Original Parameters: For maystone --
1. Setting: don't care
2. Acceptable rating range: G to NC-17, but I'd prefer it if the NC-17 weren't the main plot point.
3. Character requests: Write the ones you feel most comfortable with.
4. any additonal requests: I'm not into the slash; I do love both angst and humor
A Bundle of Confusion
He lunges for the floor before even hearing the conclusion of her cry. Wash hears the whine of the bullet as it smashes through the air where his head was only seconds before. The breeze from the bullet practically ruffles his hair.
No time to catch his breath.
He rolls to his left until his shoulder hits the edge of a boulder. No time even to stop and think how he remembered where the boulder was. No time to think about anything. Just time to scramble to his knees and pull out his gun. His hands shake. Raising up a little higher, he takes one deep breath, aims, and squeezes the trigger...
Eight Hours Earlier...
"You in there, lamby toes?" Wash rapped on the door to their quarters, which he'd just found inexplicably locked. "If I don't hear anything in three seconds, I'm gettin' Kaylee down here with her blow torch!"
"Just a second."
He could barely hear her quiet voice through the thick, metal door, but it was enough to assure him that his wife wasn't laying unconscious on the floor in there after a blow from a stowaway, bounty hunter, or some other transgressor he hadn't heard about yet. You never knew when it came to Serenity.
Impatiently, Wash drummed his fingers against the door as he waited for Zoe to finish whatever it was she was doing and come open the door so she could tell him what it was. The rhythm of his fingers suddenly reminded the pilot of a too-brief period of time when he'd flown runs for an outfit on the tropical hemisphere of Ambrosia. Almost on their own, his fingers shifted to a steel drum beat. He'd only been there a month, filling in for one of the regulars on injury leave, but it had been long enough to learn to play the steel drums. If quarters on Serenity weren't so tight, he'd still have his steel drum. It had hung on a cord around his neck, but was wider across than his chest. As often happened in the life of a wandering pilot, though, he'd pawned the drum before hopping aboard the next ship. At the time, of course, he hadn't known the gig on Serenity would last this long...
By the time the hatch opened, Wash wasn't just drumming, he was dancing in the corridor and humming his favorite tropical tune quite loudly as his fingers kept the beat. When the hatch opened, he almost fell down into their quarters. Luckily, he managed to catch himself on the ladder and only mildly stumble down the last two rungs.
Zoe cocked an eyebrow.
Wash grinned. "What can I say, bâobèi? You are my heart, but music is my soul."
His beautiful, Amazon wife didn't reply. She usually didn't. But Wash knew that somewhere, deep inside, she was giggling. His wife might be the strong silent type, but he knew that she appreciated a good joke. He could sense it.
"So, what's with the locked door?" Wash flopped down on their bed as he waited for her response. "Expecting peeping toms other than yours truly?"
Zoe turned to the mirror and began binding her loose hair back with a leather band. "Didn't. Guess it stuck." She held her hair with one hand and used the other to work the band around it, hiding the curls that Wash loved to tangle his fingers in when they were alone.
"Maybe I should tell Kaylee. Wouldn't want it to stick like that when no one was here to open it." He looked up to find his wife watching him in the mirror. They exchanged glances for a moment, then she finished securing her hair and turned around to face him. "I don't know about you, hon, but if I have to bunk in with Jayne because our door is stuck, I'm leaving." He gave a dramatic, mock shudder.
"I'll do it."
Wash stopped shuddering and looked up at Zoe. "Bunk with Jayne?"
"Oh!" Wash stood as well and leaned in for a kiss. "You know I'd do anything for you, my darling. Spare you any trial, save you any heartache."
"I need to talk to her anyway," she replied, her face just inches from her husband’s.
Wash reached up and cupped the back of Zoe’s head with his hands, careful not to muss her just-fixed hair. When she would have given him a small kiss and moved on, Wash stopped her by deepening the kiss. His eyes closed, he lost himself in the prickles of electricity zinging between them. Shoots of electricity sizzled all the way to his toes.
When he let her go, Wash yelled, "Wode tìan! I have the hottest wife in the 'verse!"
Zoe shooed him up the ladder. "We've got work to do."
"There's always work to do. That's why you have to appreciate the little moments," Wash replied, but he scrambled to do her bidding.
She's done this all of her life. All of her life that counts, anyway. Today is just another day.
Shoot until you're out of bullets, then reload. Watch your people's backs. Trust them to watch yours. When the moment comes, make your move.
Her moment comes when someone throws a smoke bomb. It’s meant to confuse and scatter. They don’t know how long she can hold her breath.
Lips pressed together to ward off the curling tendrils of smoke, she takes advantage of the moment and creeps forward under the cover of the haze. The light touch of her hand on the wall of the canyon at her side keeps her on the proper course. When she reaches the end of the smoke, she ducks and sucks in a grateful breath of clean air.
An unwary target comes into view. The last thing he hears is the tiny click of her gun’s silencer. Blood blossoms on the target’s dirty shirt, and he falls to the ground with only a wheeze.
Before she can aim for the next target, she feels the prick of something sharp in the small of her back.
Today isn't just another day.
Simon looked up from the counter where he was re-sterilizing his instruments. Zoe stood in the doorway of the infirmary. He inclined his head in greeting, and then focused on his task until he had all the instruments back on the tray, clean and sterile. When he turned back to face Serenity's second-in-command, she had come all the way inside and the door was closed behind her.
By way of explanation, Simon said, "Jayne was looking for something... I never was quite clear on what. He seemed to have a very specific idea, though." Simon gestured to the tray. "None of these were it."
"Did he ever find what he wanted?" Zoe asked.
"Luckily, the captain came along and threw him out of here." Simon couldn't stop a chuckle. It was always funny to see the big merc cowed. And Mal, Zoe, and River were the about the only ones who could succeed in that effort on a regular basis.
"Cap'n wants a tight ship," Zoe replied. "Works to the advantage in our line of work."
"Yes," Simon agreed. "And with the stop coming up... stands to good reason to have things ready."
"Should be routine." Zoe crossed her arms over her chest. “Just droppin’ off some cargo. No animals, no stolen Alliance goods. Recipe for an easy job.”
Simon nodded, though he wasn't sure he agreed. The most routine of jobs had the habit of ending up in kidnapping, bullet wounds, or riots. There was the wobbly-headed doll caper, though. That one had gone according to plan. Maybe this would be another wobbly-headed doll caper. Simon hoped so.
The latex gloves he wore made a popping sound when he peeled them off. He dropped them in the waste receptacle, and then turned back to Zoe. Her silence was making Simon uncomfortable.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked. “I assume you didn’t stop by to chat.”
"I need a test."
Simon blinked. "A test?"
Zoe pressed her lips together, and Simon realized that she was just as uncomfortable as he was. The doctor in him took over. He was no longer Simon, the relatively junior crewmember. He was a doctor talking to a patient.
"What kind of test do you need?" he asked, gesturing for her to take a seat on the examination table. "Have you been having pain or discomfort? Describe your symptoms."
"Nausea." Zoe took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "In the mornings."
Simon met her gaze and finally got it. "You need a pregnancy test?"
Keeping his shock under control, Simon said, "I'll need a sample. Urine will work, but blood is better."
Without a word, Zoe rolled up the sleeve of her left arm so he had access to her vein. She waited patiently until Simon had a syringe full of her blood, then she stood up. "Call me when you know."
The gun's recoil surprises him. It always does. Movies and shoot-'em-up games on the Cortex make it look so easy. Fiction can't convey the reality: the recoil of the gun, the noise, the look on a man's face when sees his own blood and then crumples to the ground...
Wash fires again. And again. And again. Only one man down, but two others wounded. He has a better aim than they give him credit for. All those hours spent playing games on the Cortex as a teenager had gone to good use. He ought to call his mother and tell her.
Then he hears the words that make his heart freeze in his chest and his finger fall from the trigger.
"Drop yer weapons or the gal gets one in the gut."
At that moment, he knows he has been the biggest fool in the gorram ‘verse. And, even worse, he may not get the chance to set things right.
Simon read the text on the computer screen one more time, just to make sure it was accurate. He'd run the test three times, once before lunch and twice afterwards. It was positive. Zoe was pregnant. Simon's mind boggled at the concept as he printed a copy of the test to give to Zoe. He just couldn't imagine Zoe as a mother. She didn't seem the maternal type. Being a working mother was one thing, but routinely participating in shoot-outs, not to mention various sorts of crime, and having to constantly be on the look out for the Alliance seemed especially challenging to parenthood. Not to mention Zoe herself. She was so quiet and business-like. Aside from rare moments when he saw her with Wash, she was always "on duty." Did she even want to be a mother?
The thing, however, that worried Simon the most was that he was right. That Zoe wouldn't want to keep her baby, and that she would ask him to take the necessary steps to ensure that. It was a simple procedure to be sure. He'd never done it himself, but he had attended one in medical school. It was required, just as assisting with a birth was required.
He had heard of a few planets out on the Rim--planets with extremely small or extremely devout populations--that made abortion illegal, but that wasn't true on the Core planets. And he didn’t want it to be. Simon fully supported the right to choose. He never wanted to deny anyone that, and as such he tried to prepare himself for what could be an eventuality when Zoe answered his call and came to the infirmary for her test results.
Simon had always been fond of children, though. Somehow, the concept of actually following through with the procedure just didn't...
Stop it, Simon ordered himself silently. You are a doctor, and you're going to be professional about this.
Just then, the door opened. He looked up, expecting Zoe. Instead, it was Kaylee. She stood there with that big, beautiful smile on her face, and Simon took a moment and let her sunshine wash over him.
"Busy?" Kaylee asked, her eyes brimming with suppressed excitement. She bounced once on the balls her feet as she waited for his response.
"I'm in the middle of one last thing," Simon replied. "Why?"
"I've got a surprise for you." Kaylee bit her lip as if to keep the laughter in. "Meet me in the engine room when you finish up?"
The usual fight began in Simon's head. One voice urged him to spend time with sweet, pretty Kaylee. He deserved time to enjoy himself. The other voice reminded him that he had responsibilities. He had to look after River, and he had no cause to drag Kaylee into his problems, as he would if anything ever really happened between them.
Kaylee wagged her finger at him. "You're not gettin' out of this, mister. You will come, dong ma?"
A smile curved his lips in response to her teasing. He couldn't have stopped it if he had tried, but he didn't really want to.
"I need to check on River when I’m done here. Then I'll meet you."
"Promise." Simon nodded once for emphasis.
"Good." Kaylee spun on her toes and headed back out the door, almost colliding with Zoe on her way in. "Sorry, Zo’!" Kaylee sang as she ducked under Zoe's arm.
A moment later, Kaylee was gone and the infirmary was quiet again. Zoe made sure the door was shut and then walked over to Simon. He handed her the print out of her test results and pointed to the pertinent information.
"You were right. You’re pregnant."
Her face betrayed no sign of emotion. No smile. No tears of joy. He found himself staring at her long, thin fingers. They clinched, crumpling the edges of the paper in her grasp.
"Are you... OK?" Simon asked.
Zoe didn't say anything. She continued to stare at the print out.
"I... just want to let you know that I can help you... whatever you decide to do."
"Whatever I decide?" Zoe looked up and pinned him with her large, dark eyes.
Simon swallowed. "Yes... you know... there are options, if you..."
Her gaze got colder with every word he spoke. Simon quickly shut up.
"Are you implying that I wouldn't want my baby?" Zoe's voice was quiet, but he could feel her strength behind it.
"No!" he exclaimed, trying to backpedal out of his faux pas. "I just... I just wanted you to be comfortable. I'm your doctor. I just want to help..."
"I will be keeping this baby, Doctor," Zoe said calmly. "You can help me with that."
"Ah... that's great," Simon replied, trying not to let his relief be too evident so as not to offend her again. Zoe was a conundrum. "I'll find you some prenatal vitamins, and we can do an ultrasound soon to find out your due date. Wash can come with you. He'll be excited. A little one to play dinosaurs with."
“You can’t tell anyone.”
Simon looked up, surprised. “Ah... of course not. Doctor/patient confidentiality. But... you can’t keep it a secret for long.”
“I just want to let people know in my own way. In my own time. It’s kinda... delicate.”
Simon pictured Mal’s face when he heard the news and winced. The captain wasn’t in favor of change. Especially not changes that made things even more complicated than they already were. “I understand, and believe me, I won’t say a word to anyone.”
“Thanks, Simon.” Zoe actually smiled at him. “And thanks for getting me the news so fast.”
He smiled in return. “Congratulations.”
Sunlight glints off the knife at her back. It is a wicked blade. One strong shove and it will slice through her belly.
Mal freezes in place, peering out from behind the crates. Why does this always happen? Why the hell do these gorram heishôudâng liúmáng think they can shoot their way out of paying for cargo? As cargo goes, this isn’t even that valuable. Crates full of fabric and dress patterns. Special ordered. Probably stolen, but not on the Alliance’s most wanted list. Couldn’t things go according to plan just once? Mostly, though, he wishes that knife would not go through Zoe’s belly. No matter what was said before, he knew that she would never recover from such a wound.
Across the canyon, behind a bolder, another Wash stands up, gun in hand. He tosses the weapon on the ground and steps toward their attackers. Mal stiffens. The stakes just rose even higher.
“Méimei?” Simon found River sitting in her bed with her sketchbook. She looked peaceful enough. Relief washed over him. He was suddenly looking very much forward to whatever Kaylee had planned, and if River was OK, then he could go with a mostly clear conscience.
“How are you doing?” he asked. He stepped forward and looked down at the open page as she moved her pencil in long, smeary lines. The page was lovely. She blurred lines together into a mist with the pads of her fingers. The only clear thing in the middle of the charcoal mist was a tiny form. He leaned down for a closer look. It was a very tiny baby, barely formed.
“The baby’s crying.” River dropped her pencil and looked up at Simon. Then pencil rolled down the sketch quietly and dropped into her lap.
“She looks lonely,” Simon said, touching the page. He brought his finger away. The tip was dark. “Maybe she needs her mother.”
“Outside is cold. The baby needs to stay inside, where it’s safe.” Without looking away from the sketch, she picked up her pencil and began to add more shading. River smiled as she worked. Her art absorbed her and kept her calm.
“I’m going to be with Kaylee, méimei,” Simon said. “If you need me, come get me, all right?”
River didn’t reply. Her eyes followed her pencil around the page.
“River? Did you hear me?”
“Go. The baby and I will be fine.”
She’d had her meds today, and she seemed all right. Absorbed in her drawing, but all right. Simon took his cue and left. Kaylee and her surprise were waiting in the engine room.
High above the canyon, the Jayne waits patiently. He isn’t often patient, but at times like this, he comes into his own. Waiting for the perfect shot is second nature to him. His hands holding Vera are perfectly steady and the eye pressed to the scope doesn’t blink. Not when the smoke bomb explodes and not when the knife at Zoe’s back glints in the bright sun. Eventually he will rid the others of their problems… if Mal, Zoe, and Wash will get out of his gorram way.
“You needed me, Sir?”
Zoe found Mal on the bridge, sitting next to Wash. Mal tapped his foot impatiently. He’d called her several times before she answered. She’d been in her quarters, losing everything that had been left in her stomach. Apparently morning sickness wasn’t always limited to the morning. Her nose flared at the memory. Zoe didn’t like it when her body wasn’t under her express control. But she couldn’t blame the baby too much. He (Zoe had a feeling it was a boy) hadn’t been inside her very long. Just over a month, by her count. It had taken her a while to read his signs. But she loved him already. Now she just had to figure out how to convince the two most important men in her life to do the same.
“Xin gan, we’ve missed you. Long have been the moments without you.”
Mal slanted an annoyed look at Wash, who sat in the pilot’s seat. “This ain’t the time for poetry. We’ve got plans to make. Should be an easy drop, but you never can tell.”
“Not with us,” Wash agreed. “You’d think we had ‘shoot us’ painted on the side of this bird.” When Mal gave Wash another look of annoyance, the pilot shut his mouth with a click and began studiously checking his instruments.
“We should take the usual precautions,” Zoe said. “Just in case.”
“You think Jayne’s up for it.”
Zoe smiled wryly. “Jayne’s always up for it.”
The sound of a footstep behind them caused everyone to turn and look at the door. River stood there, watching. A smudge of something dark decorated her cheek. Her eyes were wide and dark. She stared at Zoe, and suddenly a smile came over her face.
“What’s with her?” Mal asked.
Zoe shook her head. “No idea, sir.” She stepped toward River. “You OK? Where’s your brother?”
“Eternal sunshine,” River chirped. “Mustn’t disturb.”
Wash glanced outside at the endless black filled only with tiny pinpricks of light. “Shénme? Sunshine?”
“I don’t care if it’s snowin’ or if a tornado’s blastin’ through the cargo bay,” Mal snapped. “We’ve got plannin’ to do here, an’ talkin’ ‘bout the weather ain’t helpin’, dong ma?”
“How ‘bout you go on down to the galley?” Zoe suggested, moving closer to River. She knew the captain didn’t like having River on the bridge. A good second always knew when to anticipate the storm and how to avert it. “I’ll come down there when we’re done and help you find your brother.”
“He’s beautiful.” River spun around on one foot and laughed.
“What is that feng shao nu doin’ now?” Mal grumbled.
“No idea, sir,” Zoe said again. She touched River on the shoulder, and the girl stopped spinning. “Mayhap there’s a bit of fruit left from Persephone in the galley.”
River peered over Zoe’s shoulder. The younger girl had to stand on her tiptoes to do it. She looked at Mal and then at Wash. “It’s going to be all right, you know. He’s going to be all right. I know he scares you both, but he’s at the center of the universe. It’s a long journey.”
“That’s it!” Mal sprang to his feet and moved toward the two women. “Girl, we gotta find your brother right now, or so help me...”
“Who’s he?” Wash asked.
Zoe looked at River, followed the younger girl’s gaze to Zoe’s own belly. Zoe tensed and looked back at Wash just as River opened her mouth.
Both Wash and Mal froze in place.
“Gei ji ren zhi fan shi gaung liang!” Mal swallowed and looked at Zoe. “That ain’t true, is it, Zo’?”
Zoe ignored Mal and looked at Wash steadily, trying to calm him with her eyes. Her husband was a good man, but so excitable. She’d wanted to break this to him gently, prepare him a little bit. He was scared. Zoe didn’t need a reader to tell her that. But it was all moot now.
“I... are... you... uh...” Wash couldn’t make a complete sentence. Hell, he could barely make a complete word. Unnoticed by everyone else, River skipped back down the corridor toward the galley.
“I’m pregnant.” Zoe crossed her arms over her chest. “I just confirmed it today.”
“No good ever comes from ship-board romances!” Mal yelled, pushing his hands through his hair until it stood on end. “Marriage is one thing, but babies? What were you thinkin’, Zoe? We can’t have no babies on this boat? It ain’t safe. Can’t you just see it crawlin’ ‘round the catwalk and fallin’ head first into the cargo bay? People cryin’. Baby brains everywhere. No good. None.”
“He,” Zoe said. “Not it. And it will work. I’ll make it work. Don’t you worry about that, Captain. Either it will work, or we’re getting off at the next decent planet.”
That shut Mal up.
Zoe looked at Wash. She wanted to throw herself into his arms and let him touch her with those hands that she loved, even if she didn’t say it very often. But he stood stiffly, unable to meet her eyes. Then he began to walk. He crossed the bridge, but he didn’t walk to her. He walked around her. She heard his footsteps echo down the corridor as he vanished from sight around the bend. Zoe moved forward a few steps and sank into his empty chair, trying to quell another spurt of nausea. She looked at Mal. He looked back at her and lowered himself back into his chair. His hair still stuck out funnily in places. He looked like he’d been through a battle, but that manic look had vanished from his eyes.
“Will you be all right with this, sir?”
His eyes crinkled as he managed a tiny smile. “I get the sense that I got to get all right with this, so I guess I’ll be gettin’ while the gettin’s good. I can’t say I’m happy ‘bout it though.”
Mal leaned forward and touched his old friend’s arm. “I’m glad.” He rested back in his chair and stretched his feet out in front of himself. “Now, I’m thinkin’ that you need to go square all this with your chûnrén husband.”
The blade at her back paralyzes her in that crucial second, and then Zoe is that thing that she never wants to be. Hostage. It is an ugly word. Much uglier than the guy holding the blade. But when she pictures that blade ripping through her gut and spilling her precious cargo.... That is the ugliest thought of all.
Then Wash stands up and puts himself at their mercy for her. For them. Inside she tenses. Now she knows what she has to do. The paralysis is gone.
The idea of making a greasy, smelly engine room into a bower boggled the mind, but Kaylee had pulled it off. Simon was amazed. Flowers made of cut paper hung from any place in the belly of Serenity that they wouldn’t interfere with the inner workings of the ship. She’d spread a red and white gingham blanket on the floor, and little candles flickered from various and sundry nooks and crannies, perfuming the air with a delicate, floral scene.
“How did you do all this?” Simon asked, trying to take it all in.
Kaylee beamed proudly. “’Nara gave me the candles. She had ‘em left over. The rest I done up all myself. Like it?”
Kaylee preened under that comment for a few seconds, then she took Simon by the hand and led him over to the blanket. “Come on an’ enjoy it then. It ain’t often you get paradise in the middle of the black.”
“You can say that again.” He watched as she pulled out a genuine picnic basket and began rooting around inside. The fact that the basket had a broken handle didn’t bother Simon in the least. “What other surprises do you have in store?”
Her lopsided grin was a touch apologetic. “Ain’t much good stuff left in the kitchen from that last drop on Persephone.” She pulled out two protein bars. “Best I could do.”
Simon didn’t want to see her smile fade. He took his bar and bit off a large bite, which he washed down with water from a blue, plastic cup. “Yum,” he said convincingly. “The best pheasant I’ve ever had.”
Kaylee grinned. “Forget pheasant. I’m having corn on the cob, dripping with butter from Ma’s churn.”
Dinner kept on in that fashion until they were finished with their rations. Each tried to outdo the other with rich, tasty food ideas, until Simon described caviar and Kaylee pulled a disgusted face.
“It’s a delicacy!” Simon protested. “You have to try it.”
“I’ll take them snails you was talkin’ about first,” Kaylee replied. She picked up the basket again. “I do got one more surprise, though.” She displayed a plate with five, ripe strawberries on it. “These were my share. Been savin’ ‘em.”
Simon’s share of the last fresh fruit had gone to tempt River on a bad morning. His mouth watered as he looked at the berries. “Those are the best dessert in the ‘verse.”
“Better than Angel food Cake?”
“Better.” Simon nodded vigorously.
Kaylee considered for a moment, and then she offered him a strawberry. He took one, but then he waited. When she gave him a questioning look, he said, “Ladies first.”
Her teeth sank into the berry, and he watched the bliss on her face as the sweet, tart flavor exploded on her tongue. Simon followed suit, and soon they were both enjoying the rare treat.
When dessert was over, Kaylee lay down on her side and propped her head in her hand as she watched Simon.
“This was fun. Thank you, Kaylee.”
“Any time,” she promised. “Next time, though, you bring the food.”
Looking down at her contented face, Simon had the urge to kiss her. To hell with being polite and proper! He hesitated only for a moment, then he leaned down. He paused just before their lips touched, giving her the chance to back away if she wanted to. Kaylee didn’t. She raised her chin and pressed her lips to his.
She tasted like strawberries. That was Simon’s first impression. Her lips moved against his, and he shivered. He ran his fingers through her hair, toward the nape of her neck, as he deepened the kiss. She shivered. Their tongues teased each other. Kaylee reached up and pulled him down closer to her. When they were both laying on the blanket, their hands were better able to do some teasing of their own. Every place her fingers touched burned with an unseen fire, even through his clothes. Simon gasped when her fingers ran over his chest. Kaylee giggled.
“Ollie, ollie oxen free!”
Simon and Kaylee sprang apart when River called.
“River!” Simon exclaimed. She stood in the doorway, a knowing smile on her lips. “I... ah...”
“I had to tell you about the baby.”
“Baby?” Kaylee sat up and began to finger comb her hair in case they had any other unforeseen visitors.
“She was drawing a picture of a baby,” Simon explained briefly.
“No!” River exclaimed. “The other baby. Serenity will have a baby.”
Simon froze. Had River heard them talking? Or... did she just know?
“Don’t worry. They all know by now. Captain doesn’t understand, but he rattles free. Daddy, though. Different story. Ice cubes floating in the sea.”
Before Simon could respond, River turned and skipped out of the room again. He turned to face Kaylee, who stared at him quizzically. “Someone’s havin’ a baby?”
Wash steps forward, his gun on the ground. “Let her go.”
“Only if’n all of yer people drop their weapons and get away from our stuff.”
“Technically, the stuff ain’t yours. Not ‘til you pay for it.” Mal stands up from behind the crate. He tosses his gun to the side and moves up to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his pilot. “However, we might be considered to be reasonable folks, or somethin’ akin to it. Let her go, and we’ll talk.”
He heard her call his name and looked up. Zoe stood in the door of the second shuttle looking gorgeous. Wash had thought there was something different about her lately. Now he knew what it was. The glow. The signs had been there. He’d just been too shortsighted to notice.
“Knew I’d be here, huh?”
“I know you.”
Wash liked the shuttles. He used to fly some similar in drag races on his home world. It had been in the cockpit of a shuttle that he’d finally broken free of the polluted atmosphere to see the sparkling stars above. He loved flying a big ship, but he felt an affinity to the shuttles. If he weren’t married and if Inara didn’t have custody of the spare, he might have taken one has his bunk.
“We need to talk, husband.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He couldn’t get his mind around that one fact. The only reason he could fathom that she hadn’t told him was that she had something to hide. He didn’t want to think that, but it kept popping back into his head no matter how hard he tried to banish the idea.
“Just found out today.”
Wash shook his head. “No. You knew before. Maybe it wasn’t confirmed, but you knew enough to ask for the test. You should have told me. I would have gone with you.”
Zoe sat down next to him and put her hand on his knee. “Thought you might not be so happy. I didn’t want to rile you up until I knew for sure.”
“We’re not ready, Zo’.” Wash sighed. “Our life... it just ain’t fit for a kid. Mal was right. Being a parent takes time and security. We don’t have either one of those.”
“Ready or not don’t matter. It’s happening.”
“We agreed to wait.”
He stared at her for a minute. “You didn’t...?”
Zoe’s eyes widened. “What?” Her voice was deceptively calm.
Wash’s mouth opened, but no sound came out.
“What? Tell me.” Her hand squeezed tighter on his knee.
There was a slight shudder and Serenity began to slow. Wash knew Mal was bringing her into orbit, following Wash’s preset flight plan. Mal could do it. Wash had too much else to worry about to add crashing into atmo to the list.
“Did you do this on purpose?” Wash had to choke the words out. He didn’t want to say them, but once they were in his head, there was no other way to get them out. He had to know. As soon as the words left his mouth, though, Wash regretted them. He expected her to yell. He expected her to scream. He expected her to beat his gorram ass with the bloody stump of his own arm. Instead, tears spilled down her cheeks. She jerked her hand back from his knee like it had been burned.
“No, you chûnrén,” she finally said.
“But we were careful.”
“Nothing is foolproof.” Her voice cut like glass. “You should know that.”
Mal’s voice suddenly came over the P.A. system. “All hands report. It’s time. People are waiting for their goods down there.”
Zoe and Wash exchanged one long look. Then she fled.
Two men below. She feels the man at her back hesitate. That’s when she makes her move. Her arm swings backwards, taking the brunt of the blow. She winces as the blade slides through skin, but it is her arm--just a flesh wound.
Below, the two men in her life each pull a weapon out of nowhere (Wash from the small of his back, and Mal from his boot), and make some of her former captor’s allies pay.
Zoe strikes back with her foot and smashes her would-be captor’s kneecap, then she dives to the ground. A tiny popping sound echoes in the distance. The man behind her falls to the ground, dead before he lands. Two others near by fall in the same way.
In the face of an unknown sniper, the rest of their adversaries capitulate easily. Mal pulls a white handkerchief and waves, the signal for Jayne to stop shooting. One more man falls to the ground, and then Jayne obeys. Money is taken, and the merchandise left.
Zoe meets Wash in the middle of it all and eyes him carefully.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I was the biggest idiot in the ‘verse.”
She moves straight into his arms and lets him hold her, right out there in the open. He both holds her and holds on to her. Wash smiles. “I love you.”
1 Day Later...
“I can’t believe it. We’re going to have a baby!” Kaylee danced around the room in her excitement. Zoe and Wash had called everyone together for the big announcement. River grabbed one of Kaylee’s hands and the pair twirled around together. Inara laughed, watching them spin.
“If they throw up, I ain’t cleanin’ it,” Mal grumbled.
Inara slugged him in the shoulder. “Hush.”
From the couch, the seat of honor at this impromptu party, Zoe and Wash watched with smiles on their faces. She sat curled into the curve of his arm, careful not to put pressure her bandaged wound. He laid his other hand on her still-flat belly.
“Do you think we’ll ever get it right?” he asked her in a quiet voice. “We can’t raise him in the middle of shoot out after shoot out.”
Zoe smiled. “I think we’ll get it right. As right as we can. That’s all anyone can ask.”
He nodded. “Maybe we can get Kaylee to design some barriers for the edges of the catwalk, keep her from falling through.”
“It’s going to be a boy.”
Thanks for all the leeway, maystone. It was fun!
Oh, and I had wanted to address the whole Inara leaving thing from OiS, but the fic got too long. I’m just pretending that they worked it out before this happened.
Also, big thanks to my beta (and my sister!), Sonya. Always my first and best editor!
bâobèi - precious/jewel/term of endearment
wode tìan - oh sky! (colloquial: Oh God!)
heishôudâng liúmáng - gangster asshole/bastard(s)
méimei - little sister
xin gan - sweetheart, darling
gei ji ren zhi fan shi gaung liang - for the love of all things shiny
shénme? - what?
dong ma? - understand?
feng shao nu - crazy young girl
chûnrén - fool, jerk (familiar)