Author’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Characters: Wash, Zoe, with the others playing “supporting roles”
Rating: M (which is equivalent to the old “R” rating)
Timeline/Spoilers: Takes place after the BDM -- although one major, disturbing event from the movie has been changed in my fic.
Summary: A story that focuses on Zoe and Wash’s relationship, with some new passengers presenting them – and the rest of the crew – with a difficult situation. Fic will contain movie SPOILERS.
Disclaimer: I wish I owned the characters and the Firefly franchise, but I don’t. However this fic is written solely for fan enjoyment and no money is being made from it.
Warnings and Disclaimers:
1. This takes place after Serenity (the movie) and thus contains SPOILERS.
2. Also, please note this fic contains content geared towards a more mature audience and has earned its rating
3. I wish I owned the characters and the Firefly franchise, but I don’t. However, I am writing solely for the enjoyment of Firefly fans and not to “retire and give up this life of crime”.
4. Thank you to damn_hero_zoe for beta-testing!
5. One other important note. That part in the movie where Wash gets impaled by a Reaver harpoon? Um, never happened.
Under Their Skin
The tyrannosaurus rex is deftly held under the running water. Dust instantly rinses off, and the grey of the plastic toy dinosaur once again shines through. Wash repeats the process with the two other dinosaurs, smiling as he works. He steps aside once to let Zoe clean a few precious vegetables under the running water. Dinner will be a joy tonight; Wash sniffs the air and becomes nearly dizzy at the scent of fresh basil.
“What in the ruttin’ hell are you doin’?” Jayne asks as he stomps into the dinning room and approaches the sink. Wash doesn’t break his gaze from his plastic toys but he somehow knows that Jayne shot Zoe a disgusted look. “You’re actually washing those gorram dinosaur toys of yours, aren’t you??”
“Well, the dinosaurs hadn’t bathed for a while and the funk was really starting to bother me,” the pilot replies, trademark grin on his face. He knows Jayne’s tone is designed to condescend, to point out to Zoe -- the only other person in the room -- that her husband is a total geek. Wash also knows that he has nothing to worry about.
Zoe comes up behind Wash, giggling at his response to Jayne. “You take such good care of those pets, bao bei. They’re lucky that you’re their caretaker,” she smiles, before planting an affectionate kiss on his cheek.
“You two are hopeless,” Jayne grumbles.
The crew of Serenity generally finds themselves in good spirits nowadays. A recent smuggle has brought them a handsome profit, and they subsequently splurged on some fresh fruits and vegetables. Real food tastes so much more flavorful, so much more pleasing to the tongue and belly than bland nutrition bars. They often find themselves counting down the hours until the next mealtime with anticipation, especially on those days when one of the crew’s better cooks has kitchen duty.
With the Alliance occupied defending itself from the scandal of Miranda (and, it is rumored, sending a few battleships deep into space to take out the Reavers in response to a fevered public outcry), Captain Reynolds and crew have one fewer foe to worry about. They also have the deep satisfaction of having brought down the Alliance a notch or two. No civil war is erupting as a result of the broadwave being aired, but never before has the Alliance faced so much public criticism and been so unable to deal effectively with it.
Furthermore, River is in the best condition – mentally and physically -- she has been since joining the crew, and thus so is her brother. Kaylee is often euphoric – both due to her relationship with Simon and the fact that Inara has decided to once again rejoin the crew. Although they all deeply mourn the loss of Shepherd Book, the future also appears brighter than usual for the team.
Serenity and her crew are currently on their way to Persephone for a legitimate business operation this time. They have passengers to pick up, ones that have offered a tidy sum to be transported a long distance.
The dinner that evening is enjoyed by all. Kaylee prepares dessert – fresh strawberries sprinkled with sugar and garnished with actual mint leaves. It is nirvana. Everyone chews slowly, appreciatively. River’s senses are in orbit following the treat and she favors the group with an impromptu dance once she’s swallowed her last bite of strawberry. Jayne watches it and the upturned corners of his mouth appear to be a sincere smile rather than a smirk. Everyone appreciates what River has done for the group, even Jayne. Afterwards, Simon quickly checks on one of Mal’s wounds and is glad that it is healing steadily.
Mal and Inara sit opposite each other and everyone can feel their tension and attraction. They admire each other more for how they handled the Miranda situation. But regardless, Inara has a client on Persephone with whom she will meet tomorrow.
Shortly after dinner, Zoe and Wash retire to their bunk.
It’s twelve hours until Persephone and nighttime rapidly approaches on board Serenity. Zoe and Wash are both tired and want to get some sleep.
“That was a great dinner,” Wash says. The soup may have consisted of little more than the last of the rice, fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic -- and it was accompanied by simple greens flavored with ginger and soy sauce. To the crew, it was a banquet fit for royalty. Their heads are still spinning with delight.
Wash quickly sheds his clothing and pulls on a soft pair of sweatpants, thick socks, and a sweater. The socks are new, part of the haul they recently purchased and he loves how they feel on his feet. Most of his other pairs are so old they have holes.
He then dives under the blankets. Serenity has been freezing lately. Although the crew has recently spent money on food, Mal finally purchased much-needed engine parts (to Kaylee’s delight) – expensive equipment which didn’t leave as much money in the budget for heating as the crew wants. Zoe and Wash’s mattress is old and it sags in the middle, but that doesn’t bother them too much since they routinely spoon anyway.
“Can’t say I much enjoy cooking, but the results weren’t bad,” Zoe admits. The soup recipe came from Book and she misses him. She realizes with a small shudder, though, that the crew’s losses could have been worse and is thankful for what she does have.
Zoe is already wrapped in the blankets and sipping a hot cup of tea. The soothing drink is a rare indulgence but when the crew was purchasing food, Zoe saw the tea bags for sale and haggled them down to a reasonable price. Every sip, with their rich flavors dancing on her tongue, is bliss for her. She remembers a time during the war when the members of the unit, with their parched throats, were glad to find a polluted pond and drink its water. They had nothing else. She can still taste the mud and smell the chemicals, remembering how desperate she was for some moisture on her mouth.
When her husband joins her under the blankets, Zoe places the empty tea cup down and reaches to caress Wash’s face. He is her light, her happiness in this drab, scary, painful ‘verse. He’s the reason that she suspects life isn’t all bad and that humans are perhaps not meant to suffer constantly. His presence in her life reminds her that loving someone is completely worth the risk it carries, the fear that is engendered from allowing oneself to be open. She wants to tell him all of this but her throat clamps up on her. She knows she can be herself around him but she doesn’t want to sound silly either or throw out some overblown bumbling sentiment sounding like something Simon would say to Kaylee nowadays.
“What’s wrong?” he asks softly, seeing a look pass across her face. He reaches for the hand that just touched his face and holds it.
“My hand’s awfully rough,” Zoe says, her eyes looking downward. “Shouldda bought me some hand lotion instead of this tea.” She means what she says and can’t remember the last time she felt the coolness of a creamy lotion against her skin. She’d ask to borrow some of Inara’s but she doesn’t have the relationship with the companion that Kaylee does.
“It’s not rough,” Wash lies.
“I can handle the truth, zhàngfu,” Zoe responds, with an adoring look in her tired eyes. “My hands are rough as sandpaper and as calloused as the face of that asteroid we passed today.” She shakes her head and then finds her mouth getting ahead of her brain, “Wouldn’t you prefer the soft skin of a companion?”
“Sure I would,” he answers, not missing a beat. “But I can’t afford one!”
A pillow is gleefully lobbed at Wash’s head. He takes the soft blow with trademark good humor and decides against starting a full-fledged pillow fight. He switches abruptly from playful to serious and whispers, passionately all of a sudden, in her ear, “There’s no one in the ‘verse I’d rather be with.” She loves his confidence, his abandonment. He doesn’t worry for a second about sounding corny and thus he never does.
“I know,” she replies. Zoe’s made Wash more serious over the years and she likes that. Conversely, he’s helped her see the virtues of humor.
The couple settles into its spoon position, his arms around her. Zoe enjoys the feeling of Wash’s warmth against her back as she relaxes her body and gets ready for sleep.
Kaylee used to sometimes listen to the sounds emanating from Zoe and Wash’s bunk, before she had a lover of her own on the ship. Tonight, though, no sounds would be heard other than Wash’s snoring, as the pair is tired and slumber comes easily to both.
“So where are we taking our passengers, sir?” Zoe asks her captain. Serenity’s been in the air for several minutes, and Zoe’s embarrassed that she’s been out of the loop on the arrival of the new people. On Persephone, she was occupied with following up on a possible lead for a job and so she hasn’t thought much about the new travelers. The lead fell through and she missed Mal’s traditional tour of Serenity, as well as Jayne’s gripes reminding them what happened last time they brought on board passengers.
“We’re transportin’ ‘em to Zeus,” Mal replies. “Should be there in a few days. Maybe we’ll find some work on Zeus, too.” The crew has no immediate need for a job – which is why the lack of a mission on Persephone is not a disappointment – but if they can find something lucrative on Zeus, so much the better.
“Zeus, is it?” Zoe asks. A shadow crosses her face. “That’s right near Turkhana IV.”
Zoe shudders at thoughts of Turkhana IV. She has seen a lot in her years. She’s seen things that would make a strong person collapse and yet despite that, Turkhana IV fills her with disgust and despair.
Mal sees the look on the face of his comrade, his “right hand man”, and at first considers trying to say something soothing before he realizes that is not what Zoe wants. So he changes the subject. “We got three passengers. Two men and one woman. They gave us the down payment right as they promised to.”
Zoe nods and heads back to her station, trying to wipe away thoughts of Turkhana IV.
Zoe doesn’t have occasion to interact with the passengers until dinnertime. The ship’s duties have kept her occupied and once she finished them, she spent her downtime sitting and talking with Wash on the bridge.
It is a little crowded around the table and slightly awkward too. Serenity has not had any new passengers since that fateful day they brought on board the Tams, the Shepherd, and the Alliance mole. Given that not everyone here today is a member of their ragtag family, the meal has somehow been brought down a few notches and feels less festive even though their guests are pleasant enough.
Kaylee is telling the group the story of the machine she created as a child, designed to feed livestock. She describes in detail the machine’s first malfunction. “Oats everywhere! I had no idea how darn expensive they were. My parents flipped when they saw it. I spent so long cleanin’ the mess up and apologizing to my parents,” she says, shaking her head. Kaylee has no trouble admitting it on the rare occasion when she messes up. Others would try to blame someone else but Kaylee never does.
Kaylee’s crewmates have heard the tale of the spewed grains before, but the three passengers haven’t. Zoe looks at them and their reactions.
The female passenger, whose name Zoe can’t recall but she thinks it is something containing lots of vowels, looks serious, quiet, and confident. She is as tall as Zoe, probably around her age, and has skin of almost the same tone but perhaps a shade lighter. Her facial features are strikingly beautiful and when Zoe looks closely, she can see that the woman surprisingly has blue eyes. Zoe’s gaze wanders and, as it travels a bit lower, she notes with a twinge of envy that the woman fills out the front of her shirt well. She glances at Wash to see where his eyes are but he’s currently looking in the direction of Jayne, the one who’s speaking now.
The two male passengers sit on either side of the woman. There’s a ruggedly handsome man who Zoe thinks is named Logan. He’s well-built and has facial hair. Zoe likes muscular arms and notes that Logan has them – he must not be disturbed by the cold on board the ship as he’s wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Logan and the woman move together with an ease and familiarity – she wipes a few crumbs off of his face, he later samples an item off of her place without asking – which suggests to Zoe that the two are a couple. They sit so close together that their thighs must be touching and it’s not that crowded at the table. Logan’s skin tone is in the hue as Wash’s.
The third passenger is a male who might be ten years or so older than the other two. Zoe thinks his name is Bishop. He is massive; he could beat Jayne to a pulp easily if he wanted. He says nothing during dinner, though his companions aren’t exactly loquacious either. Unlike the other two, who interact constantly, Bishop appears separate from his traveling companions.
Zoe looks back at her plate and tries to enjoy her dinner. Thoughts of Turkhana IV keep intruding though, and she wishes she was only eating a slab of moldy protein and not real food, since its taste is rather wasted on her tonight. Wash keeps looking at her, wondering what has caused the barely-perceptible shadow to cross over his wife’s face.
Zoe isn’t tired tonight. Despite her work on Persephone this morning trying to procure a job, it hasn’t been that much of a busy day. When she hears Wash descend the stairs to their bunk, she slowly begins to undress for bed. Cold as the ship is though, she reaches not for the wooly sweatpants and shirt but rather for one of her prized possessions, the slinky nightgown. Wash notices that the candles are already lit.
He watches appreciatively as she undresses. He’s always viewed himself as, by far, the luckiest man on board the ship. He whispers, “Nî hâo mêi.”
Zoe smiles at the compliment as she watches him watching her. She takes her time removing her trousers because he likes her legs, and then she slowly discards her shirt.
As she holds his gaze, she speculates on the past. She remembers that before Wash, sex for her was like a target practice drill, fast and precise but emotionless. It had consisted of brief moments grabbed here and there, but never much going on either before or after the main event. She’d had sex with several men prior to meeting Wash but she’d never once made love before. Wash was the first one who ever slowed down and took his time, who touched her body as if she were a goddess and not a battle-hardened fighter. It actually took some getting used to but he taught her so much.
She once asked him how he got to be such a good lover.
“Well, I trained as a companion for several years,” had been Wash’s snappy answer. Zoe eventually coaxed the real story out of him. Apparently, when Wash had been growing up, his cousin was friends with an older woman. This older woman had a reputation for “breaking in” young men, and Wash had gone to her several times as a teenager. She spoke like a companion despite her humble origins. She had told him things like, “Forget your own pleasure, forget about getting off. Concentrate entirely on your partner and making her feel good. Human beings have a hard-wired need to reciprocate. Do everything you can to drive her crazy with pleasure and trust me she will soon be begging you to let her reciprocate, begging you to do whatever she can to make you feel good. Now some people are just selfish and you’d best steer clear of those, but trust your senses and find someone who’s not --- what I tell you will work perfectly for a good woman.”
Wash followed this advice and it served him – and Zoe, and his lovers before he met her – quite well.
When Zoe finishes removing her clothing, she reaches for her nightgown as if she is going to pull it on but Wash is all of a sudden out of his clothing and facing her. They reach for each other instinctively and come together. He’s a good kisser. He kisses her slowly and deliberately; it’s never just a formality for what he wants to come next. They allow their tongues to move together and then he runs his tongue along her lower lip. Wash moves his mouth away only to plant gentle kisses on the side of her face, tracing a pathway towards her earlobe which he sucks upon.
Zoe groans and feels her insides surrendering. She and her husband express their love, giving themselves over to mutual pleasure.
Afterwards, the two lay with their limbs entwined. Satisfaction and contentment are pampering all of their nerve-endings, from the tips of their heads to their toes. Their bodies are slick with sweat. The mild scents from the candles and from their pleasure drift leisurely through the air. Zoe rubs one of Wash’s arms, her fingertips feeling the firmness and definition.
“Do you like my arms?” he asks.
“You know I do,” she smiles. There’s joy in her voice. “Why do you even ask?”
“I was just wondering. Did you see that Logan guy? He had lìngrén jingyì arms. I’m not built like that,” Wash says, and the twinge of sadness in his voice hurts Zoe.
“Well, I like the way you’re built. And you’ve got plenty of muscles yourself. Look at this,” she says, squeezing his firm biceps. She then sighs, “Besides, did you see his lady friend? She was endowed in one area that I sure ain’t,” she admits, cupping her small breasts.
“That’s fèi huà!” Wash exclaims. “Every inch of you is gorgeous. And anyway I’m much more interested in….this,” he says, reaching a hand down and around towards her buttocks. “You don’t have any competition in this area.”
They had made love tonight with Zoe on her stomach and Wash behind her. He adored the view as he grasped her hips and thrust eagerly, nibbling on an ear and murmuring words of awe and love. And Zoe had been fully aroused thanks to the enthusiastic ministrations of his very capable lips and tongue. Wash now whispers something in her ear and Zoe finds herself nearly becoming turned on once more even though she is spent.
“So, is that what’s been bothering you?” he asks a little later. “Is it really comparing yourself against Ororo?” he supplies the name of the female passenger. He actually doubts that Zoe’s really troubled by that; he knows her too well. He’s grasping at any straw to draw her out.
Zoe considers telling him what truly has been on her mind. But she doesn’t want to destroy the mood, doesn’t want to dwell on the problem. It’s easier for her and her husband to reassure each other of their attractiveness -- not that they truly needed much on that front; their lovemaking has always made it pretty clear how mutually desirable they find each other. But there’s nothing she can do about the situation on Turkhana IV and she cannot change it. Wash can’t do anything about it either. They just have to accept the situation on Turkhana IV as it is, same as they accept each other’s idiosyncrasies.
For someone, however, who accepts life’s tragedies as unflinchingly as Zoe does, she still finds herself struggling. The situation on Turkhana IV is different, it can’t be blamed on the Alliance (though they allow it to continue), it was done and is perpetuated by ordinary folk not unlike Zoe and Mal and the rest of the crew, it is mean-spirited and inhuman.
“I guess so,” she responds to his question. “But I’m fine with it now.” Then she studies his face and smiles. “You always make me feel so good.”
He smiles at the compliment.
“I was just thinking back to when I first met you,” she goes on. “I didn’t think you were handsome. For the longest time I thought you were plain as could be. After a while I thought you had a kind face but not a handsome one.”
“Oh really?” Wash asks, the corners of his mouth still upturned. He knows this is true. Zoe’s forgotten that she’s already shared this with him, but he plays along. “So when did you first start to realize how pretty I am?”
It is Zoe’s turn to dish out some humor. “Two or three weeks ago.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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