaaard,” they whined.
“They’ll live, but how am I supposed to keep from eating it?” Wash asked.
“Sure you’ll find a way, Husband.”
Chapter 6: No Rubber Duckies
During the war, Mal, Zoe, and Tracy find a rare thing. Total gen, guys.
Mud covered everything, there was no escape from it. Food had a fine coat of it, unless someone thought enough to wrap it in something else. Didn’t much matter, as they ate it anyway. Nothing went to waste. Though there were times when a bit of waste was more important for the feeling of the men, than trying to stay alive. After all, if you didn’t feel like you were living what were you fighting for.
So many of ’em were new, too. Way to fresh faced and eager. Zoe and Mal looked at each other wondering if they’d ever looked like that and their own commanders had shared the look they were sharing now. Too young to die, too dumb to run away. Yeah, they’d been like that alright, but they’d managed to live and fight on. Some parts were glory, other parts weren’t. Didn’t much pay to think on those other times.
Mal’d taken them back up the hill, back to the line. Command was chewin’ on itself, trying to wriggle out of this new predicament, losing faith in good men when the Purple-bellies could keep throwing men and guns at them till the end of days. That meant there were a lot of nervous, scared, unhappy, new men. Made thing a whole lot worse than it woulda been if everyone had seen a battle or two before this one.
But there was one kid who didn’t seem too worse for the wear. Tracy, she thought his name was. Kid always seemed upbeat, like he knew he was gonna make it no matter what the odds. If he kept his head down, he might just do that.
It was one day, when everything was quiet and no mud was gettin’ into everything, that Tracy walked up to Zoe and Mal, a big shit-eating grin on his face, and pulled a little bow.
“You’ll never guess what I found, Sarge.”
“Really? By the look on your face, I might hazard a pretty good guess or three.” Mal grinned back, polishing his gun.
“Oh, I dunno, Sarge. Think it might be the most interest to Zoe here, than the rest of us.”
“Huh,” he grunted. “How ‘bout that Zoe? Tracy here thinks he found something that might make you have a facial expression.”
“I doubt that, sir,” Zoe said, her tone soft but the ever present note of steel still in her voice even at relative rest.
“Well, how about we go humor him?”
She arched an eyebrow, but he kept grinning. She breathed out, an imperceptible sigh that only Mal knew as such. “Alright Private, head out.”
Tracy bounced along, going deep behind the lines and then making a sudden turn to the left, though a deep gouge in the earth that no one had tried to fight over yet. Hills rose to either side of them, still covered with grass and a few flowers. The grey light, filtered through the smoke of the camps gave way to real sunlight, full and yellow in a bright blue sky. It wasn’t often they got to see unspoiled earth and sky, battle taking its toll almost right away.
Just out the other side the gouge, a lake sparkled, clean and clear, a damn right pretty mirror to the sky above. Zoe’s eyebrows rose slightly, and the corners of her lips curved upwards ever so slowly. Mal looked over, but saw the real expression in her eyes. She wanted in that lake bad. He figured Tracy deserved some kind of award for making Zoe’s day.
“Well, Tracy, looks like you did the impossible.”
“Thanks, Sarge. Know were not supposed to be out this far behind the lines, but I figured there weren’t no harm in it.”
“No, no there isn’t.” Mal took the sight in, not wanting to leave. “Tracy, round up the men. We’re gonna get clean.”
They watched Tracy go back through the hills, back to the grey mass that was the line. Zoe looked at Mal, quizzical.
“Don’t need to thank me any. I bet you’re tired of men getting’ themselves killed cause the Alliance can smell ’em coming.”
Zoe smiled, and there was only a little trace of her normally grim demeanor.
It wasn’t long before Tracy came back with the men, all of them in awe of the lake that lay before them. Then they looked to Zoe and the lake, and back again. She stood there, at ease, not acknowledging a single awkward glance.
“What’re you lot waiting for? Get in!” Mal barked, and at his order the whole lot of them rushed into the lake, stripping as they went. Mal stepped in himself, but what his men noticed was the gun in his hand. “Now, face that way!” He pointed opposite of where Zoe was. As a man they turned.
Zoe stripped and sunk into the clean water with another sigh that only Mal heard. As a man they heard her splashing around, though. They were stock still. “Now, I know you all got gettin’ yourself clean on your minds, so just do that. No lookin’ around or I’ll shoot.”
Tracy half turned but with his hand over his eyes. “And who’ll be making sure you don’t look, Sarge?”
“I will, Private,” Zoe said calmly.
“You see, Tracy? Zoe can take care of herself. And from what I understand, she won’t use a gun either.”
“Isn’t that better, Sarge?”
“You’d think so, but she’s got good aim and kicks something powerful.” He frowned and cast about, hands on his hips. “Now, who thought to bring some soap?”
Chapter 7: Separation is Key
Wash and Zoe, domestic chores.
Wash slinked around the corner, arms full, so the slinking was hindered but that hardly mattered as no one else was awake right now. Early morning, just before people started to have some idea that waking up might be good was the perfect time to get this done. He didn’t like doing it, but Zoe just couldn’t do some things right, no matter how amazing she was at everything else.
Down the steps and into the back of the ship, he crept, heart beating wildly. This kind of sneaking around could kill a man with sheer nervousness, but it was worth it. Almost there, he thought turning around the corner and into the tucked back alcove.
Grinning, he set down his bundle and got things ready. He’d never been gleeful about doing this before, but actually sneaking past Zoe was an accomplishment a man could be proud of.
“Husband,” Zoe said from the alcove’s opening, arms crossed over her breasts, having sneaked behind him all the way. She hadn’t even bothered to get into proper clothes, one of his overlarge t-shirts barely making her decent. And he realized, looking at his still new wife, that he shouldn’t be sneaking around like this. It was wrong, and he should have been man enough to tell her right away. “I thought you’d be here.”
“Zoe! Uh... well, you see. It’s not what you think.” But he liked not being hurt, or looked at like he was stupid, which was what was happening now.
“You aren’t sneaking around to do the laundry when it’s my turn?”
“Okay so it is what you think.”
“Wash,” she sighed, coming up to him, smoothing her hands over his shirt. An effort to distract him, he was sure, but it was working. And she smelled really good right in the mornings too. “We’re still working out who does what, but when it’s my turn to do the laundry, I do the laundry.”
Gaining some control over himself, he stuttered but eventually managed, “I know we worked that out, but...” He trailed off, his eyes sliding from hers over to the lovely canister of bleach looking all too neglected.
“But what?” she asked.
He squared his jaw and looked her right in the eye, clearly not wanting to say what he was about to, but needing to. For the both of them. “But you don’t do it right, Lambie-toes. You throw the whites in with the colors and the towels and pants with the delicates.” He squeezed his eyes shut, as if in pain. “I don’t even want to talk about what you do to the sheets. They’re getting... pilly.”
She started to shake, her hands gripping his shirt for support. Wash opened his eyes to see his wife fighting to stay upright, her shoulders shaking. He held her by her upper arms, and she lifted her head. She was laughing. It was silent, but soon she descended into gut busting fits, then worked her way through a small clump of giggles before being calm enough to speak, though laughter still crinkled around her eyes and mouth.
“Husband. Wash, you could have just said so. I don’t mind you doing the laundry all the time if you want.” She ran a hand up into his hair and brushed an imaginary piece of lint off his shirt with the other.
“It’s not like I like doing the laundry,” he groused, feeling a little bewildered.
“Can you stand me doing it?”
“Well, I’d say you got the laundry till you can stand me doing it.”
“Fine, then you’ve got to clean the toilet. If I’m always doing the laundry, then I don’t have to do that.”
She arched an eyebrow at him, making him suddenly feel like the biggest jerk in the world for even thinking that she should—
“Alright, that’s fair,” she interrupted his thoughts.
“Mmuh-okay.” It came out half question, half surprised statement. He grinned.
“What you smilin’ about?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s just I didn’t think you’d ever be this... well, domestic.”
“You wanna know something? Neither did I.” Then she kissed him, laundry forgotten.
Chapter 8: Some Slink
Wash/Zoe, slinky dress times.
Wash sat on the edge of their bed, leaning back on his hands, happily watching his wife model her new slinky dress.
“So, what do you think?” Zoe asked over her shoulder with her back turned to him, exposing a smooth expanse of smooth skin he ached to touch right then. A smile played at her full lips. Woman knew full well she was teasing him.
“I don’t know, gonna have to see it up close to make sure.” He grinned, but quickly assumed a mask of seriousness.
She sauntered the three feet from the one side of the room to the bed, then she propped her arms on his shoulders and ran her hands through his hair. “This close enough?”
He ran his hands over the material of the dress, and drank the beauty of her in with his eyes. The dress was black, and fit her tall, lithe body like a glove. He had debated back and forth all day on spending that much money, but seeing her now was well worth it. It made her so happy. Him too, come to think of it.
“Oh, yeah,” he barely managed before pulling her down closer for a kiss.