Title: Playing the Middle
Date Posted: 11 January 2006
Author: Van Donovan
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Mal/Wash/Zoe
Word Count: 1,297
Notes: Inspired by the prompt to write Mal/Wash/Zoe and to involve "candles" (in a non-sexual manner).


“You really think this is such a good idea?” Wash asked as he continued lighting candles around the empty passenger lounge. “You don’t think it’s too, you know, cliché and cheesy?”

“No, it’s shiny!” Kaylee cheerfully called from across the room where she was also lighting candles. “Ain’t no girl I know who wouldn’t swoon at bein’ courted all traditional like this.” She sighed wistfully. “Wish someone’d do it for me.”

Wash gave her a reassuring smile. “I’m sure someone will eventually, Kaylee. I’ve got ten years on you, after all.”

“I keep tellin’ myself that,” she agreed and lit the last candle. Shaking the thoughts out of her head she stood back to appraise the candlelit lounge. “This looks real good, Wash.”

Wash moved to stand by her and agreed. “Yes, it does. Now, you’re sure the captain’ll be gone until morning?” he questioned.

Kaylee nodded. “Yup. He’n’Jayne always go out drinkin’ and doin’ guy-things when we’re in places like this. ‘nd Zoe always comes home. She don’t take much t’the gamblin’n’drinkin’ so much, I don’t think. Bit more refined, I suppose.”

“That’s my girl.” Wash nodded and smiled eagerly. “And you’re all right with, y’know, stayin’ upstairs the rest of the night?” He questioned a little skeptically, waving his hands for some emphasis.

Kaylee flashed him a brilliant smile. “Don’t y’worry about me none. I won’t peep. Promise.”

“Kaylee, you’re the greatest. Then, I guess I’m all set.”

“Good luck!” she called and started up the stairwell.

When she was gone Wash turned off the auxiliary lights so only the scattered candles lighted the room. He adjusted his shirt and then slid by the door and waited.

It was almost twenty minutes before he heard the sound of footsteps in the cargo bay. He sprang back to his feet and stood by the door, waiting for Zoe to appear through it so he could surprise her. They’d been getting close the past few weeks and he thought it was about time that he finally did something really nice to prove how very much he loved her.

When he could hear her just outside the door he wiped his hands on his palms and as soon as she stepped through he grabbed her wrist roughly, spun her around to him and kissed her full on the lips. “Surprise, baby,” he grinned and opened his eyes realizing that not only was she not kissing him back, her lips weren’t exactly the soft sweet things he’d gotten used to kissing.

“Y’did all this for me?" Mal asked in his sweetest voice. He raised a hand to his brow in faint surprise. “Why,” his voice had affected a girly pitch, “Wash, I never knew!”

“Mal!” he cried, alarmed. “What’re you—”

“Somethin’ wrong, sir?” Zoe called as she stepped through the door after him. She looked around blinking at the candles and dim lighting. “Whoa.”

Mal grinned at her. “Seems your boyfriend here is tryin’' t’seduce me.”

Zoe arched an eyebrow at them both.

“I was not!” Wash retorted. “He isn’t supposed to be here.” He pointed at Mal. “He’s supposed to be out getting drunk, and doing stupid man-things with Jayne.”

Mal grinned slyly at Wash, playing him. “That ain’t what it seemed like you was thinking when you was kissin’ me.”

“I didn’t—” Wash started, and then floundered. Zoe looked between the two, a mixture of concern and amusement gracing her face. "Well, okay, I did,” he corrected and Mal grinned quite sunnily to Zoe. “But I didn’t mean to. I thought you were Zoe!”

Zoe put her hands on her hips. “Know me and th’captain been through a lot together, sweetie, but I ain’t never been confused for the man before.”

“It was dark,” Wash tried to explain. “And I wanted to surprise you! It’s not like I meant to kiss him!”

“Well, ain’t that just a shame? I think my feelings just got hurt,” Mal feigned and then grinned softly. “Pity though -- it weren’t half bad.”

Wash gave him a disbelieving look and turned to Zoe for confirmation of Mal’s absurdity. She just had a resigned sort of expression on her face. “Y'can’t have him, sir,” she plainly stated.

Mal shifted his weight, taking in the two, largely ignoring Zoe. “Wish I’d been a bit more prepared’n’all, though. Ain’t fair t’expect a man t’kiss any good when he's all surprised like that.”

Wash seemed uncertain to whether he should be disturbed or amused. “Well, I understand you don’t get a lot of practice, captain,” he jested but his tone was a little cool. He blinked at the look that comment drew out of Mal. There was a vague intensity behind Mal’s eyes.

Zoe’s arm reached out and grabbed Mal’s and he turned away from Wash to look at her hand on his arm. “Sir,” she said, “don’t think he’s buyin’.”

Wash stared at the two of them for several seconds and then he stepped back, away from them, completely confused. “What’s going on here? What, exactly, am I not buying?”

Mal looked at Zoe for a few seconds longer and then gave her just the briefest of nods. She let his arm go and fixed her gaze on Wash. “Captain don’t just fancy the lady folk.”

“Well,” Wash began and then floundered. He stared at the two of them a little longer. “I mean,” he tried again and then trailed off. “But he—” he stared at them both intently. “Me?”

Mal grinned probably the sweetest grin Wash had ever seen him grin before. “Don’t see why not. Clearly y’got good taste.” He nodded to Zoe, in point. “Can’t say I ain’t thought on it before.”

“You’re,” Wash started but he couldn’t finish the sentence because although apparently Mal had thought of him before, he'd never thought of Mal before, like that, and now his brain was supplying images and they were rather distracting. He sat down and was very grateful there was a sofa right behind him.

Mal laughed and Zoe just shook her head, amused. “Think he’s catchin’ on.”

Wash blinked back to the here-and-now. “You’re okay with this, Zo’?” he questioned, confused.

Zoe shrugged. “Wouldn’t be th’first time we done somethin’ like this.”

Wash’s hand rose and he pointed a finger, wagging it back and forth between the two of them. “You . . . y’mean you two’ve . . .” His eyes intensified, emphasizing his point.

Mal grinned. “Nah,” he played and moved to sit down a little too close to Wash. “There’s always a middle.” He patted Wash’s thigh. “We both play with him,” he raised his eyes to Zoe as she sat down on the other side of Wash.

“Or her,” she supplied gently and put her hand on his other knee.

“But we don’t cross the streams,” Mal finished. “Much.” He grinned. “Zoe ain’t really my type,” he noted kindly.

Zoe grinned. “Captain ain’t mine, neither,” she said and rubbed fondly on Wash’s knee. “And I am?” Wash incredulously asked, his eyes turning to look at Mal.

“Near ‘nough,” he replied and patted Wash’s knee. “What d’y’say?”

Wash sank back against the couch and stared at the empty infirmary across the way, trying to let this entire thing sink in. “Ai ya, wo de zou yun,” he breathed softly.

Zoe smiled a perfect smile and nodded, drawing closer to him. “That you are, honey. Luckiest gorram man in the ‘verse.”

Mal sealed the deal with another kiss, this one more confident and warm, while Zoe’s nimble fingers began to work on Wash's flowery Hawai’ian shirt. Around them the candles burned, casting the entire room into soft hues of gold, which accurately described about how Wash was feeling in that particular moment.

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