Mood to Burn Bridges
Thursday, January 9, 2003

Mal's original edict on shipboard romances


Note: Hi y'all. Hung up on the ratings issue again. Hope no one is offended. The title is partly in reference to the story, partly in reference to the album I listened to over and over while writing: "Furnace Room Lullaby" by Neko Case and Her Boyfriends. The song "Mood to Burn Bridges" is so great. I started out thinking of it as a "Jayne" song, but it seems to work here, too. Okay, it's mostly a Jayne song but the first couple verses really work. I know that that's going a little meta. I have no good excuse.

Disclaimer: These characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox or whatever.

Rallying cry: I post this as we learn that UPN doesn't want browncoats. Just wanted to say It's Always Darkest Just Before Dawn. No power in the 'verse can stop us.

Mood to Burn Bridges

“Zoë, you down there?” Mal hollered down the hatch into Zoë ’s bunk.

“Yes, Sir.” She raised one eyebrow. A delicate gesture, balletic even. Wash, on the other side of the room, leaning against her desk, his arms crossed, savored it. They hadn’t precisely been hiding their new romance but hadn’t flaunted it either. He distinctly thought that the next few minutes would be awkward. Would Mal climb down, talk to Zoë and not even notice him? He wasn’t hidden, but from the ladder, Mal would have to turn a good distance around. And what if he did notice him?

Wash was genuinely in her bunk to bed her. The rest of the crew was asleep and his desire for her had only made the day go maddeningly slowly. All day, he had thought of nothing but her skin and smell and heat. Still, he could think of at least ten reasons he could be here this late at night. They were both fully dressed. The lights were on, the bed was made. He could be chatting her up about engine efficiency or the duty rotation.

But he had a vague suspicion that Mal was onto him. There had been the near-incident a couple weeks after he’d first signed on. On an otherwise quiet day, Mal had stormed up to the bridge, furious.

“Are we going to have a problem, Flyboy?” Mal had bent himself over the console.

“Mal?” Wash had asked. “What kind of problem would we have? We’ve been go since you got the new mechanic.”

“I mean,” Mal’s eyes flashed. “We gonna have a problem?” He cocked his head, obviously implicating a deeper context than Wash could pick up.

“Captain, I…” Wash had fumbled. He shook his head and stood up, uncomfortable with being pressed into a chair that was not yet that familiar. “I don’t understand. I could think up problems if you need me to.” Mal was not amused. His fists clenched.

“More like you got anything on your mind I should know about?”

“I think we’re low on spare parts, Mal. I think I’d be more comfortable if we were running six fuel cells instead of five. I think a lot of things.”

“See that you don’t go messing with…anything.”

“I…won’t.” Wash copied the Captain’s tone deliberately, seeing if he could get him to calm down a little.

“Good. I don’t want no trouble on this boat.”

Testing the situation, Wash dove in. “I was looking forward to some trouble. I thought first we could buzz a new moon and after that…” Mal cut him off.

“You know what I’m talking about!” Mal shouted and brushed past him, giving him a short shove on his way across the bridge and out toward the mess.

Wash had sat back down, elbows on knees and thought hard. Eventually he realized what Mal meant. He hadn’t tried very hard to hide his obvious admiration for Zoë—or at least Zoë’s body. At that point, he hadn’t really known her.

And now, after that threat and more than a few dirty looks, it was all about to come to a head. Zoë winked at him. He raised his eyebrows in concern and nodded to the ladder, trying to make her see what he was thinking. She grinned at him, obviously enjoying it. He shook his head. He wouldn’t love her if she weren’t like that. And then, she was composed and standing tall. Mal climbed down the ladder.

“Zoë, before we get close to landing tomorrow, I want you to tell Wash that the fuel budget is tight. We need to conserve. No stunts just cos he’s bored.”

Zoë cleared her throat. “Tell him yourself, Sir.” She nodded across the room.

Mal turned slowly and cocked his head. “Wash?”

“Mal!” Wash tried to sound as warm and ingratiating as possible. He smiled widely. “Fancy meeting you here.” Mal laughed mirthlessly and shook his head.

“Tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”

“This isn’t what you think it is!” Wash tried. He added a mental rimshot and nothing happened.

“What do you think it is, Sir?”

“I think that this is,” Mal fumbled. “I think this is a not good idea, Zoë.”

“How do you figure, Sir.” She was implacably calm. Wash wanted to reach out to her but stopped himself. He tapped his fingers, behind his back, on her desk.

“How about I figure you got an itch needs scratchin’, Zoë. Then I’m gonna figure that I won’t see you two holed up in here much more.”

“Mal,” Wash began standing up and beginning to move toward him and the ladder. He was slow to anger, as a rule, but he wasn’t about to allow this.

“Wash, I don’t want to have to punch you. I seen you and I seen the way you look at Zoë. And this here’s my boat and on my boat this will not happen.” His jaw clenched. He reached out with one hand to grip the ladder.

“Hey Mal,” Wash took another step forward, even knowing that if anyone was going to do any punching, it would be Zoë. “You can punch me all you want. This ain’t rutting. This ain’t what you think.” His earnestness made Zoë ever so slightly weak in the knees. While Mal’s back was turned, she took the opportunity to admire Wash’s pink cheeks and strong, square jaw.

“Zoë,” Mal tried again, turning back and forth between them. “This ain’t happenin’.”

“It is, Sir. It’s been happening. You walked into the middle of it.”

“Wash, I told you…” Zoë cut him off.

“What’d you tell him, Sir? Tell him he can’t look at me? I know he looks at me. Tell him he couldn’t work with me? Tell him he had to avoid me every minute on this boat, the six of us in close quarters? What’d you tell him?” Her tone was flat and icily logical, but Wash felt warmed by it; felt grateful that she wouldn’t lie or back down.

“We’ll talk in the morning, Zoë.” Mal gave her his best intimidating look, one that he hadn’t given her in a long time.

“Yes, Sir.” No malice, no nothing. Flat agreement.

“Wash, set her down straight. Don’t waste what we got.”

“Sure, Mal.” He grinned at Zoë, just for the possessive hell of it. And for a moment, he thought he saw Mal wince, with anger but not pain.

And then Mal climbed up the ladder and pulled the door shut much harder than it needed to be pulled. Wash laughed out loud for a good long while. And he watched Zoë use her hand to hide her smile.

“Don’t,” he said, crossing the room to her. He tilted his head and touched her wrist. “Don’t hide it. It’s so beautiful.”

“Tomorrow morning, he’s gonna kick your ass.” She let him wrap her arms around his waist.

“Well, I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.” Zoë chuckled at him. She hadn’t learned to anticipate him yet.

She was beginning to realize that he really feared very little. She thought it was something she probably should have known. He’d flown them out of a situation or two, hot places and scary, cracking wise the whole time. She had developed an instinct for that though—if he was joking about something, everything was shiny. When he was serious, then something could be wrong.

“Say, how long have you loved me now?” He took her hips and pulled her into him. She could feel him pressing into her, aroused.

“Probably since the day you shaved off that gorram stupid mustache.”

“Ah yes, the mustache. What possessed me to go and do that?” Wash fingered his upper lip. “Oh, I know! There was this woman I was hot for. And she kept looking at me funny. And I thought, she likes her men clean shaven.” Zoe laughed.

“So calculating!”

“Yes, yes. Now, about the sex before the execution.” He raised his eyebrows at her, grinning.

“Gotta have some of that.” She reached for the light switch and he reached for his zipper.


Wash slipped silently out of Zoë’s bed the next morning, but not before he paused to admire her bare back in the starlight. He wondered about the scars he saw there and what stories they had to tell. He fingered her long, wild curls and kissed her shoulder, drawing a long breath of her. One that would probably have to last him the whole day, he thought. Or maybe, but hopefully not, forever. Mal be damned.

He dressed and went back to his own bunk to clean up. Shaving, he nodded at himself in the mirror, grinning. Likes her man clean shaven. And he paused for a moment and enjoyed thinking of himself as her man.

He wandered into the kitchen yawning and rubbing his freshly combed hair into a new tango of spikes, and realized he was the first one up. He made two big pots of what was passing for coffee lately and took a very large cup up to the bridge.

He checked his nav sats and plotted the rest of the course onto New Vancouver. He sat for a few minutes, sipping his coffee. If Mal wanted it set down straight, he’d give him straight. He’d give him so damn straight he’d beg for an aft burn. He reached up and flicked switches, pressed down on the comm button, getting only Kaylee’s quarters.

“Hey. Kaylee.” He kept his voice low. He was about to ask again when he heard the small clickthud of her comm turning on.

“Wash?” She sounded more or less asleep.

“Good morning, Kaylee. Got a sec for a consult?” He considered feeling guilty for getting her up, but checked his chronometer and saw that she would’ve been getting up in half an hour anyway.

“Mmm.” Her comm went dead. He reached up and rearranged more switches.

He swiveled when he heard her hatch clang open. She climbed up and scuffled onto the bridge, dragging her feet, her eyes half closed.

“What?” She yawned.

“Want to glide into New Vancouver?”


“Let’s glide in. I’ll drive her down and you stay steady for my signal to fire aft jets. Then, we can turn her back on and set her down nice and slow.”

“Risky, Wash.” She yawned again and streched.

“And fun.”

“And risky!” She was waking up. “We ain’t tried nothing like that.”

“Kaylee,” Wash smiled. “Let’s see what Serenity can do.”

“She’s a good boat, Wash. We gotta treat her good.” He could practically see the wheels turning in her head. She rubbed her eyes and yawned a third time before smiling at him. “Okay, we see what she can do, but we treat her good. Real good.”

“Okay,” he grinned at her. She grinned back.

“You make coffee, Wash?”

“So nice of you to call it that. Whatever it is, it’s hot.”

“Shiny. I’m gonna get a cup, then go spike the jet control.”

“I appreciate it, Kaylee.”

“Mmm.” She scuffled off, still sleepily dragging her feet.

He admired the stars and savored the quiet for a few minutes, before he heard Kaylee’s voice, behind him in the mess, but distinct.

“Mornin’, Captain.”

“You’re up awful early, Kaylee. Got big plans?” Wash held his breath.

“Sorta. Me and Wash are gonna see what Serenity can do today.”

“Are you? Wash up?”

“On the bridge, Captain. Made coffee, too! Almost good.” Wash heard her walk out of the mess and head toward the engine room. Mal’s heavier footsteps headed toward him. He kept his back turned and glanced at his flight plan.

“Mornin’, Wash,” Mal’s voice was even.

“Good morning, Captain!” Wash swiveled and threw as much sunniness as he could muster into his greeting. He looked up, head cocked and smiling the biggest smile he could manage. Sat there too, elbows on armrests and his feet planted wide apart. “Sleep well?”

“Can’t say I did. Worried about my crew.” Mal sat down in the copilot chair.

“Oh yeah, why’s that?” Wash could play along.

“Cos I got a shipboard romance. And I don’t want one.”

Wash nodded and stopped smiling. They stared at each other.

“I expect I’ll have to talk to Zoë.” Mal baited him. Wash set his jaw. They stared at each other. Minutes passed. The planet rose. Wash swiveled away from the copilot chair. He reached up to tap the comm again.

“Kaylee, we’re gonna hit atmo in two minutes. Descent started now. We ready?”

“Ready,” she chirped. Wash reminded himself to think something nasty about people who were chipper in the morning later, then reconsidered and thought to remind himself to thank Kaylee.

He flipped the handles on the stick and pulled it away from the helm. They watched New Vancouver loom up ahead of them, more brown than green. Mal sipped his coffee meditatively and Wash situated himself.

“Here we go, Kaylee.” He was implacable. He reached under the right side of his console and quick-stopped the thrusters. He cruised into the atmo, letting Serenity take only a slight jolt.

“What’re you doing, Wash?”

“Taking her in easy, Captain.”

“I ain’t said nothing about breaking atmo with no power.” Wash was silent, concentrating. Serenity shuddered vaguely, noiselessly. “Turn her on!” Mal fought the urge to throw his mug at the pilot. Wash ignored him. Let him moan, the thought, a few minutes later. I just saved him how many credits in fuel?

“Let’s make it ready, Kaylee.”

“I’m on it.” Kaylee’s voice registered obvious delight.

“Do it.” Wash slammed the throttle back, then up. Serenity whirred to life and shuddered again as if casting off a chill. He eased the ship into its aft burn, using instinct and feel as much as logic.

Below decks, Kaylee patted the engine affectionately before reaching for her comm button.

“Fun!” Even her voice beamed.

“Fun,” Wash answered. He sailed them at high altitude to the edge of a settlement. He made a quick and obligatory chat with ground control. Given permission, Serenity landed as smoothly as she ever had. “Took her in straight,” he looked toward Mal, sliding the stick back into the helm, and turning the handles. “Saved you some fuel.”

“Stupid go se trick.”

“Just following orders, Captain.” Wash smirked.

“Chiang-wah tsao duh lioa mahng!” Mal stalked off the bridge. Wash turned back to his console, glowering.



“Sir?” She was in the cargo bay, looking through crates, preparing for the day’s job.

“You tell that pilot you’re so sweet on that I don’t take this on my boat.”

“Take what, sir?”

“These tricks. I say I want her set down straight I want her set down straight!”

“I thought it was a nice landing, Sir.”

“I,” Mal fumbled. His face worked through several versions of contortions. “Wash, Zoë?! What the hell?”

“Yes, Sir.” She was unruffled by the change of subject.

“No, I mean, what the hell are you doing taking a punk flyer like that into your bed?”

“Enjoying myself, Sir.”

“And what when you’re done enjoying yourself? Then I got a first mate and a pilot with hard feelings, not working well together.”

“I don’t expect I will get tired of him, Sir.”

“Aw, come on, Zoë. I’m not gonna believe any true love crap.”

“I wouldn’t have put it that melodramatically, Sir.” Zoë looked at him and raised one eyebrow, speculatively.

“How long this been going on?” He crossed his arms, resigned to not getting a fight out of her.


“He come to you?”

“Kinda. I kinda came to him.”

“But he came to you first!”

“So what if he did?” Zoë finally shouted. “If I didn’t love him, I wouldn’t be with him!” She stunned the scowl off Mal’s face. Above them, Wash smiled to himself. On the bridge their voices were tinny, but clear.

Mal stared at her. She stared back, immovable.

“Helluva gorram morning I’m having here, Zoë.” His face tried to smile. “If he hurts you, I’ll kill him. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Sir.” Zoë smiled at him and reached out to pat his arm.

“Hear that, Wash?!” He turned and shouted up the cargo hold toward the bridge. “I’ll kill you!”

“Yes, Captain,” Wash’s voice rang out over the comm.

“Good!” Mal shouted again and started laughing.

“Something funny, Sir?” Zoë was grinning, openly amused.

“I named her Serenity, Zoë!” Mal turned to walk up the stairs and Zoë went back to the crates.

Jayne walked out onto the catwalk between the Firefly’s shuttles.

“We’re killin’ Wash?” He suppressed a smile.

“It’s a contingency plan, Jayne,” said Mal, reaching the top of the stairs and walking past him.

“Oh. Well, if we do, we split his pay, right?”

“Right!” Mal called over his shoulder.

“Good,” Jayne grunted and walked down to meet Zoë.


“Excellent meal, Kaylee.” Mal wiped his mouth. The five of them sat around the table in the mess.

“Mmm.” Jayne chewed appreciatively.

“Thank you, Captain.” Kaylee beamed.

“Good day, today. Good job, good pay.” Mal distributed bundles of money. Everybody except Jayne pocketed theirs. Jayne sat at the table and counted. “We headin’ out, Wash?”

“Course more or less plotted. No where specific to go.” Wash leaned back in his chair.

“We gonna get a job soon?” Jayne yet fingered his portion of the haul.

“I expect we will, Jayne. See what we can see and where we can see it. Reckon we’ll be welcome back on New Vancouver after a while.”

“Drift a day, Sir? See where the news takes us?” Zoë looked pointedly at Jayne, who was mouthing numbers.

“It’s a good idea, Zoë. Most likely do it.” Mal stood and quickly tugged his suspenders. Wash set his chair down and patted Zoë high up on the thigh. There was a beat before Mal moved to make almost-coffee. Zoë covered Wash’s hand with her own and held it there. Kaylee’s eyebrows shot up her face. She smiled back and forth between Wash and Zoë at the table and Mal, behind the stove. Wash returned her smile.

“You got clean up tonight, Jayne.”

“Gorramit!” Jayne twisted in his chair, oblivious to Wash, Zoë, or Kaylee.

“Kaylee cooked. You clean.” Mal pulled mugs out of a cupboard. Kaylee watched Wash whisper in Zoë’s ear. “I think it’s better than the other way around.”

“Gorramit.” Jayne twisted back to the table, sulking. He stuffed his money into a pocket. Mal commenced pouring.

“No coffee for us, Mal.” Wash stood with Zoë, twining his fingers with hers.

“Fine, fine. Goodnight.” Mal nodded and lifted his cup to them in acknowledgement and small toast. Kaylee’s grin widened. Jayne went slackjawed. Wash led Zoë out of the dining room toward his bunk. “Captain,” Kaylee began.

“Won’t see them ‘til morning, Kaylee. Did I mention this was an excellent meal?” He grinned at her and winked.

“Wash and Zoë,” she murmured, standing and gathering dishes, smiling a faraway smile. Mal closed his eyes and took a deep, meditative breath. Serenity was righter than it had been yet.

“Set them down, Kaylee. Jayne’s washing tonight.” Jayne was staring out the door toward the crew quarters.

“What’re Wash and Zoë doing?” His brow was furrowed with deep thought.

“I suspect,” Mal said, moving toward the stairs to the bridge, “that it’s not our business.” Jayne stood and moved his own dishes to the sink.

“I’ll keep you company, Jayne.” Kaylee continued with her stack of dishes, perpetually cheerful. Mal smiled at the two of them and took his cup up the stairs.

He stood for a moment, looking out the windows to the stars. Then he sat and ran his hands over the console.

“I named her Serenity.”


Thursday, January 9, 2003 6:27 PM


Enjoyed this tremendously--you writ great Wash, and I could totally hear Mal as well. Excellent job!

Saturday, January 11, 2003 12:10 PM


You're my hero. I hope you write still more Wash and Zoe stories!

Monday, January 13, 2003 8:35 AM


Contingency plan -- that was SWEET!

Monday, January 13, 2003 6:12 PM


Ooh, Wash and Zoe. Shiny writin'. Great characterzation.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003 9:09 AM


Wow, very good. Wash and Zoe was such a great romance . . . you do it credit.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004 9:52 AM


What a wonderful story! Best Zoe and Wash I've read yet!


Oh, how I love those two.

Friday, December 3, 2004 12:26 AM


Sometimes the thug in Jayne damn near drives me to tears. Wash putting the scare into Mal was an excellent way to show up the Cap.

Good stuff,

Keep flyin'


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I ain't sayin' there's any peace to be had, but if there is, Wash will find it in the Western sky.

Married and Madly in Love
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Consistent Resurrection
A short history of Zoe.

First Mate
Wash is injured-- physically, and by Zoe's reluctance to make him her first priority.

Laid Bare
Ever wonder what happened to that ambulance? A little bridge between Ariel and War Stories.

Natural Talent
Kaylee and Wash? It could have happened, but it didn't.

Over and Over and Over
Moments of Zoe, in the spaces of War Stories.

Extreme Unction
The living heart of Serenity bleeds to death. A volley at Succatash.

The Heart of Her
Wash proposes.

Mood to Burn Bridges
Mal's original edict on shipboard romances