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The Bug Leg Tacos

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She cleans her own guns, that goes without saying. Since basic training she had done it almost without thinking: breaking, cleaning, and reassembling faster than even the Cap'n. The first time she'd showed Wash, he'd just sat there with the funniest look on his face. They'd been out twice and were sitting in a dive eating what the owner *said* were tacos, though Wash had said in an undertone that tacos weren't usually served with quite so many bug legs poking out of them. She ate the tacos, because after army rations anything is good. Wash only looked wry when she did that. But they got into some kind of discussion and probably there was a little too much homemade hooch on the table and she was nervous, she wanted to impress this guy with his clear eyes and so she took her gun apart and put it back together. He quit the date right after that, talking some excuse about an early morning, and she had been sure he would never call again. So she called him. To this day she still isn't sure what that look meant. She'd never asked him. She'd thought there was time.

She conditions her hair by herself, when she can get conditioner. Back in the day, when the shuttle was in, Inara'd sometimes even lent her some shiny stuff in a bottle. Beggars couldn't be choosers, but when Inara had emerged from her room in a cloud of perfume, every fold of her dress falling perfectly, and her hair as shiny and curl-tamed as can be, Zoe'd had to look down at her boots to keep from being as mouth-fallen-open as Kaylee. Zoe has always been too tall. Her arms are roped with enough muscle to carry a big-ass gun. Her hair (even conditioned) flares out around her like something alive. There was no use trying to fix it -- Zoe is who she is -- but when Wash had been out on watch or palavering with Cap'n, she'd fallen asleep imagining what it must be like to be a Companion, to be elegant and fine and wanted by so many. Then she'd woken up and once again she was just a soldier, curled up next to Wash, but he'd had his fingers in her hair and he was giving her that smile, the one that she did know what it meant, because it was just for her.

She is still just a soldier. The fight is all she has. She does not fight alone, because her people are with her, but she fights for herself. For the life she might have had, which was a hard life but a good one, because it had Wash in it. For the future ripped away from her as fast as the space between one breath and the next. Because she breathes, she fights for her piece of sky, and for the rackety machinery that hurls her between the stars.