Collisions~ Chapter 2
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Wash and Zoe, prequel.Things collide, and not all of them are inanimate objects.


A/N: Thank you Coolbreez for all your kind words.

Collisions Chapter 2

There was a long stretch of sudden quiet, spattered with the creaks of settling ship, the falling of dust and chips of paint, and the groans of cooling metal. Zoë pushed herself up from where she’d come to rest on top of the console, and looked around. Her dark curls, once neatly contained and out of the way were now in disarray falling into her face. She pushed them aside irritably, her muscles protesting adamantly at the movement, and found herself face to face with a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex. It was one of Wash’s ridiculous toy dinosaurs. She shoved it away, hearing a loud clank as it hit the metal floor below her.

“Is everybody ok?” She heard Wash’s voice, and looked over to see him speaking into the com receiver, the h eel of his hand pressed against his forehead. She moved to stand and had to brace herself for a moment before she got her balance. The ship was tilted and the floor uneven, but she managed to get to Wash’s side without falling into him. She took hold of his chin and turned him roughly toward her, pulling his hand away from the wound on his forehead. “It’s nothing,” he said looking up at her.

“Nope,” she agreed, looking at the small cut oozing blood over his left eyebrow “Just a little scratch.”

He frowned slightly as he looked her over, she couldn’t say why she didn’t move away.

“You cut your cheek,” he said gently, reaching up as if to touch the place, but his fingers just hovered there. Her eyes locked with his, letting his gaze, as blue and open as the newly lit sky just beyond the front visor, look almost into her for the longest moment. She was still touching his face, feeling the soft rasping of a half days growth of stubble, and the heat of his skin under her fingers.

“Wash, Zoë you guys ok?” Zoë jerked back from him and he turned just as quickly to grab up the receiver. “Zhou ma, someone answer me!”

“We were just asking that about you, Captain,” Wash said smiling at the sound of Mal’s voice, finally looking back up to Zoë. “Where are you?”

“I’m still in the cargo bay, I could use a bit of a hand down here.” Zoë gave a quick nod and hurried off in that direction, feeling Wash’s eyes on her until she turned the corner.

She found Mal, wedged between the bulkhead and the airlock, under the crates they had been hauling. She took a moment to hope their contents were still intact, before kneeling down to check over her captain. They really needed to get paid.

“I’m fine, just… feelin’ a little cramped, so if you could lift this piece of… gou shi... off me, I’d be much appreciative.” Zoë smiled a little at his speech.

“You sure? Ya aren’t comfortable?” she asked, just to rile him a bit.

“Zoë, stop being smart assed and get this crate off’a me!” his meridian blue eyes were glaring at her now. “My ship is in who knows what kind’a shape, and I’ve either got a pilot or a mechanic to kill, I don’t need any pì huà from my first mate.”

“I think…” Zoë began as she moved to lift the crate that had pinned Mal’s arm so he could help with the one pinning his legs.

“Bester, where the hell are you?” she heard Wash’s voice echoing from one of the hallways. “What kind of …”

“Wash, get down here and help me!” she called out. After a few moments, he poked his head in from the above stairs portal.

“Mal! You ok?” he asked with concern as he hurried best he could down the tilted stairs and over the crooked floor. In the end he ended up running down the incline and smacking into the wall. Zoë restrained her laugh, but couldn’t stop the smile that flitted about at the corners of her mouth for a moment.

“I saw that,” Wash said, giving her a look out of the corner of his eye. He smiled at her, and her face fell straight back to serious. “Ok,” he said looking down at Mal, prone on the cargo bay floor. “We best rescue the Captain from these evil crates of doom, or he’s likely to get cranky,” Wash said, his voice filled with his usual good humor.

Zoë caught herself on a laugh and Mal muttered threats of firings to come. Together Zoë and Wash moved the crate that had pinned Mal’s legs and, though he made a vocal fuss about straining something important, Wash didn’t really seem to have much trouble. She was still entirely too aware of him she realized, something that had happened while she was watching him fly the ship. Well, simple fact was, near death experiences tended to make her feel a bit keen. And it hadn’t hurt any that he had handled the ship with such skill, and quite probably saved all their lives. She wasn’t really fond of her reaction to that.

Wash was helping the Captain to his feet while Zoë checked over the cargo, and she found herself checking out his arms again. She nearly growled under her breath in self loathing as she yanked her eyes away from the dip in his shoulder where the trapezoid met the deltoid.

“Cargo checks out, Captain, looks like we haven’t lost any of our payload,” she said, a hard edge to her voice she hadn’t intended. Mal didn’t seem to notice.

“And a good thing it is too, seein’ as we might be needin’ a payday right badly about now.”

“Well, it sounds like the engine is still running at the moment. We could run outside, and check things out, see if we’re not too bad off? I could probably lift her up a bit. Set her on her feet?” Wash said looking at Mal, and scratching his temple thoughtfully.

“Sounds like a plan, you go do that and I’ll go see if our mechanic is still alive.”

“Do you intend to leave him in that state once you find him?” Wash asked dragging a thumbnail over a reddish gold brow.

Mal frowned at him. “What do you mean, Wash?”

“Only that I can’t help but wonder how he managed to miss the fact that Serenity’s engine was having a little issue with, oh you know… running.”

“Well, I plan to speak to him on that matter some my own self. Now, hows about taking that look outside you suggested. Zoë, go see if you can’t give him a hand with that.”

Wash watched, with no lack of appreciation, as Zoë made her way up the stairs to get her gun belt. Even the queasy off kilter feeling that still coursed through his veins since the “landing” couldn’t dim the affect the length of her legs, or the curve of her ass, had on him. He smiled a little and turned away, looking around in the chaos of the cargo bay for the tools’ crate.

He had just finished unburying said crate when Zoë’s foot steps could be heard coming down the stairs. “Let’s go,” she said simply when she arrived next to him. Her mare’s leg was strapped to her side, and her rifle was over her shoulder. He nodded and hoisted the heavy crate, moving toward the doors. Zoë’s long strides took her quickly to the console. She smacked a fist down on the correct button and the doors began to slide apart to the air lock.

Wash waited a bit anxiously for the outer landing door to descend, hoping all was in working order. It swung out with its usual steadiness, turning into a ramp. The end hit dirt a bit harder then usual, splashing into the lake water that Serenity had brought with her, and the hydraulics groaned in protest at not being able to complete their journey. He set the box of tools down quickly and reached over to hit the interrupt button. The groaning noise stopped.

Zoë strode out onto the ramp with confidence, her lovely back, straight, her head held high as she scanned the horizon. She swung gracefully from the hydraulic extender, landing with poise on dry ground. She moved like one of those big cats he’d seen on display one time, a female tiger, all lithe and nimble, strong and exquisite. He found at times that just watching her work, or trying to understand what was going on inside of her head, was enough to completely distract him from all usefulness.

Grimacing as he realized this was the case once again; he picked up the tool crate and headed off down the ramp after her. Never having been particularly coordinated in such things, and seeing as he was carrying a heavy crate filled with equally heavy tools, he opted not to swing from the hydraulic and instead had to step into the water. His foot instantly sank into deep, gelatinous mud, and his leg disappeared up to his knee.

“Just great,” he muttered, standing awkwardly, one foot on the edge of the ramp, the other sunk deep, making the holding of the crate just a bit awkward.

Zoë turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow. He cringed inwardly, but laughed self deprecatingly. Nothing like looking an idiot in front of the lady you’re sweet on to help with the ego.

“Looks like I’m in need of a rescue,” he said, “Again.” Zoë did another scan of their surroundings then walked over to him. First, she took the crate from him easily, setting it down on the dry ground beside her, and then she reached out for his hand. He took it firmly, swinging his still free leg forward to get some leverage on dry ground. Zoë seized his arm with both hands and pulled. His foot came free suddenly, with a loud sucking sound, and he plunged forward as Zoë tumbled backward, and Wash landed squarely on top of her with an “oomph”.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” he said quickly the words tumbling out of his mouth as he pushed up to look at her. “Are you alright?”

Zoë was looking at him steadily with an expression he couldn’t read.

“I’m really, very sorry,” he repeated. Although in truth all he could think about at that moment was how warm she felt under him.

“Get off me,” she said tersely, pushing his shoulders so that he rolled off her. She got to her feet with quick ease, and he scrambled up as well.

“Totally, not my intention,” he was rambling. He knew he was rambling, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. “To plow into you like that. I would never attempt such a thing on purpose. I mean you are… you could… kill me, very easily, I realize this and so… that’s not to say you are a killer or anything, I mean you’re a woman, a very fine looking and beautiful woman, but still I would never… I do realize you are more then just beautiful woman but it has to be said that…”

She cut him off, unsmilingly, although the laughter in her voice was unmistakable. “I’m not going to kill you, Pilot, at least… not today.” And with that she walked away standing back to get a good look at the ship’s position.

He ducked his head, grinned and followed after, trying all the while to get his mind back on Serenity and their predicament, and off the feel of her all warm, strong and yet still soft, beneath him. It wasn’t an easy task. The thought of Zoë warm beneath him was a common place for his mind to be. Ranked right up there with thoughts of Zoë on top of him, Zoë next to him, Zoë pressed against him in the corridor.

Ok, ship, Serenity, focus now you loony stick jockey.

He looked up at the large cylindrical engine, still lifted, extended in flight position. It was several feet off the ground, and look to be undamaged. It was difficult to know for sure with the whole side of her having been sprayed with mud and debris.

“It don’t look like the engine hit dirt,” he said out loud. He braced his hands on his hips and looked up thoughtfully. “I should probably go up there and look her over a bit closer. Can’t be sure from down here, ‘specially with all the dirt covering everything.”

Zoë remained silent, alternating her gaze from Serenity to the horizon behind them. The sun was still new in the sky, and the light was pale and fresh. It lit up her face, highlighting the exotic shape of her large dark eyes, caressing the curve of her full lips. When she looked into the light, she squinted, wrinkling her forehead a bit, and Wash had to restrain himself from staring again. She was quite simply, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He cleared his throat awkwardly and moved to Serenity’s side where a maintenance ladder was built into her side.

He slowly made his way across the surface of the extender, checking the joint where the engine was attached to it. He climbed underneath and checked from there, hanging upside down to check the shocks themselves as her as her could reach. He was careful, and thorough as possible, but his mind still kept traveling to Zoë.

It wasn’t just the fact that she was beautiful that he found so attractive. In fact, that was all part of the problem. He wasn’t a sheltered guy, he had been around a few places. There had been many a beautiful but unattainable woman come in and out of his life. He knew when the gig was up. He figured he was an acquired taste, and most women didn’t really put time in to acquire it. But, while there had been many pretty girls on many, many planets, there’d never been anyone like Zoë.

Of course, at first that was it. He was attracted to her the moment he saw her. This beautiful, warrior woman had met him in the air lock, slammed him against the bulkhead and frisked him rather methodically. It wasn’t a moment he was about to forget anytime soon.

She had always seemed to greatly dislike him. Hell, she sometimes she still seemed to greatly dislike him. Either way, she definitely gave him the cold shoulder those first few…months… on board, and it wasn’t something Wash was fond of. Aside from the fact she was beautiful, -and what man wanted a beautiful woman to dislike him- but it made for some pretty uncomfortable working conditions. So it became a goal of his to make her smile.

That was when it all started, ‘cause once he’d gotten her to smile, he really wanted to see her laugh, and once she laughed…he was inspired. It was when she started to joke back that he was good and caught. Her understated wit, her subtle sardonic tones, and the sound of her voice when a smile was hiding in it, were all enough to keep him coming back for more.

She wasn’t just a beautiful face on an amazing body, she was funny, and so damn smart. Stronger then any person he’d ever met, man or woman, and so real. Utterly sincere, she didn’t put on a show. She was what she appeared to be, but she was also more. He’d seen it, the way she looked out at the stars sometimes. The smile on her face the time they’d landed near that lake at sundown. She’d stood out on the ramp, arms folded over her chest, and watched until all the light had gone.

He’d spent enough time with her to know that some of the things she appeared to be at first glance, she wasn’t. She wasn’t cold. She wasn’t all hard. There was a warm blooded, caring woman under all that, and also some darkness.

Not that he would call himself the most perceptive guy around. Oft times he was somewhat less perceptive, but Zoë tended to grab his attention. She couldn’t be ignored. She was an equation that needed figuring. A new bit of space that needed to be navigated, a man needed to pay attention to find his way. And, since Zoë sure as hell wasn’t handing out maps, he had to employ the skills of his trade.

Zoë didn’t say much, but then again neither did space ships. Wash was used to listening to what a ship didn’t say. Each one was different, each one had its quirks, and each one had its own little ways of telling you what the score was, all you had to do was pay attention. So, that’s what he did with Zoë. He took notice of how she carried herself, of the things she chose to say. He watched the way she responded to others. And while he’d like to be able to congratulate himself on his keen observations, truth was he didn’t have much choice. She had him wrapped around her finger and didn’t even know it.

So he knew the calm on the surface, while solid and real in it’s own way, hid many dark things she wasn’t ready to let out into the ‘verse. He’d been around long enough now to hear the stories, and to see the way Mal and Zoë acted and reacted in certain situations. They way they dealt with different people. Zoë didn’t say much for a long while, but Mal, while also not the most talkative person, had wanted to get to know his pilot. And though all the stories he’d told held a more humorous slant, all that darkness was there, hiding behind the words.

What was driving him crazy now was that, in just the last month, something had changed. Something, he thought, in the way she responded to him, but he wasn’t sure. Couldn’t be sure. He had gotten so used to her avoidance he was almost afraid to think she might be changing her views concerning him. Afraid, but hopeful. Hopeful but afraid. A dichotomy really…

His thoughts drifted back as he realized he was hanging there doing nothing but thinking. He climbed back down after a careful perusal of all the places he thought stress was most likely to cause damage to the engine or the extender. He walked over to Zoë, and took a moment to enjoy the sight of her through his squint while she was looking away, watching for trouble on the horizon. He looked up at Serenity and scratched his head in thought. The engine hadn’t hit dirt, but it was awfully close to it. He wasn’t sure he could turn it to lift off. “You know, I should go inside and check the responses just in case.” He turned to look at her. She stood just s bit taller then him, he thought it was probably the boots, but he didn’t really care. “Could you stand out here and let me know how she’s movin'?” Zoë gave a nod, still alternating between looking up at Serenity and out over the horizon. He knew she was watching out for trouble. Her slender hand resting, deceptively relaxed, at her waist, her thumb hooked into her belt near the handle of her pistol. He dragged his eyes away from her and headed back into the hold, climbing through the water once more, with a bit more care this time. He heard voices from the portal to the infirmary and assumed Mal had found Bester, but didn’t bother to go check. If he’d a been a better mechanic himself, he would’ve hope the pretty boy had gotten himself killed. Well, maybe not killed exactly, but seriously injured would be nice. Injured enough to have to leave him behind on some planet with decent medical facilities, yeah that was it. But as it was, he just hoped the guy could get them back in the sky. “Captain? You found our mechanic yet?” Wash called into the com once he’d reached the bridge. He was pretty sure he knew the answer but thought he’d check just the same. “That’s an affirmative, Wash, how’d things go on your end.” “Well, the portside engine looks to be fine, but we’ve got another slight setback might need attention.” He made a face as he stressed the word “slight”. “And that would be?” Mal asked, sounding canned, distant and on the verge of pissed off. “Well, she piled up quite a bit of dirt when she hit, Sir. I’m not sure I can turn the engines for take off,” Wash said, feeling a bit apprehensive, Mal had a bit of a temper at the best of times, and this was definitely not the best of times. But the only response was a harsh swear in Mandarin, one Wash tended to agree with. Zoë hated mud. She had seen enough mud in her lifetime to last a hundred. She had no qualms about getting dirty when it was necessary, but it didn’t mean she had to like it, especially without benefit of a real bath to look forward to afterward. She could feel it inside her boots, squishing between her toes as she walked back down Serenity’s ramp. She could feel it drying crustily on her arm as the blazing sun struck her skin.

She watched the men, as she stepped back into the work area. She had gone to see about another shovel after the captain’s broke, and returned to find them all stripped down to bare chests under the now blazing sun. It was 10 o’clock in the a.m., and hot as hell. Mal’s suspenders swung forgotten at his sides, as he tossed another scoop of mud over his shoulder. Bester, using his hands now after surrendering his shovel to the Captain, was showing off his tattoos, which, come to think of it, wasn’t in the least unusual. He went shirtless whenever he found the slightest excuse. And Wash, with the arms of his faded green jumpsuit still tied around his waist, had lost the a-shirt and vest. He stood out a bit on account of his much fairer skin, which was already burning a bit in the sun, and the fact that, unlike the Captain and the mechanic, the pilot had a good amount of ginger gold hair covering his chest.

She felt a trickle of sweat run down the hollow of her spine, and reached down to quickly unfasten her extra layers. She tossed them aside, leaving a simple rust colored tank. She noticed Wash’s eye lingering on her for a long moment, and decided to ignore it, as well as the odd roll her stomach did. She thrust the scoop of her shovel into the mud, and tossed a pile of it aside. She heard a bit on nonsensical humming beside her and turned her head, Wash was nearer her now, his focus on his task, but he was humming slightly. She almost laughed, she couldn’t say why. It struck something deep inside her and her stomach rolled a bit more. She turned away, and looked at the dirt, but she couldn’t stop her gaze from drifting left every so often, to watch the shift of muscle under his skin, dusted with that ginger hair, as he pushed the handle forward, and then pulled it back again in an earnest steady rhythm. Some things in life just didn’t make sense, she decided, and this was one of them. Then she watched a flex of his stomach muscles. Just made no damn sense at all.

When they had finally cleared away enough dirt so that the engines could turn, the exposure of the hull showed that all was not to be as well as they had hoped. “Yep,” Wash said pushing wet, muddy hair off his face. “Looks like the heat shielding is damaged. Can’t tell how much or how bad from here, but there’s at least one section probably needs replacin’.” “Tian sha, figures, couldn’t be nuthin’ less.” Mal looked grim faced back at him.

Wash thought it could be a lot worse. Sure, heat shielding was expensive, but so was a new head, darn near irreplaceable actually, and he was particularly glad he still had his. Mal didn’t seem to realize the miracle this landing was. As the pilot, he knew better. Every time he let his mind think back on their descent into the world, he felt the need to pinch himself and make sure he was still actually alive. There were at least a hundred things he could think that should’ve happened to Serenity when she hit, could’ve killed them all, and those were just the good scenarios. So, a little heat shielding, not so bad.

“Well, it is the way it is,” Mal continued. “Wash, let’s see if we can get her on her feet.” Wash was surprised when Zoë followed him up to the bridge, and sat down in the co-pilot chair, especially when Mal didn’t follow, but he was too nervous about take off to ask any questions. Despite everything they had done to assure Serenity was still in working order, he couldn’t help but worry that something would go wrong. Like maybe the engine would stop turning again.

“Keep your fingers crossed,” he said tossing Zoë a smile as he flipped three switches over head, and began initiating the ignition sequence. “Not too keen on doing that whole crash thing again.” To his surprise she smiled too, though a bit nervously. “You and me both, Pilot. If anyone can put her down straight it’s you, so just do your thing.” His eyes widened a bit at the speech and the compliment. With the nervousness pulsing through him, he felt on the verge of either rambling incessantly or cracking a joke. He took a chance. “That was a long string of words there.” He said grinning at her as he disengaged the stick. “You feeling okay, don’t maybe need a nap after all that? Bit of a lie down?” She gave him a cool look, and damn she was sexy. “Perhaps you best just continue with your piloting, Pilot.” His lips turned up in one corner, she wasn’t mad, this was banter.

“Yes, Sir,” he gave her an apologetic look, completely false, “Er, ma’am.” He turned back to his, pulled back on the stick and lifted Serenity up out of the newly reshaped lake. There was a bit of groaning, and a distant clunk he didn’t like the sound of. “I know, sweetheart, I’m so sorry about that lousy landing,” he responded in sympathy, and chewed his lip anxiously as he flipped the switch to lower the landing struts. They ejected with out a hitch, and he set the transport ship down on her feet, neat as you please, several yards from where she’d started. Beside him Zoë breathed a long sigh, and stood up. She put a hand on his shoulder, gave a brief squeeze, and walked away. He watched her go, then sat there for a moment, thinking. He was relieved at the relatively smooth take off and landing, but now that it was over he wasn’t too keen on what they’d see now that the girl was out of the dirt. Also, Zoë’s hand on his shoulder had felt very right. Those two trains of thought were an unsettling combination. He gave the console a pat, and stood up, heading through the door to go outside with the rest of them. Suddenly a popping sound startled him, and he turned in time for a grand explosion from the console that made him jump, throwing his arms instinctually over his face against the scatter of sparks. “Zao gao!” he exclaimed walking back in to take a quick look. “Oh, now that’s just not right.”

The others were already gathered around the damaged area outside when he arrived, and he was presented with the pleasant sight of Zoë’s backside as she bent low to inspect a section of the ship’s battered hull. He took a moment to enjoy it before he went to see just how bad the damage was. “Hey,” he said beside Zoë, once he had gotten a good look. She looked up. “This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, what do you think, Zoë?” “I’d have to agree. Course, I was surprised she still had a bottom at all,” she said, her even tone not wavering. He smiled at her, enjoying her face, her subtle humor not lost on him. There was just no one else like her. “Me too,” he answered, and Zoë caught his eye for a moment and found she didn’t want to look away. He broke away himself after a significant moment, turning to the captain and asking point blank. “We got enough money to fix this?” Zoë stifled a smile. Not one for beating around the bush their pilot. “I’ll worry about the money; you just worry about… whatever it is you got to worry about. I’ll think of somethin’ for ya,” Mal said a bit awkwardly, in a way that told Zoë he was a tad worried about the money. “Well,” Wash said, seeming to want out of that tense moment, but managing to step in to a whole new pile of it. “I need to go and rewire the console, and restore normal thruster protocol, and there was that whole explosion, might take some fixing.” Mal frowned, and turned sharply toward him at that news. Wash raised his eyebrows, questioningly at his look. “Well then, there you go,” Mal said. Zoë recognized the tendency to move right on past things he knew he couldn’t fix for the moment. An explosion? That didn’t sound good. She looked sideways at Wash with a frown. “Ok, here’s the plan,” Mal continued, coming over to where they were standing. “Bester and I will head into town…”

“Sir?” Zoë asked firmly, obviously not fond of the idea. Wash wondered if it was the idea of being left here with him or the idea of Mal being without her for back up that was bothering her more.

“I need you to stay with Serenity and watch out for trouble, Zoë, I don’t know what the locals are gonna think of us extending their water front property. I’ll find our client and get paid, then we’ll see what we can do to get started on repairs.” He turned to Wash. “You see what’s needed on your end; this explosion of some sort that you mentioned?” He was obviously trying to sound calm.

“Yeah, not sure yet of the cause.”

“Well then, you work on that, and the two of you see what you can do to get Serenity set back to rights.”

“Yes, Sir,” Zoë said calmly as Wash nodded.

“Shiny,” said Bester, smiling at the idea of heading into town. Mal looked at him, more of a glare really, and then shook his head as he headed inside to load up the mule.



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