I wanted to gift you the sequel to 'Of Smuggling Jobs and Nifty Flying', but it has been very uncooperative. But look! Happy Wash fic for you:
Rating/Warnings: PG13, for nakedness and implications
Length: 3,273 words
Summary: A story about marital traditions, in which Wash drinks tea and does not want to be an Offended Man.
Wash clutched the dainty cup as if it was a lifeline, which was exactly what it was. He was adrift in a sea of complicated matrimonial type issues, none of which he understood, but he understood a cup of tea. Cups of tea were not particularly complicated. You held them, you drank the tea, you gave them back. Only not so much with the 'giving back' part at the moment.
"Would you care for some more?" Inara asked him politely.
To his relief she gracefully lifted the tea pot and refilled his empty cup without waiting for answer, giving him a legitimate excuse to carry on holding onto it.
Inara sat down on the sofa so that she was facing him, lifted her own cup and sipped, then gently placed it back down on the table with a small click.
"It’s the traditions," Wash blurted, leaning forward until his elbows were resting on his knees, both hands still gripping his cup of tea. "Marriage traditions. There are so very many of them and I just can't figure them out. I can calculate speeds, trajectory, flight patterns, fuel burn, engine deflux-"
Inara held up a hand to cut him off, but she was smiling so he didn’t take offence. Not that he ever did, since people telling him to shut up was a regular occurrence and he didn't want to waste his life being an Offended Man.
"Traditions can be extremely difficult to navigate," she said softly. "What you have to remember is that traditions are merely something that many people have done before us, not necessarily something that we have to do ourselves."
"Yes, but people expect…things." Wash stared into his tea miserably.
"What people expect of us, and even things that we expect of ourselves, don't have to dictate the way we live."
"But I want it to be perfect. According to tradition and everything."
He transferred a hand from gripping his cup to gripping his knee, so he could raise the cup to his lips with one hand, and swallowed a few mouthfuls of tea. To his surprise, that small amount drained the cup, which probably explained how his first helping had vanished so quickly. He wasn't used to dainty, Companion-sized china.
"It's all right to be nervous," said Inara.
She reached out and placed a hand over the one Wash had on his knee. He studied the pattern of her slim, dark-skinned fingers against the pale, broad back of his hand. Maybe hands were like cups of tea: less complicated than traditions.
"I understand your dilemma," she said, moving closer and putting her other hand on his other knee.
Wash nearly dropped his cup.
He yanked his hand out from under hers to grip the cup with two shaking hands and it rattled as he dumped it onto the table for safekeeping.
"Um, what are you doing?"
"I presumed that we were discussing the tradition of bedding a Companion before settling down," Inara said calmly, "and the dilemma of you doing so when I, the only available Companion, have made it quite clear that I do not service this crew."
"Already settled! Fully and completely settled over here!"
Wash scooted backwards until she removed her hands from his knees. He didn't have to move far, what with Inara's trained Companion senses probably telling her how uncomfortable he was right now, although they hadn't been much good at telling her that he wasn't here for sex.
"I apologise." She relaxed, tucking one leg up underneath herself and taking off her smile. "I confess, that tradition, and the ramifications of my presence onboard this ship alongside the general lack of Companions found out here on the Rim, has been praying on my mind ever since you and Zoë announced your engagement. When you came here looking so nervous and speaking of traditions… I'm afraid I jumped to a false conclusion."
"Yes you did." He took a deep breath and then allowed himself to grin a little. "Does that happen often; you thinking you have a client when you don't?"
Inara returned his grin with a small one of her own, which, in Wash's opinion, suited her far better than any amicable smile. "I have to say, it's a rare occurrence." She picked up her own cup again. "So, what seems to be the problem?"
"Zoë!" he burst out. "Well, not Zoë. More the traditions of Zoë, which I know absolutely nothing about! I'm marrying this woman – this wonderful, amazing woman – in three days and I have no idea what she wants from me. I mean, I know what she wants from me for the rest of our lives, or least I really hope I do, but I don't know what she wants from me for the wedding."
"Did you ask her?"
"Well, yes." He liked to think he wasn't so stupid that he wouldn't have asked her.
Inara sipped at her tea. "And what did she tell you?"
"That she doesn't care! Only she was fingering that necklace she wears when she said it, and I know she bought some proper bread, and the other day I caught her sewing a fancy pattern onto the side seams of her best trousers in blue thread. So her saying she doesn't care about traditions, when she obviously has them? Did not help."
Wash collapsed backwards against the sofa and let loose an exasperated sigh.
"Do you have any traditions?" Inara asked.
"And that does not help either."
"Well," she said, raising her eyebrows. "Do you?"
"Pilots are not so much with traditions of the marital variety. Even the Companion-bedding before marriage variety," he added, smirking slightly.
Inara rolled her eyes, finished her tea and placed the empty cup back on the table, neatly aligned with the tea pot and the teaspoon. "Zoë isn't marrying a pilot; she's marrying you. Do you have any traditions?"
"I don't know."
Wash ran a hand through his hair and sighed again. He'd always been too busy planning to escape to the stars to pay much attention to what had been going on around him on his home planet, so any traditions he might have picked up there had flown right by him, and when he turned his mind to what he, personally, might want from a wedding he came up blank.
"Perhaps, then, you ought to consider that it's just as difficult for her to cater to your traditions as it is for you to cater to hers."
Inara rose to her feet and Wash followed automatically. Before he knew it, which was much like the experience of draining one of her tea cups, she was ushering him out of her shuttle.
"Good luck," she told him as he stood there blinking and trying to figure out what had just happened. She brushed her fingers against the sleeve of his flight jumpsuit, smiled, and left.
"Oh." Wash stared at the closed door, wishing for another cup of tea to hold onto. "Okay."
"In there any reason in particular for you to be hangin' 'round outside a Companion's shuttle like that?"
Wash stumbled as he turned around and Jayne, standing behind the Captain, snickered.
The Captain himself was not an Amused Man.
"Look," Mal continued, slipping his thumbs under his braces where they met the waistband of his trousers, "if Zoë ain't someone you want to be spendin' the rest of your life with, best you say so now, else that'll be a mighty short life you're gonna be livin', I guarantee."
"I was here for tea! Tea!"
Wash waved his hands in the air wildly, sudden and total fear for his life causing him to emphasis his words with hand gestures, which he'd sworn he'd never do in front of Mal, just in case the Captain thought him to be more insane that he already did.
"Little man's finally cracked," said Jayne. "Want me to space him?"
"No," said Mal, although to Wash's ears he didn't sound all that certain about it.
"It'd put him out of his misery. And us out of the misery of having him onboard."
"I am marrying Zoë," said Wash, his hands fluttering like birds frantically trying to stay aloft. "In three days. She can kill you with her thighs."
"Right." Mal's thumbs abandoned the braces and he shoved his hands in his pockets. "Right. She can kill you. Just you remember that."
Wash nodded, regally, and walked away, leaving Mal and Jayne to finish their task of checking everything was safe and secure before the Dead Hours – the hours when a small crew, who didn't have enough members to keep people awake in shifts, designated as 'night time'.
"Cracked," Jayne muttered as he left, but Wash pretended he hadn't heard.
He didn't, after all, want to be an Offended Man.
Wash slowed down as he approached the bunk he shared with Zoë. Lately she'd been meeting him on the Bridge whenever his day finished – his day generally being scheduled according to the demands of the flight plan rather than according to the clock, which organised everyone else's time – and leading him to their bunk with whispered promises and damp kisses.
The light was already green by the closed ladder-door, which meant tonight she'd gone to bed without him. He wondered if those rendezvous' were a tradition they had been making together and if Zoë would be annoyed or upset that he'd broken it.
Kaylee nudged him in the side with her elbow to encourage him to stop blocking up the corridor, her hands being occupied with carrying what looked like a Versta 237 with a missing top jock.
Wash obligingly moved aside and was rewarded with a huge, cheerful smile.
"How'd the chat with Inara go?" she asked.
"Um," said Wash. He started fiddling with one cuff of a jumpsuit sleeve.
"That bad, huh?" said Kaylee sympathetically. "I'm sorry. I thought with Inara knowing heaps 'bout traditions she'd be able to help."
"Well," said Wash, "she did make me a nice cup of tea."
"Look, I know you said you didn't know much about traditions, but I'm getting a bit desperate here," he confessed, plucking a loose thread off his cuff. "Please. Any wedding traditions you know about. At this point I don't think you could say anything less helpful than I've already heard. Unless, you know, you advise me to go make out with Jayne or something equally ridiculous."
She managed to laugh and shrug without dropping the machinery in her arms, which Wash thought was a rather impressive feat.
"Only tradition I ever heard 'bout, 'sides birthdays and Year's End, was what my Ma used to say, that these kids of hers were carryin' on the family tradition of getting babies first and husbands after, but leastways the daddies and the husbands were the same an' she'd had more wedding's to go to than some folks whose kids weren't better than they ought."
Wash blinked. "Except, possibly, that."
"I'm sorry," she said and bumped her shoulder against his. "Anyways, you're marrying Zoë in three days. Traditions or not, that's got to make you happy, and make her real happy too, I'm sure."
"You're welcome." She grinned. "Now me and this here fiblockation got a date with a screwdriver and some grease afore I hit the sack."
She kicked open her ladder-door, shifted the weight of the Versta until it was mostly resting on her left hip and held in one place with one arm, and half-climbed half-slid down the ladder.
"Have fun with that!" Wash called after her, and made his way into his and Zoë's own bunk smiling.
Zoe was sat up in their bed reading an old gun catalogue. The sheets were pulled up high enough to cover her breasts, but her shoulder were bare and he just knew that she was naked, the same as she'd been every night she'd shared a bed with him.
He took his time closing up the door-hatch so he could try and think of a way to bring up talking about traditions before he took advantage of that beautiful naked woman, as he had every night he'd shared a bed with her.
"Good evening, husband," Zoë said when he finally faced her properly.
Wash swallowed hard.
"Why do you always look so shocked at that?" Zoë demanded. "I feel like I have to get you used to it."
"Me. Husband. To you." He smiled, pleased with the level of articulation he was managing on this topic. He gestured at her curves, which were far from diminished by being covered by sheets. "With the. And the. Married. Me."
Zoë folded her arms, which framed her breasts nicely and caused the sheets to slip down, revealing a tantalising collarbone. "Backside, thighs, breasts. Is that all you’re interested in?"
"That isn't what I'm going to wake up to every morning," he said seriously, "unless I sleep in a very suffocating position."
She was, Wash thought, an Annoyed Woman. And he loved her.
"That's just it." His hands started moving as he talked, which he'd never tried to hide in front of Zoë. "I'm going to wake up next to you. Every morning. Forever. I get to do that, as your husband. I'm never gonna get used to that. Hell, I never want to."
They watched each other for a moment; Wash still standing by the door-hatch in his crumpled jumpsuit, hair messy and hands waving meanings in the air, and Zoë sat in their bed, unmoving. Then Zoë uncrossed her arms and let the sheet covering her fall to her waist.
"Husband, you are more than welcome to get into this bed. Preferably right damn now."
Wash grinned wider than he'd ever thought possible until he'd met Zoë, remembered to take his boots off first when divesting himself of his clothing, and scrambled across the bed to kneel, facing Zoë, over Zoë's lap, one leg either side of hers with both of hers in the middle.
He caressed one finger along the line of her collarbone reverently.
"You weren't annoyed with me for not being on the Bridge when you came looking for me, were you?" he asked. "I mean, if you did come looking for me."
Zoë ran her hands up his legs, from where his knees touched the bed to where his thighs met his pelvis, and left her hands where they ended up, holding him. "I was annoyed that you weren't there, but I wasn't annoyed with you." She gave his chin a chaste kiss. "I don't need to know everything that you do or everywhere that you go."
"What if I want to tell you?"
"If you want to. I'd love you to." She smiled and stroked the soft skin where his thighs ended with her thumbs.
"I went to ask Inara about wedding traditions."
Zoë froze. "I told you I don't care."
"Yes, well, you said that, but I saw you sewing your trousers and," he said, tracing the leather necklace that she never removed, "you keep touching this. I know you have traditions, because I am a man that can fly complicated spaceship and am therefore not entirely stupid, but I don't know what those traditions are and I want to know so that I can make sure that our wedding is absolutely perfect for you."
"And what did Inara say?"
"She kept asking if I had any traditions, which did not help, although she does have nice tea. Horribly small and ridiculously delicate cups, mind you, but nice tea. Oh, and Mal threatened to kill me again, but this time it was if I decide I don't want to spend the rest of my life with you after marrying you, which was new. I think he might be starting to like me."
They grinned at each other. Zoë leaned back against the pillow she had propped up behind her and Wash reached out to touch her leather necklace again.
"So, what does this mean?"
"It's who I am," she said simply.
He pressed a kiss against the skin where the lowest knot of the necklace hung and murmured, "You're going to have to be more specific than that. I said I wasn't entirely stupid, remember?"
He felt his hair move a little as she huffed in amusement.
"The colour means I'm from the a certain district, back on the planet I come from, the knots and the way they're positioned say what family I'm from, that I'm unmarried, and my rank: First Mate."
"Mmm." Wash ran his hands up and down the sides of her ribs and smiled as her hold on his thighs tightened. "And how do you make it say that you are married?"
"It doesn't matter," she told him flatly. "It's a tradition from a planet I used to live on. Don’t live there any more, so don't see how it matters."
"If it didn't matter you wouldn't still be wearing it. And you wouldn't have changed it to say you were a First Mate." He lifted his face to hers, as if he was going to kiss her on the mouth, then changed direction at the last moment to kiss her on the nose, as chastely as she'd kissed his chin earlier. "I'm guessing it's because you're proud of being Serenity's First Mate, which I am in absolute agreement with, because she is a fantastic ship and you, of course, are a fantastic First Mate. And I guess you must be proud of where you come from. Or at least of getting away from it. So."
He pressed a closed-mouth kiss against her lips, leaned back, and shot her an expectant look.
"Yes, I'm proud of you, too," she told him, and laughed. "You have to tie another knot. Here." She indicated a place at the front, where her heart would be if it were (romantically) placed in the centre of her chest and not (scientifically and actually) placed to the left.
Wash gathered the ends of the necklace in both hands. "Um, what kind of knot am I making here?"
"I know how to do that!" He sounded more surprised than was probably appropriate for the moment, but he had more experience with soldering and wiring than knotting, so actually knowing what she was referring to was a surprise – a pleasant one.
He actually held his breath as he carefully tied the knot that would say that who Zoë was was married. To him.
Afterwards she kissed him, thoroughly, and the sheets somehow ended up somewhere at the end of the bed, not that either of them cared, and the pair of them ended up as close as could be, which was even less complicated than a cup of tea and far more wonderful.
"Did you decide if you had any traditions?" she asked him quietly, her words and lips kissing his ear.
"I don’t know."
He ran a hand along the length of her arm, from shoulder to wrist, stroked the back of her neck, then gently pressed a finger to the side of her cheek, as if leaving his mark there, his identity in invisible whorls and swirls.
His hands never were still unless he ordered them otherwise.
"Maybe. I think." He traced the outline of her mouth. "The words have to be right."
She pulled back so that they could see each others eyes and she smiled, the most beautiful smile, in Wash's opinion, that any woman could ever give.
"I love you," she said, which, in Wash's opinion, was perfect.