Mal stared at his second with a surprised, incredulous expression. "What do you mean, something about her bothers you?"
Wash glanced up toward the bridge, where the vision of beauty Mal had somehow lured on board his deathtrap was running an inspecting hand over the pilot controls, then back to his former sergeant. Words didn't usually fail him, but today? "I don't know, it's just... something," he said, shrugging helplessly.
Mal scowled at him. "Tanaka raved about this gal! Renshaw's been trying to snag her for months. And we need us a pilot. Don't you think it's about time we hired someone to fly this damn thing?"
Someone, yeah. But Wash had known the instant he'd laid eyes on Ms. Zoe Alleyne that he'd probably be laying himself at her feet within the week, and who would choose the funny little former corporal with the bad habits of running off at the mouth and wearing loud clothes over his tall, broad shouldered, broodily good-looking boss? He'd seen the hairy eye she'd given his moustache. He and Mal had been tighter than brothers all throughout the War, but jealousy was a legendary breaker of families. Wash didn't want to find out the hard way that it could break them, too.
He wasn't the Captain, though; Mal was the one with his mama's ranch money still in the bank, and the dream that had got them moving again after the last of the internment camps were cleared and the remaining resistance finally gave up. All Wash really wanted was a place where he could see the stars-- and Mal's scheme would certainly give him plenty of opportunity. He'd just have to remember to keep that dream on an even keel.
"I understand, sir," he said, with a sigh. "She just ... bothers me."
Wonder of wonders, though, Miz Alleyne was Zoe to everyone aboard by the end of the day-- except Mal. She only gave him the privilege once he stopped trying to flatter her about her fine skills and trim figure, then settled into a strictly demarcated, formally friendly relationship with him that made Wash wonder what she'd have been like as a soldier.
Maybe more of them would have walked out of the Valley, if she'd been with the unit.
But then again, it probably all would have happened the same way; no use dwelling. Mal did that enough for them both. And the way things had worked out was more than Wash had ever expected to have again. So why not let himself hope? He scraped his courage together one evening after Zoe's turn to skip dinner watching the conn, and made up a plate to take to her.
Eventually, it became habit. Sometimes she let him stay. Sometimes she even did the same for him.
"Planet I'm from, couldn't see a one of 'em, pollution was so thick," he shared one evening. "Think I'd have gone to flight school, if the war hadn't found us first, just to see what everyone was talking about."
She smiled back, a warmly attentive look that made him glad he'd finally shaved. "I grew up out here, on a ship. Family run. Decided to get my license when my brother finally married; thought it was about time I found my own place."
"Well," he cleared his suddenly tight throat. "Glad you found this place."
Her smile widened. "Never met anyone quite like you folk before," she said, a twinkle in her eye.
"And ... is that a good thing?" he couldn't help but ask.
"Let's just say ... I'm starting to want to find out."