In the past...
After a few weeks on Serenity, Wash decided to shave his mustache.
It was time for a change, he'd decided. He'd grown it out when he'd lost a bet in flight school and had eventually grown fond of the thing. Now, though, he was in a new life on a new ship with a new crew and...well, it was just time. It had nothing to do with the fact that Zoë had referred to it in passing as "that caterpillar on his lip" when she thought Wash couldn't hear her. And it certainly had nothing to do with the fact that her opinion mattered to him. Significantly.
He stared in the mirror a moment longer at the clean upper lip before turning to the collection of plastic dinosaurs that lined the shelf alongside his bed. He hadn't yet put them all on the bridge. The Captain hadn't said anything, but Wash knew the Tyrannosaurus Rex's appearance there had given the man a moment's pause. He thought slowly introducing them might make the transition easier on Reynolds.
"Well, fellas?" he asked the plastic audience. "What do you think?"
They stared back silently.
"My sentiments exactly," he sighed. He looked back in the mirror and shrugged. Too late now. He put the towel back on its rack and climbed out of his room. He went directly to the bridge and checked the course before heading to the kitchen for some dinner. Despite Reynolds' promise to locate and hire a cook at some point, everyone was still relying on the cooking skills taught by their own mothers. And Wash was relatively certain some mothers hadn't really put as much effort into their teachings as some others had.
Just as he was sitting down to enjoy the concoction he'd thrown together, Zoë came in. She stopped when she saw him and he saw she was looking for the "caterpillar." He smiled his most dazzling smile at her. She seemed unaffected and moved to the stove.
"If you're looking for rice, I made some extra," he suggested. "It's there on the stove still." She paused in her cupboard searching to look at him. An eyebrow rose.
"It's the 'stache," he offered. "I shaved it off." For you. Sort of, he added mentally. Her chin rose as she acknowledged his statement. She resumed her search for food, ignoring the rice.
"Here," he offered. "Let me make something for you."
"I can make my own food," she replied sternly.
"I never doubted," he apologized. "I just...we're on the same crew and it would probably be easier on everyone if we could be friends. And...well, I often cook for my friends." He was lying. He'd never cooked for his friends before in his life. Cooking was something he did for himself and as part of his rotational chore on the ship. But he wanted to be her friend...at the very least.
She continued to stare at him, even as he made his way around to the stove. "Go sit down," he smiled. "Really, you won't regret this." He could see the reluctance in her movements. He pulled the same ingredients he had used on his own plate and assembled the same meal on a plate for her. When he placed it in front of her, she thanked him. He sat across from her and took a bite from his plate.
"This is nice, right?" he asked after a few moments of silent chewing on both sides. She looked at him with a question in her eyes.
"Yes, the food is nice," she replied coolly.
"Oh ‐ no, I meant this," he said, gesturing at the two of them. "Two friends eating together."
"Yes," she nodded. "It's nice."
"It's not a date, it's just two friends eating together," he smiled. The words tumbled out of his mouth without checking with his brain first.
"Who said it was a date?" she asked sharply.
"No one," he responded quickly, desperately trying to backpedal. "I was just...friends. We're just friends eating dinner. Friends do that."
"Yes," she said, her eyes still on him. "Friends have dinner."
"You and the Captain are friends," he went on, seemingly unable to stop. "And you eat dinner together."
"You and Bester are friends," she said evenly. "And you have dinner together, too."
"Yes," he grasped at the sentence as a drowning man would at a lifeline. "See? Exactly. Friends. Eating dinner. Together."
They resumed their silent meal together. When Wash spoke again, part of his brain wondered why it bothered trying to scan the words at all.
"Friends also hug," he said. Her eyes locked on his again. "On occasion."
"It depends on the friend," she returned.
"It does," he nodded. "It does depend on the friend. I wouldn't hug Bester, for example."
"No?" she asked. He thought he could see a smile somewhere in her eyes, but he wasn't sure.
"No," he said firmly. Then, after a pause: "Well, not just any time. There'd be a reason."
"At the end of a dinner shared together?" she asked, the smile reaching her voice.
"Well, no, probably not...then..." he managed. Zoë nodded before resuming her meal.
"If you ever wanted a hug," Wash went on, "At the end of a meal or something, I would hug you. As a friend." Zoë put down her chopsticks and folded her hands on the table, returning her dark eyes to match Wash's. The silence seemed to compel Wash's voice to continue filling the space.
"It's an amazing thing, the hug," he blathered on. "It gives as much as it takes and friends can hug at any time ‐ after a long time apart or at the end of a meal or as a hello or as a goodbye. Am I talking too much? I think I am. I'm going to stop." The woman across from him nodded. To prove his point, he shoveled some of the concoction into his mouth and nodded at her. She picked up her chopsticks again and resumed eating. The silence drew out into minutes. All Wash could hear was the click of chopsticks against plates, his own chewing and the hum of the engines. Zoë seemed unaffected by the lack of conversation. She even ate silently. At his brain's disgust, his mouth opened once more. "I've been known to give a friend a kiss at times," he announced. Her eyes snapped up to his, chopsticks frozen midway from the plate to her waiting mouth. "You know, on the cheek," he explained. She lowered her chopsticks. "Just as a friend. Not often, though." She looked at him carefully. He swallowed audibly. "I wasn't offering," he said quickly. "I was just...commenting." "I'm going to go," she responded. "Thank you for dinner." She stood, cleared her plate and made her way to the door. She looked back at him. "Don't grow the mustache back," she stated. He smiled and nodded. When he opened his mouth to respond, she left in the direction of her bunk. Wash allowed his shoulders to slump. He finished his meal and took his plate to the sink in silence. As he washed out the dishes, he began reviewing his conversation ‐ first in his mind, then out loud. "I've been known to give a friend a kiss at times," he repeated to himself, rolling his eyes in disbelief. "That a fact?" Captain Reynolds' voice sounded behind him. He nearly dropped the pot in the sink in his surprise. He turned around and smiled apologetically. "Not often," he defined. "I was just...uh...talking to myself." Reynolds nodded slowly and retrieved a meal bar from a drawer. He started to walk away, then turned back. "Your mustache is gone, Wash," he commented. Wash nodded, reaching for a tea towel. "Yeah, I shaved it off," he admitted. "New ship, new style." "Hmm," the Captain replied. "The plastic dinosaur part of that new style?" "What plastic dinosaur?" Wash asked, feigning ignorance. Reynolds started to reply, then shook his head. "Never mind," he murmured. The Captain went on his way to the cargo bay. Wash replaced all the dishes he and Zoë had used, then went to the bridge. He sat heavily in the pilot's chair and looked to Rex for sympathy. "I shave my mustache," he whispered to the toy on his consul, "And apparently, it was the filter that kept the stupidity inside." "That seems a fair estimate of what happened," Zoë said from the doorway. Wash jumped out of his seat and faced her. "What is it with you people sneaking up on me?" he demanded. At Zoë's look, he gestured beyond her to the galley. "I was...talking to myself and...the Captain..." She nodded. "So, were you talkin' to yourself just now, too?" she asked, a smile playing at her lips. "Well, no, I was..." he looked to the dinosaur. It stared back at him. He faced Zoë again. "Yeah. I was." "Or were you updating him on your day?" Zoë indicated Rex. Rex stared at Wash. Wash looked to Rex, then to Zoë. "He's a very good listener," he admitted sheepishly. "He one of your friends?" she teased. Wait, she could tease? Wash looked skeptically from dinosaur to beautiful woman. "Not one I kiss," he responded. Zoë walked into the bridge slowly. Wash seemed rooted to his place. "I hear tell that sometimes friends kiss," she said softly once she stood directly in front of him. His surprise registered in his eyes. "They do," he confirmed. "Kisses between friends, I hear about it all the time. Sometimes, I even ‐ " "Stop talking," she suggested. He did. She leaned in, ever so softly, her eyes on his lips and gently kissed him. He kissed back, his surprise still evident, but slowly being replaced with grateful joy. When the kiss ended ‐ too soon, in Wash's opinion ‐ she smiled. Their arms were around one another and his grateful joy was radiating throughout his body. "I think I'll enjoy being friends," she smiled. "I can be a very good friend," he replied. She slowly pulled away from him and went to the door. She turned back. "I'm very glad you shaved," she grinned. "Very glad." She left. He sat down in the chair and faced Rex. "I will never let hair grow on my face again," he vowed. Rex agreed with his decision. The End.