When Mal first meets the potential pilot, he's distracted by the ugly shirt and the uglier moustache. They leave him staring for a moment, until the guy clears his throat and looks nervously at Zoe before refocusing on Mal. "Um. Hi."
Mal flicks on his best smile – his recruiting smile, the one he's used in all kinds of circumstances – and holds out his hand. "Mal Reynolds. You the guy I've been hearin' about?"
That gets him a smile in return, enough that it almost makes him overlook the shirt. But not the moustache. Some men can carry something like that. Monty's one of them – Mal ain't, and nor is this guy. But Mal doesn't rightly care one way or another about grooming habits if Hoban Washburne has half the skills he's heard out on the street.
"Yep. So," Washburne rubs his hands together, "do I get a look inside?"
"Sure do," Mal says, and leads in him, up the stairs, and into the cockpit. It's still a rat's nest inside – things are in pieces and scattered about, though Bester says it's all fixable. Mal had wanted things more in working order when he started interviewing pilots, but maybe it ain't all bad. It's a good sign if the pilot knows how to put things together, how to look past the pieces and see the potential.
The potential that Zoe still ain't sure is there. He can see it on her face whenever she walks the length of the ship, kicking aside bits of rubble. His other clue is that she's always muttering about him being mostly insane to go and buy this particular ship. But sometimes he sees her smiling too, when he ain't supposed to be looking. So he takes the muttering in stride.
Right now, Washburne is making all kinds of muttering noises himself, poking behind consoles, and picking up pieces, looking at them, and putting them back down. Mal feels himself tensing up. This ain't the first pilot he'd interviewed.
First one had taken one look at the cockpit, turned around, and walked right back out. Second one's eyes hadn't seemed quite right – unbalanced, Zoe whispered in his ear – and he ain't so insane that he wants a pilot who doesn't entirely live in the world. Daring, sure. Moon-brained? That ain't in the plan.
Washburne is the third one, and this ain't exactly a planet full of pilots looking to ship out with a couple of former Independents.
So, something releases inside of him when Washburne turns, a big grin on his face, and says, "This is all very doable."
He doesn't commit to the job right away, but Mal figures he will. Serenity pulls people in like that. There's something about her – Firefly class has always been popular, out on the edge, but this particular ship, she's got something special. Mal can see it. He knows Washburne can too.
He nods, tells Washburne to take his time looking around, and leaves. He's got a mechanic to pester.
Later, he comes back to the cockpit, and Washburne is just sitting on the pilot's chair, looking out at the sky. His hands are clasped behind his head, and he's whistling a little. "Comfy?" Mal asks.
Washburne turns to him, grinning like an idiot. "I think so."
Mal slips his hands into his pockets, and says, "So, Hoban –"
"Call me Wash."
And Mal knows he doesn't have to ask the question. Wash is taking the job.
The first time Mal really looks at his pilot, beyond someone who'll get them flying and who lands using the smallest possible fuel margin, it's when Wash shaves off the rutting moustache.
Mal can really look at him now, because he doesn't feel like laughing every time he does.
It's just him in the kitchen, late at night, when Wash wanders in. "Shouldn't you be piloting?" Mal asks, not looking up. He already recognizes Wash's particular footfalls.
"Just coming in for something to drink."
Mal gets back to polishing his guns, listening to the homey sounds of tea being made. When Wash comes and sits across from him, he looks up, nods, and then stares. Just for a minute. "You seem to be missin' somethin'."
Wash grins, rubbing his hand across his top lip. "Do I look less dangerous?"
Mal starts to laugh. "You looked dangerous before?" Though without the moustache, he looks a little more open. More honest, if that were even possible.
Wash momentarily looks hurt, but he laughs too. "Yeah, I guess I knew it wasn't really working. But it was worth a try." He gestures at Mal's guns, and says, "Is it mannerly to have your guns out on the dinner table?"
"It ain't a dinner table if there ain't guns. Thought I'd made that clear back when you signed on."
Grinning, Wash nods, saying, "I guess I knew that too."
Everyone has a story. Mal knows Zoe's, she knows his. Bester's ain't hard to figure – running from a girl who happened to have the wrong family, at the wrong time. But Wash keeps quiet about his past.
Pilot school, Mal knows that much. And that ain't exactly unusual, though a lot of crews run with a pilot who just picked things up along the way, or who started pilot school, dropped out, and found the first job that came along.
Wash graduated second in his class, and Mal can't figure why he wasn’t approached by the Alliance. They're always looking for people to fly out on the rim. Contractor-type folk who run errands and get paid, but without the uniform. A guy with Wash's skills could have hooked up with something more respectable, more steady, than Mal's line of work.
Or maybe he was approached by the Feds, and he just doesn't talk about it. It ain't really any of Mal's business, and he doesn't expect his crew to talk about their pasts, or what they're running from. As long as they don't cross him, he's more or less happy.
But still, Wash is puzzling. He ain't Core folk, but he ain't like Mal either. His language ain't fancy, not like the new Companion they've got shipping out with them. But he ain't rough either; he's no backberth from the edge of town on a grubby moon. He tells stories about the places he's been, but he doesn't say how he got there. He has contact with people Mal's never even heard about. People who know things. People who can find things out.
He smiles too much. No one Mal's ever known smiles that much.
It all leaves Mal thinking, some nights. Just wondering.
When he finds himself a new mechanic – rutting Bester was a waste of space – he comes to see that there are even folk who smile more than Wash. He shows Kaylee around the ship, and she doesn't stop smiling and asking questions the whole time. Points out problems too, problems he didn't even know they had.
He wonders if her jaw gets sore, all that grinning and chattering.
Later, after she says they're fit to liftoff, after they've been in the black a good long while, he finds the two of them holed up in the cockpit.
"—sure, they're hooked up to the capacitors," she's saying, balancing on the edge of the control boards, "but they ain't really all that important, you gotta –"
"You're insane!" Wash yells, but his face says otherwise. He's grinning like a crazy man. If she's insane, so's he.
"No I ain't. If you just cross the lines around the regulator," her hands cross each other, and her fingers wiggle, "you improve engine efficiency. Seen it before, lots of times. Means you use less fuel. Every two-bit mechanic knows that."
"Listen, missy, you're pretty and cute,"
She beams at him.
"but I've been trained. In a school! You do that, we'll be drifting in an hour. If we're lucky."
She pushes herself away from her perch, and leans close to Wash, grinning. "Oh yeah?"
Stepping back, she puts her hands on her hips and says, "So how come we're still flyin'? 'Cause I went and did that soon as I got settled." She pauses. "Hours ago."
Wash throws up his hands, laughing. "You're insane!"
"You think so?" She winks at him.
Wash looks over, and sees Mal standing just outside the doorway. "Captain! You've gone and hired a crazy person! We're all at her mercy. I predict we have a week, at best, before –"
Kaylee whacks him on the shoulder, and that shuts him up, though he's still grinning a little wildly.
Something twists in Mal's gut, seeing the two of them together. They just met, but already they're making some sort of eyes at each other. Shouldn't bother him, but it does.
He should say something about crew relations, and how they ain't kosher, but he just doesn't have it in him. There's too much smiling going on, and the girl's already cut their fuel usage by three percent. So instead, he says, "I got poor judgment when it comes to picking out my crew." He looks at her, and says, "You see the pilot I got? Don't know what I was thinkin'."
"Hey!" Wash says, and reaches for one of the gorram dinosaur toys he insists on cluttering up the cockpit with. "I'm armed! I'm dangerous!"
Mal smirks, and walks away. Behind him, he can hear the girl giggling, and Wash muttering about insanity and asinine captains.
It happens after a job goes particularly sour. Zoe takes it into her head to jump in front of a bullet aimed at him. Her armour ain't enough to stop the bullet, or the ones that follow. They were lucky – Inara used her contacts to find a doctor who wouldn't ask too many questions, and who wasn't too good to come and treat folk like them. Mal had watched while he operated. He took in the blood, the bullets, Zoe not breathing for almost too long. At the end of it the doctor had looked up. "That's the best I can do. She'll live."
He leaves detailed instructions about post-op care, and the medicines he's leaving. Painkillers ever five hours, for the first 48 hours. Easy to inject. Watch for infection. That sort of thing, like Mal doesn't know the basics of field medicine. Like he hasn't watched people get shot before.
After paying the doc, after the clean up, after the medication, after he gets a chance to sit down and breathe and think, he applies himself to getting stinking drunk. He makes sure Kaylee and Inara are up to watching after Zoe. He maybe needs not to think for a few hours, but he knows he's got to set up everything right first.
He sits himself down in the lounge, and hits the first bottle he could find. Thinks about how he needs to maybe hire another gun hand, because the 'verse is starting to piss him off even more than usual. More than it has in a long while.
Wash finds him. "We're locked up for the night, Captain. Nice and cozy."
Nodding, he hands over the bottle.
Mal nods again, because he doesn't have to say anything. Wash knows as good as the rest of them that Zoe will live.
He ain't in the mood for talking. Gesturing at the bottle, Mal says, "If you're gonna talk instead of drink, hand that back over."
Wash takes a long drink, grimaces, and passes it back. He stays with Mal, keeps drinking, but somehow, that doesn't shut him up. It makes him chattier; goes on and on about this and that, nothing that matters, until he says, "Zoe doesn't much like me."
Shrugging, Mal says, "Zoe don't much like anyone. It's her way. She ain't shot you yet, so she don't hate you. That's enough."
"Be better if she didn't die, though."
That's the biggest gorram understatement he's heard in years. Since the very first Unification Day. Maybe. Mal grunts. "You got no ruttin' idea."
Then it's back to drinking for a space, while Wash talks and Mal half-listens.
"And in pilot school, you know how it is –"
gets followed by,
" – and I swear to god, she was so angry that we all starting running and we didn't stop until Hiram –"
A little later, Mal tunes in again, and Wash is sputtering a little as he talks, "— geese, they make cute sounds, and we eat them, and feather beds and everything, but really, juggling seems a little extreme, if you get my –"
And Mal's really had enough of talking. He gets up, a little unsteady on his feet. It ain't just from the drinking. It's relief and everything coming down, hitting him hard all at once. He goes to check on Zoe.
Kaylee's sitting by her side, and she smiles at Mal. "She's good. Breathing real steady," and Mal nods his thanks, and heads back to the lounge and his bottle. He figures Wash will have taken the hint and moved on, but when he gets back, Wash is still there, slouched back on the couch, bottle held in a loose grip.
His head's bent back, and Mal stares at the curve of his throat for a minute. It ain't that he's been looking at Wash. Not actively. He's noticed him a few times, thought about maybe suggesting – but he's never quite done it. Lots of reasons not to.
He's listing the reasons in his head when Wash looks up and over, eyes not quite focused, and his smile a little wavy around the edges. "She doing fine?"
Mal nods. "She don't go down easy."
"Don't imagine she does."
There's a pause, because Mal knows he wants to say something, but he ain't quite sure what. As Wash holds up the bottle, though, Mal says, "Kaylee."
"Yeah? What about her?"
He clears his throat. "Kaylee says we're makin' a racket."
Wash stops smiling. His expression turns serious. "Not good for patients."
Pushing himself up, Wash nods. "Yeah. Okay. It's late anyway. Better go and get some –"
Mal talks right over him. "So I was thinkin' we should move it somewhere else."
Wash's grin comes back. "Yeah? Didn't think you were interested in –" He cuts himself off, and just says, "Yeah. Sounds good. Where to?"
The grin gets wider, though Mal wouldn't have thought it possible. "That might do."
It's been a while for Mal. Not for Wash, he figures.
"What?" Wash asks, when Mal says something to that effect.
"Kaylee," Mal answers, taking another drink and handing the bottle back over. His boots are already off, tossed in a corner.
Wash starts laughing. "Kaylee?"
"I seen you two together."
"Maybe you want to get your eyes checked, Captain."
Huh. "So –"
"And what? You think I'm sleeping with Kaylee, so I'll sleep with you?" He glares, but it's as fake as any of Inara's love affairs. "I am not a man of loose virtue!"
Right. "I figured you and Kaylee maybe had had some fun. Back when she first came onboard. Sorry I got you wrong. I'm guessing you'll be wanting to keep your clothes on, then?" He'd been in the process of pulling suspenders off his own shoulders, but he hauls them back up.
"No, no, don't get me –"
"'cause I ain't gonna be the one to go and spoil your purity –"
"Hey now! That isn't what I'm saying here –"
Reaching out, he takes the bottle from Wash's hand. "Think maybe drinkin' ain't good for you none either. Might give you thoughts. Thoughts that ain't full of virtue." He keeps his expression serious for about as long as he can, but it doesn't last. He can feel the smirk coming through.
"I have no virtue."
Mal laughs. "Huh. You don't say?" He maybe wants to push Wash a little more, draw out the taunting, but then Wash starts unbuttoning his god awful shirt, and Mal just gets distracted.
He gets distracted by Wash's mouth, smiling over at him.
He intends it to be a one night thing. Wash has other ideas. Gorram pushy pilots.
"Drunk was fun. Next time, let's be sober." Wash says the next morning, when by all rights, he should already be up and dressed and out of Mal's bunk. Mal himself is up and dressed, already having checked on Zoe.
"No next times," he says, but Wash doesn't seem to hear.
Mal had come back to his bunk the second time, aiming at cleaning up, but Wash was still there. He's bleary-eyed, just a little, and his hair is sticking up every which way. He looks like he's all set to call Mal's bed home.
"Don't you have piloting to do?" He asks it just to say something.
"What? No good morning coffee? No 'How are you, honey? Was it good for you?'" Wash stretches, his smile lop-sided. "We're leaving now? Don't you want to wait, make sure that Zoe is –"
Mal shrugs and crosses his arms over his chest. "Inara's got an appointment. We got a job waiting. Can't be lazing around all day."
Wash pushes himself up, and stands. "Ow. Head," he says, rubbing at his temples.
"Piloting," Mal responds, tapping his foot.
"Slave driver," Wash mutters, pulling on his pants. Mal smirks, but Wash doesn't see. Finally, he's dressed, and muttering still, but now it's about a quick bath. As he climbs up the ladder – Mal watches his ass, though he wouldn't admit it if Wash asked – he says, "Next time I want coffee. Or tea. Or something, before I get kicked out of bed."
Next time. "Ain't gonna be a next time!" Mal yells. Shouldn't have been a first time, though he ain't going to say he didn't enjoy himself. Still. Fun doesn't mean it's got to be repeated.
But Wash is yelling back, "You keep telling yourself that, Captain!"
Wash fights a little dirty. Mal should've known.
He and Kaylee work together, trimming another four percent off fuel-usage rates. When Wash tells him, he smiles the entire time. Licks his lips, and no way does Mal believe that's just because they're dry.
He's always smiling. And he wears the shirt, the ugly green and blue and yellow shirt from that night. Every time Mal sees it, it offends his eyes, and he wants to yell at Wash to just take it right off.
There's contact. Unnecessary contact. Wash brushes up against him as he walks by; he pats Mal on the back when a job goes well – hell, even when it doesn't – and lets his hand linger, slide down a little.
It ain't right.
Worst of all, him and Kaylee are cooking something up between them. The third time Mal walks into a room to find them together, heads pressed close, voices soft but excitable, he yells, "What the gorram hell are you two up to?" This time, they're bent over a scrap of paper, and Mal can see scribblings and diagrams on it. He makes a quick grab for it, but Wash yanks it away first, hastily stepping back.
"What is it?" Mal asks, in his best 'give it to me or I'll kill you' captainly voice.
Wash shrugs, crumpling the paper up slowly. "Just some – poetry. Kaylee and I are romance poetry writers, maybe you've seen some of our other pieces on the Cortex, they're quite acclaimed, you know, they've won – "
Poetry his ass. Mal lunges, but Wash is fast, too fast for a man in an ugly shirt, and he stuffs the paper into his mouth, swallowing it down. That crazy grin is back, afterwards, as he says, "Really, Captain, you didn't want to read it. It isn't finished yet."
Kaylee is laughing silently behind her hand.
When Zoe had first woken up, after the surgery, she'd said, "We need another gun hand."
Mal smiled down at her. "I've been thinking that myself. Think I should put the word out?"
She'd shaken her head, and winced. "Nope."
"You just let me know when you see someone you like, then," he'd said, and she'd closed her eyes and fallen back asleep.
Zoe keeps her mouth shut for some time about it. They meet various folk, people Mal thinks would do an okay job, but she doesn't say anything about any of them. It just figures that she'd choose this time to speak up, when they've got three guns trained on them, and Wash up in the ship yelling into the comm – and Mal's earpiece – that they're going to get shot.
"Him," she says, gesturing with the hand that ain't holding her favourite shotgun.
"Him?" Mal asks, confused.
"The big one. He's the tracker."
"That so?" he asks the big one. "You track us down?"
The merc pulls the cigar out of his mouth and says, "Yep." He looks real proud.
"Shut up!" yells the one in charge. The one who hasn't caught Zoe's eye. "Tell us where you hid the goods."
"Now, there ain't no call for anger," Mal says, and starts thinking fast about negotiating with the big one. He doesn't look like much – besides big – but Zoe, she's always had an eye for the right kind of person for a particular job.
In the end, Mal and Zoe don't get shot, and Mal has a new hire.
It's a good day.
He's going soft. That's the only explanation he figures explains it. He's going soft in the head. Why else would he let Kaylee mess around in his cargo hold, and promise not to go snooping while she's working?
The sounds are intriguing. Clangs, and yeah, that's the sound of a welding torch, and Kaylee yells sometimes, like maybe something she's done worked out better than she'd hoped. He stands in the corner and listens, and when he hears Wash join her, he listens to them talking to one another, though they ain't loud enough for him to hear specific words. Mostly.
"Hover!" Wash yells, at one point.
"Shhhh! Not now. Maybe later." Kaylee sounds exasperated, but Mal doesn't catch the rest of what she says.
Them two. Cooking up something. Mal's sure this is related to the so-called poetry paper, even though that was weeks ago. He doesn't have much in the way of proof, but it looks like them two are maybe more devious than he thought.
The chatty, happy ones. Who'd have guessed?
He's thinking about just walking in there, taking a look at the mess they're making on his ship, when Kaylee pops around the corner. How'd she learn to be so sneaky and quiet?
"Don't even think about it," she says, waving a wrench in his direction.
"I wasn't thinkin' about anything," he swears, eyes wide.
At dinner, they walk in, put food on their plates, and walk right back out. It's aggravating. "You know what they're up to?"
Zoe nods at her plate. "Yes, Sir."
"I'm sworn to secrecy."
"You're sworn to be my second in command!" They've even turned Zoe on him, and that ain't right.
Grinning, she says, "It's need-to-know only."
It must be good to get her smiling like that. Grinding his teeth, he turns to Jayne, "You got any idea?"
The man barely stops shoveling food into his mouth to say, "Nope. Don't care, neither."
Mutiny. That's what some people would call this.
It's late when he sneaks down to the cargo bay, intent on taking a look. Jayne's already down there, staring at a little mountain of – something – covered in sheets. It's dead in the centre of the floor. "Guess you do care what it is."
Jayne glances over at him. "Can't get near it though."
"Kaylee says she's rigged the floor two feet around it. We step on it, we get shocked."
Gorram girl is too clever for her own good. And she's smart enough to make the booby trap hard to disable. So he stands there with Jayne, just looking at the lumpy mass.
"Maybe it's a gun. Cannon mount. Somethin' like that."
Sighing, Mal asks, "You ever stop thinkin' about guns?"
He waits until mid-morning the next day, and then decides he's waited long enough. He just marches down into the cargo bay, and catches them in the act.
"Cap!" Kaylee yells, as she slides out from under the – thing.
Wash turns quickly, welding torch in his hand, goggles down over his eyes. "Hey! No looking!"
But Mal's looking. He's looking at Wash, the top of his orange coveralls pulled down and tied around his waist, his grey undershirt sweaty around the edges and covered in grime. Above the goggles, Wash has beads of sweat on his forehead, and Mal watches as one rolls down.
The whole picture is appealing. More than it ought to be.
Then Kaylee steps into his field of view, and she's trying to look angry, but the grin is winning. "We said no peeking! You're supposed to wait."
"Ain't no good at waiting," he says, looking away from Wash. "No secrets on my boat!"
Kaylee rolls her eyes. "Fine. Whatever. You ain't no fun. Look all you want. Spoilsport."
So he looks. He sees wheels and seats and bits all over his floor. "What is it?"
Her grin widens as she says, "Mule! It was Wash's idea. Said it would be a nice surprise for you. It'll help to cart cargo around, and it don't hardly use any fuel. See," she points at the back of the thing, "it's even got little bitty solar collectors for if we're in a sunny place."
Huh. He can see it now, even though the thing – the mule – is still mostly in pieces. Handy.
"Wash wanted to make it hover. But we don't got the parts for that, so I said let's try this one first, think about hovering later on."
He ain't sure what to say. "So, this is what you two've been up to?"
He turns to Wash, who's smiling too, but silent. "Poetry?"
Wash shrugs. "Well, the plans we sketched out were poetical. Some might say."
Right. "Well. Guess I won't kill you two for keeping secrets from your captain. This once."
Kaylee sticks her tongue out at him, and turns back to her work.
Mal looks at the mule bits, and says, "Shiny."
The next time it happens, there's no drinking and no crisis beforehand. It's just Mal, wandering around the ship, late at night, as they're flying in between one job and another. Only other one awake is Wash, who he finds down in the cargo hold, fussing over the mule.
"Thought it was finished," he says, as he hits the bottom step.
Wash looks up. "It is. Just looking it over. Tinkering."
There's a silence for a space, as Wash keeps up with his fussing, Mal just watching. Wash is wearing the undershirt again, same grey one Mal's seen before. Except this time, it's clean. It shows off his arms. Finally, Mal figures he should say something else. "Good idea."
Wash nods, still tinkering with some wiring. "Yeah. These things are useful. Too bad it doesn't hover, though."
Mal grunts, though his mind ain't really on the conversation. He's busy taking in the sights. Wash ain't what Mal would call conventionally attractive. He wears clothes that burn the eyes, some days, and he's a little soft around the belly. But Mal rarely meets people with such honest faces, especially these days. It's his smile that reels Mal in. That, and his hair sometimes catches the eye in a not-unpleasant way.
He's a good pilot. Dependable. His sarcasm is something to behold, when he gets riled up. He's got some crazy flying moves, and that's handy in their line of work. Him and Kaylee, they make one hell of a team, and Serenity's never been in such good shape as she is now.
Crew relations are a bad idea. Bad idea all around. But Mal's known for making bad decisions. Zoe, she keeps a list.
And anyhow, Mal ain't Zoe. He's tried to lock himself up tight, keep others out. But he can't. Maybe if he didn't have crew like Wash and Kaylee, maybe if they'd didn't remind him there was still kindness and good and folk who ain't broken out in the 'verse, maybe then he'd do like her, and keep himself to himself.
But he can't. He's tried, and it ties him, and a captain ain't any good if he doesn't care about something other than himself and his ship. So, he says, "Course set?"
"Yep. Should be smooth sailing all the way to Lilac. I'll check everything out in a few hours."
"You married to the idea of tinkering until then?"
Wash looks up. "Ah. No?"
Mal grins his recruiting grin, and says, "Bunk?"
Wash carefully finishes the wiring, puts the tools away, stands and says, "Sure." He shrugs like he doesn't really care one way or the other, but it's spoiled by the half-smile. "I guess I could do that."
Smirking, Mal turns and heads up the stairs, "You guess, huh?"
"Well, I like to keep my captain happy. If that means sacrificing my free time like this, I guess I ought to do it. Crew unity and all of that."
Mal laughs. "Don't start thinkin' the rest of the crew are waiting for us." He stops after a few paces, after he hears Wash clear the top step. Turning, he says "Except maybe Jayne, who's probably lying in wait to kill me and take my ship."
Wash nods. "Yeah. There's always that." He scrubs his hand through his hair. "So. Bunk?"
Yeah. Bunk. But first – Mal steps closer and hooks his hands through the shoulders of Wash's undershirt, pulling him closer.
As a kiss, Mal's sure it wouldn't meet Inara's standards. But it's something Mal's been thinking about – pretending he wasn't thinking about – since that night.
It ain't fancy. Nothing scripted about it, no pretty words before or after. Mal just holds Wash close, and kisses him hard. Wash takes it and pushes back. He knocks Mal right against the wall, licks into Mal's mouth, insistent and pushy. Mal closes his eyes and lets go, focuses on the scrape of stubble across his skin, the tug of teeth on his bottom lip.
Wash presses right in, gets about as close as he can get without climbing inside Mal's clothes. When he moves, Mal grunts, pushing up against him. That just makes Wash smile against his mouth, smile and then move again, shifting his hips as he bites across Mal's jaw, and down his neck.
"Hey," Mal says, pleased his voice is maybe a little steady. Wash's fingers tug at Mal's shirt, pulling it up, out of his pants. Hot fingers slide along his waist, gripping hard, and Mal pulls Wash's hips tighter against him. "Hey," he tries again.
"What?" Wash speaks against his skin, and Mal shivers.
"We're in the hall."
Wash licks a path from his ear to jaw, and then pulls his head back. "Hall."
"Uh," Mal says, releasing his grip on Wash's waist, and wiping his hand across his mouth. "Maybe we should move. Somewhere." He fights the urge to get his hand down Wash's pants, hallway be damned. "Else."
Wash steps back, breathing a little fast. "Yeah. Wouldn't want Jayne to see us, take the chance to shoot you while you weren't paying attention."
Mal starts walking, real fast, to his bunk. "He would've had to shoot through you first. I had my back to the wall."
Behind him, Wash snorts. "Get used to it."
Next morning, Zoe corners him in the kitchen and asks, "You having sex with the pilot, Sir?" She never did beat around the bush.
"Guess I am. Problems?"
She shrugs. "Don't like him particularly."
Yep. That's Zoe. "Why?"
"Smiles too much. Talks too much. Don't trust him."
He sighs, grinning. "Them talkers."
"Talkers got something to hide."
Unlike the quiet ones, who don't? "Zoe. You ever gonna trust anyone again?"
That's a given. She wouldn't be here if she didn't, he knows that much. "What about Kaylee?"
"Yeah, them happy ones, they're out to get you. I heard that somewhere. Best watch your back around her. Inara?"
"Too fancy. Too many manners."
Mal's near to laughing now. "She'll serve you tea before she kills you, so I'm told. Fancy tea. Jayne?"
She gives him a flat look. Well, yeah. That was a stupid question. But – "You picked him."
"Doesn't mean I have to trust him."
He nods. "Guess it don't." Thing is, he knows that if Zoe had any real problems with the rest of the crew, she wouldn't just talk about it. They'd already be off the ship, or dead. This whole conversations is ass-backwards, because he knows what she's really saying. "So. You won't kill Wash then?"
"Guess not. Not unless he pushes me."
"I appreciate it."
She nods, and almost smiles. "I hope so, Sir."
And that's it.
He heads back to his bunk, tea in hand. Once he's climbed down the ladder, Mal hands over the mug, and Wash smiles in a way that's too smug for his own good.
"Don't got coffee." Mal steps back, leans up against the wall and crosses his arms. "If we're gonna do this, I got rules."
Pulling up the blanket around him, Wash says, "I'm shocked."
Mal lists the rules off on his fingers. "No trying to take over my ship. No telling me what to do. You do as I say, don't question orders. You call me Mal or you call me Captain, but no cute names, especially not in front of the others. Don't go trying to take liberties you ain't entitled to."
He stops, and Wash asks, "You done?"
"Yep. For now."
Wash's brow crinkles a little, and then he says, "Aww, you're such a romantic, Mal. I go and make you a mule, and what do I get? Rules."
"I brought you tea! Also, there's the sex."
Wash grins before he takes a mouthful of the tea. Mal tells himself he ain't watching Wash swallow.
"Ah yes, the sex." Wash pauses and his expression turns serious, "I don't want to run this ship. Maybe you should tell that rule to Jayne. Every day. Loudly. Second, I'll tell you what I think, but it's not as though you'll listen. Third, I'm questioning by nature, and that isn't going to change. And the fourth one?" Now he grins again, the grin Mal recognizes as foreshadowing trouble. "I don't know about that. I've got a list of cute names, you know. I've been collecting them for years."
"You sure? I've got names that won't damage your masculinity too much. What about – lamby-toes?" He smirks as he says it.
"What part of 'no cute names' don't you understand?"
Wash lies back, and Mal takes in the view as the sheet slips down to his waist. "I've got a wealth of names at my fingertips." He wiggles the fingers on one hand, the hand that ain't holding the tea. "You don't want them now fine, but don't come crying to me later."
Mal steps away from the wall, and starts unbuttoning his shirt. "That ain't what I'm gonna come to you for," he says, grinning as Wash's eyes follow the movement of his fingers.
Summary: Mal flicks on his best smile – his recruiting smile – and holds out his hand. AU.
Notes: I never thought I'd write Mal/Wash. I never thought I'd slash Wash at all. But it was fun! vandonovan somewhat instigated this. Pre-series timeline.