"What It Is"
Saturday, May 20, 2006

"A job finally goes smooth and while ship and crew are enjoying the lull, Zoe decides she needs to talk to the Captain."


TITLE: "WHAT IT IS" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: Mal/Zoe. RATING: NC-17. STATUS: Standalone ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE:

SUMMARY: "A job finally goes smooth and while ship and crew are enjoying the lull, Zoe decides she needs to talk to the Captain." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

For once the job had gone smooth. No near death experiences. No bitter old men trying to claw back lost reputations and no old friends selling them out for coin because times were hard. Finding an Alliance free planet to set down for repairs had seemed the thing to do and the happy scampering of his mechanic had put a glow inside that made him feel mighty good. Even Inara being off on her whoring couldn't dent the feeling of contentment seeping into his consciousness. Captain Malcolm Reynolds let a lazy smile linger on his lips, his critical eye calmed by the knowledge that they had coin to buy some much needed parts, medical supplies and fresh food. Even enough for the crew to jingle in their pockets, least 'til they spent it. Jayne was already off ship fast as his legs would take him making the Captain smirk. Man would never be able to outrun that rutting libedo of his. He was joined on the lowered ramp by a hesitant doctor.

"Captain, I was wondering..."

Mal answered without turning his head. All manner of amused that after everything they had been through together Simon could still be so reserved and unsure of him. "*Qu*, Simon. Ain't no Alliance presence on Silveredge. Zoe an' me already checked it out. There's a market too, mostly food an' such but might have some pretties for River to oggle."

When Simon did not reply the Captain turned his head to see the doctor studying him. "*Shenme shi*?"

"'s nothing it's just..." Simon trailed off before finishing what he was going to say. "You look happy."

"Job went smooth, not nobody got hurt or took sick."

"Yes, that's true, still..."

The Captain's sunny mood began to dim. "Doc, you wanna start finishin' those sentences or leave this be. Ain't no crime to enjoy the moment. Don't happen often enough to be commonplace, *dong ma*?"

"No, no, *duibuqi*, I didn't mean anything by it. Just surprised but it's good. Really."

The smile back on his face at Simon's attempt to make amends he gave the doctor a nod and watched him go back aboard the ship to get his sister. Turning back to look out across the sweeping flats of Silveredge he sensed his second come and stand tall and solemn beside him. Ever since Miranda, Zoe had been quieter and grimmer. A silent but constant companion, all tied up with emotions and tension that couldn't be released. He knew she was hurting still but was powerless to help her. All he could do was be there and so he was. They didn't speak on it because both knew it was just the way things were. It gave them an ease and comfort in each other's presence no matter what *goushi* was flying. In war and peace they grounded each other. Now. In the long aftermath of terrible grief that friendship was as precious as the air they breathed. Didn't need for it to be put into words to make it so. That was how he knew something had changed.

Mal waited until River and Simon came out dragging a protesting Kaylee with them. She wanted to get to work *mashang* on fitting the new parts and making Serenity as shiny as could be but the Tams wanted to share their day off ship with her and neither would take no for an answer. "Cap'n, ya tell 'em, I got lots of fixin' up to do. Don't know when we'll get the chance to rest her up while I bring Serenity up to spec."

"*Mei mei*, seems to me you could do with a break." At Kaylee's outraged look he chuckled. "Even mean old men can have a day off an' that goes twice for their hard workin' mechanics, Kaylee. Ship'll still be here when you get back."

The longing to do just that was at war in Kaylee's eyes with her sense of duty and devotion to the aging but much loved Firefly. "How long we stoppin', Cap'n?"

The Captain glanced out of the corner of his eye at Zoe but she was silent, distant almost. No hint there of what she wanted to do so he made the decision for them all. "Two days should be doable, that enough for you to have a day's fun an' do your tinkerin' little Kaylee?"

"Ain't tinkerin'..." At the Captain's amused raised eyebrows Kaylee stopped protesting and grinned at him. "I love my Cap'n!"

River and Simon sang out their farewells as they ran with Kaylee hand in hand like school kids on an outing. All of a sudden Mal felt old. The brush of a coarse sleeve against his bare arm drew him out of his reverie to see Zoe looked straight at him. "Zoe?"

"Need to talk, sir."

His stomach sank. That look, those words, never a good combination. He also realised that now it was just him and Zoe aboard ship so there would be no interruptions. Did she want to chew him out over something? Maybe tell him all the ten thousand reasons why a two day stay would bring the gorram sky down on them? Knowing it was best to just get it over with, the Captain followed her back up the ramp and watched as Zoe closed the ship up and started heading across the cargo bay to the stairs. Mal's step faltered. "Zoe? What is this?"

She paused and turned half way up the metal staircase. "Just wanna talk, sir."

He glanced around his empty ship. "An' we can't talk here?"

Her eyes were calm luminous depths, all dark and impassive but with hidden currents that right now he could not navigate. Made him all manner of nervous. "No, Mal, we can't."

It was with more than a little trepidation that he followed her into the commons room. "Zoe, what's this all about?"

His soft voice was an attempt to hide the anxiety and worry crowding in the corner of his eyes. Knew she didn't like him fussing over her but right now her mood had him unsettled. To his surprise, Zoe went to a cupboard in the kitchen and took out a bottle of wine. Not Kaylee's gut rotting engine brew or Jayne's fire eating whiskey mash but something smoother and more part of Inara and Simon's world than their own. Picking up a couple of glasses Zoe passed the big old table and stepped down into the lounge area, the Captain following with a puzzled and wary expression on his face. "Is that wine you got there?"

Zoe hid the crack of a first smile. "Reckon it'll ease the conversation some."

Now Mal really did not want to be here. Women and serious talk were words to make a man take flight but there was no fleeing from this. Zoe had chosen her moment and intended to make full use of it. She waited until the Captain sat gingerly on the couch and poured them both a goodly glass of wine. For a long moment they stared at each other. The Captain swallowed in a throat suddenly gone dry, not sure what this was about or why he felt like he was being all penned in. Like a pig to the slaughter house. He watched Zoe raise her glass. "To Wash!"

Surprised but relieved, the Captain raised his glass. Voice grave and respectful. "To Wash, a good man who is much missed."

She almost lost it then. Mal was not a man for false praise and to hear him speak well of her *zhangfu* brought an intensity to her memories that nearly undid her. So she drank half a glass straight off, her eyes on Mal's. Watching as he matched her, the warm full bodied wine soothing his dryness and beginning to ease the awkwardness some. Zoe never took her eyes off his. "To Shepard Book!"

The Captain raised his eyebrows and attempted to lighten the atmosphere just a touch. "You tryin' to get me drunk?" When she did not respond he bit back a sigh and went along with her mood. "To Book."

Glasses now empty, Zoe refilled them. The Captain frowned as he watched but said nothing. Sensing she was fragile right now and not wanting to break her with his clumsy words. He was no good at this comforting thing. Give him something to shoot, a problem to fix, an enemy to dispose of and he was your man. Ask him for subtle and he was like to come up empty. Not because he was not a subtle man, he was, but because speaking on it was just an emotional quagmire. One women had mapped out before the first man had ever been born. He was sure the serpent in the Garden of Eden from Earth-That-Was had been female but a legion of Reavers wouldn't drag that admission out of his gorram mouth.

"Zoe," Mal said quietly, feeling his way. "What's this all about?"

"Wash. I miss him."

The Captain nodded, he had figured as much but it felt like there was something else. Something darker and less obvious. "Me too."

A hand settled on his left knee. "Miss him a whole lot."

Mal would have jumped back but the look in Zoe's eye pinned him in place.

"Woman has needs, Mal."

This time he found his feet, almost knocking his glass over in his haste. Zoe rose with him, but far more gracefully and if he chose to admit it, ten times deadlier. "*Wei*, we can't be doin' this, Zoe!"

"Doin' what? We're friends, Mal. Been through more with you than any other soul in the 'verse includin' Wash."

"Yeah but, I ain't him."

He could have bit out his tongue the moment the words were out of his mouth. Zoe's eyes sparked with pain, the hurt hitting him almost as hard on the rebound.

"Gorrammit Zoe, I didn't mean it like that."

"Then how did you mean it, Mal?"

Her eyes were hollow points of misery. The Captain felt like a *hundan* but really she was all kinds of disturbing and baffling right now. "Didn't mean to hurt you, you know that."

The angry pain softened some in those deep chocholate eyes. "*Wo zhidao*."

Then they were sitting again. Mal gulped his wine down without thinking, anything to keep his hands busy and give himself an excuse to look away. This time he wasn't surprised when she refilled his glass. "What you wantin' from me, Zoe?" "Comfort." The hand was back on his knee, slowly moving up towards his thigh as she leaned in to him. So slowly that he could have backed away or stomped off without any problem only the look in her eyes would have made him the biggest heel in the 'verse. "Need someone to hold me, someone I trust."

"Zoe, this is a bad idea." He said, his voice husky from the wine and warm willing hands waking parts of him that should have remained sleeping. It was a heady combination and Malcolm Reynolds had never been able to hold his wine. It was getting hard to remember why this was so wrong.

Zoe nodded, her face looming so close to his that he could smell her wine scented breath. "Yep, the worst."

"Then mayhap we should..."

"No should about it, Mal." Said Zoe in a voice so seductively soft he thought he had imagined it.

The hand was touching more assuredly now, the pressure sweeping up his thigh and between his legs as if she had every right and him not doing a thing to stop her. His mouth dropped open in shock just before her lush lips closed over them and stole his air, their eyes trapped in each other's reaction as Zoe shifted her weight and kissed him deep. Stunned, the Captain didn't struggle, his body firing up at her touch. Those seconds of no resistence were all Zoe needed to push him onto his back, her body cradling his while pinning him down. A distant part of his brain recognised how careful she was being not to hurt him, her hands now drawing heat trails where they touched, his gun and holster gone before he noticed their loss. Belt unbuckled and a warm hand sliding down to caress him while the other hand tugged his shirt out but left the suspenders up.

He wanted to stop her, tell her this was not necessary. They would go and find some shiny boy whores and she could rutt to her heart's content. Get the whole damn business out of her system but no. This was Zoe and she was way too private to share her urges and desires with a stranger. In her own inimitable way she had chosen him. The one man she trusted to help her and then move on. A man who would never betray her need by talking about what passed between them. It was a compliment and a burden but right now he couldn't think straight beyond the clamouring of his body to give her whatever the good gorram she needed. He didn't remember her stripping him naked or him returning the favour, his senses drunk on her. Letting Zoe lead and play the passive slave to her desires. It was all kinds of a turn on, those strong capable hands doing things to him that blew his mind. Her vice like grip bringing him hard and straining in her hand, the slick slide of perspiration and come oiling her hand as she rode that sheath, hot blood pulsing beneath her fingers, his breath catching as Zoe brought him to the edge.

*Wode ma*, he was dying in that iron grip. Not with pain but rising passion. Needing to thrust, to come to orgasm, but Zoe slid her hand down beneath his cap. A little expert pressure and he gasped, frustrated to be halted. Hot and on the verge of begging. Zoe plied him with kisses, licked and sucked his tongue while working him slowly back to the point of coming. Again and again until he was crying into her mouth, not in words but truncated pleas that she swallowed and savoured, her body warm and glistening now rubbing up and down his until she was good and ready for him. Then with a quick practised movement she raised her hips and impaled herself on him. Mal's eyes widened, breath huffed out of him, the intensity of joining flooding him with sensation. He couldn't move his hips, couldn't thrust, could only lay beneath her as Zoe slowly and carefully rose and lowered herself on his aching shaft. He could not speak, Zoe's words a hushed murmur in his ears. Her strong muscles working to draw this out until both were on the verge of passing out. When they came they came together. Shattering into ecstasy, the hot blinding flash of orgasm. The post coital hum of sleepy sated content.

They lay in a sloppy tangle and slept, short minutes of respite between bouts of hot sweaty sex. Zoe was insatiable and Mal was no longer able to deny her a gorram thing. Not that he wanted to, he was just too damn exhausted to care. Later they moved to his bunk, Zoe taking the half empy wine bottle with her. Mal didn't ask. Not like he was going to drink another glass, it had already gone to his head. They slept an hour or two, the Captain waking to the feel of something trickle over him. Cracking a sleepy eye he was surprised to see Zoe smiling tenderly down at him, the wine bottle half decanted in her hand. He blinked and felt the trickle run down his naked body. Yep, she was dousing him in gorram wine! "Zoe?"

Putting the bottle down, Zoe leaned down and began to lick the wine off him. Mal shuddered, her tongue going places that hadn't felt the touch since God knew when. Oh good gorram, she was getting him excited all over again. He could feel himself stirring, despite how tired he felt his body seemed to be on automatic with Zoe the one operating it to her every whim. "Sssh, you'll like this Mal."

"I like everythin' you're doing. darlin'. Not sure I'll survive it though."

She laughed. A warm deep honest to God laugh. It brightened his heart more than words could say to hear it. Good gorram if all he had to do to make her happy was this then he would be her whore. But Mal knew it wasn't that. Knew this would never happen between them again. It was a one time deal so whatever she wanted Zoe could have. And he'd be only to glad to give it to her. He was jerked out of his musings by that busy tongue, now working down his belly and teasing him. Sucking and licking and rolling the softened shaft in her mouth like a gorram sweet. He twitched, all manner of sensitive down there but she wouldn't let him go. Smiling, Mal caressed a full breast, his mouth on the other. Teeth and tongue hardening the nipple into a pebble of desire. Zoe's throaty response making him harden in her mouth. Okay, she was going to kill him but honestly Malcolm Reynolds could not think of a better way to go.

* * * * *

Kaylee loved it. They didn't have strawberries but they had peaches! Her face lit with pleasure she spent most of her coin on fruit leaving just enough to buy a little chocholate. River bought paper and pencils and Simon spent hours pouring over some musty books that meant absolutely nothing to Kaylee. Each time Simon made to leave and head back River would spot something else they just *had* to see. After the fourth time, Simon stared at her suspiciously but River gave him an innocent look. Shrugging, the doctor went back into the bookshop, leaving the two women outside eating fruit. Kaylee eyed her friend knowingly while her hand traced a dribble of peach juice down her chin. "What ya up to, sweetie?"

Smiling to herself River caught Kaylee's hand and dragged her over to another vendor, knowing that Zoe and Mal hadn't finished yet. Another couple of hours and they could go back. Simon was a doctor, he should know that as much as the body needed time to heal so did the soul. Not that she would tell them. They had all loved Wash and anything that helped Zoe to cope with his passing was a good thing. A little tug of amusement pulled at her lips, her eyes dancing in inward mirth. She would never tell them that distance meant nothing. River Tam could still feel *everything*. Her smile widening she had to bite quickly into a peach to still a cry, the look on her face almost making Kaylee choke. Then it was gone and Kaylee convinced herself she must have imagined it. If she hadn't known better she would have said the look on her friend's face was post-orgasmic.

* * * * *

Inara Serra was happy. Her clients had been both courteous and attentive lovers. It made her feel fulfilled to know that she could make them forget their troubles and help. The revenue and acclaim her efforts brought her adding to that feeling of a job well done. Seeing Serenity widened her smile even more. Though she would never admit it, the scruffy little transport ship was home.

* * * * *

For once the job had gone smooth. No near death experiences. No bitter old men trying to claw back lost reputations and no old friends selling them out for coin because times were hard. Serenity was all fixed up and the crew were relaxed and smiling. For a moment Inara paused on the catwalk, trying to remember when she had seen the crew this content. Then Kaylee was running up to hug her, dragging her off to the commons room where the delicious smells of freshly cooked food tantalised her with a different kind of hunger. The Captain nodded from the head of the table, merry chatter danced around the table. Even Jayne was in a good mood. But what made Inara happiest of all was when she sat down to join them and turned her head. Zoe was smiling.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*qu* = yes (lit. go) *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *mashang* = at once/immediately/quickly/on the double *goushi* = crap/dog shit *mei mei* = little sister *zhangfu* = husband *wei* = hey! *hundan* = bastard *wo zhidao* = I know *wode ma* = mother of God


Saturday, May 20, 2006 2:32 AM


That was beautiful! Of course Zoe would turn to Mal...and River would know it. I love this glimpse of life on Serenity.

Saturday, May 20, 2006 4:14 AM


Oh, this was great. I don't usually read pairings other than cannon but I love your work so much I figured I'd give this a go. Very happy I did.

Saturday, May 20, 2006 4:19 AM


<i>Good gorram if all he had to do to make her happy was this then he would be her whore. But Mal knew it wasn't that.</i>

I really liked this story. You made Zoe/Mal plausible. I posted my favorite line. I like how they're always there for each other.

And...whoa! good sex! :-D

Saturday, May 20, 2006 4:20 AM


I never would have thought of this scenario with Zoe & Mal but it makes sense. And you wrote it perfectly. Nothing cheesy or cheap. Just good honest emotions. You have a gift!

Saturday, May 20, 2006 4:24 AM


I absolutely adored this.

If Zoe went to Mal it would be for exactly all the reasons you stated and be exactly like that.

Everything's back to being shiny on Serenity. *sigh*

Saturday, May 20, 2006 6:06 AM


That was really lovely Alison, thank you for sharing.

Saturday, May 20, 2006 6:45 AM


It's hard for me to picture these two together as anything but friends, but you handled it very well. Write more!

Sunday, May 21, 2006 7:20 PM


Excellent piece of post-BDM fic, AMDOBELL:)

While I generally don't ship Mal/Zoe (cuz Lord knows they would have had enough time to get together before the series and Wash came along), I really found this scenario both in character and perfectly suitable for any post-BDM projects Joss & co. might have far up their sleeves.



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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.